New In Portfolio: Monument Advisory Brand Identity

Monument Advisory business cards, by Grafika Studio

Monument Advisory business cards, by Grafika Studio

I love working with professional service businesses as they take me back to my years working as brand manager for EY. When the director of Perth-based financial advising company, Monument Advisory, approached to me in September last year to design their brand identity I immediately felt excited about this new project.

The brand was aimed to a high-end market, and needed a corporate professional and smart look and feel... No problem, elegant and stylish design is my specialty!

 
Monument-Advisory-logo-design
 

I designed a mighty and solid logo that suggested confidence and professionalism, combining an M, for Monument, and A, for Advisory in the same mark. Then we selected a sans serif font to give the brand a modern and clean look.

Monument-Advisory-logo-specs

To break the formality of corporate logos with straight lines, I intentionally broke the symmetry in the logo to make it look a bit more casual, but still professional.

One of the requirements in the brief was to combine two colours in the logo, blue and silver, so that we could add a foil finish when printing the business stationary and marketing collateral. So I reserved the triangular area inside the logo and the word 'Advisory' to add a subtle touch of silver foil.

Below, Monument Advisory logo from the Illustrator drawings to the final print with embedded silver foil.

 

logo-design-01
logo-design-02
logo-design-03

The logo was also designed to bleed in printing materials, when used only with the mark and without the typography below, as it was used in the email signatures (below)

e-signature

The business stationary combines white paper with dark blue elements and a touch of silver foil wherever was possible to incorporate. The result is a clean and smart brand identity with a luxurious touch of silver.

Monument-advisory-business-stationary
Monument Advisory business stationary, by Grafika Studio

Monument Advisory business stationary, by Grafika Studio


Step By Step Guide To Design Your Website Like A Pro

The big amount of DIY website builders available today makes the website design process look too easy. Anyone with no design skills or tools can drag and drop elements into a web page, play with the layout and change basic styles.

However, designing a website is much more than just uploading images and content onto a server. It involves an entire visual communication process aimed to create an emotional connection with your audience, communicate your business purpose and achieve its ultimate goals.

Today I'm sharing my website design process. I won't go into the technical details of building a website to just focus on the steps that a professional web designer will typically take to design a website. Are you ready to design your own website like a Pro?

 

Step 1 | Define Your Intention

A good website design doesn’t start by choosing a template, deciding on the colour scheme or finding pretty images. It starts by clearly defining the website ultimate purpose.

There are three essential questions that you need to ask yourself before you start designing your website:

  • How should your visitors feel when they visit your site?

Do you what them to get inspired? Empowered? Curious? And why?

  • What do they need to know about your business?

How to book? How much will your services cost? What’s included in the service?

  • What would you like them to do on your website?

Make a purchase? Make an appointment? Visit your brick and mortar store? How are you going to make them take action?

Knowing the answers to these questions will help you decide what content, colours, graphic elements, etc your website needs.

 

Step 2 | Map Out Sections and Sub-sections

Now it's time to plan how you are going to structure your website by drawing a ‘tree diagram’. You can do this on a whiteboard, a spreadsheet program (such as Excel or Google Drive Spreadsheets), a word processor, etc.

This diagram will show the hierarchy of the website and how the various pages and sections relate to each other.

Tree diagram with information architecture and website structure by Grafika Studio

A well-thought site structure not only means a great user experience, but it will also give you better chances to rank higher in search engines.

 

Step 3 | Write compelling content

Once you have a clear structure of pages, develop content for each of them separately. Don’t worry about formatting just yet, write down anything that you think your visitors and potential clients want to know about your business, products or services.

Research your competitors' websites to see the key messages in their websites and how the information has been presented. Do this not to copy them but to put together something better that will stand out your competition.

Remember that writing for the Web is completely different than writing for print. Too much information is overwhelming and will make your visitors feel intimidate and leave without reading your message.

Find more tips on how to write a compelling website content in my previous post on Why My Website Is Not Converting.

 

Step 4 | Sketch The Layout With Wireframes

Now you know how many pages your website will have and what content you need to fit in each of them, it’s time to decide how the information is going to be presented on each page. You can do this with the help of wireframes.

A wireframe is a black and white representation of every webpage on your site, usually using boxes and buttons to show where each piece of information will be displayed.

The best way to do your wireframes is by hand sketching in a gridded sheet. Divide your grid horizontally into header, content and footer, and vertically into 2 or 3 columns to fit the content, with right and left margin and separation space between the columns.

Not only it’s important how you present the information, but also where you place it. Information positioned in the upper half of a webpage and visible without scrolling down the page is what we call above the fold. Everything else is below the fold.

If visitors have to scroll down to find important details on your website, chances are that they leave without even noticing them.

Analyse your web copy and extract one key idea per page only. This idea must be positioned at the top of the webpage (above the fold). Further information and details can be placed after.

Home page wireframe for a website project by Grafika Studio

Home page wireframe for a website project by Grafika Studio

Step 5 | Mock-up Your Website Design

Your wireframes can now be translated into visuals. This is a very important step for any website designer to communicate his ideas and present them to the client. It's also time to make some styling decisions, such as colours, image style, typography, etc.

