Archive for September, 2008

How to be “punctual” in your business communications

September 30, 2008

The correct use of punctuation may not seem to be all that important in your day-to-day communications, but let me ask you something: when do you ever notice punctuation in business correspondence? If you’re like me, it’s when there’s something wrong! Here are some quick tips for using punctuation correctly to create communications that send the right message:

  • ‘s and s’. These are to show possession. For a single person/place/thing, you add an apostrophe (‘) and then an S [example: Karen’s dish, the tree’s leaves, or Kentucky’s mountains]. For multiple owners of an object, the apostrophe comes after the S [birds’ nesting area, bike enthusiasts’ favorite store]. PLEASE NOTE: the apostrophe should NEVER be used to indicate more than one of an object (the plural). I see this all the time. For example: Restroom’s are down the hall. Whose restrooms? Augh! Just don’t do that! Don’t!
  • Quotations. To indicate that someone is speaking, to note a person’s direct words, or to indicate sarcasm. Place quotation marks (“,”) on either side of a statement. For a partial quote within a sentence, punctuation should go OUTSIDE the quotation marks [Karen said, “this tastes like chicken”.] For a quote that is fully contained within a sentence, the punctuation lies within the quotation marks [“Take two of these and call me in the morning.”] Remember the old Saturday Night Live skit where the actors would make little quote marks in the air every time they didn’t really mean what they said? That’s another use of quotation marks: to denote sarcasm. Say it’s a lovely day outside, yet I tell someone it’s just “horrible”. That’s sarcasm. It’s not horrible. It’s lovely. The quotes give the word the opposite meaning. OK, why am I hounding on this so much? Because when people mistakenly use quotation marks for emphasis, they end up making it look like sarcasm! Here’s an example of a sign in my local shopping center for a store: Oselle’s “Bicycles”. Do you see the problem here? Are they bikes or not? Is the store really a front for a drug operation? If I get in there, am I going to find eggs instead? Or, am I to believe that Mr. Oselle wanted us to hear and imagine him saying the word bicycles? One last thing: make sure you select smart quotations in your Word or design program. These have a curly shape to them to indicate they are quote marks. Old typewriter “double prime” marks are used today only to show an abbreviation for inches (note that WordPress.com doesn’t support smart quotations, so pardon my misuse of them in this column!).
  • Dashes. Here’s a designer’s insider trick: within your computer keyboard are hidden versions of the hyphen that have completely different uses. In office typing (ie. typewriters—who uses those any more?), two hyphens–like these–were used to make a dash. These days, we have a long dash—called an em dash—to use instead. You can find it on a Mac by pressing Option+Shift+hyphen. Another dash, called an en, is half the length of an em but longer than a hyphen. Use this guy (Option+hyphen) to show ranges, like between two dates, times, etc. I can’t show it here, because WordPress doesn’t support this character. But it works great in Microsoft Word, Powerpoint, or any design program. So what’s a plain old hyphen for? Use it to tie two words together, like punctuation-obsessed graphic designer.
  • Double spaces. No longer necessary! In old office typing, two spaces were used after periods and colons. Today’s screen-based fonts include adequate spacing after periods, so this old-fashioned convention is no longer needed. Save your thumb and skip the extra space!

As technological advances provide us with faster, briefer communication on smaller and smaller screens, appropriate punctuation is all but kicked to the curb. And that’s OK! Why waste the effort hunting for the quote marks when you’re texting a friend? Just make sure you know how to make your business communications look professional, using appropriate punctuation and typesetting so your audience notices your message and not your punctuation.

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Beyond the Trifold: Make your brochure stand out in the crowd

September 24, 2008

If you own or market a business, you probably have (or know you need to have) a brochure to hand out at business events and trade expos or mail to prospects. Brochures tell your story, describe your company’s vision, list your capabilities and hopefully help you close sales. And because everyone including your competition has one, your brochure should convey your brand and stand out in the crowd. Here’s how.

Think BIG: Opt for an oversized piece. A standard brochure is 11″ x 8.5″ when unfolded, but you could go as big as 17″ x 11″ or larger. Printing companies are catching onto this trend and catering to the idea that bigger is better. Large pieces allow you to use more or larger photos and branding elements, and give you more flexibility in design. Plus, among a sea of sales pieces your brochure pops!

