June 13, 2021Comments are off for this post.

Protect your content copyright with WordPress

Updated June 2021.

Protecting one's images and text online is an important topic, and one I tackled at my Chicago Creative Expo WordPress talk.

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June 7, 2021Comments are off for this post.

The value of design: Why hire a professional graphic designer?

First published February 2005, updated June 2021.

Two truths: Good design is a powerful tool to communicate your business' objectives. And, good design is not cheap.

However true these statements are, it's difficult for many to realize the value of graphic design in the marketing mix. Sometimes it's not quantifiable—the return on your investment isn't there immediately, or you're not sure what you really get out of a logo, new business card or direct mail piece.

Why hire a graphic designer? Put simply, it’s about communication.

One of the most important things to realize in design is that it is meant to look good—but it is not good design if it does not communicate your objectives.

Anyone who tells you differently is not interested in the results of the piece, just how it will look in their portfolio.

Realize, though, that there is a surplus of visual information coming at us every day, making competition strong. Your clients can just as easily go to someone who is flashier, more sophisticated or deemed more trustworthy in the market.

What gives you the edge are unique, well-presented ideas that distinguish your company and what it does. A designer is best-suited to help you realize this—especially as you realize that marketing your company can become confused by conflicting messages and bogged down by your other responsibilities.

Build a consistent, professional look.

Everyone knows the Nike swoosh, but if it weren't used consistently throughout advertising, products and other materials, it never would have become synonymous with Nike, and vice versa.

The same follows for your logo, website and marketing materials:

Establishing a look sets you apart in the marketplace, but also show you to be professional and dedicated—not just someone with Word template and a printer.

I'll put it to you this way: Is it better to meet a potential client in pajamas, or in a suit? The way you present your business to the world is just as important!

So, what sets you apart?

I'm not only speaking for myself here but all designers: There is a difference in using a designer, as opposed to "doing it yourself" or a friend who's dabbled in Photoshop.

Most of us have gone to school for it [in my case, I have BAs in both art and journalism] and have worked to understand the processes and psychology of buying. We've worked on accounts in the Fortune 100 and small as one-man shops. We know the best way to get a job on press inexpensively, or how to build an e-commerce site customers can easily navigate.

Because we've done this for so long, we can do it quickly, using the latest tools. Those tools cost us not only money, but time in learning, getting up to speed and knowing where to best apply them for you.

Just as you're the expert in your field, we've established ourselves as experts here, and you can use our knowledge to move your business ahead.

May 7, 2021Comments are off for this post.

Small business advice: Tips to better run your business

It's never too late to look at what you are doing and how you can improve your processes. Growing a business, or maintaining current clients, is usually at top of mind, and here are seven evergreen tips to get you started.

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June 4, 2019Comments are off for this post.

How to recover from losing an RFP

Updated 5/2019.

It's happened to us all: You knock yourself out with a killer proposal or presentation, answering every need for their RFP, only to be told by the potential client that they've chosen another company. It's frustrating, especially if you feel you were the best company for the job. However, there is hope in recovering—and coming away to win bigger and better proposals in the future.

You have a weak proposal

Often the issue lies in a weak proposal, and Mary McDonald of the McDonald Consulting Group uses this as an opportunity to ask for feedback from peers. "I've found it helpful to ask others to review my proposal (both before and after the proposal has been sent) and ask them their opinion—what they liked, what they didn't like, and keep that info. in a file. When preparing the next proposal, I simply cut and paste the 'known good' parts in, allowing me to focus more time and energy on the 'didn't like so much' parts to craft and improve them."

Look deeper into your client relationship

Others use it as an opportunity to look deeper into the potential client relationship and glean more for future proposals. “'No' is implemented to bring us to a different place, not so much to teach us a lesson, as much as to help guide us to see things from a different perspective," says marketing expert Catherine Filarski.

"You may want to ask yourself some basic questions: Is there a relationship established with the prospect? People buy from people they like. Did you look at the proposal from the client’s perspective? Did you meet their needs? Did you ask for feedback from the prospect as to why the proposal was not accepted? Asking yourself some basic questions helps you realize where you might have gone wrong in the proposal process, so the next time around you can develop a better perspective of the client/prospect relationship, in the process, write better proposals."

