Wednesday, December 19, 2007

How you're remembered after you leave the room

At a recent Ladies Who Launch event, I was chatting away with a couple of fellow attendees about What I Do (you know, like I do), and we got to the subject of business cards and logos, which is one of my pet subjects here at the zen kitchen. As we got to chatting about the importance of having a logo that effectively represents you and your business, I said "after all, your business card is how people remember you when you leave the room."

I got a great reaction to that testament (including notes that I should trademark it), but I can't help thinking: is this true? I think it is, but I have to qualify it a bit.

Your logo, business card and associated materials are part of your professional "package," so to speak. Working together, they create the image that you present to the world, whether or not you're physically in the room. While networking is certainly an important way to build your business (it's certainly done wonders for the zen kitchen's numbers), if you've ever been to a networking event, you know that you can meet a LOT of people in one night. You're not going to remember them all. So really, your business card is going to be what folks remember about you after that night is over, along with maybe a couple of quick thoughts depending on what you talked about. It's an invitation to learn more about you, to keep in touch - and your website is a way for them to learn still more about your business after they've gotten home that night.

So what does your business card say about you?

When Blogging Goes Bad

One of my close friends has just gotten into deep trouble at work. The reason? His MySpace blog, in which he shared information that was a LITTLE too personal, and a LITTLE too not-happy-with-work. One of his colleagues apparently forwarded a not-so-complementary post to one of his bosses, and well - you know how it goes.

As more folks take up the torch and start documenting their lives online, employers are starting to take notice, and more people are getting into trouble at work over things that they say or do in their online lives. As far back as 2005, ABC News posted a story about just this type of thing.

It sucks, yes, but it can be prevented, with a bit of foresight.

For one thing, it's really not a good idea to insult your clients, coworkers or company in a blog post - especially if you're in a high-profile position. Even if you don't name names, it's just not a good idea. In a world that gets smaller by the minute, you never know who you know who knows the person you're talking about.

Also, it's a good idea to monitor who gets to read your writing. In the case of a blogging software like MySpace or LiveJournal, you can actually set blog posts so that only specific people can read them. This isn't foolproof (I believe they can still come up in Google searches), but it helps make sure that some of the saucier (or less professional) bits of you don't get through to folks that you don't want reading it.

Lastly, ask yourself before you write: who am I writing this for? How would I feel if my boss/mother/person I'm talking about read this? If it's not something you'd want someone that close to you to read, don't put it online. Personally, I suggest having both an online and a paper journal, or just sticking to the paper journal.

While these notes are definitely more geared towards personal blogs, a lot of it holds true in business blogging as well - if you're afraid of person X coming across a post you made in your business blog, it's a good idea not to post it. This is another reason why I recommend having an informal "blog content plan" when you start your business blog - if you have an idea of what types of things that you want to share with people, it's not only easier to write, it's easier to figure out things that won't be a good fit for the blog.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The trouble with Templates

If you're a business owner on a tight budget, pre-designed web templates might look like a great answer for you. And there are a ton of them out there, ranging in price from free to $500+. In addition, there are plenty of companies that let you build "custom websites" without having to hire a pro designer, at relatively inexpensive rates. Pretty great deal, right?

Well, it can be. But more often than not, templates are not your friend, for several reasons:
They're not as "customizable" as you think, especially if you don't know HTML already. Sure, there are some things you can do, but for the most part, you're stuck with what you get... and as your business grows, this lack of flexibility becomes even more annoying, not to mention bad for business.
Support is often insufficient or non-existent. Some companies that provide what's often billed as "website solutions" do provide a high level of service, features, etc. for the price you pay, and can be a good option if you really don't have the cash to spend right now - but most of the lowest-cost options offered through these services are still a Do-It-Yourself situation, which gets frustrating quick if you haven't done this before.
It takes time away from activities that you're already good at, and takes you away from growing your business. When you went into business for yourself, was it because you wanted to learn HTML, SEO or logo design? Unless your business is graphic or web design, the answer is most likely no. Forcing yourself into a situation where you are doing all of the marketing, logo design, etc. for your business not only takes your valuable time away from your business, it forces you to do a lot more work with a lot less results than if you had found the right designer to partner with on your materials.
It sends the wrong message to your customers. Let's face it - you're a professional, and want to be viewed as such. When you do your own website, it shows.

As a fellow entrepreneur, I completely understand the desire to keep costs down - when you're first starting out, it's hard to shell out the bucks to have a professional do your stuff. But a good designer does more than just put together your website - they can provide support and encouragement, and help you separate the things that will work well for you from the "great ideas" that, um, aren't so great. So while a template might get you by for a while, it's worth it to make the investment in your business and work with a professional.

Friday, December 07, 2007

A bit of fun for a Friday

My buddy Heather Castles over at the Illustration Castle blog has officially tagged me to list "5 Things About Myself" and encourage others to do the same. So, being in a bit of a silly mood (Decembers at the zen kitchen will do that to me), I submit the following:

1. If there's one thing I've learned in the past 30 days, it's that cinnamon and tomatoes are just about the world's best combination.

2. In my late teens, I was a theatre major. In my early 20's, I was a karaoke diva. In my mid-20's, I was a performance poet. Now, I blog.

3. I made the mistake this year of submitting my work to a ton of books and not keeping track of their names or authors; as a result, I have the distinct feeling that my work is in at least a couple of books I don't know about. Keep an eye out, will you?

4. Although I currently live in Watertown, MA, and I started the zen kitchen in Somerville, MA - I'm actually from Providence RI (born and raised!), and have only lived in MA since just before starting the studio. The reason? I kept getting work in MA, and I was done with the hour+ commutes.

5. My favorite yoga pose is Upward Bow (picture courtesy of Yoga Journal):
upward bow pose, from Yoga Journal
I tend not to do it near a wall, though.

Hmm... Now, not being much of one to "tag" other folks to do this kind of thing, I'd like to invite anyone who reads this to do it, and leave me a comment pointing me to the post. It'll be interesting to see what you come up with!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Can a blog replace a promo site?

Recently, someone on one of my lists had a question. While he knew that it was important to have a website and he'd heard a lot about the SEO goodness and other associated benefits of having a blog, he wanted to know which was more important - the blog or the promo site? Could you just go with a blog instead of a more static promo site and still get the same results?

The answer is a bit complicated, but I'm a firm believer in having both - for a variety of reasons.

Blogs are great for SEO and getting recognition for your business (especially establishing you as an expert in your field, which is marketing gold). The challenge with using blogs instead of a more basic promo site is the fact that a blog, while it can give lots of great information about your field and things you do within it, doesn't accomplish the main goal of a company's website - to outline their offerings and show a potential customer why they should choose them over the competition.

While you can use a blog to provide information that enforces the points made on your company site (as I do with this blog and the zen kitchen's site), the promotional site, to which the customer can turn for basic information about the company, its mission, contact info, etc. is still an important piece of the puzzle that shouldn't be overlooked.

The goal of a promotional site is to make it extremely easy for the customer to get the information they need to know whether they want to work with your company - that means contact info, client case studies/testimonials, a breakdown of what you do and why you do it better than the competition is right there in front of the customer, and extremely easy to find (preferably in the top navigation, which is where the average user will look). Traditional blogs, with their emphasis on throwing all the most recent posts on the first page, make it harder for folks to answer the key question a user will ask when they visit your site: what is this company, and why should I work with them?

Given this, you can use most blog software to create a site that accomplishes both goals, and updating content regularly (for example, posting to the attached blog) will enhance the SEO of the site, as will being active on other blogs and social networks. So, unless you're looking for special advanced functionality (which would require custom programming and can drive costs up), a talented designer can create a site that maintains the structure of a promotional site while having the SEO benefits and (relatively) easy updating of a blog.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Here's a thought

inspired by this post from new acquaintance and fellow cat-lover Kelly Parkinson of Copylicious:

What if each day, for about 5 minutes, you wrote a "love letter" to a client or friend telling them how much you cared about them, how much you appreciate the way they've touched your life - and then you sent it to them? What if, rather than trying to figure out five things to be grateful for about today, you thought of five things to be grateful about in regards to a specific person? It's like a lovely double-duty bit of grateful; you feel good, you make them feel good, which makes you feel double-good - it's a veritable orgy of goodness. And we all love orgies, right?

I might try this for a while.

Ads that clean the streets? Cool!

My buddy Colleen Wainwright, a.k.a. the Communicatrix, just sent me this super-cool link. Full-service guerilla ad campaigns that not only use only water, but they actually clean up dirty streets. Too cool!

