Help! I stink at picking colors that go together.

Developing color palettes can be a difficult skill to master, but there are plenty of free and paid resources to give you a leg up.

COLOURLovers – Free

“COLOURlovers is an international creative community that helps people discover their inner designer. We provide people with a wealth of user created & shared color inspiration as well as tools that make the creative process as simple as possible. Whether you’re simply looking for a color palette to kickstart your next project or want to produce a piece of vector art, we have the tools and services to help anybody from go from design inspiration to execution. There are 4,060,125 COLOURlovers around the world who have created 7,103,660 Colors, 3,139,088 Palettes and 3,997,390 Patterns.” [Read more...]

Find the “fold” in your website design

Perhaps you’re already familiar with the newspaper terms “above the fold” and “below the fold.” If not:

Above the fold” is a graphic design concept that refers to the location of an important news story or a visually appealing photograph on the upper half of the front page of a newspaper. Most papers are delivered and displayed to customers folded up, meaning that only the top half of the front page is visible. Thus, an item that is “above the fold” may be one that the editors feel will entice people to buy the paper. (Wikipedia)

Below the fold” (as you may have guessed) refers to the bottom half of the  page.

These terms have carried over onto the web.

[Read more...]

Tittle: Typography Terms #1

[image] A tittle is the dot above a lowercase j or i.

Definition:

tittle : the dot over i or j

Example Sentence:

Make sure you tittle your i’s and cross your t’s.

Origin:

Tittle comes from the Latin titulus, which originally meant “title.” Titulus came to refer to marks such as the abbreviated form of n written over a vowel (like the Spanish tilde, which indirectly got its name from titulus), and then to any mark above a letter.

Source: merriam-webster.com

No More “Maybes” – Understanding the Sales Cycle

I have a confession: I am an entrepreneur and I don’t really know how to sell.

But, (obviously) my one-person service business relies on me selling my services.

I’m getting better at it, but most of the time, my sales cycle feels a little awkward.

Quite often, prospective clients want to cut right to the quote. Here’s a real email (made anonymous for these purposes) I got from a prospective client:

I am looking to have a logo created for my company. I am looking for a very simple logo.

I am also looking for a simple website for the company. Basically I will need a home page, about, services page, and resources page.

Also, I have the domain name for somedomain.com and I would like to get a blog started and eventually turn the blog into a website with more information on it to include blog posts, video blogs, advertise & sell products – books and ebooks, etc.

Could I get a quote for all of these different options? I am on a small budget.

After over a dozen emails back and forth (asking for clarification and details, etc.) over the course of a month, she decided to go with another company.

Honestly, it wasn’t a good fit, and I think I knew that pretty early on. But, I spent a lot of time and effort trying to cultivate a relationship that wasn’t going to work. These situations get really tiring and frustrating.

After watching this 16-minute video by Pam Slim, author of Escape from Cubicle Nation, I completely see where I went wrong.

There are three steps you should go through before you ever submit a proposal (initiate, educate, validate). I was trying to cram all of that into a proposal based on a few vague emails.

The first instance you see that the prospect isn’t a good fit, you should take them out of the sales funnel – not drag them kicking and screaming the rest of the way.

I highly, highly recommend watching this video (embedded below) if you’re even slightly confused about your sales process:

Get a handle on the sales process — and close more business from Pamela Slim on Vimeo.

Or watch it on Pam’s site here.

I’d love to hear what you think of the video (and the sales process) in the comments.

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The Internet: Every Word Matters

Are readers getting lazier? Or just more demanding?

The Internet gives consumers options. If you visit a website and can’t quickly find what you’re looking for, you’re going to leave and look elsewhere. It doesn’t mean you’re lazy. It means you demand well-written, well-organized content.

It’s egotistical for a writer to expect you to try to figure out what the heck they’re talking about. It’s their responsibility to make it as easy as possible for you to understand their message.

Clear writing takes time

“If I am to speak ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now.”
—Woodrow Wilson

The same is true for writing. I find that it takes me much longer to edit my copy than it does to write it the first time.

Readers are giving us the gift of their time and attention, and we, as content creators, should honor them. It’s easy to call your readers lazy. It’s hard to write content that’s worthy of their attention.

Tips for writing better content:

Write a compelling, relevant headline to earn their attention. (Read: How to Write Magnetic Headlines from Copyblogger)

Write a strong lede that encourages them to keep reading. (Read: Five Lessons From Newspapers to Boost Your Blog’s Circulation from Copyblogger)

Edit, edit, edit (Read: 5 editor’s secrets to help you write like a pro from Remarkable Communication)

Don’t publish immediately. Let your copy sit overnight (or for at least a few hours) and look at it with fresh eyes. (Read Blog Post Editing: 5 Steps to Take Before You Hit Publish from Get in the Hot Spot)

“A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”
—William Strunk, Jr., The Elements of Style, 1918

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The “Why I do what I do” Challenge

Finding your why (and learning how to articulate it) is a tricky and scary thing. I think it’s like riding a bicycle. Once you figure out how ride, you’ll never forget. But, until then…you’re paralyzed by an intense fear of crashing into the neighbor’s fence and completely busting your shit.

