Boo: The Scaredy Halloweenie Cat

Boo, the little black cat, poked her head around the corner of the barn. The night was dark and spooky. Winds howled.  The moon hid behind some clouds.

Boo trembled.

“Hissss”, said the snake in the yard.

Boo tiptoed forward. It was just a garden hose spitting water.

“Caw, caw,” cackled from the top of a tree. A dark shape swooped down.

Boo trembled.

Swoosh. Something flew past, scooping up a treat to eat.  It was only a bird.

Boo trembled, as she dashed into the house.

“Boo!” Emilie said, as she picked her up. “Boo! My little scaredy halloweenie cat!”

 

And that was my entry for a fun Halloween writing contest. 100 words (Yes, or 101) and making perfect use of the words cackle (or some other variation) black cat and spooky.

Nerds Get Ready – Web Hosting for Dummies is Here!

By now I’m sure most of the planet is aware of the yellow and black For Dummies franchise of books. If you’re like me you own one or two or ten. I’m not going to lie, I’m a nerd and I embrace my nerdiness and overwhelming need or burning desire to delve into all things techie. There…I’ve said it.

My techno-need appetite can frequently be satisfied by plucking one of these gold and black treasures off of the bookshelf and devouring a chapter or two or ten. Of course, when a new title in this series comes out I find it hard to resist purchasing it. Okay, maybe that’s not 100% true. I think I just saw a Vampires for Dummies book and I had no problem not buying it. Nothing against you vampires out there, it just wasn’t my cup of tea.

So, you can imagine my delight when I received a brand new, advance copy of Web Hosting for Dummies written by Peter Pollock. That was probably a squeal of joy heard around the world.

Not only was it a For Dummies book, which we’ve already established that I love, but it was Web Hosting for Dummies and our graphic and web design company provides web hosting. Life just doesn’t get any better than this. (Unless Wiley Publishing were to hire me to write one of yellow and black books and then I’d probably think I’d died and gone to heaven. Did you hear that Wiley?)

Well anyway, back to the book. Since I’m no dummy about web hosting I decided NOT to fall into instant love with this book. The plan was to read it from cover to cover and rip it into small shreds, looking for every tiny little error within its pages.

Darn you, Peter Pollock! Between your unique laid-back, easy to read and understand writing style and your in depth technical knowledge my evil plan was foiled. The more I read the more I loved the book. Seriously, I carried the book around the house with me ranting and raving loudly as I read the chapters.

“This is what I was trying to explain to a client last week! It’s perfect,” or “Ah ha! Even a dummy could understand it if I explained it that way.” (No offense to any of my clients with that last comment, of course.)

This book will not going on my bookshelf – absolutely not. This yellow and black gem is going to have a special place of honor on my desk as a quick reference. Peter Pollock has written a brilliant book overflowing with invaluable information for newbies and seasoned professionals alike. I’m certain that Peter Pollock’s daytime disguise as a writer is really masking his alter ego. He’s a web hosting superhero. Step aside Spiderman – here comes WebMan!

Come back and read my next blog and I’ll share some individual nuggets of information that I gleaned from Web Hosting for Dummies.

Projecting an Image

This week, as well as last, all of the ads seem to have been tied into President’s day. Presidential savings. Presidential trivia. Presidential this. Presidential that. That got me to thinking about image. Normally, of course, the president has a very specific image. He’s supposed to be above the fray of normal bickering, projecting a strong, confident persona that the country can rely upon and look up to in times of crisis or trouble. That doesn’t mean that you won’t see pictures of him walking his dog or playing catch. Of course you will. There’s not a president in recent memory that has missed these photo ops. It makes them one of us. An ordinary man.

Your business projects an image too. What kind might depend upon your business. Plumbers are more down-to-earth, sleeves rolled up kind of guys whereas a car salesman? Yep, that’s a suit and tie much more slick kind of presentation. Everything of course ties into your company’s brand. That’s what conveys the overall image of what your company is all about.