An excerpt:

The idea for the [Street Advertising Services], which launched last year, came to founder Kristian Jeffrey out of sheer frustration. Jeffrey explains: "I run several small online businesses, and was searching for cost-effective advertising to attract consumers to my sites. My potential customers were walking around me every day, and it was when I was walking through the dirty streets of London that the idea came to me: why not take advertising literally to the street? Having experimented with several different methods, we wanted to apply a technique that was not just eye-catching and effective but also friendly to the environment. What could be more natural than water?"

The full post is here. Now how cool is that?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

When Sustainable Isn't - a Green Marketing Dilemma

David Baker from ReCourses had a great newsletter this month about the ubiquitousness of terms like "sustainability" and "branding" in marketing speak today, and why in order for a business to truly be sustainable, it needs to do more than just employ green practices; it needs to run itself in such a way that your financial health, corporate culture, and all the things that keep a business going aren't being ignored in favor of being seen as "green".

An excerpt:

Acting in more sustainable ways is a very good thing indeed, but if we are not authentic (and aligned internally as we pursue it), the brief moments we get on stage will turn open consumers into skeptical critics. Here are some suggestions about having a deeper impact on the world around you.

First, start internally before you preach externally. Assess and then embrace the true cost of following your conscience and lead by example. It's very popular but entirely too easy to suggest how other people should spend their money. Start with your own.

Second, don't ignore the broader definition of sustainability. Your carbon footprint matters, but I'm not sure it should matter more than running a genuinely "sustainable" business. That would be one that cares about financial health, management culture, work/life boundaries, doing effective work for clients, and even the sustainability of your own role. Taming chaos today by solving the same problems you fixed yesterday doesn't ooze sustainability. The best way I could synthesize this point is as follows: control follows viability, and impact follows control. Be the right sort of firm in order to give you the sort of control that can be wielded on behalf of clients that need it (even if they don't know they need it).

Third, be yourself even if it isn't all that sexy. Generally ignore what others are doing and craft something that's real, authentic, and substantive, so much so that you'll still be energized by it a decade from now. That's the sort of real differentiation that accompanies genuine branding. If you've done it right, the message on your web site can remain virtually unchanged for years and years. That, my friends, is a component of sustainability, and throwing my Venti Latte into the recycling container is more lip service than substance.

It's time to broaden our perspectives and be more balanced and authentic marketing partners who tell the truth, regardless of where it leads. It's time to drop flippant uses of the word branding, and it's time to take a more sustainable approach to sustainability. Seldom have larger businesses embraced a message as significant as this to marketing firms, and whether genuine or not, we have an opportunity to engage in meaningful conversation and move from the transactional work we've been doing to the consultative role we've longed for. Just keep in mind that good consultants aren't always popular, but they do have a point of view and they are honest.

The full text is here, but I'm not sure how much longer it'll be up there.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Word of Mouth Marketing is Big Business

According to a recent article in the Boston Business Journal, word of mouth marketing is the Next Big Thing - so much so that companies are investing over a billion dollars collectively on word-of-mouth campaigns, in a trend that's only expected to increase soon.

But you already knew that.

Let's face it: what makes you buy? Certainly, commercials and ads have their place, but people are more likely to buy something if they hear its praises from someone they know and trust. Your friends, current clients, colleagues - all of them can provide great word of mouth for your business (and much cheaper than paying an ad agency to get it for you) - as long as you give them some guidance about a) what to say, and b) who to say it to.

Now, the basic idea behind this isn't about creating some puppet orchestra amongst your friends; it's about helping folks understand what you really do and what kind of folks you want to be doing it for. It's marketing 101 - know your audience.

For example, let's say that I have a client that I do some basic production for, but not much creative. I love working with her, and would love to get some referrals to grow my business. But she doesn't really know what I do - the zen kitchen specializes in identity and marketing design, not in production - so, in order to get the most qualified referrals from my client, I need to let her know the range of services I offer, and the average pricing for those services, so that she can refer me to clients who need the specific services I want to offer my clients.

So what do I do? I take her to lunch, talk about what I do, and ask her if she knows any business owners who are looking to invest in quality identity design and marketing to grow their business. If I get referrals, that's great. If I don't, I had a nice lunch. But, now she knows what I really do, and she can more likely spot a good potential client, which works well for both of us.

The same idea, by the way, goes for family and friends - while we love them, they don't always understand what it is you really do. One friend of mine consistently calls me a "webbie" and keeps referring anything and everything Web-related my way, even though I have to outsource Flash and any type of programming applications. By letting folks know the TYPE of leads you're looking for, you get much better leads.

Want to get noticed in the blogosphere? Keep it simple and relevant.

I just read a great post by my buddy Jess Sand over at Roughstock Studios (whose recent post on hormone-free milk labeling just got picked up by superblogger Seth Godin. In the post, she talks about how she serendipitously managed to get Godin to link to her post in his own blog, sending ridiculous amounts of traffic to her blog.

How did she do it? She kept it simple, kept it real, and kept it relevant.

My email was short and sweet: I briefly introduced myself and explained my reason for writing. I didn't reference my own blog post until the end of the email, and then I signed off. The entire email was less than 200 words.

My intention was never to get Seth to link to me. My intention was to get eyeballs on the issue of the Pennsylvania ban on "rBST-free" labeling, and I told him as much. I included a link to my post so he could read my own take if he so chose. Happily for me, he did.

My email to Seth was right after he posted his "Conceal vs. Reveal" entry, and it referenced a story that was a direct illustration of his point. More importantly, because I'm a regular reader of his blog, I know that he values fairness and consumer respect—values that played a big part in this particular story. I come across things every day that would probably interest this guy, but I knew that this one in particular was exactly suited to what was just on his mind.

This is great advice, and has definitely worked for me in the past - not to the exact level that Jess just experienced, to be sure, but some of the most valuable networking relationships and publicity moments I've gathered in my time operating the zen kitchen came from a short, honest and relevant e-mail to someone I admired - and often those e-mails were more notes of appreciation than requests for a plug.

So today's lesson? It pays to take notice.

And by the way, if you didn't catch the link above, you can read the post here.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

tzk news: new article by Dani on Creative Latitude

I just heard from Derald Schultz over at Creative Latitude that one of my recent articles has just gone up for publication on the site. In the article, called "the seven deadly sins of e-mail marketing," I go over some fairly basic, but still noteworthy blunders that I see folks making when it comes to their e-mail newsletters.

Creative Latitude is a worldwide community that unites various creative disciplines for collective promotion, education and ethical business practice. Dani Nordin of the zen kitchen has been an active member since 2006.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Staying Sane Through the Holiday Networking Rush

One of the crazy things that I notice about holidays is that, despite my natural inclination to stick around the house in my pajamas and read books with a cup of tea until it's finally warm outside, I'm constantly busy... not only do I have family and friends to deal with, holiday cards to send out, and presents to buy, every networking group that I am involved with has their Annual Holiday Event - that one night that is, apparently, Not to be Missed. I do more networking in November and December than I do almost the entire year, and it's a bit of a challenge keeping up with it all.

Somehow, however, I manage to stay sane through all of this, and here are a couple of my tips to help you stay sane as well.

1. Loosen up your expectations for events. Holiday events are a chance to reconnect with your group, have good conversations, have a glass of wine. Don't stress out so much about getting a ton of business cards (even though you'll likely meet a ton of people) - you're much better off finding 2-3 good folks to keep in touch with. Trying to keep track of a dozen cards each night will just stress you out. This is also a good tip for regular networking events, but it's especially important during the holidays.

2. Set aside ample time for yourself. Read a book, take a bath, enforce a few hours on the weekend that's devoted to just you. I'm serious about this one - do NOT skimp on it. Today, after a long week of networking events, appointments, and other such busyness, I spent the entire morning reading Winnie the Pooh and relaxing on my couch. It was terrific.

3. Don't overdo it. This goes for wine, food, talk, and even the events themselves. It's tempting to go to all of them and stay all night, but it's really not going to do anybody any good if you're exhausted all the next day. Check in with yourself periodically to make sure that you're not about to drop, and don't be afraid to leave a bit early, if you don't have the energy to keep going.

Happy holidays, and happy networking!

Friday, November 09, 2007

What I'm loving about Facebook

Having heard many of the various opinions on Facebook's use as a social networking tool and the next Big Networking Site, I decided to give it a shot about last week. Having been burned (or rather, extremely annoyed) by MySpace last year, I wasn't expecting much.

Turns out, now I'm addicted. There are many reasons why, but the primary reason is that it adds a more personal level to professional networking - I can get to know people on a deeper level than just their work history or immediate needs. And this, to me, is what real "networking" is all about - creating a network of mutually supportive people.

