My 1 Million Cups Experience

Networking + Coffee + Sketches

In 2019, I decided to expand my networking efforts to meet other professionals and better connect with fellow entrepreneurs in our community. Sure, I might end up with a new client, but what’s really great is learning about other businesses and meeting new people. For me, it’s an excellent way to boost creativity and spark ideas. 

Here in Charleston, there’s no shortage of business groups and networking opportunities. But after trying out 1 Million Cups (1MC), I committed to attending each week’s event in 2019. The first thing to know about 1MC – and they tell you every week – “it is NOT a networking group, it’s a relationship-building group.” Take this with a grain of salt – it’s definitely network building. But, it’s the best kind of networking. I have truly made some new and enjoyable friendships there.

The Format

The weekly format, if you’re curious, is basically a Locals-only Shark Tank Lite + Coffee Meet and Greet. Each week, an entrepreneur gives a 6- or 7-minute presentation about their startup business. Then follows 5 to 10 minutes of helpful questions, friendly feedback and positive affirmation from the audience.

The presenter lineup is impressive and frequently fascinating. I’ve heard presentations ranging from professional mermaids to biohazard cleaners to business development software solutions. The organizers do a great job of curating the speakers and protecting the culture – which is great, because 1MC has really good energy and attracts interesting people from a wide variety of professions who are ready to help. And helping is definitely a core tenet of 1MC. One trick I’ve picked up is to ask people, “How can I help you?” It’s a much better way to connect (and help) people than to simply push them your business card.

And to top it all off, 1MC is free.

The Sketches

As regular readers of my blog know, I never leave home without a sketchbook, so during the presentations, I often do sketches while listening to the speaker. I try to pull out interesting or key pieces of information to include in my sketches. I do the initial drawings in pencil and ink them later.

Here are a few:

Benchmarq: This company specializes in website design and development for nonprofits that conveys their mission, engages supporters and raises more money.

The Brain Diva – Carrie A. Boan NeuroLife Coach: Carrie helps executives and entrepreneurs position themselves to control their thoughts, words and actions for success in professional communication, mindset and sales.

PrepMonsters: This company creates gamified software to help students prepare for standardized tests. Students watch short YouTube-style videos to learn concepts and then reinforce these via practice questions built into video games. 

Annnnd … here’s a few more. I like doing these. 🙂 

My weekly networking experiment in 2019 was a success, so I’ll be back at 1MC each Wednesday in 2020. Will you join me?  

Have a great week,

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Are business cards dead?

I do my fair share of networking and I’m always surprised when I meet anyone who doesn’t have a business card. They usually say – with some embarrassment – that they haven’t gotten around to it but it’s on their list.

The other day I met a successful small business owner who said he intentionally doesn’t carry one. His strategy was to immediately connect with people on LinkedIn via smartphones. My curiosity was piqued and it got me thinking. In our smartphone, digital contacts, LinkedIn world, do paper business cards still make sense? 

I’d argue business cards aren’t dead or outdated, but they have evolved. Business cards remain a relatively inexpensive way to market. They’re a tangible reminder of a great new professional contact or a meaningful conversation you shared. They, of course, aren’t the only way you market yourself, but they can serve an important function in providing a first impression of your business. 

As we approach the start of a new year, most people are turning their attention to growing their business. That usually means attending networking events, joining an entrepreneurs’ organization or signing up for a business owners’ mastermind. This could be the perfect time to reconsider your current cards. Is it time for a refresh? Ask yourself these three questions:

1. Is it worth keeping?

Consider adding something beyond your company logo and basic contact details. Add to your card a concise description of the problem you solve, your specific services or the value you provide. If I come home from a networking event with four business cards from insurance agents, how will I know the difference between them? What can you add to your business card so you stand out from others in a similar industry? 

2. Is the “feel” right?

Does your card express who you are and what you do? Does the tone fit you? Casual. Fun. Secure. Trendy. Timeless. If you’re in a creative industry, have a creative business card. If you’re not in a creative industry, how could use creativity to make your card (and business) stand out? You can also consider an unusual size or texture to express your creativity.  

