how to know if you need a custom website.

When you’re considering your new or redesigned website, the variety of options can seem endless. Squarespace or WordPress? Infinite scroll or multiple pages? Custom or template? Web designer or web developer?

A website can be a huge investment, but choosing the option that makes the most sense for you based on the stage of you business can make it much more approachable. The best thing about a website is that it is never permanent. True, this can also be the stressful part — you never feel like you’re done! — but it can also put your mind at ease that if something isn’t working, you can always change it.

custom-web-design

The biggest piece of advice I can impart upon you is to get a good grasp on the purpose of your website. There is a wide variety of options because there is an endless number of goals for sites. Knowing the functionalities you absolutely need will help inform your decision. Not everyone needs a huge, complicated site; not everyone can get by with a simple one. Everyone does want a site that functions well and looks great, but there is more than one way to get there. (psst: check out my post on planning for your website design here if you need a starting place!)

Before we begin, I do want to mention a bit of jargon that will help you out. A web designer is someone who is an expert at designing the look, layout, and visuals of your website. A web developer is the technical person who actually builds your site’s back end that makes it work using code. Two totally different skill sets and services! Sometimes individuals offer both services, but I personally prefer to be an expert at web design only, rather than stretching myself thin trying to keep up with the latest in two fields. You will need both services when designing a new website, so if you are going the custom route, make sure you either hire both or find a business that can offer you both services.

And now: what kind of website is right for you? My tips for each stage of your business:

 

For the new business:

The biggest factor for you is likely budget. You are working your tail off to get up and running, and you may not have the thousands it takes to build a totally custom site. If you are a service-based business, a blogger, a brick and mortar store, or something similar, you can likely start out with either something like Squarespace that easily lets you build your own site, or using a theme to build it in WordPress. (If you’re an e-commerce site, see below!) I liken this to buying something off the rack and making it look fabulous with how you style the item.

Your website is obviously very important, but it won’t be the sole way for your business type that people interact with you (or you don’t need any out-of-the-ordinary functionality). You may meet people in person, connect on social media, or benefit from referrals. People will get information from your website and develop their initial impressions, but their interaction with you as the service provider or your space as the shop owner will be the deciding factor. A site that is easy for you to update and can adapt as your business grows is key here, and a totally custom site doesn’t always work well for that.

The bones and structure will be there already for you in these options (and won’t require any coding skills!), and you can simply make it your own with font, color, and graphic choices. You’ll have to put in the time to make it great, but it can be an excellent way to help you understand your business more deeply. Keep it simple, clean, and easy to understand, and it will be a great place to start. If you opt for building it yourself, I do recommend at least investing in some visual branding. A designer can help you get a solid, professional look down, and you can use those guidelines as you build your site, or simply have them help you design a few key graphics rather than the entire site.

 

 

For the business looking to take it to the next level:

You’ve likely learned a thing or two since you started. You may have refined your offerings or expanded your team. Now, you’re ready to make your website look more professional.

A great option at this stage is working with a designer and developer to customize a theme. The bones are already there in the structure for the designer and in the code for the developer, but then you take it to the next level to make it work for your needs. With those customizations, you can make your site look more like you want it to and less like a cookie cutter option. Using that custom code will take you beyond what you are able to change yourself in a drag and drop template.

Because you aren’t starting completely from scratch, it is less work for your designer/developer, and therefore a more modest investment than a totally custom site would be. I liken this stage to buying something off the rack, but then taking it to an excellent tailor to make it fit just right. It is work to make the necessary changes, but you are able to pick and choose what areas need the work.

Another consideration is if you are expanding your site’s power by offering e-courses, a downloads page, or anything else that requires more action, doing a theme customization for your site will allow you to have more control over how each aspect looks and is displayed. It will feel custom without as much work.

 

 

For the e-commerce site/advanced business:

For you, your website is absolutely everything. From first impressions to user experience, your customers’ feelings about your website will either make them buy or run away. You also want to feel unique and make your customers want to come back.

