Tag Archives: graphic design

Building A Purpose Driven Company

Identify Your Brand Purpose Begin with the following exercise.

5 Steps to Define Your Brand Purpose

What is your product or service and what does it have to do with your brand purpose?   Are you a product manufacturer? Do you have a retail store or online shop? Does your company provide property management services? Even if these questions seem very basic to you, you may be surprised what is revealed through this practice.

Taking a few moments to determine your purpose by penning a products and services list is invaluable whether you are a start-up company or an existing business. The list helps your customers know what products and services they can expect from you, plus helps your company identify its purpose and where you want to focus your energy.

Begin to identify your brand purpose with this product and service list exercise.

Consider what a customer may need when they are seeking your product or service. Do they just want yarn or do they need online knitting classes? If you are a product manufacturer, will you provide one complete product or replacement parts, will you create multiple models that offer unique features?

Below I have used Connection Group as an example. I began with core services and then added subcategory items under each as applicable. I have purposefully left some items off at the risk of creating a 20-page blog!

The main services Connection Group provides are:

  • Graphic Design – Including logo design, digital graphics, print collateral, publication design, web page design, signage design, display advertisements,
  • Printing – Including – offset and web press, short-run digital and large quantity print runs, proofs, delivery
  • Website Design and Development – Including website design, user interface design, navigation and content flow, digital graphics, website maintenance, hosting
  • Brand Marketing Management  – Including digital graphics, display and internet advertising, direct mail, brochures, event marketing, product marketing
  • Content Marketing – Including graphic design creation, blog writing and distribution, social media post creation and social media management

1. Create your product or services list.

Begin with your core product or service, then add the elements of each. After that step is complete, you can also break down tasks that are part of each service. For our example, we could add specific tasks required for publication design, or website design, etc.

 2. Read through your list.

Do you see some services repeated under multiple categories?

In our example, graphic design services are under all categories. Graphic design is our core service.  It makes sense that we have included it in all of our main service platforms. Although it may appear repetitive, we include a service under each applicable category because we want to communicate clearly to our customer what is available for them.

Graphic design created for print and digital graphic design developed for the web requires a grasp of each medium. Not all creative services firms have expertise in both areas. Adding it to all categories helps our customers know we can be a one-stop solution. Creating a full suite of branding services that helps our customer connect with their target audience is our brand purpose.

3. Could you make changes to increase customer satisfaction?

Can you be a one stop shop or is offering a specific niche a better brand purpose for your company? If another creative services agency did this exercise they may realize they need to bone up on their website graphics capability. Or, they may choose to focus on their print expertise and decide not to offer website design or web graphics at all.

4. How can your brand purpose list help you plan for the future?

Did you recognize you have some extraneous products or services that you are currently offering which do not offer value expected by your customer? Do you find some holes that you could fill in with new products or services? Sometimes companies can create entirely new divisions with a new product or service that utilizes core competencies or current staff, equipment capabilities, etc.

5. How will you serve your customer better?

Determining your core brand purpose is the first step in putting your customers needs first. Your company will also benefit because you can identify ways to streamline resources. Optimizing your equipment, raw materials, knowledge, and staff is key to a purposeful and profitable business.

Let us know if we can help build your company brand roadmap. From a purpose-driven brand assessment to a full blown brand marketing plan we can help you create a unified brand image and increase your brand recognition.

A World Without Graphic Design

All the discussion about the red cup and the sans serif Google logo got us thinking about how large of a role graphic design plays in our world.

Life just wouldn’t be the same without it. Can you imagine running shoes without a Nike swoosh? A holiday tree without a Hallmark ornament?  Jonathan Goldsmith without a Dos Equis? Or heaven forbid a frat party without a red solo cup?

The desire to make things pretty while adding a semblance of order is why I went into graphic design to begin with. Recognizing the difference it makes in peoples lives gives me purpose.  I’m not a surgeon saving someone’s life or a Peace Corp worker feeding the hungry. I am a graphic designer who creates the annual giving campaign for an environmental education center, and a website for a non-profit who helps to feed and educate children in Africa and brochures for sustainable building products.  I make things pretty and hopefully catch peoples attention and get positive messages out to the world.

So go ahead, change your profile pic to an Eiffel tower with a peace sign in support of France, throw some change in a red kettle, catch the Macy’s parade and dance all night in your Manolo Blahnik’s. However you choose to express yourself, love your brands, love the world, love graphic design and art and how it connects us all.

What would your world be like without graphic design?

