Now Open: our online store

It’s official… our online store is open for business.

We’ve been busy adding products to our online catalog and configuring sizes, stocks, finishing and pricing. This hasn’t been easy because there are many variables involved with some projects!

We love working with our clients to help them solve problems, make smart decisions, and create perfect projects, but a decent sized percentage of our customers don’t need any help. They like to do things on their own, at their own pace. They are experienced in creating print-ready artwork and making decisions about job specifications. If this sounds like you, we’re trying to make our online shop perfect for you.

Here’s how things work:

  • Product selection: you choose from our most common project types
  • Options: you choose the best materials and finishing required for your project
  • Quantity: pricing is based on quantity and you can find substantial discounts as your order size increases
  • Pickup/delivery: you choose whichever method suits you best
  • Payment: you can pay through the site, at pickup or delivery, or charge the order to your account
  • File upload: after your order is placed you upload your print-ready file(s)

Orders are completed in accordance with our schedule of turnaround times and we deliver 7 days a week.

Also, orders will be saved in the system, making re-ordering quick and easy.

Please check out our shop and let us know how it works for you. Also, if you’re not already a member, consider joining our mailing list. Subscribers receive coupons by email that can be applied to online orders for bigger savings.

Our business strategy

No tips today — just some information that will hopefully help you get a feel for the type of business we operate.

These days it is not enough to just provide high quality work product and great customer service. You need to differentiate yourself from your competitors so much that customers easily notice the difference. They must be so impressed with you that they prefer doing business with you and actively seek out more ways to do so.

Our best customers became regular clients because they noticed the three basic components to our strategy for getting them and and keeping them — be as competitive as possible with respect to price, provide extra value with every job, and meet every deadline. We’ve found that when we reach these 3 goals, we gain customers who are extremely loyal. The fact that an online vendor or even a local competitor offers a similar product or service for a few dollars less becomes a non-issue to them. It isn’t worth the uncertainty or the aggravation for our customers to switch vendors. Comfort is important to them, as it should be to everyone.

You can always find a lower price. Look hard enough and you’ll find someone who is so desperate for work that they’ll undercut the lowest price offered (which, by the way, was already too low). The internet is full of “great” deals, that is, until you actually buy and your order arrives late and not in the condition expected — and then you can’t even get through to speak with a human about it. We can’t compete with desperation, so we don’t bother trying. The process of chasing the lowest price always leads to the slaughterhouse. No thanks!

Calling vendor after vendor to find the lowest price, project after project looking only for who is the cheapest — some businesses do things this way. But there’s a huge drawback to using this method of purchasing: no mutually rewarding relationships result from a method which focuses solely on price. As regular consultants to event planners, graphic designers, marketers and others who strive to create perfect communications, we have a ton of experience and plenty of good advice ready to share with anyone who asks for it. But the people who purchase solely on price never tap into it. They’re too busy trying to save money to listen. And because of this they find themselves afloat at sea alone on every job.

With respect to our goal of providing extra value with every job, here’s a great example that you won’t find elsewhere. Our clients have also written about ways we’ve gone above and beyond the norm on our feedback page.

And with respect to deadlines, we thrive on crushing them. We never take a job we can’t complete on time. Read our policy on deadlines and you’ll know we mean business.

So if you’re looking for the best “price” in the area, broaden your thought process to include more than just the dollar figure quoted. Think about value as well as comfort. Consider giving us an opportunity to bid on your next project. When you look over our bid, factor our business strategy into your analysis of the best vendor for the job. We hope you’ll decide to do business with a company like ours that wants to support you in any way possible, who will never miss your deadline, and who will still be around the next time you need help making a project perfect.

Anyway, enough about us… back to work!

New Service: Portrait Photos

Over the years we’ve been asked by our customers to take photographs (headshots, portraits, etc.) Since we’ve been in the passport photo-taking business for over a decade, and have literally taken tens of thousands of passport photos, it wasn’t a stretch to think we might do this. However, we didn’t have the right photo equipment to take portrait photographs.

Many people now have a desire to get high-quality photographs taken for use in their online profiles, websites, directories, licensing applications, etc. However, most of them are shell-shocked when they get quoted $100-200 or more for a session with a professional photographer. Totally understandable when you can take a photo of yourself using your phone or tablet which is “good enough”.

When we recently picked up a Canon EOS T2i DSLR camera for integrating photo and video into client websites, our photography capabilities changed. We weren’t planning to get into the photography business, but with this new equipment we can now shoot a nice portrait photo of you in our shop. The process takes just a few minutes and the end result is way better than “good enough”!

