Are You Open to Be Mentored?

I’ve been a graphic designer now for over 30 years, and one of the big things I’ve learned is learning. As a person who is type A, I struggle with admitting that I don’t know something. But what I’ve never done is think I know it all. Early on in my career I worked under some pretty talented people who I admired. This mentorship was invaluable to me and has helped me get where I am today.

In the early days of my career, I worked with some very talented and creative designers who not only showed me how their creative processes worked, but allowed me to experience the much needed hand over my work that I desperately needed. It was a constant reminder that I had so far to go and a lot to learn.

If you’re reading this and just getting started in your graphics or creative career, you might get what I’m saying. But in this high tech world we find ourselves in now, I have a feeling that the young creatives these days don’t respect those who have gone before them. Personally, I’ve been treated as if I’m behind on the times and that there’s nothing I could teach them. Technology-wise this is probably accurate, but creative thought and delivery are not things you can learn from watching a You Tube video or just “figure out” as you go. Working under successful people in my opinion is not only smart, but a necessary element in your success. I want to say thank you to all of my mentors!

That leads me to the second point of this post: A LOT of websites are lacking in depth of thought and creativity, because I’m guessing a lot of developers and designers have not learned from those who came before them how the creative process works. Yes, the websites might look good, but what is the message? Is your website actually saying anything that your competition isn’t also saying? Just making a nice website isn’t enough. The content and marketing message have to have an original and creative basis for you to be able to stand out from your competition. This is something my writer Valerie Bickley and I have struggled to get across to some people we’ve talked to. Content writing isn’t just about telling people what you do. It’s about saying it in an engaging message format that makes your audience want to read more. In my opinion as a graphic designer, I think the content on your website is WAY more important than the design.

Website development isn’t just about getting hits and driving traffic. It’s a place for your clients and customers to come get a feel for who you are and what you do. Slapping up a vanilla template and throwing some nice photos and words will not be doing your company justice. I would encourage you to consider digging into who you are as a company and figuring out what your message should be to the world. Valerie and I would love to discuss this further with you! Please contact me today.

What's in a Name?

It all starts with this "big idea". That moment when you realize you've got a great concept for a new business and you know you're ready to step out there, take a chance and go for it. It's been compared to having a baby. The moment your "baby" is conceived, you begin preparing for it's arrival. The second thing that happens is typically to come up with a name. What are you going to call it? The ideas start to flow... You brain storm over a glass of wine with friends or a partner. It's a big deal, so you want it to be perfect. It has to have meaning, strength, purpose. It has to be sounded out, spelled right, etc. You land on a few ideas then the research begins. You go out there to find out if other people have that name you start realizing you might want to trademark it. It's very important that you get it right. Then you realize perhaps all of the names you have come up with kinda fall short. They're just not that great or they've already been taken. The names you have might describe what you're doing, but they're not unique enough, not powerful enough... Then discouragement sets in. You can't agree with your partner or friends on the right direction. What's next?

Copywriter
What some of you might not know, is there's help! Believe it or not, there are people who have made careers in naming companies. That's right! They are called Copywriters, but not just any copywriter will do. As in hiring the right graphic designer, you need to find the right copywriter to help you come up with the perfect name. You need someone with a lot of experience in branding companies. Someone who's not just good with words, but looks at your business from a marketing perspective and can take your beautiful "baby" and do it justice with an outstanding name. There are a lot of great copywriters out there, but I work with Valerie Bickley of Bickley Creative. She and I have worked together for many years and we've branded many companies together. I tell people she's words and I'm pictures. We go together like peas and carrots. Valerie has a great way of looking at creative challenges with confidence and a spark. She does not disappoint and has always come through with flying colors for all of my clients.

Some Things To Consider
In a time where everything out there has practically been "done" and a lot of names are taken, it can be very challenging to name your business. A lot of people first consider using their own name. While that's not a bad idea and it is certainly appropriate for some businesses, you must take into consideration the lifespan of your business and whether or not you plan on selling your company in the future. If this is something you hope to build and some day sell, you might want to consider NOT using your name. Your business will have a greater impact in the long term if the name of the business has staying power. This is not to say that your last name isn't the perfect name for a business, but keep in mind the following questions:
• How long is the name? The longer the name, the smaller it will be.
• Does it sound good and is it easy to pronounce? For instance, if your last name is Mictlantecuhtli, it's going to not only be very long, but difficult to pronounce for the average person. 
• Does it look good in print?
• Is your name a really common one?

Last, But Not Least
Words have meaning and they produce opinions. Your name and logo are the face of your "baby", and since so often it's the first thing people see, first impressions are powerful. The perfect name will have what we call "legs" and carry you a long way. So make sure you take the time and often spend the money to get this right. Your name is the one thing you don't ever want to have to change. I'm sure you're goal is to build a brand and reputation that is long lasting and in the end successful, it's important it to get it right.

Not All Photographers are the Same

At a time when every phone has amazing cameras, everyone tends to consider themselves as photographers. Granted, photography has made major leaps forward. Heck, I want to go back in time and graduate from high school, get married and have children all over again... simply for the photography! If you compare the photography from my wedding and my kids growing up, you'd laugh when compared to the "Pinterest" images you see today. Everyone's expectations of images have increased greatly over the past 10 years, and this has led me to write this article attempting to help you hire the best photographer.