Some other things that I'm particularly jazzed about:

1. The Visual Bookshelf Application: This is one of Facebook's many add-ons, but I love it because, being an avid reader and someone who is always finding books that would be just GREAT to read if I have the time, I can actually compile a list of not only the books I've already read, but the books that I notice in magazines, blogs, etc. that I really WANT to read. Very helpful - and there's something gratifying about the narcissism of showing off your vast reading experience to folks. Just sayin.

2. I can import my blog directly into the "notes" section of my Facebook profile. This is a great time-saver, and gets the blog (and my work, now that I'm starting to post work updates to the blog as well) additional exposure without requiring extra time from me. HUGE plus.

So, anyone else on Facebook? What do you like about it? What would you change?

Thursday, November 08, 2007

New Work: Peg O'Connell logos

Peg O'Connell, an independent bookkeeper based in Brookline, MA, started her own business after years of working in a large firm. She needed an identity that would hint at her naturally friendly and cheerful personality while still projecting the professionalism required by her - well - profession.

The bold, yet simple and elegant treatment of the final logo created by the zen kitchen speaks well to Peg's intended market - creatives and other independent professionals. It's sophisticated without being stuffy, casual without being unprofessional.

Included in the system are a notecard/business card combo that Peg can use to followup with folks she networks with as well as thank her clients for working with her. A website is soon to follow.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

New Work: Kitchen on Common Website

It's been crazy with the work-finishing lately; just crazy, I tell you! The most recent addition to this flood of productivity is also one of the most exciting for me: the unleashing of the Kitchen on Common website (click the link to view in all its glory). Kitchen on Common is a new restaurant located in Cushing Square, just a stone's throw away from my office in Watertown MA (literally, I can walk there - and do. Quite often. It's just that tasty.)

Chef Joh Kokubo, a Lexington MA resident and owner of Kitchen on Common, is committed to using fresh, local ingredients whenever possible - no small feat in New England! But he does an amazing job, providing a terrific meal at reasonable prices, and creating food that's worth going back for as long as it's available (since much of his cuisine is dependent on local growing seasons, items don't stay on the menu for too long).

This design came together with fresh, simple imagery (much like the food at Kitchen on Common itself), and elegant typography. In order to make it easy for Joh to update the frequently-changing menu, a simple template was created for both the lunch and dinner menus that Joh can simply export to PDF and replace in the site files, saving both time and money on frequent updates.

In addition to the recently completed website, the zen kitchen designed the identity, business card, signage and menus for the restaurant, and will be helping with ongoing marketing in the near future.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

New Work: Christine Tetreault Website

Christine Tetreault, a freelance journalist and copywriter based outside Boston MA, needed a new web presence to help her focus her work away from the technical copywriting and editing she had been doing and lean towards more travel, outdoors and wellness/spirituality writing, her current passion. Working with Dani Nordin of the zen kitchen, a comprehensive identity package and website was created to help her showcase her work.

Feedback has already been positive for the new site. Says Christine, “From my first meeting with Dani, I found it impossible not to be energized and inspired by her positive energy and willingness to share her learning and experience as a creative artist and successful small business owner. Dani's business and design guidance have been invaluable in helping me to craft my writing goals and web site style, format, and content. Dani is a breeze to work with as a business partner, be it in person, by phone, or via email -- comfortable, open creative exchange, diplomatic artistic discussion, and above and beyond results! I highly recommend Dani and The Zen Kitchen for any creative graphic design, marketing, web project. Her green commitment is an added bonus to her exceptional talents.”

Check out the site here.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Forums and E-Mail lists as a marketing tool

In case you haven't noticed, I do a LOT of online networking. I love it - I'm a bit of a homebody anyway, and online networking allows me to keep in touch with folks, talk about stuff I'm interested in anyway, and feel just a little less alone when I'm at home working in my pajamas.

But, the question one forum friend asked recently, can it bring me business?

Well, in my case, it has - just in the last three months, I've fielded about a dozen inquiries from folks I met on a couple of forums that I'm active on, several of which have turned into profitable jobs. The best part is that, since I was active on the forum and they'd been reading my opinions on topics that mattered to both of us, these folks had already checked out my work, often read my blog, and knew that I would be a good fit for them before they even called me - which saved me time prequalifying, and led to much more productive and interesting conversations.

So how do you do this? There are a few main points to consider:

Choose the right forums: the best forums for you are ones where a) your market is likely hanging out (you do know your market, right?), b) there's a decent amount of activity on the list, meaning that there are plenty of interesting conversations going on that you can jump in on, and c) the topics are ones that you can get interested in and contribute to.

Be active, be authentic, and be passionate: what's worked for me is jumping in on conversations that I care about and can offer something worthwhile to - whether it's about business, marketing, design, or even product/service recommendations. Sometimes, I'll even just step in and rant a bit. The point is to be real, show off your personality, and to remember that this isn't about a sales pitch - this is about connecting.

This isn't about a sales pitch - this is about connecting. Seriously - nothing will turn off a bunch of forum-goers sooner than coming in with this big sales pitch every time you join a conversation. Leave that for other marketing vehicles, and focus on the conversations at hand. The only exception to this rule: it's perfectly fine to do a quick "here's my company" intro e-mail when you first join a forum, it's fine (and actually recommended!) to do the occasional post if you get an award or some press coverage, and it's fine to offer folks a link to your site if they post a message looking for a product or service that you offer.

Have a good e-mail signature. This can not be stressed enough. Your signature should include the basic contact info (your name, company name, brief description), along with your phone number (if you want folks to call you), URL and blog URL (also if applicable). It should also contain a bit of info that makes it easy for folks to figure out what your company is and what they'll find if they go to your blog or site. My signature, for example, introduces my URL by saying "see a full portfolio at or read my thoughts on marketing, design, life and other trivialities at" By ending things this way, people read what I say, and then I've made it easy for them to know who I am, what I do, how to learn more about me, and how to get in touch with me. The quick "and other trivialities" at the end lets them know that while I'm passionate about what I do, I don't take myself too seriously. After all, I'm in my pajamas.

Don't be a jerk. It's fine to be passionate - great even. I swear to you that the most common times for me to get calls from forum members is when I've written really passionately about something - even when it's not related to my field. But badmouthing another member or being generally pushy, rude, or obnoxious is a major no-no, no matter where you are. Be passionate, but also respect the opinions of others. Don't, however, hesitate to speak your mind (professionally) if it needs speaking. Remember, casual doesn't have to mean unprofessional.

While forums and e-mail lists can be a great marketing tool, the important thing to remember is that this, as with all the marketing things that you do, should be FUN. The great thing about forums and e-mail lists is that it's like marketing that isn't really marketing. You're having conversations, making friends, developing community - and in doing so, you're helping your business grow in a way that should be natural, fun and best of all, organic.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Triple Bottom Line: Marketing and personal responsibility

There's a great post on Seth Godin's Blog about marketing and personal responsibility. Yes, it's old (June 14th, to be exact), but it's a good one, and one that hit a personal note with me.

When I made the decision to become a designer back in 1996(ish), one of the things that became very important to me right out of the gate was this question of getting the paycheck vs. doing what I felt was right. As a result - not that I had the opportunity - I refused to ever work for a cigarette company, no matter how much they would offer me. When I accepted a short-term freelance gig at a marketing studio that counted both an environmental agency and a major oil company (not kidding!) as their clients, I made it clear that I would NOT do work for the oil company. I made what were, for me, tough choices - and choices that went firmly against what well-meaning folks told me I "should" be doing.

I stand by those choices - and I still make them today. And you know what? I'm doing just fine.

Monday, October 15, 2007

"Disarming" difficult client requests

I just got turned on to this great entry from Ideas on Ideas about dealing with, ahem, challenging client requests.

Among the requests:

  • Can we make the text bigger?

  • I'll know what I like when I see it.

  • My neighbors/wife/cat don't like it.

  • Someone in accounting mocked-up a really neat idea for this.

If you're a designer, you've probably heard these (Lord knows I have); if you've worked with a designer, you've probably SAID these. And I have to say that the author shares some good ideas, especially in responding in a way that looks outside the knee-jerk reaction (really - your accountant? hmm.) and gets to the root of what most of these requests are - an attempt by the client to communicate what you want to your designer when you don't necessarily speak the language.

This is the thing that some designers tend to miss in their haste to be annoyed at the client's comments; oftentimes if you look past the specifics, what they're really saying is that something isn't quite right, and they need your help figuring out what that is and fixing it. Sometimes the only thing you can think of is "I think this should be blue" when what you really mean is "this color doesn't feel right to me; I want something more friendly/steadfast/elegant, etc."

It's a pretty good read, for designers and non-designers alike: check it out here.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

marketing: what makes you so special?

So, you make a great product, or provide a terrific service. And you think that your product or service is just the best thing ever. Wonderful!

But what's so special about it?

