Advice from a Professional on Websites, Branding, and Being a Good Friend (to your professional friends).

As soon as someone finds out what I do for a living, the questions start coming. Some of them--like how I got into the industry--are pretty benign questions. Frequently, though, questions veer from personal to professional, and I end up giving out advice that would normally cost someone a few hundred dollars. My answers aren't usually what they expect, but they're what I need to give them:

  • Yes, I can take a look at your website and tell you what needs fixing. Please email me and I'll send you a quote for an appraisal. 
  • Sure, I can make you a simple logo with short notice. Please email me and I'll send you a quote for logo design. 
  • You hate your business cards? That's unfortunate. Please email me and I'll send you a quote for business card design. 
  • You want to launch a newsletter for your customers? Please email me and I'll send you a quote for newsletter design, content creation, and newsletter management. 

Unfortunately, too many people assume that designers and marketers are chomping at the bit to add (unpaid) work to their portfolio, or will work for dirt cheap/free because you are friends/family/co workers/distant relatives/neighbours/insert relationship here.

As a small business owner, I absolutely understand that sometimes you just don't have the budget for something. I can empathize with starting up a business on a shoestring budget. But I need you to understand that, while you need cards to promote your business selling widgets so that you can pay your bills, I need to charge for design work so that I can pay my bills.

So let me give you some free advice in the hopes of clearing up some misconceptions. All of these nuggets are based on the questions that I am most often asked about marketing, branding, and working with authors.

Branding

  • Yes, you need to develop your brand. You can use our branding workbook, or create a simple Word document outlining your logo, fonts, colors, and how you want your brand is portrayed to the world, but you need to sit down and figure this out sooner than later. This will be extremely helpful when you can work with a professional designer.

Websites

  • Yes, you need a website. If you offer products or services to consumers then you need a website so that people can find your business, refer you to potential clients, and act as the base for your online presence. If you are an author, you (at least) need a well-designed one page site with your information, links to published works, and contact information.
  • Just throwing one together using Blogger/Wordpress/Squarespace alone isn't enough to convey your professionalism or brand properly. You can make one yourself, but be ready to learn (at the very least) HTML and CSS to create one that is professional and customized to your brand.
  • Yes, even if you are a one-person show, you should have a website for your business.
  • No, you don't need to have a blog. If you aren't going to use it, don't add one to your site. If you are going to use it, make sure you update it regularly so that people can see that you are an expert in your field.

Marketing - Traditional

  • Yes, you need a logo.
  • No, using a logo generating website is not your best option. Depending on your needs, I can create one for as low as $50 for you--fully customized, and will properly represent your company branding.
  • Yes, you should have your marketing materials professionally designed and printed. Again, this goes back to consistency in branding and presenting a professional face to the world. This includes any assets used in your digital marketing, including Facebook and Twitter cover images, website imagery, downloads, newsletters, etc.

Marketing - Digital

  • If you sell products or services to clients, and you wish to expand your business and attract new customers, you should be marketing your business online.
  • You don't have to sink thousands of dollars into your digital marketing, but be ready for less than stellar results if you choose not to invest enough money.
  • Social media presence isn't a requirement, but it will allow you to see what people are saying about you and give you a chance to respond accordingly.

Editing/Proofreading/Line Edits/Manuscript Critiquing

  • Yes, you need a professional to look over your manuscript before self-publishing or querying an agent/publisher. You want the world to see the best version of your work possible, so that means having someone other than your friend or family member comb through your manuscript.
  • There are a lot of great resources for free help (I love Absolute Write for this), but remember that the advice you are given there is generally from amateurs or those with little experience with professionally editing, proofing, and providing feedback on manuscripts. *There are professionals that take part in the forums, however they are generally hesitant to give the cow away for free--as they should.*

I am probably missing some of the generalized advice that I've given, but this list is a very good start. Try to keep these points in mind when approaching professionals, and don't take it personally if they are cagey with their answers or outright tell you that they charge for services. We all have bills to pay, and unfortunately the bank does not accept gratitude.