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Everyone Loves a Resource, Better Yet a Free-Source

Whether you’re a freelancer still relishing that first box of business cards sporting your name, an in-house designer with a limited budget or a small business owner taking a DIY approach to cut the ad spending, everyone needs resources for quality fonts, images and design inspiration. And what’s better than resources… free sources.

After scouring my email newsletters and RSS feeds recently for some quick and easy — and better yet, cheap — solutions to solve a recent design dilemma, I discovered a few fun sites that I want to share. For the sake of good karma, and a possible bone the next time I need one, I shall lay them before you.

Findicons.com

This site made my day. I was working on a design for a client and needed to find a more customized look for their social media icons. I would have loved to use the same clever bottle cap images shown on their website. But their developer was unavailable and I hadn’t the time to design them from scratch. In a twist of fate or luck or answered prayer I discovered findicons.com. Would you believe I found the exact icons I needed? True story.

Perks:  Over 300,000 icons on the site. Enter a search term and your off. Easily download in multiple formats.
Pains:  Mostly web-resolution icons, not always great for print. But if the finished size is small it should work.
Pocketbook:  FREE, gotta love that.

Dafont.com

I may have mentioned this site before but it bears repeating. Dafont has hundreds of decent typefaces that are free to download. You’re not going to find Adobe, Linotype and ITC living at this address. Those are type foundries. They make their living designing the highest quality fonts for a multitude of professional uses. And they’re fabulous. But, if you’re looking for some funky grunge font for a t-shirt design, or quirky dingbats for a company holiday party invite, this is a great place to start.

Perks:  Creative, wild and unusual designs live here. Sometimes you just need some inspiration. If they don’t have what you’re looking for the website syncs with myfonts.com and fonts.com to search the foundary databases.
Pains:  Scrolling through pages can get tedious, and the search function is limited.
Pocketbook:  FREE, but read the fine print as some are intended for personal use only, not commercial.

GraphicLeftovers.com

Every designer has at some point, searched for royalty free images. They used to cost hundreds of dollars and come with strict stipulations on when, where and for how long they can be used. And if the project warrants it, professional photographic stock or custom work is a great option. But most of us are digging through the coin jar when the boss asks for a nice image for the company newsletter…or make that two photos and two vector graphics that can also be used to promote the winter carnival on event posters and the Facebook page. Enter low-cost stock image sites.

I’ve long been a lover of istockphoto.com, and continue to recommend that resource. But this is my latest playground. And like a new cocktail I’m anxious to share the recipe with my friends and see what you can think.

Perks: Royalty vectors and images from hundreds of sources means a lot of variety. Like shopping in a new store, the styles are different and it’s fun to look around. The finished product is high-resolution, professional art.
Pains: It’s member based, so I’ve only been window shopping thus far. But it appears to be free membership.
Cost: Ok it’s not free, but priced in increments from $1 to $20 I think even Scrooge would call this a bargain.

 
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Posted by on January 17, 2012 in Design, Resources

 

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How to Build Your Small Business Brand on Twitter

Do you have a small business? Have you thought about expanding your social media brand on Twitter, but you could use a few tips to get started? As a small business owner I’ve come to appreciate the power of Twitter as a form of marketing. But more importantly, I’ve discovered the secret to building brand success lies in how you use Twitter.

I’ve been sharing my Twitter tips with small business clients because I think it’s an immensely powerful tool if used correctly. Since I believe marketing can be a D.I.Y. skill, I’m going to share some of these tips with you too.

10 Tips to Build Your Small Business Brand on Twitter

1. Logo is the Way to Go

Like all forms of marketing, social media is an opportunity for you to build your brand image. Your logo is the face of that brand. If your twitter account is representing your business, use your logo as the profile pic (aka avatar). Remember, your twitter avatar is tiny. Don’t make the mistake of choosing a detailed picture of your product, seaside location or your dog in a bowtie. Save that for a creative ad campaign where we can make out the details.