To create a mock up of your website you will need the help of Photoshop, and therefore a bit of knowledge on this software.

Your website mock-ups will help you visualise how images look against your brand colours, typography and other graphic elements. It can also be helpful to design buttons, boxes and any other graphic element to establish a consistent visual language across your site.

 

Step 6 | Build Your Website

The website design process reaches here the end of the line. Now it's time to select your website builder (WordPress, Shopify, SquareSpace, etc) and find a suitable template or theme to build your website. A web developer can help you adapt your template to your design and customise your CSS to style up your website.


Wrap up

At the end of the day, it doesn't matter if you are using Helvetica or Open Sans on your website, or blush pink or iced blue, what really matters is that your website delivers a clear message on who you are, what you do and why people are going to love your products or working with you. This compelling message can only be achieved with a lot of planning and a good understanding of visual communications and UI (user interface) design.

Need a hand with your website project?

I'm your designer! Get in touch and request a quote for your project.


Photo Tutorial: Brightening Up Your Images

Photo credit Grafika Studio

Photo credit Grafika Studio

The Internet is becoming more aesthetic every day. Beautiful and well-styled images are your best shot to create an emotional connection with your audience through visual content, and make people fall in love with what you do and how you do it.

That's why we spend so much time sharing photos of our day-to-day work in social media, behind the scenes shots, sneak peeks of new products and a lot more, especially on Instagram or our blogs. Getting these shots right can make your business stand out.

I'm not a professional photographer, so all I've got to get good shots is my iPhone. But as much as I tried, I never got a shot with the perfect light exposure inside my home. Lucky, I got a not-so secret weapon to fix all my lighting issues: Photoshop*

Correcting light and colour with Photoshop is very easy. You just need to know a few quick tips to make the right image corrections. Today, I'm sharing my most common tips in this 3-step tutorial so that you can take your photos from 'meeeeh' to 'yay!' in just 10 minutes.

* NOTE: If you don't want to buy the software (AUD $11.99/mo) you can download the free app for small devices. This tutorial can only be done from the full version of Photoshop, tough.

Ok, so let's get started. I got this photo today by placing the fruit jelly box on top of a white cardboard and on a table next to the window. As you can see the light here is still 'meeehh'. Let's fix that.

Original photo from iPhone

Original photo from iPhone

Step 1 | Light correction

I open my photo in Photoshop and go to Image > Adjustment > Levels. With this tool I can make whites look whiter (rather than ugly greys) and blacks blacker. You usually know when whites and blacks are right by placing the controls just under the beginning of the curve in both sides.

Play with Levels to intensify whites and blacks

Play with Levels to intensify whites and blacks

You can also use the Dodge and Burn tools, in the Tools window (left side of the screen) to correct the light in specific points of the image.

 

STEP 2 | Lighting Mask

With just these quick adjustments the light is now looking a lot better and colours start to brighten up. However the image didn't have a uniform light (I just had my window as a light source). As a consequence of this, the light is too bright from one of the corners, making some jellies look too pale.

After correcting the lighting, there is part of the image that is now overexposed

After correcting the lighting, there is part of the image that is now overexposed

Solution: duplicate the image layer in Photoshop and apply a mask (see image below). Then go to the Gradient Tool in the Tools window (left side of the screen) and select the black and white gradient. Apply the gradient to the layer mask in the direction of the natural light, in this case from the top left corner to the right bottom side.

By doing this you just made half of the image transparent (hide the layers below to see the transparency). Now you can adjust separately the light in this over-exposed corner by playing again with the levels, as you did in Step 1.

Create a layer mask to correct light in just one part of the image

Create a layer mask to correct light in just one part of the image

Step 3 | Bending Layers

Finally, from your Layers tab, select your lighting mask layer and click on the bending mode drop-down menu (just on top of your layer list and next to the layer Opacity). It should be set to Normal. Change to Soft Light.

And voila! you just got a perfect lighting for your image!

Light is brighter and colours are more vibrant

Light is brighter and colours are more vibrant


New In Portfolio: ColourCube Interiors

Mood board for ColourCube Interiors new brand, by Grafika Studio

Mood board for ColourCube Interiors new brand, by Grafika Studio

It's always so exciting to share with you a new brand identity project. The one I'm sharing today was made last month for interior designer super-star Kristie Hill and her fast-growing business ColourCube Interiors.

For her logo concept I played with geometric shapes, such as cubes or hexagons, and the double CC for 'Colour + Cube'. We wanted to achieve a simple and minimal logo to give the brand a contemporary edge, and to make it easy to identify and remember. The logo below made the final cut.

 
 

For her brand we wanted to create a clean but yet visually interesting identity with a lot of focus on textures and a feel of luxury. A concrete background gives the business stationary a textural feel, while touches of rose-gold add that sense of luxury.

The grey and rose palette was completed with a sage green to add an organic feel.

To create some contrast between the straight lines of the mark and the typography we chose a rounded sans serif font family.

Colour-Cube-Brand-specs

An entire set of business stationary is still under development but business cards are already printed and looking amazing! Her website will be online soon and I'll also share the project here in my blog.

ColourCube Interiors business cards with concrete textures and rose-gold foil finish.

ColourCube Interiors business cards with concrete textures and rose-gold foil finish.


