I used to wake up each weekday morning with a sense of dread. Another 1 hour commute. Another 8 hours of mind-numbingly boring work. Another 1 hour commute again. Another evening that I couldn’t really enjoy because I was going to have to get up the next day and do it all over again.
I was “living the dream”. I had a family, a house in a “prestigious” suburb, an expensive car, a career, a secure 9-5 job. I had everything that I thought I’d ever wanted. But I was MISERABLE.
There was nothing particularly wrong with my life. My job was boring but it wasn’t awful. I just couldn’t shake this overwhelming feeling that surely there had to be more to life than repeating that same unfulfilling week over and over again for 40+ years. My workmates were just as unhappy as I was. The older ones absolutely hated their jobs, and I was following the exact same path that they had. I felt like I was seeing my future and that made me really sad.
The turning point came when I was 24 years old. It was the week before I was supposed to start a 5 year accounting degree. I really wasn’t that interested in accounting, but completing the course meant that I’d be paid twice as much for the job that I was already doing, and I’d have regular paid time off work to study and do assignments. And, most importantly, everyone in my life thought it was a great idea. Back then, I used to do what other people thought I should do because I didn’t trust my own judgement.
Three nights a week I’d have to race home from work, pick up my car and drive another hour to get to uni, but I kept telling myself it wouldn’t be so bad, and it would be worth it in the end. All because I’d be making more money! I was going to do this for 5 whole years purely for more money!
My heart was begging me not to do it.
For many years I’d wanted to be a graphic designer. As soon I finished high school I started to study a Bachelor of Arts majoring in graphic design and marketing, but I didn’t enjoy the design subjects (mostly just art history and basic Photoshop skills that I’d already taught myself!) so I decided to change my majors to journalism and creativity writing. But then I left uni when I was only half way through the course. After that I worked all kinds of jobs ranging from retail and telesales, to cleaning and hospitality. I even spent 6 months working as a makeup artist despite not even wearing makeup myself! Eventually I went back to uni and started working for a wholesale food supplier. I worked my way up until I somehow ended up with a career in finance.
I found working in finance to be incredibly boring, and I still really wanted to be a graphic designer. I had an entire draw full of brochures for graphic design courses, but it just wasn’t practical. An entry-level design job wasn’t going to pay my mortgage!
Day one of my accounting course started to get close and closer, and the overwhelming sense of dread became so strong I felt like I was going to suffocate. A voice in my head told me that I HAD TO go online and have another look at design courses. So I did, and I immediately found a design course that was just about to start. It was the Diploma of Graphic Design at the Southbank Institute of Technology. It was 3 nights a week and it was a only a 5 minute walk from my workplace, giving me time to finish work, have dinner and walk to class.
I un-enrolled from the accounting course and enrolled in the design course. It sounds simple enough, but at the time it felt like the most terrifying and risky thing I had ever done in my life!
The design industry is REALLY competitive, so I felt like I was throwing away a lucrative career with great job security, to try to make it in an industry where I was likely to fail!
My (now ex) partner didn’t support the idea, my friends didn’t support the idea – even I didn’t support the idea! Well meaning people told me that I shouldn’t throw away a promising accounting career. They told me I was too old to change careers (I was only 24!), they told me that the design industry was too competitive and I’d never make it. But I listened to my heart and enrolled anyway.
This time around I absolutely LOVED studying graphic design. I’d always struggled academically, but I breezed through the course, getting top marks easily, because the way the classes were structured suited my learning style perfectly.
After the first couple of semesters I quit my day job so that I could study full time. I went back to hospitality (something I swore I’d never do!) because it meant I could work at night and attend classes during the day. I was also doing volunteer graphic design and admin work, which enabled me to start getting freelance design work through word-of-mouth. I was so happy!
And then my partner was fired.
And then I was fired.
We started powering through our savings and missing mortgage payments. I needed to find another job and I needed to find one FAST. I was told that it was “impossible” to get a graphic design job without at least a Diploma level qualification and a really good portfolio, and I didn’t have either, but I started to apply for every entry-level graphic design I could find.
And I got an interview! It was at a digital agency and I was so thrilled to even just be considered for the position!
I went to the interview and I was so nervous I couldn’t stop shaking. I fumbled over the interview questions. My portfolio was awful (looking back at it now I cringe!). The interviewers told me that it needed work, but they could see that I had potential. I thought that there was no way that I’d actually get the job.
But I did!
My new bosses were keen for me to keep studying, so they were happy for me to work around my timetable. Being a part-time entry-level design job, it didn’t pay very much, but I didn’t care. I was lucky enough to get a second job working at a night club, and I was freelancing too. I was VERY busy but I didn’t care – I was so happy!
My partner got a new job too, and we were able to pay our mortgage again.
Time passed and I was promoted to a full time Graphic & Web Design role at the same agency. I absolutely loved it! I did printed design, as well as digital design and website design. If I had any spare time I’d ask the other members of the team if they needed help with anything, so I ended up learning web development, and SEO, and project management! All skills that I still use to this day!