A recent IttyBiz post challenged readers to answer some tough questions about their business, including the who, what, and why of it all. I’ve decided to take off the training wheels and give this a go. Whee!

What’s your game? What do you do?

I believe in easy, efficient, effective communication. I have an eye for editing out the visual and verbal clutter so your message comes across loud and clear.

How do I do it?

By talking to you about your goals. Why do you want to create this project? What does success look like?

By brainstorming and teasing out strategies. Who are we talking to? What do we want them to do? When, where and how should we deliver our message to our ideal people?

By helping you collect and create the blend of words and pictures that will articulate your message with ease. How can we get these ideal people to do that thing we want them to?

By massaging and editing that blend of words and pictures until it’s just right. What’s that main thing we wanted people to do? Is that clear? Does this have the “feel” that we want it to? Are we missing anything?

By delivering the final product on time and on budget.

    Why do you do it? Do you love it, or do you just have one of those creepy knacks?

    I absolutely love what I do. I think communication and the psychology behind it is so fascinating.

    Why do I do it? Because it kills me when a fabulous business is hiding behind a crummy, generic logo and tacky WordArt flyers. They deserve so much better than that! These beautiful, unique businesses deserve materials that reflect who they are.

    “But, I’m small. I just work out of my house. I don’t need anything fancy.” No one needs to know you work out of your garage! And, you might not need something “fancy” – but you do need something that quickly and easily let’s people know what you’re all about. Pay attention the next time you’re walking past some storefronts. Which ones look “expensive” and which ones look “cheap” or “friendly” or (insert adjective here). You can tell, even before you read the sign. Why? Design.

    Who are your customers? What kind of people would need or want what you offer?

    My best working relationships have been with other solopreneurs — coaches, consultants and creatives. These folks have been in business for a few years and are ready to take their image to a more professional, consistent level. They understand that the accurate portrayal of their business through their brand is crucial to their success. They are looking for a long-term collaborative partner.

    I want to work with clients that are open to dialogue about how the project can be improved. If you are always right, no matter what, then we are not a good fit.

    What’s your marketing USP? Why should I buy from you instead of the other losers?

    I can rock your pictures and your words. Because, seriously, you need both in order for your message to be effective. Great copy in a crappy design doesn’t get read. Confusing copy in a great design doesn’t get read either.

    Lucky for you (and your budget), I can help you with both. I can take a look at your rough draft and help you shape it into something that will fit the design and convey a strong brand message.

    Ever hear of the inverted pyramid? It’s a journalism thing: lead with the most important information, and cascade the details through the article in the order of importance. Many people stop reading after the first sentence. Don’t bury your main point in the third paragraph.

    When the copy doesn’t fit (and it almost never does), I don’t have to toss the problem back in your lap. Here, you fix this. I can edit it for you, or work with you to craft a tighter piece.

    Also, my clients think I’m pretty cool. Almost all of them have hired me more than once.

    Oh, and I work really fast. Especially when it comes to page layout.

    Um, and did I mention I might have a theme song?

    What’s next for you? What’s the big plan?

    First, I need to settle on the services I want to offer. Here’s where I’m at thus far (love to hear your feedback on this):

    I want to create partnerships with a few select businesses where I am their go-to-gal for all things marketing.  They aren’t so big where they need to hire a full time employee, but they have a steady need for design work. I can help them rebrand from the bottom up, or expand on what they’ve already got going on. I currently have two clients like this and I just love it. The work just gets better and better because I really know their businesses.

    I want to do e-book/info product design.

    I think I’d like to do e-mail newsletter design too.

    Finally, I’m kicking around the idea of offering a WordPress website package where I would customize an existing template. Clients would pick a theme (I’m thinking about basing it around the Genesis framework and child themes) and I would install and tweak it so it better reflected their brand. Add some plug-ins, supply some basic instruction, and off they go with a shiny new website. I’m trying to decide if this would appeal to the “I know this isn’t cheap, but I really can’t afford a $3,000 website” crowd. I’m considering the $1,000-$1,500 price point, which would include the framework + theme.

    Once I nail that down (and maybe I just did) – I’ll overhaul my website (which is currently already underway) and start my email newsletter. I also need to decide if I want to stick with this new label I’ve been kicking around… “the copywriting designer” (love your thoughts on this too).