How to run your ‘business as usual’ while you take a break

Running-your-business-while-taking-a-break

One of the best things about freelancing is that we can decide when it’s time to take a break and for how long. We don’t need to coordinate our holidays with work colleagues, or get supervisor’s approval. We have the freedom to take time off whenever we want.

However, as opposite as many other jobs, taking time off for us also means not making any money during that time. That’s why many freelancers feel they can’t afford to take a long break and go on a holiday.

After three years running Grafika Studio, I finally managed to take my first five-week holiday without causing any financial stress to my business. How I did? With a lot of planning and a little bit of help.

1.    Plan your finances a year in advance

When you work for others, the money you get at the end of each month is all for you and for your own personal expenses. When you work for yourself you must set aside a big part of this money earned every month to pay for many difference things in your business.

Most if this money will be spent in taxes, some more in business expenses, marketing and advertising and other unforeseen expenses such as repairs and replacements, sick days, etc.

When you work for yourself you don’t get paid holidays either, so you must set aside some more money for them. You need to save enough to be able to afford an entire month of inactivity and still be able to pay your bills and your holiday expenses.

HINT: to take one month off with no financial stress, save 9% of your monthly income for 11 months.

 

2.    Find the right time

Many businesses have low and high seasons, mine it’s one of them. People usually want to get their projects started at the beginning of the natural or financial year, and launch them just before Christmas or the 30th of June.

The beginning of every natural or financial year is always full of new project enquires. The end of them is full of project deadlines. These months are never a good time for me to take time off.

TIP: to know when it will be a good time to take a break, observe the seasonality of your business for at least two or three years before.

 

3.    Close projects a few ways in advance

As I was planning on being away for the entire August, I stopped taking new projects in June. That way I’d have at least four weeks in July to finish all my existing projects and schedule the new ones for September.

With new projects scheduled from September on I went on holidays knowing that there would be work waiting for me when I was back.

TIP: To ensure every project is finalised before going away, reserve at least the week before leaving for possible delays or last minute issues only.

 

4.    Let your clients know

A month before leaving I started to tell my clients I was going to go away for five weeks. This put a clear deadline in every project and helped many things keep moving at a faster pace.

After coming back from holidays I contacted my entire client list to let everyone know I had now opened for business again.

TIP: Always set up your out-of-office. Even though you have informed every client of your absence period, they will easily forget and ask ‘when are you coming back?’ a few weeks later. Let your out-of-office agent answer that question for you.

 

5. Automate your content marketing

Your business may be inactive for a while but your content marketing can be easily automatized and keep bringing new leads and opportunities while you’re away.

You can write and schedule your newsletter, blog posts and social media stories in advance so that they automatically go live while you’re having a cocktail by the pool.

TIP: Most platforms allow you to schedule content for future publishing, but you can also use Hootsuite or Buffer for social media scheduling.

 

6.    Find a business babysitter

Prospect’s enquiries and quote requests might come while I was away and I didn’t want to miss any opportunity. However, I didn’t want to be constantly reading and answering emails either. So I hired some help.

A virtual assistant answered some email enquires while I was away, booked some meetings for when I were back, quote some jobs and wrote some new posts for the upcoming months.

TIP: if you only have one email address for your business, create a second address for general enquiries. Your website form enquiries and social media notifications can go directly to that inbox and be attended by someone else.

 

7.    Have an emergency plan

When you tell your clients you’re going to take a long break, the first question that comes to their minds is ‘so, what do I do if I need urgent help?’.

It can be very reassuring for your clients to know you will be available and easy to reach in case of emergency.

That’s why I prepared myself for any emergency by bringing my laptop with me and letting my clients know that if something urgent came up, I’d be available to receive phone calls or chat online and help them virtually.

TIP: If you want to leave the laptop at home upload your documents to a Cloud system so that you can have access to them from anywhere 24/7.

 

What I learned…

This experience has been a trial for me in preparation to take another longer break soon without impacting too much on my business: 3 months of maternity leave.

Having a good plan in place and counting with a bit of extra help will allow me to remove myself from my business for a while with the reassurance of being able to run many operations as usual even though I’m not around.



How To Write A Great About Page

Your About Us page is one of the most important pages on your website. If you take a look at your statistics, I’m pretty sure you’ll find your About page within the 3 most popular content of your site.

Your About page is where your business takes human shape and reveals a personal story, aspirations, and dreams. It’s where you can create an emotional connection with your visitors by showing that behind your brand there is a real person just like them.

But you must refrain the temptation to your make it just about yourself.

Picture yourself going into a date with someone who can only talk about him/herself. You wouldn’t want to see that person again.

So how should you approach your visitors in your About page? Well, let’s start from the beginning, who visits your About page and why?

 


Why people visit your About page

People visit your About page because they want to know if they like you, can trust you, and decide whether you would make a great team working together.

Why would you go to a date in a first place? Same, because you want to know if you like the guy and whether you could potentially have a relationship together.

So if they are already visiting your About page it's because they are probably considering working with you. Take this opportunity to tell them why they should choose you over everyone else out there.

One of the main challenges small businesses have to face to get clients is building trust among their market. People don’t know you, don’t know whether they can trust you and let’s be honest, there are a lot of weeds out there, so people are right to mistrust.