2. Consistency is Key

It’s confusing to your followers when you change your business avatar like a runway model in a fashion show. Remember your avatar appears in a constant stream of icons on your follower’s feed. It should stand out and be recognizable to them. A loyal follower may be scanning their feed to see what clever remarks or customer special you’re offering. If they’re searching in vain for the avatar you used last week you’ve just lost a point of contact, and possibly a follower.

3. Don’t Fear the Unknown

Twitter is a great place to follow and be followed by strangers. Unlike on a personal Facebook account, on Twitter anyone can follow you. That’s the nature of the medium, so go with it. When you receive a follower, follow them back if they are legit. And don’t be afraid to chat with a total stranger. They might become a huge ambassador for your brand.

4. Follow Your Yellow Brick Road

Everyone has a different approach when it comes to following on Twitter. My personal strategy is to find and follow businesses and people in four categories: my region, my interests, my customers, and my followers. Start by following other local businesses. It is a great way to connect with your community. Then search Twitter for topics of interest to you and those that affect your business. Next, look for your customers on Twitter so you can build that relationship. And finally follow back those who follow you. They are obviously interested in what you have to say, so why not reciprocate? If you discover their tweets are not what you’d hoped you can always unfollow.

5. Hashtags Help

If you’re on Twitter, you must speak in the native tongue. And that means hashtags. Whether you choose to use them or just follow them is up to you. For the true beginner, a hashtag is any phrase that is preceded with a #. The phrase must appear with no spaces and the # sign first.

Find out what hashtags your industry is using, and add them into your tweets. There are local hashtags like #TCMI for Traverse City, Michigan, industry hashtags like #Marketing and #Design, and niche groups that gather to share ideas, frustrations and links. Places like #youmightbeanautismparentif is where parents of autistic children unite. Searching through hashtags is a great way to find new followers and engage with those who share your passion.

6. No Pushing

If you’re considering using Twitter for your small business I’m going to go out on a limb and guess you already have a business Facebook page. And you may have discovered you can push your Facebook posts automatically to Twitter. That sounds like a great idea. Two birds with one stone, right? Not in my opinion.

These shortened posts, which often end in broken sentences followed by a link to Facebook are not the same as posting your content on Twitter. It’s an illusion, and your tweeps (Twitter peeps) are quick to realize you’re not really there. Would you use an automated system to call your customers with news about their account, new products or events? No, because you aren’t there to answer their questions. The same standard applies here. If you’re not really there, people will know. And more importantly they’ll turn their attention somewhere else.

So what can you do to post content to both Facebook and Twitter in an expedient way? Check-out HootSuite and TweetDeck. These are online tools (and apps) that allow you to post to multiple social media channels. Using their dashboard you can cater your messages to each platform and audience.

7. Please and Thank You

Twitter is all about recognition. People and brands love to see their @name in the Mentions column. The trick is to acknowledge, engage and thank your followers as often as possible. And your brand will grow. But don’t be disingenuous. The point is to get involved with your audience by responding to their questions, commenting on their content and thanking your followers when they have mentioned you. A great way to start this tradition is with #FollowFriday or #FF.

On Fridays you’ll notice a slew of posts that are filled with @mentions and a hashtag or two. That’s a Follow Friday post. It’s Twitter’s version of a shout-out. Some people choose to fill their post with random names from their follower list. Some repeatedly offer #FF to the same group of tweeps. I think the most successful #FF posts are when you choose one brand or person to mention and offer up a reason why someone should follow them. It’s sincere, it’s focused, and it’s helpful to those of us who don’t know them.

8. Tweet and Re-Tweet

If you made it #8 on my list you’re serious about building your small business on Twitter. So this point is critical. Tweet good content and re-tweet that of others.

Twitter is, by far, my best resource for industry related news, events and articles online. Find and follow people and brands who are sharing great content that would matter to your followers. Then re-tweet it. If you’re sharing a link that you found through someone you follow, give them the credit of a RT (re-tweet). You can do this automatically, or add your own twist on the tweet and add “via @mention” to the end. RTs will earn more followers and encourage your followers to share your content.

