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Customize Your Email Template

Most small businesses these days are using some type of email marketing through Constant Contact, or another provider, to promote their products or services. As one of your marketing tools, your emails should reflect your signature brand. They should form a cohesive look with your web site, business card, and brochure designs, etc. If you choose a generic template from their pre-designed options, you are missing out on a valuable chance to brand your emails. Your customers may not even recognize that it’s your company when you use a standard template. The good news is you can create a custom template based on the look of your signature brand. It will be unique and won’t look like the business next door, giving you an edge on your competition.

The first step is to choose a template that you like in terms of the basic layout. Do you want the sidebar on the left or right, or no sidebar at all. Do you need space to include products, or will it only include written content? You are just looking to choose a framework at this point.

Once you choose your template layout, you can customize it to match your signature brand. The first thing I like to do for my clients is take out the sections I don’t need, and add in the ones that may be missing. I may not need a table of contents, but the template I chose may be missing an area for contact information in the sidebar. There is a list of pre-formatted content sections you can choose to add.

After customizing the sections I need, I create a custom header and footer, in JPEG format, that reflects the design of my client’s signature brand. These include the logo, tagline, and any graphics to create the same visual look. I replace the generic header and footer with these new files. Then I work on the content section, changing background colors, headline styles, fonts and putting in images that are cohesive with their brand. Finally, I add the written content into the different sections.

The result is a unique, custom template that can be used repeatedly, and reflects their signature brand. The more often current and potential customers see your visual brand, the more they remember your small business. When they remember you, the more likely they are to use your product and service when the need arises. If you have any questions about customizing your email template, feel free to email or call Jennifer for help.

LESS IS MORE. MAKE YOUR MESSAGE STAND OUT.

It doesn’t matter what type of print, digital or web communications you are creating for your small business, less really is more when you want your message to stand out. More important than making things look visually appealing, a graphic designer’s main job is to convey their client’s message in any communications. In our world of information overload, you have only a few seconds to catch someone’s attention. If a potential customer has to work too hard to determine what you are trying to tell them, they will move on. Trying to cram too much into your home page, or including way more than anyone would ever care about in your brochure is not doing you any favors.

The first word you need to keep in mind is hierarchy. The content of your communications should have a distinct visual hierarchy. You can achieve this in several ways. Content at the top of a page is always read first, and the bottom of the page is generally used for less important information. You can also use font size to increase or decrease the importance of information. Headlines should be larger, and possibly even in a different font, to make them stand out. If all the copy is the same size and weight, it’s difficult to discern the message. You can also use color to create categories for content to help differentiate them.

The second word is editing. If you are writing your own content for your communications, being able to edit aggressively is key. You want to clearly convey your message in as few words as possible. Too much content on the page is overwhelming, and your audience won’t read any of it. If editing isn’t your strong point, ask a colleague or trusted friend to read it for you and offer suggestions.

The final word is simplicity. Overly busy pages are difficult to read, and it’s hard to determine the message. Keep the number of messages you are trying to convey per page to one main message, and no more than two or three secondary messages. Any more than that, and they start to get lost. You should limit your design to no more than two fonts. Too many colors can be distracting as well. Unless you are using color to differentiate categories of information, two to three colors is sufficient.

Keeping these three words in mind, hierarchy, editing and simplicity will go a long way in helping your small business make your message stand out.

WHAT IS CMYK? WHEN DO I USE EPS VS. JPEG?

The graphic and web design worlds are filled with acronyms and industry terms. For small businesses, it can be hard to decipher what they all mean, unless you’ve had some training. I’ve compiled a short list of some common terms with definitions to help you understand what they mean and why they’re important to know.

CMYK: This stands for Cyan Magenta Yellow and Black, which are the four colors of inks used in 4-color process printing. These four inks, combined in various amounts, can represent pretty much any color in your printed materials. Any images or artwork that you’ll be sending to a commercial printer for digital or traditional offset printing should be saved in CMYK format.