Share with us what you would miss most if there was no such thing as graphics design? We’d love to hear.

 

Choosing Best Font – DIY Brochure Designs

Choosing the Best Font for DIY Brochure DesignsChoosing the best font or knowing different names of fonts wasn’t high on most business owners mind when I first launched my graphic design career. Most didn’t know what a typeface or font was.  With the advent of desktop publishing the world finally understood how dramatically the tone of a magazine or brochure could change based solely on font selection. Today new fonts are introduced daily and small businesses grapple with choosing the best font for DIY brochure designs.

A font by any other name is still a font…

Let’s address that statement that new fonts are created everyday. There are a plethora of fonts out there and a large number of free fonts on the internet. Designing a professional typeface or complete type family is a very technical and precise skill. Take caution when you are choosing fonts for your graphic designs.  It’s best to choose a font from a well known font foundry when you can. Some of the free fonts you find online have issues such as not having glyphs or punctuation marks or even numerals. Other concerns may arise with free fonts when turning your promotional materials over to a print professional. If the font you chose is inferior there may be issues.  If the chosen font for your DIY brochure design crashes the printers equipment you may encounter most costs and delivery delay. There are also viruses that weasel their way into downloadable free font files – take caution.

example of poor taste in fonts breaking 10 commandments of font useHere a font, there a font, everywhere a font font…

Fonts are to graphic designers as shoes are to women. So many fun, grungy, vintage, classic, groovy, elegant, contemporary, stylistic fonts out there! Fortunately, cloud storage and hard drives are much bigger than standard closets. Font hoarding has yet to become the next reality TV show. I must still caution constraint! Just because you have a few hundred (thousand) fonts at your disposal does not make it okay to use them all in one event flyer or postcard. Step away from the type tool.

You’ve seen the flyers in local venues. The ones with purple script font headlines with green BOLD heavy san serifs with cowboy ugly fonts for the body copy. And let’s not forget the Old English script in all caps.  Every graphic designer dies a little when we see these freaks of nature. Rules people – follow the rules!

10 Commandments for choosing the best font

  1. Keep with two main fonts for professional promotional print materials
  2. Choose fonts that either contrast or conform with each other
  3. BOLD is for emphasis – do not bold your entire brochure
  4. Is it legible? Frilly fonts with lots of swooshes can be hard to decipher – especially when used in small point sizes such as body copy
  5. Opposites attract – pair a thin font with a fat font or a clean sans serif with a frilly script
  6. Matchy – matchy – choose an elegant san serif for your headline and similar in weight serif font for body copy
  7. For print items body copy is most legible in a serif font
  8. Online studies show san serif fonts are preferred for quick reads and legibility
  9. Ornamental fonts (like Old English) were not designed to be used all caps (see #4)
  10. Match font style to your message. Example: Don’t use comic sans for serious information and don’t use helvetica for a party invitation headline.

Just tell me the best font for DIY Brochure Designs already!

samples of font types and font stylesI already did. I will be more concise – there is no one-size-fits-all best font for every DIY brochure design. It is all so relative, don’t you see? The best font for a DIY brochure design for a restaurant could be a flowing script or a weathered grunge font – what kind of restaurant is it?

Maybe you’re a professional business consultant who advises senior care facilities on end-of-life concerns? The best font for your senior care facility brochure would be a clean, clear font that can be read easily by aging eyes. Are you a home builder or construction company in need of a brochure that speaks to both the man and the woman of the house? Maybe a mix of a script font with a heavier block sans serif font will work? Because of the  many variables when it comes to the message, your prospects, and the product or service you are offering there is no true best font for your DIY brochure.

The best approach to choosing a font and designing your company brochure is be sure it is legible.  Be clear, legible, and sane – no dysfunctional color and schizophrenic font use! You don’t want your prospects running away screaming amateur, amateur! Keep the information you want to share and the people you want to share it with in mind as you design your company brochure. Remember what your company brand message. Marry the fonts and visuals with the brand message and you’ll make a connection with your target audience.

Inspiring Facebook Graphics and Images for Sharing on Social Media

As graphic designers we like to create and share inspiring Facebook graphics and original design images containing positive quotes in our posts for social media pages. From Pinterest, to Twitter and Facebook (we still haven’t jumped into Instagram with both feet yet – baby steps…) and even Linkedin company pages… posting inspiring Facebook graphics, web memes and digital designs allows us to share our beliefs and have a little fun with our graphic design skills at the same time. Since we are often seeking Facebook graphics, twitter photos and the most inspiring pins for our pinterest boards we decided to post a lot of them here in our blog for you to reference for your own social media sharing.

