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From the GrowSmartBiz Conference: Proven Strategies to Convert Web Visitors into Customers

November 17th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

One of my favorite sessions at the GrowSmartBiz Conference on November 5 was a Technology Track panel discussion that offered valuable, no-nonsense ways to convert Web visitors into customers.  Thanks to Jennifer Shaheen, President of the Technology Therapy Group, Melinda Emerson, the Small Biz Lady, and Walt Rivenbank, VP of the Mobility Applications Consulting group at AT&T for such great information!

Their strategies are fairly easy to implement, but they will require some time.  Here’s what to do:

1. Check Google Analytics to find out whether your Web visitors are staying.

If you don’t have an account yet, get sign up for one today (it’s free, natch).  One of the things Google Analytics looks at is your website’s bounce rate.  If people are visiting your website but not staying long and not moving from one page to the next, it’s not good.  It means you are probably not supplying them with the information they are looking for and you are definitely not converting them into leads, let alone customers.   It also means you need to update your website.

2. Have a clear call-to-action (CTA).

Update your website by offering a consultation, white paper, how-to guide—anything that is both educational and valuable.  As Melinda Emerson, the Small Biz Lady, said, “Give away your best stuff.”  But you’re not giving away anything for free!  Before they get that free consultation or white paper, ask them for their name and e-mail address.  Your web designer/programmer can help you set this up.

3. Be sure your CTA is easy to find.

Don’t hide your CTAs!  Add them to every page in the form of a big button that is hard to miss (it need not be a garish eyesore, just prominent).  If you have a shopping cart, make it a really big button that is easy to click on.

4. You have 7 seconds to convince your Web visitors to stay.

Your website is your home base and most visible online presence.  Because you only have 7 seconds to grab the attention of your Web visitors, your home page must be especially well-written.  As you are writing—or re-writing—your website content, also keep in mind that your website is not a book—people do not read it from beginning to end.

5. No handouts.

When you give a presentation or workshop, do not hand out information that elaborates on your topic.  Instead, ask attendees to visit you online at your website, Facebook page, or Twitter account to receive some great information that they will find useful (really sell it!).  You can, however, give them a one-sheet (a one-page brochure) that acts as a CTA.  It should only include some information to pique their interest.  Your goal is to get them onto your website or connected to you via social media so you can continue to engage with them and convert them into customers.

Photo Courtesy Shashi Bellamkonda

How to Kill Your Business, Or Lead Generation Gone Awry

April 29th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

During this past month, we, the Network Solutions bloggers, have been relentlessly driving home the fact that inbound marketing is vital to any business.  The whole point of inbound marketing is to continuously drive leads so that your sales funnel, and by extension, your back account, is always full.

So, I have to ask: Once you get those leads, what are you doing with them?  This is where you say, “I’m talking to them via email, Facebook, and Twitter and answering their questions. I’m also gently feeding them our value proposition while finding out what their needs are.  As a result, I’m converting them to new business.”

But if you’re not saying that, what’s going on?  It can be easy to focus so intently on the needs of your current clients that you forget about cultivating potential clients.  If you want to kill your business, here’s what to do:

  1. Ignore comments and messages on social media. You already make time every day to reply to email, so set aside additional time to answer direct messages on Facebook and Twitter and reply to comments left on your blog.
  2. Only market your business sporadically. To keep a steady flow of potential customers coming in the door, so to speak, you have to be consistent in your marketing efforts.  That means setting up an online ad program, making sales calls and going to networking events even when you’re really busy, and so on.
  3. Send out newsletters and blog posts randomly. As stated above, you have to be consistent.  Publish your newsletter and blog at regular intervals.  Your newsletter should go out at the same time every month and your blog posts should be published on the same day(s) every week.
  4. Don’t bother with a mission statement. You need to know what problem(s) you solve for your clients, so potential clients will instantly understand why they need your product or service.  You also need to have a concise elevator speech so you can quickly answer the oft-asked question, “What is it your company does?”
  5. Confuse people once they’re on your website. Is your company’s mission statement front and center on your home page?  Is your website easy to navigate?  Do you make it easy for people to reach you by phone and email?  Are the benefits of your product(s) and/or service(s) clearly stated?   If people have to search for any of this information, kiss them goodbye.  They’re busy, and they’re not going to bother.
  6. Keep messaging inconsistent. Use the same language, industry terms, tone of voice, and style in all of your messaging, including on your website and in your marketing materials, newsletter, and blog.
  7. Un-brand yourself. Not only does your messaging need to be consistent, so does your look.  If your company looks sloppy and disorganized, potential clients might think your work is, too.  Find a graphic designer you like, and use them for everything: logo, stationery, business cards, website, brochures, etc.