Even though I loved working there, I was offered what I thought was a better job, so I left. Big mistake! The “better job” was anything but, so I quit after just a week! I couldn’t believe it, I was working in a highly competitive industry and I’d just quit two jobs in the space of a month! I was so upset. And I needed to find a new job ASAP!
At the time, I was doing an advertising course in the evenings, so I asked my teacher and classmates for advice. They suggested I apply for jobs in marketing. They said my skills as a designer would be considered so valuable employers might be willing to train me on the marketing side. So I applied for every marketing job that I could find, and they were right! I got a job working in the marketing department at a cosmetics company.
This job was NOT a good fit for me! Everyone else at the company was into mainstream fashion and makeup and they loved the Kardashians. I couldn’t believe I’d somehow ended up with a second job in the makeup industry when I didn’t even wear makeup! It makes me sad to think that I spent a year working in a job where I didn’t fit in, when someone else would’ve absolutely loved that job.
I was primarily hired for my graphic design skills, but when I wasn’t designing, it was my job to help the rest of the marketing team with whatever they needed. This was fantastic because I got to learn about sales and marketing, running an ecommerce store, and wholesaling.
The job was only part-time, but it paid just enough to cover my fixed expenses so I decided to use the opportunity to start freelancing. I’d always planned to eventually make freelancing my full time job, but I was really scared of not having the security of a regular income, and I was stuck in the mindset that I “needed” to have a 9-5 job.
As you can probably guess, freelancing did work out for me in the end, and I’ve now been self-employed for the last 5 years!
I did need to do to some serious mindset work and get over some BIG money blocks, and it took a lot of hours and hard work in the beginning. But I got there and I’ve never looked back!
Being a freelance graphic designer has completely transformed my life.
Because I’m no longer locked into a 9-5 job and I can work anywhere in the world, I have the freedom to travel. In my first few years of freelancing, I was able to do volunteer work in Nepal, travel around England and Europe (the photo above is from when I went to Disneyland in Paris!), and take a month off work to prepare for my wedding and then take a month-long honeymoon travelling around South-East Asia!
Now that I’m a mum, I’m able to work around my daughter’s schedule. When she was a baby I was able to work from home while she slept and nursed. Now that has become unmanageable, I use part-time childcare and work during her day naps and after she goes to sleep at night.
I’m also able to use my design skills to support causes that I really care about. I do free and low-cost graphic design work for human rights, animals rights, environmental and vegan advocacy groups and activists.
I’m also in the very fortunate position to be able to be fussy about the clients that I work with, so I choose to work with businesses and NFPs that are doing good. People that value ethics and sustainability over making a quick dollar.
The highlight of my job is definitely my clients. Instead of working in an office with a group of miserable women that hate their jobs, I now get to work with women that I really passionate about what they do. I’ve been so fortunate to be able to work with the loveliest people, many of whom I now consider my friends, and I love being able to help them grow their businesses.
And it’s all because I make one scary decision that completely changed my life!
New years resolutions are usually a pretty big deal for me.
I’m reeeaaalllyyy into goal setting and targets and vision boards and accountability and masterminds.
Up until recently I was sticking post-it notes around the house to remind me of my short-term goals, and I had my long-term goals printed, laminated and stuck on my fridge. I used to have my (huge) vision board on display in my bedroom so it was one of the first things that I looked at when I woke up.
My motto was:
“if you’re not moving forward you’re moving backwards.”
But things are changing. This year I’m hitting the pause button.
Because I realised that I was so busy focusing on the future that I wasn’t living in the present, and missing out on the things that really mattered!
Practicing mindfulness and a gratitude for what I have while simultaneously working towards my future goals is something that I struggle with. I realised that as hard as I tried, I just couldn’t balance the two, so something needed to change.
I spent SO LONG working SO HARD to have exactly what I have now. And instead of sitting back and appreciating that I’ve finally reached my goals, I was focusing on propelling myself towards my next set of goals!
But this year is going to be different.
I’ve experienced some major mindset shifts in the last couple of months and I’ve realised that I need to do things differently.
I’m hitting PAUSE on my future goals, and focusing on being in the present moment.
I have a beautiful almost 3 year old little girl who is growing up SO FAST and I don’t want to miss a second of it!
I have a lovely house that I rarely get to enjoy because I’m always working!
And even though I 100% know that self-care needs to be my number one priority for the sake of myself, my family, and my business, I’m just not doing it!
My work can be really stressful and demanding at times. And when I get busy, self-care is always the first thing to go out the window.
So this year I’m making some changes.
Change #1 – Working less hours!
Up until now I’ve been working full-time hours with only part-time childcare, so I’ve been working in the evenings and weekends, and when I get really desperate using babysitters when I’d really rather be with my daughter.
Working all day, spending a couple of hours with my daughter, going back to work as soon as she is asleep, working until midnight or even later, getting up in the morning and doing it all over again is not a sustainable way to live.
So I need to make some changes.