We hope you enjoy these inspiring images and motivational quotes all developed for sharing to your social media followers and fans. Please feel free to share them, pass them along, print them out and hang them on your wall – if one of them inspires you to take a positive action then all of our effort has been rewarded.

Everything is fine.

Everything is fine.

Contemporary inspirational quote for social media

You are your wisest guide.

dream-big-connectiongraphics

whatever makes you feel bad, leave it whatever makes you smile, keep it

inspiring-facebook-graphics-good-things-connectiongraphics

Good things are happening

inspiring-facebook-graphics-haters-brene-brown-connectiongraphics

“Don’t try to win over the haters; you are not a jackass whisperer.” ― Brené Brown

inspiring-facebook-graphics-intention-wihtout-discipline-connectiongraphics

“Intention without discipline is useless.” ― Caroline Myss,

inspiring-facebook-graphics-know-your-worth-connectiongraphics

Know your worth.

inspiring-facebook-graphics-laugh-breathe-connectiongraphics

Laugh as much as you breathe.

inspiring-facebook-graphics-look-at-change-connectiongraphics

“Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.” – Wayne W. Dyer

inspiring-facebook-graphics-matters-more-connectiongraphics

“What we know matters but who we are matters more.” ― Brené Brown

inspiring-facebook-graphics-rainbow-in-someones-cloud-connectiongraphics

“Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.” ― Maya Angelou

inspiring-facebook-graphics-seeds-you-plant-connectiongraphics

Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant. ~ Robert Louis Stevenson

inspiring-facebook-graphics-sell-your-cleverness-connectiongraphics

“Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.” ― Rumi

inspiring-facebook-graphics-inspiring quote for sharing on facebook

whatever makes you feel bad, leave it
whatever makes you smile, keep it

inspiring-facebook-graphics- inspirational Lao Tsu  quote design for social media post

“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” Lao Tzu

Retro inspirational quote for pinterest inspiring-facebook-graphics-

What if you fly?

Contemporary inspirational quote for social media inspiring-facebook-graphics-

You make the world more beautiful

your-wisest-connectiongraphics-inspiring-facebook-graphics-

You are your wisest guide.


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The 8 Agreements for Working With a Graphic Design Firm

computer with artistic sketches doodles. Design is... Steve Jobs quote.

There are a variety of reasons why a small business can benefit from working with a graphic design firm. Skilled graphic designers can help your company shine and organize information efficiently and in a graphically appealing manner. Once you have determined the project you are hiring the graphic design firm for the next step is to establish a clear understanding of who is responsible for each element of the project(s)

8 Agreements for Working with a Graphic Design Firm :

Explain Yourself – know what you are trying to communicate, to who (target audience), how (in print, billboards, or online, etc.). If you are not sure about the direction you need to take, you may want to schedule a marketing consultation or graphic design consultation before you begin working with a graphic design firm on a project that is defined ahead of time. Many graphic design firms offer consultations and provide marketing services to help you at this stage.

Be Prepared – Compile all text, copy, logos, photos, graphics, charts, etc. that will be included when the graphic design firm begins the project. If the graphic design firm is responsible for creating the graphics, locating photography, it is a good idea to share your ideas on style, color, size, etc.

Content – Will you be writing the copy for your project? Will a copy writer be providing copy? If you are working with a graphic design firm that also offers copywriting services request a bid for copywriting. Graphic design services do not automatically include copywriting, choosing headlines, compiling captions, etc.

Proofread – Graphic designers are paying attention to fonts, placement, scale, dimensions, color, graphics, photos and flow. Graphic designers are not editors or proofreaders. Sometimes while working through a project they may catch a typo or inconsistent use of text this is a bonus – this is an editing and proofreading task and is ultimately the client’s responsibility. Make sure you always get a proof and proofread it carefully before you go to print or post online… and then have someone else proofread it again.

Don’t Make Assumptions – You know your small business or organization best. It is important to share everything you want to include or depict. Don’t assume the graphic designer knows which are the featured services, products, mission and message you want to convey. A graphic design firm will learn about your company or organization but you know your organization best. Don’t assume it’s obvious what your company’s unique selling proposition (USP) is. Your current website and other marketing materials may not be explaining it as clearly you hope.

Share Ideas – Provide samples of designs you like. The examples can be from companies in your industry or just eye-catching designs with compelling messages that speak to you. This sharing helps designers follow your desired trajectory right away. A professional graphic designer will not copy these ideas, they will use them as inspiration, a jump off point, to build original work for your company.