9. Critical Response

Many small businesses shy away from social media platforms because they fear criticism. They imagine customer complaints posted out there for everyone to read, and spread like lice in a kindergarten. But the truth is, as scary as it is, social media is the perfect place to deal with criticism head on. You might be surprised with the results.

When I first started Twitter I had just launched my new iPhone app, Traverse Traveler. I was excited to see followers in my area. Those whom I followed were beginning to find me and comment on the app. And then one day I opened my feed to find a follower complaining about why I didn’t have specific listings on the app. I feared the worst and figured they were unhappy with our product and would continue to share their unhappiness with the world through Twitter. So I put on my big girl pants, took a deep breath and responded to the tweet. I explained that the businesses in question hadn’t yet listed on the app, but I would see what I could do to get them involved. I received an immediate response thanking me for answering the question. And a few weeks later, when said businesses did list, I was able to contact that follower with the news. What appeared to be a customer unhappy with our product has become a follower who gladly promotes us to family and friends.

How you respond to criticism and complaints will speak loudly to the online community. If you ignore them, they tend to perpetuate and spread. Or you’ll confirm their fears…that you just don’t care. Responding to complaints on Twitter directly, and offering assistance shows your brand is involved. You do care. And you are willing to work with your customers.

10. Lurk, Listen and Join In

Twitter is one of those weird places where voyeurism is encouraged. It’s like one giant coffee shop where people are chatting about hundreds of topics and you can sit and listen. But the best part is, without warning or misstep you can join in. It’s encouraged in most cases. Ever wish you could be two places at once? I’ve followed the hashtag for two different conferences occurring at the same time three time-zones apart and felt like I was there. I’ve cheered on the Detroit Red Wings, commiserated with Apple fans when Steve Jobs died, and made many new friends on Twitter that I’ve yet to meet in person.

Just remember one thing: You Must Be Present to Win

This is the big one. Twitter moves too quickly to watch from the sidelines. It’s not a spectator sport. If you want to build a brand on Twitter you’ve got to get in the game. You need to BE there. Following the steps above will help you establish a brand, but to build it and make it successful you have to get involved.

Do you have a small business on Twitter? Share some of your tips for Twitter success in the comments below. And by all means, follow me on Twitter at @TraverseTravelr !

 

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Steve Jobs: A Talisman for the Creative Soul

I was surprised by the depth of my sadness upon learning of the death of Steve Jobs. It’s often not until we lose something that we realize how much it meant. I bear no relation to Steve. Never worked for him, or met him, or had any connection to him directly. And yet I was overcome with grief that October morning when all the world was a chatter about his life, his influence and his passing. So what was it that allowed a stranger to touch so many of us so profoundly?

He was a talisman.

What is a talisman? According to the dictionary.com app (conveniently accessed on my iPhone), a talisman can be defined as, “anything whose presence exercises a remarkable or powerful influence on human feelings or actions.” Powerful. Remarkable. Influencial. I’d say that’s about right.

Macintosh Classic | Photo by Alexander Schaelss

I’m Mac loyal to the core. Pun intended. When I was in elementary school my aunt worked for Apple as a sales representative to the school districts. So I was lucky enough to have my very own Macintosh Classic at a pretty young age. While all the other kids were staring at black screens with a flashing green cursor I had a little gray box that could speak! I learned to type in class on a manual typewriter whose keys had to be struck with fortissimo effort. But at home I practiced in soft silence on my Mac.

When I was in high school my commercial art class taught us about composition, type and colors. But we were creating everything by hand. It was my after school meetings with a local screen-printer that I learned how to create illustrations on a Mac. Working one hour or two a week with programs like Aldus Freehand I learned to guide a mouse across a foam pad and end up with art.

In college most students had to go to the library or the computer lab for access to word processing programs. But I brought my trusty Mac to Albion College freshman year. When exams were around the corner, and final papers were due you’d think we had a revolving door installed. Everyone wanted to borrow my Mac. Another Apple fanboy souped up my loading screen with the grayscale image of two jets accompanied by music from Top Gun and the text, “when you feel the need for speed!” Wasn’t that the truth.