When Bad Websites Happen to Good People: Six Common Mistakes to Avoid

February 15th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

From Jurveston on Flickr

One of my favorite projects is writing and editing website content. I love putting together messaging that clearly introduces a company, explains what they do, and successfully states why they’re better than the competition.  For me, it’s a really fun challenge.  Plus, I get to meet a lot of interesting people and learn about new industries.

Lately I’ve been working on several websites.   Whether the company is big or small, new or well-established, selling a product or a service, I have been running into the same simple mistakes over and over and over again.  These mistakes can turn out to be costly in a major way.  After all, the purpose of your website is to be informational, yes, but more importantly, it should be a lead generator. If people cannot quickly and easily find the information they are looking for on your website, not only will visits to your site be short, but they will not result in new customers.  As I am so fond of saying, not good.

Here is my list of the top six most common website mistakes and how to fix them.

So…what do you do again? Ever been to a company’s website and couldn’t figure out what they did?  Not clearly stating your company’s mission statement front and center on your home page is the number one mistake I run into.  If I don’t see it, I am not going to search for it.  Instead, I am going to go back to my search engine results page and click on the next company that is listed.  If your mission statement is on your About Us or Company Profile page, move it to the home page pronto.

Watch your language! If your company is of a more technical nature and has its own language, make sure your website is written in plain English so that both industry insiders and outsiders can easily understand what it is you do.

Less is more. I am begging you, dear readers, please remember that less is more.  I am known for editing entire pages down to two paragraphs, as I firmly believe there is no reason to continually repeat the same information using ever larger SAT words.  No one is going to read it!  Also—and this is worth repeating—be sure to have someone edit the content before it is posted.  It must be free from grammatical mistakes, run-on sentences, spelling mistakes, and punctuation errors.

Bread crumbs. It should be really easy to move around on your website.  If you have multiple sections with multiple sub-pages, make sure it is easy to get back to that section’s main page and to jump from one page to another within that section.  Keep a navigation bar for the section, as well as for the entire website, clearly visible at all times.  (By entire website, I also mean the home page.)

Graphics. Use graphics that are of high-quality, professional, and relevant to your industry and your company.  This should be obvious, but, well, to some people it is not.

News should be new. If you have a News page, and you should, keep it updated.  Even if you don’t, be sure all the information on your website is current.  You should not be referencing the holiday 2009 season, upcoming fall specials, or have a press release from August 2009 prominently featured.  Visit your website at least once a month to update it.  If your content management system is difficult to use, find someone within or outside the company who is comfortable with it.

11 Things You Need to Think About in an Online Marketing Strategy

February 11th, 2010 :: Steven Fisher

If you have a small business these days, chances are you are online in some fashion and looking to leverage that channel and do some sort of online marketing. In order to prepare for your online marketing activities we came up with 11 lessons learned that you should consider with your online marketing strategy.

1.) What is Your Pitch?

Many clients I have met want to run head first into online marketing without asking a simple question – what are we pitching? The art of the pitch revolves around the marketing message you are looking to convey combined with the take action that the person you are engaging will take.

2.) What Are Your Goals with Online Marketing?

Once you have the pitch and the take action down you need to ask another very fundamental question – what do you want to accomplish with online marketing? Some goals can be to get new leads or subscribers or store customers.