When you are working with a design firm and leave it entirely up to them without any examples of what you envision you may have a rocky road ahead. If you are someone who is open to innovation and new ideas and you envision working with a graphic design firm as a refreshing exchange of creativity, give them full reign! It could be a great experience for both parties. If ideas go off track however, you will be paying for the revisions to get them back on track.

Don’t take things personally – a professional graphic designer will present new ideas you may not have considered yet. Be open to hear about the concept. Remember you hired the professionals for their expertise. If you really don’t like the new ideas a professional graphic design firm will not force them. Hopefully a compromise can be offered that merges both ideas and a winning design will result. Remember you are working with a design firm who wants to keep you as a customer, they want you to succeed and sometimes that means attempting to break you out of your comfort zone.

Always Do Your Best – Plan ahead for your graphic design and marketing projects. Whether you are looking for a brochure design, annual report design, logo design or website design, etc. allot enough time for all the project stages and mostly for design time. A full campaign will require more time than a corporate brochure. Creativity can not be turned on and off like a computer. A minimum of two weeks is requested. Although most design firms will do their best to fit in rush jobs, keep in mind you may not be getting their best work when creative time is cut short. Also remember to include the time it will take for the next steps of your projects, committee previews,board approval, printing, distribution, coding, etc.

Connection Group is a marketing and graphic design firm located in the Lansing, Michigan area. We work face to face on graphic design projects for small businesses and organizations in Grand Ledge, Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, Detroit, Kalamazoo, Mason, DeWitt and Charlotte, Michigan. When working with companies throughout Michigan we like the initial meeting to be at your location to get a feel for your business environment.  Connection Group also provides marketing and graphic design services to companies throughout the United States. Consultations via Skype, phone and email offer opportunities to collaborate, share proofs and meet comfortably without additional travel expenses.

If you feel confident working with a graphic design firm is your next step, connect with us today.

 Stay connected!

10 Internet Marketing Strategies for Small Business

Internet marketing strategies

Internet marketing is not an option, it is a necessity for every small business to grow. We love working with start up companies, we love the passion and the excitement new entrepreneurs bring with each bright venture. It is also hard for us to meet some of these fresh start up small businesses who are following their dreams but haven’t done the due diligence of research. We are often contacted first to design and develop a small business website. One of our specialities here of course. However in our first website consultation we talk to our prospective customers about how they are going to market their new business and if they have considered internet marketing. Unfortunately many small business owners believe having a website is an internet marketing strategy. It is a component but it is not a complete strategy to drive traffic, phone calls and orders in and of itself.

Following is a list of some of the internet marketing strategies small businesses implement. Not all of these internet marketing concepts are necessary for every single business. If you are not sure about which will fit best with your internet marketing goals post a question in the comment sections and I will be happy to help. I will need to know what your product or service is and what your internet marketing goals are. Do you want to increase page views, do you want to make more sales, do you want more downloads, etc.

