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.