3. Is it up-to-date?

Does it have all the necessary information? This may seem obvious, but check and double check that your card has easy ways for people to get in touch. If you’re rarely at your desk, add a cell phone number to your business card. Make sure you have an email address (not just info@) and a physical address, especially if you have an office or storefront people can visit. 

Networking season is just around the corner. Do you have networking events, professional conferences or trade shows on your calendar for Q1? Now’s the time to give your business card a critical review and make some edits.

Have a great week,

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Upping Your Print Game: Part 3

In this blog post, I finish out a series on why you should give printed marketing materials a second look. If you’ve been focused largely on social media and digital advertising, now’s the time to consider adding printed materials to the mix. If you’re on the fence, check out this blog post for three reasons to consider print marketing. And if you’re concerned about the cost, read this post for tips on how to be smart and cost-effective with your printed marketing plan.

Now, for some real-life examples. Here are some printed materials I’ve created for clients.

Southeastern Wildlife Exposition

Thousands of people attend this event each February in Charleston. Many are repeat attendees – both locals and visitors – so a mailer is a great way to let people know what to expect in the coming year’s festival and how to get their tickets. This one is a self-mailer so it’s sealed on the bottom and eliminates the need (and cost) of a separate envelope. Plus, when it lands in mailboxes, people immediately see a beautiful image and the SEWE branding so they are more likely to open the piece. We also chose to do a vertical format to make it stand out more than a traditional tri-fold brochure.

Alhambra Hall

This sales brochure positions Alhambra Hall in Mount Pleasant as an ideal wedding venue. This printed brochure includes all the information a bride or wedding planner would need: a site map illustration, a map of the facility and surrounding property, pricing details and plenty of photos to showcase the venue. The design mimics a wedding invitation with its pearlescent paper that gives the piece a metallic sheen. And the cover has a registered emboss that makes it stand out and is similar to what you might find on a wedding invitation or ceremony program. The size of the piece is 4.625 x 11 inches tall and skinny – giving this printed piece an uncommon size and makes it stand out.

Lowcountry Food Bank

Most nonprofit organizations produce an annual report as a way to showcase their good work, detail how they spent their donations and to recognize large sponsors and donors. Oftentimes, an annual report can run multiple pages, thus, driving up the printing costs. To make this Lowcountry Food Bank annual report both budget-friendly and readable, we opted for an oversized tri-fold brochure (10.5 inches x 5.5 inches). Keeping the piece shorter means you pick out the most critical items for print and then you can supplement with more details on your website if needed. Annual reports typically have stats and numbers so it’s important to present those in an impactful way. For this report, I presented the numbers in a pie chart shaped like an apple (apple pie chart?) matching the image of the apples on the cover.

Like I said, printed marketing collateral can be a great tool in your marketing toolkit. You might be surprised at the reaction you get from potential customers who appreciate the time and effort you put into giving them a tangible takeaway.

Have a great week,

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Upping Your Print Game: Part 2

Tips for Keeping Print Costs Down

flashing money symbols

In our last blog post, I gave you three reasons to add printed marketing materials to your strategy. You took my advice and paid a graphic designer to create a beautiful piece. Now that you’re ready to turn your PDF into a physical print piece, you may be concerned about the cost. I get it. I feel the same way when I print marketing materials for myself. The trick is to be smart when it comes to your printer and to create pieces with a long shelf life.

Here are five tips for keeping printed costs from busting the marketing budget:

1. Befriend local print shops. If you plan on printing several pieces over time, develop a relationship with a local printer. And don’t settle for the first salesperson you meet. Once you establish a face-to-face business relationship, you can more easily negotiate costs. Better yet, get a few local printers and get multiple quotes for each job.