3.) Where Are Your Customers to Engage Them? (email newsletters, online video)

Gone are the days of “build it, they will come”. You have to build a web site but also reach out in many different channels to get attention. You have to go where your customers are and engage them. In some cases it can be after the fact when they sign up for a newsletter or subscribe to your blog, only to be brought back to your site when the offer is right. In other cases it is using tools like online video, Twitter and Facebook to engage them.

4.) What Will You Offer On Your Web Site?

When you build your web site you should ask a fundamental question and that is “what will you offer someone that visits your web site?” and that is because people will come there interested in your business and wanting to get something from it. This could be a free e-book, photos, contact info. Something that people need. This can also be separated into specific offers that are tracked and go to a certain place. They are called landing pages.

5.) What is the “Take Action” on Your Web Site? Subscribe to email newsletter, Get Leads, Sell Something, Get an Appointment?

Following up right after you know what you will offer on your web site, you need to ask a follow up question – what is the “take action” of this site? Should my goal be to get an email address for a newsletter? Sell them a product? Make it easy to request an appointment or free consultation?

The site needs to have a take action in some form or because if you spend your time driving traffic and potential customers to your site and there is nothing to take action on, then there is nothing you will gain from having the web site in the first place.

6.) Should Have a Blog?

These days many people are almost expecting a company to have some sort of blog but many companies fail miserably at it using it as a press release dumping ground or worse writing a few things at first and then…..nothing. So you have to ask yourself, is your company the type of place that would benefit from having one? Do you have the resource to dedicate to it? Are you looking to establish your company or you as a thought leader or is this a channel that can connect you with your customers in dialog?

7.) Should You Leverage Social Media Channels? (Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, MySpace, YouTube)

I mentioned above that you will need to be where your customers are to engage them. As part of your online marketing strategy is the emerging and hot topic of social media. The core of social media is about having conversations with people and being at various “outposts” where your customers are located. The most popular social media channels are Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and YouTube. You must explore and research where your customers are spending time and how they like to interact with you.

8.) What is Your Search Engine Marketing Strategy?

Yes, this old chestnut. Search engine marketing is really the tip of the spear in your online marketing strategy. All your activities do one of two things – improve your search engine results so people find you better or you use search engine marketing/advertising so people find you better. All to come your web site and take action in some form that we mentioned above. This works in unison with things like social media that increase your search engine rankings and improve your results.

9.) Will You Advertise? What Types?

There are many types of online advertising, pay-per-click, banner ads, video ads, etc. The main question is, will you advertise to direct traffic to you? It should be some aspect but you need to to your homework on what might work. Most important is to have your campaigns identified and test, test, test.

10.) What Are Your Metrics of Success for All of This?

Each business is different in how they measure success. Before you jump into all these activities we talked about above you need to know what will be a measure of success for your campaigns. If you have an e-commerce site it might be % of visitors converted to sales. If you have a content or services web site you might be looking to maximize your e-mail or blog subscribers so you can market to them at a later time.

11.) How Will You Measure?

That depends on the tools your employ and the metrics you need to gather. If you are looking to track social media metrics, you can utilize a tool like Radian6. If you are tracking pay-per-click or landing page campaigns, you can use a tool like Google Analytics. There are many tools out there and you need to know the metrics of success first and then researching for the tools will be much easier.

A Unique Proposition – Messages that chase buyers away

February 9th, 2010 :: Tobias Bray

First let me kill something. Unique cannot be modified. Something is or is not unique – there is no such thing as more unique.

Anthropologists and Behavior Scientists know something. They know that only a very small part of the population likes something that is unique. The question is “Why”? Because we are a) creatures of habit and b) we learn by attaching new experiences to something we already understand. On any adoption curve the best customers are majority buyers. The myth of early adopters is a myth unless you are selling a pure tech play in which case your chances of courting the early majority hitch on building a product that the masses can comprehend and put to use solving a problem with little or no difficulty (see b), yet it appeals to the tech crowd. Now that we have a framework lets move on to messages.