10 Internet Marketing Strategies for small business

  1. Web Presence – First and foremost is to have a fully functioning quality website. A website that communicates quickly what your product or service is key in keeping your visitor engaged in staying on your website long enough to determine if they want to work with you. List your services or products, make it easy to locate contact information whether it is an online form and most definitely provide an email contact and phone number on all your pages. Don’t skimp on your website design. If your website looks cheap your company will bear the burden of this perception.
  2. Content Marketing – Content marketing includes articles, blog posts, press releases, e-books, all types of photos including product photos, staff photos, stock photos for your blog posts, and videos. Don’t ever worry that you are offering too much information on your website. Note you will naturally be adding relevant keywords to your content (see SEO below) and you will be answering every visitors question each time they come to your site. Sharing your wisdom and expertise adds credibility and trust for your customer and bodes higher search results than websites that don’t get updated frequently and have less content
  3. SEO/SEM – Search engine marketing helps bring your website up in search results within search engines such as Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc. The use of relevant keywords holds high importance in SEO for small business websites. To use Connection Group as an example, as a graphic design and marketing company in the Lansing Michigan area we want customers who are seeking graphic design and marketing in the Lansing, Michigan to find us. The best way to be visible in search engines is to make sure we have those keywords (graphic design, marketing, Lansing, Michigan) on our website in various places.  There are many components of SEO and many bad practices by disreputable SEO firms to avoid. Please post in comments if you have questions.
  4. Local Search Marketing – Local search incorporates the rules and tactics for standard SEO and integrates maps, such as Google maps. When a customer searches your product or services a map with local companies who fit the query come up. Your company and similar companies in your industry will have listing that include contact information such as address, phone number, and can include website and there will be a symbol on the map indicating your exact business location.
  5. Social Media Marketing – Everybody groan and get it over with. I know social media for small businesses is an internet strategy that challenges the best of us but it all comes down to your goals and your audience. Some of our customers rock Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter and others report increased sales rates from the traffic they received from LinkedIn. The most challenging part of social media as an internet marketing strategy for small businesses  is setting the frequency of posts and determining return on investment. To start, I recommend securing social media profiles with your business name in all of the main social media channels. The next step is to evaluate which social media channels your customers spend the most time in, when they are there and what they want to hear from you.  Piece of cake right?
  6. Email Marketing – Email marketing lists are considered by many to be the most valuable database in many small businesses portfolio. Email marketing lists are built from customers and prospects who have expressed an interest in your product or service. Whether you gained them through a give away, a promise to keep them updated on new product releases, or discounts, these people have opted in to receive communication from you. Unlike a phone call, or face to face meeting, emails can be sent 24/7 and the recipient can choose when they will look at them and how they will respond. Small businesses should consider using an established email marketing software such as Mailchimp to help ensure your campaigns reach your customers in-box without getting caught in spam filters.
  7. Landing Pages – A landing page is a page on your website that is designed to capture visitors contact information. Landing pages contain a lead capture form (conversion form) also known as an online inquiry form. Created for a specific audience they can be a very successful internet marketing strategy. Good landing pages are simple and focus on one message to achieve the goal of capturing the lead content. Consider using landing pages with email campaigns targeted to previous customers, use of landing pages with online advertising allow ease of tracking and optimizing for each ad, and lastly landing pages can be used for giveaways and free downloads of e-books, original graphics, etc.
  8. Mobile Compatibility – Mobile marketing statistics so far for 2014 show some industries are seeing nearly 50% of visits to their websites from mobile users. This of course will vary with demographics and your actual product or service but it is high across the board – high enough not to ignore. Most small businesses are investing in responsive website design rather than going with a desktop website and a separate mobile website. Maintaining two separate websites is just crazy unless that’s all you have to do all day. Responsive sites provide the best of both worlds. Those visiting your site on a smart phone, tablet or desktop computer get the same information, it is all just scaled for the screen size they are using. Questions? Let’s talk.
  9. Online directory listings – Make sure your business is listed and complete your information and be sure there is accurate contact information in all main online directories such as Google, Bing, Yelp and YP. Consumers who do not know your company name but are searching for your product or service can view your listing and contact you. Most directories have free listings and others offer more options at a cost. There are many other service listings like Yext, etc. and also industry specific directories you will want to explore.
  10. Google Adwords and Social Media Paid Advertising – Google Adwords can help bring you to the top of searches page by paying for top placement. Internet advertising is sold on a cost per click (CPC) or cost per  impression. You build ads using keywords for your product or service depending on your budget and how many others in your industry are advertising the same keywords and setting similar budgets your ad will come up in when people search for your product or service. Due diligence must be paid to each online adverting campaign to make sure you are getting in the top rankings and that you are taking advantage of each opportunity. As you work to improve organic search engine results for your website by adding content, etc. Although not for the faint at heart or for those who are not very ‘techie’, Google adwords and some social media advertising can be a good addition to your internet marketing strategy.

So which of the 10 internet marketing strategies above does your company need the most to increase inbound marketing results? Do you think you need to start working on all or them, or only 1 − 4, or are you completely overwhelmed and want to go back to door to door sales and forget all this crazy internet stuff? Connect with us, we can help with all of the services listed, we know the ropes and we can help get results.

Stay connected!

Photo credit: Apple, the Apple logo and iPhone are trademarks of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries.

What makes a graphic designer stand out?

Professional Graphic Designer Lansing, Grand Rapids, Mid Michigan

In-house Professional Graphic Designer

Recently I spent time with some local graphic design experts and the faculty from the Lansing Community College (LCC) Communication, Media and Arts Department. The LCC Annual Advisory Board Meeting is a time where faculty and professionals in the local graphic design community discuss what is most important for the students to learn to help them succeed in the graphic design industry. It is interesting to hear other professionals and instructors share the talents they are seeing in students and discuss how these skills can be honed.