From now on I’ll only be working 3-4 days a week, and scheduling buffer weeks between bigger jobs so that if a job gets held up, I have an extra week to finish it, instead of working laaaatttte into the night.
I’m sure people will wonder why I chose to reduce my hours and turn away work rather than hire someone to work with me. And it’s because I have hired people in the past and it’s just not a road I want to go down at the moment for various reasons. I may feel differently in the future, but right now I want to keep Flik Graphic Design as a one-woman show.
Change #2 – I’m NOT setting business goals! (But I am setting personal goals)
My business is going great and I’m really happy to keep things going the way they are without any plans to expand or change anything.
I’m still setting personal goals this year, or rather intentions.
These are my intentions for the year:
1. Prioritising being the best mum that I can be.
2. Loving and accepting myself completely
3. Yoga and/or other exercise daily
4. Practising mindfulness – being in the present moment
5. Mediation & shakti mat daily
6. Thinking of at least 3 things I’m grateful for each day
7. Limiting social media and reading instead
8. Reading at least one book about spirituality/self-improvement each month
9. Spending time in nature each day
10. Massage, float, bubble bath or another act of self-care once a week (minimum).
I know I will struggle with some of these, and competing priorities will mean I have to let some things go each week, but I’m certainly going to do the best that I can.
Change #3 – Simplifying my work life!
Up until now my workload has been pretty crazy. Running Flik Graphic Design, plus helping out with the printing business that I own with my husband, plus my online store, plus volunteer work, plus having a young child. The last couple of years have been INTENSE!
I LOVE working, I LOVE owning businesses and I LOVE being really busy, but my daughter is my number one priority, so I realised I needed to seriously re-evaluate my workload so that I could spend more time with her.
I’ve shut down my personal blog, so now I’ll only have one blog to update instead of two. This means that I’ll start posting some more personal articles on my business blog that I previously would have put on my personal blog. This is going to seriously push me out of my comfort zone, because it makes me really uncomfortable to talk about personal stuff in my business space, but I’ll be doing it because it aligns with my commitment to be authentic and transparent in my business.
I’ve also closed down my online shop. I will probably open it up again in the future because I’m already missing it. But for now, it was taking up a huge chunk of my time and lower down on my list of competing priorities, so it needed to go.
And as mentioned above, I’ll be working less hours.
So what does all this mean for Flik Graphic Design?
If you’re one of my clients, I’ll stop sending you emails at odd hours of the night. I’ll also be scheduling less work each week which means that I’ll probably starting booking out further in advance. Currently I’m booked 2 months in advance for larger projects, this might change in the future, or it might not, I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.
On the flip side, having less competing priorities will mean that I’ll be in a better headspace and have more time to focus on my design projects, and when there are unexpected hold ups on projects, or urgent last-minute jobs, it’ll be a lot easier for them to fit in, so overall all of these changes are going to be really beneficial for my clients.
1. What is your Unique Selling Point (USP)?
What is so special about your business? What sets you apart from your competitors? What do you do differently? Why should people chose you over your competitors?
2. How can you explain your business in a sentence or two?
You’ve got 30 seconds to explain your business to someone that has no knowledge of it. How can you sum up your business in a sentence or two?
3. Who is your target market?
Who are you targeting in your marketing? You should be targeting a very specific group of people. You will have customers outside of your target market, but your marketing should be designed to speak to a specific group of people. ‘Socially and environmentally conscious females in their 40-50s with annual salaries of $150k+’ is a target market. ‘Everyone’ is not a target market!
4. What are your brand colours?
These are the colours that dominate your brand. They should be in your logo, website and marketing materials. They should be the dominant colours in your social media images. You can use other colours too, but your brand colours should be included whenever possible. I recommend having 1-2 main brand colours and 2-4 secondary brand colours, for a total of 4-6 colours.
5. Why do you do what you do?
Why are you in business? What’s your story? What motivates you? What’s your ‘why’?
My husband Chay and I have been living and working together for the past 6 months and yes that is actually something that I would 100% recommend.
We have been friends for a grand total of 15 years. During that time we managed to date, and then not date, and then date again, and then move in together and get married and have a baby and also buy and renovate a house (we managed to do the last 4 in the space of 1 year). So we figured if we managed to survive all that and still remain friends, then hell, maybe we could work together too.
This may or may not be a guide on how to test your marriage to the absolute limit.
Have we killed each other? No.
Have we had massive fights and threatened divorce? Still no.
Before we started working together we were a bit apprehensive. We thought maybe it wouldn’t be healthy for 2 people to basically spend 24/7 within 1 meter of each other 7 days week! But I spoke to some other people who worked with their partners and they had nothing but good things to say about it. We figured we’d try it out and if it didn’t work out at least we’d know we’d tried!