Pricing starts at $39 and we offer this service Monday through Friday. (Hey, only one member of our staff is a pro with this camera, and he works weekdays.) See you at the shop.

3 popular Photoshop requests

Photoshop is a graphics editing program. It’s part of the Adobe Creative Suite, which is the bundle of software we use here in connection with all of our graphic and web design projects. Photoshop has become so well known as an editing program that the word “photoshop” has become synonymous with editing photographs. It has become a verb. Today we’ll be going through the top 3 requests we get for photoshopping photos.

1. Repairing a damaged photo

The elements can be tough on photos. Important photographs can get exposed to sunlight, greasy fingers, damage or neglect. When this happens they may need a Photoshop facelift. Cracks, creases, tears, fading, spots and other problems can be repaired digitally, making the photo (once reprinted) as good as new. The photo can also be re-sized to your liking. If you’d just like a digital version for posting on the web we can do that too.

2. Cropping and resizing

When you snapped that photo you of course didn’t notice the finger covering the right edge of the lens. Yes, that cute little fingertip is yours. Or what about your daughter’s soccer teammate picking her nose in background to the far right? Disgusting! (But yes it’s a true story.) Since some things like this simply cannot be framed and put on display, another popular Photoshop request we get is to crop-out unnecessary, irrelevant or offensive material. We do this by cutting a new frame around the desired content. The resulting photo can then be re-sized for framing or mounting (or posting).

3. Completely removing someone from a photo

It’s funny and sad at the same time, but the boyfriend removal request does come up quite a bit. People change. Relationships end. But if you really do look your best ever in that photo with your ex, what to do? Have him completely removed from the photo, that’s what! As to who or what should go in his place, that’s your decision.

There are many more but these are the most common requests we get for photoshopping/editing. Keep the interesting photoshop requests coming! Depending on what comes our way we may need to update this post in the future!

Logo design Q&A

Your logo is where your company’s values, message, image and identity converge before your potential customers’ eyes. It’s an incredibly important business asset. So once your business gets past the point of start-up and moves to viability, you should invest in making sure your logo sends the right signals to your audience. Below you’ll find some questions we get about our logo design services. The answers should help you when you’re considering creating a new logo or updating an existing logo.

How much do you charge for logo design?

Because every logo design project is unique, we charge by the hour. Our graphics rate is $120/hour. When they ask, we tell people that 2 hours of design time is often enough time for a logo. Sometimes it takes longer, but 2 hours is usually enough time to consult with you, get a few variations designed, listen to your feedback, and incorporate some revisions.

When do I need to pay?

We take a 50% deposit before we get started on any graphic design project, so you’ll need to pay us at least $120 up front before we start work on your logo design. Once we complete the design, you’ll pay us the balance and then we’ll send you the logo files in various formats.

What if I don’t like what you design?

This has never happened in 24+ years. Every client we’ve ever taken on for logo design work has been completely satisfied with our work. This is especially true for those clients who devote themselves to the project and are open and honest with our designers throughout the process.

Do you have any samples of logos you’ve designed?

There are several recently designed logos in our online portfolio. As is the case with anything we design and create, we’re happy to show you samples here in the shop.

What file formats will I receive?

When we’re done creating your new logo, we’ll send you the art in any format you require, including vector files so you can enlarge your logo to any size to fit any application. You’ll be able to use your logo for printed materials such as letterhead, business cards, brochures, posters, banners, etc. (all of which we can also design for you) as well as digitally in email signatures, on your website, in other web graphics and so forth.

How do I get started?

Let us know you’d like to move forward and we’ll send you an invoice for the deposit. Then call us (or come in) and talk with one of our designers, send us your sketches, drawings, marketing materials, existing logo, etc. We may get a feel right away for what you need. Many times we will have you complete a questionnaire to help us with your brand identity.

How long will the process take?

It really depends on how productive our initial consultation is as well as how quickly you give us feedback on our initial designs. If you watch for our first round of proofs and then let us know what you like, don’t like, and which direction to take things, we can turn around a logo design project in a matter of days.

Did we answer everything you want to know about our logo design services? Let us know in the comments (or call and speak with us in person) if you have further questions…

Tip: camera settings

You can’t take a small, low-resolution photo and turn it into a poster. It just won’t work. It will pixilate and become blurry. So if you want to make a poster out of one of your favorite photos, start with a high resolution image. The higher the resolution of your photograph or digital file, the better your poster will turn out.

Many of today’s smartphones have fairly capable cameras, but we’ve found that customers often don’t take the time to set them up properly. One of the problems we come across in our work fairly frequently is low-resolution photos taken by these devices. Many cameras on phones are set up by default to take tiny little pictures for posting and viewing on the web. The problem is, web and print are two entirely different mediums. With print, the rule to follow is use the highest possible resolution. The higher the resolution, the more image detail you’ll get, which means the better your print will be especially if you plan to enlarge it.