Fold in a fresh way: Illustrate how exceptional your business really is! Rather than a tri-fold brochure, try a single horizontal or vertical crease to create a finished size that stands out and makes your brand more memorable.

Rework the rectangle. Consider creating a brochure that’s square or round.  Printers often have pre-made dies in several sizes to round corners or cut a custom shape that can add character to your design.

Book it. Hold the fold altogether. Instead, print individual pages and bind them together. Choose a material or method that supports your brand.  Hardware like eyelets, brads or screws would work well for manufacturers, building contractors, and brands that mean business. Ribbon and twine for caterers and chefs, interior designers and companies with an organic, softer side. Or maybe something flexible like rubber bands or decorative paper clips for brands that are playful or young at heart.

Add a layer of good looks. Attach a CD, business card, or sticky note.  Include a pocket or two stuffed with samples or photos of your work. Perforate a page for prospects to return to you. Or place the brochure in a colorful or uniquely-sized envelope. Little extras go a long way in catching (and holding) the attention of an admirer.

Are you ready to rethink your brochure? Call us at 612.226.5717 or email us to discuss your project and review our portfolio of ideas!

Need for brochure info? Check out our post, Found: An Equation for Calculating Trifolds!

SAW AN INTERESTING BROCHURE SHAPE? TELL US ABOUT IT! LEAVE YOUR COMMENTS BELOW. . .

Strategies for leaving a job gracefully

September 22, 2008

Though potentially stressful, leaving a position can also be an opportunity to create an atmosphere of positive change and growth in your professional life. Step number one: leave your job gracefully. Here are some tips, as compiled from my own experiences and the AIGA article: Exit Ethics—Seven Strategies for Karmic Relief.

1) Make a list of what you learned in your previous position. You will most likely be pleasantly surprised at the skills and life lessons you picked up. Saw things at your last job that abhored you? Great. Phrase it in a positive light: instead of “I will never show up unprepared for a client meeting”, try “I learned that clients respect when you come to a meeting prepared.”

2) Zip it. As tempting as it is to talk to your coworkers, clients, or vendors about why you’re taking off, please refrain! Instead, try, “I’m pursuing an opportunity.” They’ll respect your ethics and see you as trustworthy.

3) Be Helpful. Make every effort to make the transition an easy one for your former employer. Make detailed records of where they can find your files, who your primary contacts were, and forward relevant emails. Offer to stay a full two weeks, if that’s an option in your position. Even if they don’t repay your kindness, you’ll find karmic happiness in knowing you took the high road.

4) Determine what’s yours and what’s not. This can be a tricky one, when you consider copyright and trademark protection. In general, work that you did for an employer belongs to the employer. If you’re not sure, consult any agreements you signed when you took the position, ask for permission, or if need be, consult a lawyer. By all means, Don’t use your transition as a reason to contact clients. This was the best advice I ever read on the topic (from the AIGA article listed above):

It’s insulting to think clients can be “stolen.” They do whatever they think best for their companies. It is inappropriate to call on them as a free agent after leaving a firm. Any action considered proactive is discouraged. You should ask the firm what they would like you to say to clients you have had ongoing contact with. Respect their wishes. Patience pays off. If the client sees a drop in the quality of the firm’s work or in the service they receive, they will find you.

If you truly believe that your exit will end the relationship the client has with the firm, you can discreetly give them an e-mail address or phone number so they know how to reach you. This should be in an unsolicitous way and not be followed up on. They will call you if they need you.

Remember that if you’re leaving a position, it’s probably because you and the company were not a good fit for one another. More than likely, a better opportunity is soon to follow! This is a great time to take classes related to your field, try new experiences, and go out an meet people at networking events.

Photo shoots are SO glamorous!