A custom site is often the best option for you. You want stunning visuals that draw in your customers. You want clean, efficient code so that your pages load quickly and display properly. You want your site to be responsive so it looks awesome at every screen size. Investing in the help of website pros will make all these dreams come true for your website. This option is like commissioning a master seamstress to make you a dress from scratch — no modifying an existing one.

If you go the custom route, it can also be beneficial to invest in copywriting services and your own photography. Design will make or break the experience on your site, but even the most beautiful website can’t do a thing if the information isn’t there once they start reading. I’m a huge believer in content first, and then building a site that best displays and delivers that content.

 

How do you feel about your website? Did you build it yourself or did you invest in some professionals? I’d love to hear about your experience and how you made your decision!

 

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how to translate a brand into a logo design.

By now, you’ve surely heard that your brand is more than simply a nice logo. It’s about the full experience a person has with your business, the values you carry, and the full visual picture of all your materials from email signature to business card to blog graphic.

Let’s say you’ve done your branding homework. You understand your target audience, your brand values, where your logo and brand will be used, and have even narrowed in on a color palette. So…how do you then translate that all into a logo design?

The simple answer, of course, is to hire a designer to bring her expertise to the project. But, for those starting out with small or no budgets, you may wish to tackle it on your own. For that, I’m excited to share some of my logo process with you today!

logo design process on Dotted Design

 

Step One: Background Information

Before you can even begin to think about a design, you have to be prepared. It’s so important to understand what makes your business unique, the top message you want to convey to your customers, your target audience, and so on, so that you can take those messages and share them with your visual brand.

Some of my most important questions include:

  1. What is your elevator speech about what you do?
  2. Who are your ideal clients or customers?
  3. What words do you want associated with your business?
  4. What are the most rewarding moments in your business life?
  5. Where do you see your business going in one year? Five years?
  6. Where will your logo and brand identity be used? (website? billboards? packaging?)

P.S. See and download my full questionnaire here!

 

Step Two: Moodboard

The next phase is to develop an overarching game plan. I do this by compiling a moodboard. This step usually starts with my clients creating a Pinterest board of images, typography, and colors that inspire them (here’s an example board!). Then, I evaluate their collection and look for patterns or themes within the board. I take the strongest ones and compare how they relate to their brand values and targets from step one.

Once the patterns are established and aligned with their goals, I make a collection that includes typography styles, color selections, and photos with the right style vibe. This serves as an inspiration and reference for all future steps. Here’s an example:

Neutrals moodboard | Dotted Design

 

The colors are neutral, there are soft elements like the ampersand, and the typography combines sans serif fonts with some script. The photos feel light and airy, and the overall vibe is calming and reassuring.

 

Step Three: Sketching and Initial Concepts

Now the real (and fun!) work begins! I like to begin with a major brain dump session: I take some of the key words from the exploratory phases and come up with as many word associations as I can. I write them all down on a big sketchpad, and then I see how those words could translate into imagery, shapes, or graphics. For example, a clever or smart brand might be represented in a fox, or a wholesome foods brand might associate with a circle. There are no wrong ideas at this point! I start sketching these images and shapes and seeing how they fit with the business name. It’s a fun challenge to see how words or letters can integrate into images or at least pair well together.

Once I have a general game plan, I move to the computer and start building the ideas into a logo design. I tend to have anywhere from 5-10 logo concepts, but I push myself to edit and try to send no more than three to the client. I don’t want them to feel overwhelmed or send anything concepts that are too similar to one another. Then, it’s time for feedback and refining!

foxAngela_logocity

 

When asking for feedback, the best plan is to ask for thoughts on how the logomark relates back to the brand values and goals from earlier steps. If you don’t like a certain color, is it because it won’t connect with your target market? Is type feeling too feminine when the brand should feel more neutral? These types of thoughts are the best way to make solid decisions and not let the design get too personal and not business-oriented.