Because LCC is a community college, students are typically enrolled for an Associates degree. Some students are there to transfer and some students plan to earn their Associates in Graphic Design degree and get a job. In an ideal world training would be geared to each specific goal. This luxury is saved for the colleges and Universities where students will receive Bachelor’s of Fine Arts (BFA) Graphic Design degrees or hang out until they earn a Masters in Design. The additional years offer educators to expound on design concepts, color theory, drawing technique, nuances in typography, problem solving and of course in depth graphic design software training. These are the area of study important for graphic designers to succeed. With only two years with the students what can a two year graphic design program at a community college include, what can be reduced, what is learned on the job?

It is a dilemma faced with all levels of schooling each year. With decreasing enrollment, reduced budgets, inflated products and industry tools (like graphic design software) the questions become more important each year. Each view is indulgent of the individual preferences in the group as employers and instructors who are design and art appreciators.

What I appreciate most about our annual meeting is that it has been established to address the needs of the students. What can we do to build better design students? What does a graphic designer need to know to hit the ground running when they graduate from the program? Should there be a strong focus on teaching drawing techniques or develop problem solving and visual sketching skills for future graphic design client presentations? What about software? How much time should be allotted for learning the ins and outs of Adobe Creative Suite? What if graphic design firms switch to different software? And what of the process and the conceptualizing that separates the creative graphic designer from the novice?

So many clearly important questions and so difficult to answer. One of my favorite suggestions that I would love to adopt for myself and the graphic designers in the shop is to fill seven sketchbook pages a week.  How much fun and discipline can I handle? Another list that that I think could be helpful is a list of what many graphic design shops in Michigan and design shops in Lansing may look for in a graphic design applicant.

How Graphic Designers Can Get a Job in Lansing:

  • Design and develop at least one web component with each project
  • Show the process – steps that it took you to get to the finished design
  • Demonstrate a clear understanding of type and how it works best with graphics
  • Pull off a clean design of a boring project (like a form) shows tenacity
  • Share designs in public – on Pinterest, Facebook or other forum
  • Develop an online portfolio and a solid, clean interview portfolio
  • Research great design in print and on the web (subscribe to CA and other magazines)

Students and designers will enjoy doing some of the above more than others and gravitate toward their special focus as they become more experienced graphic designers. Truthfully I believe graphic design can be taught. Graphic design that stands out, conveys and emotes a clear and moving message is created by those born with the ability to see things others don’t and communicate thoughtfully and creatively. Regardless of whether it is determined that a sketch book is required in all graphic design classes, I am proud to be a part of the LCC Graphic Design Advisory Board because we are all committed to student success and in doings o we benefit the industry we love.

So what did I miss? What talents do you seek when you hire a graphic designer?

How Can a Brand Marketing Consultation Help Business?

marketing consultant in meetingI remember during my stints in the corporate world when the executive offices shared that they were bringing in a  business consultant, there was a chorus of groans in every department. Truthfully there were times when a better solution would have been to survey staff, vendors and customers to get a clear picture and new direction to meet the company goals. In other situations however, an outside view that is qualified in a specific area can provide valuable insight to the functioning of individual departments and the company as a whole, large or small.

How can a business consultant know more about my small business than I do?

Bringing in someone who is not involved personally, who didn’t toil and burn the midnight oil to meet that first big order is difficult for some business owners. There can also be a fear that although a consultant is impartial, their discoveries may be difficult to hear, let alone implement. A private consultation for your small business can help you take a step back from the day to day operations many business owners are mired in and address areas of concern that have been missed and can be improved upon.

How can I find a business consultant who can help my small business?

It’s true there are some consultants who never actually worked in the careers they are posing to be experts in! It is important that you hire a seasoned professional who is fairly priced and can help your company. Look at each prospects credentials, previous employment, website testimonials or reviews and of course ask around your network for recommendations.

How do I know what type of business consultant can help my small business?

There are industry specific consultants you may find who can greatly benefit your business. A publishing consultant who has written, promoted, and published their own successful books who has client references could provide valuable insight to a self-published author for instance. If you are a manufacturer you may seek an expert in international trade or a new realtor could learn a lot from a consultant who specializes in real estate business consulting. There are also service specific consultants that can hone in on specific business practices. For instance, Connection Group offers marketing consultations and brand consultations. With over 20 years in the advertising, graphic design and digital marketing industries my staff and I have hands on experience with marketing and brand strategies.  When companies need a brand consultant or marketing consultation we can evaluate current efforts and identify new approaches. The variety and types of consulting available are virtually endless, there are IT consultants, Corporate Finance consulting, Human Resources Consulting, and a full gamut of specialists for every aspect of your company.