RGB: This stands for Red Green and Blue. These three colors combined make up the colors of the digital world. All of your images and artwork for the web or digital communications should be saved in RGB format.

EPS: This stands for Encapsulated PostScript. What that means isn’t critical, but what you do need to know is EPS files are the best format for logos. EPS files are often vector-based illustrations, which means you can scale them up or down without losing any quality. When creating a logo, make sure you have an EPS file in CMYK color format for printing.

JPEG: JPEGs are typically image files used for digital and web applications. They can have high levels of compression with vary little discernible data loss, which makes them perfect for the web where small file sizes are critical. It’s not a good idea to enlarge a JPEG file more than 20%, as you will compromise quality, and the image will start to look pixilated.

Resolution: This is critical for determining the quality of an image. Images with a higher resolution have smaller pixels. Smaller pixels mean a smoother, better-looking image. For print, you should aim for a minimum resolution of 300 DPI (dots per inch) at 100%. For the web and digital applications, lower resolution images are fine. The ideal resolution for web and digital is 72 DPI or PPI (pixels per inch).

Bleed: This is a printing term for when an image is extended all the way to the edge of the paper. You want to make sure you include extra image in your file, usually 1/8” on each side that will have a bleed, to ensure when the piece is trimmed that there won’t be any white borders showing.

WHAT DOES YOUR LOGO SAY ABOUT YOU?

When was the last time you looked at your small business’ logo? Does it reflect the personality of your company? Does it look like it was created in 1970? Do you even have a logo? Your logo should be the biggest marketing tool you have. It is the visual signature for your business, and should be featured prominently on every form of communications that your potential customers see. Your logo should be memorable, and evoke emotions reflecting the personality of your company.

So where do you start when developing a logo for your company? The first thing you should do is come up with a list of a minimum of 20 adjectives that describe your business. Is it trendy, traditional, family-oriented, whimsical, corporate, bold, high-value, warm, masculine, eco-friendly, etc.

Once you have your list, narrow it down to the top five most important adjectives you want your logo to portray. Now you’re ready to start designing. Type your company’s name on the computer, and possibly a tagline if you want to include it. Ideally, you should use an illustration program, like Adobe Illustrator, to create your logo. You want to have a vector-based EPS file that is scalable for the final file. With your adjective list in mind, start looking at fonts. Think about the feeling you get from different fonts. San serif fonts are stronger and more masculine, while script fonts are very feminine and can be whimsical. Try out many different fonts, and you will start to get an idea of which ones feel right. Keep things in black and white right now. Logos should stand on their own and be effective in black, as well as in color.

Now that you’ve chosen a font, you’re ready to think about the possibility of adding a graphic image to the logo. For most small businesses, I recommend using some type of graphic image. They tend to make logos more memorable. Think of Apple’s stylized apple, Nike’s swoosh or McDonald’s arches. For more conservative businesses, like lawyers or doctors, a graphic image may not be appropriate. Again, go back to your list of the most important adjectives, and if it feels right, create a graphic that fits the image you want to portray.

Your company name and graphic image are done, now it’s time to start adding color. The use of color is an excellent way to portray different feelings, and make your logo memorable. For example, red can evoke feelings of passion, excitement and danger. Purple gives a sense of royalty, wisdom or celebration. Blue is a loyal, peaceful and trustworthy color. Don’t feel limited to just one color either. Adding a second, or even third color into your logo can give it contrast and make it stand out even more.

Congratulations, your logo is finished! This is the time to create multiple file formats in different color modes for your logo. In addition to the vector-based EPS file, you will need high- and low-resolution JPEGs. CMYK, RGB, spot color, grayscale, black, and white on black (reverse) are the typical color modes. With the right logo, you will create a brand for your small business that people will remember long after they’ve met you.

