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Need design help? Ask a Designer offers free peer-review for better design

(BUSINESS MARKETING) Good design is more than just slapping some fonts and colors together. Ask a Designer promises free design advice on their new website.

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A white sign in an urban setting reading "In Design We Trust" with glowing yellow lights above.

With the necessity to create and maintain an online presence for our businesses nowadays, content creation is essential. One impact this proliferation of content has had on entrepreneurs, bloggers, and small businesses is that many non-designers have had to take a stab at design work. Sometimes this works out for the amateur designer, but often it could be better: More effective, accessible, and appealing. This is where Ask a Designer comes in.

Creating designs online can be fun, but your average Canva, Squarespace, or WordPress user, for example, has no more of a sense of design than the man on the moon. Design work encompasses so much more than just slapping some words on a stock photo and calling it a day. While there are truly incredible and helpful free or inexpensive DIY design and business tools out there, nothing beats the power of knowledge and experience.

Ask a Designer provides one more level of professional review and counsel before a business owner puts their DIY (or even paid) design work out there for the world to see—or worse, not see. As a writer, I have always valued editorial reviews, comments, and feedback on my writing. Second eyes, third eyes, and more almost always serve to improve the content. It makes business sense to get as much feedback as possible, even better to get expert feedback.

For example, an experienced web designer should have a good idea of how to incorporate and test for UX and UI purposes, thus making the user interaction more functional and pleasant. A skilled graphic designer knows what colors go together for aesthetic appeal, accessibility, and even the psychology behind why and how they do.

Take logos. Pick a color, image, and font you like, and go for it, right? I’m afraid not. There is a lot of data out there on the science and psychology of how our brains process logos. There are examples of logo “fails” out there, as well. Consider the uproar over AirBnB’s logo that many thought evoked genitalia. Or the raised eyebrows when Google changed their color scheme to one similar to Microsoft’s palate. Just search for “logo fails” online to get an idea of how a seemingly innocent logo can go horribly wrong. I haven’t linked them here, because they would need a trigger warning, as many of the worst examples can be interpreted as some sort of sexual innuendo or genitalia. Searchers, be warned.

It always makes good business sense to use professional designers when you have the option, just as it makes sense to use professional writers for copywriting and professional photographers for photography. After all, if you have the chance to get something right the first time, it saves you time and money to do so. Rebranding can be difficult and costly, although sometimes rebranding is necessary. Having a designer review your design (whether logo, WordPress, blog, or other) could possibly help you from missing the mark.

How does Ask a Designer work, and is it really free? It’s super easy—almost like designers had a hand in it! Know what I mean? First, you go to the website or app and enter your question. Next Ask a Designer will assign your question to the appropriate type of designer in their network. Within 48 hours, they’ll get back to you with feedback or an answer to your design question.

While Ask a Designer is available to anyone to use, the website suggests it is especially helpful for developers, teams, junior designers, and business and product owners. They suggest, “Think of us as peer-review in your pocket.” The team at Ask a Designer will provide feedback on specific projects such as websites, logos, and portfolios, as well as answer general questions.

Examples of questions on their website give a good idea of the scope of questions they’ll answer, and include the type of feedback they provide. Sample questions include:

  • “How do I choose colors for dark mode?”
  • “I’d love feedback on a logo for a restaurant.”
  • “I’m an industrial design student and I’d like to move into automotive design. What are some resources that can get me to where I need to be?”
  • “Please send me some feedback on [website link].”
  • “How can I use my brand fonts on my website?”
  • “I’m a full stack software engineer. Are there any resources you could suggest for me to level up my design or UX skills?”

Ask a Designer is new, and so they currently list 2 design experts, each with 20 or more years of experience in their fields. They promise to add more “desig-nerds” soon. It may sound too good to be true, but from what they state on their website, this expert design review service is free. Considering the other excellent tools out there with some free components out there for business, it is possible that this is true. Whether they will add a more in-depth paid version is yet to be seen. In any case, it’s worth trying out the app or website for your burning design questions and reviews.

Joleen Jernigan is an ever-curious writer, grammar nerd, and social media strategist with a background in training, education, and educational publishing. A native Texan, Joleen has traveled extensively, worked in six countries, and holds an MA in Teaching English as a Second Language. She lives in Austin and constantly seeks out the best the city has to offer.

Business Marketing

Simple way to send text, email appointment reminders to clients

(MARKETING) This new app has tons of automatic tools that help small businesses continue to move into the digital age with ease of use.

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reminders

As the world becomes more heavily reliant on automated messaging and computer-mediated communication, we become more reluctant to actually speak to someone on the telephone. While I often find myself in this category, I also feel saddened by what Alexander Graham Bell must think. I digress.

We can certainly argue that a major reason we prefer to text or email rather than sit on the phone is for convenience. We can send a quick text while working, as it’s much more difficult to get away with a phone call on the down low.

That’s why it’s become so popular for places such as doctor’s offices and salons to begin using text and email alerts as appointment reminders. Now, Remindr is getting in on the action.