 

Step Four: Refine and Build Out

After a few rounds of revisions to truly make the brand solid, it’s time to create a brand board with the final logo, secondary or alternate logo, color palette, and typography choices. This serves as a reference for all your future visual brand decisions. (See my post on brand boards here for reference!)

 

AS_brand-board

 

The process can be difficult, but as long as you keep your business front of mind, the brand will find a way to come out. When in doubt, keep it simple!

Want even more details on the brand identity process and how you can make it work for your business?

You’re in luck! I’ll be releasing an ebook, Design Your Own Brand, this summer! It will go more in depth into my process and with lots of examples of brands from start to finish to get your wheels going.

Get on the list to get first notice of the release, pre-order discounts, or to help weigh in on what you’d like to see in the contents. Sign up below.

 

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defining the “you” vs. “your brand”

When you are running a business solo, it can be hard to separate what is the personal side of you from the business side of you. I often see people wondering about having one Instagram account vs. separate personal and business accounts. Or, they ask for feedback on a logo that doesn’t “feel like me” yet.

It can be hard to draw the line between what is “you” and what is “your brand,” especially when you are the sole business owner and your work is your passion. This is often most evident when trying to design a brand identity for your business. It’s tough because you want your own personality and values to shine through, but your brand may not be as multi-faceted as your own self may be.

 

You vs Your Brand

 

So, how do you make that distinction? The top thing to remember is that your business is only a part of who you are. You may be a mom, a yoga lover, a baker, a human rights advocate, and a business owner — but your business is not all those things. You may love bright whites and neutrals, but that may not be what attracts your ideal business audience. Wanting to have a brand identity that feels like “you” is reasonable, but not to the extent of it representing your whole self.

 

A few things to consider:

 

Define and understand your target market. This will really help you hone in on who your brand needs to speak to. For example, if you are starting a new subscription box service for men’s products, having a logo and brand that is your favorite shade of pink and watercolor florals is simply not going to translate to your audience, even if it really feels like “you.” If you like a modern and sleek aesthetic, that is an element that is more broad that you can bring to your brand.

It can also help when considering what to post on social media, for example. You may feel strongly about cat videos, but will your audience care about them? Keep that check front of mind when making brand decisions, or think of how you can tie it to something your people do care about.

Develop a strong brand identity. This will help you in those moments when you feel wishy-washy about what direction to take in your design, your packaging, or whatever you are working on in your business. Taking your strong mark, your color palette, your fonts and consistently incorporating them into what you do makes decisions simple.

You might feel tempted to use a new favorite color combination that you love in your latest blog post, but your brand guidelines will reel you in. It will also help you avoid trends or doing something simply because you see it and like it. It’s great to try lots of things in your personal endeavors and explore what your style is, but your business should stay solid and consistent.

Know your business’s values. Part of what makes us want to connect our personal side with our business side is that we want it to feel real and authentic (overused word, I know). When you know what your business stands for and what you want to deliver to your customers, it will help you feel connected on a personal level. For example, if your business is about community, quality service, and problem solving, let those shine through in all the brand visuals you create.

While your business is part of who you are, it needs to be its own entity. You are what makes your business unlike any other, but let it develop its own personality. Making decisions about your brand visuals will become much clearer and easier!

 

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Small Biz Chats: Erin Flynn

Small Biz Chats on Dotted Design -- Erin Flynn

 

For this edition of Small Biz Chats, I’m chatting with Erin E Flynn. She is an awesome developer who also helps designers & developers streamline their businesses through courses, ebooks, her free community for designers and developers, Unstoppable Crew, and her new course, Creative Compass. Check out what insights she has to share with us today!

What is your business, and why did you start it? 

I help web designers and developers streamline their businesses and communicate with clients. I started this business because as a web designer/developer myself I noticed a problem with client communication and business organization in the industry. I wanted to help solve this problem and make other web designers’ lives easier!

 

Erin E Flynn

 

What were you doing before you launched your business? 

