Google Calendars Saved My Marriage!

Okay, it may sound a bit extreme, but let me explain…Before I ventured into starting out as a small business owner with my husband life was simple. We were happily married, regular income, cute condo, fluffy little white dog and both had regular hours working 9-5 jobs – outside of 9-5 we didn’t work it was our social time. Pretty straight forward basic life – and then we decided to have children.

It started with a move from condo to townhouse, that was pretty basic, so far so good. Once we were settled the plan started, we were expecting our first child! An exciting time but easy enough to take the 1 year maternity leave and then head back to work for a little while after then have another child – then things got interesting! Baby number two decided to come earlier than planned! All of a sudden within 3 years of moving to our new home we had two children under the age of 2! The plan had to change, paying for daycare for two children under 3 years of age and commuting to work was not going to work, so we had to get creative – enter the role of small business owner!

So now my husband worked a flexible 9-5 job that could allow me to do a couple meetings a week during the day and then the rest would have to be evenings – we could do that, right? It was easier said than done! When I was booking meetings I had to leave it as “Sure, that time works for me, but let me check with my husband” – not the most professional and confident sounding as a starting out entrepreneur. So we started making sure I had a copy of his calendar printed out and bringing that with me, but then if he added something after I printed we’d be double booked which didn’t work. I was driving him crazy not only calling him all the time while he was trying to work but also it was the fight of who booked first and who’s had to be rescheduled.

Now we were at a challenge. How do I look like a confident entrepreneur that’s able to make appointments without having to check in with her husband and rally for who’s appointment was more important? Google calendars to the rescue! My technologically inclined husband saved the day – we upgraded me to a smartphone (he was already there) and then both got set up with a Google Calendar and shared our calendars with each other so we could always see the most current calendar, and voila! No more double bookings! Now my husband wasn’t pulling his hair out every time I double booked us by trying to arrange “get to know you” coffee appointments. Thus, Google Calendars saved our marriage.

This is just one example of the great tools out there to get a small business owner, particularly a “mom-preneur”, up and running with ease. The technology available to help mom-preneurs and small business owners is amazing and something everyone should stay open to, it’s amazing how something as simple as a calendar can simplify things!

Trouble Getting Support? Use Social Media!

One thing that I’ve heard over and over about social media is stories about how people were so frustrated with a company that it ended up on social media and at that point their problem was solved.  Stories about people not being able to take a flight because it was overbooked, complaining on Twitter then a competitor taking over the client by offering to help.  Or someone complaining about their local gym and then having the Gym contact them directly to make sure they were satisfied.  I had heard it often enough that when I was at my wits end recently trying to get support I turned to Social Media – and it worked!

I had been struggling with my Adobe Creative Cloud software and used both the online chat and telephone for support at least 3 times each and never had a permanent fix. It may have worked properly for a couple days, but then it would be back to it’s same problems. I finally put essentially a rant type post on Twitter (as much as someone can rant in 140 characters!) and tagged Adobe Creative Cloud in my post – within 24 hours I had been contacted by Adobe Creative Cloud, and Adobe Customer Care on Twitter and after a few tweets back and forth ended up being contacted by a Senior Support Technician who scheduled a time to help and we haven’t had any problems since!  Classic case of squeaky wheel gets the grease!

So the next time you’re pulling your hair out trying to get some support from a company for a product of some sort to no avail – take it to Social Media!  When it’s visible that someone isn’t happy with them you’d be amazed how quickly they’ll turn to help!  And it really does make sense because if they are visible in their effort to help you it makes them look good instead of bad.  What company would want some bad press online?

Of course you have to see the flip-side of that as well, if you’re the company that’s receiving the negative posts from an unhappy customer, what do you do about it? Deleting is not possible, Ignoring makes you look BAD so all you left with is that you need to address it.  Take the opportunity to change the negative into a positive and improve your standing with not only the complaining customer but those that see the interaction as well – it’s an easy way to show you care!

Branding Your Social Media Profiles

We covered it well in our post last week on Brand Consistency, but the amount of people that skip easy branding opportunities really blow me away – and one of the most commonly overlooked online is Social Media Profiles.  Social Media is so prevalent now a days too, I find more and more often I think of contacting someone by sending them a tweet or messaging them on Facebook.  We’re all online and really aware, whether we realize it or not, of how people look online.  The whole old adage about “you only get one chance to make a first impression” or the fact that it takes mere seconds for someone to develop an impression about you is really something important to think about.