According to their site, “Remindr.co is a tool for small businesses to schedule automated email and text message appointment reminders. Reduce your meeting no-shows by alerting your clients beforehand. Easily confirm appointments with your customers via text message.”

They proclaim that they’re “great for any business that schedules customer appointments or client meetings,” citing their top use cases as restaurant reservations, nail salons, personal trainers, barbers, tattoo shops, spas, real estate agents, independent car mechanics, and tech sales scheduling customer calls.

This is a win-win as it’s convenient for the customer, but also saves time on the business’s side because it eliminates hours of reminder calls. Additionally, the method supports the reduction of no-shows, which is incredibly important to businesses – especially small ones.

Remindr features include: text message, email, confirmation, reusable templates, schedule alerts, and easy user interface. With text messaging, businesses can send personalized SMS messages to customers from your Remindr phone number.

With email, businesses can send personalized email reminders to their customers through Remindr email addresses. Then, customers can confirm their appointment via text messages or email, and businesses can review confirmations on their Remindr account.

Businesses can create their own personalized reminder templates to pre-fill the reminder form (for example: “Hi NAME! We’re looking forward to your appointment tomorrow (DATE) at TIME. Respond YES to confirm your appointment.”) Reminders can be automatically sent via email or text at a predetermined time.

Remindr provides an easy user interface where businesses can start scheduling reminders instantly, use full-keyboard form navigation, and it is mobile friendly.

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Business Marketing

10 easy steps to get into Instagram marketing

(BUSINESS MARKETING) Want to up your social media marketing game? Start better with Instagram for your business using these easy tips to quickly get established.

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Instagram post open on a tablet

When Instagram first came on the scene, it was simply a place to share pictures of your cat or a pie that you just baked. While it still is a place for that kind of content, it has also grown into a platform where one can influence others and build an empire.

So, if you’re looking to step up your social media marketing game through use of Instagram, look no further than using these 10 steps from Neil Patel.

  1. Switch to a business profile: This is super easy and can be done in just a few clicks. Switching from a personal to a business profile gives a better look at your followers through Insights, allowing you to see analytics and impressions. It also adds a contact feature that takes a visitor right to an email draft to you – just like it would on your website. All this and it makes it possible to publish ads.
  2. Use free marketing tools: Because Facebook owns Instagram, they operate kind of similarly. As mentioned in #1, Insights allows for a deep dive into personalized analytics to see what kind of posts are clicking with your audience and which aren’t. That way, you know what kind of content to continue with and what to do away with.
  3. Post product teasers: There are a variety of ways to do this, including posting about flash sales or linking business platforms that sell your product to make it easier for your customer to shop. The trick here is to not be pushy, but instead be enticing and make the post convenient for your consumer.
  4. Create a sponsored ad: Like Facebook, you can post ads and include a specific budget of what you want to spend. You can showcase one ad or multiple with the carousel feature. You can also target the exact demographic you’re looking to hit.
  5. Instagram stories: These last 24 hours and don’t have to be as “fancy” as a regular post. Give followers a glimpse into your brand with behind-the-scenes shots, polls, fun questions, etc. Make them feel like they’re part of the experience and use this as a way to tell your brand’s story.
  6. Partner with influencers: Work out a deal with influencers who have a decent following. Send them one of your items in exchange for them posting a photo of the item and tagging your brand. This will reach their whole followership and build your credibility.
  7. Collect user-submitted photos: Share photos posted by customers loving on your brand or product. Either share them to your story, or use a regram app to repost customer photos to your feed. It’s basically free advertising for your product.
  8. Hashtags: Come up with an interactive hashtag solely for your brand. Think in terms of verbs (a la Nike’s “Just Do It”). It can be punny or practical, but something that people attribute to your brand and your brand only.
  9. Timing and over-posting: Look into the best times to post – this is when your users are most active. It will be helpful to use Insights to understand when your time to shine may be. According to SimplyMeasured, the worst days to post on Instagram are Wednesdays and Sundays, while Mondays and Thursdays are the best days to post. Also, don’t over post. It’s annoying and it’s always best to err on the side of quality over quantity.
  10. Track the right metrics: Insights do no good if you aren’t looking at the right data. You need to keep tabs on whether or not what you’re doing is increasing your follower growth as well as growth for your interaction. With research, use of Insights and a little trial and error, you’ll get yourself to where you need to be.

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Business Marketing

7 Low-budget marketing ideas for small businesses [sponsored]

(MARKETING) Marketing ideas are often expensive or ultra time consuming, but let’s talk about some proven tactics that won’t break the bank.

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low budget marketing ideas

The following marketing ideas are provided to you buy Threadsy:

No matter the size of your business, marketing matters! It’s important for small and big businesses alike to attract new customers, establish brand awareness, and to create buzz around products and services. But we know that not every business owner has tons of funds to devote to their marketing strategy. The good news? There are some highly effective marketing tactics that are also budget-friendly!

