Article / Design Community / Design Strategy / Experience / Graduates / Graphic Design

How can we avoid the ‘feast and famine’ cycle?

Can you relate – you find that you’re really busy and run off your feet for a few weeks, and then…nothing. It happens to us all, doesn’t it? And in the current climate, I think it’s been highlighted more than ever.

The trouble is, when you run your own business, there is going to be an element of ‘feast and famine’ sometimes, because when we’re busy with projects, we naturally have less time to complete our marketing tasks (eg. LinkedIn posts…). These things get pushed to the back of the queue while we put our everything into getting the work done.

But then, when those projects are done, there’s nothing to replace it. Your social media has been dormant for weeks, you haven’t sent out any emails or spoken to any prospects – you’ve fallen off the radar.

So, what can we do to avoid that? It’s a question that’s certainly been on my own mind lately – and I know that plenty of other business-owners feel the same.

Make a plan

Design work is rarely filled with ongoing projects – once you’ve completed the project, the client pays you and they’re gone.

Although you can nurture those clients so that they come back to you for other projects, what you really need to be doing is making a solid plan for how you’re going to market your services on an ongoing basis. This is an important step in avoiding those lulls in work, because without a marketing plan, you continue to be stuck in that trap.

Did I say ‘a plan’? I meant two – let me explain why…

We’ve already established that as designers, we’re either busy with projects, or we’re not. So in order to ensure that those quiet times are fewer, we need a two modes of marketing – one for when we’re busy, and one for when we’re not.

I’ll talk about the quiet periods first – because I’m guessing if you’re reading this, then that’s the space you’re in right now.

Whatever you normally do to market your business – triple it. If you’re consistently finding yourself with period of little or no work, then it’s purely because you’re not doing enough marketing. So:

  • If you normally post to your social channels once a day, start posting 3 or 4 times a day.
  • If you usually send out 10 emails, send 30.
  • If you have been making a couple of cold calls, give yourself an hour and make as many as you can for the next week.

Look at other ways of marketing yourself, such as:

  • Create a newsletter and gather a list of potential clients.
  • Go back to past clients to see if they need anything designing for their marketing/websites.
  • Invest in some side projects; I created a book showcasing my design story. You could try creating some ‘mock’ projects for companies you admire and dream of working with.

OK, so that seems like a lot of effort, but remember that it is only temporary. If you can commit to your enhanced marketing plan, and do it every day for the next 2 months (or however long it takes), you should start to see things pick up again. After that, you can fall back on your second marketing plan…

How to market your services when you’re super-busy

We all do it – when we’re busy working on design projects, they take over and marketing becomes an afterthought. But that’s the problem, isn’t it? Where do we find the time to do marketing tasks when we’re so involved in big web-design projects, when we’re filling our days talking with clients, sorting out branding, liaising with contractors and knee-deep in image sourcing?

Even in those busy times, it’s important to keep up with marketing – but there are things you can do to make doing that much easier and less time-consuming.

Set aside some time

If you can squeeze in even one hour every week, commit to that. Don’t just think it – write it down. Put it in your diary, and block that time out to do your marketing.

Got a spare 10 minutes? Log onto your social media and post something useful. Like and comment on a few posts. These things only take a moment.

Make sure past clients remember you

Make it a habit to add clients to your social media lists. That way, when you do post, you’ll remain visible for next time they need you.

It’s a good idea to create some sort of newsletter or regular email, so that you can easily keep in touch with past clients, too. There are several online tools that will do this for you, such as Mailchimp and Constant Contact.

Automate what you can

There are a few things you can automate for when you’re short on time. Probably the most useful is social media posting – using a tool like Buffer or Hootsuite, you can just spend half and hour writing all your posts for the week ahead, and then pretty much forget about it.

You can also schedule things like your blog posts and newsletters, by batch writing them and then setting a scheduled date for when you want them to go out. If you can do this during your quiet times, then you can potentially have the weeks or months ahead sorted for when you do get busy.

Consistency is key

Having a consistent plan will help you to look more professional in front of your audience, and make sure that you have a steadier income, rather than struggling with periods of ‘drought’ in your business.

Writing down your regular marketing tasks can make sure that you stay on track, and you can then keep tabs on what’s working and what isn’t, so that you can tweak things as you need to.