September 19, 2008

We recently shot a fall collection for one of our clients, Schuler Shoes. As I mentioned before in this blog, there’s a lot of preparation, coordination, and hard work that goes into a photo shoot. Our photographer, Rod Wilson of Andrews Photography, captured the feeling perfectly in this shot (the girl on the right is my niece, Abby, who so generously volunteered her time for the day!):

Many thanks to our friends at Birch Clothing who loaned us the womens’ fashions for the day. Thanks also to our models, Kim Davison and Tony Hase—who found themselves hauling clothes and shoes from one location to the next, perching on uneven surfaces, and even climbing rock faces! And of course, thanks to Jennifer Lavine at Schuler Shoes, for coordinating with all of the vendors, helping us dream up the shots and for trusting us to make them shine!

Mix to participate in SparkHer forum

September 18, 2008

Minnesota Women In Networking Member Hosted Event

Improve Your Business Image:
Tips to look your best in person, in print and in pictures.
(and kick off the St. Paul art crawl with some wine and chocolate while you’re at it!)

Friday, October 10 3:00-5:00pm
WIN member expert panelists:
Stephanie Hansen, Printz
Katrina Hase, Mix Creative
Wendy Houser Blomseth, InBeaute Photography
Cari Spears, Eagan Shirtwerks and Promotionals

Communicating your image effectively is a priceless tool to help clients connect with you. Having the right image carried out in person, in pictures and in print can convey a message and generate a positive response in an instant. And in today’s competitive business environment, an instant may be all you have to entice a customer to contact you.

Many customers visit company websites and review brochures before ever calling a company, so it is important that your marketing materials not only describe your business, but also serve as a window into your company culture. Learn various ways to make a lasting impression with your image that conveys the personality, warmth and professional trust you bring to your work, plus build brand awareness of your company and its mission, values and beliefs.

Bonus: After the seminar, we will offer time for networking and a tour of InBeaute Studio while you enjoy wine and chocolate. And since you are here, we encourage you to stay awhile and enjoy the St. Paul Art Crawl.

ABOUT OUR PANELISTS

Stephanie Hansen, Printz
(tips for your physical image: dress for success plus your image in postcards)
Stephanie brings her background as Director of Sales and Marketing for 7 years at City Pages and business development at local radio stations to her current role as owner of Printz.com and partner at PostcardBuilder.com.

Wendy Houser Blomseth, InBeaute Photography
(tips for your photographic image as your “brand” online, in e-mails, and in print)
Wendy photographs individuals, entrepreneurs, coaches, speakers and consultants who are passionate about what they do to create images that convey their brand, mission, products and services.

Katrina Hase, Mix Creative
(defining your company’s brand image)
Principal designer Katrina Hase has a decade’s worth of experience in exhibition design, project management, graphic design, and advertising. She’s art directed projects ranging from hundreds to millions of dollars and treats each new project with the same level of professionalism.

Cari Spears, Eagan Shirtwerks and Promotionals
(tips for your promotional material images)
With over ten years of experience, Cari’s company helps businesses to proudly communicate their images through customized apparel and marketing products.

COST
Just $7 for WIN members. $12 for guests gets you in the door for this informative panel presentation, networking and kick off celebration for the St. Paul Art Crawl (LIMITED SEATING, please register in advance: add $5 to price for same day registration if space remaining).

Planning a marketing budget for your company

September 18, 2008

Few people would argue that having a budget for office supplies, personnel, or vendor services is a good idea. But too often, people approach their marketing in a scattered fashion—creating a piece of marketing collateral as the need arises, or placing an ad when a good deal comes their way. The result? Overspending on some projects, underspending on others, and an overall inconsistent message to your target audiences.

The solution? Plan your marketing budget for the year, then spend it strategically.

As a rule of thumb, many experts suggest spending 8-10% of your annual budget on marketing. This is helpful, but it’s also important to ask yourself about your marketing goals as they relate to your company’s overall exposure and branding.

For example, if you’re a new company, your budget should be larger than 10% of your expected annual revenue to accommodate the need for basic start-up materials, such as a logo, website, business cards, business stationery and marketing collateral.

If you have an established company with a strong client base, perhaps you’ll plan your budget with the objective of staying in front of your audiences through primarily advertising efforts.

Finally, if your company is going through a transition or needs to change to meet the times, you should plan to spend a little more to re-communicate your brand through a logo refresh, website makeover, and updated marketing collateral. Don’t forget a roll-out advertising campaign to let your clients know how you’re changing!