Here are seven low-budget marketing strategies for small business owners and side hustlers to grow their reach:

1. Sponsor Local Events

One of the best ways to get to know potential customers? Actually meet and talk to them! When you sponsor local events, you can be on-site to help people put a face with your business’s name. Sponsoring events is also a fantastic way to offer branded merchandise that can help you get your name and your logo out there.

Besides branded materials like signs, banners, or fliers, think about offering some fun items like wine bags to give away to attendees. Goody bags also make fantastic take-home options for local events. A branded canvas tote can be repurposed as an environmentally-friendly grocery bag, lunch bag for work, or a carry-all accessory for conventions and tradeshows. Print your logo on the outside and fill your goody bags with customized items like water bottles, notebooks, pens, and towels.

2. Let Your Colors Fly

Make some cool t-shirts featuring your logo! Wear them to the sponsored events mentioned above, out in the community, or anywhere you may encounter potential customers and can strike up a conversation. You can also offer t-shirts at a discount in-store or online, and turn your loyal customers into advertisers.

Quick tip: Purchase wholesale shirts to reduce manufacturing costs.

3. Social Media

If you’re not already leveraging social media to promote your business, it’s time to start! Think your customers aren’t using social networks? While certain demographics use various platforms more than others, according to fundera, 74% of consumers rely on social media to guide purchasing decisions. Plus, 96% of small businesses say they use social media in their marketing strategy.

So use your social media channels to level the playing field. To maximize your time and effort, determine where your audience members spend their time. Which platforms are they using? If you have a dedicated social media strategist on staff, they can perform audience research to tailor your approach to your existing and potential customers. If you’re running your own social strategy, spend some time digging into the demographics to determine which platforms make the most sense for your brand. From there, you’ll need to decide on the types of content you want to post, how to interact with your customers online, and create a social media calendar to plan your strategy.

4. Host a Giveaway

Once you’ve got your social media strategy up and running, why not host an online giveaway/sweepstakes to build some buzz, boost engagement, and attract followers? Pick a social media platform where you already engage with your customers. You’ll want to offer an item as the prize. This can be anything from a free product, a discount on an expensive product or service, or inexpensive swag like hats to help you promote your brand.

Once you’ve chosen the prize(s), decide on the terms for your giveaway. For example, an Instagram sweepstakes might look like this:

  • Create posts about the giveaway and explain the rules (multiple stories and 1 or 2 posts depending on the length of the contest)
  • These posts should specify the terms, for example:
    – In order to enter, potential winners must follow you
    – Encourage your followers to tag other people who may be interested. Each “tag” gets them another entry into the contest
    – You can also specify that contest applicants must share your post on their own profile
  • Once the contest has ended, pick a winner. Tag them in a post and story announcing what they’ve won and ask them to also share these posts to their own profile

Quick tip: You can also offer smaller or less-expensive items as consolation prizes. People love free swag and it’s an easy way to get your name out there!

5. Referral Discounts

Offering friends and family discounts on your products or services can help you establish loyalty and promote exclusivity. Offer discount codes or create a refer-a-friend program. You can also offer small incentives for customers who share about your brand on social media. Referral discounts are a great marketing strategy whether you use them in-store, online, or both.

6. Create or Update Your Blog

If you already have a website, you can put it to use to help build brand awareness and attract high-funnel customers. Blogging is a low-cost way to generate organic traffic (website visitors via Google or other search engines). If you don’t already have a blog, there are a number of free and inexpensive blog platforms you can use including Wix and WordPress.

You’ll want to write about topics that are related to your product or service and are of interest to your customers. For example, if you offer graphic design, you might want to create content about how to find an effective graphic designer online, or which projects you can do with an online platform like Canva vs. more complex projects where you should hire a professional designer.

Your website and blog are also great places to post “about us” content to offer website visitors an opportunity to learn more about you, your business, and your mission and values.

7. Update Your Google My Business Profile

Google My Business (GMB) is a free tool that allows you to share important information about your business like your address, hours of operation, and contact information. When your listing is optimized with this information, it’s displayed in Google Search and will also appear in Google Maps, which can help you attract local customers.

To get started, you need to create a GMB profile and verify your business information. This is a relatively simple but important step to ensure customers are able to find your business or service online. Make sure to keep your listing updated if you change any information like your website URL, address, or hours.

The takeaway:

When creating your marketing strategy, remember to stay true to your brand. Not every tactic will be the most effective for every business. Choose the tactics that make sense for your brand or product offering. Another way to prioritize is to consider the perceived impact and effort of each marketing strategy. Use the strategies that require the lowest effort but will potentially drive the highest return.

Once you have those in place, decide which of the other strategies make sense for your customers and your business goals. Also, make sure to keep track of all of your marketing expenditures and the sales from these tactics so you can assess which ones were successful and which ones you may need to re-evaluate or alter.

Remember, when it comes to marketing, it’s an ever-evolving system. Trust the process and try to have some fun with your marketing strategy!

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