Filarski also suggests John C. Maxwell's book, Falling Forward, Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones, a few chapters of which are available online.

There are better prospects out there

Of course, sometimes the client's feedback isn't helpful or pertinent, since there are a plethora of reasons a proposal can end up in the "no" pile. If you cannot cull enough information with any of the above thoughts, it's usually better to move on to more viable prospects. It helps to consider how their proposal review was handled—often it can clue you in to their working processes, which are sometimes a huge warning sign for what would have laid ahead for you if chosen. In that case, a collective "phew!" is in order!

Good manners win out

No matter what, following up with a "thank you" and some questions to find out where it all "went wrong" is always a good step and fosters good will. Learning more about what you can improve on is always a great step in creating winning proposals.

If you are truly interested in moving ahead with a company, it doesn't hurt to send something thoughtful, says marketing expert Cheryl Gidley of Gidley Consulting. "Later, [I send] something of interest to that person specifically (an article I wrote, usually.) Then, in 3-6 months, I call to see how it went and if they were satisfied with the vendor they selected. I also ask to be considered for work in the future."

Sometimes, they come back

In some instances, the client makes a poor decision and the ball is back in your court. Terrapin Media founder Nathan Nguyen, whose clients include House of Blues, Citibank and Pfizer, finds that "lost" clients often come back, even if price is the issue. "I had a proposal for the largest dollar store item wholesaler [in the country]. After doing an in-depth analysis on his competitors and from his own site, we had [suggestions]. After the CEO haggled and haggled... I simply refused to go any lower. After 6 months, he had to call me again and apologize. Apparently their new design was ugly, their backend didn't work and the SEO campaign was a total disaster."

And, sometimes it works out in your favor, Nguyen adds. "Fortunately I redid the RFP at a higher cost, merely knowing that this guy was going to haggle and haggle. I am holding firm on the price since I know that my price is very fair and the work we do is outstanding."

So, it pays to hold firm with what you know is a great product or service, and eventually, you'll find clients who can understand and appreciate it and all you've learned from lost proposals.

April 26, 2017Comments are off for this post.

ChicagoWebSupport.com launches with levels of WordPress support and maintenance

WordPress support and maintenance is quite a bit of my ongoing business, whether it's "de-hacking" a compromised site or simply optimizing and protecting it. To be honest, WordPress maintenance is not the highest priority on some organizations' long list of to dos, and yet it's a popular target for hackers. So what's a website owner to do? Read more

August 23, 2013Comments are off for this post.

Friday picks: Top takeaways from #SXSWV2V

This was a tough post to write. Coming back late last Thursday night from SXSW V2V, the premiere event in Las Vegas from SXSW, I've been bubbling over with ideas and motivation. Like the Austin version, there was so much going on, and so much to see and do — and I wanted to see all of it. Unlike Austin, the relatively small size (1500 as opposed to 30,000 registrants!) contributed to a friendly, welcoming vibe. Here, some things that I gleaned from all that time.

1. Be mindful in your social media. I was unhappy with a pricey swag bag from an event, that ended up including very little. The response to my disgruntled tweet? A "sorry" with no response to my follow-up question, and another tweet thanking me for having a great time. Clueless, anyone?

No one is perfect, but treat people with some respect, especially if they've invested in you (and ostensibly, your brand). I had previously signed up for this organization's website, but I'm going to deactivate my profile. There are far more organizations who appreciate the individual.


2. Create more collisions. Downtown Vegas is undergoing an amazing renaissance with quite a bit of thanks going to Zappo's Tony Hsieh. His idea of "colliding" conversations that enable fruitful ideas and partnerships is amazing, and from meeting a few of the downtown entrepreneurs this past week, I can see the effect it is having on the downtown Vegas economy and its people. It's positively inspiring, especially to someone who works alone most of the time!