I hope this helps. Getting stuck in the ‘feast and famine’ cycle isn’t fun for any business – and I’m saying that from a place of experience. But as I hope I’ve demonstrated, there are simple things you can do to help you get through it.

Article / Design Community / Design Strategy

Should you consider a niche for your graphic design business?

A subject that comes up a lot among designers is that of niching. There is a train of thought that says by being too general in what you design, and who you design for, you can end up appealing to the wrong audience and miss out on working on the stuff you’re most passionate about.

Running my own studio, I’m quite lucky in that I can choose to pick up projects that I know I’ll enjoy working on, and turn down that which doesn’t suit. Perhaps, in some small way, I’m choosing certain niches in doing that – but discussions with other designers brings up a lot of questions. Like with everything creative, there are strong opinions both for and against niching – so I thought it might be useful to share some of them for those of you who are wondering whether or not it’s a good business model.

What is a niche?

When I talk about niching here, I’m focussing on the design aspect – although some designers I’ve come across choose to design within specific industries, too. I guess how you choose to niche depends on your location and style, to an extent, but for me living in a small market town, that doesn’t really make sense for me to consider. It might be very different for you.
Your niche might be as specific as you only want to work on designing logos. Perhaps you want to focus on web design work, or just print design. These are all perfectly valid – but while you might have a flair for a certain type or style of design, there are things to consider.

What’s the market?

If you’re going to be that specific in your niche, then you’ll want to make sure that there’s a strong market for it. It’s no good advertising yourself as a logo designer if the people you’re targeting are not looking for logo designers. Here’s the secret, though – you don’t have to commit to just one niche. And I don’t think that you should, because there’s a danger that you could narrow down your audience too much.

For example, let’s go back to our logo design niche. Those people are likely to be start-ups, or businesses looking to re-brand. So it might make sense for you to choose a second niche, like web design – which that particular audience will also be in the market for.

You can see from that example that it makes sense to marry these two niches – and it broadens your audience.

Money is also a consideration. There will be some projects that are naturally more lucrative than others, and it would be remiss to ignore that. Don’t narrow your niche down so much that you miss out on better paid opportunities.

Broad niches

Your niche doesn’t have to be small. In my work, one of the project types I enjoy most is branding (also a valid niche), and of course within that, there are several design aspects – logo, website, print, and also the actual branding style, colours, fonts…you get the idea.

I could, should I wish, advertise my services in this way. And so could you – the benefits being:

  • You’d have a much tighter target audience to focus on.
  • Your online content and SEO would attract those searching for branding designers specifically.
  • You’d be certain that the majority of projects you attract would be stuff you actually want to work on.
  • You’d stand out as an expert in that specific field and become known for it.
  • As a specialist, you could potentially increase your rates.

What if you don’t want to niche?

All of the above might make you think that I’m advocating niches, but in actual fact, they’re not the be-all and end-all. Having a niche might appeal to you, but it might just feel wrong. In truth, it’s not essential that you niche your design business, and there’s nothing wrong with being a generalist – many designers are, and really successful in doing that.

Many designers thrive on having the variety of being a jack-of-all-trades – and it doesn’t mean that you can’t still focus on who you choose to market your business to. If you simply don’t want to be defined as a specialist, that’s fine, and you should never feel pressured to do so.

I’d love to hear your views on this. Do you already have a niche, do you want one, or are you against the whole idea?

Article / Design Strategy / Graphic Design / Photography

How the right image can get your content noticed

There is a vast amount of information on the internet. At the beginning of 2020, there were 1.74 billion websites and rising, and that’s not considering blog pages and social media accounts.

That’s a lot of pages to compete with, and the chances of getting your website found without having a marketing plan in place are, to say the least, extremely slim.

You might feel disheartened by that. But I think that it just highlights how important it is to do everything you possibly can to get your online content noticed. And a huge part of that is creating the right look – including branding and images – to make sure that when you are found, people will be interested enough to want to read what you have to say.

I spend a lot of my time thinking about how to use images online. I look at different types of image; photography, artwork, gifs/animated images…. I spend a lot of time testing things out, seeing how they work on the screen, gauging audience response. And I’ve spent a lot of years working out what works and what doesn’t.