Figure out what your device is capable of and then set it up correctly. Once you’ve snapped the photo it is too late to change things! Poke around in the settings for the camera on your phone and ensure that yours is set up to take pictures at the highest possible resolution. Doing so will allow you more flexibility in resizing your photos for printing.

Do you know what resolution the camera on your phone is set for? If not, and you plan to print your photos at some point, make sure you use the correct settings.

Marketing tip: try A/B testing

In many of our prior posts we’ve discussed the importance of tracking the performance of your marketing. If you don’t know how well your marketing is doing, and you’re not trying to fine-tune it over time to get the best results, you’re not maximizing the investment you’re making in your company. Now, it’s great that you’re investing in your business, but the idea is to get the best return on your investment. This post should help with that, especially if you’re new to marketing.

One method of fine-tuning your marketing is A/B testing. A/B testing or “split” testing is an experimental approach to design which tries to identify elements in your marketing which increase or maximize a desired outcome or result. Possible outcomes are numerous, such as the submission of a form on your website, a phone call or other direct contact from your customer, a click-through in an email newsletter or landing page, or even a purchase. We’ve talked about these outcomes as “valuable contacts” in prior blog posts, in which we’ve also stressed the importance of setting them up as conversions/goals in your analytics. This will help you monitor marketing performance as well as determine how and why a customer came to find you and/or contact you.

With A/B testing, two versions of your marketing are compared. They are identical except for one variation that you think might impact a user’s behavior. The possibilities for what you change are numerous. Here are just a few:

  • the call to action language or button
  • different fonts or combinations
  • text and background colors
  • layout changes, placement of content on the page or piece
  • different images

The goal is to figure out if one version outperforms the other. If the results are significant enough, you know which element should be used going forward.

Many people think A/B testing can only be used to test online marketing, but this just isn’t the case. Your print marketing can also be tested using this method. For example, rather than sending 2000 identical postcards to everyone on your mailing list, you could send 1000 postcards with your current layout and another 1000 with some element modified. To track the performance of A vs. B you’d simply need to include different information to help you collect and analyze the data, such as different landing page URLs (and QR codes that redirect to different landing pages) as well as phone numbers.

Give A/B Testing a try and let us know if it helps you improve your marketing ROI. If you need some help, you know where to find us!

Yes, WordPress is awesome, but…

We love building websites with WordPress. Creating beautiful, functional websites with WordPress is so much easier and cheaper than coding from scratch. WordPress is the best open-source CMS out there due to its ease of use, standard features, security, and especially its extendability (more on this later). We recommend the WordPress platform to almost every client who consults with us about building a new site or planning a redesign of an existing one. We trust it so much that we built our own website with it. Simply put, WordPress is awesome, but…

(there is always a but, isn’t there?)…

WordPress’ most valuable feature is its extendability. It can be easily customized and extended with “plugins” that are essentially add-ons to the core code which make WordPress do something extra. As valuable as they are, plugins are also the platform’s biggest vulnerability. You see, the guys who created WordPress are not the only ones writing code for it. There are literally thousands of plugins which extend the core functionality of WordPress (23,062 plugins are in the WordPress repository at the time of this post), and it is difficult to tell the good from the bad because anybody who can code can develop a plugin. Making things more interesting, since WordPress is constantly being improved and updated, unless a plugin developer continues to update and support his plugin in perpetuity (to ensure it works with the latest release), there is a pretty good chance it won’t continue to work forever.

On a site built with WordPress, whenever things aren’t working perfectly (or worse, things stop working completely), fixing things typically involves figuring out which plugins are conflicting with one another. To do this you literally need to disable each plugin one at a time until you identity the conflict. If you have a lot of plugins on your site, this can be very time consuming. Importantly, your site won’t tell you when there is a plugin conflict, it will simply stop working! When plugins do conflict and you figure out the problem, your work is not done. Now you need to decide which plugin you will continue to use and how to address the functionality you will lose by deactivating the problem plugin. Sometimes this is as easy as finding a replacement plugin that doesn’t cause a conflict, but sometimes it is not.

You probably now see the importance of limiting the number of plugins you use on your WordPress site. Not only do plugins have the potential to slow down your site, when they do conflict they can make your site absolutely useless. If yours is like most businesses, you depend on your website to generate leads, provide information to customers, schedule appointments and do other things which are critical to your company. You need to make sure every change or upgrade to your website doesn’t cause it to break. In other words, don’t go plugin crazy! Make improvements that bring value to your business and test them completely.

