Another year and I still can’t believe how fortunate I am to work as a freelance design consultant.
The last two years have been fantastic, with 32 new clients, stretching right across Europe (France, Ireland, Austria, Denmark, Finland, Italy), and some exciting work coming in from the U.S. too. Working with: charities, manufacturing, estate agents, logistics, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, and some public sector, have seen a rise in my business of 33% turnover. Not bad!
I have a great partner in the business who has introduced me to many of his clients via his Aerospace and Engineering clusters. Many of you may, or may not, know I am passionate about working with Engineering and Manufacturing clients. Another love is working with Healthcare businesses too, some of the work I am most proud of in the last year was in Healthcare. Lots and lots of lovely illustration work.
So much of what happened last year was via referrals, the absolute best way to grow a business, and full of surprises!
I have lots of plans for next year, if anyone wants to work with me or any of my partners, drop me a line (*pops champagne*).
A couple of months ago, I was contacted by Forum Talent Potential (http://www.forum-talent-potential.org/) and asked if I would be interested in engaging with a group of students in Derbyshire. As the focus was Graphic Design, I was up for it.
The students in question were year 9 students at Pingle School, Swadlincote.
Having previously, briefly, taught design at a college, a very frustrating experience (another blog post), I was keen to see if all years were quite as lazy as the 19-21yr olds, or was there still a passion for design in the younger years.
The project made me reflect on how I got into design and what it meant to me at school. I was passionate about school, it was my haven from a difficult home life, and the design and technology teachers were fundamental to that level of care I received. They listened. They encouraged. Without them, I would not be doing what I am now.
To hear that design and technology are being phased out of schools makes my blood boil (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/2017/03/10/design-technology-gcse-axed-nearly-half-schools-survey-finds/) it is a very short-sighted Government that can’t appreciate the way design helps create a rounded society. Only today I saw an article by Design Week on this very subject (https://www.designweek.co.uk/issues/16-22-july-2018/design-being-squeezed-out-of-state-schools-says-va-director-tristram-hunt/) which reminded me to write this post. It is not all about cash-rich brands employing advertising companies to design wacky adverts, without design exploration in their lives, there will be a whole generation of suppressed creatives with astounding mental health issues (http://www.artsandhealth.ie/perspectives/mental-health-recovery-and-the-role-of-the-creative-arts/). It is a ticking time-bomb.
So, I had to get involved.
I was asked to set a couple of briefs based on jobs I have completed within my business. These were mainly set around logo design and the application of the logo.
The students had these briefs woven into their curriculum. After discovering more about logos, branding and graphic design in general, they set to work.
The results were interesting. Some kids were not interested, but I could still see some passion coming through from others. I recognised a naivety that I had at that age, the use of clichés, but generally, I was encouraged. I picked out three of the most interesting submissions and awarded them with a book about design. If I can bring just one of these students into the field of design, I would be thrilled.
The great thing about being involved in this project is that I got to see the feedback:
Benefits for the Students
‘It was an experience because you got to learn how they thought throughout the process of making it – and it was kind of stressing at times … it was good to have a graphic designer comment on it because it’s what they do.’
‘It’s taught me that it’s not as easy as it looks. It takes a while to think up the logo.’
‘I never get complimented on work, because everyone else’s is better … I feel proud of myself because I didn’t think I could produce the work.’
‘It was a fun experience because it’s different from being given a task and doing it … Because it’s not the teacher that gives you the task; it’s someone who’s actually in the real world – someone who knows what it’s like.’
Benefits for the School
‘The students were motivated to undertake work to be presented to an external employer …. Students were excited that an external employer would be viewing their designs and asked on numerous occasions whether I thought the employer would like particular elements of their work, demonstrating to me that the extrinsic motivator was enhancing their learning.’ ‘I would definitely be interested in repeating the project either with the same or a different graphics designer.’
For me, getting involved in this project has made me ask a few questions about how I can help the design industry in the future. I am going to speak at more schools, particularly at Primary level. I started this last week at my son’s school in Burton (year 5). Here the kids were very open to finding out how to work creatively, they had no preconceived ideas about working in design and running a design business.
It was a relief to see this.