Why images are important

You might ask why you need images as part of your online content at all. What if you’re a car mechanic, or a manufacturer? Surely these kinds of industries don’t require images on their websites, right?

OK, well think about this; if you’re online, looking for a specific type of company, where does your brain stop you scrolling – on the page filled with text, or the one with the high-quality images?

We have it hardwired in us to respond to visual prompts. So we automatically want to see images – it’s what our brains seek out first, in order to make sense of the page, and learn what it is about.

Then, if we’re pleased with what we see, we start reading.

Statistics say that online content with images get 94% more views than those without – that’s almost double. For that reason alone, I think it’s worth putting some thought into.

What type of images?

The main thing to remember is that all images need to compliment the content they appear alongside. The purpose should be to draw the person in and compel them to read your content.

Bear in mind that nowadays, most people will have access to smartphones, and so for many of them, this is how they will see your web content. Make sure that the images you choose look good on both monitors and phone screens.

You’ll also want to think about your overall branding – every image you use, whether that’s in the form of photographs or graphics, need to tie in with the rest of your branding. Consider colours, composition, and style, and make sure that everything follows the same theme.

The images you use should be the correct resolution – people can see poor quality a mile off, and if your images look shoddy, then so will the rest of your site.

The personal touch

There’s an old cliché that people buy from people – and it’s true. The most clickable images are always those which show a personal element to your business. That might be candid images of the work that you do, a sneak peek of your office or workspace, or even a short video of you giving some insight into a process that you could share with people.

Tell a story; show people who you are, and what they can expect if they hire you or buy from you. Let them see how you work, and some of the behind the scenes stuff you do in order to provide the service that you do.

How website images feed social media

The images you use on your website also dictate largely how you use your social media platforms. As well as building an audience via social, your social media platforms should also encourage people onto your website.

Changes in algorithms over the past couple of years means that reach has dropped significantly, so anything you can do to encourage “meaningful interactions” (their words, not mine) will increase the number of people who see your posts.

Using well thought out images can be a way to get people to read your posts, and comment on them, giving you more reach, and therefore lead more people to your website.

Covid-19 / Design Strategy / Remote Working

Why I won’t be going back to the way things were before Covid-19

The past weeks have been challenging for all of us. Not only have I had to work from home instead of travelling to my studio every day, but I’ve had to adapt to meet the needs of my clients, too, many of whom have either reduced hours, reduced workforce, or, like me, are working from a different location to usual.

Add to the mix sharing my new office-space with my family – which means answering questions from my currently home-schooled kids (I’m at home, so of course I’m available 24/7, right?) and fitting in with my family’s routines, which don’t always align with mine, and you’ve got something between chaos and, erm, utter chaos!

But even though it has taken me a while to settle into things, I’ve discovered that there are actually some positives to all this, and, dare I say it, a subtle realisation that the way I worked before wasn’t always the best and most efficient way of working.

My biggest revelation – and I’m certain that many of you will agree – has been Zoom. Ok, so we’ve used Zoom before, but the normal thing to do was to arrange to meet prospective clients in person, even if that meant travelling an hour or more each way for a meeting which may or may not result in a few days’ work.

I’ve realised that in reality, many of those meetings are better to arrange through Zoom. It works more than a phone call, because you are able to see the person (always helps), but you are also able to view each other’s screens, show each other images and examples if graphics, and send over files etc while you’re talking. All of this means that I’m saving loads of time, I don’t have to waste hours driving, and I don’t need to spend too much time looking up and sending over information when I get back to the studio.

Zoom has become the new norm for most of us, even the News on TV. I think it would be a shame to revert back to how things were, as we’re in a fortunate time where technology and virtual meetings are so simplified. And aside from the huge time-saving advantages, think of the environmental impact it could have with so much less time spend on the roads.

But apart from that, working away from the studio has made me realise that I don’t need to be tied in to working in the same place. I don’t know if it’s just coincidental, or down to the type of projects that I’m working on at the moment, but I’ve found that working from home (aside from the obvious distractions), can be just as achievable as working from the studio.

As long as I’ve got the right set-up on my laptop, and a decent internet connection, it’s viable that I could work remotely. I’m not saying that I’m going to become a digital nomad and work from coffee shops and libraries all the time, but it’s certainly feasible that I could spend the odd day working from home.