Oh and remember when I mentioned WordPress updates? It’s great that the platform is constantly being improved, but this can also cause huge problems for the unsuspecting site owner. Before updating the code to the latest release, you’ll want to back up your entire site as well as your database. Ignore this advice at your own peril — you could lose your entire site if the update process fails.

OK enough doom and gloom; we’ll stop scaring you now. And honestly we really do love WordPress! We just recommend that you exercise extreme caution when you make changes to your site or you could easily bring down the entire thing and stifle your business.

How to use print as a gateway to more information

Want your flyer, postcard or letter marketing piece to be more effective? It’s pretty easy to make this happen. Aside from attractive graphics, effective copy and a good offer, you can give your marketing a huge boost by maximizing the use of space in your printed piece.

When you use print as a marketing tool, you have a limited amount of space within which to get your message across. Try to include everything you want your audience to know about you, your company and your offer and you will end up diluting your message and making a giant, convoluted mess of your marketing piece. There are ways, however, to best use the limited space and get your printing to act as a gateway to all the information you want to share. Below are a few ways to make your printed materials work hand in hand with the web, and in so doing provide a better customer experience.

1. Direct traffic to your valuable web assets.

Use your printed materials to generate traffic to your website and other important web assets. The more a potential client knows about you and your company, the more comfortable they’ll become with the idea of trusting you with their business. It’s really tough to accomplish this on a single flyer or postcard, so send readers of your print where they can find more information about you. Even on a “simple” flyer, you should include your contact information, your web address and any social media profiles where potential customers can learn more about you and get to know you better. With respect to this last point, here’s a little advice: asking someone to “Like” you on Facebook is so 2008. Don’t ask your would-be clients to like you. Give them a reason to like you — such as by providing great customer service. And don’t direct them to social media accounts where your business isn’t active. That’s a huge no-no. The tip is to direct them to your valuable web assets… not places where they find nothing but a blank wall or useless tweets you posted about how wonderful you are.

2. Provide URLs to specific information.

A URL is a web address. Most often a URL takes you to a web page, but it can also be some other resource such as a document. When when you use URLs in your printed materials, don’t fall into the common trap of simply including the address of your website’s homepage. Give the URL where the potential customer can find the exact information you want them to find. Don’t make them search your website for it! If you do that they’ll soon get frustrated and give up. If the URL of the page on your site (or Facebook page, Google+ page, etc.) is too long, consider using a link shortening service such as http://bit.ly. Doing this will help reduce typing errors which send customers to the wrong place (such as a 404 error page), and this will increase customer satisfaction as well as conversions. Another method of sending your customer exactly where you want them to go is to set up a sub-domain. For example, you could set up specials.yourdomain.com to forward visitors to a page on your website where they find the precise details of your offer, along with any terms and conditions that apply. Don’t waste valuable space in your printed piece with fine print when you can put it on the web and direct readers to it.

3. Include QR codes.

QR codes are little square black & white graphics that open up a specific page on the Internet when they are scanned by a bar code reader. Bar code readers are available on smartphones and tablets and they help connect the physical world (such as your printed piece) with the virtual world. While not everybody who owns a tablet or smartphone knows how to use QR codes, the numbers are certainly growing. You can make things easy for those that understand them by including these little “links” in your printed materials. They are eye-catching and they don’t take up much space. As with URLs, send your audience directly to the content you want them to read, not just your homepage.

Hopefully these tips will help you get the most out of your next print marketing piece. Let us know if you get results!

Real world marketing and PR for the small business

Wouldn’t it be nice if your small business had a marketing and public relations team? A group of people that could help your business put forth a better image, tell a better story, send a better message. If people only knew more about your company — the type of business you operate, the quality of your services, the pride your employees put into each job — getting this information out to potential customers would surely help your business thrive.

But we both know why you haven’t hired a marketing or PR firm to tackle this project. They are too expensive. They cater to large businesses with big marketing budgets. And although you’ve promised yourself this will be the year you’re going to personally evaluate and revamp your marketing, the fact that you’re swamped with the management of your company’s day-to-day operations means this important project always seems to get put on the back burner. How long has it been sitting back there? Be honest.

Every single action or communication your business makes is marketing. Does everything you put out reflect favorably on your business? Is your message clear? Do you even have a message?

If you want to improve your marketing and sales, you need to invest in your business. But you don’t need a big team of professionals working overtime on this. You can do just fine with a top notch writer, a creative graphic designer, some analytics/tracking strategy, and some tweaking over time to obtain the best results. And this is true whether you use direct response marketing such as Every Door Direct Mail, in-bound online marketing, or a combination of the two. Solid writing combined with creative designs and a smart marketing can enhance your visibility, improve your message and grow your business.