Personally, I like that my business demonstrates a personal touch while maintaining a professional demeanor. You’re always going to be able to reach me, I’m always going to get back to you but I can play with the big corporate boys having worked on everything from mom and pop business materials to global corporation’s collateral materials.

What does your business presentation say about you? If you haven’t looked at it in the while here’s a fun and productive way to see what your current image is. Take your collateral material and toss it on a table. Does it all project the same brand? Is is a cliché for your industry? I love thinking more creatively and not having to have a picture of money if you’re a banker – what about the people you provide services for? Use pictures of them so that they relate to your services. Does it need a bit of freshening up? Are your designs innovative and exciting or are they boring and overused?

Take a minute and see what your customers and clients see. Then call me. I can help you project the image that you should be. Let’s talk…

Debby is a working writer, designer, artist, photographer and guest lecturer in Southern California. If you are interested in hiring her she is available for ghost blogging, strategic marketing planning, graphic and web design, photo shoots and more. You can email her at djohnson@debrongraphics.com

Balancing Act

As a business owner running a successful enterprise I can’t afford to have an employee mentality. There’s no such thing as punching the time clock and working 8:00 to 5:00. It seems like my work day is never done,always emails to answer, billing to catch up on, bills to pay, office supplies to purchase and an assortment of little things that just need to be done.

Add to that the last minute emergency projects that always seem to crop up, pushing aside what I had planned and my life could easily revolve around work, work and more work. I think like most business owners I want to project an image of the woman who can do it all, balancing work, family and leisure activities. Sometimes though, its the family and leisure activities that suffer. I really try not to let that happen.

There are times that my phone rings as early as 7:00 a.m. and as late as 11:00 p.m. Why? I’m not really sure. Maybe its because people know I work a lot – seemingly all the time. Maybe they just assume that I want to be be woke up early to answer a question that could easily wait until regular business hours. I don’t know. I did really question the new client who called at 1:00 a.m. to order business cards. Did they really expect any business to answer at that hour of the night? So I’ll be honest, there are times that I don’t answer my phone. I don’t answer when I’m in a meeting, when I’m on a crunch project that I need to finish and I don’t answer when I’m watching my son’s school performance. Then I’m an engaged in the moment.

I even schedule days off. Fun, adventure days to go and explore the world, recharge my creative batteries, take photos, people watch (great for a writer!) or just hang out at the movies with my son. I think those moments are important too. They help to make up for working until 1:00 a.m. and setting my alarm for 3:00 a.m. to finish a project that my client ‘forgot’ they needed until the day before a big presentation.

There are times it feels like walking a tightrope trying to keep it all in balance. I just end up weighing what’s important in my life and what has to be done right now. Like today. I have a list of projects to get done and my son really wants me to take a break and watch his dress rehearsal. I’m lucky. Lunch is now scheduled for 2:00 so that I can be there. Yeah, the lunch that I don’t normally take because I’m working. Like I said, it’s all about balance.

Do What You Love, Love What You Do

It seems pretty simple to say, “do what you love” and your business will grow but its not always possible to work at your dream job. So, if you can’t do what you love then try loving what you do. Look for what you love in your job and explore those avenues. It’s amazing what will happen to your creativity and your productivity.

I started my design career in a roundabout way. I’ve worked doing medical billing, collections, worked for social services, planning departments, and other interesting jobs along the way. My love of art and design was always there, I just had to find ways to use it. It was as my last ‘job’ as a word processor that I was able to transform that position from typing to design. Every time I produced a document I gave it that little extra something. It didn’t take long before that was noticed by my managers and then they were referring presentations to me for ‘dressing up’. Those presentations turned into brochures, flyers and much more. I studied hard and absorbed everything I could along the way.