In the world of advertising, great photography is a graphic designer's best tool, but not all photographers are the same. When searching for a photographer for your business, here are some things to consider:

1. What KIND of photography do they specialize in?
Not all photographers are good every type of subject. Photographers tend to specialize in particular types of photography. There are wedding photographers, photographers who are great at people and head shots, architectural photographers, exterior/outdoor photography, product photography, model photography, etc. Choose the photographer who has a lot of experience in the types of images you need.

2. How much does it cost?
I've found the cost of photographers all over the board. Some charge by the hour and some charge by the day. Then others charge by the image. Keep in mind that photography isn't just about the time they spend the day of the shoot. Most photographers take 100s and sometimes 1000s of images in one shoot in order to get the perfect photos. After the shoot, they have to go and whittle those images down to a working amount. Then they have to whittle it down again for final picks. After that, they have to edit the images, color correct and crop every single image. The images then have to be uploaded onto a site that allows for previewing. It's very time consuming. But any great photographer is going to want to give you only the very best of the shots. Keep in mind, there are many hours involved and their time is worth money. So if the price seems high, remember everything involved in getting those images done. Also remember, the images are forever, so they're worth the extra money. With that said, be diligent and get several quotes before making a decision and as with anything, there is always space to negotiate.

3. Does your photographer need help?
The job of managing a photoshoot is huge. There are so many tasks that have to take place. There's the pre-shoot planning: What to shoot, how to shoot it, where to shoot it, models, etc. Organic, spontaneous photoshoots are considered more social or journalistic. Professional, corporate photoshoots for advertising need lots of planning and structure. This is where graphic designers and assistants come in handy. The photographer needs to be free to "focus" on lighting, content, positioning. Most photographers have an assistant there to help them with small tasks like lighting and lens selection. Also, having a designer there to oversee the project frees them up to do what they do best. It is an added expense, but well worth the money. A good designer should have each shot planned out to the point where they know where it will go in the marketing piece, what type has to go on the image and how the image will be used. This alleviates the need to reshoot things that didn't work the first time. Seriously consider bringing your designer to the shoot.

4. Be clear with the photographer how you plan to use their images
Some photographers hold licenses on their images unless you make an agreement to buy the images outright. If you're planning on using the images for multiple uses, have that discussion with them when you hire them. Once the images are released, you're on the honor system and it's not honorable to take advantage of them. If you're going to need the image for multiple uses and it's going to sell your business on many different platforms, it's worth the money to pay them for a full buyout and keep on good terms with the photographer for future needs.

5. Stock photography versus original photography
Many websites now offer very inexpensive images. Some that I use are shutterstock.com istock.com and stocksy.com. Very often I can get exactly what I need from them. However, there are times when the job calls for something more personal for the client. A product line needs to be shot, images of actual employees are needed, interiors of the business are featured, etc. That's the time to bring in a professional photographer. Again, choose your photographer based on the need. Be sure and review their portfolio carefully, looking for experience in that subject.

Lastly, don't forget, a picture is worth a thousand words... literally. People respond emotionally to images and it doesn't require time to read content. It's a quick and easy way to get a message across. So keep in mind, all of your marketing will be improved with great photography. For a graphic designer, designing without photography is like designing with your hands tied behind your back. However, on the flip side of that, too many images confuse the audience. One great image that communicates your message is often enough. Take the time and spend the money to get that right and you'll find people will respond to your business!

Should you work for yourself or someone else?

I've been in business for myself as a graphic designer for over 18 years and I've seen both sides of this question. For the first 13 years after college, I worked for someone else. I've had so many jobs, some good, some bad. But the one thing I learned is not everyone is cut out to be self-employed.

In the beginning of your career, it is imperative that you work under someone who has been successful. I've worked for wonderful mentors and some I could have done without, but in all of my jobs, I've learned and grown. Working for someone else brings with it a type of security and peace of mind that you don't have to worry so much about the business in general. It's your job to do a good job, and at the end of the day you can go home and sleep easy knowing the ultimate success of the company doesn't rest on you. You don't have to deal with employees, insurance, paying bills, etc. You just have to focus on your job and being good at it. At my last job, I also enjoyed being a part of something I felt was larger than me. It was a small advertising agency here in Greenville now called Brains on Fire. I loved going to work most days. I got to do what I love without worrying about tomorrow. It was an exciting time and a great job!

However, as most things do, all good things must end and I found myself wanting to spend time with my young boys. So one day I got up my courage to leave and work as a freelancer. It was such a hard thing to do, and very risky. Once I left, I had no promise of income, no insurance on my own (my husband has a corporate job and I was insured), and I was working alone in my home. I suddenly was on my own and my career survival was squarely on my head (and God's blessings). There were days I wondered what in the world I'd done, but I kept pushing through. I had times of loneliness and wishing I was back being a part of something exciting. But then I would see my kids smile and have the option of taking them to the pond to read a book and was reminded of why I did this. I had to discipline myself. I got up every day and showered and got dressed and went into my office to work as if I were going to a job. Sitting on your couch is a really bad idea and I wouldn't advise it ever...unless you're sick, of course AND you don't have to call in, so a plus to self-employment! In the early days, I had a tiny desk in my dining room, which was very stressful. Eventually I dedicated a room in my house to work in and in the past few years I rented a desk at a co-working space called Atlas Local. Working from home has it's challenges, and renting a desk or office space gets you out of your home and around other talented people.