What makes a message work – It connects to something the buyer understands and includes a call to action that can be acted on when read. Let’s say two very capable people open bike shops. Both of these people have solid business skills, understand their product and know how to handle customers. Let’s see which one gets your business…

You are walking down a street on a sunny afternoon. You are not on your cell phone and there are no distractions. Life is good and you are contemplating the purchase of a new bike. A moment later two vans drive by only a few seconds apart. Each has a name a logo and a tag line. The first van is from Marathon Cycle Store – Get out and ride 1-800-pedal now. The side of the van shows a couple riding mountain bikes. The second van is from Wheelmen – We Give You Wings 717-215-2572. The side of the second van has a logo that looks like it might be a modern stick figure on something the resembles a bike.

If you are like most of the buying public, you were drawn to the first van because it connected to something you already knew and didn’t make you think. The message was right there. For all the creative energy companies put into names, tag lines and logos, the mistake they make most often is go for the curious concept first (Curiosity is a tool of creation, desire and need are the tools of a sale). They strive to be unique in everything they do. Good for them. Are they unique to the point that a prospect ignores them – most likely. The problem is two fold – creative agencies don’t think like consumers or talk to prospects like sales people do. Companies often spend so much time concerned about a unique image that they forget why the prospect wants to buy in the first place.

Connect your name, tag line, logo, product name or pitch to your prospect’s burning desire and you will do better than your competitor. Why? Because while you are introducing the prospect to a great shopping experience, your competitor is still trying to explain what it is his company does.

To the point – At 360 Sales Focus we have an entire integrated sales and marketing company at your disposal. How can we help you generate more business? Let’s talk about making something happen for your company.

Your Customers May Be About To Move – Are You Ready?

January 26th, 2010 :: Tobias Bray

I read a short article by Steve Rubel over at Advertising Age about the future of Internet access that made me stop what I was doing and author this post. He thinks that facebook will enter the cell phone market. Why not? Google did right after releasing Wave.  This move has less to do with Google than the size and potential of the mobile market.  Let’s explore this and other data points –

Market Size – From the Ad Age Article sighted above “According to Morgan Stanley, more people will connect to the internet via mobile devices than PCs in five years. Meanwhile, Forrester reports that 17% of U.S. consumers have smartphones. This means that 83% currently don’t.”

Cost of Devices – According to, Moore’s Law the power of electronic devices will increase, the size will decrease and the price will fall so we will see a sub $150 carrier independent smartphone in just a couple of years.

User Behavior – Yesterday The New York Times ran an article that pointed to research showing children 8 to 18 years old now spend 7 1/2 hours with media devices on a daily basis absorbing 11 1/2 hours of information by multitasking. The majority of the devices they use are portable in nature.

Conclusion – At the confluence of demand and the affordable device lies your customer. In five or fewer years, you company will need to be fully engaged with a mobile site that fits on a screen roughly 2″ x 3″ and supports bi-directional connections to several communities.

Get the jump on your largest competitors – Large companies are still struggling to figure out social media. The inertia of complacency in these firms will cause them to show up at the party late and under dressed. There are some very good research papers on the internal issues these firms struggle with such as this Master Thesis pointing out the three reasons why large companies fail at incorporating community driven innovation into their plans.

So be nimble and start figuring out your strategy now. Chances are good you will get the jump on the big guys.

We have an entire organization at your disposal Stop by our site or give us a call. We understand sales, marketing and media.

Video Marketing: Yay, or Nay?

January 18th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

I met Jessica Piscitelli by accident a few months ago.  She and I were both at a networking event that neither of us normally attends.   When I found out she was a videographer, I was intrigued.  Though she records conferences, galas, and other special events, she also produces videos for promotion, training, and SEO.  As a film school grad and veteran of the movie industry in NYC, she is pretty good at what she does. Check out her company at www.capture-video.com

Jessica Piscitelli

Jessica Piscitelli

Video marketing for SEO really caught my attention, though.  I know big companies, and especially media and news organizations, use video on their websites, but I didn’t know how it aided SEO efforts.  Here’s what I learned during a conversation with Jessica:

The first thing Jessica said is that video should be part of your suite of marketing tools.  That sought after demographic of 18-24 year olds watch an average of 5 ½ hours of online video a month.  In fact, online videos are so popular that YouTube became the 2nd largest search engine (as measured by number of searches) last year.  Did not know that!

