Today marks 10 years in business for Red Beret Design. Thank you to all of my clients, colleagues, and other supporters who have helped me to make it to this milestone.
Thrilled to have this profile of Red Beret Design published in the “Shop Talk” section of the Raleigh News & Observer.
I am excited to announce a new option available with the Start-Up Brand Identity Package. Red Beret Design has partnered with Maven Medical and Science Communications to offer copy writing for medical, science, biotech, healthcare, and life science websites. Now you have a single source to design, develop, and write compelling copy for your science or medical website.
Maven Medical and Science Communications includes principals Maggie D. Holley, M.A., and Jillian Orans, Ph.D. Ms. Holley received her M.A. in science and medical journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and has worked as a clinical communications specialist at the Duke Clinical Research Institute, and as a science writer at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Dr. Orans holds a Ph.D. in biological chemistry from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has done postdoctoral research at Duke, and taught in the Duke University Medical Center Department of Pharmacology.
Now you can launch your new medical or science start-up with a strong brand identity and a professionally designed website with scientifically accurate and compelling content.
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About a year ago I started studying for the Google Analytics Individual Qualification (IQ) test. I did quite a bit of studying, but haven’t yet taken the exam. In the meantime, Google Analytics has changed quite a bit, so I would likely need to study up some more to be officially certified. In the meantime, though, Google introduced this much more streamlined course. I’m happy to have a little piece of paper (pixels?) to show for my effort.
The Start-up Brand Identity Package provides the basic materials a new business needs to open their doors. It includes your logo, business cards, letterhead, a website, as well as logo files that you will need for LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. There are options you can add on if you need more website features or marketing materials right at the start.
The Gold Standard of Branding
The $20,000 to $100,000 that a major marketing and communications firm might charge for branding a new company is way out of reach for most entrepreneurs. Which is not to disparage the services that the big agencies provide…if your loan or grant or angel investor will finance that level of service, by all means go for it. But alas, some of us can only afford a Subaru, even though a private jet would get us to our destination so much faster.
Do It Yourself Branding
Many companies try the DIY route, designing a logo using free graphics software and tossing up a website with the free templates provided by a budget webhost. This doesn’t cost money but it does cost time, frittering away hours that would be better spent on your start-up’s core competencies. It’s disheartening to find that the logo looks jaggedy when you print it, or the cheap business cards have the printer’s name on the back, or you’ve spent all night and still can’t quite get the website laid out the way you want. And while you’re trying to figure out some clunky piece of software that you never hope to use again, your product development is neglected.
Cheap Cheap Brand Identity
There are plenty of places where you can have a logo designed super duper cheap. But, to quote the FAQ of one such shop, “We reserve the right to completely overlook your guidelines” (I’m not going to grace them with a link).
Likewise, there are places that will build you a website for a few hundred bucks. These are adequate if you just want to get some information up, fast. They are invariably built on templates, where you simply insert your logo and maybe choose from a half dozen color schemes. The problem is that there is no customization beyond that, and if you want to include some feature that is not available, you are stuck with a website you can’t easily customize or grow. And the same template is probably used by thousands of other companies, so any pretense to a unique brand identity is thrown out the window. I recently saw two competing businesses here in Durham, NC using the exact same website template. You would think they were partners, not competitors.
Where the Start-up Brand Identity Package fits in
The Start-up Brand Identity Package is designed to bridge the gap between Too Expensive and Unprofessional. I provide professional services at an affordable price.
The Start-up Brand Identity Package is not designed to be everything you will ever need for your branding and marketing, ever. It’s designed to be a good start that you can build on as your business grows. Unlike the online chop shops, I spend the time to get to know you, your business, and your business goals. When the time comes that you need more website content, an AdWords campaign, marketing collateral, trade show graphics, etc., I already have a basis of understanding about your business and your brand.
Other Options and Services
In addition to the Start-up Brand Identity Package, I’m offering several options for services you may want right away, such as basic search engine optimization, presentation materials, or training in how to update your own website.
