Is the business card dead?

Interesting thought about business cards, are they really dead? I think this one is a matter of opinion, but in this graphic designers mind, they are most certainly not.

Social media dominates our world. All you have to do is look at the phone book that was recently delivered. That book is an old dinosaur to most folks. I used to sit on the directory as a child when I needed to be higher up to the table, and it weighed quite a few pounds. The recently delivered telephone book was about the size of a journal. The bigger questions is how many times do you refer to that book in your daily life today? Never would be my answer because I go online and search for what I need.

This leads me to the topic of conversation, the business card. Will it soon join its friend in the land of the dinosaurs? I don’t believe so and here is why.

Let’s do a little scenario. You are at a networking event and have to introduce yourself quickly to multiple people. What is the quickest way to do that? Business card.

Second scenario. You have been invited to speak at a monthly meeting, and these people could be your potential clients. You have 3 minutes to leave a lasting impression, and you can hand out materials. Leave the brochure, leave the rack card but make sure you leave the business card too because that is what will get kept. It may go in a bowl or a Rolodex, maybe even thrown into a drawer but it will be there and when they think of you and what will they search for? Business card.

Third and final scenario. An existing client has a meeting and meets someone who could use your services, but you are not there. They chat about you, talk about what a fantastic business you are, it’s a perfect fit. Luckily what does the supporter have to pass on to this possible new customer? Business card.

Ok, I think that is all the role playing we need for now. Hopefully, you are beginning to see my point. In our world today I still firmly believe you need a card to identify and remind people what you do. A friend recently told me she heard a podcast where they were discussing why you no longer need business cards because social media was your story. I believe that is partly true. Social media is a great tool for showing people what we do on a daily basis. However, the beginning of the story, the cover of your book starts with you and your business card.

Netwerk Like it Ain’t Work!

Networking. Some of us love it, some of us hate it. Either way, it is essential in your small business!

I have been very lucky to have many clients through word of mouth over the years that I didn’t have to face the networking crowds when I lived in Florida. It wasn’t until our recent move to Georgia when I found myself needing to get out there and meet my new community. I didn’t want to work here without being involved in the local area and knowing what clients needed out in the low country.

Here are some helpful tips to boost your confidence and get you on the right track for networking in your community. You will be a pro in no time and remember, everyone, is just as nervous as you are so werk it!

Where to Go
There are many networking groups in every city, the number one place to start looking is the Chamber of Commerce if you are interested in starting with a trusted source. You can also google networking groups in your town. I highly suggest asking locals for advice; there may be smaller groups you didn’t even know that fit your niche better. The bigger the city, the more choices you will have. Choices are a good thing! Most groups allow you to visit once for free if they require membership dues. They get to meet you, and you get to see if it’s the right fit for you too. When trying out a group ask yourself after, did I meet enough people who might need my services? Was there anyone interesting I would like to get to know more and possibly use their services? Does the time of this meeting work for me monthly? Being able to attend regular meetings after you join is paramount so make sure you can benefit from the membership fee you will have to pay. With this in mind take advantage of these one-time expeditions. Network with the folks you meet, don’t pass up any opportunity.

Find an Event
Ok, hopefully by now you have picked the right networking group; it’s time to breathe! Let’s talk about going to your first event within that group. Make sure you dress the part. If the event is a formal one don’t show up in casual attire, impress them, so they remember you! If it is a monthly meeting, feel free to wear day to day work attire but try to amp it up a bit. I can’t stress this enough; you need to be you but still look professional! I sit in front of a computer all day. I wear jeans because they are comfortable and I love them. Attire for an artist is just as important as it is for anyone else in the business world. However, when I go to a meeting I still wear jeans, but I certainly like dress them up to make an impression. Fun jewelry or scarves can certainly make any outfit pop so get creative and be memorable!

Ask a Friend
Know someone in the group? Ask them to join you! Friends make things more fun so why not use this as an opportunity for you both to mingle together. It’s a lot less painful I assure you. Plus it is a great way to cross network, they may know business owners you don’t and vice versa.

Have Enough
When I say have enough I mean have enough on all accounts. Have enough business cards, have enough courage to talk to people, have enough energy to be present, have enough skills that you can openly talk about and look knowledgeable in your field, have enough confidence to know you’ve got this! There have been many times when I have gone to an event and walked in the room and though, wow, I should have gotten better sleep and I probably should have ironed this shirt a little better. If you don’t feel 100% you probably won’t perform your best so give yourself some slack. Know in your heart this just might not be the right day to show up, it’s ok to miss one meeting, don’t beat yourself up for it.