Before I started this phase of my business I was doing web design and development on my own for a few years. I enjoyed it, and still take on limited projects, but really enjoy the change in my business and being able to help others in my industry.

 

How did you find your first paying clients/customers, and what really helped you to grow your business? 

A few years ago I compiled a PDF of the emails I use to deal with difficult clients. Other designers bought and enjoyed it, so since then I’ve been brainstorming ideas to help other designers. Earlier this year I finally made the transition from web designer/developer to a teacher for web designers/developers. I now have a few ecourses and other resources to help designers out, and they’ve been really fun to create! My audience for this new phase in my business is growing, and I’m sure when I release more products later this year it will continue to grow.

 

What tools are most important to help you stay organized and on task? 

I’m a huge fan of Freedcamp for organizing projects and working with others. It’s simple to use and helps us all stay on-track!

 

What aspect of your business is your absolute favorite thing that you do? 

I love being able to interact with and help designers. I do this primarily through my free Facebook group, where designers can ask questions and get the support they need from me and others in the group.

 

Creative Compass

 

What do you think is the biggest challenge that creative small business owners face today? How can we handle it? 

Information overwhelm! To be honest, there’s so much information out there that it can be paralyzing. You can’t learn everything before you start, so at some point it’s important to stop absorbing information, and focus on creating. Otherwise you’ll never get started, and you’ll never make anything!

 

Do you have a dream project type that you’d love to do someday?

Eventually I have plans to launch a premium program that not only includes a course, but one-on-one mentorship so that I can really dig into my students’ businesses and help them re-work their processes and plan so that their business really works for them!

 

What one piece of advice would you give to someone wanting to launch his/her own business?

Figure out how you want your life to be, and build your business around that. As an entrepreneur you have the opportunity to fit your business into your life, instead of living your life around your work. Don’t miss that opportunity. Get a plan in place and make it happen!

 

And finally, what is your favorite mid-workday snack? 

Coffee, but if that doesn’t count as a snack, I’ll go with an apple and sun butter!

Thanks to Erin for sharing her story! See all in the Small Biz Chats series here.

If you’re interested in Erin’s course, Creative Compass, check it out here!*

Find Erin online: Website • FacebookPinterest •  Twitter

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*I am an affiliate for this course, but I actually purchased it for myself and genuinely recommend it!

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what to do if your brand doesn’t feel like you.

What to do if your brand doesn't feel like you • Dotted Design

 

We’ve all had days where we question what we’re doing and whether we’re headed in the right direction in our businesses. You may look at your website one day and realize you’ve been so busy running your actual business that it hasn’t been updated in months. Or, you may see the shiny new branding that your peer has and feel like your own is suddenly not very good.

If you’re feeling like your visual brand isn’t what you want it to be, it could be that you simply need to take the time to define it. Or, you’re playing the comparison game, which is not a good one to play. Whatever your motivation, there are ways to love your brand again.

First, determine the cause of your doubt:

Is it because there is a new trend in your industry? Perhaps you’ve started to see that a lot of businesses in your industry are using watercolor strokes in their logos, for example, and you feel like you might be missing out on the trend. But think about it: do you really want a logo that looks just like everyone else’s? Be careful that you are motivated by strong decisions and not FOMO on the latest trends! Don’t let the fleeting trends make you doubt what you’ve already built. Go for timeless and well planned.

Is it because your brand isn’t fully developed? You may have thrown together a logo yourself, and frantically make graphics as needed without well thought out plan. When you don’t have clear visual brand guidelines, it makes every new thing you have to put together feel like a huge task that eats up your valuable business time. This can easily make you doubt what you are doing and feel like your visual brand is not up to par.

Is it because your business has changed? Maybe you started out in a specific niche, and as your business has grown, you know either have expanded what you offer or refined your area of expertise. For example, you could have been a coach for women business owners, but now you’ve expanded to working with start-ups to advise them on marketing and SEO. If your brand has shifted, it can mean it’s time for a visual shift as well.