As business owners it’s easy to think about making sure we have a good business card and more often now people are making sure they have great websites too, but people often miss their Social Media profiles.  Their either don’t know that they can brand them or they don’t know how.  Well I wanted to share that all of the “big 4” – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube – can be branded, to different degrees and I want to do a quick overview outlining what ways each can be branded.

Let’s start with Facebook.  Pages and Profiles have the same ways that you can adjust them.  You have your profile image and your cover photo.  For personal profiles it really depends on how much you use your profile for business how professional you need to make sure it is.  If you find you use it more for personal you can be a bit looser with it (but be careful – you may want to un-tag those crazy party shots if you know your business associates may find you!), but if you use it primarily for business then you will likely want to stick to professionally done images.  So for the profile photo you generally want to use a professionally done headshot and on pages you can use a logo as well if you wish (if you use a logo on a personal profile you run the risk of your profile being shut down).  Keep in mind, this is the image that everyone will see in their timeline when you post.  Your cover photo is the one that runs across the top of your timeline view, so people only see it when they’re on your timeline.  We recommend a photograph of a local landmark, product shots or a professionally made image for your business.

Twitter has three different places you can play with – the profile image, header image and background.  Treat the profile image the same way you would your Facebook profile image, professional headshot or logo, again, this is seen by everyone in their feeds.  The header image is what people see when they look at your page specifically, behind your profile photo and short description.  A basic image is best here with any design elements in the top corners, other parts are covered in text.  The background has a couple ways you can do it.  You can either make one very large image or a smaller image that is repeated over the background. If you choose to repeat it make sure it’s not too busy!

LinkedIn, on your personal profiles you only get to choose your profile image, and same rules apply as other accounts.  If you have a business page though you are able to customize your header image.  We’ve used one similar to our Facebook cover image and it’s about the same dimensions, slightly smaller, so works well.

YouTube, you get two ways, your profile image and the background.  Depending on how you’ve designed your Twitter background you may be able to use it here as well, but you likely want it slightly different.  For our Twitter we’ve designed it so it looks like “sidebars”, and YouTube that doesn’t work.  I find it’s best to use a very basic image that’s not too busy where if you cover up a bunch it still looks nice.

So there you go – all the ways that you can play around with the look of the “big 4” of Social Media.  Of course they all like to keep us on our toes so they do change relatively frequently.  We do our best to keep our readers informed of upcoming changes and how to do it, so feel free to check back!  And if you think it’s all just too much for you we’d love to talk to you about our Social Media Branding packages we offer, just contact us for details!

Brand Consistency

Tell me, is it just me as a graphic designer that notices it or or does poorly designed marketing material make you twitch too? Whether it’s noticing a bad advertisement in a local newspaper while reading an article or the very obviously not-customized twitter background for a self-proclaimed “Social Media Expert” I find myself twitching when such obvious to me branding avenues are sorely overlooked.

I can say with confidence that the most important focus of our company is Brand Consistency.  And by that I mean you have a look, feel, colours, etc, for yourself or your company that you’ve developed into a brand and you carry that through all your marketing material.  So if you’re handing out a business card or brochure they not only look good together but if someone visited the website listed on them it would match, or if they find you on Twitter, that matches too.  Having a brand is important, but USING the brand and being CONSISTENT with the brand is CRUCIAL.

I touched on it in the intro paragraph in what makes me twitch, but how often when you go to Twitter to you see someone with one of the generic twitter backgrounds that you can select in the Twitter back-end?  You know, those brown birds across the top on the light blue/teal background or the carbon-fibre type look one?  That to me screams missed branding and looking professional opportunity.  When I see companies or people that specialize in online services of any sort with those generic backgrounds for twitter I can honestly say my opinion of them starts much lower than someone who has taken the time to customize a professional background image that matches their website.  And by customize I don’t mean use your logo and set it to tile the whole background!

This Twitter profile is just one example of MANY out there.  Having a brand is really important and making sure that it really portrays you/your company is of utmost importance.  If you can capture your business in your brand then when you use that throughout all your points of contact with your customers, so your marketing material, how much easier is it for people to get an impression of your company?  We’ve already established that it makes you look professional by being consistent, but if you have a good brand then it can also help your customers understand you better too.