3. Celebrate your achievements. From Tech Cocktail founder Frank Gruber, it's important to celebrate your achievements, even the smaller ones. It's easy to get bogged down in the minutia of the everyday grind, but taking time to acknowledge your wins makes it much easier to push forward.

4. Be selfish. As Micah Baldwin of Graphicly said in his talk, "You are not your company. Be selfish." In short — take care of yourself, because very often, we are our company. And we need to be in good shape to keep it going.

5. Always be learning. In my sessions with my mentees, I was so impressed with the energy and options they saw. It's a problem so many of us have: We have so much we want to do, but where to focus? My feeling has always been that you do what makes you money and in your spare time (great concept anyway!) work on your passion projects until they can become the focus.

But overall, I was inspired by their eagerness. It reminds me of where I've been and where I want to be — and keep striving for.

 

Kudos SXSW V2V! I was honored to be a part in 2013, and can't wait for next year.

 

July 26, 2013Comments are off for this post.

Friday picks: Personal assistant apps

I've always been a fan of good lists, like Brit + Co. In that spirit I'm introducing a series of Friday blogs on my favorite tools, plugins, apps and tips.

 

I'm fawning over three particular personal assistant apps this week. I had a heck of a time finding a decent task app that could also be a bit CRM and project manager AND look good (and I'll get to that one next week) but I've always been doubtful of the PA apps. How can an app really help me?

As it turns out, it can help quite a bit. My favorites are Osito (no longer available in the US iTunes store) and Donna, and I'm still crossing between them till one gets the better of the other. My third is EasilyDo, which brings in the social component. Osito and Donna are only for  iOS, but I can easily see their use expanding.

I did try Google Now, which was useful, but didn't fit my exact needs. We all have our own quirks dictating  how useful an app will be, and for me, much of that lies in meetings and traffic.

More than a calendar

Each reminds you of your appointments — but better than a calendar, they assess current traffic and tell you when to leave for your appointment (when that comes up for a conference call it's just... odd). If you do have a conference call, each asks  if it can dial in for you.

If you have a "usual" home and work address, it alerts you to the best time to leave to beat traffic.

All allow you to email,  call or text colleagues if you're running late — but only if you put the person's full name in there. If someone doesn't show, their contact info (via your phone book) is available for the same treatment. And directions are pulled from Google Maps or Apple maps, depending on which you prefer, directly from the app.

Mostly, I love Donna because it appeals to my designer sensibilities.

Predictive intelligence

Osito's marketing says it relies on "predictive intelligence" — and though it has all the features above, it excels in travel and weather.

Your air travel info is updated on the fly, pulling data from your email. And weather updates are uncannily precise, telling you to the minute: "It will begin raining in Chicago at 12:55 pm." Even meteorologists can't do that.

Osito didn't overwhelm me on design, but it's clean and clear.

EasilyDo is more social

EasilyDo is rather cool for connecting to your Facebook or other social network (or just email) and scheduling personal greetings and even gifts from you. They'll even tell you how much time you saved by going through their app rather than doing it yourself (is it accurate? Hmmm...).

It scans your contacts and prompts you to update or merge them, a nice service I tired of with Plaxo a while ago. Easily Do is very graphic and you feel as if you're accomplishing something — even if it's just bday greetings.

 

Some of these features may not seem noteworthy if you aren't traveling (by any mode), but they've saved me from overly-long meetings with alerts, and pulling important data when I failed to do so. For free apps, I'm more than sold.

I'm waiting to see what others like Jini and Sherpa (only on Google Play) will do — but some of those frustrating tasks? Are now a memory, as long as my phone is charged.

June 25, 2013Comments are off for this post.

Mentoring at SXSW V2V

 

I guess spending almost 10 years at anything makes one a bit of an expert — if in persistance (...if not entrepreneurship, business, finance, law, networking, marketing...)!

 

And SXSW V2V agrees! I'm incredibly excited to be a mentor at the inaugural fest in Las Vegas, NV, August 11-14, 2013.

 

English: This is a picture of Tony Hsieh, CEO ...