 

Once you know why you are doubting your brand, you can take the necessary steps to either make the change or quell the doubt. Choose from the steps below to build something right for you:

Define your brands values and goals. Before you can build a visual brand that truly represents you, you have to know what it is you’re representing. Who are you serving? What problems are you solving for them? What sets you apart from similar businesses? When you know the answers to these types of questions, you can begin to build a visual brand that translates this message to your audience — or realize that your current brand is a great fit after all. Make sure you are answering these from your business’s perspective and not your personal one — you may love glitter and horses at home, but if you are selling a clothing service for men, it won’t be a good fit.

Build out your brand into a system. If you simply have a logo and struggle to know how to put together the other graphics you need, take the time to develop your brand guidelines. Decide on a color palette that you will always stick to (2-3 main colors, and a few accents/neutrals), select 1-2 main fonts that will be your standard, and consider items like patterns, photography style, and overall key brand words, like sophisticated, bohemian, or minimalist that will influence your style.(See my post on building a brand board here!) When you have this to refer to, you will feel more organized and bring that vital cohesion to your brand. It may feel redundant to you, but it will help your visuals connect with your audience and instantly know when they see a post or email that it is from your brand.

Invest in a designer to bring it all together. You may be able to come up with some great ideas when it comes to the design elements of your business, but a professional can take all that passion you have and turn it into a well designed system. Once it is in your budget, find one that has the style you are looking for, and watch your new brand come together before your eyes!

With so much information available on blogs and websites, it is so easy to constantly check out what other people are doing and play the comparison game all too often. If you know the core of your business and what it means to the people you serve, the customers will come — whether or not you have that watercolor logo everyone else does or not. Remember: your business is bigger than you as an individual, and your visual brand will show it.

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Want more resources and worksheets on answering questions about your visual brand and building your business? Get access to the FREE Learning Library!

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the importance of finding the right clients.

Find the Right Clients | Dotted Design

When you’re first starting out, it is so easy to get excited about any inquiry to work with you that comes your way. You are eager for the experience of working with clients, and you’re pumped there is someone (anyone!) willing to pay you. While I do agree that it can be great to work with a variety of people and businesses when you’re starting out, I can’t stress enough how important it is to narrow in and work with the clients that are the right fit for you.

For some, this can mean a specific niche. Maybe you love creative businesses like photographers, shop owners, florists, and so on. Perhaps you are really good at working with traditional businesses like lawyers, bankers, or accountants. Feeling connected to your work will not only motivate you to get it done, but it will help produce successful outcomes.

For others, it may mean finding clients with the right personality and working style. Meeting deadlines, participating in discussions, and allowing creative freedom are examples of styles that may be important to you in your client relationships. Or perhaps you have a fluid schedule and need to find clients who are not on tight deadlines. Whatever it may be, finding clients whose working styles jive with yours is invaluable.

How do you discover what is important in choosing your clients? Look back at your last several clients (or think about ideal clients) and ask:

  1. What types of projects did I enjoy the most? Maybe you felt very inspired while photographing products for the first time instead of people. Maybe you loved designing a lead magnet PDF for a new online business. Find the ones that made you feel most successful and identify what they all had in common.
  2. Which projects caused me the most stress? In those difficult projects, was it the client’s demands that were stressful, or was it the actual work that was stressful? For example, you may have been designing for a restaurant (dream client type!) but the owner was nasty in her emails. Or, maybe you were designing a logo for a pet shop and the owner was very nice, but you had trouble finding the right inspiration to meet their wishes. Discover what it is that causes you to view a project negatively.

 

For me, I’ve learned that I work best with clients who have a respect for design and understand its value to their business, not just because someone told them they should get a new logo. I also look for clients who have a deep understanding of their business and the goals they have for it, and who are active participants in the process but don’t try to act like the creative director. If someone comes to me and has short, two-word answers in their questionnaire or refuses to give inspiration examples, I know they won’t be invested enough in the process. Conversely, if someone says they have their new logo all sketched out and know exactly what they want, they just need me to make it in Illustrator because they don’t have the program, I run the other way — I don’t work well as a puppet. I want to work with clients who want to use my expertise, not just my software.