As the years have gone by, God provided the work and I've worked hard. I've made a consistent income every year for 18 years. I made the decision early on not to build this business beyond myself. I did that to keep my life simple. I knew I could take on more work with help, but that comes with complications and not always more income. I've enjoyed partnering with a great copywriter, Valerie Bickley of Bickley Creative, a website company, David Haskins at Haskins & Company and many others who are great at what they do. It's been a good career and I get to do what I love every day and set my own hours.

In 2014, a friend and I decided to start another company completely unrelated to graphic design. It's a small company that manufactures pet products called AllyJay Pets. Now I get to do graphic design for my own company! This has been a wonderful change! It's also been one of the hardest things I've ever done! I'm still working full time as a graphic designer and work on a start-up. It's been a complete game changer to have a partner after so many years of just working for myself. The closest analogy I have is I feel like I've married someone I didn't date. You learn a lot about someone when you live with them after marriage and you equally learn a lot about someone when you go into business with them. Don't get me wrong, I could have NEVER done this without her, but it does come with it's challenges. You have to run every decision by your business partner. I've gone from making my own decisions with no one questioning me to a partner who questions most things I say (which she should!). My only advise to you on this matter is choose your business partner wisely. Make sure they have the same ethics, beliefs and commitment you have. While my business partner and I have lots of challenges, at the end of it all, we come together with a common belief system and purpose. We are both growing and learning together as a team.

The challenge I'm facing now is growing a business that will have employees. Gone are the days of my simple life, but ahead lay challenges that will help me grow beyond myself. I look forward to mentoring young people and giving back what was given to me. Not a day goes by where I don't ask myself, "Why are you doing this?". If you're starting a business, you need to know your "why". It will be the only thing that drives you through the tough days. Your "why" can't be just to earn money. If money is your only motivation for starting a company, you might find yourself in a position of doing something you hate! Make sure you're building a business where you can find fulfillment in your job. Sure you're going to have to do things you don't like to do, but your goal should be to do something you're good at for your own company. 

In building a new business, I have a lot of stress and fear for success. Fear is the only thing holding me back some days. I'm now realizing that fear is nothing more than moving toward the unknown. Once you take that first step toward fear, it begins to lose it's power over you. I hope that will a little courage and God on my side, I can face each fear and become a fearless leader! 

In summary, should work for yourself or someone else? Both are great, but from my perspective working for yourself is liberating! I wish you success either way!

Is the New Year the right time to make resolutions?

This time of year everyone looks at the opportunity to start fresh and resolve to make changes in their lives. I tend to think this is the worst time of year to start something new. For many of us, you're exhausted from the rush of the holiday season and your mind is at it's most exhausted state. Starting something new requires a tremendous amount of effort, so is this actually the best time of year to resolve to change your life?

8 months ago, after 40 days of fasting from shopping for Lent, my husband and I decided to make a major change in our lives. We decided to change the way we eat. It all started for me as a desperate attempt to lose weight and combat the symptoms of Hypothyroidism. We agreed to do the Paleo diet for 30 days. We figured we could do anything for 30 days. After the month was over we were both down quite a few pounds and decided not to stop. Now after all of these months we're thinner than we've been in 25 years and feel awesome! 

Spring Forward!

I've asked myself. "Why did it work this time? What was different than all of the other times?" For one thing I feel God blessed the fact that I Fasted. Fasting from something you love can be really hard and this was the first time I had done it. Secondly, I think it was the right time of year... Spring! It's a wonderful time of year! Winter makes me just want to hibernate and hide from the cold. But Spring offers us the hope of the end of a long, cold winter and the excitement of beautiful, warm days. It also offers us another hour in our day for us Southerners, which always makes me feel better mentally. Spring is the beginning of vacations, time on the beach or lake with friends and family. It launches me forward every year!

Making major changes in life is never easy. It take commitment and hard work. In the beginning all changes pretty much suck. Changing the way I think about food took some research and much prayer. It also helped to have a partner to do it with. Not eating junk food isn't very popular either, so expect push back from all of those around you. But the reward as amazing! Not only are you doing something a large majority of the population will never accomplish, but you will gain admiration from places you never expected. Is it hard when my girlfriends are sitting around eating pizza and cookies, sure. But I always make sure I have things around me to eat that l love: nuts, grapes, Paleo desserts, etc. 

Now I'm asking myself what can I change about myself this year. As a graphic designer and creative person, I'm notoriously a late riser in the morning. It's been a problem my entire life. Heck, I even remember running to school in the first grade! Changing my sleep habits will be a major accomplishments. I love staying up at night! But the problem is I'm not productive at night, I just want to sit around and watch TV. If I could work at night, it would all be okay, but I just can't. So this year my new goal is to go to bed earlier and get up earlier. I'm only trying to shift one hour. It sounds like a simple thing, but to me it's HUGE. Again, I'm going to need the partnership with my husband who would definitely use more sleep. Mostly I'll rely on God to help me and hopefully by this summer I'll be a new person professionally!

What will you Spring forward and commit to do in 2016?

What Type of Client are You?

Today I emailed a client who is struggling with figuring what it is he wants in a logo design. The design process can be very difficult for certain types of people. I know it's not "PC" to say that there are "types of people", but when it comes to the creative process, everything is subjective to how you personally see things. The right side of the brain processes things differently for everyone. It's part of what makes art so wonderful! In logo design, however, this can be a frustrating element for some clients who have trouble figuring out what they want.

So let's discuss the different types of clients.

