a peek inside the fishbowl

26 Jul, 2011

Investing in your business

Posted by andrea tomkins in: The business of blogging

I wanted to write a little bit more about something that was touched upon in a conference panel that I participated in along with Shannon McKarney and Rebecca Stanisic, and that was about investing in professional grade marketing materials. We were talking about spending out on things like great blog design, business cards, and rate sheets… and how important it is to make a good impression with these items (which are often your first point of contact with potential employers/clients).

You want to look like you’ve got it all pulled together, just like how you would in a job interview. If you’re going to an interview you’ve probably brushed your teeth, polished your shoes and de-linted your black suit jacket, right? You want to look good because the people you’re talking to are more likely to take you seriously if you do.

I believe really strongly that small business owners (not just bloggers, although many now fall into this category too) need to invest in themselves. I understand why they don’t. It costs money, and money spent means that the margin of profit is that much smaller.

I’ve heard it before: “Why should I get a business card professionally designed and printed when I can do it myself and print them at home?” or “Why should I bother getting a professional headshot/brochure/logo/ website/video when my nephew can do it for free?”

I certainly understand why people think in this way. This stuff can be expensive.

There are a lot of “prosumer” products out there that enable people to take a DIY approach to these things, whether it’s a desktop publishing program, a camera, or web design software. But not everyone has the skill or the time to do these things, and just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

In a past post I wrote about a fantastic service called Moo.com. You upload your design, add your text, and voila… you get a shipment of fantastic cards. The paper stock (a.k.a. the heft/weight of the card stock) is top notch, and you can easily fool people into thinking you paid a fortune for a professional print job. But I think the best thing about Moo is their amazing selection of professionally “predesigned” cards. I urge you to take that route, because you can really make a good impression with a well-designed business card.

One of the best things a small business owner can do is to call in the pros, but if you’ve decided not to hire someone to help you with your marketing materials the least you can do is find a trustworthy soul who will give you an honest opinion about them. Ask them: Does my [business card/website/blog/headshot] look professional? Will it help people take me seriously? Would YOU want to hire me based on this?

Most importantly, if they tell you the paper stock is a little flimsy or your webpage text is hard to read, don’t be hurt. Say thank you, because they’re doing you a big favour.

Creative professionals come in vary degrees. You can pay a little, or a lot. There are great designers out there and some not-so great. (Don’t hire anyone without looking at their portfolio!) Whether it’s a professional web design or a business card, you need to spend out. It’s an investment in your business, one that will get you noticed, help you stand out, and hopefully bring you more business in the future.

Are you someone who works in creative services? I’d love to hear your take. (Leave your link so we can check out your portfolio too!) Or maybe you’re a small business owner who struggles with this? I’d love to talk about it some more and hear what you think.


7 Responses to "Investing in your business"

1 | coffee with julie

July 26th, 2011 at 11:00 am

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I couldn’t agree more!

I ran my own business for 5 years and one of the first things I did was have business cards and a website professionally designed (www.caffeinecommunications.ca by A&N Design) as well as a professional series of photographs to be used on the site, in avatars and other required headshots (Andrea Tomkins, I believe you know her?). Even for my personal blog, I have forked out for professional design since I don’t have the same skillset as you do. I also touched on this very same topic on my most recent blog post in reference to some business owners I met at the Social Captial conference.

2 | Stacey

July 26th, 2011 at 12:29 pm

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We use Vista Print for our business cards. Like moo.com, you can choose a variety of pre-designed cards. But, if you choose to allow them to put a small “printed by Vista Print” on the back of the cards, all you pay for is shipping. Free business cards, professionally printed.

3 | Loukia

July 26th, 2011 at 3:32 pm

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I agree! I spent money to have my blog re-designed and I’ll continue to do so every few years, and I also have great business cards through Tiny Prints, who also happens to be one of my blog patrons. They’re essential at blog conferences, like BlogHer – I don’t know how many I gave out last year, but it was a LOT! I got new ones made for this year, too, an updated version. And I’m going to invest in a media kit soon, too. :)

4 | Cleo

July 27th, 2011 at 10:50 am

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As a professional graphic design and communications specialist, it will no doubt come as no surprise that I, too, whole heartedly agree with all of the above. We get this question all the time as we are a higher end shop that charges more that design students, nephews, home businesses, etc. But in the end, our clients always feel like the value of what they receive is far greater than the outlay of expenditure. But, understandably, they need to understand that value before they proceed with such projects and part with their money.

The value that professionals give you goes far beyond just the technical side (providing logos in all formats and scalable or able to be placed on coloured backgrounds) and delve into the psyche of your target audience. Really good graphic designers should have spent a good amount of time in design school learning about visual communication in terms of things like how colour can affect perception, etc. They should also have an intuitive understanding of how people relate to each other and very strong communication skills. An example of what I mean by all this is the K-Mart logo; that logo cost an astonishing amount of money but looks so simple and low budget… that is because the designers made it that way to attract that target audience. Something flashy and high-end would have alienated the very people they open their doors for each day, but the same amount of research and skill went into designing the logo.

My best advise is to set aside as much as you can for your outward marketing (logo, biz card and website at minimum) and shop around. Meet with three designers to get a feel for their intrinsic nature and their process. Do not pick the least expensive one. And if they don’t have the time to meet with you, move on to someone who does. Designing your brand should be a collaborative effort and it is very personal to you. They need to get inside your head and that is difficult through email.

Good luck!!

5 | Erika Cuccaro

July 27th, 2011 at 4:10 pm

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Andrea, I agree with you 100%. Last year I invested in professional photography and web design for my website and it was well worth it. My “online business card” is one that I am proud of.

As for my business cards…after reading “American Psycho”, I called my graphic designer friend right away. No more DIY business cards for me! :)

~ Erika.

6 | LO

July 28th, 2011 at 8:32 pm

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I need a professional website. It’s very simple but needs to be professional-I need things that I can’t do. BUT I have heard and experienced enough horror stories of dealing with web designers and costs too high and waiting and waiting…still trying to find someone to help me with my vision:) I’m fine with the words-I need someone to design my site and then I can go in and manage the content…:( It’s holding me back in someways and while I don’t rely on my website for business, I do view it as a calling card that potentials can check out after I’ve made contact.

7 | When someone steals your words >> a peek inside the fishbowl

August 5th, 2011 at 9:25 am

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[…] person had taken an entire post (this one) and plunked it into their website, word for word. It was hurtful on many levels. This person stole […]

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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