A website with a video has a 50 times greater chance of being found on the first page of results generated by a search engine as compared to a website that is text only.  Fifty times!  Did not know that either!  [I asked Jessica why this was so, and since she doesn’t speak computer-ese either, she quickly explained it in English.  Google changed the way it runs searches two years ago, so they search for anything—maps, videos, graphics—that contains the search word(s).]

Naturally, you can’t just chuck any old video up onto your website and expect it to work magic.  Video length and quality are very important.  Because a person’s attention span wanes around the five minute mark (for some of us, ahem, it’s a bit shorter), you’ll definitely want to keep your message short, sweet, and to the point. 

The message that you are trying to get across will dictate the video’s length.  If you are simply explaining how your company helps its clients, or discussing a new product you just launched, the video will be short.  If you are interviewing an industry expert who uses your product or service, the video will be longer.  Just remember the five minute rule of thumb.

Now, if you want people to watch and share your video, it needs to be high-quality and interesting.  By high-quality, Jessica stressed that you cannot film yourself on your webcam blabbering about whatever and then post it on your website.  No one will finish watching it, no one will share it, and it could ruin your professional reputation and image.  Remember, video represents the quality of the product and/or services your company sells. 

To keep the video interesting, you’ll definitely want a professional videographer to film and then edit it to include various images, angles, settings, etc.  Just think of it this way: would you rather be in one of those TV commercials for a local business that was obviously filmed on a shoe string budget, or a commercial for a national or international brand that was filmed by a professional crew with professional actors in a fabulous location?    

So, what will this cost you?  “Talking head” videos start at $2,000.  Yeah, I know, not cheap.  But remember the search engine results for online videos, not to mention the instant sales pitch video makes, for anyone clicking on your website who doesn’t want to wade through all that text.  Jessica said some clients shoot several videos at once to reduce costs a bit and then time release the videos over the course of the year.  And if you are your product (a lawyer, accountant, life coach, etc.), a talking head video is a perfect way to differentiate yourself. 

Check out some of the videos Jessica has produced for clients.  Pretty cool!  http://www.capture-video.com/video-samples.htm.  And she has a very impressive list of clients to boot.  After watching some of her videos, I think you’ll be saying “yay” to video marketing.

Eight Things To Keep In Mind For Your Websites Search Engine Optimization

November 19th, 2009 :: Michael Dougherty

If content is King then your Search Engine Optimization efforts are your King’s Herald. The guy who is out there, once people are listening, giving out the valuable information about your King. But instead of the shiny horn and scroll of lineage, the Search Engine Optimization Herald uses text and links to allow the web crawlers, the cute name for the automated programs that source out websites and index their content in their lists.

Let me be clear, this isn’t the silver bullet that will push your website to the top page ranking. There are a lot of variables that get that there and with multiple search engines there’s more detail than can be fit in this list of eight things.

What we’re going to go over today are just a few things that will help helps search engines, like Google, be able to better index your site.

1. Title each page with your business name and section title. – Search engines use your title as the top link so it only makes sense you would have your companies name here. Don’t get too wordy and try to fill this space with extra words to try to help. You have between 60 to 70 characters (that’s letters, spaces, and symbols) so use that space wisely.

2. Use keywords on your pages that relate to that pages content. – This is where you leverage your key points in your content to, initially, draw attention to your content. You also want to take this time to also include words and two word phrases revolving around your industry and target markets.

3. Give each page a description based on the pages content. Ok, we’ve gone over the title and keywords, but the description is on more part of the sight that most people don’t keep in mind as they are looking at a search engine. By definition, this is the text that the search engines will display below the link to tell you a little about the site you are looking to find. By describing the content on that page, and a little about your company. Just like the title of your site, depending on the search engine you choose, you have roughly between 156 to 250 characters (letters, spaces, and symbols) to relay the information you want. This isn’t the place you want to get cute and fill it in with words that will boost your site. Your keywords are for that.