If you were to hire that Gold Standard marketing firm, you would have at your disposal all manner of market researchers, strategists, writers, trademark attorneys, and other professionals. And your fees would be subsidizing all of that high-dollar staff and their Aeron chairs and benefit plans, regardless of whether or not you use their services.
I work with a variety of marketing professionals, writers, programmers, and other professionals who can be brought in on an as-needed basis. Or, I can simply make recommendations of professionals in my network who provide the services you need. I don’t get kickbacks or referral fees. Being able to connect people who can help each other out is one of the benefits of being part of a vibrant creative and entrepreneurial community.
This Could be the Start of a Beautiful Friendship
Here is where I reveal my nefarious plan. It’s true. I don’t want to provide only this one package of services. I want to get in on the ground floor as a trusted partner in helping you launch and grow your business. And if you become so successful that you outgrow my services and move on to that Gold Standard agency, I count that as a big win for all involved.
Twelve days ago, I launched my New and Improved website. It’s been a long time coming. I have a new design, new content, and a great new webhost. I started on this project a couple of years ago, and worked on it in dribs and drabs whenever things slowed down. Like the barefoot cobbler, I had a few blisters on my metaphorical feet before my final push to publish.
The biggest change is the official announcement of the Start-up Brand Identity Package. Even before announcing it on the website, I had booked two packages with start-up companies. One was so successful, they were bought out before the logo design was even finished!
Some of the changes in my website reflect a shift in my business model—incorporating more branding and marketing, and focusing on start-up companies. It reflects a maturing in how I brand my own company as it approaches its tenth anniversary. It also incorporates better techniques for lead generation, of the sort I might recommend should you hire me to design your website:
- Design for your audience, not your colleagues
When I designed the first (2004) and second (2010) versions of the Red Beret Design website, in the back of my mind was how it would be perceived by other graphic designers. I was torn between designing something that looked cool and designing something that was an effective business channel. With this design, I ditched the cool factor entirely, and focused entirely on a clean, clear design of the sort that makes for effective business communication.
- It’s about them, not you
The first Red Beret Design website was basically a portfolio with a contact form. The second had a montage of designs front and center on the home page. The new home page focuses first and foremost on what I can do to help your business. The portfolio links are at the bottom of the page.
This was another step away from designing for designers. For a graphic designer, the portfolio is the center of the universe. When you are graduating design school, a degree is not enough: your focus is to build a portfolio to demonstrate what you’ve learned. And when you apply for jobs, creative directors and art directors and marketing managers are more interested in viewing your portfolio than they are in reading your resumé.
Of course I still have a portfolio as a major section of the website. But it’s no longer front and center. It’s there as a demonstration of what I have done for other clients, of the quality and professionalism of my work. But what is more important to convey is what I am able to provide for you, not what I provided for someone else at some point in the last 10 years.
- Take expert advice with a grain of salt
Putting together the Start-up Brand Identity Package—and stating a specific price for it—flies in the face of most of the advice I have received in nearly ten years of running a design business. The expert wisdom is that if you state a price, you are competing on price. And that you need to compete on value. And that you never talk money until the potential customer is so convinced of your value that they will pay anything to work with you, because you are so awesome.
It is the rare client who says to me “Spend however much time you need, money is no object”. Oh, did I say rare? That’s the wrong word. Nonexistent is more accurate. Everyone is concerned about their budget. Whether the budget is big or small, it’s not unlimited. Clearly stating what I provide for a certain price saves everybody time. If someone has only $500, they know they can’t afford my start-up package. If someone wants a team of designers coming up with hundreds of logo concepts, and months of brand research and focus group testing, they can tell that my process is more limited. But if a start-up company needs a professional brand launch, they can budget under $5k and be up and running.
I still compete on value. I just do so at a stated price.
- Have prominent Calls to Action
My previous website had a contact form, and had a phone number and email link at the bottom of each page. Now I have a contact form in the sidebar of every page, and a different contact form in the sidebars of the pages devoted to the Start-up Brand Identity Package. This makes it easy for people to initiate contact the moment they decide, but it also makes it easier for me to track my conversions using Google Analytics.