Sometimes that’s what it takes. Working hard and showing what you can do. After a while I was the go-to person for web design, creative presentations and I was even speaking at seminars about marketing, design, and giving inspirational talks. I’d read the book “Fish” (if you haven’t read it I HIGHLY recommend that you do!) and had shared it with others where I was working. The sole message of that book is to find what you love in what you do – if they can sling fish at a fish market and love it then I could certainly love what I was doing. I took that message and gave some talks about how to do that, what the benefits are to you personally and to your company when you approach your job this way. I was even able to write for the company newsletter. I’ve been a writer for as long as I remember. None of this would have been possible if I hadn’t found something I loved in what I was doing.

And the rest is, as they say, history! I left the company to grow my own business which is going strong today. Now I get to help my clients show what they love about their business while expanding, reaching new clients, and keeping existing customers.

It’s pretty simple. Do what you love, love what you do.

Debby is a working writer, designer, artist, photographer and guest lecturer in Southern California. If you are interested in hiring her she is available for ghost blogging, strategic marketing planning, graphic and web design, photo shoots and more. You can email her at djohnson@debrongraphics.com

It’s All About Heart – You Get What You Put Into It

As the last day of January rolls around most of us are already looking towards February, and of course, Valentine’s day. Perhaps most of you think about those you love and celebrating but it made me think about heart. Having heart. Giving from the heart. Does giving from the heart make you think about charitable giving? That’s not a bad thing. If each of us gave to those in need what a wonderful world this would be.

But what I really meant was giving from the heart to your clients. Give them over and above what they are expecting. Try giving them exceptional customer service. I like to give my clients the marketing edge not just provide a graphic design service. It always amazes me when designers don’t realize that they are the marketing expert on a project. Why do you design a piece a specific way? To catch the consumer’s eye. To drive traffic to a website. To get clients. Why do you select the colors that you do when you design a piece? Every artist knows that certain colors elicit specific feelings and emotions. As a designer you’re capturing that and creating a mood or a feeling for the reader.

I study each piece that I design by following up with the client to see what kind of response they’ve had, how they utilized it and what other needs they might have. I believe in giving the whole marketing design package. I give from the heart. I want my clients to love my service, to love my designs and to love working with my company.

It’s all about heart…and loving what I do and knowing how my designs can impact the lives and business fortunes of others.

Debby is a working writer, designer, artist, photographer and guest lecturer in Southern California. If you are interested in hiring her she is available for ghost blogging, strategic marketing planning, graphic and web design, photo shoots and more. You can email her at djohnson@debrongraphics.com

I am an addict…

Okay, I admit it. I have an addiction, a serious addiction. And I’m not going to do anything about it. That’s just the way it is. No apologies. No excuses. I like the way it feels when I do it. I’ve been doing it for years and there are times when I don’t do the things I should do because I’m doing it.

I fed my addiction today and I feel so much better. I just can’t help it. I went to the bookstore to pick up a book on origami for an art class that I’m teaching on Saturday and to have on hand for my regular art students and there, right in front of me…I was too weak to resist. I picked up one and then quickly snatched up another and by then I didn’t care, when I saw the third and fourth ones I tucked them under my arm and sauntered in to find my origami book. Finally I found it but not before I’d put a fifth one in my hands….books.

Now, before you get upset and think I should have used some control and not over-indulged, in my own defense, four of them were buy one get one free, so really, was it that bad? I knew when I went there it would be almost impossible to resist getting some for myself. I could barely contain myself, I wanted to read them all at once. I wanted to devour the words, savoring the smells and feel of the pages, the delectable words waiting to dance around in my head.

I am a book addict. I’ve been one since I learned to read. I read when I’m getting dressed. I read when I’m cooking dinner. I read in the restroom. I read in stolen minutes waiting in the car to pick up a child, at the doctor’s office and when I should be sleeping late at night. I am intoxicated by the places and the people (they ARE people, not characters!) that inhabit the books and my mind when I read them.

I am an addict. My addiction doesn’t hurt anyone, right? As long as its only me that suffers with this problem then I see no need to get help. So what if I read product packages? Its okay, right? I speed read so I can read more, so much more quickly. I need to read. I have to read. I will read..