4. Name every image…photos and buttons. – This helps for more than search engines. This will help the disabled review your site. By namin>g the alt attribute, commonly referred to as the “alt tag”, you are giving a corresponding text title for every non-text element on your site. If this isn’t making sense, find your local web designer and they’ll go on for hours explaining it. Or you can just shoot me a message.

5.Give your site…a map– Site maps are great, because they help you organize your site as you go through the creation process, but they also provide a page of reference links for the search engines to review your site. The site map will also give viewers a place they can go where there a clean, and clear, direction to the content on your site without all the bells and whistles.

6.Breadcrumbs aren’t just for the birds. – Breadcrumb Navigation is often seen just below the header, and navigation (if it is horizontal), and just above the title of the content. It is a great way for visitors to see the path that took them to this page, but this also provides additional links, just like your site map, for the search engine web crawlers to use when indexing your site. Breadcrumb Navigation will often look like this:

Home > Main Content > Sub Content

7.Leverage free analytics tools. – There are paid analytics tools, but just if you are starting out there are tools like Google Analytics available to you simply for the time of setting up a Gmail account. This will help you determine where people are going on your site and what keywords are working for your site.

8.Remember your King. – The content of your site (the text, the links you create, and even images) help your search engine optimization as well. You may be able to get away with just a title, keywords, a description, and a single image, but you’ll get so much further making sure all of the things we talked about above are in line with the content on your website.

These are just a few efforts that you can implement early on, or even in your current website if you haven’t yet, to help make your site more appealing to web crawlers. Remember, this isn’t the silver bullet to the top page rankings, but it will help.

You can also reach me on Twitter by following me @wickedjava, or on Facebook at facebook.com/mcdougherty.

As all ways, if you have been reading, thank you and stay wicked.

Eight things to keep in mind on during your project

October 8th, 2009 :: Michael Dougherty

It’s time for another excited edition of “Mike Dougherty’s Eight Things”. In other posts in this series, I’ve gone over things to have figured out before you meet your designer, things to help you choose your next marketing piece, and things to think about before you start your logo. I’ll get back to other things about different pieces, like websites and such, but for now we’re going to talk about things to keep in mind during the project.

A project is much more than just figuring out what you want and hiring a designer. You have a place, and a job to do, in the project as well. Without any further ado, here are eight things to keep in mind during your project.