Chay originally left his day job to come and work at Flik Graphic Design. Our plan was to expand the business into a full-service agency and bring in some more graphic designers. Chay would be the office manager and also handle project management (because he is literally the most organised and productive person I have ever known). However it proved to be a lot harder than we expected because we quickly realised that my personal brand was so strong that all of my clients wanted to work with me directly. Chay found it virtually impossible to take over project management because my clients only wanted to communicate with me. It’s tough being loved so much! 😂 😂 😂
Thankfully we had a backup plan! Before we started, we decided to do a 3 month trial and if things weren’t working out for whatever reason, Chay would go back to work or start his own business. I decided to have a look at businesses that were for sale just to see what kind of prices we’d be looking at if we decided to buy a business in future. We were considering the idea of a printing business because we’d both worked in the industry and it would pair well with my design business. Even just the work I was outsourcing through Flik Graphic Design was enough to keep a little printing business going!
And of course the very first business that popped up on my computer was a printing and signage business that was perfect for us! It was exactly what we were looking for and a great price. We decided to buy the equipment instead of the actual business, so that we could choose our own name and start fresh with new branding. We already had a loan so all we had to do was sign the paperwork. We’d already renovated the bottom level of our house into office space, and we had a room that was a perfect size for the printer and other bits and pieces (like literally the exact perfect size!) We chose the name Brisbane Custom Signs. I then designed the logo, brand identity and website in under a week (while still managing a full workload – go me!). So in the space of exactly 7 days we went from thinking about the possibility of starting another business, to being up and running!
Now we have a business each, but because there’s so much cross-over, we both work in each other’s businesses a lot. I think having that really clear divide of each being in charge of our own business really helps a lot! We’re financially accountable to each other, but how we manage our time and our business is completely up to us.
6 months in and we’re both happily working together.
And not divorced.
And still friends.
I spoke to lot of other people that work with their partners and I implemented lots of tips that they gave me.
Here are my top 4 tips!
1. Have a clear divide between work stuff and home stuff
This is the number one piece of advice that people kept giving me! For us, the bottom level of our house is devoted to work stuff and the top level of our house is for home/family stuff. We try not to talk about work stuff when we’re upstairs (not always successfully – but we try!) and we try to mentally switch off when we leave the office at the end of the day.
2. Have clear roles, expectations and accountability
Being really clear on how we each fit into the businesses, what we’re each responsible for, and how we’re accountable to each other has really helped. We ask each other to do things by specific times if we’re on a deadline for a client, but apart from that we’re free to mange our time as we please. We both know what the other expects of us, and we hold ourselves accountable to each other through doing weekly income tracking.
3. Have compatible working styles
I think is probably the main reason that working together has worked out! We both have similar working styles, so in busy weeks we’ll both come down to the office after our daughter goes to sleep and work into the evening. During quiet weeks we’ll treat ourselves to the occasional long lunch out at a nice cafe or take some time to catch up on errands or do things around the house. I don’t think I could work with someone that was very strict about only working 9-5!
4. Share the load evenly
We both take turns with making coffees, lunches, doing the daycare pick up and drop off, cleaning, washing, shopping, etc. If one of us has to work overtime, the other one will take on some of the extra household stuff, and we help each other out however we can.
Do you work with your partner? Or do you think that would a recipe for disaster? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
Whether you have a large or small business, a compelling brand story is essential. A well-crafted and authentic brand story builds trust and adds value.
It’s what people say about your business when you’re not in the room.
It’s the experience that your brand communicates.
It’s why you do what you do.
It’s the bigger picture.
It’s how your business relates to people and why it exists.
It’s that something special that sets you apart from your customers.
It’s so much more than just your logo!
Every aspect of your business crafts your brand story. From the copy on your website to the way that you interact with your customers.
Your brand story should be carefully crafted and considered.
Every aspect of your business contributes to your story. Don’t leave anything to chance. Consider your brand story in everything that you do.
What sets you apart from your competitors? What can you do that is different?
Whatever your message is, make sure it’s honest and believable. Building trust is critically important.
Your message needs to be clear and coherent. Every aspect of your business should tell the same brand story.
This a question that I get asked all the time. There seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding the two words and they often seem to be used interchangeably. But they are two very different things! A logo is one part of a brand, but branding is so much more than a logo!
So, what is a brand?
A brand is not a “thing”. A brand is what people think of when they hear the name of your business. It’s what they say about your business when you’re not in the room. Every aspect of your business creates your brand. From the visual elements such as your logo and promotional material (these are called brand identity items), to your social media updates, to the copy on your website and the way you interact with your customers. Creating a brand is not easy and it is something that evolves over time.
Have you ever seen an ad and known which company it was for without seeing the logo?
Or even just a photo? Or an icon?
That’s the power of branding.
And what is a logo?
A logo is an identifying element that people use to recognise a business. It nearly always features the business name and may also include an image. A logo can be simple and typographic, icon based or an elaborate illustration. A logo is an essential component of any brand, and it is a powerful brand tool, but it cannot do everything. While a logo is a major part of your brand, there is so much more to branding than just a logo!
And what is a brand identity?
A logo is your primary brand identity item. But there are also lots of other visual elements that contribute to your brand. Firstly there’s the visual components that represent your brand – fonts, colours, patterns, photography style, etc. These are your brand identity items. And then there’s all of the places that these visual components are used – website, signage, advertising, uniforms, etc. These are called brand identity collateral items.