But they’ve seen your portfolio, your catalogue or have read your blog and like what you do, so they surf your website looking for signs of trust. The first place where they go to look for these signs is your About page.

Understanding what inspires trust in your visitors is the first step to writing a compelling about page.

Then, the style, tone, language and design of your About page should be determined by the type of people you want to target, and how you want to make them feel when visiting your site: inspired? Understood? Empowered?

 

Anatomy of a great About page

Every great About page has the following elements:

1.    Opening statement

This is the headline of your business. It should highlight your distinctiveness, the main value that you can provide to your clients, what your company stands for.

It’s a hook to capture the attention of your visitors, incite curiosity and make them want to know more.

For example, one of my clients State 28 use the following opening statement:

Strategic approach, innovative outcomes

Interior environments should enhance the lives of their inhabitants. Creating spaces that make people smile is our passion

 

Another example by designer Breanna Rose of Rowan Made:

This is Rowan Made,
A small design studio with a knack for simplicity + story telling

2. Introduction

This is a short paragraph to briefly answer the main 5W questions that your potential clients always want to know about you.

  • Who you are – they want to know if you are a small or medium size company, a family operated business, etc.
  • What you do – they want to know your specialisation
  • Where you are located – they want to know your physical proximity, as this can be highly value for many potential clients.
  • Since When you’ve been doing this – they want to know your experience and years in the job
  • Who your services are aimed at – they want to know if they belong here.

Another great example, Julia Kostreva says in her About page:

Julia Kostreva is an art director and designer in California with a love for art and culture.
In 2013 Julia founded this creative studio and shop - a place for work and play


3.    Your WHY

This is the most important part of your About page: your WHY.  Why do you do what you do? What’s your vision? How do you want to make a positive impact in people’s lives?

In the words of Simon Sinek:

People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe
— Simon Sinek, Start With Why

 

This section is an opportunity to explain what problems you solve and what benefits you can provide. Describe your capabilities and why you’re uniquely qualified to offer this service.

You can also do this by incorporating your company mission or tapping into people’s beliefs by sharing your core values.


4.    Provide social proof

Third party endorsements are a great tool to build credibility.

Demonstrate that it’s not just that you are saying it, there are a lot of people out there who love what you do. My favourite ways to demonstrate social proof are:

  1. A list of big brands that have already worked with you
  2. A list of links to media features
  3. Awards
  4. A rate (ie, 5 stars, etc) by industry experts
  5. A huge amount of social media followers

I personality don’t like to use testimonials here. They need some context and should always go with your projects or products.


5.    Your bio

Ok, now you can talk about you, but don’t go on too long, just explain the professional journey that brought you here today. Be short and sweet. Make it as visual as possible by adding photos of yourself, a timeline or other visual resources.

Your life story, qualification and career achievements will bolster your credibility and credentials.

This is also a great opportunity to create a personal connection with your readers. Think about the aspects of your story that they can relate with, such as humble beginnings, career mum’s struggles, etc.

You can take a look at mine here.

 


Do’s and dont’s for a great About page

Do include a photo of you – headshots or photos of you in your workplace are great in this section. .
Don’t use stock photos – they are impersonal and don’t bring any value to your About page.
Do invest in high-quality photographs - hire a professional photographer to do this job.
Don’t write in the third person - be conversational and use a friendly tone to make you more likable.
Do include ways to connect – such as email and links to your social media pages.
Do link with internal content - invite visitors to see examples of your work in your portfolio, take a closer look at your services offer or read your blog.
Do use a professional but casual tone - it will make you approachable
Don’t forget to update it regularly.

Common branding mistakes start-ups make

Living 3D brand identity designed by Grafika Studio

Living 3D brand identity designed by Grafika Studio

Every new business needs a new brand. It’s one of the first things that we put on our list of to-do’s when we just get started. But many new businesses get branded too soon.

Branding your business requires having a clear idea of who you are, what you want to be and how you are different to many others in your industry.  

Your brand is something that you want to get right from the beginning, as branding mistakes can cost a lot of money to your business down the track.

Take some time to set the foundations of your business model and avoid these common mistakes that many start-ups typically make (and I include myself here)

 

Mistake #1 | Not knowing who your ideal client is

Although you could potentially help anyone in your market, your business will be a better fit for some people rather than others.

Your brand must be relevant to your potential clients and create an emotional connection with them. Knowing who they are and what aspirations, challenges and needs they have can help you create a brand that will easily connect with your market, grab their attention and create a positive perception of your business in their minds.

Attracting the wrong type of clients can lead to client’s complaints, frustrations, bad publicity and online negative reviews that can seriously damage your brand image.

In this other post I also shared some tips and hints to find your ideal niche.

 

Mistake #2 | Lack of focus

Many start-ups think if they niche down their service offer they may lose business opportunities. Try to sell anything to anyone and you will end up selling nothing to no one.

You cannot be an expert on everything. You should only offer those services that you know best and for a type of client that you have worked before.

A focus or specialisation will give you the confidence to explain to your potential clients what qualifies you to help them with their problem better that many others in your industry, and how many people you have already helped with a similar problem.