  1. Home Runs aren’t common. As a designer, there are reasons we do comps (mock-ups of the possible project design) and ask a lot of questions. It happens, but very rarely, that a designer will nail the exact nuances of a project on the first try. The main reason for that is we, designers, are not mind readers. We’re more like detectives trying to figure out what the final image will be by asking you for your input. We’re more like archeologists of imagination. We keep working till we find that magical, mysterious beast that is your project.
  2. The Milestones of your project. There are steps, in any project, that deliverables and notes are required. Make sure you, and your team if you have one, are keeping on schedule so that when it’s time for your approval, or notes, the window of time for response doesn’t turn into a gaping hole.
  3. Your approval process. It is critical for you to be fully, mentally and physically, present for the approval process. If you sign off on a design know now that you have just completed that portion of the project. Going back to make changes, because you didn’t invest the full amount of time you needed to make it right…is going to cost you time and money. Before you put your pen to paper to approve…see #8 of this list.
  4. That your scope isn’t being “creeped”. You, and your designer, agreed to a list of certain items, and tasks, that would make up this project. Adding things, after the project has been agreed upon and started, will cost you time and money as well. Rather than go on about it here, read my previous post “It’s called a SCOPE of work, you CREEP” here on GrowSmartBusiness.
  5. Your friends won’t live your choices.  I’ve seen, time and time again, people take the comps, the designer gave them to approve, to their friends for feedback. Bottom line, you have to live with this design…not your friends. Very rarely will your friends be brutally honest with you. More often than not they will not want to hurt your feelings. A better source of feedback is your current, or prospective, clients. If you are unsure yourself it might mean that you aren’t happy with the design and can’t articulate why…which is ok, but work with your designer to see what you can do to get you to #8.
  6. The designers’ time is just as valuable as yours. When it comes time to meet with your designer, for the first time or on Milestone steps, make sure you dedicate that time to your designer. They cleared their schedule for you, and your project, the least you could do is do the same. Let the phone go to voicemail or someone else get it. The emails will be there after the meeting to be addressed. And for, Pete’s sake, do not try to close a sale while your designer is present. Yes, all of these things have happened in my presence and I’ve actually had to say, “If this project, and my time, is not important to you…then maybe we should put this on hold”.
  7. If you want to add more…it’s a new project. I know you love your designer and you two have become friends. Or you think you’re designer is such cool frood who knows where his towel is (if you get that reference award yourself 20 geek points…I’m keeping track), but anything beyond what was agreed upon, I hate to say this, is a new project and will add time and money (gee…do I sense a theme) to your project. Take a minute, if you haven’t already, and review the eight things to help you choose your next marketing piece. These could help ensure that you, and your designer, successfully get you to #8.
  8. You have to be happy with the results. This process takes time, but at the end of the day you, the client, ultimately have to be happy with the results. It’s partially your job to make sure you are. You need to be so excited about your marketing piece that you want to tell it to the mountains. If you aren’t, keep working with your designer to get there…as long as it is within the agreed scope of the project of course.I, personally, don’t believe in the “these are your only three choices to pick from” game that some designers play. I know that’s going to make me very unpopular, but ultimately we’re providing a service. IF your designer wants to keep you in a “only three choices” box that only allows you so much room…get a new designer, but know that you have to respect #6 to get to #8.

I want to know if there’s anything you think I’ve missed. Who knows, you could inspire another “Eight Things” list, which you would be credited for.

You can always reach me on Twitter by sending a message to @wickedjava, or on Facebook at facebook.com/mcdougherty.

As always dear reader, thank you for reading and stay wicked.

Eight Things to Have Figured Out Before You Meet Your Designer

September 8th, 2009 :: Michael Dougherty

I was talking with Steven Fisher about a few projects we’ve been working on.  We realized that most people who start projects haven’t fully planned out what they might need before sitting down with a designer. This, inevitably, ends in the client, the designer, or both frustrated and annoyed with the process/project. This also usually results in the client not jazzed enough about the final product to want to market it effectively or the final product not being the best it could.

Now there are a ton of reasons why this doesn’t happen, but the most consistent, from what I can see, is just lack of education on the process. To elevate that, I’ve come up with the eight things I’ve seen that clients can think about prior to starting a project. Having most of these prepared, or planned for, a client and designer might find that they both get everything they need from the project.