So the next time you get ready to hand out your business cards at a networking event or start posting tweets online think about it.  Is my brand consistent through all of these things?  And, is my brand consistent with what I want it to portray?  If you’re not sure about either of those questions make sure you talk to your graphic designer so they can make sure you’re putting your best foot forward visually!

Holiday Season, Great Time to Work With Your Graphic Designer!

It’s the holiday season – parties abound, gifts need to be found and purchased, houses need to be organized and cleaned for the holidays – our to-do lists get awfully long and scary this time of year!  We’re often so busy the last thing we often think about is ourselves or our company, but why not take some time to think about how you’re going to prepare yourself for the upcoming year?  The holiday season although busy is also one of the most common times for people to reflect on the past year and plan for the upcoming one – and don’t overlook your graphics, website or visual presence in general!

The Christmas season can be a great time to connect with your Designer to get some things done – get a custom designed Christmas card taken care of for email or snail mail, make sure you’ve got a great business card or brochure ready for any parties/get togethers, or even get your website ready for a “freshen up” come the new year.  One of the reasons that it can be a great time to get some of these items done is that the Christmas season can often be a very quite time for Designers – so you could get some great quality time with your designer this time of year!  Around this time last year we also wrote a post about Networking at Christmas & Holidays, if you’re going to be meeting a ton of people you want to be prepared, yes?

So before you start heading out to all your gatherings, parties and shindigs make sure your marketing material – from business card to social media profile images – are ready to come with you!  Embarrassed to hand your scruffy business card to your Uncle Fred?  Make sure it’s up-to-date!  And the social media profiles, website, and other items referenced on your business card or brochure should look up-to-date too!

Stay Visible with Social Media

It’s amazing how easily one can “fall of the wagon” when it comes to social media – be that blogging, tweeting, or interacting through other social media channels.  I know our blog has the occasional long quite stretch!  Sometimes it happens by accident, our schedules get away on us or what have you, but other times it’s that little voice in our head saying “but nothing’s really happening from it anyway…” so that leads me to a point to share, does social media, or traditional advertising for that matter, really work?  When you advertised a special you’re having or posted on Facebook about special sessions you’re offering, or whatever you may do advertising wise, and you get no direct response to the post is that ad/post a failure?  Not necessarily.

Let me explain my thought.  This runs along a similar mindset of being memorable by volunteering as I mention in point number two of a previous post, Volunteering – Great Way to Increase Your Work Experience – Part 2, if you’re more involved and visible with an organization/group people remember you more.  The same goes for advertising! That’s why when you see ads on TV, if you’re not skipping over them with your PVR of course, you tend to often see the same add multiple times, because the more you see it the more likely you’ll remember it.  So take that thought and apply it to Blogging, Social Media, etc – now I’m not saying be repetitive, that’s a sure way to get yourself removed and block by everyone, but what I’m saying is be visible.  By taking the time to do blog posts, tweet about a great article you saw, Instagram a photo of an event you’re at, etc, you’re staying visible to your connections.  And when your connections are reminded of your existence they’re more likely to remember you when they’re in need of your product or service.

So the next time your week is ticking away and you’re not sure if you should take the time out of your day to write another blog post or check up on Google Plus and see if you can comment on any of your connections’ posts, do it.  Or take the time when you’re setting your schedule for the week to section off half an hour a day or every other day to maintain those connections – you’ll stay visible and thus memorable because of it!

Charge What You’re Worth!

One lesson that I learned from both a business coach and my own business experience that has really resonated with me is to charge what you’re worth, and what your service, product, etc is worth.  It always blows me away when I hear of web designers selling, no sorry, giving away websites for under $500, or I’ve even heard of “free with hosting!” – or a graphic designer that sells their logos on websites like “Fiver” or the like – selling a full on logo for $5!! I don’t get it.

My thought is if you’re going into business for yourself, whether your a nail technician, florist, accountant, or a designer like myself, you’re getting into the field because you have a passion for it and you’re good at it – if you’re not passionate or good then you should find something that suits your better!  And if you’re passionate and good then you should be able to charge accordingly.  One thing I was also told was when you give someone a discount ALWAYS put it on your invoice.  Not only does it show them what you usually charge (so if they refer you to someone they tell them the right price instead of their’s hopefully) and let them know they’re getting a deal, but it also shows you what money you’re giving away by not charging full price.  If you look at that discount amount, is that client providing you with that value in return somehow?  Be that through repeat business, lots of referrals, or even advice in their own field?  Food for thought.