It’s not over yet
So the event is over, and you feel pretty good about it. You have passed out business cards and have received some in return. Now, what do you do? Go back to the office and get to work? Of course, but don’t forget to carve out some time later that day or the next morning to email those kind folks who connected with you and gave you a business card. Even if you email them and they do not respond, even if you probably don’t see yourself doing business with them directly…they will remember that email and maybe down the line need your services or know someone else who might. If you do get a response from them, ask if they would like to meet for coffee to learn more about them. You can advertise as much as you like, but word of mouth clients are truly priceless. You can only obtain them through your ambition and drive to make your business the best it can be. Remember to be polite and available to connect and it will be rewarded, I promise!

Photo by Hope Farm Co.

In closing I would like to say, I got really lucky. When I started looking for that perfect group that would fit me best in my new community I found a creative group that made me a better. A better businesswoman and a much better artist! They inspire me and I am so excited each month when I get to see them all at our monthly meeting. There is a constant feeling of support and collaboration, they want to lift each other up which is a true gift.  I have been honored to help some of them with their branding and in return, they have helped me so much as well. I also recently joined the Chamber of Commerce in our area too and I am looking forward to meeting more businesses in the future.

I will leave you with this last piece of advice, don’t be afraid. Others in the room are just as nervous as you are, know this when you walk in. Make eye contact with someone and just say hello to start that conversation. Now, put on your big girl pants and get out there, it’s time to NetWerk!

 

What Do Graphic Designers Do?

Many people have said to me lately “I don’t know exactly what you do.” When I hear that I get worried. I think to myself am I not doing something right to communicate to my clients what I actually do? What can I do better? Have they not been paying attention to my posts on social media? But then it dawned on me, I truly don’t think people understand all that graphic designers do.

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If you Google this question here is your answer:  “Graphic designers create visual concepts, using computer software or by hand, to communicate ideas that inspire, inform, and captivate consumers. They develop the overall layout and production design for various applications such as advertisements, brochures, magazines, and corporate reports.”  But what do graphic designers, freelancers like myself actually do? There is a long list so get a cup of coffee, sit back and be ready to be amazed! Ok, we don’t have to go that far but here is the list.

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Logos. Branding. Business Cards. Packaging. Menus. Brochures. Rack Cards. Promotional Items. Consultation for Non-Creatives. Invitations. Blog & Website Concept Design. Digital Banners & Ads. Letterhead. Custom Stationary. Billboards. Appointment Cards. Post Cards. Surface Pattern Design. Signage. Folders. Mailers. Stamps. Stickers. Posters. Printables. Thank You Notes. Tote Bags. Wrapping Paper. Gift Boxes. The Label on Your Favorite Salsa. Your Favorite Dress. Umbrellas. T-Shirts. Get Where I Am Going With This? We Are Literally Everywhere.

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My, my where do I start. There are truly so many things we are capable of. However, many of us have a strong point. Something we love in this crazy design world more than anything else. For me, it’s a logo. But it doesn’t just stop with a logo, I love all the things need for creating an entire brand such as business cards, letterhead, I love to make it all work together. Many times before people ask why I enjoy it so much and the truth is, I can’t stop it. I drive by businesses every day and think to myself, “How would I have done it differently.” I know that sounds crazy but I do believe there are some things you are just really good at in life. This is mine. Now, with this being said, this does not mean I won’t do anything else. Of course, I will! I have the skills needed to design and have printed many items on paper or digital or any surface really. We are the folks who set up the things you need for your life with programs you have no idea how to use. Like a plumber who comes to fix a leak in your house that you also would not attempt to do yourself. Hire a designer, be proud of your results. Hire a designer who is an actual person you can talk to and not someone somewhere who you will probably never meet or know their name. Hire someone who wants to make you and your business better, who invests in you equally as much as you invest in them.

Graphic designers have a skill set of style cultivated through many years of education, along with many aches and pains…kidding. Critiques are rough y’all! But we are flexible, we want to help you with various projects, not just your logo but also that menu that has the logo we helped you create on top of it. We know a lot about printing and could probably give you some money saving advice without compromising the vibe of your business. I highly encourage you to create a relationship with a designer you know. You just might find a sensible friend at the other end of the line.

Thank you for signing up to receive my newsletter! Every month I will send my latest blogs, work and a few little juicy secrets to help your small business grow.

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Digital

 

 

Pro BoNo!