I have to go now. There are five new uncracked book spines in my house, books waiting for me to read them. Blogs online asking for me to read them.

My name is Debby. I am an addict….

Out With the Old, In With the New

It’s an expression that I’m sure you’ve heard before. You have probably even used it yourself a few times, “out with the old, in with the new”. Would you use that when referencing your clients? Of course not! But now, ask yourself this, do your clients feel that way? Or do they feel like the attention and time that you initially gave them has dwindled, and that you’re spending most of your time with new clients?

It’s a tricky thing to cultivate new clients while maintaining solid relationships with long-term clients.Sometimes the thrill of the chase is so alluring that you forget to properly handle the relationships that you’ve had for years. You cannot sacrifice the relationship of a long-term client that you’ve worked so hard to build for a new client who might bring something new to the table.

It goes back to that old adage, “treat others as you’d like to be treated yourself.” While you may not need to spend as much time taking care of what your established clients need, you still need to let them know that you are there for them. You need to be sure that they are ‘feeling the love’ too. The more clients you get the harder that is to do, but just as when you were starting out, each client is highly important to your business. Without each and every one of them you wouldn’t have a business.

Offer specials to your established clients. Do something nice and unique for them, letting them know that you appreciate their business. You’ll be so glad that you did. And so will they.

So What? It’s Just a Business Card

How is your business card working for you? Have you asked yourself that lately? What difference does it make, you’re probably asking yourself. It’s just a business card. It has my name, phone number and email address on it, what more does it need? After all, I’m using them so that business associates have that information at their fingertips. That’s what my business card is for.

Really? Wow. That’s what usually goes through my mind when I hear an established or prospective client tell me that. Right in their pocket they have one of the best marketing tools that they can readily carry with them and use, but so many people don’t. There are two basic mistakes that people make with their card design. They go so ultra-minimalistic that they don’t let anyone know what they really do or they travel to the other end of the spectrum and cram in so much information that you don’t even want to read the card. It makes your eyes hurt and your head spin. You just can’t concentrate on all of the information there.

Finding the middle ground is the key here. Let’s think about all of the billboards that you see when you drive along the freeway or highway. You’re moving along at a fairly fast speed and one of these mammoth-sized boards come up on the horizon. You only have a few seconds to see what it says before you’re moved on to the next board rising in the distance. I like to think of business cards the same way. I only have a few seconds to capture your interest, to let you know what my service or product is, and give you a way to contact me before the next business card is thrust in your face.

I design my cards with that in mind. I have to give you enough to be able to reach me. I have to interest you enough to want to reach me. And I have to be creative enough so that you will hold onto my card when the next business card comes your way. In addition, the cards have to adhere to the company brand. Do a drive-by test with your business card right now. Move it from left to right. Can you find the contact info easily? How does the logo stand out? Do you know what the person or business does? Was it pleasing to the eye? Are the fonts too hard to read or are they too small?

Hopefully your card passes the first test. Now, let’s take an even closer look at your card. Does it feel solid and professional? Can you run your fingers along the edge and feel those perforations? Yes, you know what I mean. The perforated business cards are okay in a pinch but they should only be used as a last resort to get you out of a major bind. Does the paper have a nice weight? Is the printing clear and vibrant? If you’re not pleased with any of these items you might want to consider getting your card printed by a professional printer or changing the printer that you use. The great news is that most design professionals have an affiliation with a printer that offers them a discount on high-end printing which helps to save you money and deliver an exceptional product all at the same time.

But wait, we’re not done with your card yet. Flip it over. What do you see? A large portion of you will see nothing. It’s blank. Why? I know that no matter which way my card is handed to the client, if it gets flipped over on their desk, stuck in their pocket backwards, no matter what, my client will be able to readily identify my card. In my case I have a gorgeous California sunset illustration that I drew from a photo along with my URL. This lets me showcase my illustration skills, marketing a service that the client might be interested in plus they have more incentive to hold on to the card. I love when I see my clients with my card stuck on their bulletin boards. If they love the picture they are much more likely to keep my card which means they will always remember me.