FIVE DESIGN MISTAKES TO AVOID

As a small business on a tight budget, it’s likely that you will design some of your own marketing communications, whether it’s your email newsletter, a flyer or even your web site. For those without formal graphic design training, it’s easy to make some common design mistakes. Read on for five problems to avoid, and keep your designs clean and organized.

1. Too many fonts and styles. Stick with no more than two fonts. I often like to use a clean san serif font like Arial for headlines, and a serif font like Times for body copy. It gives the text some contrast, and makes it easier to differentiate the hierarchy in information. If you want to emphasize a word, phrase or sentence, you can increase the font size, make it bold or italicize it. Please choose only one method of creating emphasis, though. Bolding and italicizing copy is just unnecessary.

2. Filling the page. If you completely cover a page with text and images, the message often gets lost. To use a design term, you’ve filled all your white space. Having white space doesn’t mean the page has to be white, it just means that the content of the page should have room to breathe. When you’re setting your page margins, you want to give the copy some space on either side. Half-inch margins create a wide column width that’s very difficult to read. Too many images on a page distract the viewer, and dilute the message. One or two strong images supporting the copy are optimal.

3. Not following a grid. It is much easier for you to organize information, and for the viewer to process information, if you use a grid to design your communications. Using two columns of different widths helps to separate and define the hierarchy of content on the page. The most important content, including your logo and contact information, should appear near the top of the page. This is where viewers will look first.

4. No cohesive design between communications. If your business card, email template, direct mail and web site all have different designs, people are not going to remember your company. Having a cohesive look that is carried throughout all of your print, digital and web communications is the best way to create a memorable brand. Someone may not need your product or service today, but down the road when they do need you, your visual brand should be the first one they remember.

5. Leaving out your logo and contact information. Your logo is the visual signature of your company’s brand. Without it, your brand is lost. Don’t have a logo? You need to have one designed. Now. Also, make sure you include at least your phone number, email address and web site on every piece of your communications. For retail businesses, you need your physical address too. If you have a Facebook or LinkedIn page, or a Twitter account, include those as well. Without a way to find you, people will move on to another business for their needs.

CUSTOM WEB SITE DESIGNS IN WORDPRESS

Most people associate WordPress, a popular Content Management System (CMS), with blogging. Did you know that you can have custom web sites created in WordPress as well? WordPress has an amazing array of free templates available for your use. You can use these templates as is to start your own web site. If you are a startup, and don’t have the budget for a custom site, this is a great place to begin. I highly recommend avoiding the cookie cutter templates, if you can, and working with a web designer and web developer to create a completely custom design based off of the framework of an existing template. It’s a great solution for small businesses that want to create a new web site, or upgrade their current site.

The biggest advantage of using the framework of an existing WordPress template to create a custom designed web site, is that it dramatically cuts the development time. This means a custom site at a very reasonable price! The second biggest advantage of a WordPress web site is that you can make changes to the content on your own. Small businesses can’t afford to pay a developer every time they want to make a change to the content on their web site. Ideally, you should be adding new content to your site on a bi-weekly basis to keep the search engines coming back. With some basic instructions, it’s easy to add or delete copy, change photos and add more pages to a WordPress site.

There are many other advantages to web sites created on a WordPress platform. WordPress allows for built-in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for dynamic content. This is crucial for keeping your page rankings high with the search engines. It’s easy to add new functionalities to your site down the road to enhance content and usability for your customers or clients. If your tastes change, you can use the same template but change the design of your site without incurring big development costs. Also, WordPress is Standards Compliant, which ensures a better user experience.

Unless you need very specific capabilities, expensive web sites built in HTML are just unnecessary these days. If you do have a site with more than 10 pages, need a more robust platform or have special design requirements, there’s also a CMS called Joomla! that has the same advantages as WordPress sites. The Red Seal Design site is based on a Joomla! template. It’s great to be able to change the content as often as I want. If you haven’t made updates to your web site in months, or even years, it’s really not working to grow your business.