I feel that I talk about this quite a lot (and I shall continue to shout it from the rooftops). It stems from my passion, to make sure all of my clients’ brand identities mirror their visions, values, and ethos…it’s really at the heart of what I aim to achieve as a designer.
As humans, we are hard-wired to make constant judgements about everything we see, hear, touch, smell and taste.
We quite literally cannot help doing this – you would need to be bereft of using your five senses if you didn’t. A few day-to-day examples: this can be anything from walking down the high street and deciding what café to eat gauging your choice from the wafting aromas in the air, to judging how people are looking at, or speaking to you, to which of your neighbours has the best-dressed windows or maintained gardens.
Well, imagine if people were making constant judgements about your business – how does it appear in their minds? What does your brand identity say to them? In fact, this is what your clients and potential clients are doing! So, you need to make sure that your vision, values and ethos are clearly signposted in your branding, the keyword being ‘consistency’.
Consistency in your branding gives your business a personality and identity to which people can relate. People will feel they can trust your brand; the consistency has helped to strengthen this, building your reputation as dependable and trustworthy.
Customers will be so pleased with your company, they; will return to you time and time again and feel confident to spread the word to others, too.
Brand identity runs throughout everything you do, from the macro aspects of your business to the micro, such as email logos, documents, presentations, and printed marketing collateral such as flyers and brochures, so make sure you check and double-check every last detail. Make sure your staff aren’t using old branding – you could be sending out mixed signals. In turn, this could affect your ‘standing’ in a judgemental marketplace, especially if your competitors are more up-to-date than you.
Brand identity consistency is key across all your communication channels. Check your tone of voice is consistent across all your social media, your website and any packaging or signage you have. Do your vehicles carry the same identity as your website and premises signage, for instance (although we understand because of the expense, it can take time to update a fleet)? The use of your logo, brand colours and key messaging across all of your communication channels is essential and will help to strengthen your brand identity.
Pulling together all of the different aspects that make up your identity will define and solidify your branding.
Consistency in branding is the key that unlocks your identity in the eyes of others.
The word ‘stakeholder’ is used a lot, but who makes up your key stakeholders?
Take some time out to reflect on this; it’ll be worth spending time doing this on your own, and also asking colleagues or employees the same question to get a general ‘feel’ for the breadth of who your stakeholders are. Other people may come up with ideas you hadn’t thought about, especially those with their ‘ear to the ground’ as markets constantly evolve, change, and adapt over time.
You may hear the terms strategic messaging and strategic communication used. They both mean the same thing, really – messages sent out to all stakeholders involved in your business. Whether you or your colleagues use business jargon, or just express ideas in your way, that’s fine! At the end of the day, as long as you are all clear about who your stakeholders are, you’ll be heading in the right direction.
As a starting point, though, let’s think about your employees as stakeholders – your employees need to be your brand advocates, driving your business forward in full knowledge of your company’s brand values, ethos and visions. In fact, an excellent employee won’t just be aware of these factors; they will ‘believe’ in them. After all, your brand and company’s reputation is always at stake in a highly competitive business world, so make sure your colleagues are entirely on board with your brand. If your employees don’t believe in your brand, why should anyone else?
Next, let’s think about your customers – take the time to consider what these stakeholders are looking for carefully. Develop your brand to meet these needs. Today, customers have an array of companies to choose from. It may be worth thinking about what makes existing, or prospective consumers, ‘tick’; take their emotions and feelings into consideration when sending brand messages to customers. Remember, customers don’t just buy a product, process or service, they buy your vision, ethos and values. Look after them, and they will look after you.
Are your competitors stakeholders? Yes, they are, so try to keep on top of what their strengths are, as well as their weaknesses. How does their brand identity match up to yours? Are they doing anything different? Are there any new start-up companies in your sector, who may become a more prolific competitor in the future?
Also, are your suppliers, or distribution channels, on board with your brand? Make sure you are giving them explicit brand messages about your identity. Your good reputation will, in turn, benefit their businesses, too. They are more likely to remain a long-term strategic partner if they believe and fully buy into your brand.
What about your community? They are stakeholders in that what you do, and how you make the locality ‘look’ directly affects them. It is essential to make sure your community is happy with what you are doing; consider how highly Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is regarded now.