For any designer or artist, this topic is difficult. At the beginning of a freelance career, it is very common to be asked to do a project for free or pro bono. Here is the interesting part, it is also common in the middle of your design career and from what I understand until the last day of your design career. People honestly think they are doing you a favor by giving you the opportunity to create something for their business based on recognition only, no payment. It baffles me. I also don’t think people are not trying to be malicious. I believe they genuinely feel like they are helping you in some way. In my head I have the conversation with myself when this question arises, “You wouldn’t ask a plumber to come over and fix a leaking pipe for free, so why do you ask me?” Ironically, Jon Acuff had this same thought as well and wrote a fantastic blog and did a video about it too, take a look at both of those later on. The question arises here, how to say politely no when asked to do something pro bono and still get the work. It’s a thin tightrope to walk, but here are a few ways to think about it. It’s time to consider if you are ready to put your acrobatic skills to work!

When should you and when shouldn’t you do pro bono jobs for clients or potential clients.

When it benefits you

If the potential client has an audience that you cannot reach other than by doing this project, consider it. For example, a non-profit that you support. Non-profits have strict budgets, but they also have business owners who donate money and can afford your services. If they see you are a like minded business owner, you may find yourself with a few new clients in the long run. My advice to you in this situation is you need to set parameters in the very beginning. I have worked with many non-profits, all said and done exposure is good. If you get your name on a step and repeat or on a flyer that goes out to 5,000 people that’s considered good exposure but it doesn’t always mean you will get a job out of it. Keep it in perspective and if there are many people on a committee making decisions, make sure you have one contact only within that committee. You DO NOT want to be part of an email war about why the guy in finance wants the design to be purple when the vice-president loves blue! The power struggle there is not yours to deal with. They can elect one person who is your contact, I urge you to be upfront about this in the beginning. Also, be VERY clear about what services and time you are gifting them. If there has ever been a time for open communication and being clear, it’s time to get crystal clear!

Long-term client who pays consistently

If you have a client who pays on time and gives you consistent work, I say do it. It is a kindness that says hey, I appreciate your business. Now, this doesn’t mean create an entire book or a logo for free but if it is something that can be done quickly and within reason for them personally, this is where to do it. Words cannot express how much I value the constant client, and they deserve special treatment. I promise you this is where the pro bono comes in very handy, and you won’t regret it as long as you and they are realistic about what you are doing for them. Cover your bases as always and communicate that this is a one-time favor.

Because the design is just that bad and you see it as a challenge, yes, I just said that out loud

First off, never tell your potential client this is why you took this low paying gig. And when I say low paying, there needs to be some type of barter or small fee here. I have often driven by a business that I love and want to walk in the door and just say, “I will help you for free, just don’t close your doors because I can’t live without your product or services.” However much in your head that is a compliment, I assure you it’s not. Conversation is the key here. If you frequent a local place, and they are a start up business, most likely they are just trying to make it like the rest of us. If you have an opportunity to discuss this matter face to face, I can assure you this conversation will go well if you start off along the lines of “I love what you are doing here, have you chosen a design company to work with yet?” This is the time you use to feel them out. Who have they spoken to and do they have any money at all for advertising? If you feel like helping this business will come back to you, meaning they are going to grow, and you want in, this might be a perfect pro bono situation.

Family & Friends

This one is tough. Mom wants a fantastic Christmas card in your spare time and cousin Sherri is turning 40 and wants to invite her besties to her party and only needs ten cards, can you help? The list is long, and you may want to strangle them because they are family but try hard to resist. At the end of the day if you want to help, do it. If not, tell them you have too much on your plate, and you can’t manage it at this time. Be honest and move forward.

At the end of the day, there are many other situations for the pro bono experience. I have learned, more than once, that you have to go into it knowing you may be burned. I don’t like saying that, but I want you to be aware. I remember a t-shirt design I was supposed to do for a volunteer type project. I spent a lot of time trying to make everyone happy ( so many cooks in the kitchen) and when the t-shirts were delivered there were changes to my design that I didn’t exactly know about. Surprised? Me too. It turns out, the person in contact with the printer requested those changes and the printer did it without my consultation. I guess they didn’t think it mattered to me. Shame on me for this one, lesson learned.

On the flip side, when I believe strongly in something I do give breaks in regards to design. Not all of my experiences have been bad. Non-profits imparticular hold a special place in my heart since it is where I came from. I do believe it is good to help others but I also believe we should protect what we create and don’t abuse it by giving it away. Pay it forward when you can because good karma is important my friends! Pro BoNo? Maybe Pro BoYes?