OK great, but I can start with a logo and work on the rest of my branding later right?
Well, you can, but you may run in trouble down the track. You can draw on the elements in your logo, but your logo alone isn’t going to give you all the tools you need to create a consistent and memorable brand. That’s why whenever I create a logo, I always include a brand identity style guide. This outlines guidelines for the visual elements of a brand. I like to describe it as an instruction manual for starting a brand.
Imagine if you bought a desk from Ikea. The picture on the front represents your logo, and all the pieces in the box represent your other brand identity items. You might be able to put the desk together just by looking at the picture on the front, it will give you a good idea of how to desk is going to look, but you’ll probably still struggle right? Because there’s other parts of that go into putting the desk together that you can’t see in the photo. Isn’t it so much easier when you have a set of instructions? That’s what a brand identity style guide is. It’s like a set of instructions that help you to build a strong and consistent brand.
Brand identity style guides can range in size from just one page for small start-ups, to hundreds of pages for big corporations.
So what goes into a style guide? Let me break it down for you.
Take for example this logo design that I created:
This is the primary brand identity item, and it is the first thing to go into the style guide, but it would be very hard to build a brand based on this alone.
So to start with we need to expand on the logo so we have some secondary/supporting logos that we can use in instances where the main logo isn’t going to work.
Have you ever tried to use a horizontal logo as a profile pic? It doesn’t work too well. So I created a square version of the logo to use for social media, and created a reversed-out variation for stronger impact and to really enforce one of her primary brand colours. And Chloe also needed a logo variation that she could use to watermark her photos.
We have a couple of colours in the logo, but it is very hard to build a brand identity with just a couple of colours, so I created a colour palette that included and would compliment the colours in the logo. This colour palette features 5 colours, I recommend 4-6 colours for a brand colour palette.
Other colours can be used in conjunction with these, but your brand colours should dominate your brand identity where possible. But don’t go overboard! One mistake I see is people over-using their brand colour/s in an attempt to maintain brand consistency. In some cases this can work, but if you have a particularly strong colour and use it too much it can be overwhelming for viewers.
When creating a brand colour palette, it is important to think about how the colours will work in all instances. The colour spectrum you can see on screen (RGB) is much wider and different to what can be produced with normal printing methods (CMYK), so it is important to chose colours that translate well across all colour spaces, or be prepared to pay extra for speciality printing. Vibrant/fluorescent and metallic colours in particular can’t be printed with normal printing methods – they are only available at a limited number of speciality printers and can be very expensive.
Next we need fonts. I recommend having 3 different fonts. These are the three that I selected for Chloe:
The first is a display font. This is to be used sparingly for selected headings. It is very important not to over-do cursive fonts!
The second is a serif font. Serif fonts are fonts that have little feet, while san serif don’t (sans feet!). Sans serif fonts are also considered to be more contemporary, so serif fonts can be perceived as old fashioned or formal. For this brand, given their target market, I would use the serif font sparingly.
The third is a san serif font. This one will be used the most, for both headings and body copy. It’s also one of the fonts used in the logo. I think it is important to chose a primary font and then incorporate it into the logo where possible. I’ve seen people do the opposite – using a font because it is in their logo, but this doesn’t always work because not all fonts are going to be suitable for all applications.
I’ve chosen Source Sans Pro, which is an open source font family released by Adobe. It has an open licence which means it is free to use (some fonts can cost thousands of dollars to licence!) and it on Google Fonts which makes it really easy to use on websites. It works well in web and print (this is really important – some web fonts don’t work in print and vice versa!) and it has 12 different font weights (it’s really important to chose a font with lots of weight variations!) It’s my favourite font at the moment!
Not all style guide are going to have patterns, but for this particular brand identity, I developed three patterns:
These are seamless/repeating patterns which means they can be duplicated over and over again and will look like one cohesive image. I created one high-impact pattern and two neutral patterns to use for various purposes. Notice that the floral pattern features colours that compliment the brand colours, but they are different to add contrast. It’s important to use this pattern sparingly as overuse could dilute the brand and it would lose its impact.
Because this is a small business with just one graphic designer working on it (me!) this is sufficient to start building a really solid brand. It’s likely to evolve and expand over time with more pages being added to the brand identity style guide as the business grows.
Now we bring everything together in the styleguide. This is clear way to bring everything together in one place so people that are working on the brand can easily see all of the brand identity components. Because this one is relatively small, I’ve created a one page styleguide (this is also called a stylesheet). As the business and the brand grows and there’s more people working on the brand collateral, the styleguide will likely be expanded into a booklet with multiple pages.
If you’d like to learn some more about styleguides, I’d suggest looking at the styleguides of some big businesses with strong branding. Styleguides can be hard to find, because they’re not designed for the general public to see, but if you Google the name of the company plus “styleguide PDF” they’ll often come up! Pintrest is also a great place to find smaller styleguides, by searching for “stylesheets” or “branding”.