This is something I run into all the time - even with my own business. I love what I do, my clients love what I do, but what makes me so special compared to the hundreds of others that do comparable work, sometimes for significantly lower prices?

For me, it's the passion I put into it - and the fact that I don't stop at just design. Never have, in over six years of doing design professionally. My mission is to make sure you succeed, and sometimes that means helping you out with some hard truth about what you really want to be doing with your life, sometimes it means helping you figure out what you want to CALL this thing you're doing or how you need to talk about it, and sometimes - and this is happening more and more often - it means being your biggest cheerleader when you're starting to doubt that you can really do this.

Great marketing isn't just about saying, "my product is great because it has all natural ingredients and it's good for the environment" or "we really care about our customers." It's also about saying, "my product or service will help improve your life, and here's how." And, it's about saying, "yes, we ARE different from the rest, and here's why."

So, what makes YOU special?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Dani Nordin in the Huffington Post

As part of the Ladies Who Launch series on the Huffington Post, I shared the REAL reason I started the zen kitchen, and my thoughts on entrepreneurship and sustainability.

An excerpt:

For me, "freedom, control and flexibility" means a number of things. Of course, it's important for me to wear what I want to work -- but it's also important for me to take on projects that truly appeal to me, and to work with people that I genuinely like. Not only does this result in better work for my clients, it just makes life a lot nicer. It's also important to me that my business fits around my life -- not the other way around.

The full text is here.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Quadruple Bottom Line - people, planet, profits, and PASSION.

Lately, I've been very focused on what my fellow "green" business owners (and, more recently, mainstream business owners) call the triple bottom line - creating a business where profits don't come at the expense of people and planet. It's a wonderful idea, and one that I've seen work very well in a variety of businesses - from (mostly) solo efforts like my own that are primarily service-based to the various local retailers and manufacturers in my network to larger companies like Whole Foods and Aveda. All good companies, doing great things, all while making sure that we are treating our people (including, in some cases, ourselves) and our planet as gracefully as possible.

But lately, the question that's REALLY been bugging me is, why just the three? How about adding a fourth element to this - to me, the most important element of all - passion? For as long as I can remember, I've had a secret mantra, which has always kicked me in the pants whenever I've ignored it - "If you don't love it, why the heck are you doing it?" It pops up in certain moments - relationships, jobs, activities, friendships - whenever I find myself too deep in a rut, those words come running back into my mind, and I know it's time to change course - no matter how painful that will be. And this is why I ultimately started my own business - because I couldn't for the life of me find a "day job" that I really loved. I had to carve my own path.

Here's the thing - when you finally do decide to start your own business, if that's your path, why are you doing it? Is it because this is what you live and breathe and you'll just DIE unless you get to do it every day, or is it because this is what you know? Or worse, it's what your father or your mother knew and want you to carry the torch of, and you can't stand it? Is your passion what you've been doing professionally all your life, or is it something completely different - something you've always secretly dreamed of, but never thought it was possible? And what about your day-to-day operations? Are you working in a way that's true to YOU and your values, or are you doing things the way that everyone tells you they should be done - the way they've "always" been done?

I invite you to take a step inside yourself sometime and ask yourself questions like these. You might find that you've got things all wrong - yes, you've been consulting on software all your life, but your real passion is making homemade jam. Or, on a happier note, you could find that you've been doing everything just fine, and maybe a couple of minor tweaks will bring you ultimate happiness. Either way, you'll be better off for the asking.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Figuring out your marketing budget

As a nod to the marketing budget craze I've been on lately, I've been in a number of conversations with folks on my various lists the last couple of weeks about marketing budgets - what to spend on, what to save on, what works, what doesn't - and it occurred to me that a number of folks taking the entrepreneurial track, at least in the smaller sense, find themselves stuck in one of two modes:

1) they get overwhelmed the moment you start talking figures and refuse to set a marketing budget; thus, they end up spending either too much or too little money on things that they guess MIGHT work, and often end up jaded and losing profit;

2) they get caught in this self-doubting cycle of "I can't afford to market my business," which results in a further cycle of either NOT marketing their business, or marketing ineffectively, which keeps them in the cycle of "I can't afford to..."

To both of these categories of folk, a marketing budget is a big, scary thing. It's money not in their pocket. It's also the fear of the unknown - what if I spend the money, and don't get results? What do I do then? How much am I supposed to spend on this anyway?

Well, I gotta tell you: marketing requires two things - time and money. The less money you're willing to spend, the more time you're going to have to put in. And both, unfortunately, are necessary expenses.

So how do you figure out what's right for your business? While every business is different (and I can't claim to speak for every single business out there), there are a few things that you should never, EVER skimp on:

1) your logo,
2) your website,
3) your business card and associated marketing materials (especially brochures).

These are your visual identity. This is how your audience - the people who will ultimately put the roof over your head and keep clothes on your back - witness and form impressions of you and your business. You can't afford NOT to spend some money on these things.

But how much? The answer depends on a number of things - the size of the business, how much income you expect/need, what type of things you absolutely need in terms of marketing materials, website, etc. An e-store or a rich Flash-based site with widgets and gadgets all around, for example, will cost significantly more than a simple "here I am!" site.

But give yourself some money, and be generous with it - the rule of thumb I often hear is 10-20% of your annual income should be spent on marketing. And I agree with this - especially in the first year, when you're just starting out and getting all your initial work developed. Let yourself spend that money - but do some research and find the right people to spend it with. In the years after, you can modify it a bit, as you figure out the methods that work for you, and you discover easier, lower cost methods.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Why you need a marketing budget

One of the things I love about working with entrepreneurs is that they are, very often, incredibly passionate about what they're doing - whether it's creative writing, or personal/business coaching, or making handcrafted organic soaps (you'd be AMAZED how many people make handcrafted organic soaps!). They start their businesses because they think they've stumbled on something great - and they want to share that with the world. This is a beautiful thing.

One of the areas, however, where I constantly notice entrepreneurs getting stuck is that, because they are so passionate about what they do, they pour everything they have into the product or service that they're trying to build a business around, and they scrimp on their marketing efforts, hiring the cheapest designer for their identity and website or - even worse - deciding that they "can't afford" to hire somebody and try to take on the whole shebang themselves. In rare cases, this works out just fine - I was lucky enough when I started the zen kitchen that I was a very capable designer (after all, it's a design studio), and was able to learn a number of things myself fairly quickly. All too often, however, the DIY route doesn't go so well. Oh, sure, the company will do okay - maybe even succeed for several years - but at a certain point, the DIY route proves to be too much work for too few results.

Here's the thing: if you're a designer, your business is design. You've likely spent years learning design, and you know yourself and your intended business well enough (quite often) to do your own marketing and design; and indeed, you should - since it's the best way to show potential clients what you do. But what if you're NOT a designer - what if you're a coach, or a soapmaker, or a writer? Which would you rather be doing - the stuff you're good at and you truly love to do, or learning how to code websites, or use templates, or design logos? And if you've spent the time learning all this, are you satisfied with the result? Does it speak to you and what you do, and does it convey this message clearly to the people who need to hear it?

It's altogether possible that it does. But it's much more likely that it won't. This is why it's important to figure out a marketing budget and spend it on getting the right people to help you market your business - because not only will you get better results, you can take the time you save and spend it on more important things - like, say, running your business and living your dream.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

What should you spend on marketing?

Marketing Profs had a great newsletter recently about budgeting for marketing. The basic point was that every business is different, but you should be able to figure out not only your marketing objectives (how much do you want to make this year? how do you want to reach your market?) but costs for three distinct areas:

  • The one-time start-up expenses (my note: this should include properly positioning and branding your business, as well as creating a website and the basic marketing materials you'll need)

  • Amount needed to successfully market the product (my note: this should include things like monthly advertising, e-mail newsletters, trade shows, etc.)

  • Fixed costs that will be incurred while achieving the objectives. (my note: this should include things like web hosting, e-newsletter services, marketing/salesperson salaries, etc.)

The full newsletter is here.

Dani Nordin featured in The Savvy Girl's Guide to Online Networking

Just got word from Diane Danielson that her new book, The Savvy Gal's Guide to Online Networking (Or What Would Jane Austen Do?) is now available on Amazon - and I'm quoted in Chapter 8. I haven't read it yet (my copy is on the way to me), but I'll share a link to what fellow blogger Wendy Darcy had to say, along with a quote (note: NOT MINE) from the book:

"In some ways, modern networking is no different than what took place in Jane Austen’s novels: it’s important to know many different people, attend a myriad of social events, and, above all else, have proper manners at all times."

The rest of her entry is located here.

It's nice being almost sorta famous!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

How not to offer a greener option - PDFs that won't print

So, when the lovely salesman over at the Boston Business Journal called to offer me a handy-dandy new (and cheaper!) downloadable PDF subscription, I thought, "great! It'll be good for finding leads, and I can just print out individual articles rather than dealing with a whole huge newspaper. What a nifty green option!"