2. Use quantity control. Do NOT overprint. I launched a kid’s book a couple years ago. To prepare for my launch, I ordered some 1000 beautiful promotional rack cards. I sold all my kid’s books. I still have ~983 beautiful rack cards. There is a savings for printing large quantities, but make sure you need them. If the savings is minor, print a smaller amount and then reprint as needed.

trees

3. Go with evergreen content. For your high-quality printed materials, create pieces that will last. Avoid putting any information on a brochure or rack card that might change in the next few months (employee names/photos, event dates/times). Keep content high level and direct consumers to your website where they can find more detailed information. There’s nothing worse than putting information on a printed item only to have it inaccurate two months later.

4. Design with print in mind. Check with the printer before you start the project. Give the print vendor an idea of the project and ask them what can be done from a design standpoint to lower the printing cost. For example, it’s often cheaper to print something that is a standard size. You can also find interesting cost variations if your project is printed on a traditional vs. digital press.

5. Shop online. If price is more important than quality, use an online vendor. There are some very good online printers. Some of my go-to online resources are primoprint.com, smartpress.com and 4over.com. I avoid vistaprint like the plague. My caveat for online printers is that quality isn’t always a sure bet. And if you hit a snag, customer service won’t be nearly as easy as dealing with your local printer.

One last tip on creating printed marketing materials: give yourself plenty of time. Factor in the design time, edits and approvals as well as the turnaround time for the printer – which could be anywhere from two days to two weeks.

Print doesn’t have to be a major cost investment if you take a smart approach. Let’s talk about how to add print into your marketing budget. 

Next month, I wind down this three-part series on print marketing collateral with several examples of print materials I’ve created for client projects.

Have a great week,

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P. S. I sprinkled in some animations on this blog post. Thumbs up? Down? LMK.

Upping Your Print Game: Part 1

3 Reasons to Give Print a Try

business cards hand sketch

These days we consume most advertising and marketing messages online. But that doesn’t mean print marketing is dead. In fact, it can be a novel way to showcase your products or services. Much in the same way, people today cherish receiving a hand-written note in the mail versus an email.

tri-fold hand sketch

When clients ask me to design a printed product, I get excited. I love the stuff you can hold in your hand: brochures, catalogs, business cards, annual reports, maps and rack cards. I’m forever collecting samples when I’m out and about.

If most of your work lately has been online, consider printed marketing materials for these three reasons:

1. Keep your message simple. A limited amount of space forces you to craft an uber-clear marketing message and communicate that message in a visually appealing way. Unlike websites with unlimited scrolling, something like a postcard or brochure forces you to be concise with your wording and requires an eye-catching design.

opened brochure hand sketch

2. You can go big or small. From billboards to business cards, you can select a size that fits your business and creative needs.

3. Stand out with your marketing. Everyone has a website, but not everyone has a printed brochure or catalog. Not every business in your industry has a look-book of ideas or a booklet of work samples. This is a great way to separate yourself from your competitors. And, if you really want to go the extra mile, select a high-quality paper, embossed lettering, foil touches or a glossy shine.

Ready to give print collateral another look? Don’t miss next month’s blog post for tips about how to keep print costs at a minimum.

Have a great week,

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Do I Need a New Logo?

It’s never a bad idea to evaluate your overall brand and corresponding marketing materials. You want to ensure a clear, consistent message and one that accurately reflects who you are and what you do. It all starts with your logo. A company logo sets the stage for your overall look and feel – it’s the tip of your spear. It’s the flag on your pirate ship, so to speak.

I know a marketing refresh takes both time and money. So it’s important to pause and truly consider (why you might need a new logo) before you start the process.