- Have lots of search engine optimized content
One of the nuggets of wisdom I’ve learned about search engine optimization (SEO) is that the best SEO is also good communication for humans. By having a separate page for each service that I offer, I am able to optimize that page for specific keywords. But it also enables me to tell you in greater depth how I can help you with direct mail design, or advertising design, or more about my web design process.
Keeping a blog, by the way, is one of the best ways to add search-engine-optimized content to your website. Considering that this is my first blog post in eight months, this is another case of the barefoot cobbler.
- Don’t use a content slider
I actually designed this site originally to have a content slider on the home page (a content slider is one of those popular website gizmos where the main image changes every few seconds). As someone who used to do motion design, I guess I just didn’t want my page to be so static. In the back of my mind, I knew it was a bad idea. I’d learned as much when I was art director at a company in the 1990s that tested rotating content in our usability lab. About a week before launch, my husband—not knowing that I was redesigning my website to feature a content slider—railed against content sliders after reading an article about how they don’t work. So I did my own research, and found plenty of evidence from respected usability experts about the awfulness of content sliders (according to leading user experience expert Jakob Nielsen, they “Annoy Users and Reduce Visibility”.
So I ditched two of the three slides and launched with just the one promoting the Start-up Brand Identity Package. Of course, having a big graphic may just lead to “banner blindness”. I suppose that, being a graphic designer, I just had to have a graphic somewhere on the page. Maybe I need to go back and re-read #1 on this list…
I added some new work to all three portfolios today. These are just a few of the projects I’ve been working on in the last few months:
A pro bono project for the Chapel Hill Breast Cancer Foundation
In the last year, breast cancer has become a personal issue for me. I wouldn’t be around to write this blog post if it weren’t for the research done by scientists in the years before my diagnosis. The Chapel Hill Breast Cancer Foundation helps fund research at Duke, UNC Chapel Hill, and Wake Forest Universities in North Carolina. They are helping to raise funds for research through a golf tournament at Croasdaile Country Club in Durham, NC. Their main need was a poster, but as I worked on the poster I realized that the foundation did not have a logo. I designed a logo they can use for the golf tournament, that can also be adapted post-tournament by simply replacing the golf ball with a white circle. In addition to the requisite breast cancer pink, I added a band of Carolina blue to echo the foundation’s roots at UNC Chapel Hill.
Croasdaile Country Club was generous in providing some great photos of their golf course, so finding a good-looking image that would work at poster size was easy. In addition to the big poster, other advertising collateral included a smaller poster for posting in locker rooms, a save-the-date postcard, and a trifold brochure, all using a similar motif. I worked on this project alongside More Than Marketing, who developed the marketing plan and wrote the copy.
Blog masthead for a fun teacher
Ms. Computer Teacher is the pseudonym of a school teacher here in Durham NC, who teaches technology to middle school students. Her blog includes how-to posts such as how to build a digital portfolio, informs kids of technology news of interest to them, and generates lively discussions about how technology is affects their lives. She wanted a logo and masthead that would be fun, sassy, a little bit sexy, but also convey her knowledge and authority. We went through several iterations of silhouettes before refining the illustration to fit her vision. The colorful masthead behind the logo includes shapes that echo the layout of a circuit board, and also include a ghosted image of the html code from the blog itself. The project was finished just before the start of classes…I can’t wait to hear what her students think of the design!
Website design for BECOMING Durham
BECOMING is a program in Durham County which addresses the clinical, developmental and social needs of youth ages 16-21 who need support negotiating a successful transition to adulthood. The masthead was designed with a youthful edge, and highlights the familiar skyline of downtown Durham. The biggest challenge I faced was in developing a site that seamlessly transitioned between the English and Spanish versions of the site. Thanks to the ease of use of WordPress, the website is updated regularly by BECOMING staff, who make blog posts, upload videos and presentations, change the home page promos, and add events to the calendar.