English: This is a picture of Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What is SXSW V2V? Like the Austin SXSW, there will be keynotes (I'm excited for Tony Hsieh's), plenty of educational marketing, startup and tech sessions, along with a variety of mentors to counsel on your ideas, projects, portfolios, pitches, startups, and aspirations. I haven't even gotten to the parties yet.

 

Why Vegas? The downtown tech scene is growing by leaps and bounds — think Zappos for just a start — and this post gives some other great reasons this event is just the beginning.

 

What are the sessions about? "The goal here is for a less established professional to have a chance to ask career-related advice from a well established professional."

 

How do you sign up for a session? "Attendees will be invited to sign up for Mentor sessions before SXSW V2V begins (this interface will go live closer to the actual event)."

 

I can't wait to see you there — and stay tuned for info on discounted badges.

October 29, 2008Comments are off for this post.

What do clients care about?

The owner of a small printing company had been in business for many years. He recently called me asking for help creating a marketing plan. During the conversation, I asked what prompted his request, and he related that a fairly large prospect had recently visited, but that, try as he might, at the conclusion of the visitor meeting, he knew he had not convinced that prospect to do business with him. The Owner was frustrated and we scheduled a meeting to talk further.

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December 1, 2004Comments are off for this post.

New Year’s business resolutions

This past January, I came up with a list of business resolutions for the year. I'm going to recap them for the coming year—with some of what I've learned! Feel free to share your thoughts with our readership!

Delegate. You're not a one-woman or one-man show, so consider delegating your responsibilities.You are the expert in your industry, but that doesn't mean you should continue to focus your efforts on things best left to others—this includes marketing, legal matters, even purchasing office supplies! You may save money and learn something in the long run. UPDATE: This still holds true. There are great resources out there to get your business running, and they may save you money in the long run [I've had several clients reprint materials with me because I can guarantee quality and their original pieces were done poorly—and expensively!]

Plan ahead. It's easy to get lost in the day-to-day operations of our businesses, but that doesn't mean we should stop planning. Take some time on a regular basis—you may find weekly, biweekly or even monthly works for you best—to search out new opportunities, read an industry magazine online, attend a seminar or revise your business plan. It's always better to plan when business is up, rather than when it's down. UPDATE: I, myself, have fallen into this trap more than once. When you're too busy it's easy to forego networking and marketing activities. Now, I always have a stream of marketing materials going out and appointments lined up. I also always ask new clients where they found me and thank my referral sources personally.

Volunteer. Share your expertise or product with a needy group; you'll get a write-off and great exposure, and they'll get your much-needed work. People always remember where they got a break...UPDATE: I've realigned myself with organizations who follow missions I believe in and that make me feel better about volunteering overall.

Promote your business often, and consistently. Check out how your logo is represented on your web site, your stationery, your marketing materials: Is it the same throughout? Differing looks confuse viewers [is this you, or your competitor?] and confuse your brand. Update your web site as often as you can, with success stories, expert tips and articles and fresh design elements. UPDATE: Soon I'll launch a new web site with more articles, links to resources and more, since my web site has proven to be a great marketing tool. I've also found that my new marketing materials are quite well-received and give me the confidence to come out ahead of other small design firms and one-person shops.

Take time out for yourself, and let your employees do the same. If you or your coworkers are overworked, it's not a good recipe for furthering your business. Schedule some downtime in every week. UPDATE: I'll always prescribe to this one! 'Nuff said!

Reevaluate. Take stock of your current marketing and networking efforts, and drop what's not working for you. What can you do in the new year? Keep reading Gizmo Notes, and give us a call if you need some suggestions. UPDATE: I have evaluated my advertising avenues and reallocated resources to those that worked best for me. I've also dropped associations that were drains on time and money and spend more time getting involved in more supportive, engaging ones.

Visit a new networking group. One of the best networking tips I've ever heard [which I can't place the source of; maybe you can?] advised one to join or visit six different types of networking groups if you really want to be seen: Two for your specific industry or job, two for general networking, and two in industries that have nothing to do with what you or any of your clients/competitors do. You never know where that next great lead or friendship may develop. UPDATE: I've benefitted from many different networking groups, creating new business relationships and friendships along the way. 

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