Now that the brand identity and styleguide (ie. the “instruction manual”) has been created, it is so much easier to go ahead and roll out the brand identity across the website, social media, advertising and packaging.
I hope this helps to clear up any confusion you might have about the difference between branding and a logo. If you have any questions please contact me and I’ll be happy to help!
PS. Not sure if you’re on the right track with your branding? For a limited time I’m offering FREE BRANDING ADUITS to small businesses. Simply complete the form below I’ll be in touch to schedule a time when we can have a chat about your business and branding and then I will send you a brand audit report.
FREE Brand Audit
Firstly, lets define what SEO actually is. SEO stands for “Search Engine Optimisation”. It is involves the use of various techniques to improve organic search results, so when people Google particular words, your website is at the top of the search results.
Meanwhile, Google AdWords refers to paid search results – it is NOT SEO. Watch out for unscrupulous SEO “experts” who will try to sell you SEO packages when really they’re just doing AdWords. Hiring someone to manage AdWords for you is perfectly valid (and something that I recommend) but it is not SEO!
So how is SEO done? SEO is an ongoing process that involves, time, research, planning, development, implementation and monitoring. It is a time-consuming process that usually takes 6-12 months to see significant results.
There are usually a number of people involved in the development of SEO. These can include:
- Your web designer/developer
- Your copywriter
- A SEO specialist
There is both on-page and off page SEO. On-page refers to things you can do to your website itself that makes it more appealing to search engines (eg. clean, compliant code) and off-page refers to other things that can do to improve your SEO (eg. backlinks). An experienced web designer/developer will know how to design your website with SEO in mind. A copywriter with SEO experience will be able to write keyword-rich text that can help to improve your website’s SEO. A SEO specialist will develop and implement an ongoing SEO strategy.
Trying to find a reputable SEO specialist can be a minefield. There are scam artists out there who either don’t get results, or they use unscrupulous methods (called black hat SEO) that may get results in the short-term but don’t work in the long-term and can even get your website penalised because they do not obey search engine guidelines.
It is also hard to know how much you should be spending on a SEO specialist when prices seem to range anywhere from a few dollars a month up to thousands.
A reputable SEO specialist won’t be able to give you a quote until they know:
- What objectives you want to achieve
- How well your website has been built
- The level of competition in your market
- The keywords you want to target (they can also make recommendations on this)
- Who you want to involve (yourself, copywriter, etc. or just want the SEO specialist to take care of everything)
- Whether you need to on-page SEO before you can start working on a off-page strategy
Normally a SEO specialist will only quote initially on the research phase and the development of a draft SEO plan. A reputable SEO specialist is NOT cheap, expect to pay a minimum of $500 per month in Australia. It can take 6-12 months to see results using ethical strategies (called white hat SEO) so it can be a big investment. When it comes to SEO, you generally get what you pay for. If you don’t have a big enough budget, you might be better of using alternative marketing methods such as Google AdWords.
Finding a reputable SEO specialist can be really challenging. A reputable SEO specialist should possess the following skills:
- Marketing knowledge and experience
- An understanding of how search engines work
- An understanding of how people use search engines
- A commitment to keeping themselves updated with changes to search engine algorithms
Asking friends and contacts for referrals and also checking references can help you to find someone reputable. Try to avoid getting locked into a long-term contract, but also realise that SEO usually requires a minimum of 6 months commitment before you begin to see results.
A brand identity style guide outlines a set of rules and guidelines to follow to ensure that you make the best use of your brand identity items and ensure that your branding remains consistent. I like to think of it as your ‘branding toolbox’ or your ‘branding training manual’. It is essentially a list of instructions to follow. If your brand was a cake, your brand identity items would be the ingredients and your brand identity style guide would be the recipe.
Brand identity style guides can range in size from just one page up to hundreds of pages, depending on how comprehensive they are. As a minimum they should outline logos and secondary/sub logos, fonts, and colour scheme. I include a one page style guide (commonly called a stylesheet) with all of my logo designs as standard as I feel this is the bare minimum that you need to have.
What are the benefits of a brand identity style guide?
The most important benefit of establishing a style guide is to ensure consistency and continuity for your brand.
If you have an in-house creative or marketing team, or you outsource to external agencies, without a style guide the designers have very little to go on. They can pick colours from the logo and attempt to match fonts, but without a style guide they have no idea how to correctly use your logo, or what the correct fonts are, or know how and where to use other identity items or other brand colours. Over time this will result in multiple pieces of visual communication which all look different. This dilutes the strength of your brand, looks unprofessional and is confusing to your customers.
But how much will it cost?
A style guide is an investment and the cost of a quality brand identity style guide is likely to pay for itself in the long run. When a designer is able to refer to a style guide, they are able complete jobs faster and with fewer revisions, which not only saves you money but also saves your time. Consistent branding will also strengthen your brand, which is likely to translate into sales.
The cost of a brand identity style guide will vary depending how detailed the guide is, and whether the content needs to be produced from scratch or consolidated into the guide. At an estimate, the cost of a brand identity style guide can range from around $500-$1,000.