Ultimately, I think the key is learning to say no to those clients that are not a good fit. Take notice of those red flags early on and weigh whether a client will be worth it. If someone is demanding and curt in your first email exchange, things are not going to get better. You deserve respect in every situation.

And, there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to the right clients! That is why it is so wonderful that there are many people out there — a terrible fit for one person might be a dream client for another. Find what works for you, not who you think you should be working with.

Bottom line? Go with your gut. You can often tell early on if a client is going to be a good fit or not. Don’t be swayed by the money you’ll make or the prestige a client will supposedly bring. No nightmare client is worth it! Finding the clients that you work best with will truly make your business soar.

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using a brand style board

Using a Brand Style Board • Dotted Design

 

If you’ve spent much time on Pinterest, you’ve likely seen all kinds of brand boards floating around. Or, if you have worked with a designer, you might have received one but not known exactly what to do with it! Brand style boards are a great tool to have in your arsenal, and they can be a big help when you are creating graphics and visuals for your business.

A brand style board offers a quick, visual summary of the style and components of your visual brand identity. Let’s use this one below for reference:

Hadley Boutique identity | Dotted Design

You’ll see it displays how your main logo appears along with any variations. It outlines which fonts to use, which colors are part of your palette (often with their hex codes so you can match it), and brand patterns if you have them. Sometimes they will include photo examples to demonstrate the style and feel your photography should have.

The brand style board is a great way to stay focused if you are someone who has a hard time sticking to brand elements or is always wanting to try new things. Following the selections will help you maintain the oh-so important consistency in your brand as you create blog post graphics, PDF downloads, social media posts, and more.

If you don’t have one for your brand yet, follow these steps to create your own!

  1. Establish your logo. If you haven’t gotten one designed, consider using a simple type-only version instead of making something too complicated. You may also want a few versions – one for vertical use, one for horizontal use, and one for small applications. You may also want one that works well as a watermark for your photos!
  2. Choose your brand fonts. One of the horrors of a brand that is not well thought out is the use of endless font combinations! Pick one to be your main headline font, and something legible for your subheaders and body copy. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can choose a more decorative font, like a script or patterned one to use sparingly. Your fonts have a big influence on the personality of your brand, so choose ones that fit the style you want to achieve. (For tips on pairing fonts, see here!)
  3. Create your color palette. Here is another place where keeping it simple is key. Your color choices can mean the difference between overwhelming rainbow and sophisticated business! I recommend choosing 3 main colors, and a handful of secondary colors, including your neutrals. For example, your main colors might be teal, pink, and navy, along with yellow as an accent and white as your neutral. If you aren’t sure where to begin, start a Pinterest board and collect images you are drawn to. Look for patterns in the colors and pull out your favorites. Once you settle on the colors, use the same hex codes every time! (For more color tips, see here!)
  4. Consider some patterns and textures. You can use patterns in backgrounds of your graphics, on business cards, as an overlay on photos, or as an accent on your other documents. You can find reasonable ones to purchase at places like Creative Market or Design Cuts.
  5. Take a look at the complete board. Does the overall feel of it jive with the style and personality you want your brand to have? If something feels off, adjust it!

 

One of the items in next month’s additions to the Learning Library is a brand board template – sign up below if you want in!

 

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Small Biz Chats: Lindsay Humes

Small Biz Chats with White Oak Creative | Dotted Design

 

For this edition of Small Biz Chats, I’m chatting with Lindsay of White Oak Creative. She is a stellar designer and developer who builds beautiful brand identities, offers pre-made blog themes, and does custom web work. Plus, her blog and site are full of awesome resources for bloggers and creative entrepreneurs that you should definitely check out! Read what insights she has to share with us today:

What is your business, and why did you start it? White Oak Creative is a boutique design studio and online shop specializing in branding and resources for creative entrepreneurs, content creators, and lifestyle publishers.