  1. Be realistic about your goals, budget, and intentions BEFORE you get a designer. Just because you “think” you need, or are ready for, a brochure, website, or whatever, doesn’t mean you should just jump in without thought or planning. Just showing up and expecting the designer to have all the answers about your project is a sure fire way to have this fail. As far as your budget…be realistic. Just like the time you are taking away from your clients/projects, they are doing the same. You can’t get a Porsche for the price of a Honda without something wrong with it. You get what you pay for so treat your project as an investment.
  2. Be clear about your ideas UP FRONT in your initial meeting. Before I go into this, let’s start by promising me you will remove the phrase “I don’t know what I want, but I’ll know it when I see it” from your lexicon immediately. If you feel that you are getting talked into, overly pressured by your boss or staff, or see that other people in your industry have the marketing piece and you aren’t sure, or feel it isn’t right for you right now, stop where you are until you know YOU are ready and it makes some amount of sense to YOU. This is your marketing piece after all.If you know you need a marketing piece, but aren’t sure what it will look like…this is the opportunity for your designer to get creative and they love that. But you need to have some idea of what you are looking for, even in the most general sense. The best way to do this is to find some examples of other companies’ materials that you like and bring them to the meeting. This will help give the designer a visual idea of what you are looking for.
  3. Listen to what the designer tells you is, and isn’t, possible based on your goals, budget, and intentions. Unless your designer is as new to the process as you are, which may be cheaper but has major downsides, the designer you higher probably knows more about how to create the best possible outcome for your project. This might mean that your idea doesn’t fit your budget, but there are some creative solutions that designers can bring to the table if you are clear, up front, about what you want to do. Do you see a pattern?
  4. Make sure you understand what you are getting before you sign. I know this might seem like common sense. You’d be surprised how many people agree to a website, brochure, and etc. then realize what they signed up for was either more, or less, than what they needed. Just be sure that when you are ready to get started that you’ve asked all the questions you needed to. That’s your time to make sure you’ve got your I’s dotted and T’s crossed…on more than just paper.
  5. Just because it seems simple…if it’s not in your agreement don’t ask. What may seem like a “simple” change to you could actually be more labor intensive than you think. Often people will ask “That seems pretty easy for you. You can just add it in quickly right?” That, my friends, is the beginnings of scope creep. When you sat down with your designer and went over your contract things should have been pretty specific as to what you’ll get. Anything beyond that is a new project or an addendum. I went over Scope Creep in a previous post, which I encourage you to read, but here is a good question for you.If you go into a grocery store and, as the cashier is ringing up all of your items, you say, “You know it seems pretty easy for you to just add this other item into my bag without paying for it,” what do you think the reaction will be?A better question is, would you accept that from one of your customers?
  6. Be involved in the process from the beginning. All too often a project gets started and the client doesn’t give much focus or attention to it until it get’s close to the end or things are running behind. In those times, clients will really start taking a hard look at what they are getting and want to make changes because they “didn’t notice that before” or “were too busy to give it some thought” (actual things said to me).This is your companies marketing pieces. You need to be invested, from the beginning, so that the project isn’t delayed by changes like this, derailed by an over zealous designer or sales person, and stays on track…before it’s too late. Ask as many questions as you like. This is your time to make sure your marketing pieces turn out the best they can.
  7. Be sure you’re 100% happy before you sign off on the design. Long after the designer is gone, the project is completed, and the last payment clears…you are left with the piece you had designed. If you were negligent on any of the steps above, you probably aren’t too happy with your piece OR you got really lucky and your designer hit a home run without much input, or feedback, from you.If you were, you had every opportunity to walk away from the project, unless you got cramped for time and backed into a corner, because sometimes clients and designers don’t see eye to eye. That’s ok if you don’t. You don’t have to accept the first designer you see because you need something.If you are unhappy with a marketing piece, and you can honestly say you weren’t involved, clear on your intentions, or didn’t understand what was going on from the beginning, let me be blunt and honest, part of that is your fault. Before you fully lay all the blame on the designer, take a look at what you could have done from the beginning and do that next time.

    If you haven’t noticed, I’ve been expressing a great sense of ownership on the clients’ part to this project. This is the marketing piece YOU are paying for after all to market YOUR company. Shouldn’t you want to be involved?

  8. Remember the marketing piece ultimately isn’t about you. Last, but not least, when working with a designer, remember who your target audience is. You aren’t buying your own services so just because you love it…doesn’t mean your clients will. It’s ok to have a different style than your clients, but if you are a Dentist and you love the designs of Horror flick posters…you can see where I’m going with this.Go to your local networking group, current valued customers, or people you explicitly trust to be brutally honest with you, and create your own mini focus group. Share the design with them and get their feedback, but make sure that you aren’t abusing the review time you and the designer agreed upon in the contract. If you do…you can’t blame the designer if the project goes beyond your expected completion date.

The list above is vague enough to fit both print and web based projects. I know, if we put our collective contractor thinking hats on that we could come up with more than eight, but here’s where I ask for your contributions. What other things do you think need to be thought of before you sit down with a designer?

Thank you for reading and, as all ways, stay wicked.