The Open Minded Client
This client comes to the logo designer with a completely open mind and does not have any major pre-conceived ideas of what the logo should look like. You know everything about your business except how to represent it through a brand. You're giving the designer a blank page. This can be quite challenging for the designer, but also very liberating! Most designers want free reign in the design process. This allows the creative juices to flow to a maximum. Keep in mind that you've hired a professional to do a job, not just a flaky, artsy fartsy person (I hope you didn't hire a "flaky, artsy fartsy person"!). Let them do their job just like you like to do your job. That comes with a certain level of trust. Be sure you've done your homework when hiring that person and looked at their work and interviewed them. If you haven't seen their work, you won't appreciate their expertise. The Open Minded client will and should pleasantly have their minds blown with the designs that come out. They will be more open to taking risk and connecting with their customers in a way they never thought possible. A great logo design will do this.

The Visual Client
This client has the ability to be visual on their own, so they usually come to you with a few basic concepts to help jump start your designs. This can be helpful, but it can also be a hinderance. It's helpful in that the designer gets an idea of how you think and what you like. The hinderance is that now you've put ideas into the designers mind that might stifle the creative process. A great quality of a visual client is they do already know what they want and so if the designer hits it, we have a winner early in the process. The down-side is if they don't it can be a long a painful process for you both. Be sure and communicate in very specific ways in commenting on the designs at this stage. Your designer needs to know what it is you don't like about what they've done, including why you don't think it's a good solution.

The "Designer" Client
For a graphic designer, this is the most difficult client to work for. We as designers appreciate your desire to create and be a part of the process, but having the client step into the role as designer pretty much rips the heart out of your designer. Most designers feel that what they do has very much to do with who they are, designs come from within. We're not making widgets in a factory. We're creating something out of nothing. It's a huge task to undertake and it takes a LOT of energy to do this. To have a client come and give you a sketch is one of the hardest things a designer encounters. At this point, the creative process is over for the designer and they are now just order takers and production artist. My suggestion is to be very upfront with you designer before the project begins. If you want to be that heavily involved in the design, tell them, then they can decide if that process works well for their work process. Another option is to hire a production artist. They charge much less than a logo designer and often are more open to multiple changes and variations.

The Collaborator
This client is a very sophisticated professional who has previous experience in branding a company. The design and client come together as a team. For a designer this can be a little intimidating at the beginning, but as the process develops, they'll see the benefit of working with this client. The Collaborator Client needs to realize however, that the designer is the stronger person as far as design goes in this partnership. I personally haven't had very many of these types of clients, but would be open to working with this person. I feel that most great ideas come from good collaborating!

Which kind of client are you? Have you stopped to consider your expectations of working with a graphic designer on your brand? Do you make decisions easily or with great difficulty? I'll write later about how to narrow down the decision making process when it comes to branding.

Taking the Leap – Starting a New Business

Have you been thinking about starting a new business? If so, how long have you been thinking about it? Many of us dream of going into business for ourselves and being our own boss, but keep in mind that being the boss is not all it's cracked up to be. The flip side of that is being your own boss is awesome! I own two businesses: Mighty Mouse Productions and AllyJay Pet Designs. I've learned a lot over the years and would like to share some with you. Let's discuss the pros and cons of being a business owner. 

Competition Breeds Challenges that Can Lead to Success
I've been self employed now for 17 1/2 years. When I first started out as a graphic designer out of school, I wanted a job with benefits. I wanted what I considered "security". Back then very few people worked for themselves compared to today. In 2013, an estimated 10 million people claimed to be self-employed. That doesn't even include owners of incorporated business and freelancers. That's a lot of people! Therefore the first thing you need to remember is that means there is a lot of competition in most industries. The first thing you should consider is just how much competition there is in what you want to do. Don't be discouraged by competition too much though. A lot of competition usually means it's a good business, but you have to find a better way to do it to set yourself apart. Spend a lot of time researching those who would be your competition. Do it better and more efficiently. Never settle for mediocre. Try to look at it from a different perspective. Make a list of the weaknesses of the product or service that currently exist and then make strides to correct those things.

Can You Afford it?
You need to be very clear about this: Are you set up to financially afford going into business for yourself? I started freelancing as a graphic designer because my husband had a stable corporate job and benefits. If you get in over your head too soon, things might turn south. Keep a tight reign on your expenses in the beginning. Make sure you make a complete list of your monthly expenses and work towards making enough to pay those to start with. Keep yourself in the black for a long as possible. If you need help in this area, ask a friend who's really good at managing money to spend an evening with you to show you their tricks. Financial issues are the #1 reason most businesses don't make it.

If You Don't Advertise, Don't Expect to Succeed
Be realistic about your need to advertise. Advertising can be a huge help and a huge hinderance. It's expensive and there's a LOT of options out there. You can hire experts who know what their doing, or you can try and do it yourself. I personally believe that starting with a great logo is one of the most important things you should do, if you're doing a business that will be seen by the public at large. Some small, service driven businesses can get away with a simple type treatment, while retail stores can draw in customers just from a great brand development. 

Social media will be your #1 advertising source in the beginning, if you're starting with a small budget. It's free and there are tons of websites and blogs on making the most of each facet of social media. One thing you might not know is Facebook has tightened their reins on business accounts (they're in this to make money just like you are). It won't matter how many people like you page, Facebook will only show your post to about 35 people. As an owner of two small businesses, the way we get around that is by sharing our business post on our personal pages. Then if you have a special promotion going on, you can ask friends and family to share it. One suggestion I have is to pay a little money and boost your post. Facebook will let you choose how many people you want to see it according to how much you want to spend. Keep in mind that they will only let you put text on 1/6th of the page. Focus on interesting photos and don't only post products and sales pitches. People want to know you're interesting and involved in your community. Put photos from every event you attend.