How do I know if my small business needs a marketing consultation?

Maybe you have been in business for 15 years and your business has evolved to include more products or services than you originally planned. If your marketing and brand efforts have not evolved along with your company you may not be capturing the target market you would like to serve now. Or, are you a start up company who isn’t clear on how to position your company in the market? A marketing and brand consultant can ask key questions, review current products or services, clientele, staff, visuals, messages, packaging and other print and digital design collateral and hone in on a clear and targeted message to funnel into strategic points of customer contact. If you believe a marketing and brand consultation will help you reach your business goals please connect with us today. We provide online marketing consultations by evaluating your digital branding, visual imagery, brand message, website, blog, social media, reviews and in-bound links, etc. We also provide consultations for brick and mortar shops. We can evaluate your branding, environment, decor, signage, product placement and provide suggestions for driving local foot traffic or increasing online efforts to increase sales and exposure.

Why not end the year with pre-planning for success in 2014? If you know your product or service is top notch, your customer service is caring and timely but your company is not experiencing the growth and sales for the level of quality you are providing, you could benefit from a brand and marketing consultation. Give us a call today, we’re passionate about this business of branding and we love to serve and see our customers grow.

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Can A Small Business Blog Increase Website Visits?

computer screen with connection graphics website design with list of blogging basics: • Integrate your blog with your website. • Include tags in your posts. • Include comments on your blog.  • Promote your blog.  • Include share buttons in your blog. Absolutely! A corporate or small business blog is one of the best ways to share information about your products and services, current events and sales promotions or press your organization has received. A happy accident of sharing this information is that your company blog posts add relevant content to your website which offers a better chance of appearing in search engines such as Google and Yahoo. A third benefit is when you add scheduled corporate blog posts your small business website will get higher marks from the search engines because not only is the content relevant, it is current. Relevant plus fresh content equals SEO (search engine optimization) or higher search results.

Not every visitor who comes to your website from a search may result in a phone call or a sale but like all advertising, marketing and sales, it’s a numbers game. The more people who engage with your blog and your corporate website the more likely you will enjoy increased company sales from your blogging. By posting relevant blog content you become the trusted source for your visitors and existing customers for information on your product or industry.

Proactive planning can determine how often you should post a new blog entry

editorial-calendar-graphic-connectiongraphics.comThere really is no on-size-fits-all formula for small business blog posting, anymore than there is a one-size-fits-all marketing plan for small business. It really depends on the goals you have set for your digital marketing. It also depends on how much time you have to feed your blog or the budget to outsource it to an marketing company.

Now, there are success stories about small business blogs that have become income generators in and of themselves.  If your corporate blog attracts 1000’s of daily website visits you may want to plan daily blog posts. However most small business blogs primarily serve as information tools, and as a portal to add relevant website content to increase website visits through SEO. The way Connection Group approaches client blog scheduling is to determine the role of the blog in each small business marketing plan. We recommend creating an editorial calendar for your blog posts. Our e-marketing packages that include blog posting, e-mail newsletters, and social media we develop a monthly plan. For instance if your company hosts an event for small business owners every January all of the content scheduled for the month of January will include information about the event. All of this will be in your editorial calendar. Including your blog updates in a small business editorial calendar helps you know what you will be covering each month and will help keep you on a schedule. Whether you write blog posts daily, weekly, bi-weekly or monthly a plan is a must.

Embrace the power of content on your small business blog

Each blog post should offer insight into your corporate philosophy, industry standards, details on a product or service you offer, or changes that may effect the customer. Seek content that will increase the visitors understanding of the subject. Help your customers make educated choices and purchases. Just as the visitors to your small business blog are researching, be sure to research the content for your corporate blog posts. Research but no stealing! Sharing the most current information available is important just avoid plagiarizing others work.

When you are satisfied with the information you have written for your blog post, add an image. Statistics from 3M corporation and Zabisco state that 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and visuals are transmitted to the brain 60,000 times faster than text! Increase your website visits by using original graphic designs, photos or videos to connect and engage with your audience. Select only images that that are free from copyright. See the article in our e-newsletter about copyright issues and images.

Your blog is posted – Now, how do you increase your website visits?

integrate your blog with your website  blog and navigationIntegrate your blog with your website
The first step is to make sure your small business blog  part of your corporate website, not a separate page. There are many free blogging software options available and it is very easy to tie them into your existing small business website. Contact your web design and development company to create a seamless integration of your blog and corporate site. The biggest benefit is if you have a visitor to your blog, in the eyes of search engine tracking, you have just increased website visits. Other benefits are a custom designed blog will be consistent with your corporate brand and your complete website user interface is built into the blog so the visitor can easily click over to other website pages.

