Is running your own business right for you?

traits of good business owners

 

There are so many ways to work these days. One can work from an office or home, freelance, consult, work part time, work seasonally, work remotely, and the list goes on.

The internet and social media have this sneaky way of making it seem like it should be the ultimate goal for everybody to work for themselves, with slow, coffee-drinking mornings, phone calls in yoga pants, and reading business books on the beach. Sure, these things are possible if you own your own business, but not only does it not mean that every day is serene, it is not necessarily the right fit for everyone.

The first question I ask anyone who wants to start her own business is, “Why?” Not in a, “Why the heck would you want to do that?” way, but rather, “Why does this career path call to you?” You may have an idealistic picture of what it’s like having your own business in mind. While the perk of freedom to choose your own schedule, clients, and lifestyle is wonderful, the life of a business owner isn’t a good fit for everyone. If you are in it to make a quick buck and take the easy route, this life is not for you.

There are a few personal attributes that I feel are vital if you’re going to pursue the entrepreneurial path. Of course, there is more than one way to operate a business, but the truth is, having these traits will make it a much better and logical fit to be a business owner. 

 

Self-motivation

The biggest challenge you may face is finding the drive to get things done and stay productive. Especially if you are working from a home office, the call of Netflix, social media, or your bed can be an issue. There is no boss holding you accountable, and your success is reliant on your taking charge. If you respond to an internal drive to set goals and accomplish things, then this career will work well for you.

This is not to say that if you are more motivated by external expectations and deadline that you are not a good worker. Everyone is motivated differently, and that’s great! We need all kinds of people in the world, and a work setting with a boss and lots of coworkers to collaborate with could be awesome for you. There are tons of companies out there looking for your style.
Independence

You must be confident in making decisions for yourself and working alone. Hopefully, you will be able to find a network of business peers, collaborate with others on projects, and perhaps hire some staff eventually, but, especially at first, you will be working by yourself. If you work better talking everything through with other people or looking to others to make final calls, then a job working on a face-to-face team might be a better fit for you than solopreneurship.

Some people assume you need to be extremely extroverted to have your own business: always introducing yourself to prospective clients, making cold calls, and attending endless networking events. Other people assume you are probably an introvert if you want your own business, working alone and away from an office full of people. The truth is, I’ve seen both styles find success. As long as you have the confidence to make decisions and take a direction on your own, your own business can work for you.

Take the time to understand how you operate, and leverage those skills in a direction that suits you. No single, ideal business mold here!

 

Humility

You’re going to make mistakes. Recognizing when you need help or advice is essential. Nobody knows it all, no matter how long they’ve been doing something. You should always be learning and seeking new experiences. You’ll want to position yourself as an expert in your field, but nobody wants to work with a know-it-all.

Finding the right resources for you (and your clients) when you don’t have the answer will be an invaluable skill, as will admitting when you were wrong. The key is to acknowledge it, and then offer the ways you can make it better or find solutions. No one expects you to be perfect, but having the grace to admit when you need advice or when you let something slip and a client notices will take you much further than arrogance will. 

 

If you’ve started your own business, what traits do you think are essential of a business owner?

 

P.S. Are you a designer?

Are you looking for guidance specific to starting a design business? I’d love to share my experiences with you! Get on the list below for first access and pre-sale offers for my new ebook, Design Boss, coming next month. This post is an excerpt from the book, in which I share what it was like getting my design studio up and running, along with how to get organized, work with clients, and find a routine that works for you. Join in!

 

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building a brand foundation

Building and defining your brand is an essential part of building your business. You brand is more than just what your logo looks like; it’s how your audience experiences and feels about their interactions with you.

Whenever I get an inquiry about designing a logo, a website, packaging, or any other large branding item, my first step is always to see how well they understand their business and how well defined their goals and values are. Your visual brand (the logo, brand style guide, colors, fonts, and so on) is only one part of the brand equation, and therefore defining a foundation sets the stage for success in the other parts of your brand.

How can you begin to create a logo or a website if you don’t know what it is you want to share with your target audience?

The unique characteristics of your business are what make you different from any competitors, and you want to convey the things that will attract your people. Whether you’re starting a new business or looking to take your operating one to the next level, there are a few ways to get to the core of what sets you apart.

 

brand-foundation

 

What is your brand’s mission and core values?

What is the heart and soul of why your business exists? Who do you want to help? What industry do you want to shake up? Why are you passionate about what you offer? What values are central to how you do business?This is something larger than simply setting a measurable goal. These are vision-level ideas that share why you do what you do and how that will serve your customers.

For me, my business exists so that I can create strong, creative visual brands for businesses to help share their story and make them professional. I work best with businesses truly understand the value that great design brings to their business and are willing to invest in it. Often, they are moving away from trying to DIY their brands and want a pro to take the reins. I value frequent and clear communication, providing high-quality work without shortcuts, and taking time for rest and creative recharge.

 

Who are the people you want to connect with and attract?

Defining your target audience helps make a lot of subsequent decisions easier. It’s impossible to build something that will attract and satisfy absolutely everyone, and there is no point in trying unless you enjoy feeling utterly frustrated all the time. The more specific you can get, the more it will help you. For example, defining your target audience as males under 40 who are single and work in a professional field is much more helpful than trying to reach simply “young adults.” You’ll know that anything juvenile or feminine won’t help attract that audience, which will influence the visuals and language you select.