Working this way has actually shown me that a change of scenery can be beneficial from a creative perspective. So perhaps in the future, when all this is over, that’s another thing I can incorporate into my normal routine. If I could manage to spend even a couple of days a month working away from the studio, whether that’s from home or somewhere else, it might just be the tonic I need to revitalise my brain, help to spark some fresh ideas, and just give me a break from the ‘norm’.

So, yes – the way things are right now might have forced us all to rethink the way we work. But, like me, perhaps that’s given us an opportunity. Maybe we’ve been stuck in a rut, simply because that’s the way we’ve always done things. But it doesn’t have to go back to that, and I think that we’d be foolish not to take on board some of these new habits when the world, eventually, returns to normal.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Has the current situation made you reconsider the way you work?

Branding / Design Strategy / Rebranding

How and when to rebrand your business

Over time, every business evolves. Maybe that’s simply adding new products to your ecommerce business, or having a wider range of services, exploring new markets or changing your customer niche. When that happens, you might be thinking about changing certain things within the business, in order to attract a new audience, or to express a new image entirely.

Perhaps the rebranding of a business is the most common way to realign your image and ethos – especially if you’ve been established for a long time and your current image just doesn’t fit with where you are right now. If your image is old and tired, you might be considering bringing it more up to date, to give a more contemporary image in order to attract a new generation of client.

Is your branding good enough?

Perhaps the first thing you need to think about is how effective your current branding is, and why you feel that you want to rebrand now. Evaluating your current brand is the first step in the process, and rating the overall brand and then looking at each element can help you to decide the steps you need to take, and what (if anything) already works well.

Ask yourself these questions;

Does your brand have meaning? In other words, when people see your brand, do they immediately know what it is that you do? Does it grab attention, and let your customers know who you are?

Is it different? As well as being in line with your ethos, ask yourself if your branding stands out. If the colours, fonts, voice and tone are generic, you’ll look and sound just like everyone else – people need to be able to recognise you, so stand out!

Is it sustainable? Think about longevity. Just because your branding is on-trend now, that doesn’t mean it will be in ten years’ time. A good brand should be future-proof, and if the brand you have right now looks dated and old-fashioned, that’s a big warning flag, and a sign that you need to update it.

If you’ve answered YES to all of those, then you’re on the right track. But if they’ve thrown light on anything that puts doubt in your mind, you can start to think about which elements of your branding are not working, or even embarking on a whole rebrand throughout.

Elements of design in rebranding

I’ve spoken about this in more depth in my previous article, but I’ll just touch on some of it again. Because I find that many businesses misunderstand what branding actually is. Good branding encapsulates all the elements of your business – it’s far from just having a cool logo.

Yes, it might start with your logo, after all, it is an essential part of your branding and can set the tone for everything else within your business. For example, your logo will appear on almost all of the other elements of your marketing, including your website, email signature, letterhead, business cards, brochures, invoices, and shop front, if you have one.

But this essential element should be used to tie in with everything else, and it all needs to be kept consistent.

Think also about your tone – this is something I often see businesses getting wrong. The voice you use for your web content should be mirrored on your social media and printed material, and should match your overall image. For example, if your brand image is contemporary and youthful, your voice should always reflect that.

Don’t forget the re-launch

After your rebrand is complete, use the opportunity to launch your new brand image – this has a couple of benefits. Firstly, it reminds your customers to acknowledge your fresh presence, and it promotes you to potential new audiences.

Promote your new images on all of your social media channels, and share offline too. If you can use the opportunity to launch a new blog at the same time, then that’s even better – as this will also serve to let your audience know that you are actively making efforts to keep in touch with them on a more personal level.

The Severn Agency can help you in creating your new branding strategy. If you would like to talk to us about how you can refresh your branding, or would like advice on your current branding, please give us a call.

Design: ©Newell & Sorrell
Branding / Design Strategy / Graphic Design

5 design strategies to bear in mind for your business

Marketing is a vital part of any businesses plan, but it always surprises me how little though is put into using good design when a business is thinking about marketing. In fact, graphic design should be at the front of your mind when you are planning your marketing – here are 5 design strategies you should be considering.