 

What were you doing before you launched your business? Before I launched my business, I taught Special Education for 4 years, and then I found a job as an account executive at an advertising agency. During the time of teaching and at the ad agency, I taught myself how to design and code. My undergrad degree is in Visual Anthropology and Art History, so I wanted my career switch to get me back to what I studied in college.

WOC_2

 

How did you find your first paying clients/customers, and what really helped you to grow your business? My first clients were friends, family, and people familiar with my own blog. When I started out, I did not have a huge online presence. However, I was able to make a sustainable income based off of referrals. It seemed like each project led to two or three new referrals. I’m incredibly grateful for my initial clients (mainly for their patience), but also for their role in helping my business grow.

 

WOC_1

 

What tools are most important to help you stay organized and on task? I really love to schedule things and build a bank up! I like to set aside buckets of time to really work on a project, and scheduling helps free up that time. I really love CoSchedule for social media scheduling, Tailwind (specifically for Pinterest), and Dropbox for sending files and organizing files. I just recently started using 17Hats to streamline my workflow and lead process. So far, I’ve been pretty happy with it!

 

WOC_3

 

What aspect of your business is your absolute favorite thing that you do? I love the challenge. Each project is full of problems that need to be resolved. The client has a brand and a purpose, and figuring out what brand identity best conveys that to a potential customer/reader is huge. I love that I work with a variety of clients because it allows me to grow with each project and understand different target audiences.

 

What do you think is the biggest challenge that creative small business owners face today? How can we handle it? In my opinion, the biggest challenge that creative business owners face is the market (at least in my field). So many people are self-taught (myself included), but just because I’m self-taught does not mean I’m a worse designer and programmer than someone who went to school for it, and vice versa. A lot of my clients have been burned my previous designers in the past; they often tell me how easy it is to work with me compared to their past experience. I know what makes my work good, but someone not familiar in the field might not (aka your potential client). You can’t explain to every potential client what good design is and why quality code is important; it took me years to study that! However, you can let your work speak for itself, and you can try to build an honest tribe of existing customers and clients who speak highly of your work.

 

Small Biz Chats with White Oak Creative | Dotted Design

 

What one piece of advice would you give to someone wanting to launch his/her own business? Talk your idea out with experts in the field, whether it is a mastermind group or friends. Occasionally, I run into a situation where a potential client has an idea, but they have not thought through A thru Y of the process. Z is the design step! Sometimes, in steps B or C, the idea is significantly flawed. That’s why it is important to collaborate and work with others (mentors) to help you prepare for your business launch. Once you launch, it is so difficult to make changes, especially from a time perspective.

 

And finally, what is your favorite mid-workday snack? Apple with peanut butter.

Thanks to Lindsay for sharing her story! See all the Small Biz Chats posts here.

Find Lindsay online: Website • Instagram FacebookPinterest •  Twitter

All images are property of White Oak Creative.

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Introducing the Learning Library!

Learning Library | Dotted Design

 

I’m so excited to share this project I’ve been cooking up for you! When I was starting out, I had lots of questions about where to start with my business. I looked to lots of blogs for answers, and now that I’ve been full time in my business for awhile, I want to share some of that knowledge with you.

The completely free Learning Library will be a resource center for all kinds of tips and tricks when it comes to design for your brand (especially great when you’re not ready to invest in a designer yet!), worksheets and planning guides for your business, and free downloadable print items like calendars, cards, and art prints. I’ve taken all the questions I am frequently asked and put them into one resource center.

I chose the name “Library” because libraries are one of my favorite places. I love that they are for everyone, and you can find information on any topic. I love being able to borrow books, especially in subject areas that I’m simply exploring and don’t want to invest in a purchase yet. My goal is to make the Dotted Learning Library a great resource for you and your business that you’ll want to visit again and again.

I’ll add new content at the end of each month, and I hope to collaborate with some other awesome biz owners to contribute items. I can’t wait to see how it grows! If there’s something you’d like to see, I’d love to consider your suggestion – get it touch!