Wherever your business falls on this continuum, know that your marketing budget will need to encompass a range of products and services, including many of the following:

  • marketing consultation, planning, or market research
  • graphic design services
  • media purchasing
  • printing services
  • website hosting
  • website programming
  • copywriting
  • video production
  • professional photography
  • model fees

Confused about what you may need? Get suggestions from your agency. They’ve likely worked with companies of many sizes, and can help you prioritize your marketing needs based on experience, and even give you ballpark estimates of costs. Better yet, if you know your budget, enlist your agency to help you spend it strategically. They can help you determine where it makes sense to cut costs and where it may make sense to spend a little more.

Here are a few more resources to consider when planning your company’s marketing budget:

http://www.nancyschwartz.com/marketing_budget.html

http://www.toolkit.com/small_business_guide/sbg.aspx?nid=P03_7006

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/search/How+to+Build+a+Well+Oiled+Marketing+Machine

A note on integrity

September 16, 2008

One of the many blessings in being a small business owner is that you get to set your own rules: your hours, who you want to work with, how you do your work, what constitutes a “finished” product, and more. Well, a big one for me is being able to maintain personal integrity in my work. Until you’ve been challenged, you may not realize how important this is.

Let me share my favorite excerpt from the book, “How to be a graphic designer and not lose your soul,” by Adrian Shaughnessy:

By standing up for yourself, by having beliefs (creative and ethical beliefs), and perhaps most importantly of all, by questioning what you are asked to do as a designer, you can acquire self-respect, which is the first step on the path to earning the respect of clients and other designers. You might get the sack—but that’s integrity for you—there’s a price to be paid for it. Just remember, it’s always less than the price of your self-respect. I might even say, the price of your soul.

Of course, you can substitute “employee” or “business owner” for the word “designer” throughout the above passage. This really applies to anyone in the workplace.

The author makes a point that we must show integrity to each of three audiences: our clients, our intended audience, and ourselves. If we show our clients and intended audiences that we believe in them, they will in turn believe in us. And of course, we can live with ourselves at the end of the day.

The hidden value of personal integrity in the workplace? Higher quality work. When you demand this of yourself, your employees, and your contractors, the shift turns from “How can we make a buck?” or “How fast can we do this?” to “How can we make a quality design/product?” and “How can we better service our clients?”.

Author note: I’d love to hear your stories of personal integrity in the workplace. Please leave your comments for others to read!

Trade Show Graphics on a Budget

September 12, 2008

Here’s a cool solution for an inexpensive trade show, retail, or chamber of commerce event display: a retractable banner with its own stand that can be set up at three different heights. You can get them from a lot of different vendors, but we’ve had success with this one from Smart Exhibits, based in Chanhassen, Minnesota:

Like a window shade, the banner collapses into its casing when you’re done using it. Lightweight poles slip into the back to set it up, the number of poles you use determines the height. The whole thing packs up into a little suitcase about the size of a gym bag when you’re done. They’re pretty affordable: this model is $379.

Designing for retractable banners can be tricky, since most clients want the flexibility to use them at any of the three heights. As a rule of thumb, I usually keep the logo at the top, with bold supporting graphics in the lower 2/3. One of clients purchased three to set side by side. We made sure the key information and images were on the upper left of the three graphics so he had the flexibility to use just the one if that’s all he had room for.

In considering what to include on your graphic, think about how you’ll be using it: to signal someone across the room? To give a feel for your products? Or will someone be standing next to it and pointing out specific bullet points? As a general rule of thumb, keep the graphics large and simple and the text to a minimum.

Here’s an example of one we did for Russell’s Catering. This client wanted to use it to set up in his restaurant when a potential catering customer came in for a tasting, to show the range of entrees they had to offer. He also uses the banner for Bridal shows. You can see how it looks at the three heights:

FULL HEIGHT

MEDIUM HEIGHT

SHORT HEIGHT

A last word on these—many printers of retractable banners offer design services as well. If you care about your brand, don’t take them up on this service! Your designer has the advantage of knowing your company’s brand, colors, design elements, history, market positioning, target audience and more. Using your own designer ensures consistent branding and messaging to your audience.