This focus will also bring clarity to your brand, establishing a clear differentiation between who you are and how you can help your clients best.

 


Mistake #3 | Imitating other businesses

Looking at what others do and try to do the same is natural when you just get started. We want to demonstrate that we can be as good as them. However, in business being ‘as good as’ is not enough, you have to be better or be different.

Researching your competition is a necessary step to start a new business and build a new brand. But don’t compromise your authenticity by building a brand identity that follows trends or imitates others.

The market is full of professionals like you – or products like yours -, and it’s very difficult to get noticed. People want to know how they should choose your over everyone else.

 

Mistake #4 | Failing to find a differentiation

Your differentiation will give people a legitimate reason to choose you over other similar businesses in your industry.

There are no two identical businesses, so you must explore and find what makes you unique and different. Understanding your own distinctness is the first step to build a memorable brand that stands out the crowd.

As I explained in this other post on Lessons Learnt From My First Year In Business finding my own differentiation was one of the hardest things for me.

 

Mistake #5 | Not having a clear mission and vision

Branding is the art of aligning who you are, who you want to be and who people perceive you to be. Your mission defines who you are and what you do. Your vision determines who you want to be in the future.

A meaningful brand is not a brand that just looks pretty; it’s a brand with a strong personality and a clear purpose. Without personality, your brand is superficial, without purpose, you're bound to get lost along the way.

Having a clear brand vision and mission will help you identify where your business is headed, as well as what you need to prioritise to get there and what you have to say no to.


Mistake #6 |  Thinking your brand is just a logo

The worse thing about this belief is that many startups don’t see justified to spend more than a few dollars in their brand. They think all they need is just a logo - and that a clipart logo will do the job -, but a brand is much more than that.

Everything that your clients see from you speaks volumes about how much you care about your business and how much you've invested in it. That includes yourself, how you look and how you act. You're an extension of your brand.

In this other post on personal branding I shared 10 easy steps to craft your personal brand.


Mistake #7 | Not choosing the right professional to build your brands

Many clients come to me with a logo that a friend has designed for them, and I can usually tell straight away when it's been the case. If your logo looks amateurish, then so will your business.

Many of these logos don’t follow basic design principles, such a proportion and balance, are very difficult to scale down - as they have too many details – and don’t properly reflex the business essence.

Your brand must communicate confidence and professionalism, and inspire trust. A well-designed brand is the result of many hours of research and work, plus a lot of rounds of revision and feedback by the client.

I shared my own process for designing an effective logo in this other post.

 

Mistake #8 | Not investing in branding

Having a well-design brand is not the end of the road in your brand journey. You also need to brand your communications. Business cards, email signatures, website, social media platforms, etc, anything will give you an opportunity to make a positive impression in your potential and actual clients, and create an excellent perception of your business.

Make sure all your brand elements are well coordinated across every channel and your message is clear and consistent. Invest in professional photos, quality printing and a professional designer to make your brand true reflection of your business quality standards.


Ready to brand your business?

Before developing a new brand I always take my clients through a brand discovery process to ensure both, my client and I have a clear idea of the business vision, mission and direction, their target market and their distinctiveness. This is a necessary step to build a memorable brand to represent their businesses for years to come.

The process is slower than what many clients initially thought it would be, but the time and money invested in building a professional brand is well-worth to avoid more expensive problems in future.


10 strategies to get your first clients

You have a great business idea, built a fantastic website and start offering your services, but there’s just one problem: you don’t have any clients.

Your first clients are the hardest ones to get, and unfortunately, no fancy marketing strategies will bring clients to your door if you just started business. Why? Because the first step to getting clients is building trust.

The main purpose of getting your first clients is not to make money; it’s to build trust in your business. Use these first clients to:

•    Build a portfolio
•    Add testimonials to your website
•    Get referrals and recurring work

AdWords, Facebook Ads, SEO, and a lot more advance marketing techniques require money, time and a good understanding to be effective. Even if they lead traffic to your website, your visitors won’t convert, because they don’t find any signs of trust. Who has used your services before? What was the outcome?

*crickets chirp*

In today’s post, I’m sharing what worked for my business and my clients’ businesses in this regard, so that you can save time and money trying to figure out how to get your first client.

 


1.    Email everyone you know

Your first client will most likely come from someone you already know that wants to give you a chance.

When I started my business I emailed all my friends and family members to let them know about my career move and my new business. I asked them for help to find my first clients and mentioned how they could help:

  • By following my business in social media
  • By liking and sharing all my posts
  • By keeping my business cards in their wallets just in case one day they found someone who could use my services.

And that’s exactly how I found my first client: my husband shared my business with everyone he knew too, and his boss’ wife was in need of a new website. (well done John!)

I designed that first website for a third of what I charge today for similar jobs but it was totally worthy, as it has referred me dozens of new projects since then.

HINT: When emailing everyone you know, don’t start with a ‘Hi everyone… blah, blah, blah… I need your help’ and copy everyone in the same email. Send personalised messages, one by one, and take that opportunity to show interests in your friends and families’ lives.

 

2.    Use your previous work connections

You may quit your job to take a completely different career path, but if your plans are to continue doing the same type of job that you were doing in your previous company, your work connections are gold.