Let’s start with a few questions to ponder:

  • Do you like your logo? Maybe you bought a business and inherited the logo so it doesn’t feel like “yours”. Or maybe you’ve simply grown tired of your existing logo. If you aren’t exicted about your logo, it’s unlikely your customers (or employees) will be either. If you’re proud of your logo, you’ll want to put it everywhere: t-shirts, car magnets, etc. This extra promotion naturally leads to more conversations about your business, which hopefully leads to more opportunities.
  • Is your logo current and up to date – especially when compared to your competitors? Last month we talked about trends and the importance of not being overly trendy in your designs. But, if your logo looks like it stepped right out of 1995, it’s time for something new (unless, of course, you sell slap bracelets).
  • Is your logo similar to another business in your industry or geographical market? You definitely don’t want your business to be confused with another one because the logos look too similar.
  • Is your logo practical to use? A logo with lots of details and colors can be tough to use on branded materials like hats and pens. A tall logo or a long, horizontal logo is difficult to use as a social media profile. You have to think about all the ways you’ll use your logo so it fits nicely into any marketing situation – that also means having access to a variety of file formats and sizes.

The final — and most critical — question: Is your logo doing its job? Are you working for your logo or is your logo working for you? It has a very important role. Consider your logo to be a member of the marketing and sales team. And like any good team member, it should have a job description, get occasional performance reviews and not drink too much booze at the Christmas party.

The next time you catch your logo in the break room, sit down and ask it these questions:

  • How well are you visually representing our brand (ethos, people, offerings, value, products, etc.)?
  • Are you clear and readable? Do you have a tagline?
  • Do you show up consistently across the “brandscape” (e.g. from the website to the 5K t-shirt)?
  • Do you look great on our social media platforms? Vertical tradeshow banners? Horizontal billboards?
  • Does your aesthetic (typography, colors, style) feel appropriate to our industry?
  • When you “work from home” are you actually just watching TV?

I bet your logo is really quaking in its boots and will spend the rest of the day thinking hard about its performance. Hopefully, you will too. Just like any member of your team, a good logo should make your life easier, not harder.

What if my logo is old, but well recognized in the marketplace? Then you may want to consider a logo refresh. Maybe you just need to choose an updated font or tweak the color. It’s a great way to keep your logo current without sacrificing that hard-earned brand recognition.

Now that you’ve taken some time to assess your current logo, where do you stand? Will you stick with what you have or is it time to try something new?

Have a great week,

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Graphic Design Trends for 2019

Whether it’s fashion, food, home decor or technology, we see “trend” lists everywhere. Graphic design is no exception. Whether it’s a hot color or a funky new font, we pay attention to what’s new and how we might incorporate it into ads, websites and logos. Are you excited about any upcoming trends?

I am. It’s fun to think that I can do the same basic task that I did 10 years ago (e.g. make a logo, create a print ad) and make it in a completely new style. That’s the sort of perk that keeps us creative-types excited about our jobs.

swatches from past years

That being said, trends aren’t the be-all end-all. We don’t abandon good design principles and individual client needs just because a trend list says we should. An overly trendy design runs the risk of premature obsolescence. Few companies have the time or the budget to revamp their design materials every few years to keep up. So I like to think of trends as a good starting point.

What’s the balance between trendy and tried n’ true? If I told you that, you wouldn’t need to hire me. 🙂

Get to the Trends Already!!!

Keep your pants on.

That’s a trend now. All the cool kids are “keeping their pants on.”

That was a joke. Here are a few things I’m seeing for 2019:

Pantone Color of the Year

For 20 years, Pantone’s Color of the Year has influenced product development and purchasing decisions in multiple industries, including fashion, home furnishings, and industrial design, as well as product, packaging, and graphic design. The color experts at the Pantone Color Institute search the world for influences – entertainment and art to travel and technology. This year’s selection is “living coral.” Pantone describes this color as “an animating and life-affirming coral hue with a golden undertone that energizes and enlivens with a softer edge.” Look for it everywhere, especially in clothing and decor.

simplified logos

Logo trends don’t really occur on a yearly cycle and they vary drastically according to brand, business size, target market, etc. But there are styles that are interesting to follow. Here’s a great write up on those. A recent trend that you may have noticed is that many big companies are cutting the fat. (images from Brand New)

Hand-drawn

Hand-drawn designs (and maybe 70’s level trippiness) are abounding. A favorite example is email marketing company MailChimp. Its website is filled with hand-drawn – and quirky – illustrations. Because I love drawing myself, this is a trend I embrace wholeheartedly.