Charging what you’re worth also shows you have confidence in yourself and you take yourself seriously.  When I first started out and was charging a much lower rate I was actually essentially laughed at some times and told to charge higher.  Once I actually was told by someone I needed to charge DOUBLE what I was then.  Now I may not have agreed entirely, but I understood that I definitely wasn’t charging enough.  The funny thing was, the more experience I got and thus more confidence in myself and my skills, I was able to raise my rates and not only keep the customers that I already had, but continue to gain new ones!  So I maintained my workload and had the higher rates – it worked out well!   It’s when you can do that that you realize that yes, I really was not charging enough!

So the next time you’re hanging out with some close friends or business people that you have a lot of trust and respect for, ask them.  Ask them if they think you’re charging what you’re worth.  If they agree then fantastic, but if they think you need to charge more that can help you have extra confidence in taking the step to adjust your prices and rates.

Volunteering – Great Way to Increase Your Work Experience – Part 2

At the end of July we did a post on Volunteering, but I wanted to expand on that more.  Over the last year I’ve had the pleasure of working very closely with a fantastic organization, and you guessed it, as a volunteer.  It’s been beneficial in so many ways!  Let me hit on a few that I can be more specific with than our last more general post.

I’ve been volunteering with an organization called Achieve Radiance, with the tagline “Change. Connect. Celebrate.”  Our website describes it very well: “where women from all walks of life support each other to be their best, grow, learn and connect; in other words, to achieve radiance, inside and out.”  As a mom-preneur I’m all about empowering women in all walks of life to be their best, so happy to be able to support a fantastic organization!  The benefit is not only do I get to help them, but it has helped me in so many ways, let me explain.

1) Increased Graphic Design Experience. I came on board when their initial graphic designer was taking an extended travelling trip and they needed items produced for different programs and events.  Within the first couple months I’d made 3 logos, a brochure, event program, and a bunch of other graphics needed for their upcoming Gala Event called Glow – which I’m proud to say was a HUGE success!  I gained experience working with other team members offering valuable feedback and the printer I worked with had great feedback helping me to hone my print preparation experience as well (Ever need a great printer Minute Man Press Burnaby is amazingly helpful!).

More recently we’ve also worked on branding our social media as well.  One example is the different design elements for our Facebook Page:

Achieve Radiance Facebook Page

I made the header image using our various logos, ensured the profile image was the right shape, and designed a couple of thumbnails as well.  A great opportunity to hone my Social Media Branding skills!  I’ve done our twitter profile too and other things.

2) Great networking opportunities! Not only do we have our Gala Glow events (which are expanding beyond just Coquitlam, very exciting!) but also starting a monthly meetup called “Glow Gatherings” and a few other programs as well.  And not only do I get to connect with the other teams of ladies working to get those programs and events running, but I get to connect with everyone that comes to the events as an attendee or speaker.  I’m also not just connecting as an attendee but as someone heading up the event.  I’m not sure about you, but I tend to remember the faces and names of people that run events more than all the attendees, so it’s a great way to be memorable.

3) Making great friends. There are times when it’s not always about business, sometimes it’s just great to make good friends.  Through working with the Achieve Radiance team I feel like I’ve gained a whole bunch of new friends.  Our core planning team is fantastic, I love all the ladies in our group.  I guess that happens naturally when you see each other almost once a week, and occasionally even more than that, for pretty much the whole year.  We’ve got to see a baby getting ready to be born, one of our ladies has started up her own Social Media Company (ZiggyBean Media if you ever need help with your Social Media, she’s wonderful), and we’re all helping each other while working towards our end goals for different Achieve Radiance events and programs.

So there you go, another plug for all the volunteer opportunities out there (and a few other great company references thrown in too!).  Grow yourself, help out a great organization and grow your experience!  It’s win-win-win!

New Twitter Header Image

One thing that always keeps us on our toes is how quickly technology changes – and that goes for Social Media too!  Twitter has added a new header image.  Not only does it look great on your profile page but it plays quite nicely with mobile devices where before there was little way to personalize the look of your twitter on mobile devices.