But then I started getting the PDFs. I downloaded a special pass-word protected file, started reading in Acrobat. Found a company that might be a great lead, and went to print the article.

The problem? The page won't print.

That's right - the PDF edition of the Business Journal is specifically set up so you can't edit or reproduce the file in any way - you can't extract specific pages for future reference, you can't print individual pages. You can't even take a screen capture of the page and print it (believe me, I tried). So how are you supposed to remind yourself of the information you gleaned from the paper?

PDFs are a terrific way to offer folks a greener way to subscribe to their favorite magazine; it gives you the ability to enjoy just the parts you love of the magazine without the paper waste and bulk associated with a printed piece. But a publisher (especially of a mammoth publication like the BBJ) should respect how people sort and store information. I don't need all 104 pages of this PDF - I need, MAYBE, five. And I need to be able to store those 5 pages in some way so I can pay more attention to them later, when I'm focused on new business development. So let me print those five pages. I promise I won't sell them.

21 Things you didn't know you can recycle

This morning, Co-Op America sent me a great list of things you may not know you can recycle. I suggest checking it out – among them were two things that I had wondered about for a while: Compact Flourescent Lightbulbs (bring them to an IKEA) and CDs (send them to AuralTech for refinishing).

The full list is available here.

Monday, September 10, 2007

How do you work?

I am, I'll admit it, a bit of a multitasker. Oh, okay - A LOT of a multitasker. And I know that it's bad, and I know that it's less productive, and I know what all the personal productivity experts say - but still, I just can't help myself sometimes. On the other hand, I'm also a compulsive break-taker. I think it started in the years I spent stuck in jobs I hated - I'd be very productive for about 45 minutes, take a 5-10 minute break, then get back to the "salt mines" (read: mindless production work and/or GASP! data entry). And I was fast. And efficient. And my bosses HATED IT.

Now that I work on my own, I still find myself multitasking - and taking a lot of breaks. And for a long time, I have felt really guilty about this habit. I feel like I should be billable. I feel like I should be "working." I understand how my former bosses felt. I feel that way too - about ME.

But tonight (well, the other night by the time I post this), while relaxing in a Maine bed and breakfast waiting for my boyfriend to return from a bachelor party - we're here for a friend's wedding - I noticed something. If I just let my mind switch when it needs to and I don't judge it, I'm actually remarkably productive. Thus far in about three hours, I've completed SEVEN blog entries (which will be posted over the next week or so), made several comprehensive to-do lists and organized them by category (so I can access them more sensibly), finished two testimonials that have been waiting for me to do them for about 2 weeks now, played 2 rounds of BeJeweled, and finished reading a book I started last week.

The difference? I'm relaxed, and when that happens, things flow better. This is the problem with pushing myself to be "productive" all the time - most of the best creative ideas come when you're just chilling out. And now, well, I get to do the creative stuff (almost) exclusively. So I HAVE to relax.

The key, I think, to productivity isn't in how many lists you make, or in doing things the particular way that this or that "expert" recommends - and it's certainly not always in the way that your boss insists that you do it. It's in knowing yourself, and knowing how you work, and making that work for you. From now on, I let myself take the breaks. As long as I can focus when I need to, and break things into manageable bits, I know I'll be just fine.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Make your To-Do's a Ta-Da

So, if you're anything like me, you have a LOT on your plate. And for me, that's not a problem - Until I try to figure out what comes first. Or sort through the ever-growing Generic List of Doom.

Enter Ta-Da List, from the good folks at 37 Signals. It's completely free, and I can actually break everything down into lists and sub-lists, and separate what I've promised to others from what I've promised to myself; I might even do lists for each day of the week to keep in my ongoing file!

What I love about this is that I can actually create long-term lists; i.e. books to read, blog entries to write, etc. - and then I don't have to worry about them right away. They aren't in the "do today" list. And thus are not taunting me with the inevitable weight that Stuff to Do brings with it. Plus, you can log in from anywhere and figure out what you've got to take care of!

I'm just getting started with this thing, but already, I am in love. Much thanks to the Marketing Mix Blog for pointing me to this initially.

Friday, August 31, 2007

What to do with your press releases?

Recently, someone on one of my mailing lists asked our thoughts about submitting releases to places like PR Web, which allows you to submit your press release to thousands of media outlets, sometimes free, but often for a fee.

Writing a release and submitting it to a place like PRWeb can definitely get you SOME traffic; however, I have found that it’s much more effective to create a list yourself, and start making friends with editors.

Some questions to get you started:

  • Who are you trying to reach? How old are they, what level of income/education/etc.

  • What are their interests?

  • What do they read? What shows do they watch/what radio stations are they listening to? What trade magazines might they have subscriptions to?

  • Where are they? Are you looking for local or national?

From there, you should have a pretty good list to start out with. Once you have that, you start looking for contacts. Magazines and newspapers are the easiest – in the first few pages, you should be able to find editor’s names. Give them a call and introduce yourself. Ask if it’s a good time to chat and let them know that you’d like to submit some press releases to their organization, and would they be the person to send them to? What format would they prefer – e-mail, Word Docs, snail mail? Make a note of all this in your contact management software and then, when you have a release that’s perfect for their outlet (make sure it’s newsworthy and something they’d be likely to publish; editors HATE getting press releases that have nothing to do with their magazine/paper), send it to them along with a note saying, “thought you’d be interested in this thing I’m doing; thank you for taking a look!”

It takes a while to do all this, but it’s MUCH more effective than the “spray and pray” approach of places like PRWeb, although using this approach in conjunction with PRWeb would be a good thing – they can get attention from a wide array of outlets you might not have thought of. And mind you, this is just a very basic outline of PR; if you want to REALLY get into this stuff, work with a PR professional that specializes in your type of business. They'll often have contacts that you don't, and you'll save time and stress in the long run, and get better results!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Want to build a great brand? Start with yourself!

The last few weeks have been illuminating (to say the least). In the midst of some personal unpleasantness and the (normal, all-encompassing) stress of running the zen kitchen, I started thinking long and hard about myself, my life, and what I want to do with it.

And I learned a number of things. For one, I'm incredibly good at telling stories - and at helping other professionals tell theirs. I'm great at working with creative professionals, entrepreneurs, and folks who are genuinely passionate about what they do and want to make sure they can do it for a living. Not only that, I am TERRIFIC at helping these people, in some cases, figure out what they love and what they should be making a living out of, and then figuring out how to position them so that they can actually achieve that.

This is my brand. I help people create businesses that align with their passions and values and market them in ways that help them succeed. And sometime tomorrow, I'll think of a cleaner way to say that - but for now, here it is.

And the key to creating these brands is helping these people - often folks that want to make a difference through their work, or who want to follow a particular passion of theirs and turn it into something they can make a good living out of - understand WHAT makes them passionate about this business, WHY they're putting themselves on the line in this way, and WHY it should matter to the people who will, ultimately, determine their success.

So what makes you passionate? What ideas give you that fire in your belly that just won't burn out? I'll bet you can turn that into a business.

Monday, July 23, 2007

That communication thing

This week I've been reminded quite a bit about the importance of communication - not only in business, but in life. So much has been going on at the zen kitchen lately, including a move to Watertown from my 2-year home of Somerville - well - Sunday, that I've run into a number of random communication issues lately, mostly in terms of expectation-setting. What can my clients expect from me? What do I expect from my clients? How can I continue to stay on top of client work and marketing while dealing with some personal drama (which will go unexplored here), planning a move, staying on top of my marketing, and finishing up the last Harry Potter book - which, by the way, is AMAZING?

Right now, I'm not sure quite what the answer is to that question - but it involves sending a lot of e-mail, and setting clear boundaries with friends and clients in terms of when I can be where, and where I can't be/what I can't do. It also involves a great deal of self-reflection and brutal honesty with myself. I'm a people-pleaser by nature, so when someone comes to me with something I can do that will please them, my auto-reaction is to say "yes, sure" and TRY to fit it in, even when I know I can't. The last few weeks have seen some of the first times in my life that I've been able to listen to someone's idea, honestly evaluate it, and say "thank you, but I don't think I'll have time," or "thank you, but I won't be able to fit that into my schedule."

And the best part? The earth didn't fall down. Imagine that!

Friday, July 20, 2007

It's my birthday!