All you have to do to access it is sign up in the box below. You’ll get an email with the password, and I’ll have your info so that I can let you know any time new content is added. I hope you find something useful!

 

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5 questions before starting your website design.

before you design your website | dotted design

 

 

The prospect of having a new or redesigned website can be exhilarating. You daydream about the visuals, how well it will function and attract clients, and the new people it will reach. But, how do you get from point A to point B when you’re ready for that site now?

I see so many small businesses try to dive into website design before they are truly ready. For most people, your website is your most powerful tool in getting people to hire you or purchase your product. Why would you want to rush something so big?

Whether you are just starting out and going the DIY route, or looking to expand and hire a pro, the same process can shape your approach. Ask these 5 questions before you embark on a web design project!

  1. What is the single main purpose of my site? Sure, you want people to sign up for your newsletter, follow your social accounts, comment on your blog, etc. But, if a visitor could only take one action, what would you want that to be? View your services and hire you? See your new arrivals and purchase that product? Whatever it may be, make sure that action is front and center. This purpose should be on your mind as you develop each page and consider the site’s navigation. Make it possible from every page and not something a potential customer has to search and search for.
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  2. What is my brand’s personality? Before you build the site, you need to understand your brand’s values and point of view. This includes designing your brand’s visual identity, which is items like your logo, brand colors & fonts, and style. Your brand identity is your base, and the site is built up from this style foundation.If you are redesigning your site, you might instead ask, what about the personality of my current site isn’t working or do I want to change? Having a grasp on these concepts will also make it easier for you to find a web designer that matches the style and aesthetic you want to achieve in your website. (See this post for more on defining your brand!)
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  3. What content do I need to prepare? This one is a biggie. Before the web design can begin, you first need to consider what pages you require and how they will connect. Then, you must have all your copy written or updated, photos taken, videos recorded, and any other content that will be part of your site.Many people get eager and want to work on the design and layout before these pieces are all ready, which requires patience. I know you’re excited, but designing a site without having the copy ready is like trying to bake cookies without the flour. Sure, you can mix up the rest of the ingredients in preparation, but nothing will come together into batter form until the flour is added. Plus, seeing the copy and photography will help the designer get a better sense of your overall brand style and then reflect that in the design.
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  4. What outside accounts will I need? Beyond the site itself, you’ll need to consider what outside accounts you want to set up, like your mail server (MailChimp, Infusionsoft, etc.), social media, etc. People will most likely find these on your website somewhere, so you’ll want to be able to consider how to incorporate opt-in boxes or links to these important accounts. They are usually a way for someone to stay connected to you after they leave your website – oh so important!
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  5. What are some examples of websites that inspire me? When you are ready to work on your website, start paying closer attention to the websites you visit. What makes you want to stay on a site? What makes it easy to navigate? What makes you yell ackkk!! and close the tab? You’ll start to see patterns in the styles and layouts that you love, which will help in determining the direction of your own site. Using several inspiration examples will help you stay away from straight up copying another site and instead use the bring the best elements together that will be uniquely yours.Make sure you are also staying away from anything that feels extremely trendy. While there may be a new standard in functionality that you want to be sure to incorporate, make sure you are singing your own song when it comes to your visuals. If you start to see everyone’s homepage display a marble background with pink flowers on top, perhaps you should try a photo that won’t blend into that crowd quite so easily. A great test is if your photo is pinned onto a Pinterest board, would anything distinguish it from all the other visual noise?

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Though this process requires more thought and planning, it will help you immensely down the road in the web design stage. Staying thoughtful and purposeful will help your business grow in the long run, and who wouldn’t want that? In a future post, I’ll be sharing how you can plan more of the nitty gritty parts, like what pages to include, how do you find a photographer, whether or not to post your prices, and more. Stay tuned ; )

Are you embarking on your own web design journey? Download this free Web Planning Worksheet to get started!

 

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