So, now we’ve talked about the appearance of your card. What about how you use it? Can I ask you a question? If you are one of the many people who only give their card to someone that you know wants to contact you – why? Why are you limiting your business and not reaching out to all of the people who need to reach you, who might be interested in what you have to tell them? Don’t hold on to your cards like you’ll never have any ever again, some rare precious commodity like gold. Let them go. Use them! Personally, I use my in all kinds of instances. Do you want to give another parent at school your phone number? Give them your card. Odds are they work or their spouse works or knows someone who works and might need your services. And I bet if you have retail items to sell – they buy stuff. Its a nice subtle way to let them know what you do and that you’re interested in their business. And don’t stop there. Give them to anyone you want to give your number too. Give them to someone who you can see will benefit from what you have to offer. There’s no value in being stingy with them.

Now that you’re convinced to hand them out, be a little bit sensible and don’t look desperate by dropping huge piles on grocery store shelves, gas station pumps, etc. Is this the person that you want to do business with? I want to come across as a professional so leaving them in the business card rack at the coffee shop, that’s good. Leaving them thrown all over the ground hoping someone picks them up. That’s bad.

Business cards. The biggest little tool in your arsenal. Put them to work for you.

Debby is a working writer, designer, artist, photographer and guest lecturer in Southern California. If you are interested in hiring her she is available for ghost blogging, strategic marketing planning, graphic and web design, photo shoots and more. You can email her at djohnson@debrongraphics.com

Thank Goodness for a System

I may have mentioned as this new year began that I have been working on a new system and organization for 2011. The best intentions seem to always be followed by chaos and client emergencies that derail my plans, turning my business into something different than I’d thought when I wrote out my business plan at the end of the previous year. Well, this year I was determined that would not happen to me. I’ve logged things in my calendar, like blogging, scheduling time and making that time important, not something that can be bumped and rearranged and finally forgotten falling by the wayside.

Thank goodness for this system or I’d be off-track already. The sad truth is I’m already running behind on what I’ve calendared, but the good news is the reason I’m behind is that the work is coming in quicker than I can keep up. Yeah, I’ll have to work double-time to catch up but that’s possible. I know what I have to do thanks to my trusty new work log. It’s easy to keep up and definitely keeping me on track.

And my calendar? Oh, my gosh! Its my new best friend. I can see that I need to make sure I check it before I schedule any meeting or event. It can be overwhelming to look at the week in advance and realize that there just might not be a free second for much of anything else but the good news is I can also see at a glance what needs to be done, what my client’s needs are and I am so much more proactive with marketing ideas for them.

Letting history repeat itself is usually looked at with disdain. Not for me this year! I’m evaluating what works and I’m certainly going to repeat it. That’s actually the advice I give my clients as well and is the thing they overlook and don’t maintain during the year.

Tracking their marketing campaigns, how many people responded and how many they converted to customers. I had someone tell me just the other day that the campaigns we ran last year packed their business but “they didn’t work as we didn’t retain that many of them.” When I suggested that the campaigns fulfilled their function and might be a good idea for us to look at their closing techniques they looked at me blankly. “But the marketing didn’t work,” they repeated. Learning to evaluate what works and what doesn’t can be a challenge. Be honest with yourself if its not the marketing collateral but something else within your business.

The history that you want to repeat is what works. I’m so lucky since I get to see lots of campaigns, for all kinds of different business types. What works for a pest control company will work for a karate dojo, you’ve just got to change the message, the call to action, but the campaign basics are still the same.

Like blogging – it works across all types of businesses and business models. Are you blogging for your business? It works. You just have to be consistent. Interested in having a regular blog and don’t have time. Let me know. I’m happy to be your ghost blogger.

Debby is a working writer, designer, artist, photographer and guest lecturer in Southern California. If you are interested in hiring her she is available for ghost blogging, strategic marketing planning, graphic and web design, photo shoots and more. You can email her at djohnson@debrongraphics.com

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