Okay, so - between the fact that I'm moving and other *ahem* stuff going on in the universe of me, I haven't had a chance to post much of late. But I did want to pop in and announce that it is my birthday, and as such, I am taking a short amount of much-needed time off, most of which will be spent reading a certain work of fiction that should reach my doorstep - well - sometime tomorrow.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Monday, July 09, 2007

The power of keeping in touch

So, recently, I got into a very unfortunate and stressful situation that forced me to rethink the way that I do my contracts. In almost 2 years of being in business, I've never had a lawyer (I used LegalZoom to set up the zen kitchen back in January of last year, and haven't really determined what kind of legal needs I'd have; I also had a lawyer ex-boyfriend of mine approve my original contract), and now I needed one - and fairly quickly - because what should have been a fairly straightforward situation turned nasty quicker than I wanted it to.

Enter Jessica Manganello of Exemplar Law in Boston. I met her at a networking event back in Marchish and we kept in touch over the months afterwards. She's been very thoughtful about sending me articles and info about things she knows I'm interested in (I've even blogged about some of the sites she's pointed me to), and when I realized that I needed help with the stuff I'll be dealing with, she was the first person I thought of. We're meeting for lunch tomorrow.

This is the power of keeping in touch - not just on the monthly newsletter level, but on the occasional "just thought of you" level that so many marketers tend to forget about. It's a more personal - and dare I say, feminine - way of marketing, and some folks do it phenomenally well, while others - well? Yeah.

So here's an idea. When you meet someone at an event - Chamber, Women's Business, whatever - find out a bit about them and make a note of it on the back of their card. Put it in your contact management software. Then, if you happen across something that might be interesting to them, pop them a quick e-mail. It's quick, dirt cheap, and can grant you the helpful, thoughtful image that might just get you the sale. Not that hard, is it?

Friday, June 29, 2007

Still got some floppies lying around? Turn them into something!

Remember floppies? They were so cute. But now what are you going to do with them?

Treehugger just had a really cool bit about arts and crafts with floppies, including this nifty notepad, available on Etsy:

I think it's a great idea - not only do you get to keep these puppies out of the landfill, but it's a great tribute to hard-core geeks like (I'll admit, to an extent) me. Heck, I remember 5-1/4s. I might even pick a few of them up for a couple of my more old-school geek friends.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

"I'm sorry I have to leave you now; I've got The Fear."

Lately, I've been reading a lot on the subject of fear. As the zen kitchen gets closer to its second anniversary and things are starting to explode faster than I honestly thought they could, the typical entrepreneur fears - WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!!!! - pop up more frequently than ever, and I have to take a step back now and again to look back at all I've accomplished in the past couple of years in order to actually get through it and be productive.

The funny thing about fear is that, all too often, it's unwarranted. In fact, a recent Yoga Journal article had a great Mark Twain quote that I thought particularly appropriate when it comes to those nagging fears:

I've been through some incredibly horrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.

While I certainly can't say that I've never had bad things happen to me, or that I've never had a real reason to be afraid, but I can honestly say that the majority of the time that I've been deathly afraid of failure in some particular aspect of life/business, the moment I just said "hello" to the fear and did whatever it was anyway, not only did I succeed, I realized that nothing I had feared was nearly as bad/tragic as I thought it was. Then again, I am prone to drama.

The Marketing Mix Blog had an interesting post about just this topic recently. Sherri Loomis of SL4 Design (and oh look - she's a green designer too!) shared her story about the fear of cold calling, something I can't say I don't share with her. It's a short, but good, read.

Just remember one thing about fear - if you're afraid of it, it's probably good for you.

That is, unless it's a guy chasing you down the street with a knife. But really - that doesn't happen that often.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Keys to Blogging Success: Keep it Real

As you probably have guessed by now, I love blogging. And, if I dare say, I'm pretty darn good at it. But not everyone is a great writer, or even enjoys writing. So, should they hire a ghostwriter to blog for them?

It depends. Some folks, like my fellow HOWie Jess Sand from Roughstock Studios, have had success blogging on behalf of clients. Others, like Walmart, have been found out, and thus ostracized from the community they so needed to tap into. The difference? Jess, and others like her, keep it real.

Among other various opinions that have been blogged about the subject, Joan D'Amico's recent post on the Walmart debacle speaks very eloquently about why the Walmart blog failed: a liberal dose of insanely obvious marketing messages.

Nobody wants to read marketing messages in a blog. Nobody. That's not the point of a blog. It's. Just. Not.

The problem with marketers trying to get their hands into the blog space is that they're marketers - this is what they know. They aren't comfortable with just talking about stuff that interests them - they have to turn it into something that will hopefully generate a sale. And this doesn't work with blogs.

Bloggers (and their readers) are looking for some honest, down-to-earth insight from the real people - got something you love to do? Blog about it. Have a rant about some political issue, celebrity mishap, or just want to share some stories from your life? Blog about it. That's what people want to read - real people, dealing with real stuff, and - perhaps - sharing some real life.

This is the new age of marketing - the age of dealing with people as people, and not as demographics, or points on a sales graph. Get used to it.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Some great copywriting advice

So, in running through the backlog of blogs that I've been meaning to catch up on, I came across this great copywriting post from Joan D'Amico's blog, Integrated Marcom Minute. In general, it repeats the point that you should always include the actual keywords you're using in your meta tags in the copy for your site, but it also brings up some interesting points about getting more specific when it comes to Pay Per Click keywords:

Broader search terms drive more traffic to your website--great for brand awareness, but bad for your PPC budget. Here's why...

...Now consider pay-per-click (PPC). If you're using the same general terms as in your keyword list, then you're going to pay for clicks that will never yield any business. Plus, some of the more generic terms are very expensive and highly competitive--the only way to get a page-one position is to bid more.

Consider PPC words and phrases that are more specific to your product or service. The goal is to get more conversions. And that doesn't necessarily mean going with the most expensive terms. Instead of apple or Macintosh apple, try "Macintosh apples for baking" or "best apples for pies."

For the full article, visit Joan's blog. And stay a while to check out some of the other stuff, too.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Logo Design Faux Pas: Copying a well-known brand

Yesterday after my evening yoga class at Healthworks in Porter Square, I stopped into Cambridge Naturals to pick up a yoga bolster and a quick snack to tide me over after my workout. While I was at the counter, grabbing a few Flavor+Fiber bars (man, the chocolate brownie flavor is good), I tried a quick sample of Foods Alive Golden Flax Crackers and was instantly hooked. They're quick, crunchy, really healthy and insanely good. I tell you, this is my new PMS food - HANDS DOWN.

Unfortunately, they also have THIS as their brand:
Target logo, anyone?

See that thing on the left hand side? That's their logo. Recognize it from anywhere?

Yep - it's Target's logo with some text over it. And even if it wasn't, what's the concept behind this? What does a bullseye have to do with crackers made of flax seed?

Now, mind, I don't mean any of this as a diminishment of the company - they produce a, frankly, amazing product and one that I really want to see on the market for a very long time. But this is the reason why cheap/do-it-yourself design so often fails; because designers are paid to make sure that what they design is unique and appropriate to each business they deal with, and often that means looking around to make sure that what they're thinking of hasn't been used by someone else. When you're doing it yourself for your own business, too often you end up with quick solutions that are either boring, don't really speak to your business does, or in some extreme cases, look exactly like another company's logo. I won't get into some of the other controversies surrounding other "cheap" logo services; those have been long rehashed by the design community, and I can't add anything that hasn't already been said by about four different people.

So what to do about this? I sent the company a quick and friendly note letting them know about the faux pas and thanking them for making such a great snack. Aside from that, there's not much left other than hoping that they find someone to create a more original identity for them.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

How do you start your days?

Lately I've had ritual on my mind - a routine, something to shape my days into something that can accommodate the incredible amount of work involved in running the zen kitchen. The hardest part is balancing all the different activities - between a growing roster of clients requiring my attention, attending to everyday administrative work and marketing stuff, and - well - having a life, some days I end up feeling enormously unproductive, even when I'm constantly busy.

That's what got me thinking when I read this post on the Marketing Mix blog, one of my favorite online haunts. Everyone's ritual is different, to be sure, but I was intrigued by the idea of having a set of activities that you do every morning aside from the typical "get up, take shower, brush teeth, fart around on e-mail for an hour" routine. Especially working from home as I do, that lack of separation can be deadly for productivity.

So now, I think I've discovered a routine that works for me. For one thing, I find that I'm most productive if I get up before 9 am (I know - there are some of you out there that will HATE me for saying that!). Any later, and the day just falls apart on me. Also important is the daily stretch, 5 minutes of quiet time/meditation before getting out of bed, and a cup of green tea with breakfast. Oh, and shower. Must have a shower. Then I go into my office, close the door (this has turned out to be vital), light a stick of green tea incense and a candle at my desk, and breathe for a moment before I start my day. I also take a look at the day's priorities and thank my lucky stars that I get to do what I love for a living.