If you think that you could benefit from a brand identity style guide and would like to discuss your requirements, please contact me, and I’d be happy to have a chat with you about it and answer any of your questions.
Reason #1 – You’ve crammed all the keywords you can think of into your website’s metatags
Metatags used to be important for SEO, but these days they are pretty much useless. In fact, over-stuffing your metatags with keywords can potentially hurt your rankings. Having said that, it is still important to use the meta description tag because – while not important to your rankings – they are used on search engine results pages (SERPs).
Reason #2 – You’re relying on your Google AdWords campaign to improve your organic rankings
AdWords is a form of paid advertising – it is not SEO. A well executed AdWords campaign used in conjunction with some quality SEO may improve your rankings by bringing more traffic to your website, but generally speaking your organic rankings are neither helped or hindered by how much you spend on Google AdWords.
Reason #3 – You’re targeting highly competitive keywords
If you’re targeting highly competitive keywords it means that you are competing with many other people who are working hard to rank well for the same keywords. It’s not impossible to rank well for competitive keywords, but it does take a lot of time and skill.
Reason #4 – You’re targeting broad keywords
If, for example, your were a freelance web designer, it might seem logical to try to rank well for the term “web design”, but this is a broad search term (and also highly competitive). The people that type “web design” into a search engine might be looking for a definition of the term, or they might be looking to learn web design. Only a small percentage of these people will be looking for a freelance web designer in your area. It would be more effective to try to rank well for a more specific phrase such as “Brisbane freelance web designer”.
Reason #4 – You’re expecting results too soon
Unfortunately SEO takes time and effort. Depending on the keywords you are targeting, you may have to wait 6-12 months to start seeing significant results. In the meantime, you could consider using another form of digital marketing in order to drive traffic to your website.
Reasons #5 -You’ve used a cut-price SEO or directory service
Unfortunately cheap SEO companies and other services that promise to improve your rankings by creating back-links are generally a waste of money. They can even do serious harm to your rankings because search engine algorithms can detect poor quality or irrelevant link profiles and potentially penalise you. When it comes to SEO, you generally get what you pay for. If you can’t afford to spend $500+ per month with a reputable SEO company, you may be better off doing your own SEO.
Reason #6 – It’s not your SEO that’s the problem, your website just isn’t converting
You might be blaming your SEO for poor results, when in fact your SEO is bringing plenty of visitors to your website, but those visitors just aren’t sticking around. This might be because your keywords aren’t targeting the right people, or your website isn’t converting your visitors into customers. Use an analytics program such as Google Analytics to see how your website is performing. If you’re getting lots of traffic, you might need to look at CRO (conversion rate optimisation) rather than SEO.
Once you’ve gone through the website design and development process, it needs to be “hosted” by a website hosting company so that it will appear on the internet. The cost of this is usually incurred monthly or yearly. You also need to purchase a domain name, which is a yearly or bi-yearly cost, but for now lets just focus on the cost of website hosting.
How much you need to spend on hosting is a difficult question to answer because it largely depends on the particular needs of your business and your website. How big your website is, how much traffic you have (now and in the future) and how important your website is to your business all needs to be taken into account. For example, a one page website can be hosted for a lot less money than a large eCommerce website.
With hosting options for as a little as $2 per month and as much as thousands per month, it can be difficult to know how much you need to spend. Here are some important points to consider:
1. Speed and Reliability
Generally with website hosting, you get what you pay for. Cheaper website hosting is usually slower (so when people visit your website it takes longer for the pages to load) and less reliable (so your website may go offline ie. not work from time to time). Cheap hosting companies may promise fast speeds and 99.9% up time, but this isn’t necessarily the case.
2. Technical Support
You will undoubtedly require some technical assistance at some point, so it’s important to look at what kind of technical support your potential hosting company offers. Cheaper hosting companies may offer online support only, while more expensive companies may offer 24 hour phone support.
3. Location of Servers
Where do your customers live? If you’re targeting Australia customers, I recommend using an Australian hosting company. Australian hosts tend to more expensive than American hosts, but their servers are usually located in Australia. This can mean (but doesn’t guarantee) faster website loading times, and better ranking on Australia Google. Of course, if you’re appealing to a global audience, the location of servers might not be relevant to you.
4. Bandwidth and hosting space
Bandwidth refers to how much traffic your website can receive. When you’re just starting out, it can be tricky to know how much bandwidth you will need. I would recommend starting with a small allowance in order to save money. As traffic to your website increases, you can increase your bandwidth allowance. Ever tried to visit a website but it had an error message saying bandwidth allocation exceeded? If your website receives too much traffic, it will go offline and you’ll have to contact your hosting company to get it back up and running again. If you suspect something is going to bring a large amount of traffic to your website (eg. you’ve book at TVC campaign) please discuss this with your hosting company beforehand, they can usually increase your bandwidth just for the month (for a price!) so that you’re website hopefully won’t crash. Hosting space refers to the amount of space that you need for all the files that make up your website, you web developer will be able to tell you how much you need for your website. If you just have a small website (5-10 pages) you won’t need too much.