Being the Boss Takes a LOT of Discipline
How disciplined are you with your time? Being self-employed requires an enormous amount of self-discipline and the ability to manage your time. When I first started working from home I decided in the beginning to get up, shower and dress every day. If you're planning on working from home (which is cheaper in the beginning), set up a strict routine every morning. Pretend you're going into the office. I even had to have my shoes on! LOL! If you're dressed and sitting at a desk, you will be more productive. Also, on the working from home front, you need a room or designated space to work in that's efficient and large enough to spread out and feel free to do whatever you're doing. If you're starting a company that will eventually have employees, you need to be the example that you want your employees to be. If the slackness comes from the top, you'll have no one to blame but yourself. Being the boss is a very hard job, so make sure you're up for it. Going easy on employees in times where you shouldn't will cause problems in staffing. Can you be the person who has to make tough decisions?

Setting Goals is Hard Work, but Worth It
Set goals. This is probably one of the hardest things to do. I personally set a monitary goal of the money I needed to make. Since I charge by the hour, I knew at that point how many hours a week I HAD to work in order to make my goal. If you're starting a business where you're selling a product or service, you need to know how much you need to sell in order to make a living, minus all of the expenses. If you're selling a product, you need to set your profit margins correctly. Also take into account all of the small expenses that will drain your profits, if you're not careful.

You're Not On Your Own
There are reources and organizations that can help you. There are many organizations– private and state run – designed to help small start-up businesses to succeed. In my pet business, my partner and I attended a "New business" class that a group of retired business men put on. It was a Saturday well spent. You might also need investor groups for when you're ready to take it to the next level. Start with your local Chamber of Commerce to find the best connections for that. 

I've loved working for myself all these years and feel very blessed to have been able to do that. A year ago I started the online pet company AllyJay Pets, and I have to say it's the hardest thing I've ever done. Sometimes you have to just take the leap, but never without weighting the cost. A lot of time and effort went into launching this company, but we have made it a year and my partner has worked very hard to keep us afloat. If you have a great idea, don't just sit around and wish you could do it. Take steps today to make it a reality! I encourage you to go for it!

Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone Keeps You Moving Forward

I come from an ad agency background and after having kids, I decided to quit my job and work from home. That was a frightening adventure with no real promise of work, but at the time my children were coming along, it was the right decision. I was able to be there for them and have my career. I felt blessed and happy, but it took years to build a client base and get used to being alone most of the day. I'm very social and outgoing, but after time I adjusted and settled into a great routine with wonderful clients. 15 years went by in a blink and I found myself staring down the "empty nest" time in my life. In the back of my mind, I thought, "What's next?" My work had dropped off and after trying to "beat the bushes," as my momma calls it, nothing was happening.

Two years ago a good friend told me that there was this cool place downtown Greenville, SC that rented desks called CoWork Greenville. My curiosity got the best if me, so I made the decision to check out. After looking it up online, I emailed them and they encouraged me to drop by any time to check it out. A few days later, I decided to just do a "drive-by" to see the building. I felt intimidated to go in, but then felt silly, so I just got my courage up and walked in. I met Matthew Smith who gave me a tour and after it was over, I told him I only had two comments: "Uh...there's no women in there..." and "I'm A LOT older than all of you!" He just smiled and encouraged me to give it a try. They offered day-to-day "Cafe memberships", so there was no risk.

After I left I felt like it was exactly where I needed to be, but fear creeped into my mind. I asked myself, "How was I going to justify paying rent? Can I really work with a bunch of young guys? They have standing desk, can I stand all day as a middle aged woman?" However, the more I thought about it I began to tell myself that I had to do what ever it takes to work there. I mean, what's the worst thing that could happen?! So I thought about it a few more days and set a start date. The moring I started I probably changed clothes 10 times. I mean, heck, I'd been working at home for 15 years! What did people wear to work now? Add to that the fact that the place was full of 28-38 year old men! Ahhhh! So I did my best not to look like an old lady and set off to my new adventure.

Once I got here I was greeted by an extremely nice guy who introduced me to everyone and made me feel very welcome. No one made me feel different and most of them stopped and introduced themselves to me, asked what I did, and we proceeded to get to know each other. Immediately, I knew I'd made the right decision. Within a week or two I got an email from Matthew saying "Hey, you might want to think about redoing your website." My intrepretation of that was: "Your website sucks, and we're embarassed!" and he was right! In working from home, I'd gotten very lazy in keeping my own website fresh and current. I just kept putting it on the back burner. Now I had accountability! I told them that my problem is that I didn't have the knowledge to do my own website or money to pay someone to do it. So the guys put their heads together and suggested I use Squarespace. Even then I was hesitant to start it. So Matthew went one step further and encouraged me by starting a site for me while I was standing at his desk. He said it was free to try it and not hard to do. So off I went and dove into the experience. It wasn't extremely simple, because I wanted to design my own, but I was able to get it done within a few weeks. 

In the process of creating a new website, I then got inspired to design a new logo for myself. (It's crazy how we don't spend time on our own marketing when we're working on other people's businesses!) 