Thus far, after a couple of months with this new ritual (almost!) daily, I've noticed an incredible spike not only in productivity, but in how I FEEL while I'm working. It's amazing; I can always tell when I've missed a piece of it, because my productivity drops right down to the floor.

So how do you start your day?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Avoiding "Green Marketing Myopia"

In a followup to my recent post about whether being green is enough of a reason to hire someone or buy a product, I happened across this great article on what the author calls "avoiding green marketing myopia."

In other words, people won't buy a product JUST because it's green. They have to LIKE it, too. So your marketing messaging should, yes, include credible information on how/why your product is green, but it also has to answer the ultimate consumer question: "what's in it for me?"

A quick excerpt:

Green marketing must satisfy two objectives: Improved environmental quality and customer satisfaction. Misjudging either or overemphasizing the former at the expense of the latter is what can be called "green marketing myopia."

In 1960, Theodore Levitt introduced the concept of "marketing myopia" in a famous Harvard Business Review article that is still studied by business students. In it, he characterized the common pitfall of companies' tunnel focus on "managing products" (i.e., product features, functions, and efficient production) rather than "meeting customers' needs" (i.e., adapting to consumer expectations, anticipating future desires).

Levitt warned that a corporate preoccupation with products rather than consumer needs was doomed to failure because consumers select products and new innovations that offer benefits they desire.

Similarly, many green products have failed because of marketers' myopic focus on their products' "greenness" over the broader expectations of consumers or other market players (such as regulators or activists).

You can read the full article here. It's really quite interesting.

So what are your thoughts on the subject?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Dani sightings: I'm in HOW!

Okay, so it's not a HUGE mention, but I'm there: on page 80, in the article called In the Greener Good,, I'm one of the various experts (I guess I'm an expert, anyway) that author Roberta Cruger quotes on the topics of green design and building a greener studio. Not too shabby!

The only quick correction I should note is that I'm not in Northampton, I'm in Somerville, and soon to be in Watertown (August 1st, baby!). But that's okay - Northampton rocks.

Holistic Marketing: look at the whole picture

There are a TON of marketing ideas out there. More of them crop up every single day, and every single one of them will work for somebody, somewhere. But should you hop on every last thing just because it's hot? Do you REALLY NEED a viral marketing campaign with some goofball doing something ridiculous in the name of your company? Do you really need a blog, or an e-zine, or a web forum, etc.?

I'll tell you a secret: you don't need ALL of it. What you NEED is to do some soul-searching and find out what will actually WORK for you. This is what I call holistic marketing; it's looking at the whole picture of your business, and of you as a business owner or marketing manager. By doing some of that internal work before jumping on the next hot marketing trend, you can save yourself some serious time and money.

When it comes down to it, there is no single marketing "magic bullet." In order to really get the marketing thing down, you have to come at it from different angles, and you need to spend time really looking at yourself, your business, and your capabilities to determine what those specific angles should be.

For example, when I started the zen kitchen, I knew certain things about myself, and about the business I wanted to create:

  1. I didn't want to spend a ton of money on marketing (since seriously, I didn't have a lot of money, and I have the added advantage of actually BEING able to do my own design work)

  2. I REALLY didn't want to spend a lot of money on direct mail pieces that were just going to get trashed anyway; although I do a couple of key mailers (for example, holiday cards), regular direct mail pieces involve too many resources for too little return in my line of work

  3. I really love talking to people, I'm not remotely shy, and I love writing.

  4. I spend entirely too much time on the Internet.

Given all these things, it was important to do as much of my marketing online and in-person as possible. So now my "marketing mix" (I actually prefer the word "toolkit" myself) includes regular mentions, listings and articles on various sites, networking with local businesses, being generally helpful on forums and listservs, this blog (of course!) and my newsletter, along with keeping thoughtful contact with folks in my network, and a yearly holiday card. And all of these have gotten me as much business as I can handle - and I never know where clients will come from. I now have an equal balance of people calling me based on my various online appearances and people that I connect with personally and keep in touch with.

Now, is this what you should do for your business? It could be. But if, for example, you're insanely busy with all that you're doing already and your hair is ready to fall out, you might not be ready to go as hard-core online as I have. And if you hate to write, you're not going to be motivated to keep up a blog. And in certain industries with certain businesses, other, more traditional marketing activities might work better - some businesses, for example, do actually really need printed brochures. Others (for example mine) really don't.

The point is to do some thinking while you create your overall marketing picture:
  • What do I actually enjoy doing? Can I build any of that into my marketing?

  • if I am looking at all of these lovely online opportunities, who do they seem to work for? Does it look like something that would work for my business? Are there any other businesses like mine doing the same thing?

  • Do I really have the time/energy to devote to this?

  • Is this something that I'll enjoy doing? This is especially important for online marketing efforts; blogs, for example, take a while to get really going and working for you, and you have to commit to it.

Happy marketing!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Here's a networking tip: give away FEWER cards

When I first started the zen kitchen back in January of last year, I was a networking FOOL. I went to every event I could get my hands on, from BNI to the Boston Women's Network, to various other events that landed in my e-mail box with rather obnoxious frequency.

Some events worked really well for me - for example, I love dinner events and discussion groups, partially because I love to eat and I love to talk (can ya tell?). Overly crowded events don't really work for me - especially when it's all drinks and no food (why would you give people alcohol and not FEED THEM?) and goodness help me - morning events just do not work for me. I don't know about you, but I didn't go into business for myself to wake up THAT early.

But the more events I went to, the more I found that I was giving away insane numbers of business cards with no results. My first box of 500 was gone within 3 months - some might call that normal, but I call it wasteful - especially when half of those cards were the result of the common practice of some events (no names will be given here) to make you pass around your business cards to as many people as you can without talking to them first.

After a while, it gets expensive - and wasteful. How many business cards that you get in this manner do you actually ever keep, or feel remotely comfortable contacting after the fact? For me, the point of networking is to get to know people, and determine whether you'd like to get to know them more. That first conversation is like a first date - you're feeling each other out to see if there's a good fit.

Now, before I give my business card to anyone, I chat with them for at least 5-10 minutes to make sure they're someone I even want to keep in touch with. During that first conversation, I'm looking for four key things:

  1. are they doing something I find interesting, and would like to know more about?

  2. are they someone I get along with personally (good conversation, likable, common interests, etc.)? I'd really rather not lock myself into extended contact with someone that I find boring and/or just a jerk, thanks.

  3. are they someone that I can help in some way, either by working for them or providing some type of resource?

  4. are they someone who might be able to give you work at some point, either for their business, or for someone they know? This is a special bonus, although I've learned it's not REQUIRED by any means as long as the first two are in place.

The reason I say that the last is not required is because, honestly, anyone COULD give you work at some point, and often I find that I'd rather take time getting to know people that I really get along with who are doing interesting things than people whose only attraction for me is the fact that they're working for a company I'd like to work with...if I don't like them, I won't want to work with them.

Once I've done a mini-prequal on them and I've decided they're someone I want to know, THEN I exchange cards and ask if I can sign them up for my newsletter. I also tend to write a little note on the back to remember things about them - interests they might have, family members, things we might have talked about. The next day, I follow up right away with the folks I had a really good connection with or the folks I wanted to share resources with, and I load the business cards into my contact management software, then add the folks who agreed to be on the list to my e-mail news list.

Doing things this way, I use nearly 1/3 of the cards as I did with the previous method, and my networking efforts have been significantly more successful. Not only does this mean less paper waste and printing expense (which makes me SO very happy), it's less time and energy wasted - which, as a REALLY BUSY GAL of late, has proven just wonderful. The "more money, less work" thing is nice too.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

More E-mail Marketing: Getting Those Names

As a followup to my recent e-mail marketing post, I wanted to share some more e-mail marketing goodness with you. In a recent discussion on the HOW Forum, one of my fellow HOWies, c55 from Saltline Studio (who's right on the Cape - yay!), was wondering how to get more folks signed up for their studio's e-newsletter.

Now, when I first started the zen kitchen's newsletter in March of last year, I had about 120 names on the list - mostly folks that I had culled from the insane business card collection I'd been amassing over the previous few months since opening my studio that January. Previous and current clients, select friends and industry contacts also got put onto the list. Since then the list has grown to about 280 names at last count; still pretty modest, but it grows every month, just in folks who sign up on the site directly, and I've been quite pleased with the growth. Personally, I think it's the recipes (tee!). And I'll also mention that, since the list is small and has grown organically, I have a pretty phenomenal open rate - 40-50% on average, with plenty of clickthroughs (especially with the new format!). The key, I find, is quality, NOT quantity.

Now, how do you start growing the list organically with a good balance of contacts who add themselves and contacts that you add from your networking adventures? There are a few ways that work for me.