So how much should you spend on website hosting? Here are my recommendations:
A basic 1-10 page website – $20 a month
For a basic website that is used for information purposes and a small amount of lead generation, I would recommend starting at $20 a month. Choosing a reliable hosting company in this price range can require some trial and error. It’s a good idea to ask around for recommendations if you can, and I’d suggest signing up to a monthly rather than yearly account, so you can change to a different provider if you aren’t happy.
A small online store $50-$100 a month
For a small online store it’s fundamentally important that your website is functional with minimal downtime, but you also probably don’t have the budget to be spending too much money on hosting. I’d recommend finding a hosting package that also includes management, so the website is hosted but also monitored and updated to ensure that everything is working correctly.
A big website or online store (100+ pages) $100+ a month
The hosting needs of a large website are far more complex and in a lot of circumstances you’re better off setting up your own hosting rather than using a hosting company. I’d recommend discussing your options with your website developer.
Finding a freelance graphic designer can be tough. There are so many designers out there and they all seem to offer various levels of quality, service and value. So sometimes just choosing the cheapest designer seems like an easy way to make a decision and save some money. But sometimes using a cheap designer can actually cost you MORE money.
Graphic designers may be offering their services cheaply for a number of different reasons. Some reasons might include:
- They’re inexperienced or untrained,
- Desperate for work,
- Trying to undercut their competition and/or compete on price,
- Have other sources of income and are just doing it for fun,
- Living in a country with a low cost of living,
- Don’t know their value or don’t know what their competitors charge,
- Have failed to calculate their associated costs and factor these into their prices,
- Are cutting corners (eg. using templates, copying/stealing other designer’s work)
- Or they are using unethical pricing strategies such as ‘bait and switch’ (ie. starting with an initial low cost but adding other costs at a later stage)
Now lets look at the some of the reasons why cheap graphic designers may end up costing you more money…
Inexperienced or off-shore designers may not know or understand your target market
If someone is on the other side of the world, how can they be expected to know or understand your target market? So how can they possibly design something that is going to engage your target market and make them want to be your customer? If you’re investing time and money in something that isn’t as effective as it could be, you are going to lose sales, and therefore lose money.
Inexperienced designers may not know enough about design theory to be able to create a design that converts
I have seen so many examples of cheap graphic design where there are no clear call-to-actions. Without clear call-to-actions, you are throwing your money away. A call-to-action is something that makes people act. So for example, if you want to hand out fliers so that people will call you, calling you is the call-to-action. If the flier doesn’t effectively make people want to call you, you’re going to miss out on phone calls! There is a lot more to graphic design than just making something look pretty – the strategy behind the design is even more important! If you hire a designer to design something for you and they don’t ask you what it is for or what you hope to achieve, you’re probably just wasting your money.
Cheap designers may not end up being as cheap as you though
There are a small amount of unscrupulous designers out there who may trick you into think they’re cheap, but charge your for hidden extras like revisions, fonts, and stock photos. Don’t ever base your decision on any hourly rate. A $100 an hour designer may charge you for 1 hour, while a $10 an hour designer may charge you for 10 hours for the exact same project! Always ask for a fixed-price quote so you don’t get any nasty surprises!
Local and/or experienced designers can potentially save you money on printing and distribution
If you hire an inexperienced and/or off-shore designer, chances are you’ll be on your own when it comes time to printing or distributing your job. But there are many, many ways that a local and/or experienced designer can help you save money on printing and distribution. Examples include:
- They may be able to offer you cheaper printing prices as they have accounts with trade printers that you wouldn’t normally have access to.
- You may save money on print set-up fees. Often inexperienced designers don’t know how to correctly set-up files for professional printing, which results in the printing company either rejecting the file, charging to fix the file, or printing it anyway and have it end up printing fuzzy/pixelated or just not looking right! Often the poor printing company gets blamed for this, when really it was the designers fault!
- Experienced designers can save you time and money on printing by organising your printing for you or telling you what to ask for. Printing companies don’t always quote on the cheapest option. You can often save upwards of a couple of hundred dollars just by choosing specific paper sizes, thicknesses and finishes!
- Experienced designers can usually handle all aspects of the printing and distribution process so you don’t have to waste time doing things like contacting printers, mail houses and setting up an Australian Post business account.
- Experienced designers usually know how to save you money on postage by choosing particular sizes and paper weights and addressing and sorting them so that they’re eligible for discounted postage.
Inexperienced and/or off-shore designers can cost you your time
If your designer is overseas, there may be time differences and language barriers. If someone is an inexperienced designer or there is a language barrier, you may have to go through several rounds of revisions until your are happy. This is going to cost you your time. Time that could potentially be better spend doing income generating activity or promoting your business. Would your rather a cheap flier design that takes 6 weeks and 10 rounds of revision to complete, or would you rather pay a little money to have the flier completed in 1 hour, 1 revision, and printed & delivered to your door in less than a week?