Once I finished the site, I launched it and the guys said it turned out really nice. One of them, David Haskins,  noticed I'd done a logo for a local restaurant called Soby's. He was so impressed that he asked me to design a logo for his new business The Haskins Company and for trade he would optimize my website for Search Engines and help me with social media. This turned out to be one of the best things that's happened to my business since I started. The Haskins Company got me on page one on Google and all of a sudden the phone started ringing!

So now, two years later I'm sitting back reflecting on how far my graphic design business has gone in the time I left the "safety and comfort" of my home office for an office full of young up and coming guys in their industry. I can't put a dollar amount on my decision because of everything it's done for me professionally, mentally and even spiritually. While working from home was the right decision at that time in my life, taking a chance and renting office space has been the change my life needed. I've learned to never settle for the easy, contented life. Do new and different things often and with a free spirit and your life and career will always move in a forward direction.

Branding Yourself: A Tough Job

In 1998, I started my own freelance Graphic Design business. It began with a desire to spend more time with my two young children and to have more freedom to volunteer at their school. It was a scary thing to do, but as with most things in my life, I jumped in with both feet and prayed for the best. When I quit my job, my boss wouldn’t let me leave or tell anyone that I'd quit. So for two months I walked around trying to figure out how this thing would play out. Then one morning in a staff meeting, they announced that I was leaving! I don’t know how many days it was, but I had a very short time to get my act together to start getting business.

That night I put together a logo and some “fake” business cards so I could go meet with some people the next day. I’d been considering the name Mighty Mouse from a nickname I had,  so with no further thought, I put a cute little mouse holding up a computer on the page with the name and that was seriously my logo for the next 6 years. 

A Logo Designer is Born

I had no real plan to focus on logo design, because my experience was mostly in page layout and production. However, one of the last jobs I'd done at the agency was a logo for Soby's Restaurant. That one logo got a lot of attention in my portfolio, so more logo design projects started coming in. I quickly remembered that this was what I wanted to focos on.

Over the next 10 years I would have the opportunity to design 100s of logos. But always at the back of my mind was, “My logo is really NOT good!” So every few years I would take a stab at "fixing it". But putting a band-aid on your logo rarely ever works (see logo progression). I needed a completely new design. Funny how we don't want to work on our own stuff. It's especially hard for a designer to design for themselves! So I just kept plugging away at other people’s work and never really took my own branding seriously (the cobbler's children have no shoes!).

MMP-LogoProgression.jpg

Then, two years ago I got out of my home office and started working at this wonderful space in Greenville called CoWork. I was suddenly surrounded by lots of young eager professionals including other designers. I felt exposed and worried that I wouldn’t measure up to the current design trends. Then to confirm my fears, I got a sweetly written email from a coworker suggesting that I might want to think about redoing my website. In other words: “Your website sucks and we’re embarrassed!” No, they didn’t say that, but I knew it was true. So I was forced to take that step back and take a hard look at my own branding and marketing. It was one of the hardest things I’d done in a while. It's very hard to put the brakes on and work on your own business. So I made the decision to put some work on hold to get this done. In working through the process of redoing my website, as wonderful thing happened... I got inspired to redesign my logo. I don’t always know when inspiration will come, but I'm always happy when it shows up! At the end of the day I realized it was time well spent.

It All Starts with a Name

I know my name is unusual and really not trademarkable (is that a word?) because of the Mighty Mouse cartoon franchise. However, the name stuck with me and it suits me, so I decided to keep it. Plus, I had 16 years of equity in it and a lot of local recognition as Mighty Mouse. So with the name Mighty Mouse, I wanted my icon to be clean, simple and not cute and cartoon-like. I wanted something that was also very clever, because after all, I AM a logo designer (no pressure there)! One of the best things a logo icon can do is offer several different things to see when you study it. Icons can be like puzzles, complex ideas with simple solutions. 

The first thing you'll probably see In my icon is the mouse head in the white space. Working with white space is difficult and doesn't always work. Next, I wanted the design to look alive and active, so I gave the mouse very sharp and pointy whiskers. The inspiration for that came from the previous design where the original mouse has his arms up. The last thing you should notice are two “M”s for Mighty Mouse at the top and bottom. The simplicity of this design was powerful to me that I made the decision to leave it black and white. Color should always be secondary to design and I change what colors I like so much I felt this would be a comfortable place to stay. 

After rebranding myself, the website fell into place. It was as I said time well spent and it gave me a lunch pad for designing the website. A good logo and nice photography or illustrations are the two components necessary for good design.

So I have to ask you: have you taken a step back and evaluated your brand?

Who's counting days?

Recently I ran into a friend of mine who is recovering from breast cancer and I asked her how she was doing. She replied, "Well, I could cry, but then I'll lose a day." That made me stop and think, what's in the loss of a day...I have the rest of my life to live. For her a day is precious, but for me I take most days for granted and so life seems to be passing very quickly. It seems like just yesterday...well, you know the rest.

After contemplating this a few weeks, I began to think about life in days, not weeks, months or years. The average American lives 78.6 years. That comes out to 28,689 days- about the average cost of a car these days. It s a sobering thought. 

What does our life look like in days?

Most of us will spend the first 7,665 days getting educated give or take 365 days.  That puts us at around 21,000 days left, if we' blessed to live s long life. 

The next 3,650 days are most often spent building our careers, meeting the love of our lives, and getting married. All important decisions that will actually determine the course of the rest of our days.

