One of the key mistakes small businesses make when creating an online presence is trying to do it all themselves, says Jeff Fisher, a graphic designer with 30 years experience, and author of two books on graphic design. Fisher also is a member of the advisory boards for How Magazine, UCDA Designer Magazine and the How Design Conference.
"I always tell business owners do not try this at home," he says. "Hire a professional who knows what they are doing. It does not need to cost a fortune, but there will be tremendous benefit in bringing in someone who really understands how to create what a business needs to get off on the right foot."
His suggestions for finding a professional include:
-Check out designer portfolios online.
-Contact local design schools, universities or community colleges for recommendations of outstanding students who may be able to help for monetary compensation and possible school credit.
-Some college business programs have outreach programs to assist small businesses in marketing and promotion efforts.
-Research the resources available through the Small Business Administration. If your business has a service or product of value to a design professional, consider bartering or a partial trade of equal value.
Remember, that the initial online impression made with a potential customer can make all the difference; the cost of the online presence is an investment in the future of your business, says Fisher.
The Portland, Oregon graphic designer, writer and speaker hails from a family with deep roots in PR and marketing; his father, mother and sister have all had careers in some aspect of the business. In fact it was his sister, who owns an ad agency, who helped Fisher zone in on the aspect of graphic design he enjoyed most at a time when he was experiencing burnout.
"For about the first 17 years of my career I took on any and all design projects that came my way," he explains. "I thought that was what graphic designers were expected to do. In a conversation with my sister I mentioned I was starting to get burned out by my work. Her comment was, Why aren't you focusing on what you enjoy most? I kind of looked at her with a blank stare and she said, Logo designs."
That was when he adopted the business name Jeff Fisher LogoMotives and began marketing himself primarily as a designer of corporate identities.
Although his customers typically find him these days, Fisher has a lot of ideas about what works and does not work with small business marketing. For example, he avoids paid traditional print advertising and Yellow Page advertising.
"I learned that print advertising was simply not effective in marketing my services," Fisher says. While Yellow Page advertising, "tends to bring designers too many tire kickers looking for services based on price only."
Strategies that have worked for Fisher include:
-Press releases, distributed online and through traditional snail mail. The relationships developed with editors and writers over the years are incredibly valuable to a business.
-Writing also has become a major marketing element for my business, Fisher admits, mentioning he has been asked to write numerous articles for design and business publications and websites.
-Two books, The Savvy Designer's Guide to Success: Ideas and tactics for a killer career released in 2004, and Identity Crisis: 50 redesigns that transformed stale identities into successful brands, in 2007 have earned him the status of industry expert.
-Business blog, bLog-oMotives, started in 2005.
-Speaking Engagements - Fisher speaks to high school groups, design schools, colleges and universities, design organizations and at conferences like the industry HOW Design Conference.
-Pro bono work - While such efforts might now be considered marketing by many, it does get my name out into the business community, puts me in contact with many local movers and shakers, and provides an opportunity to promote the end results.
-One direct mail-piece long ago generated a targeted, self-created list of 500 individuals so powerful that Fisher has not needed to do a mailing since.
Like many small business owners, Fisher prefers low-cost - or no-cost - marketing tools. He has even managed to turn some of them, like the writing of articles and books and speaking engagements into income-producing activities.
"With my writing, and speaking engagements, my business is also evolving into one of becoming a professional industry expert while taking on limited design projects," Fisher said. "At a design conference a few years ago I explained to an audience that I wanted to work less, charge more."
Marcia Ming, publisher of Savvy Marketing Secrets, is a former print journalist and small business marketing consultant. To learn more about marketing your business online and off, visit her website: savvymarketingsecrets.com