Logo

Branding starts with your logo – it’s an essential marketing tool which ties together all of your marketing messages, creates the face of your brand, and helps you to connect with your customers. Your logo is the image that people will most remember, so it’s important to get it right. It should communicate who you are, what you do, and what you stand for in one simple image. Also consider this: nobody buys anything because of a bigger logo.

Fonts

The right font can tell your customers the mood, character and tone of your business before they even start reading. There are so many different fonts available, it can be overwhelming, but there are things you should consider.

Your font should be easy to read, especially if you’re using a text-heavy approach. People won’t read a lot of text if they are having to put in too much effort to decipher it.

Using the right style of font is important. If the overall design of your branding and website are contemporary, you need a font which will complement it. For example, if you were using something like a brick wall effect background, you wouldn’t want to use Times Roman – it would look out of place. You’d instead need to consider something bold, perhaps a font that hints the use of a stencil or paint.

It’s also an idea to consider using the same font across all of your branding, and committing to just 2 or 3 fonts across all of your marketing. Use the same font in all of your titles and headers, and compliment that with your main text.

Colours

When you apply it to marketing, and even branding, colour plays a big part in your customers decision making process. If you look at some of the bigger, well-known brands, you might start to see a pattern – they’re playing on something called colour psychology.

According to the theory, every colour sparks something different in our minds. It’s why brands like Netfix, Lego, Coca-Cola, and Virgin use the colour red – because red is the colour most associated with happiness and youthfulness. HP, Dell, and Facebook are blue, which is thought of as trustworthy, strong and dependable.

So it’s worth thinking about the colours you use in your branding and design, as it can have a huge influence on the people you reach.

Images

Now that social media is such a big part of our lives, we are seeing a lot more images in our marketing. We have the capability to take instant images with your phones, edit them and upload them in a matter of seconds. With this in mind, it’s so important for us to make sure that the images we use in our branding stands out and gets noticed. It needs to have an impact, and make people stop scrolling and look at what we’re doing.

All of your images need to be of high quality, and they need to be consistent in style. Like your logo, font, and brand colours, people will come to recognise your images, and know that they are yours without any context. And if you can achieve that, you’re on to something good.

Cross-platform optimisation

Something else which often gets overlooked, especially with website design, is cross-platform optimisation. In other words, does your content read well on mobile devices, as well as desktop?

According to research, more people consume content via their mobile phones that they do on their desktops. If your website doesn’t translate, you will be missing out on a huge audience.

Make sure that during the design process, all of your content is optimised for mobile too.

Of course, there are many things to consider when you’re thinking about graphic design – these are just a few. If you’d like advice on how to use design in your branding, please give us a call. We’d love to help.

Design Strategy / SEO / Web Design

Reasons why you should update your website

Almost all business is done, at least in part, online these days. When people are in the market for a new product or service, it’s highly likely that the first place they will turn is the internet. They will use Google, or they will consult their social media platforms for reviews and advice.

For this reason, I always stress to my clients that getting their website right is vitally important. Nowadays, there are so many free sites that you can use to DIY a website, it makes the design process seem perhaps a little too simple. But I believe that if you want to stand out and be noticed, there are elements that need to be considered, that a standard, free template, won’t provide.

But I’m not going to talk too much about that here. What I am going to talk about is, going back to my original point, why it’s so important to keep your website updated, and relevant.

A large part of my work, whether I’m doing a complete rebrand, working with a start-up business, or just looking at improving a company’s online image, is website design. It’s often one of the first things a client will want to discuss, because a website forms such a big part of the marketing strategy.

But it always amazes me how some businesses put so little thought into their website. There tends to be a thought process that once the website is up and live, it will just sit there and attract loads of new customers. But it really doesn’t work that way.

Websites are no longer just ‘static’

Since the introduction of social media, the way businesses and consumers use websites has drastically changed. They’re no longer just a ‘shop window’ for people to view your products and services. They are now much more interactive. Everything online is linked – we have easy access to social platforms, blogging, video, and so much more. And people expect to see elements of that across your website.

If you think about how people use the internet now, compared to even just ten years ago, the technology alone has completely changed. We are no longer tied to a desktop in order to consume online content. We can use our smartphones and tablets, which are with us most of the time. And this means that we can, and do, access our online world from wherever we are.

Because of this, online content has become much more fleeting. People need to be kept engaged, and are much less likely to spend so much time on each page or element they see on-screen. By nature, they flit between pages more quickly, because there is much more content to get through.