Going Green: 5 Easy Things For Small Businesses To Try

September 11, 2008

Last night I attended a teach-in called “Making Your Business Greener”, hosted by MetroIBA. I have to admit, as a small business owner, being “green” often takes a back-burner to thinking about other aspects of owning a business: marketing, meeting deadlines, accounting. . . well, you get the idea. But this seminar made me think about how going green could benefit my business—really! Here are some ways they mentioned that your business can save some money, improve company morale, and get some great PR:

1) Take a close look at your energy consumption. As it turns out, there are some easy ways to reduce consumption that result in significant annual savings, such as:

  • Replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs or retrofit LEDs. HUGE energy savings!
  • Put your computers to sleep at night (or when you’re not using them). Would you believe that 60% of computers are left on all night? A “sleeping” computer uses only 4% of the energy of a powered-up computer.
  • Replace old-fashioned CRT monitors with LCDs. Not only do they look cooler and take up less space, they’re WAY more energy efficient!
  • Get some Smart Powerstrips. Appliances that are plugged right into the wall continue to suck energy, even when they’re off. Smart Powerstrips put a stop to that, directing energy to computers and more only when they’re turned on—saving you money on electricity! The marketing folks who make the things say it pays for itself in 6 weeks.
  • Get a free energy audit. Power companies like Xcel Energy offer this service for free. Contact your local power company for info.

2) Evaluate your company’s resource procurement. Hmm. . .this is a fancy way of saying you should set criteria for what you purchase. Should you buy “green” energy? Consider paying $4/month extra for wind power from your power company. Should you only buy non-toxic cleansers? Consider purchasing Restore brand cleaners. Maybe you buy a certain amount of recycled materials, or give preference to organically-grown products. You decide, it’s your company. But be intentional about it. Then let your clients know your efforts. It’s a good marketing tool, too.

3) Reduce your company’s consumption. There’s a number of ways to go about it: duplex copying and printing (saves 25% of paper consumption), teleconferencing vs. travel, electronic memos and pay stubs, and more! Get creative: what do you NEED, and what can you do without?

4) Make “Green” your company culture. Companies that sucessfully build a culture of sustainability do it by enlisting the talent and creativity of their employees to come up with ideas and carry them out. A lot of companies are finding that going green is helping them to recruit high-quality employees and improve company morale.

5) Recycle. While recycling at home has become second nature, recycling at work is not as wide spread. Recycling batteries and refilling printer ink cartridges saves money and Mother Earth. You can also recycle your office paper, compact fluorescent lightbulbs (crucial, since they contain a small amount of mercury), cell phones, computers, and electronics. If you’re in the Twin Cities area, check out twincitiesfreemarket.org for recycling old office furniture and more.

Overwhelmed? Don’t be! The one take-away message from this seminar was that small changes add up. So, if you try only one thing this month, it’ll have an effect. Don’t know where to start? Get an energy assessment from the Alliance for Sustainability or a SCORE test from BeSustainability.com.

STILL want more resources? Here are some sites for getting up to date on going green:

www.greenbiz.com

green.alltop.com

coopamerica.org

www.upongreen.com

OK, so you do this stuff. . .now what? Let your clients know that you’re making an effort to be sustainable! If you have an office, hold an open house and let them see your plans in work. Give tips in your e-newsletter or share a new employee-designed initiative to save energy, reduce, or recycle. Demonstrate your green-ness by printing with Soy Inks, using recycled-content papers, and using e-alternatives for advertising.

A footnote: thanks to Dan Marshall of Peapods.com (a Mix client!) for conceiving of and moderating the event.

We’ve Moved!

September 11, 2008

NOTE: Please visit our new blog home at www.themixcreative.com/blog! You’ll find all the same great articles, plus new material added regularly.

WHAT IS MIX CREATIVE? We’re a Twin Cities-based graphic design, marketing and advertising firm. Take a look at our website, www.themixcreative.com, call (612) 226-5717 or email us to learn more about how we can help you with your graphic design, marketing or advertising needs. Want to receive valuable tips for marketing your business? Sign up for our monthly e-newsletter, The Mixer.