September 27, 2017

Using Pinterest To Create Brand Moodboards: Part I

(guest post by Alison Knott)

So you’re starting the process of making a brand or logo for your new business. Or, you’re about to hire someone to do it for you. Congratulations! It’s now time for the daunting task of articulating whatever the hell is in your head into something concrete. Eep!

I’m here to help you help yourself. It can seem difficult to put into words how you do (and do not) want to represent your brand that doesn’t exist yet. So… how do the pros do it?

We do research and create moodboards, which are a visual collection of images, colours and graphics to illustrate a certain mood. Now, as a brand designer I use Adobe InDesign and Illustrator to put final mood boards together for my clients. But you want to know what has saved me and my clients so much time?

Having clients send along their own little Pinterest brand modeboard collection to help me get inside their head.

Yes! That thing you’ve been using to save 783 pictures of living room renos you’re never going to get around to can help you design your brand!

The goal here isn’t to have a brand set in stone, but to be an exercise in articulating visually what you want your brand to be. Think of it as a blueprint of what your brand could be, by defining some clear visual direction.

Before You Pin: Where To Start Your Research

As unique as you may feel your business will be, it does not exist in a vacuum. There’s going to be competition, assumptions about what your industry is (or is not), and bias due to the colour you use or even the font you choose.

We designers refer to these as ‘design patterns’: similar visual elements that are found when one looks at a certain topic, industry or concept. Lawyers may use corporate blues and golds to denote ‘trust and success’. Eco-companies may choose greens and natural textures to denote ‘organic’. Coaches may use their own hand signature to denote ‘approachable’.

Your job, dear reader, is to start looking out for the design patterns that exist in your industry, and figure out which ones you want to use, or completely avoid.

So, before you start pinning with no real direction, put aside three hours to look at the following kinds of business online, bookmarking their pages into a folder as you go:
  • Your competition: You are going to be placed along side them, so it’s important to see what their brand looks like, what they’re doing, and what you agree and don’t agree with.
  • Those you look up to: doesn’t have to be directly related to your business, but it is good to keep track of things that you are attracted to. Ultimately, you will be the best representation of your brand, so you have to like it. It’s important that you know what you naturally gravitate towards and what you can’t fake being.
  • Business totally unrelated to yours: I’m serious. It’s not enough to look at those like you. My most successful brand designs have come from showing patterns I’ve found in other unrelated industries I think my clients can take a page from. I’ve compared life coaches to perfume brands, local produce companies to candy brands and mining companies to NGOs. Always reserve the right to incorporate the unexpected into your brand if it’s the right fit.
What Patterns To Look For

Don't just look at the homepage of a site. Take a moment to click through the main navigation, and you'll start to notice design patterns page to page. These could be graphical, textual or technical in nature:
  • One site might always places an arrow to the right of any text in a link or button. This helps remind users that all interactive items will have an arrow on it, so they can spot them easily.
  • Perhaps another site is light on images but makes sure to divide content up with geometric repeat patterns in the background. They are associating their brand with a certain kind of visual treatment, without the help of pictures!
  • Make sure you read website content to see if there are any keywords that keep coming up that you might like to use with your own brand (and make for easy Pinterest searching). Also take note of the tone of content. Is it casual, authoritative, uses slang?
Now that you know what patterns to look for, go out and start bookmarking your collection of inspiration. Once you have that done, you can move onto the next part of this blog series.

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Alison Knott is the owner of Eraserheader Design, a one-stop web consultant and brand shop. She’s been turning client napkin scribbles into purposeful business brands since 2007. You can find more great branding and online business tips from her weekly Facebook Live show LunchPress

September 23, 2017

11 Lessons Learned from 500 Blog Posts

Sometimes we surprise ourselves. I didn’t imagine there would one day be 500 posts on Work Better, Not Harder when it started back in 2010. I wasn’t thinking beyond the stress of getting that first post published. Yet here we are and I’m feeling a little emotional… in a good way.

It’s not easy to pinpoint one or two blogging success factors so I settled on eleven - down from a much longer list.

1. Give value to your current/potential customers plus referrers.

People who know me are surely tired of hearing me say this: figure out what would be useful or interesting to your target market and give them that. Writing for your current customers is a great way to get started.

2. Watch your stats frequently.

Pay attention to what readers are interested in and do more of what gives you the best results. If something isn’t working, ditch it and start something new. If you aren’t watching your stats at least weekly, you won’t know what’s working.

3. Just start.

Don’t let technology hold you up. If you don’t know the best way to do it, find someone who does. If you can’t afford the best, find an interim solution. There’s nothing about blogging that can’t be redone or improved on later.

4. Learn to write better.

Sure, being a great writer is helpful but not essential. It’s easy to work on improving your writing skills if you really want to. Check for free and paid courses online as a start, ask someone who writes well for some pointers, and practice lots.