That Mac Classic made it through four years of college. When I was ready for something bigger, another Mac of course, we passed the Classic on to an elderly friend named Cowboy, so he could write his memoirs to share his life-story with the next generation. When he passed on, it went to my great auntie Mar with the same intent. And on, and on it went.

Do you know, that Mac never had a virus. No black-screen-of-death. I think it might have lived forever. I’m still hoping to track it down and find out.

In college I took a job for the communications department and began learning the basics of graphic design, even though all of our collateral at the time was still produced by hand with paste-up. We literally used a machine that applied wax to paper so we could paste text, photos and art to a page. This was then photographed, printed to films and offset print on huge machines. But we set our type in PageMaker on a Mac. That was the beginning of the digital age in graphic design. From there technology started to take giant leaps forward with the internet, email, zip-disks, CD-Rom, and on, and on.

I realized so much of my creative work has been influenced by the powerful inventions of Steve Jobs and his team at Apple. I learned to draw on a Mac. I began to appreciate and use typography on a Mac. Thanks to the amazing world of iProducts I listen to music, store and edit photos and movies all on a iMac. And last but not least, I have expanded my business because of a unique invention called the app made famous on perhaps Apple’s greatest invention: the iPhone.

I think it’s fair to say Steve Jobs was a talisman for the creative souls in this world. It is with parting sorrow that I thank you Steve. Thank you for your innovation, inspiration, dedication and your legacy. It extends far beyond the companies you built. “To infinity and beyond.” Peace.

 
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Posted by on October 19, 2011 in Design

 

5 Mistakes to Avoid When Choosing a Font for your Logo

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: your brand is the face of your business. And choosing the wrong font can be disasterous. I’ve singled out 5 common font fiascos to avoid the next time you’re thinking of designing — or redesigning —your brand.

Graphic designer’s know the secret to a great logo is finding the perfect font. The tricky part is there are millions of them out there. So how do you know which is right for you? Sometimes it’s easier to focus on what’s wrong. Here are 5 common font errors, and how to avoid them.

  1. Standard Fonts:
    If you’ve chosen a font that comes standard on your Word processing program it’s probably too common for most logos. Dare to step outside the box and look for something more original to represent your business. There are dozens for font websites out there with great tools for helping you choose a font that fits. I love Myfonts.com for their affordable options, vast selection and font preview which lets you type in your text and see it onscreen in any font you choose.
  2. Trendy Fonts:
    Just like clothes, fonts follow the trends. That’s fine for an ad that will disappear with yesterday’s news, but not so great for a logo that will brand you for life. If you tie your business image to a font or style the gets over-used your brand will look cheap and dated in no time.
  3. Delicate Fonts:
    Swirls, distressed type and even thin serifs may look great on your signage or company t-shirts, but lose quality and visibility when sized to fit your address labels. Try to take all the possible uses of your logo into consideration when selecting a font. If you’ll need embroidered logowear, a detailed delicate font will not reproduce well.
  4. Font Spacing:
    Kerning, also known as the space between letters, is a tricky craft any good designer will learn to master. But everyone should beware of it’s pitfalls, If the ‘Y’ on the end of your logo appears to be hanging on for dear life, or there’s a river of white space running between your ‘W’ and ‘A’ you better tighten it up. Kerning is a good designer’s secret weapon. And a D.I.Y. nightmare. But it can be done. Here’s a handy article that shows examples of good & bad kerning. And believe me, it’s the tell-tale mark of a well-designed logo.
  5. Disconnected Fonts:
    If you think of fonts as having a personality, look for ones that suit you and your business. If you’re a rock band, a bold jagged-edge grunge type would be logical. The same typeface for a retirement village might be a bit alarming to future clients. Check out these hilarious examples of font choices gone wrong.