BUSINESS DAILY DEAL SITES – MARKETING TOOL FOR YOUR SMALL BUSINESS

Of course everyone knows about Groupon, and many of the other daily deal sites that save you lots of money on everything from spa treatments to Auto Show tickets. There are tons of sites in Chicago for retail businesses. A few of my favorites, besides Groupon, are FamilyFinds.com, LivingSocial.com and Bloomspot.com. But what about business-to-business daily deal sites?

For business-to-business companies looking for deals on their business expenses, there are some daily deal sites out there made for us. These sites offer a chance for some great exposure, and are a unique way to market your small business. They can be especially beneficial for start ups just getting off the ground. For more established businesses, they’re a way to grow your client base. The deals are sent to thousands of business members every day, so why not take advantage of this new audience.

Just launched, BtoBcity.com is an on-line B2B group buying site for small businesses, nonprofits and startups. They feature offers of up to 75% off business products and local services. BtoBcity helps members to decrease their overhead cost to increase their profitability and give them access to services to help them grow their company. If you become a member now, you’ll be entered into a drawing for a free iPad.

OfficeArrow.com is an online community that was specifically developed for small business executives and office professionals by office professionals. They offer deals on virtual products and applications for small businesses.

B2Bucks.com also has a Chicago-based business deal site. They are targeting small- to medium-sized businesses with one daily deal, and eventually plan to go national.

You definitely do take a significant cut on the cost of your product or service, but you have to think of that cut as the cost of advertising. You want to make sure you offer a deal on one product or service to entice new customers. Don’t list a deal with all of your offerings included. Once you have these new customers hooked with that great deal, it’s your chance to tell them about all the other products and services you offer. If you get even a couple long-term clients or customers, it could be well worth the cost.

GIVE YOUR BUSINESS CARD DESIGN A FRESH LOOK

For small businesses, your business card is often the first form of marketing communications that potential customers see. It is the first chance you have to make a great first impression. In addition to providing all the necessary contact information, your business card should really stand out and help people remember your company long after they’ve met you. Here are some ideas to help you design a memorable business card.

Don’t be afraid to use color. Using more than just black, or not using black at all, is one of the easiest ways to make your business card stand out. Pick up the colors from your logo. There is no rule that says the background of the card has to be white. As long as it’s still easy to read the text, and it fits with the personality of your company, have fun with it!

Select a unique paper stock. You are not limited to white or cream paper. Papers come in a wide variety of colors and textures. There are papers with subtle patterns, metallic papers, recycled papers that show the grain, and they come in pretty much any color you can dream up. Talk to your designer or printer to get some samples.

Take advantage of the back of the card. There are so many ways that you can use this valuable space, and it’s not much more expensive to print on both sides. Here are some of my favorite uses. List the services that your small business provides. Include your company’s mission, tagline or a sentence about your company. Offer potential customers a special discount on your products or services.

Try new shape with a die cut. Creating a different shape around the edge of the card, or cutting a special shape out of the middle of the card, are great ways to get your business card noticed. Your printer may have existing dies that you can use to save costs. Or, you can create a custom die, but save money by only printing in one color.

Add a QR code for instant access to your web site. Quick Response (QR) codes are an easy, free way to make your business card interactive. Potential customers can use the camera on their mobile phone to link directly to your web site. Or you can encode your contact information so they can load it directly into their contacts on their phone.

I hope these ideas have inspired you to give your business card design a fresh look. When you’re creating your new card, keep in mind the personality of your company. Does the technique you’re using fit with the image you want to portray? Also, it’s best to use the less is more concept. It may be tempting to try all of these ideas, but limiting your design to one or two will keep the focus on the communicating the necessary information and marketing your small business.