What they’re asking is for are images 1200 pixels wide by 600 pixels tall.  What we made for our header image looks like this:

ARK Squared Twitter Header Background

You’ll notice that most of the design elements are in the top corners leaving the middle particularly but also most of the bottom very simple.  The reason we do this is because in the middle is where your profile picture ends up and the bottom section is where your text displayed in your header goes.  So the final look in a computer internet browser looks like this:

ARK Squared Twitter Header

As you can see if we’d put any detail in the background image anywhere other than the corners it would have interfered with the text and images that Twitter puts up.

As mentioned it also adds a great bit of personalizing to mobile apps, my example is a screenshot from my twitter app on my Android Smartphone, but it works similarly on iPhone, iPad, etc.:

ARK Squared Twitter Header Mobile

As you can see it looks quite nice!  Now, if you haven’t uploaded an image yet for the header it will currently continue to display it with the old format for web, and for mobile it’s just a charcoal grey background where the custom image is above.  But why not take advantage of a great way to add some branding to your profile?  We’re all about having an integrated look and feel throughout your marketing material!  If you have trouble figuring it out we’d love to be of assistance, feel free to contact us!

My Pet Peeves With Bad Graphic Designers

In a previous post I’d talked about My Pet Peeves With Bad Web Designers, this time I wanted to do the same for Graphic Designers. Through working in the industry there are a few things that drive me up the wall that are often very simple to fix or change but some designers just don’t do it!  Here are my top 4:

1) I designed the file so I own the file and you don’t. Similar to the number one point on my post about Bad Web Designers, it really blows me away how many designers will not give out the files they create to their clients.  We all hope our clients come back to us for changes, when they need more brochures or business cards, but sometimes people want a different designer.  It may have nothing to do with the designer, maybe they’ve just built a better relationship with a new designer or who knows, maybe one moved in next door and you’re doing trade.  Regardless, I feel if I design something for a client, be that a business card or a very time intensive illustration, they’ve paid for the design, they own the design, period.

2) Using really cool and unique fonts and then not saving the file in such a way that others can open it. I can’t tell you how many times I get files from clients or contact from graphic designers that they want to use and when I open the file I can’t use it because it’s asking for a font that I’ve never even heard of before. This one is REALLY simple to rectify (and one of the first things I learned when designing!) when you send your computer art to someone else you ALWAYS, even if you’ve just used Arial as the font, save the font as “outlines”. What this does is it makes the font a bunch of shapes instead of letters in a particular font.  Not only does this mean that anyone can open it regardless of what fonts they don’t have but it can also help save your content from being copy and pasted without your permission as people will not be able to highlight and “borrow” the text for anything.

3) Designing logos, illustrations and other images as a pixel image instead of vector. I’ve touched on this in a couple posts in the past, most recently Importance of Vector Version of Logos and Graphics. One thing that happens to me all the time when I’m working with a client’s logo that I did not design is I get it in a png or jpg format instead of a vector based format like an eps or an Adobe Illustrator file.  The big problems with this are that I cannot increase the size of the image (no banners for you!), I can’t recolour the image if I needed to (even simply making something black instead of coloured) and I more likely than not can’t use the logo on top of any other image because it usually means it has a solid colour background. This is another common side effect of point #1, designers not wanting to give out their files, but it’s INCREDIBLY frustrating! There have been so many times I’ve had to convert a logo to a vector image wasting time and costing my clients money – I don’t mind doing it of course, I often like the challenge, but I think designers should get it right the first time!

4) Making logos, images or illustrations and not noting what fonts were used. This is one of the downsides of following my advice in point #2, but it doesn’t have to be! There has also been a few times where I’ve worked with another designer who has been good about converting their text to outlines but then they neglect to record somewhere what fonts they’ve used. So if I’m working on something last minute and realized there’s a big typo I’m hooped.  There are some great tools out there that have saved me a few times, like the “What the Font” website that looks at an image containing text and does it’s best to tell you the font that was used, but they don’t always work. When designing a logo for example it’s good practice on the vector version of the file to have colour boxes with the colours used, I also will label them with the cmyk colour mix I’ve used or the “Pantone” colour code, as well as stating the font that was used.  Not only does doing this allow someone to make adjustments to the text but it can also be a great way to integrate a logo with content by using the same font so they look nice together.

I could go on with even more pet peeves, but those are the top ones. Again I just stress when you’re hiring a designer, for web or graphic, do your homework. Talk to them about what sort of work they do, insist on samples/examples of previous work and you can even go as far as to talk to some of their previous clients to ask them how their experience was. Your graphic designer will be working with the face of your company so you’d better have a great relationship!