We hope that this holiday season brings much joy to you and your loved ones.
I've said it before and it's time for a reminder: It is professional suicide to use poor quality images on your printed materials and online.
By "poor quality" I mean doing what I've seen many creatives do (really truly): They stand in front of the image they want to capture with their cell phone, in bad light, with shadows, off to one side, out of focus, and snap a picture. Ack!!!
It IS totally okay to do that if your art is to take photos with a cell phone or you need on-the-fly snapshots for your blog. But that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about images of your work, your art, your products, and you.
Since you sell stuff (you're in business) it's all about presenting yourself the best way possible. I want you to use images that are clear, crisp, and beautiful.
Think of it this way: Would you want your images displayed at a gallery with no lighting, where they hang your work far below or far above eye level, where they make everyone stand to the side, and view the work from behind dirty tinted glass? Well, that's what you're making them do when you use poor quality images.
Visually promoting your business starts with great images.
I'm not saying spend a fortune, just spend enough to get a great image. You can do it yourself IF you know what you're doing (you have the skills of a professional photographer), or you can save the time and angst and have a photographer (or a scanning service) do it.
Oh, BTW, that IS real art in the image, done by our daughter Dani over 25 years ago. Sorry Dani. I made your wonderful art look bad. Just remember that you're helping other creative people do better. So, thanks!
Do these two things and your marketing efforts will be much (much) more effective:
- People ask me all the time, "What the best marketing strategy?"
While there are many good marketing techniques and strategies, the best are the ones that you will do, regularly, over time.
There are so many ways to market your products and services. The reality is that if you can't or won't do it, it won't work. So, start with what you know you think you can do, consistently, over time. Then add other things for a balanced approach to your marketing.
- People also ask me "How do I know if the marketing strategies I choose will work for me?"
The answer is that you don't know, nobody does, at least in the beginning. Once you do your research and make an educated guess you need to set some criteria for success (what will happen if it works and when)*. Then you run with it and monitor it. If it doesn't meet your criteria for success it's not working and you STOP. Do NOT keep pouring time and money into something that isn't working.
*Do be realistic about your "criteria for success." Going from $100/month to $20,000/month in two months is probably not realistic. On the other hand, a more realistic goal might be increasing your newsletter signups and sales 10% within six months.
I took a marketing workshop years ago and the VP of Marketing for Disneyland told us how they make decisions about their marketing: Their strategy is to put their heads together and make their best educated guess. They don't actually know what will work. They set criteria for success. In other words, they decide what has to happen to show that it's working. They set a reasonable time frame to give the marketing a chance to work (for example, number of tickets sold in three months). Then they run with it. If it doesn't meet their criteria for success, they STOP, even if they have poured tons of money into it. If it does work, they "milk the heck out of it."
Remember the original Electric Light Parade? It was a two-week filler for another parade that wasn't ready. People went wild for it and it ran for ten years. I recently saw a news article that they've updated it for a new parade. Love it.
I am frequently asked, "What do you use for [bookkeeping, graphic design, documents, organization, websites...]?" I forget that we spend a ton of time finding and customizing software and online systems for our clients and ourselves, and that you might be interested in our solutions for your own business. So, here it is for y`all, I hope it's helpful.
Of course, around here we're ALL about the customization to make life simpler and more efficient for us and our clients. These are great solutions for just about everyone who needs to run their own small business, they can be customized for a better fit, and there are many other solutions out there too. Let me know if you have questions about any of this.
Bookkeeping - Xero.com
We recently switched from MYOB to Xero.com. I LOVE it. It's saving me several hours per month in time, and my bookkeeping stress level has gone waaay down. They have a variety of monthly plans and is well worth the monthly fee.
We looked at Freshbooks, Quickbooks, MYOB and others and did free trials of several to see how they would function for us. Xero can do everything we need, and it's easy to understand and set up. I can keep track of multiple bank accounts; generate estimates and then convert them to invoices; track inventory and client/business expenses; automatically reconcile the bank accounts; generate cash flow and other reports; enter bills to be paid; track time and attendance for employees and pay them; prepare W2s and 1099s, and export them all to tax software. They even have mobile apps for when I'm on the run and need to enter something.
Organization and To-Do Lists - Evernote:
I replaced Basecamp with Evernote a couple of years ago. I did love Basecamp, but at $50/month it was too much of an expense just to keep track of clients and their to-do lists, and share notes/images/files. Evernote is a gem, it's secure, very low cost, and it does everything I need.
I keep client to-do lists and project info in Evernote. Each client (and our company) has a Notebook, and each notebook contains notes and info for projects and to-do lists. Evernote syncs across computers which is very handy. I can update and edit the info from any devices we use for business (and we use seven) and immediately see it on the other devices.
You can also clip from anywhere on the web and share and discuss. With paid plans (that's what we have) you can also access notes when you're offline, save emails to Evernote, search in Office docs and attachments, annotate attached PDFs, digitize business cards, turn notes into presentations, and add a passcode lock on mobile apps.