Now we're down to 17,350 days (around age 31). We're educated, hopefully established in our career, possibly married and maybe looking forward to or having children. Children will take another 7,665 days, but after about 5,000 days they become pretty self-sufficient. Add multiple children to the picture and those numbers increase. You don't really "lose" days to children, but for the sake of planning out our lives in days, we need to count them. So, from age 30-50 we are typically building our lives, roughly 10,439 days.

I'm a 18,615 day old, self-employed graphic designer, mother of two and have been contemplating the days I hope to have left on this earth. My kids are 17 and 19, so I'm close to closing this chapter of my life and I've been in my career for almost 10,950 days (30 years) now and been married for 8,395 of those days (23 years).  I worked from home for 5,475 days (15 years). From age 40-50, my life kind of settled into this stable life. I was used to being a mom, happily married, and I loved my career. But nothing changed. Same job, same kids, same husband, same friends, heck, even the same dog... My parents were healthy and we have lived in the same house. I got very comfortable in a 10 year "Sameness". A little too comfortable. I didn't learn anything new in my career. I didn't really meet very many new people other than clients. I felt confident in my abilities to design, but afraid of new technology and change. And then something happened around day 18,000...

I Woke Up

At some point in your life, you realize that things must change or you might go crazy!! Funny how simple conversations start a thought process which eventually lead to action. About a year and a half ago a friend told me about this cool new office space in Greenville called CoWork. In my mind I've always thought ,"Why pay rent?" But in my heart I knew I was ready for a change. But this would be a BIG change. I decided to check it out and knew right away that this was something I had to do. However, it was a daunting prospect for this "old" woman", because this office was full of 25-35 year old guys. LOL! What a change THAT was. It was like culture shock! But what this decision did was actually shock me back to life. These guys were so full of energy and excitement and I wanted to be a part of that. 

Since I started there 550 days ago, my life has dramatically changed. My son left home for college. I'm out of the house and in an office for the first time in over 5,475 days (15 years). I've redesigned my own logo and created a new website for Mighty Mouse. And the biggest change of all, I started a second company! It's an online business monogramming pet products. A venture I'd have never undertaken had I not been at CoWork! The support and collaboration I've gotten from being there has been invaluable to me. 

As with all things, too much change too fast can make your head spin and make you feel out of control. I realized that I had to take a step back after my conversation about how precious days are. I did two thing: I stood in awe of all that I've been allowed to accomplish and I took a long look into the future to see where I want to go from here. At the end of my days, I want to feel like I've done some great things and learned from my mistakes. I want to KNOW what it was all for and what I lived for.

So, What Have I Learned?

I've learned that if I don't die tomorrow and I'm blessed with a long life, I want the next 10,000 days to count not so much for myself, but for others. But what does that life look like? How can I actually help others running a graphic design business and a pet business? In thinking about my new monogrammed pet company, I felt a little weird about starting a business to encourage people to spend money on their pets. It was a moral issue for me. So I asked God, "Is this business okay with You?" Shouldn't I be out saving little children? Shouldn't I create something else? I mean, we love our pets, but should we spend money on them? You probably think God laid it on my heart that it's a bad idea for a business, but He actually gave me peace about it. He made it clear to me that if I wanted to work hard (which I certainly have done) to create a business, working hard is good. It's not the pet business He's that concerned with. It's the people He's going to bring into my life through that business that will give me the opportunity to see His love. You see, you might not save the world or cure some big disease, but you have an opportunity to make every day count by how you love others. How you let them see that you care. How you're willing to take the time to actually get to know them. To what lengths are you willing to go to sacrifice yourself for others? Every day you are given is another opportunity give grace and compassion when others don't.

So what will you do with the days you have left? None of us are promised tomorrow. Today is all you have. Start with day 1 of the rest of your life and make it count.

How to Get the Best Logo.

I have been designing logos for over 18 years and if there one thing I know, it's an important piece of the puzzle in staring a new business. I tell my clients that its like putting a face on your baby. If its ugly, everyone will notice, but they might not tell you. If its average, they might just pass it by with no thought. But, if its attractive, you'll get some looks and hopefully some good recognition in the marketplace. So hiring the right graphic designer, is critical. We recommend hiring someone who specializes in logo design. Whether you're rebranding or starting a new business you need to develop a strong brand that will stand the test of time.

Are you ready for a logo?

If you don't have a good grasp on the message and concept of what your business is about and your vision is vague, you're probably not really ready for a logo. It is essential that you're ready to communicate on a deep level to your designer about your business. Bad communication will lead to bad design. On the other hand, if you're able to give clear and focused informations, a good designer should be able to pull the elements together and give you a good solution. 

The next thing you need is a name. This is one of the biggest decisions to get right and often one of the hardest to make. Keep in mind that naming your business is also like naming a child. If they have to spell it every time they say it, that might be a problem. Also words that are hard to pronounce make using it difficult. Hiring a good brand development writer can be very helpful. Often times you're too close to the project to name it or you might need a writer to help you zero in on the main concept of the company. Either way, you need the name to not only look good in print, but also sound good. Short names usually work better than long ones. But this isn't a rule, just an opinion. In the end, you're building a business on that name, so it has to be right. 

Designing logos is a tricky business.