So unless your website has enough fresh content to grab and keep their attention, they’re just going to bounce, and read something else.

Google Ranking

Something that I find is often overlooked by businesses is Google ranking. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve launched a new website as part of a rebrand, only for the business owner to come back to me a few weeks later to ask why they’re not appearing on the first page of Google.

What they fail to understand is that maintaining that website takes work from them, after the site goes live. If you just let it sit there, it won’t do a thing.

Google favours sites which consistently publish fresh content. That can be in the form of blogs, new product information, image updates, news sites, events calendars, and inbound links via social media etc.

To get on that front page, a company needs to be constantly reviewing and updating the right elements of their website.

Return visits

As well as enticing new visitors to your site, you’ll also want people to want to come back. Give them a reason to want to do that. If your site never has anything new to offer, people are only likely to visit once, in order to get the information they need.

Return visitors are important to your business, and your website needs to have something fresh and new for them to see when they do.

Hopefully, this article has served to inspire you to look at your own website. Does it pull in new customers for you? Does it look good enough? How could you improve it?

If you’d like to chat through some ideas for your website, or another part of your corporate branding, we’re happy to help.

Design Strategy / Web Design

Web design doesn’t end with going live

My work at the Severn Agency sees me dealing with a lot of businesses who need me to create branding for them, and one big part of that is getting their website built, starting with the initial design and layout, bringing in their branding to make sure that it all ties in and looks good. A lot of time is spent on this element, because ultimately, a company’s website is where all of the other online stuff leads to – things like social media, email campaigns, and even printed material, all eventually lead customers to a website, so getting it spot on is essential.

I’ve said it before – the online world changes, evolves, advances at a rapid rate. Even in the last 5 years, the design and function of websites and social media are very different to what they were. And businesses need to understand that websites are no longer those static, non-moving pages they once were. They need to be constantly updated, and interactive.

SEO Friendly web design

In designing a website, one of the main contributing factors is that of SEO. Of course, from a design perspective, it’s vital that the site looks professional, and includes all the elements needed to attract and keep visitors on it for as long as possible, and decrease bounce rates (how quickly a visitor leaves the site altogether).

In order to keep those bounce rates low, and to maintain the interest of our visitors, we cannot simply rely on the initial design and static content of the site – although this is just as important to get right.

These days, there is a huge emphasis on interaction, and I think that this is the key to a good website, and sadly, one which many businesses fail to understand.

In order to succeed, a website has to remain fresh and current. Perhaps that is why blogging has become one of the most dominant forms of web content – people will return to read updated content in a niche that they have an interest in, much like a newspaper or magazine.

So from an SEO perspective, having current content such as this, will be favoured by search engines, enabling your site to be found more easily.

Social integration

Even before your website is at the design stage, it’s really worth thinking about how you’re going to drive traffic to it – like I said before, no-one is going to ‘fall upon’ your website unless you work on driving them to it.

It’s important that your branding includes all of your social media platforms, because it’s from here that people will initially get to know you. Integrating your social media with your website, writing regular content such as blogs or newsfeeds, and creating newsletters and emails are all part of the web design process, and are all important in getting your brand noticed.

I can’t tell you how often I’m asked to design a website, where the client hasn’t considered any of this – they simply want a website that will sit there and bring in the customers. They don’t consider all of the work that needs to go into it after it goes live.

Where design fits in with SEO

When we think about SEO, we consider things such as keywords, meta tags, titles and names – but design can do so much to help your rankings too.

For example, when you are using images for your website, whether they are product photographs, images to accompany blog posts, or any images which are used to illustrate your website, it’s important to consider that large images which ‘drag down’ the loading time of your site will have a negative impact on your search ranking. Therefore, having images of the correct size is vital.

Also, make sure that you are placing written tags within the ‘alt text’ section, which will also be considered for SEO reasons. Search engines will look for correlation between the images you use and the written content on the page.

All of this is just scratching the surface – there is much more that goes in to creating and maintaining an SEO friendly website. If you are in the process of updating your own business website, and you’d like to learn more about driving traffic, implementing new design elements, or overall branding, please feel free to contact us at the Severn Agency – we’d be happy to offer advice.

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