Include tags in your posts. Tags help people find your information more easily when they are searching the web. For instance for this blog entry on our website I would include small business blog, and small business website design and development as tags. Because we offer those services and those services are discussed in this blog adding them as tags show our website and our blog are relevant when people search for small business blog or small business website design and development. When visitors click on a tag in our posts they will see a list of previous posts that relate to those subjects.

Include comments on your blog. Comments show that you are open to feedback, good or bad. Allowing comments on your blog shows your visitors that you want to communicate with your customers. Comments may also help you determine what your visitors are looking for, give you ideas for future articles, and  comments may use keywords that will come up in searches too. Do make sure you moderate your comments though! Even with strong spam filters blogs are petri dishes for spam – check them regularly. We set up our comments to be pre-approved prior to posting just for this reason. As visitors begin to interact with comments you will build a community and advocates for your brand on and offline.

share buttons for blogInclude share buttons in your blog. Make it easy for viewers to share your website content. One share from a high ranking social media influencer can increase website visits astronomically. The ability to share across social media and email is how videos and blog entries go viral – this is an easy way small business blogs can get noticed.

Promote your blog. When you have posted a new blog entry promote your blog in all your marketing outposts. Social media is a great platform to share your blog posts, twitter, Facebook business pages, Linkedin profiles and industry specific groups and social media channels get the information to targeted groups. Include your blog link in your email signature and add a snippet of your current blog posts to your email newsletters.

Are you a small business who doesn’t have time to blog?

Connection Group understands that small businesses are limited with time and resources to implement all the marketing components that will help build their corporate brands and increase website traffic. We have developed a variety of e-marketing packages to suit the variety of requests our customers need. We’re here to help you build connections and reach your target audience – if you just need a monthly blog entry, a combination of e- mail marketing, social media and blog management we have monthly packages that will suit your small businesses goals and budget. We offer a free half hour consultation to discuss what digital marketing elements will fit you best.

Give us a call or shoot us an email today. We appreciate feedback on our blog content and encourage additional insights readers can share to help other visitors learn more. Please add your comments or questions below.

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Google Images Are Not Free Use… and Other Copyright Issues

Charlotte Area Biking Walking Map - Connection Group
A copyright is a form of Intellectual Property as are patents and trademarks. Copyrights are the most common form of we encounter in everyday business and personal use. We learned about copyright and plagiarism when compiling our first report for grade school. The same rules apply with internet content.  You research multiple sources to gain an understanding of the subject or a clear visual and then interpret it in you own words or creation. When you add a direct quote or paraphrase content, seek permission and include the credit where it occurs and also at the end.

When you use photos or graphics do your best to contact the original creator to get permission for use and always name the artist underneath the image. We often have customers send us images they have found in Google Images. Unless you have permission to use these visuals from the original artist they are not legal for use in your digital or print marketing pieces. I know Google makes it really easy, one search and you find the most awesome artwork ever! But hands off unless you want to get slapped with a copyright infringement.

If hiring a photographer or a graphic design studio to create original images is not in your budget for small projects, there are other options online. Many stock photo websites have visuals, including videos, that companies can purchase for use in their blogs, websites and corporate marketing pieces. The graphics and photos vary in size, resolution, cost, plus have levels of permissions and use. Be sure to read agreements closely prior to purchasing and downloading. Most of the restrictions with stock art is that you do not use it for use on items you will be reselling. For instance an original rendering of an owl you purchase and download can be used on your website, brochure, and all your company brand items however you may not be able to print greeting cards with the same owl on it and offer them for resale. Connection Group holds some subscriptions to a few stock art sites and if you are looking for a particular subject Connection Group may be able to purchase them for your use and save you from the sometimes high cost of subscriptions that you don’t plan to use frequently.

Knowing the high amount of copyright abuse on the website you may want to add the copyright symbol and user agreement on your website. Obtaining copyrights for your original work is easy and inexpensive. Go to copyright.gov and for $35 you can apply for legal ownership of your creations online. Having a copyright on your website or printed piece doesn’t ensure your original work will not be stolen, but it does give you legal grounds to take legal actions if you find someone has infringed on your copyright.

For more answers to common copyright questions this page has a pretty comprehensive list. Otherwise, if you don’t know – don’t do it.