They've already worked with you, so they know you and your work standards. If you were a good teammate in your previous job, you already have their trust.

Don’t just think about your old boss or work colleagues, but also about suppliers, sub-contractors and other people who used to work with you, and can now give you the chance to work with them on a new project.

This one was the sole strategy that my husband used when he quit his corporate job to work for himself and was effective enough for his business to take off.

 


3.    Introduce your business to your local community

Do you buy from or use the services of a small business in your neighbourhood?  Then bring your cards and some flyers with you and introduce your business to them. Small business owners love helping other small businesses.

Your local gym, your hairdresser, your newspaper agency… any of them could need your services at some point, and even if they don’t, they can still help you promote your business among their clientele.

When I started my business I offered my help to my boy’s childcare centre. Also, I never miss any of their parent’s events, always with a bunch of business cards in my pocket.

 


4.    Collaborate with a charity

I must admit I didn’t think about this option when I first started my business, but I was lucky enough to be found by Kelete Studio, a dancing school for kids with disabilities. Since I’ve been collaborating with them they promote my business everywhere.

Charities usually don’t have funds to hire a professional, but they can write testimonials, add jobs to your portfolio and spread the word about you, while you help a worthwhile cause.

 


5.    Offer obligation free consultations

One of the main concerns when hiring a designer is whether you will work well together. That’s why I offer obligation free consultations. Everyone can come and discuss their projects over a coffee, and decide after if we’d make a great team.

Use this consultation to answer your client’s questions and address their concerns. Be helpful, not pitchy or pushy. Give them some information to take with them, and let them make the final decision when they’re ready. This is a great way to build trust.

Small jobs can also let your clients try your services and decide if they like working with you. For that reason, it’s not a bad idea to start offering small design jobs at a low rate, so that people can sample your services and build trust in your business.

Some of my current clients started with just business card designs and other small jobs. Months later they requested an entire rebranding and new website.

 


6.    Network offline

Industry associations and meet-up groups can put you in touch with people who could potentially need your services at some point.

The main challenge here is to find a group where there are no competitors, only potential clients.

However, if you’re in business, then you’re in the business of building relationships. You never know where you are going to find a new client, so network even when you’re not.

When I take my boy to the park in the afternoon, I bring a brunch of business cards with me. You meet other mums at the park every day, so who knows if maybe one day I meet someone who needs my services there.

 


7.    Network online

Many business owners only use fan pages to find new clients. Wrong! There is a more effective way to find a client on Facebook: join relevant groups and participle in conversations.

I find many Facebook groups are a great source of information for my own business, but also a great channel to find new opportunities. I’ve also seen young designers offering free help with small jobs, just to add projects to their portfolios.

The trouble with Facebook groups is to find the ones that are actually useful. Some of them can be a waste of time.

On that note, Facebook groups have landed me a couple of clients so far, Instagram none, so:

Facebook 2 – Instagram 0

HINT: when joining Facebook groups; turn on notifications to not miss a thing.

 


8.    Team up with established agencies

Design agencies sometimes find themselves overcapacity and could need some extra help. If they like working with you, they can turn into repeat work and referrals.

If you are a new designer, working with other established businesses would also give you the opportunity to learn and grow by collaborating with more experienced professionals.

 


9.    Free speaking

Although I’m still fighting my fears of public speaking, some of my clients have mentioned many times how effective this method is.

If you can find a free space to host a seminar or workshop, don't hesitate to use it. People are usually quite interested in learning anything that can help grow their businesses and networking with other similar business owners.

If you don’t have a physical space, you can take your presentation online and organise a free webinar on a topic of interest for your potential clients.

You can also get in touch with industry organisations, such as the Chambers Of Commerce, as they like to bring speakers to their meetings.

 


10.    Pitch work in freelance marketplace sites

Although this wouldn’t be a long-term strategy, as jobs are usually low paid here, these sites can be a great way to find work quickly when you are just starting.

Some websites are Upwork, Elance or oDesk. I use Ozlance for Australian clients.

In summary, the only ways to get your first clients is getting out there and talk to people and spread the word because no marketing technique is going to bring clients to your door while you wait comfortably on your couch.


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20 things to do before starting a business

Something is changing in the professional world today. Many professionals are quitting their corporate jobs to work for themselves.

Technology has made possible to run a business from anywhere and reach clients everywhere. Parents can now look after their business while they spend time with their kids. Young professionals can travel the world and take their jobs with them.

New business can be started with a minimum investment, few resources and no inventory. Setting-up a business is now easier than ever, but it also requires a lot of planning.

In today's post I'll take you through 20 important things to do before starting a new business. If you're thinking about quitting your 9-5 job and starting your own business this post will help you get ready for the transition.

1 | Choose a business name + entity

Coming up with a great name can be difficult, finding a name that is not taken even harder. To find my own business name I used this Name Brainstorm Worksheet, by Fuze Branding, with 4 simple steps for naming your business.

As soon as you find the name, register your business name and your domain before someone else takes it! If you are based in Australia, you can download my Business Registration Checklist (for Australian businesses).

2 | Find your ideal niche

Trying to sell anything to anyone can result in selling to NO ONE. Finding a niche will give you an opportunity to offer a more refined solution for particular problem or satisfying the needs of a specific group of people, where the competition is lower. In this other post I take you through the process for finding your ideal niche.