The purpose of your logo is to create an image that represents your business. If its too busy, it means your trying to tell your whole story in the design. (Your logo will never tell the whole story, nor should it.) The type should be easy to read and the icon should be a simple solution that pulls together the basic concepts of your business. The more elements you try and put into your logo, the less effective  it will be. Logos need to be simple, because sometimes they will be viewed very small and sometimes your customers will have less than 5 seconds to look at it. The way it works is the designer will take images that represent an idea and put them together in a clever way, but sometimes it's necessary to not be too clever, then you have something that looks like you're trying too hard. In the end, the design has to hit you, not require too much explanation and give you confidence.if you're not comfortable with the design, it's probably not right. A good designer should be able to handle problems such as a potential redesign.

Is it hard to work with a creative person?

 Creative people can be difficult to work with, but your attitude toward them can make all the difference. Creative people are good at what they do because they think outside the normal parameters of the rest of the world. The process of creating comes from within the person and so therefore, they will usually be passionate about what they're doing. I can tell you that the more you try and control the designer, the less effective he or she will be in doing the best job possible. Keep in mind that you're hiring a professional who's an expert in their field. With that said, you don't want to hire a prima donna. They will try and force their design on you and refuse to budge. You might end up with a design you don't like and a large hole in your budget. Collaboration most often produces the best ideas. Look for someone that puts you at ease on the phone and who is responsive to your ideas for your business. Look for someone who calls you back and responds quickly to emails. If they're not responsive in getting the job, they probably won't be responsive once they get he job. In your interview with them, look for someone who is more interested in what you have to say than giving you their expert opinion and advise right off the bat. Don't expect creative ideas in the interview. Off -the-cuff ideas can be good, but are not thought through and can be a shallow desire to impress you. Once you've hired them remember that designers are passionate about what they do, so don't kill the heart of your designer. If their heart's not in it, you'll get substandard design.

So how long does this process take?

For us, logo design is a complex, problem-solving business that often requires hours and hours of time, then again, it can be solved in a minute. Please understand that we don't bill by the hour for logos. Great ideas can come in a variety of settings and are never predictable. Our average turnaround is 2 weeks from the initial input meeting. You will receive no less than 3 full blown designs to choose from. Once the design is finished, approved and paid for, you will own it. We only retain the rights to use it on our website. We will provide you with all of the various formats you'll need to use your new logo to its fullest. Please allow at least a month to complete this process and get business cards printed, before opening your business.

If you're ready to "give your baby a face", Mighty Mouse Productions is ready to meet your logo and business advertising needs. Call us at 864-325-2345.

 

Do what you love...love what you do.

If you're one of those people who hate their job, have you considered that you haven't spent time figuring out what you love and what your passions are? So many of us wonder around trying to find ourselves so long, that we forget who we were.  I think you're designed to be good at something and to spend your life doing anything is just a waste.

In first grade, we had a day where we had to dress up as what we wanted to be when we grew up. I dressed up as an artist. At the tender age of seven, most kids want to be firemen, doctors, and as one friend laughingly told me, she wanted to be a waitress. Her aspirations are a little higher at this point (she's 18), but you know what, she would be a fantastic waitress! She's so friendly and is great at letting things roll off her shoulders. But so many young American kids get pushed to do what's going to make you the most money. Which also becomes such a large part of the career path decisions.

So my next question is, "Are you only doing it for the money, or would you still do what you're doing for free?" Most people would say, "Heck no!"  Well guess what, I would definitely do my job for free (if I were independently wealthy of course). I love it that much! It's part of who I am. Now, i understand that we don't all have obvious, God-given talents, but I do believe we are all born with special abilities to do one job especially well and you might just need to spend some time pondering what yours is. 

I always tell people, "Figure out what you love doing and find out how to make money doing it". We do still live in a society where you have every opportunity to create, or recreate yourself. Why are you getting up every day and going to a job you hate? Now, hate may be a strong word for you. You might just be in the place where you're thinking, "I've been doing it too long and I wouldn't be able to start over". That is not true. You're lying to yourself to stay in our comfort zone.

So how do you begin? I really believe that what you did most as a child defines who you really are before life began to tell you who it wanted you to be. You start by thinking back to your childhood. What did you spend the most of your time doing? Playing in the sandbox, then you're probably a social person who plays well with others and you should be in a job where you're working closely with people to solve problems. Or maybe you were supposed to work in a job where you're actually moving dirt to build things. I'm no expert in this area. 

I might have dressed up in first grade as an artist, but I didn't even know I actually had some talent for drawing until I was 12. My Dad brought me a "How to Draw" book and sketch pad back from a business trip. He and I sat at the kitchen table and each took a turn at drawing the face of this little girl. His looked a little like her, but mine looked exactly like her! I was shocked! I never knew I could look at something and draw it. I'd been trying to draw out of my head all those years before and wasn't very good at it (I'm still not). But I can draw anything I can see. That was the start of a live long career, but at the time I only saw it as a lot of fun! 

By the time I hit high school, I'd learned some techniques, but still couldn't imagine how I could make a career out of art. I never considered myself a "fine artist", just a skilled one. So I kept going down the thought paths of "normal careers." Finally I took a commercial art class my senior year of high school. A whole new world was opened up to me...advertising.

I was from a small, Southern town and graphic design was like a foreign word. Now that personal computers are at everyone's fingertips, most people know what it is, but even after I graduated from college with a BA degree specializing in graphic design, my parents didn't understand exactly what it was I was going to be doing.

So from dressing up in first grade as an artist, to being an artist, I'd say I'm who I'm supposed to be and I'm doing what I was designed to do. 

I challenge you to spend some time pondering your career choice. D you love it? Are you passionate about it? What steps can you take today toward your life's calling?