Other Resources

Truthfully, I’m not a “bleeding edge” designer. My defaults are more along the lines of timelessness, simplicity and authenticity. So when the moment calls for it, I dig around to see what other designers are doing. While working on this article, I came across some really interesting round ups about 2019. For further reading, I recommend a lot of this and a little of this. And here’s a GREAT video with a ton more detail about what’s trending.

Are you up for taking a trendy chance in 2019? Let’s talk! We can discuss which trends might work well for your business as you enter the new year.

Have a great week,

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P.S. Want to know what’s out of style? The old Instagram logo. It’s soooo 2016, yet, I still see it on company websites and marketing materials. Even if you love the old logo, it’s time to embrace this change. ICYMI: I addressed this exact topic in a previous blog post; check it out.

Merry Chrismahanukwanzus

If you’re a marketer or a business owner, you know it’s important to share a message of “positive celebratory vibes” (a holiday card) with your customers around this time of year. This seemingly simple task can be difficult. Should you say Merry Christmas? Or keep it safe with a Happy Holidays or Season’s Greetings? Designing that holiday greeting card may be harder than you think. I’ll tell you exactly what you should do…

Ha. No, I won’t. This post is NOT about helping you figure out how to spread cheer while keeping to your convictions and offending zero people. I have my own strategy which I’ll include towards the end of this article.

The purpose of this post is to explain in a little more depth what each holiday is all about and when it takes place. Here are 4 holidays that occur end-of-the-year-ish.

advent candle graphicChristmas (Christ’s Mass) is celebrated by Christians around the world to remember the birth of Jesus Christ in the year zero. Christmas day – celebrated on December 25th – has been a U.S. federal holiday since 1870. According to Pew Research, 9 in 10 Americans (although not all Christians) celebrate Christmas.

hanukkah candle graphicsHanukkah or Chanukah is an eight-day Jewish celebration that commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, where, Jews rose up against their Greek-Syrian oppressors in the Maccabean Revolt. Hanukkah begins on the 25th of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar so it typically falls in November or December.

kwanzaa candle graphicsKwanzaa was started by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor of black studies at California State University, in 1966. Following the Watts riots in Los Angeles, Karenga was looking for ways to bring African-Americans together as a community. He founded a cultural organization and began researching African harvest celebrations. He combined several aspects of those celebrations to form Kwanzaa, which means “first fruits” in Swahili.

animal sacrifice graphicWinter Solstice: Cultures around the world often mark the winter solstice – the shortest day and longest night of the year. It usually falls between December 20 and 23 and marks the official start of winter. Ancient Romans would host many celebrations during this time, including Saturnalia, honoring Saturn, the god of agriculture with sacrifices and more. Read more about how other cultures celebrate the winter season

So, which greeting is right for your business? Here’s what I do. Skip it. For my client-base, none of the individual holiday greetings would cover everybody and I find Happy Holidays / Season’s Greetings to be a little bland. Instead, I send a Happy New Years card (like this and this). This is a tradition I observed when I lived in Japan after college. New Years Cards are a big deal in Japan. It’s a little different and it works for me.

So.. um.. good luck and please enjoy this special time we’re having right around this time of year when things start getting colder,

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P.S. If you’re into it, Merry Christmas!

Copyright and Design: Who Owns What?

Thanks to social networking and the Internet, finding great design ideas and inspiration has never been easier. On the flip side, technology also make it super easy for someone to steal your work. Literally, a screenshot or a right click to “save image” is all it takes for someone to grab your photo or carefully crafted design.

This also can come into play when you hire a photographer, videographer or graphic designer to create work for your business or on behalf of your client. It’s important to know who owns the work product or copyright, whether the designer can use that work in his portfolio or with other clients.