3 | Decide on your product or service offering

There are thousands of products and services available to consumers today. To enter the marketplace with a new product or service, you must be able to offer something that's different or better in some way than what's already being offered by your competitors. Don't try to sell anything, only sell your best product or your best skill.

4 | Study your competition

There are other professionals who are probably helping your ideal client to resolve the same kind of problems that you are. Know who your competitors are and how they are already helping your ideal client, and come up with other different and better solutions for the same client.

5 | Find your differentiation

In today's over-saturated world, it’s very difficult to get noticed. The only way to stand out in your market is by finding a differentiation. Find what values and benefits you can deliver that no one else can.

6 | Establish a clear brand direction

Purpose is what differentiate a superficially pretty brand from a meaningful brand with strong personality and clear direction. Define your brand direction by putting together your vision and mission statements, as well as your core values.

7 | Design an effective logo

Your logo is the heart and soul of your brand. It identifies your business in its simplest form. In spite of its simplicity, a logo is always full of meaning. An effective logo design needs to be simple, memorable, timeless, versatile and appropriate. In this other post I share my process for designing a effective logo.

8 | Build a professional visual identity

Your brand can be styled by adding other visual components like typefaces, colour, patterns, etc. These components are assembled within a set of guidelines - a style guide - to determine how to apply them in different mediums. You can download my template to create a professional visual style guide here.

9 | Brand your business

Every piece of communication that your clients see speaks volumes about the way in which you do business. Make a list of documents that you will need put in front of your clients and create branded templates, email signatures and printed business stationary to show how much you care about your business.

10 | Invest in high quality images

Images are the most powerful way to deliver your message and the number one thing that can kill your business image if they are not right. So hiring a professional photographer to get high quality photos of your products, your work and yourself will be the best business investment you can do.

11 | Decide your pricing

Pricing is a sensitive aspect of any business that can significantly impact in people’s perceptions. Before starting your business you need to determine how much your products, time or expertise worth. Make a price list and have a quote template if you sell services. You can download my quote template here.

12 | Choose payment system and set conditions

Invoicing clients and getting paid on time are challenging aspect of any business. Before starting your business, decide your pricing structure, payment methods, return policies - if you will sell products - etc. In this other post I shared some strategies to build steady income as a freelancer.

To invoice clients you can use free invoicing software like Wave and Paypal.

13 | Start a cashflow statement

As soon as you start your business you need to keep a record of the money flowing in and out to know how much much you made after expenses. If you're unsure about how to keep track of your finances, you can get my Finance Planner for small businesses, available at my Etsy shop.

14 | Get your contract ready

If you're selling professional services, a contract is extremely important to ensure a satisfactory professional relationship between you and your client. This document clarifies the terms of service and sets expectations and limitations. You can get a Standard Form of Agreement for Design Services from AIGA.

15 | Establish a communication workflow

A good communication process can set the basis for a successful - or disastrous - project or client relationship. Having a good communication process in place will save you time and headaches and deliver a great client experience. To learn how to streamline your business communications also read this other post.

16 | Launch your website

Your website is the base of your communications and needs to go live before creating any other brand element, as you will want to include the website address in your stationary and other marketing materials. To ensure you get your website right from the beginning read this other post, with things that you should do before getting a new website.

17 | Create social media profiles

Social Media can be powerful and cost-effective tool to promote your business. However, keeping your profile active requires time, dedication and resources. Before taking your business to social media, determine first which platform is best for your business.  You can learn more in this other post on Which Social Media Should I Choose To Promote My Business?

18 | Start a mailing list

Your email list is the most effective way to connect with your audience after visiting your website. Building an email list can take time and a lot of work. Connect your website with an email system, such a Mailchimp, and start collecting email addresses as soon as your new website goes live. Learn more about how to build your email list in this other post.

19 | Promote your business

Let everyone know that you are about to start a new business. Then you can develop a 12-month marketing plan for your business that combines some online and offline actions To help you create a comprehensive marketing plan you can get my Small Business Marketing Planner at my Etsy shop.

20 | Find your first client

You won't officially in business until you don't have your first client. Your first referrals and clients may come from people close to you, so ask your family and friends to help you promote your services or shop. If you can't find any client start doing some charity work to build your portfolio or simply help people with small jobs. Most of us started that way.

If you dream about having your own business but don't feel confident enough, join my Creative Business eCourse. I'll show you all the secrets to build a creative business from scratch and set yourself for a huge success!

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Lessons learnt from my second year in business

My business has been two years on the go this month. How cool is that, right? It’s exciting to see my “baby” growing up year after year, and it’s also great to see my own growth as a professional and sole-entrepreneur.

Constantly learning is one of the best things about running your own business. Quite often, you have no one to teach you how things have to be done; the only way to know is by trying. Sometimes you succeed, sometimes you fail, but there is something you always do, and that’s learn.

Last year I wrote this other post on the lessons I learned after surviving my first year as a freelancer. In today’s post, I’m sharing three more valuable lessons that this second year has taught me.