Two key ideas to leave you to think about are these:
1. Effective branding and messaging is consistent and straightforward.
2. All businesses communicate, but not every company sends clear messages to their stakeholders.
Yes, they really do! It’s such an old cliché, but I just can’t ignore it, and neither should you.
Let’s consider a scenario. You’ve just walked into an exhibition centre filled with hundreds of stands. The businesses there will have spent varied amounts of money depending on the size of their budgets. Nevertheless, regardless of how much money a company has to spend, they can all achieve that magical first impression ‘spark’ with plenty of thought and planning into how they want their stand to look. You don’t need to spend thousands and thousands to attract your target audience, but what you do need is a clear and consistent brand identity.
In fact, some companies spend lots of money and still manage to ‘get it wrong’ by not having a clear, crisp brand identity across their stand and all of their marketing collateral, such as brochures and flyers.
So, think back to the idea at the start of walking into the exhibition centre: Which stands are people stopping to look at, but they move on? Which stands are being ignored as if they don’t exist? Which stands are attracting and retaining the most traffic? Now consider – why?
If stands have boards that are just too ‘word-heavy’, no one will want to stand and read through it all. Less is more when it comes to content. Just have enough text to attract your audience to your stand. Once you start to talk to people, then they can learn more about you, and take a brochure away to read at their leisure.
Consider your logo, typeface, colours – do they ‘speak’ the message of your brand identity? As I mentioned earlier, your brand identity should be clear and consistent across the whole of your stand. Do your staff know your visions, values, and ethos? Are they clear about the company identity? Everyone needs to be giving a consistent company message to the visitors to your stand.
The use of a video to engage your audience is really beneficial. As well as attracting them to your stand, it can keep them there for a few minutes longer. It’s also helpful if you’re busy talking to other visitors, as people watching a video are more likely to wait for you to finish rather than walk away, as they are being entertained and informed.
Check your brand identity is consistent across your internal communications. This seems obvious, but many companies spend thousands and just forget about this. At the stand you may tell a potential client that you will email them a piece of information they are looking for – it will look pretty awful if the ‘old logo’ is in the email!
Please do ‘sweat the small stuff’: you never know who you are going to meet on your stand.
It could be your biggest customer ever!
Have you ever worked for a company (or perhaps you are at the moment) where internal communications, such as notes and memos etc. sent around the offices looked…well…a bit dull really? Were they printed on plain white paper, with standard fonts, and perhaps not a logo or a hint of colour in sight? If yes, how did it make you or your colleagues feel?
A little reflection time may be needed for that last question.
The type of thoughts that may spring to mind could be along the lines of: ‘Doesn’t give the company a professional image’…’Feels unimportant’…’Makes the staff feel unimportant’…’No cohesion’…’People say they are too busy to bother…’It doesn’t feel like we all belong to the same company’…’Feels like nobody cares enough’.
It doesn’t matter whether it was a few years ago, or today, as humans we all want to feel part of the ‘team’, and that the team we are in is the best. It motivates and inspires us to work hard and do well.
Knowing our company’s mission, values and ethos helps us to feel included in the bigger picture and goals of the company. We all want to be on the same boat, all rowing in the right direction.
So, we can make a start by ensuring all of our communications, external and internal, exude professionalism.
Develop a consistent design, tone and focus across all your internal communications, whether they are paper-based, or on your internal intranet. Embed your brand identity so that it is seen everywhere, everyday, in your workplace. Also, don’t forget to include this consistent design across the interior landscaping of your buildings, such as wall displays and signage.
When onboarding new employees, educate them in your branding message; this is a great way to make them feel connected to the company straightaway, and it is a discipline that will stay with them, and they will pass it on to others.
It’s worth asking a professional for advice when it comes to help with your branding identity, rather than trying to save money by doing it yourself, as it may well turn out to be false economy in the end.
It’s like anything really – if you want a professional ‘look’, you need a professional to do it.
Ensure everyone in your company feels inspired; give them a sense of belonging and pride.
Ok, I know you really don’t want to hear anything else about Brexit, but hopefully I can approach it from a different angle than the things you hear on the news. I’m replacing ‘Brussels’ with ‘Branding’; ‘May’ with ‘Messages’; ‘Conservatives’ with ‘Consistency’.