    Then, I’d like to explore creating some info products of my own. I really like the idea of teaching and helping others. I’m also looking into starting a store on Zazzle, selling t-shirts and mugs and posters and such. I kinda miss the random art projects, and I think having a little shop could be fun, without all the inventory and shipping hassles.

    - – -

    This took me a really long time, but it turned out to be very cathartic. I highly recommend that you take the challenge too!

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    On perfectionism, fear and paralysis

    I’ve been on a two-month (plus) information binge. I bought e-courses. E-books. Regular books. Had conversations with colleagues. And with clients.  And my mom.

    I learned a LOT. During the process, I realized that there are a lot of things I know I “should” be doing … but I’m not. It’s not the first time I’ve heard about these things (like picking a niche) but I haven’t had the guts to actually do it. There’s a laundry list of items that I insist my clients should be doing, but I’m not practicing what I preach. And so, I’ve been freaking out.

    To give you an idea, here’s a snippet of recent my inner dialogue:

    What’s my niche? What makes me unique? Hm, I really like doing page layout.  But no one prints anything anymore. Maybe e-book design…but, will people buy it? What should I even charge for that? How often should I blog? What should I blog about? Man, I need an editorial calendar. Ugh, but what topics? I also really need a new website that’s better integrated with my blog. Should I use WordPress? ExpressionEngine? No, it’ll have to be WordPress. Which theme? I like the Genesis framework, but none of the child themes really suit the look I’m going for. I’m not a big enough WordPress ninja to do massive customization. Hm. My email has not been working well lately, I think I need to change hosting companies. Wow, I just lost my entire blog. Let’s go back to the old hosting company. Phew, I recovered my blog. I really need to start my email newsletter. I’ve been saying that for almost a year. How often should I send it out? I think it should be weekly, but do I have enough to say to publish one every week? What should I call it? Should I go with Aweber? Do I just send it out to my current/former clients, or should I email them and ask first? Wow, it’s been over two months since I posted on my blog. And none of the links on my blog are working. 404s everywhere. Damn.

    I don’t have any real answers, but I decided that I’m just going to start. Somewhere.

    I wrote this post to break the deafening silence on my blog. I picked a new WordPress theme and I’ve been developing it locally using MAMP (which is really cool, by the way). I decided that I want to combine my love of design with writing/editing (thanks, Charlie Gilkey). I realized that two of my favorite clients have coaching backgrounds and that I might want to work with coaches. I think I am going to use Aweber for my e-newsletter and I want to start sending it out this month. You can sign up for it in the sidebar. I’d love your feedback on it once I send it out.

    So, I didn’t quit. I didn’t go on vacation. I just got really nervous and completely froze. As Seth Godin teaches, I must learn to quiet the lizard brain and get over my fear of shipping.

    It’s not going to be perfect, but as long as it’s just a little bit better than before, it’ll have to do.

    Branding: Make Every Detail Count

    I met a client at Caribou Coffee last week to review some logo comps. If you’ve never been to one, Caribou is like Starbucks’ rural, woodsy cousin. Anyway, I picked up my coffee and grabbed a couple of napkins to wipe off the table. I did a double take, and grinned:

    Brilliant Branding by Caribou Coffee - napkins that encourage you to write a really, really short novel.

    “Yet another thing to stay awake for: Write a really, really short novel.” followed by their tag line, “Life is short. Stay awake for it.”

    It’s just a napkin. Two-color printed on one side. But the clever message spoke to a core group of coffeehouse-goers: the artists who camp out for hours, sipping coffee while working on their masterpieces. It relates perfectly to their tag line (which I never noticed before picking up this napkin.) It addresses the key pain point of their consumers. They’re tired. How can Caribou help? By serving you coffee, because “Life is short. Stay awake for it.”

    A napkin, by definition, is something to be used and discarded. Yet, by printing a simple message, they are encouraging you to use it in another way — as the perfect place to scribble notes and ideas — which means you won’t toss it. And if you did scrawl something brilliant on this fun napkin, you’d create a positive subconscious association with the coffeehouse.

    It’s brilliant.

    How can you surprise your customers? How can you show that you “get” them? Are you paying attention to the smallest details, even things that are meant to be discarded?

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    Create a Professional, Marketing-Smart Email Signature

    Did you know that your email signature is the easiest, cheapest marketing tool in your toolbox?

    Think of your email signature as your digital business card. You “hand it out” every time you contact someone. No printing costs. No awkwardness. (“Can I, uh… um, give you my card?”) Send an email and BAM. Digital business card, right in their inbox.

    What you should include

    What you should include varies based on your business and your goals. You don’t have a blog or a Twitter account? No worries. These are just some suggestions: [Read more...]