 

Working from Home

Since I started my own small business eight years ago, there have been many obstacles. However, I think one of the hardest and easiest decisions I made was to work from home. I worried about the image of my business in this arrangement. Would people think I was not serious because I didn’t have an actual office they could visit? Would they question my skills because of this? Many thoughts ran through my head, and many doubts followed them. When I got to the core of the choice, the one reason I choose to work at home, that was what put my mind to rest. Why did I make the decision to go out on my own in the first place? Children. I wanted to be able to do all I could for them as they grow, to have that flexibility. I realize this is not for everyone; kids go to daycare every day; mine went to preschool when they were little. For me, I have the privilege to do this thanks to my husband, and I don’t take that lightly. I am grateful every day. I wanted to be the one to drop them off and pick them up from school, those 15 minutes in the car each day are important to me, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

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With this being said, it’s not all sunny days and roses here so please don’t mistake that. There are days when becoming a truck driver sounds like a better idea. Me in a big rig driving alone for hours…alone…did I mention alone? No laundry, no cooking dinner or grabbing someone a snack in the middle of an important deadline. Sounds like a dream! I am kidding, the good does outweigh the bad, but there are always obstacles. For example, when the kids were babies my whole day was spent around their schedule. I molded my day around naptime, food and playtime. I got pretty good at that even though it was monotonous at times. Nap time was meeting time, and it worked, I made it work. The fantastic thing about my clients that I did not expect is that understood. They valued my skills; they respected my time, and they helped me make it work. I truly believe if things are right, they tend to fall into place. I was open and honest about how and where I worked, and although it stressed me to relay this to them in the beginning, they appreciated it and no one had any issues. This does not mean my life was not stressful at times; it just means that it worked itself out.

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A few years later the kids were both in school full time and an office space became available for me outside the home. I was so excited! My own work address, my own space, and no one would touch anything! I was eager and ready to take the business to the next level. The next chapter had begun, and I felt accomplished. Clients were able to come to my office, and I had neighbors, people who were small business owners just like me. We chatted and laughed together on a daily basis, and I loved it. That tiny office was a bit of freedom for a mom who just wanted to feel like herself before children. When I sit down and think about it, I realize holding on hard to my profession has been a financial choice of course, but the root of it is me. I wanted to be a mom and a small business owner too. I have had a job since I was 15 years old, I think it is just how I am programmed. I wanted to do both. Being a mother is hard work, it is the hardest job I have ever had along with being the most rewarding. I see myself working and owning a small business as an example for my children. That they too can manage a family and their dreams at the same time if they choose to do so.

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I was there for almost two years when we made the decision to move. I cried a lot. I felt like I was giving up a part of myself and that was hard. I packed up, said my goodbyes and we relocated. Now I am back at home. Things tend to work in full circles; life is funny that way. I have to say; I don’t hate it. I was as surprised as anyone. My new office at home has worked itself out, and the light is good. That is important to a designer you know. I have new hurdles of course and instead of working around nap times I use the time they are both in school. When they come home, they have chores and homework, so I get a full 8 hours of work in per day. More time than I have ever had before to work. If you are a parent working from home and struggling here are five tips for you to be more successful. It’s not an easy task and each one of these tips will not work itself out overnight but it’s a start!

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#1 Don’t doubt yourself

You can make a business happen anywhere if you want it bad enough. It can be as small as a laptop on a kitchen table, but if you focus on the goal, you will succeed.

#2 Communicate

Be honest, tell your clients the situation. If you work from home, and the UPS folks show up and your dog goes nuts in the background they may think, where is this person? If they know you work from home, just apologize and move on. They won’t even think twice about it.

#3 Mold yourself

Be willing to be flexible. If you have small children, make a schedule and get them on it. I used to find time to work at night when the days got hectic.

#4 Close the door

Work can consume you and then you never shut it off. Let yourself leave the work in your office. If you find yourself on the couch at night, and you are aching to go back to your desk or you are answering emails on your phone when you are supposed to be spending quality time with your significant other, there is a problem. You MUST shut it off! I think this is the most important point of all. Know your boundaries, keep hold of them. Think about it, you could have missed that pivotal point in Game of Thrones with Jon Snow this season because you were looking at an email, that would have been tragic;)

#5 Appreciate it

Working from home can be stressful. You may even regret it some days. But remind yourself as much as you can about why you are here. I promise this will be the easiest one of them all. Family matters and your presence will be noticed for years to come!

 

You can read a similar blog to this I wrote last year here. I do it to track my progress each year.