Brexit has left the public feeling a general sense of uncertainty and confusion about what the future holds. The more ‘savvy’ businesses have noticed that people want to be reassured that actually everything they hold dear is actually fine. Everything will be ok. If our politicians can’t always make us feel secure, many businesses know that the solidity of their brand identity, and the clear and consistent messages they bring, help people on a deeper, human level.
I guess, along these lines, some of my predictions for 2018 have already started, as can be seen in some of our TV adverts. For instance, one high street bank shows everyday ‘poets’ talking about topics such as daily life, love, comfort and, security – expressing on a subliminal level: ‘It’s ok, we understand you. You can trust us.’
I want to see companies maintaining their brand identities in their uncertain Brexit future, guarding them closely as they are their consistent message to the world that their business is secure and solid in the face of change.
On a different note, I’m totally loving colour in design at the moment. Eye-catching, vibrant colours that quite literally ‘speak’ your identity. On a very basic level, colour touches every one of us in different ways and we all have our favourite shades, or our ‘go to’ colours – take a look in your wardrobe to see what I mean. Colour encourages the visual learners of the world to remember us, colours that define our brand identity and embed it in the publics’ psyche.
I love the use of white space…allowing a really good design to ‘breathe’ can be so effective.
Colours have their symbolic ‘meanings’, too. For instance, we all know that red can mean ‘danger’, and green is used for ‘nature’. White can mean ‘purity, simplicity, cleanliness, light’. But did you know, that if your name is in red in China, it means you are dead? Use of colour and understanding of it’s meaning is very important.
To finish, I just need to touch on the importance of good typography. Ignore it at your peril. You need to consider your target audience – the correct choice of colour, font and text size is vital to attract them and to keep them interested so they return to you time and time again. Just like colour, or the shape of your logo, people will remember the font, too. It will become an integral part of your public brand recognition.
Brand identity doesn’t need to be complicated; keep your message clear and consistent in 2018.
“Oh god”, I hear you cry, “not Christmas again.” Well, bah humbug to you!!
Think of it this way: Christmas, oh how wonderful, a chance to catch up with my clients.
Now that sounds better, doesn’t it?
Of course, ‘Christmas catching up’ doesn’t have to be one big round of drinks and merriment, making sure your liver is hanging on for dear life as you enter 2018.
Oh no, it doesn’t! (panto practice)
How about setting aside a couple of hours, picking up a pen (yes, a PEN – I like a Berol Fineline myself) and writing some kind words to your clients in your personalised Christmas cards.
It’s a thought, isn’t it?
Take a look at my Xmas card offer here.
Then, I suggest you grab yourself a couple of hours (space it out, we don’t want RSI.), some cake, what the hell, get some pre-season mince pies, and a nice hot cup of something, and enjoy putting pen to paper.
Order before 24th November.
I do sometimes have to pinch myself. In February 2003, I was made redundant. For a few months, I floated around, being a freelancer in-house, then getting a job in a print firm until the realisation, this was it. In the September I saw the chance to go it alone. Never again, hopefully, would I be given the opportunity to start my own business.
I have never wanted to employ anyone. Something I know people can’t understand.
I love working in collaboration with other small marketing businesses to create teams for projects. It feels fresh every time, and I don’t have to get bogged down in office politics. I do NOT miss that!
I am working with a great team. I belong to a BNI networking group in Derby. In BNI we form “Powerteams”, which is true to name. Powerful.
With a web development company, marketing expert, video and animation team, copywriter we have a great foundation for most projects that come up. I have worked with some of these for years, others are new, but we fit because we have a say in who joins the group.
Why would anyone build a big firm when collaborating works this well?
We are so easy to refer to other businesses, so working together in this way means we get more business all time.
If you would like to see how we work in a BNI power team, then ask me for an invitation to visit our group on Tuesday 26th September in Derby, where the marketing power team will be demonstrating the POWER within BNI.
Oh, and we are looking for a photographer, social media expert, printer, signage company, events company or if you work in marketing or need help with your marketing we want to meet you!
This week I have been featured on the Talented Ladies website, read the full article here