So, how do you know who owns what?

First, let’s define copyright: A form of protection for “original works of authorship,” including literary, dramatic, musical, architectural, choreographic, graphic, sculptural, and audiovisual creations. Copyright protection does not extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, title, principle, or discovery. In short, whomever creates the work is the author and therefore has the copyright on that work.

The second important term to understand is “work for hire.” An employee who creates something within the scope of her job would not retain the copyright; the employer would be considered the author. If you’re hiring someone as an independent contractor and want to legally retain the rights to the work created, the contract needs to spell that out clearly.

If the work is not made for hire, then the designer retains the copyright. If you, as a business, want to have the copyright, you’ll need to discuss that with the designer and detail that in a contract. You’ll want to specify if the copyright covers the work as it is or if it can be altered or modified. This also could be important if a business wants to ensure a designer doesn’t use a similar design for another client.

When you’re considering hiring a designer, ask about copyright and if the designer feels strongly about retaining the copyright or if he’s OK with a “work for hire” contract. Either way, it’s always good to discuss these legal matters and get decisions in writing. It will surely save time and confusion down the road.

Visit Copyright.gov for details on copyright law, FAQs, information on registering a copyright and more.

Have a great week,

sig

3 Tips for Developing a Great Relationship with a Graphic Designer

In my last blog post, I offered tips for hiring a graphic designer. I outlined five important questions to ask if you’re considering hiring a designer to help with a project, create a company logo or give your marketing materials a makeover.

Once you’ve made your choice, the next step is creating a good working relationship that results in high-quality work. And ideally, you want the experience to be a fun one. 

Here are three tips for creating a good working relationship with a graphic designer:

  1. illustration of workflow chartTrust the process. You’ve hired a graphic designer because you need help. That means you need to let the designer work the process without micromanaging. Absolutely give the designer some direction (logo, brochure, website graphics, etc.) and let him or her know if there are particular colors or fonts that you like or don’t like. Offer some examples of designs you love and hate. Explain how the design will be used so the designer knows the end-use (horizontal, vertical, printed, digital, etc.).

Then, let go.

Trust the designer you’ve hired to create what you need. He or she is the professional with expertise in design, marketing and branding. Just as you hire a CPA to handle your taxes because he’s the expert in accounting, do the same with the graphic designer you’ve brought on to guide your design vision.

  1. Set realistic deadlinillustration of calendar due datees. At the start of a project, work with the designer to establish a deadline for when you need to have the finished project in hand. Make sure you build in time for two or three revisions and backdate your deadlines based on other factors, such as printing schedules. If you need a brochure for an event, for example, allow plenty of time to review the design and get the brochure printed.

Your designer is likely working on several other projects so discuss up front if he or she can meet your deadline schedule. This also means you need to stick to your tasks as well. Don’t wait six days to review the first draft and then complain because the project is off schedule.

  1. Set project parameters at the beginning. Before the first design is sketched, establish the project details. This should include the deadline schedule, the budget/price and the deliverables. illustration of check listBe sure to note how many revisions are included in the price. Designers usually plan for two or three revisions, but beyond that, you may have to pay additional fees.

Make sure you have buy-in from the key decision makers – whether that’s you, marketing VP or the business owner. This helps avoid problems as the project reaches the finish line.

Also, ask the designer what you’ll receive at project completion. If it’s a logo, for example, ask if you’ll get the logo in different sizes and file formats. Find out if you’ll receive a brand standards document outlining the fonts, colors and notes about how the logo should (and shouldn’t) be used.

illustration of telephoneAs with any working relationship, communication is key. Life happens. Things come up. Keep the lines of communication open and be respectful of each other’s time. Some of my best experiences aren’t the ones that have gone perfectly, but the ones where the client is open with me, and we resolve problems together.

Follow these tips and you’ll likely find you have a wonderful new partner in your marketing efforts.

Have a great week,
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