Website design for a General Contractor
CWB Holdings, LLC, is a new business founded by Curtis Brookshire, a general contractor based in Creedmoor, NC. He needed a website for his new business that would inform potential clients of his services. Working with Trisecta, who wrote the copy for the website, we developed a threefold approach to his services. He offers similar services to real estate agents and property managers, yet the reasons they would call him are very different, so we broke those audiences out into two separate pages. In a third section, we broke out a third, unique market of quality management consulting. What sets Mr. Brookshire apart from other general contractors is that he has a degree in engineering, Six Sigma certification, and years of experience working as a military contractor. That also led to the home page headline of “Engineering Expertise, Business Acumen, Military Efficiency”. The red, white and blue color scheme was used as a subtle nod to his goverment experience.
Reformatting a previous brochure design
I’m not sure why I had not added my design for the Phillips Ambassadors brochure to my portfolio in the past. My guess is that I had waited on it with the intention of taking a photograph rather than just uploading an image of the digital file. The front of the original brochure has the Phillips logo embossed, an a line of gold foil along the open edge. It looks quite elegant; not sure that my photo does it justice.
Phillips Ambassadors is a study abroad program at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, focused on sending U.S. students to study in Asia.
The original brochure is a five panel gatefold. For this fall, however, the Phillips Ambassadors program wanted to make some changes and update the content. The new brochure is taller, but is redesigned as a trifold. As you can see below, the new brochure is much more streamlined, owing in large part to the deletion of a long list of programs that was on the two beige panels in the original. A greater variety of usable photos also enabled me to use three photos for a more symmetrical layout (although I will miss the young woman with her elephant!). I am guessing that improved digital camera (and mobile phone camera) technology has enabled the young ambassadors to take snapshots that are high enough resolution to print at a reasonable size.
Another part of the redesign involved a photograph that appears on the inside of the cover. The client was concerned that the photograph, of the Shanghai skyline, looked uninviting due to it having been taken on a very overcast day. A bit of color manipulation in Adobe Photoshop was able to brighten the sky, water, and skyline so that the city looks a bit more cheerful. Now the students will be treated to a photo of Shanghai with a Carolina blue sky.
I took advantage of a discount offer for GoMobi to create a mobile-optimized version of redberetdesign.com. According to Google Analytics, the amount of traffic I get via mobile is still pretty small, but it is growing, and I wanted to be sure that anyone coming to the website via a mobile phone was treated to a good user experience. I’m usually a bit obsessive about researching every possible technological option, but today I threw caution to the wind and signed up for a plan via Hostgator for under $3 per month for the optimized site. I suppose I could have set up a subdomain and a special CSS stylesheet for mobile and a browser sniffer to redirect mobile users to the mobile site, oh, and either designed my own icons or purchased some from iStock, but instead I signed up for GoMobi and had my mobile site up and running in a couple of hours. I still need to install the WordPress plugin that will redirect mobile users, but that will only take me a few minutes more.
Like most WYSIWYG systems, there are elements that will drive a designer to distraction. For instance, the site’s description, as you can see is center-justified. I avoid center-justified text for anything longer than a headline, because studies show that center justification decreases readability. Alas, however, I did not see an option to change it.
GoMobi includes an option for adding a gallery, or linking to a FlickR gallery. I don’t know that a lot of people will want to wade through a portfolio on a mobile device, but I suppose my next step will be to add at least a few portfolio samples to the mobile-optimized website.
Last year I set out to blog regularly in order to lend insight into topics of interest to companies that are trying to figure the best way to build a website or market their business. I set myself a long list of topics and set about writing daily, and posting whenever I’d finished a brief essay on my self-assigned topic. I have never intended this to be a personal blog, other than to share personal experiences that pertain to the topic at hand. I debated just picking up where I left off, but decided that my personal perspective on this topic may be of value to other solopreneurs, and worth sharing.
This is my first blog post as a cancer survivor.
A little over a year ago, I was diagnosed with stage 1 invasive breast cancer. I won’t bore you with the details, other than to say that what followed that diagnosis was two surgeries, six weeks of radiation, three months of chemotherapy, and a bout of pneumonia. Then the recovery began.