In terms of getting folks to sign up, it's important to let folks know what they're getting and how often they're getting it. In networking events, after I've chatted with the person a bit and determined whether they're someone I want to keep in touch with, I say, "do you mind if I keep in touch with you through my monthly e-mail newsletter? It has a case study, some notes from my blog and a free recipe from my own kitchen!" It's incredibly rare that someone doesn't say "yes" (I tell you, it's the recipes!). If, by some chance, I forget to ask them if they'd like to be signed up, I ask in my follow-up e-mails, or if I've sent a newsletter recently, I'll actually forward it to them with an invitation to sign up. Most of the time, you'll find that this practice works just fine - especially if they're someone you got along well with.

In terms of getting them to sign up on the site, you should NEVER, I mean NEVER EVER, have just a little box that says "sign up for our newsletter!" They just don't work. If people don't know what they're getting, and can't figure out whether they WANT to receive it or not, they won't bother signing up. My signup box includes a brief description of the newsletter, and the newsletter signup page has a more detailed description of the newsletter and a call to sign up. Since making the change on the new site, I've seen a significant increase in signups.

Also, feel free to collect more information from the signups (I definitely recommend at least first/last name, company and title, as well as snail mail address for additional marketing if it's deemed appropriate), but don't make it all mandatory for signup. The only thing that you REALLY need is the name and e-mail address; the other stuff is just really good gravy.

Another key way to get more signups is to just be visible - go onto forums where your audience (or hey - your friends!) are hanging out. Make comments on blog posts. Upgrade your e-mail signature. And on all of it, make sure that folks are able to visit your site from your post/e-mail and sign up for the newsletter. I even invite folks to sign up for it in my e-mail signature. In time, you'll build a solid, well-qualified list (and yes, a fair share of folks who are just tagging along for the free info - but I don't mind them. Heck, it's not like it costs me extra if they get my e-mail too!).

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Green Design Dialogues at Green Options

Green Design Dialogues on Green Options

Recently, myself and a bunch of other designers got together for Green Design Dialogues, an article series that my fellow HOWie Megan Prusynski is putting together for the green blog Green Options.

Along with myself, Bryn Mooth from HOW magazine, Eric Benson from renourish. Eric Karjaluoto from smashLAB and Design Can Change, Jess Sand from Roughstock Studios, and Megan talked about our experiences with green design, as well as our thoughts on where design needs to go in order to really head in the right direction.

A quick excerpt from the article:

Each designer's journey to sustainability is unique, and we've all had our stumbling blocks along the way. We discussed that each person approaches green living and green design differently, making different tradeoffs and decisions. It was certainly apparent to all of us that our industry was changing, and the green design movement was certainly getting traction. Eric K suggested that the surge of interest in green design stems from An Inconvenient Truth. What began as a grassroots movement has become a mainstream dialogue that is leading to action and change.

Check out the full article here.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

E-mail Marketing 101: Mistakes to Avoid

A number of folks I know have started to get into e-mail marketing for their own businesses, some with better results than others. Those who get the zen kitchen's newsletter know that, while it's not the only thing I do to promote the studio, I'm a big fan of e-mail marketing; it's an easy, cheap and effective way of keeping in touch with a growing base of people who care about your business so that, when they do eventually need your services, you'll be top of mind.

If done right, and e-mail newsletter provides value to the reader in a way that doesn't intrude on their time, and helps them get to know you much quicker than the traditional "cold calls, several coffee meetings and occasional e-mails to each of 50 people I'm trying to court right now" route. If done badly, however, you can lose readers, get lost in SPAM filters, or what's worse, completely embarrass yourself. Here are a couple of quick mistakes to avoid when crafting your e-zine.

Mistake #1: a nondescript subject line, or none at all.
Your subject line should give the reader a clue of what's inside; on my newsletter, for example, I usually give a 2-word description of the blog entries I'm featuring along with the name of the recipe and a case study name, if I'm doing a case study that much. Whatever you do, don't ignore the subject line; it's a sure-fire ticket into most SPAM filters, and you risk readers getting annoyed or deleting your e-mail without reading.

Mistake #2: using Outlook or a personal e-mail program to send mass messages.
There are so many problems inherent with doing this it's almost too long to list. For one, many programs set limits on how many addresses you can send to; it's not too bad for 10-12 people, but at 50 names and up you're risking e-mails getting lost in transit. Additionally, programs like Outlook and Lotus Notes often don't have intuitive ways to hide the e-mail addresses of recipients; if you aren't savvy, this automatically creates the potential for readers to not only request OFF your list, but to be really aggressively mad at you. People are very protective of their privacy; respect that and they'll respect you.

For my newsletter, I use Constant Contact; not only are they local to me (an acquaintance of mine in Saugus, MA works for them, in fact), but they have reasonable prices, easy-to-modify templates, and they take care of all the list-management stuff for me, make sure the e-mail gets to the recipients, and they send each e-mail individually, which means that there's no list of addresses floating around. Plus they have really cool tracking features that help you figure out how successful your e-mail campaign was - last month's newsletter, in fact, seemed to be the most successful yet, as I had launched the new tzk website and changed the format of the newsletter to something shorter. I've also heard wonderful things about Emma (which, for those of you who are designers yourselves, offers a really cool "Emma Agency" feature I just found out about for sending campaigns for your clients - something I'll definitely have to look into).

Mistake #3: Having a FROM field that isn't a real person.
People want to open e-mails from people they know. Having a FROM field that reads "Sell your house NOW" is, frankly an instant ticket to the SPAM folder. You have two options that work well for the FROM name: one, which I personally use, is name and phone number (this makes it really easy for clients to recognize who it's from and reminds them to call me to chat about their project); the other, which also works well, is [business] newsletter. You can also do the name of the newsletter, which works especially well if you have different kinds of newsletters to send.

Mistake #4: stressing out about folks who unsubscribe.
When I had my first two unsubscribes on the zen kitchen newsletter, I'll admit I was a bit bummed. Did I do something wrong? Did I offend someone? Nowadays, I'm much more relaxed about it; the list has grown from about 118 folks in March of last year to 272 at today's count; and of that total, about 40-50% actually open the e-mails when I send them (which is pretty darn good for e-mail marketing, from what I've heard), and maybe one or two unsubscribe each month.

Unsubscribes, honestly, are a fact of e-mail marketing; while it's important to keep an eye on who takes themselves off the list to make sure they aren't someone you REALLY want to be marketing to (that's a sure sign you need to fix up the newsletter), most of the folks who unsubscribe are either really busy and need to pare down some of the things they subscribe to (as I do periodically) or they're people that aren't really in your target anyway. Don't worry so much about it. Rule of thumb: if you get more than about 1% of your list taking themselves off after a series of mailings, it's time to revamp the newsletter.

Mistake #5: no call to action.
This is a biggie - after all, this is a MARKETING piece, remember? Your newsletter really shouldn't be too sales-y (unless, of course, you're having a sale!), but it should have some easily-located info that helps the reader figure out a) what you do, b) why they should work with you, and c) how they can get the process started. And it should be brief; on my newsletter, the call to action is a total of two sentences at the end of the intro, along with a brief "about the zen kitchen" blurb that repeats the call to action at the bottom. That seems to work very well for me.

Mistake #6: making it a pain to get off the list.
I see this a lot with big corporate newsletters and with nightclub/discussion list newsletters, and it annoys the heck out of me: it's these lists that require you to either a) log into an "account" to get off the list, or b) CONFIRM your unsubscription by clicking a link in another e-mail. If someone wants off the list, let them off. Don't send them more e-mail asking them if they're SURE they want off; just let them off. You'll make a lot more friends that way.

Mistake #7: buying a list, or putting folks on your list who haven't agreed to be on there.
It's very tempting to take the "spray and pray" approach to e-mail marketing by purchasing a list of 600 strangers and sending them all your newsletter (and I'm sure they're dying to read it; really). But the reality is that doing things that way will upset more people than it's worth; not to mention that it puts you at risk for excessive SPAM reports, which will put you out of commission faster than you can click "unsubscribe." The same goes with adding the folks from all those business cards you collected at that BNI meeting you attended; if you haven't chatted with them for more than a minute, and you haven't specifically asked them if they'd like to be added to your list, don't bother.

Now, this doesn't mean you should just throw away all those business cards you got at the networking event you attended. Take a look at them and see if they're folks you want to keep in touch with; if they are, send them a quick e-mail thanking them for giving you their business card, introduce your business a bit and invite them to join the newsletter list. You'd be surprised how many people are happy to sign up.

There's certainly more to e-mail marketing than just these mistakes; my buddy Neil Tortorella has a good primer for getting started with the e-mail THANG. And if you have any questions about how you can improve your e-mail marketing, feel free to drop me a line sometime.