Another example is in my business, I know I want clients who provide enough background on their project but then value my expertise and let me make creative decisions. Someone who wants a quick, cheap turnaround and doesn’t want to provide any direction would not be a good fit for me. That just means there is someone else out there better suited to their current needs, and that’s why it’s wonderful how many different designers there are.

 

 

What words do you want customers to use to describe your brand?

These words can be adjectives that reflect your style (like bold, soft, quirky, sleek, sophisticated, whimsical) as well as ones that describe your attributes (like organized, professional, great communicator, creative, knowledgeable, innovative). While you as a person are surely multi-faceted, it’s important as a business to define the experience you want to create for your customers. This goes back to your values above and can help in stages like your design process when you know that you want to convey trustworthiness, or when writing an email and knowing that your value straightforward communication.

 

Why should someone choose to work with you?

There are countless people out there and a finite number of job types. While a customer may have many coaches, designers, photographers, or shop owners to choose from, why should they choose to work with or purchase from you? It’s usually because of the experience and viewpoint of you that draws them in. Find what sets you apart and showcase it. Perhaps you have a special step in your process that really draws out great results. Maybe you have excellent packaging that makes receiving your product a special event. It doesn’t have to be some magical, huge thing. It’s usually the little things that make all the difference, right?

 

When you define all of this from the start, it makes translating your brand into a visual identity infinitely smoother. You’ll feel great remembering the core of your business, and you’ll be satisfied with how well it is shown in your visuals.

 

 

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6 ways to make your brand more professional

If you’re building a brand, you no doubt want your customers and clients to think you have it all together and can successfully deliver your product or service. Your brand’s personality may be more serious, quirky, feminine, bold, and so on, but no matter your style, you probably don’t want to be considered an amateur.

Acting professional inspires confidence in your customers and clients, makes them willing to pay you more, and creates a better working environment for you. Your clients will trust you to get things done and delivered. There are a million and one ways to organize your business and develop the brand personality that works for you, and I’m not here to discuss whether pink is an acceptable brand color or if it’s ok to have tattoos as a business owner. But, I have a few surefire ways to share that anyone could apply to building a professional business.

how to make your brand more professional | Dotted Design Studio

 

Create consistency in your visuals.

Building brand consistency is one of the best ways to step up your game. Develop your visual brand style, which includes selecting designated fonts, colors, and styles. Then, apply it everywhere: blog post graphics, social media posts, newsletters, emails, documents (like contracts or quotes), website, business cards — you name it.

Creating this consistency means that as soon as someone sees your visuals, they will associate it with you brand. People love what is familiar, and they will grow to expect your style and connect it with your content. Plus, how neat is it to have a totally coordinated website and collateral? No Microsoft Word documents in Times New Roman around here, please. (read this post on consistency for more!)

 

Use correct grammar (please!).

Nothing irks me more or lowers my opinion of a company than seeing poor or totally incorrect grammar in emails, social media posts, or collateral. This does not mean that all your writing needs to formal or formulaic. Let your personality shine through, but (I beg you) do not do things like use an apostrophe in plural words or misuse their/there/they’re.

Examples:

Wrong: “Pineapple’s are the best.”
Right: “Pineapples are the best.”

Wrong: “I’m glad to be apart of this community.”
Right: “I’m glad to be a part of this community.”

And, it’s totally fine if you aren’t sure about some of these grammar usage items. Get in touch with a copywriter or hire an editor to check on these things for you. There is a lot that spell check simply can’t catch.

 

Feature strong writing and photography on your website.

This is related to both 1 and 2 above, but what will truly make you look legitimate and professional is great writing and consistent photography style. In writing, avoid things like using an exclamation mark at the end of every sentence, using a passive or wishy-washy style (“I think I could maybe help you, if you want”), or writing excessively long and unclear sentences. In photography, don’t use selfies with duck faces. If you don’t have the funds to invest in a professional shoot, borrow or rent a nice camera, and enlist the help of a friend or use the timer function. A uniform photo style will go a long way in your site’s cohesion and up-level your brand.

 

Create a thoughtful client experience.

As you work with more and more clients, you’ll develop a process that works well for you. Share this up front with your new clients! Thorough communication, a clearly outlined process, and clear expectations make everyone feel more comfortable and leads to happy clients. Give them an outline, a timeline, or a reference guide when they begin working with you, and they will both know what to expect and have a great first experience. You’ll demonstrate that yes, you’ve done this before, and are a total pro in your field.

 

Use a pro URL and email address (no @gmail addresses).

Nothing screams “amateur” like asking people to email designcompany@gmail.com. Invest the few dollars a month it takes to set up email{at}yourdomain{dot}com. If you can’t be bothered to invest in this, why should your clients bother to invest in you? It will take you from hobbyist to real business owner.

 

Support and share the work of others.

If all you ever talk about is yourself, people will find you selfish and dull after awhile. Same goes for business. If all you ever talk about is your latest ebook or blog post, you may not seem like a team player. Share a blog post from a fellow business owner, refer a client to someone else’s services that you don’t offer, or let your community know about a helpful product or app you’ve recently discovered. That good karma will hopefully help someone else share what you’re doing as well, and those connections will only help your business grow. It’s said over and over, but is oh-so true: community over competition.

 

What steps have you taken to make sure you appear professional? What do you struggle most with? I’d love to hear!

 

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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!

 

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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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