Being a solopreneur made the entire ordeal much less stressful than it might have been. I didn’t need to ask anyone’s permission to attend the many, many medical appointments that dominated the past year (radiation treatments alone are five days per week). When the worst of the fatigue from chemotherapy hit, I didn’t need to ask anyone’s permission to take the time I needed for my body to heal. When I felt a little better, I’d work on the sofa with my laptop; a little better yet and I would work a few hours at my desk.
I made the decision early on to stop taking on new clients for the duration. It was fortunate that my illness coincided with a deep recession, so there wasn’t a huge amount of work to turn away. I continued to work with current clients, but made sure they were informed of what was going on. I had one stipulation for any projects I’d take on: no tight deadlines. All business development projects—including this blog—fell by the wayside. After decades of putting my work first, my health became my #1 priority.
I am fortunate that the drop in income was a struggle, but not a disaster. I have good health insurance, and cannot stress enough how important that is for anyone of any age, no matter how healthy you think you are. I am also fortunate to have a husband who was able to help support me not only financially and emotionally but logistically: driving me to appointments, cooking meals, and picking up the slack as efforts towards household chores fell by the wayside, too.
Years before, I had purchased long-term disability insurance, yet I ended up never filing a claim. It was difficult to gauge how much I “should” have been able to work; there are many who continue to work full-time straight through chemotherapy. I didn’t want to stop working 100%, nor did I want to continue working 100%. My medical schedule and energy level varied from week to week and day to day, so it was difficult to say how much I was working or intending to work. My situation didn’t conform to what was expected on the insurance company’s claim forms, and needless to say, they were of no assistance in figuring it out. When it was all over, I ended up canceling the insurance and wishing I’d saved my money all these years.
I had my first meeting with a potential new client during my last week of chemotherapy. My biggest anxiety about the meeting was what to wear on my bald head. Since I work at home, I had not bothered to fill my prescription for a wig. Although I have a fine collection of scarves, I didn’t want to show up to a business meeting looking like a gypsy. And nothing says “cancer patient” like a turban. My husband suggested the obvious: Why don’t you wear your red beret? Which is what I did, although I had to tug it down over my ears to disguise the lack of hair.
As my energy level has increased post-chemo, so have the hours I spend on my business. I’m working on several client projects and have a few more in the queue. I’m studying Google Analytics with the intention of obtaining my certification, and also taking a 26-week course to become a Certified Marketing Advisor. I’ve started some non-work-related creative projects that may or may not converge with my design work at some point down the road. I’ve updated my business plan with tasks that take me all the way through to the end of this year.
Having meetings and milestones on my calendar again is a great tonic. For several months I was focused only on getting through the day, or even the hour. To be able to focus on goals that are months or years down the road, and being healthy enough to do the work to meet them, is something I don’t take for granted.
One of my milestones has been to resume blogging. Check!
I’ll be resuming my editorial calendar from last year, picking up with my discussions of web development options, especially my personal favorite, WordPress. Following that I’ll be talking about branding and logos, print design and marketing collateral. In addition I’m developing a library of quick tips that I hope to pepper throughout the blog. As I go through my studies on marketing for entrepreneurs and Google Analytics, I hope to share some of what I learn here as well. If you are interested in these topics, come on back, or better yet, subscribe to the RSS feed for this blog.
Mindful Financial is a financial services company whose slogan is Increased Financial Awareness and Peace of Mind. One of the images we considered for the website (still in progress) is a stack of rocks. The stack of rocks indicates a stable foundation—a good thing to have both financially and mentally—and also connotes a sense of balance. In a logo, though, the stack of rocks didn’t work as well: at a quick glance they tended to merge into a single shape. Separating them may defy gravity, but they also form an image of stepping stones. Since Mindful Financial has a 5-Step Plan to Financial Peace of Mind, this worked out perfectly as a metaphor for your step-by-step progress towards financial peace of mind.
The circles have several layers of meaning. They are evocative of coins, and therefore of money, a clear association with financial planning. The inner and outer circle, each themselves containing an inner and outer circle, are like ripples in water, implying the effects that the smallest actions can have far-reaching consequences. Circles are also symbolic of wholeness and harmony.