Just remember, your company logo is a screaming billboard of who you are, and what you do. If you want it to scream, “I’m a professional, I take pride in my image and I will do the same for you,” then be sure you apply that same approach to your logo design. This is one area where seeking the advice of a professional might be a good idea. Even if it’s just for feedback, or to tweek the work you’ve done on your own. After all, you wouldn’t give yourself a facelift…would you?

 
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Posted by on August 11, 2011 in Branding/Identity, typography

 

Fun with Fonts

Sometimes it’s fun to play with words. Here’s a poem I wrote inspired by the last line. Something my husband, who is not a designer, came up with. Hope it inspires you to play with fonts.

Brandy Wheeler font poem

Fun with Fonts: A poem by Brandy Wheeler

 
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Posted by on August 1, 2011 in Just for Fun, typography

 

10 Tips to Build a Better Brand on Facebook

So you’ve got a Facebook page…now what? Small businesses everywhere are realizing the benefits of building their brand image on Facebook. Setting up the page is pretty straight-forward. But where do you go from there? To make that process a little easier for my clients and friends I’ve put together a list of ten simple ways to improve your brand image on Facebook.

10 Tips to Build a Better Brand on Facebook.

1. Tagging
In my opinion, the best feature for businesses on Facebook, hands down, is tagging. Tagging allows your brand to travel around other pages and say “hello,” “thanks for all your help,” or “congratulations, kudos to you!” When you tag a status update on your business page, with the name of another page or Facebook friend, your status appears on their page. It’s great for PR, and reaching out personally to another brand or fan. One word of advice though, be geniune. OK, that’s two words, but you know what I mean. Click here for step-by-step instructions for tagging on Facebook.

2. Use Facebook as your Page
This is a new feature for Facebook, and long awaited among small business users. If you ever wished you could navigate Facebook, making comments or posting on walls as your brand instead of yourself, now you can. You’ll notice a list of links on the right-hand side of your page with the phrase “Use Facebook as “your page name”. Click on this link and you can now interact with Facebook as your brand. And it’s easy to switch back to yourself when you’re ready. You can also make the switch under your Account settings.

3. Become an Expert
If you want fans to interact with your page, show them you’re an expert in your field. Share tips that only someone with your expertise can provide. If you’re a realtor, give suggestions for staging a house for sale. If you own an auto-body shop give maintenance tips for busy moms to keep their car on the road and out of the shop. When the time comes and your help is needed, they’ll know who to call. The ease of sharing makes social media a great place to connect with customers.

4. Maximize your Profile Pic
That tiny square profile pic that appears next to your listing is bigger than you think. Most people choose a small square image, or upload a digital photo, and crop it for their profile pic. But the space allowed for your profile is actually around 200px wide, with a height of up to 600px. So if you’ve been uploading square or horizontal images, you’re missing the boat. Here’s a link that helped me create a vertical Facebook profile for my Traverse Traveler app page.

5. Use your Personality
You’ve heard it before, just be yourself, and on social media that couldn’t be more true. Part of selling a product or business is selling the brand. And brands have personality. So be true to you. Be that guy – that snarky guy, that quote guy, that insider-info guy. Whatever shoe fits, wear it. Proudly and loudly. Unless, of course, you are that shares-personal-information-in-a-borderline-obscene-kinda-way guy. That’s a persona I’d avoid if I were you.

6. Host a Contest
One surefire way to build your brand on Facebook is to host a contest or offer giveaways. There’s just something about FREE that draws ants to the picnic. Trivia questions are popular ways to get your fans involved on a regular basis. But you have to be consistent. Host a weekly trivia question on the same day and time. It’s the predictability that will draw regular visits to your page.

7. Promote Events on Facebook
Facebook has some great features to help you promote events, so take advantage of them. To create an event for the first time, click the Edit Page button on the upper right of your page. This takes you to the administrator panel where you can choose Apps from the menu on the left. Look for events and follow the steps. Be sure to invite your friends to get the ball rolling, and encourage sharing to grow the event.