Your business may be small but your dreams are not. So make this year the year you really revamp your marketing.

People still prefer to use the phone

One of the neat things about analytics is that the data doesn’t lie. Sure, people can interpret the same data differently, but the data “is what it is”. And if you’re monitoring the right metrics, sometimes the data can flat out surprise you.

Take our site, for example. We choose to display our contact information at the bottom of every page — rather than just including it on our “Contact” page — so as to make it easier for people to communicate with us. We recommend this tactic to our clients as well. The easier for customers the better.

We also have forms on our site which enable visitors to request estimates for different types of work or send us logos and pictures or even camera-ready art. We designed our forms as “bare-boned” as possible so that they would also be easy for customers to complete. You don’t want people getting frustrated with the process and hitting the back button.

We treat online actions such as completed forms as “Goals” in Google Analytics, meaning we’ve identified them as having a special value to us, and we track data relating to them more closely. These valuable contacts are all different ways of doing (or considering doing) business with us, and when they occur, they show up in our analytics data and we can drill down into the data for more information. By more info I mean stuff like 1) how the customer found us — directly, referred from another site, organic search, PPC; 2) what keyword they actually searched for (if it was a search); 3) whether they were using a mobile device; and 4) which pages they viewed before filling out the form, just to name a few. This info and more is all there in the data if you know how to extract it.

But with all the things our clients can do on our website, and despite the fact that our contact information is on every page of our site, the Contact page blows all the other Goals away. In fact, our Contact page gets more action than all other Goals combined. And what do people do on this page? They locate our phone number and they call. We can see them do this in “Real-Time” in analytics.

So how do we interpret this data? It’s simple. People still prefer to pick up the phone and talk with us. As fast as communication online can be, it really doesn’t compare to the instant gratification of a live voice on a phone line. And we’re just fine with that.

Does your headline deliver what it promises?

I spend part of every day reading. RSS readers, email blog subscriptions and social media and sharing sites make it easy to get a fresh supply of content on topics I like to follow — mostly technology and marketing because that’s a big part of our business. And as massive amounts of content are being generated and shared online, one frustrating thing I’m dealing with is authors falling into the trap of focusing too much on the headline and failing miserably to deliver on content.

There’s a marketing tip you can take away from this. Stick with me for a minute.

A lot has been written and demonstrated regarding the value of a great headline. As it is often the only chance you’ll get to grab a target reader’s attention, without a good headline your piece may never get read. If your piece never gets read, what was the point in creating it? So it’s no surprise that a lot of effort goes into writing amazing, attention-grabbing headlines.

On the receiving end of a postcard or mailing, it’s pretty easy to figure out whether that attention-grabbing headline relates to something that may be valuable to you. If your truck needs a full set of new tires, you might be drawn into a headline such as “Buy 3 Tires Get 1 Free” enough to read the full details. A time-sensitive discount on dinner at that new French Bistro you’ve been hearing such great things about (“$26 between 5 & 6″) may wet your appetite enough to read the fine print. At the same time, if a headline concerns a product or service that doesn’t appeal to you, or perhaps it does but the offer just isn’t special enough, you can move on without wasting much time. Or you can set the piece aside for later consideration.

Online things are a little different. On the Internet, where generating marketing materials is “cheaper” and the content tends to be longer, readers need to spend more time with each article, blog post or web page to figure out whether the headline delivers what it promises. And, sadly, a lot of the stuff you find online is just regurgitated crap dressed up with a catchy headline. For example, if your piece claims to provide 7 Amazing Ways to Increase Revenue Immediately, but instead is really The #1 Way to Waste 3 Minutes Right Now (because it is just another Hubspot affiliate piece), you’ve got a problem. I’m leaving and not coming back. I certainly won’t sign up with Hubspot because of your article. According to your headline, your post was going to help me, not send me to another site where I need to spend thousands of dollars. You hoodwinked me.

Yes, headlines are important. But the content — your offer — is just as important if not more so. Your content drives the sale. If it is good, it can push your reader down the sales funnel. But to do so it absolutely needs to confirm what you claimed in your headline. Over-promise and you lose. Lie to readers to get their attention and you just wasted their time, causing far more damage than a traditional no-sale.

So if you create your own marketing materials, here’s the tip: stop wasting time and energy dressing up your pig with a fancy headline. You may get traffic, but you’ll get no sales. Focus on quality for both elements. Combine a great headline with an offer that meets (or, heaven forbid, exceeds) the reader’s expectations and you may have just discovered One Golden Way to Improve Your Marketing.