Email - Mac Mail or Outlook:
We use Mac's, and Apple's mail software that comes with their computers. Our clients on PC's use Microsoft's Outlook mostly. Both are great. If you're like us and have multiple email accounts, know that whether you are on a Mac or a PC all your email can all feed into your Inbox. That's very convenient.
I like things to sync across devices, so mostly we use IMAP email accounts, even for Gmail (different than POP3). POP3 email accounts are the most common, but they don't sync. When we purchase email accounts, we always buy IMAP, they will function as POP3 and can be changed at any time.
We buy domain names at Godaddy and get email accounts from them as well (firstname.lastname@example.org) - very low cost and great support. We have Gmail accounts also, and as I mentioned, they all come into our email software, so we don't have to go looking for email in more than one place.
Websites - Squarespace:
Our website has been a Squarespace website for years and years. Awesome company, we use them to create very customized websites for most of our clients. Some of our clients have Wordpress sites, and we work on those too. However, for ease of use, super support, responsive and mobile-friendly templates, extensive customization capabilities, integrated and supported modules, and much more, Squarespace is our go-to company.
Many of our clients want to learn to maintain their websites on their own, and Squarespace is great for this capability. We tutor them and help them along the way, and they maintain control over their content and save a ton of money updating it themselves.
For domain names and email accounts, Godaddy is wonderful and they have very low cost website templates as well.
For PDF files, we use Adobe Acrobat Pro via an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription, so we can get and use all their software for $50/month. For us, it's a good deal because we use so much of the software.
Image Wrangling and Graphic Design - Adobe Creative Cloud:
Again, for us it's cost-effective to have a subscription to all the Adobe software: Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Lightroom, Dreamweaver, Muse, Acrobat, Bridge, and many more.
For quick image resizing to use on websites and for tutoring clients I use free Skitch. It's really easy and fast for grabbing and annotating screen shots from the web, sharing them in Evernote, and lots more. Works on mobile devices too.
For powerful image wrangling without a membership or $$ commitment, Photoshop Elements has many of the same features as Photoshop at a fraction of the cost.
But before you buy, check the software on your computer. You may have something you can use, like iPhoto. I don't think you should spend money when you already have software that will do the job. When you grow out of it later, great, move on up to something else.
Oh, it's also very helpful (and a big time saver) to have your phone camera sync your snapshots with your computer and other mobile devices. Google your device ("Image sync on Android" for example) for more info. Apple's Photos software on our iPhones, iPads, MacBooks and iMacs keeps all our images sync'd on all devices. Nice.
Backups - Two is Better Than One:
We learned the hard way to have more than one backup system. A few years ago the backup drive crashed, taking with it a lot of files that were not on any computer (any more). Lesson learned. Now we have two backup systems: External hard drives with Time Machine on the Macs is backup number one. Check your PC as Windows may ask you if you want to use your new external drive for backup. Backup system number two is online secure, encrypted cloud storage via Mozy which backs up all computers to one safe place that can be accessed from just about anywhere. It's come in very handy when we're traveling and a client has an emergency and we need to access their files.
Okay, that's enough for one article. There IS more, but these are the basics. Again, contact us if you need some help with any of this.
There are so many ways to market your products and services: Websites, SEO, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, blogging, email blasts, direct mail, presentations, events, workshops, teleclasses, videos, postcards, business cards, brochures, newsletters, seminars, shopping carts, advertisements, meet-and-greet events, and many more.
Each of the items listed above comes with its own set of "rules" on how to use them to best advantage - you know, the stuff you read about in all the marketing newsletters and books, best practices that tell you how to set it up and make it work, what it should looks like, how many and when... Advice everywhere, good advice, time-tested and very helpful.
However, there is one rule that overrides them all and that helps make marketing decisions sooooo much easier. It's a rule that we follow in everything we do for you because it's the very most important one of all: PEOPLE FIRST.
Of course, it's important to know those best practices and to incorporate them into your marketing so that you maximize your return by following time-tested guidelines. But always, always remember this first: It's about real, honest connecting with the person on the other end. What problem do they have that you can fix? Put yourself in their shoes and view all your marketing as if you were them. Then structure your marketing. If connecting with your audience violates one of the marketing "rules" then ignore the rule.
Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia built his business by following that one most important rule of putting people first.
Yvon loved climbing, didn't love that all those pitons got left in the rock, so he decided to make reusable climbing hardware. He was 18 years old, he set up a shop in his parent's back yard. By 1970, Chouinard Equipment had become the largest supplier of climbing hardware in the U.S. In his catalogs Chouinard broke just about every direct mail catalog rule because he designed his catalogs to help people become better climbers and not to just sell them merchandise. For example, the well-known rules for success said do this many images to that much text, have an 800 number for orders, and so on. Instead he had oodles of pictures, and a 14-page essay on "clean climbing."
In his book Growing a Business, author Paul Hawken (of Smith & Hawken) profiled Yvon & Patagonia and mentioned how (in the beginning) they had an 800 number, but only for talking about climbing. If you wanted to place an order, you had to pay for the call.
He knew it was the right thing to do, he knew it was more important to connect with his readers than to follow rules.
Now, go out there and break some rules!