 

Lesson 1 | The value of time

I didn’t learn this lesson until my second year in business, probably because my first year wasn’t as busy. But half way through my second year I started a waiting list, with clients requiring to book their projects 3-4 months in advance.

Looking back at my days in the corporate world, time wasn’t so precious. I had to be in the office from 9 to 5. Time wasted on the phone, emails or unnecessary meetings wasn’t a big deal.

Now, as a freelance designer, every minute counts. Time spent on anything that doesn’t generate revenue is costing you money.

Companies have different teams to look after many different areas of the business: IT, accounting, marketing, operations… But freelancers are all in one. We have to look after clients, IT issues, website updates, bookkeeping, etc, and these tasks don’t generate any revenue.

In my typical week, there are usually 3 types of tasks:

  • the ones that generate direct revenue, i.e. client work
  • the ones that hopefully will generate revenue indirectly, i.e. marketing, advertising, networking, etc
  • the ones that don’t generate revenue but are necessary for the business: accounting, invoicing, office maintenance

Reducing the amount of time spent in the third group of tasks – the ones that don’t bring revenue - means that I can dedicate more time to work with clients and build profit.

For me, managing my time effectively means to find the right balance between billable and non-billable work every week. For example, spending 1 hr a week on invoicing can be necessary, but spending 3 hr could be time that my business cannot afford.

An activity book – or time sheet - helps me plan in advance the right amount of time I can afford to spend on each group of tasks along the week and track hours to ensure I stick to the plan. My typical week is split like this:

50% Client work
30% Marketing and blogging
10% Business development and client care
5% Self development
3% Accounting and invoicing
2% Business management and planning

You can download my activity book template below (in Microsoft Excel)

Grafika-studio-activity-book

Time and money spent in marketing and promotional tasks are a gamble. If these activities don’t generate new leads, opportunities or sales, they are also a waste. Here is when conversion rates become critical.

Takeaway: Plan your time ahead each week and make sure you minimise the number of hours spent on non-billable tasks by automatizing processes with the help of templates, software and other online tools.

In this other post, you can find a list of tools that I use in my business to save time and work more efficiently.

 


Lesson 2 | The importance of having a process

In my first year, I didn’t have a standardised process to work with clients. I used to set-up a process after meeting the client and understanding their specific needs. But that tailored approach had more disadvantages than benefits.

Now I have streamlined my process to work with clients.

For my website design projects, I’ve defined a single work process with 8 stages. Each stage is broken down into small steps to be completed by either the client, a third party or myself. A deadline is also assigned to every step to ensure that the project is completed on time and doesn’t cause delays in other projects.

As described in this other post on How To Streamline Your Process To Impress Your Clients I’ve also set up a communications process for every project to deliver a great client experience.

Having a pre-defined process to work with clients has many advantages:

  • Project management efficiency - After having gone through the same process many times I know it by heart. Every new project is easier to manage, I can complete tasks quicker and minimise errors. Deadlines are also easier to meet.

  • Clarity and trust - My process is easy to explain and simple to understand by clients. They know what to expect from working with me since day 1. They trust my expertise.

  • Accuracy - By knowing the amount of time that I need to complete every task and possible issues that I could find along the way, I can calculate how many hours every project requires and quote accordingly, avoiding nasty surprises in the final invoice.

  • Consistency - Every client receives the same service, the same value for money and the same dedication and attention, creating a consistent experience for anyone who works with me.

Having a streamlined process, plus the help of a project management tool which is Freedcamp, allows me to take 5 or 6 projects on a time (I used to take 1 or 2 in my first year) increasing my monthly revenue and managing projects more efficiently.

Takeaway: a clear and well-defined process can set you apart from your competition in the over-saturated design industry and make your clients fall in love with your work.


Lesson 3 | The freelance income roller coaster

Did I say how much I miss my steady paycheck from my old job? I think I’ve said this a few times already, but I’ll say it again: I miss the days when I used to know how much money I’d have in my bank account at the end of the month. Now, my monthly income is quite unpredictable.  

The freelance work usually comes inconsistently. You can go from being overcapacity to have several months with no new projects or leads. These months can become quite stressful and put a lot of pressure on the family finances.

Bringing revenue as often and consistently as possible is one of the biggest challenges that any small business owner has to face. In this other post, I’m sharing some tips to build a more consistent income when you are a freelancer.

To not only depend on client’s work, I’ve diversified my offer by selling digital products. But here is another common problem of making money online: digital products have a very short life.

Starting a new business has never been easier. Amazon, Etsy, Kickstarter, etc make it possible to start selling online with no inventory, no investment and no overhead costs. Selling online is a great source of passive income for many small businesses.

But everyone knows that. If you’re making a quick profit selling something online, chances are that many others will soon replicate your idea taking a piece of your pie.

Sources of income come and go quickly. Seeing some of my ideas growing up and slowing down as fast as the speed of sound has developed a need to be constantly rethinking my business, measuring results and implementing new ways to make a profit and grow within my niche.

Takeaway: Any self-employed designer goes through times where work slows. Managing finances during the ups and downs is vital for your business to survive.

Are you considering taking the leap into the freelance life? There are so many things I can share with you! Join my 6 weeks creative business ecourse and let me tell you the secrets to becoming a successful sole-entrepreneur.