5. Have a strategy for guest posts.

Since the first guest post went up on Work Better, Not Harder, I regularly get requests from total strangers to write articles for my blog. I have worked hard to build my blog following so giving strangers access has never been part of my strategy. I do, though, solicit articles from colleagues and clients now and then – but they are always highly relevant. Know what you’re going to say when someone asks to write a guest post for your blog.

6. Use keywords and phrases your target market will search.

Think about your customers and the questions they ask. There are others looking for those answers, too. Even if you’ve been blogging for a while, check to make sure you’ve answered all the questions you can.

7. Link from one post to another as often as it makes sense.

Keep people reading after they have finished one article by giving them links to more on the same topic. After writing a new post, go through it and add links to past relevant posts. Aim for 3 links per article.

8. Have a call to action on every post.

Whether it’s part of the post, in your author bio, or in the sidebar, make sure to include a call to action. You have someone’s attention when they’re reading your article; next you need to ask for more attention or it’s a lost opportunity.

9. Make it easy to share and ask people to share.

Depending on the blogging platform you use, this may be easier said than done but there are lots of separate apps and tools you can use. Having your posts shared is the best way to get new readers you can turn into fans.

10. Follow other blogs that give you inspiration.

Who are your blogging heroes? They might be in your industry or not but find other bloggers who you can learn from just by watching.

11. Be consistent.

Keep showing up. Keep the commitment you make to yourself and your fans. Feel the pressure to write regularly. If you are consistent, there’s no question your skill will improve and your results will improve.

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September 14, 2017

Start Using This Today: Client Relationship Check-in Checklist

(guest post by Natasha Marchewka)

Life is good as a freelancer or small business owner. No one to answer to, but our own clients, of course. No one breathing down our necks to make sure we’ve done THEIR job correctly. We get to “do it all” ourselves.

Autonomy. It’s a freedom we’ve longed for... And now, we get to “do it all” ourselves. Sales, inbound and outbound marketing, bookkeeping, client management, admin, social media... oh, and that part about providing a product or service... We have to do what we do best and a bunch of stuff we, maybe, don’t do that well. So, we hire out when possible. (Thank you @daleyprogress!)

In the process of putting the pieces together of my own business as a voice actor, I’ve managed to figure out how to do a lot of things on my own. On top of it all, I work at documenting everything because I happen to be a list maker. And as I dig deeper and deeper to give back to the world, I’ve discovered not everyone IS a list maker, and most people can use help in that area.

So, I'm sharing one of my lists with you - ideas to build a tighter relationship with existing clients:

Client Relationship Check-in Checklist

Ø Check a client’s website for their social media icons – follow all, or follow new ones they’ve recently added.
Ø Check client’s social media feeds and share one of their relevant or remarkable posts.
Ø Check out, comment on, or share any blog posts the client may have published.
Ø Google the client’s business name, and personal name, to research and congratulate them on any recent successes.
Ø Sign up for the client’s newsletter, if you haven’t already.
Ø Email your client on the anniversary of your first job together with a nice note.
Ø Send general gratitude postcard mid-year, “Thank you for keeping me in mind...”
Ø Send a small gift, or card, at year end.

Save this checklist! Enlarge the image below or right-click to save.

You can sign up for Natasha's Master VO TO DO List here.

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September 8, 2017

Design Colour Trends for Spring 2018

excerpt from Pantone's NY Fashion Week Spring 2018

We're just getting back to serious work after summer vacations and the design world is already thinking about spring. I like what I see but then I'm a sucker for bright colours. You'll find these used online next year, too, not just in clothing stores.

Pantone says:
The Spring 2018 palette encourages a sense of fun and playful release. With an air of complexity and distinctiveness, we find ourselves in a sanctuary of color that is ideal for some more unique and dramatic color mixing.

Click here to see all 12 colours in the Spring 2018 Collection on Pantone's website.

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September 2, 2017

Complex to Simple: Images for Social Media Posts

Rocket Science Version

The sizing of images for the various social marketing platforms, post types, and headers is becoming a bit complex. In fact, it would be a very practical way to teach equivalent fractions and geometry in Grade 9. But if you're long out of school and want all the details, get them on Twirp's Cheat Sheet: The ONLY social media image sizes you need to know.

Squares and Rectangles

The diagram below shows a very simplified rule of thumb for matching image shapes to social media posts on common platforms.

Size Matters

While bigger is better, it often means a larger file size and then icky compression stuff happens and... well, you've probably seen it on other people's feeds. I suggest your squares be a minimum of 600px by 600px; and 1200px by 1200px is about the largest you'll need. For rectangles, use minimum 600px by 300px, or maximum 1200px by 600px.

originally published in Work Better, Not Harder newsletter August 31, 2017

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