TIPS ON CREATING CONTENT FOR YOUR SMALL BUSINESS BLOG

You’re ready to jump on the blog bandwagon. Your first question is what do I write? Put yourself in your clients’ shoes. If I was not an expert in my field, what would I find helpful personally or professionally? What would I take the time to read? Start thinking of a list of potential topics. Something might strike you when you meet someone. I like to cover topics of discussion from my networking events. Your posts don’t have to be long. 500 words is actually a good maximum number to keep in mind. Get in the habit of writing a little everyday. Here are a few thoughts to get you going.

If you’re a realtor, you could write about topics like options if you are underwater on your mortgage, or ideas for staging your house when you’re ready to sell. If you are a financial planner, give your potential clients tips on investing for college or retirement. I always like to read tips from professional organizers on how to make the most of my day and get things done.

You might also be thinking, I don’t have time to write a new post twice a week. Why can’t I just hire someone to write my blog posts for me? Yes, you could do that. There are many great writers that specialize in writing blog posts for companies. My personal opinion is that it’s better to write them yourself, but only if you think you have the time to make the commitment. Unless you’re a natural at writing, it’s usually pretty obvious when you’ve hired a professional to write your posts. Blogs are a very personal way to communicate with your audience, and you will gain more credibility if it sounds like it’s really coming from you, the expert in your field.

Another idea is to ask friends or contacts, who are experts in other areas that relate to your business, to write guest posts for your blog. It’s a great way to fill in a spot when you don’t have the time, and it’s good publicity for your friend or contact. You still should make sure that the content is relevant to your audience. Also, including a link to the writer’s web site will take readers away from your site. It’s your goal to keep readers engaged on your web site, so you don’t want to use this tactic too often.

Linking to articles someone else wrote on the web has the same issue. It may seem like an easy way to get your blog post done that day, but remember that it will take readers away from your site. If you do post a link to an article, you should at least write a paragraph about your thoughts on the article and how it can benefit your audience.

If you make the commitment and keep it up, your blog will be a great way to market your small business. Good luck and happy blogging!

WHY YOUR SMALL BUSINESS SHOULD START A BLOG

Blogs have been around for a while now, and some small businesses have jumped on the bandwagon. I’m sure many of you have hesitated about taking the leap and starting one. I know I did. I threw out every excuse to my web developer as to why I shouldn’t start a blog. I don’t know what to say. People won’t care about what I have to say. I don’t have time to write posts and maintain it. I really don’t enjoy writing. Nobody even reads blogs anymore because there are so many out there. I’m already planning to send out e-mails through Constant Contact or another e-mail service, why do I need a blog too? And the list goes on.

The truth is, a blog can be a great marketing tool for your company. Here are some ways a blog can help grow your small business.

Including a blog page in your web site design is a great way to increase your search engine page rankings, and help your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts. Search engines are looking for significant changes to the content on your web site on a regular basis. If your site is static, and you don’t make any changes to the content, the search engines will note that and return less and less often to your site. This reduces your page rankings. If your site is dynamic, and you constantly add new content that is relevant to your business, the search engines will return regularly to log all the new content. You want to make sure you include as many key words and phrases relevant to your business in your blog posts as possible. This helps keep your page rankings high for those particular key words and phrases. The ideal frequency to post new content to your site is twice a week.

Writing a blog can increase your credibility with potential customers and clients. One of the goals of networking and marketing your small business should be to position yourself as an expert in your field. You should use your blog to educate your audience about topics that can really help them personally or professionally. A blog is not about directly selling your product or service, it’s about helping people. Once you’ve established that you are an expert and you have helped them in some way, they will feel more comfortable using your company’s services or buying your products, or referring you to someone they know.

Finally, writing a blog can attract potential new customers and clients. For instance, an owner of a company could be searching Google for help marketing their small business. Since the search engines have logged the content from this post, a direct link to the Red Seal Design blog page could come up in their search results. They click through, find my article helpful, and decide to take a look around the site. This is a potential client that might not have found Red Seal Design otherwise.

I hope this has opened your eyes to the benefits of blogging. Watch for my next post to continue the discussion about blogs.