8. Get a unique Facebook URL
When you create a new page for a business you will need 25 fans in order to get a unique Facebook URL. So beg, plead, and cajole to meet that quarter benchmark. Because when you do, a simplified link is in your future. What’s the big deal? Well, which would you rather have on your email footer:

Find us on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/MealticketsTC
or
Find us on Facebook:
  http://www.facebook.com/UnbelieveablyLongAddressAdinfanitumBlahBlahBlah911

9. Facebook Polls
One of my favorite new features for pages is Facebook polls. If you want to see your Facebook insights rise create a poll on your page and send invitations to your friends. The best polls are quick and easy to answer. It’s not a math test, so don’t make anyone think too hard. Polls are also great for R&D. If you have an ice cream store, use a poll to let fans decide you next new flavor. It gives you insight into their favorites, and let’s your fans feel involved in the success of your brand.

10. Be Colorful, Creative and Complete
The three C’s. Colorful: update your photos with nice images to showcase your products, people and location. We’re drawn to imagery so make it interesting. Creative: this is your space, not to be confused with MySpace, so let your page reflect who you are. Complete: So many people get started on social media but lose the desire or get too busy to finish the page. Make sure your information is complete and that you’re using all the tools Facebook provides. And if you need some help, ask. There are lots of social media experts out there. If all else fails, ask your kids.

 

Tips for Tagging on Facebook

So you’ve got a Facebook page…now what? Small businesses everywhere are realizing the benefits of building their brand image on Facebook. Setting up the page is pretty straight-forward. But where do you go from there? To make that process a little easier for my clients and friends I’m working on a series of posts: 10 Tips to Build a Better Brand on Facebook. Consider this lesson one.

If I could only teach small businesses one trick on Facebook, this would be it. The trick to tagging your status updates. So I’ll begin my series of posts with this technique.

Tag, Your It

Facebook has some great features for brand building, but this ranks as one of the most useful. With every status update you have an opportunity to connect with a friend or another brand’s page. It’s called tagging or an @ Mention. And it’s a great way to cross-promote your brand with another.

Here’s how:

To tag a person or page simply type the @ symbol and then begin typing their name. You’ll notice a drop-down menu appear. Choose the person/page you want to tag. Their name will be highlighted in the status so you know they’ve been tagged. Finish your update and post.

tagging on Facebook imageWhen the post appears on your page you’ll notice the names you tagged are highlighted in blue. They are now hyperlinks to those pages. But the marketing benefit to this lies in the fact that your post will also appear on the wall of everyone you tagged. And it will appear with your business profile image next to it, because it came from your page.

tagged text on Facebook imageWhy tag:

To connect your brand, with friends who support it and businesses you support. Facebook is all about building a network of relationships — getting connected. And by tagging you have just created a direct connection.

Who can you tag?

You can tag your Facebook friends, or another brand page that you “like” on Facebook. You can also tag Facebook groups and events you’re attending. The same is true for your personal profile page. However, you’ll notice as the administrator of a page you cannot tag your fans unless they are also your “friends,” which is unfortunate.

Tagging Do’s and Don’ts

Do: Tag friends, employees and fans to give credit and recognition. Everyone loves to get a pat on the back for a job well done, or a public thank you of appreciation.
Don’t: Tag images that are unprofessional or unflattering. As a business, that’s not something you’d be posting on your brand page anyway, right?

Do: Tag clients and businesses you want to recommend to others. This type of marketing is exactly what Facebook for Business is all about.
Don’t: Tag a brand just to get your name on their page. If you don’t have something genuine to contribute, that’s the equivalent of spam, and it’s not appreciated.

New @Mentions in Comments

As of this month Facebook recently extended the tagging capabilities to the comments section. So you can now tag someone as part of a conversation, and they will be notified of the mention. That’s what social media is all about: encouraging dialogue and interaction.

So the next time you’re filling in that status box consider it an opportunity to connect with another business or one of your fans. Include them in your status and see what kind of response you get. Then let me know.