21 November 2012

Re-Evaluating Your Business

Following on from our recent post of How to Choose the Right Design Company for You, this week I wanted to help you to all think about re-evaluating your businesses yourselves. This is not only a really good thing to practise - essential for the owner of any business if you ask us - but it can be extremely helpful in aiding the build or refreshment of your brand, when and if needed.

This is relevant to any business owner at all, no matter whether you are a new start-up that hasn't yet launched your business, or if you are a young or more established business - whether you have fallen
out of love with your existing brand or not.

Business owners should really be re-evaluating their businesses and brands on a regular basis, and it can actually be very therapeutic. We ourselves do this once a year - to sit down and really look at where
we are, and where we could improve. As the year goes by, you tend to wear so many hats that it can
be really tough to keep on top of absolutely everything, and all the while your business is growing and evolving. By the end of the year your business could be targeting a new audience, or you may have
even had some kind of restructure of the services you offer - all clear reasons why evaluation is key.

The following worksheet will help you in the re-evaluation of your business and your brand as a whole,
no matter what stage it is at.

Your Business
Focus on your business basics, and explain it in as many words as necessary - include when it began
(or when it will begin, if you are yet to launch), your main services or products, your company ethics and your company mission.

Your Message
What is the main message that you want to communicate with your business? Look at the words below, and select which reflect your company (or that you want to reflect your company) in the various areas.

Your Company's Nature

Ambitious, Brave, Challenging, Clever, Comfortable, Confident, Friendly, Inclusive, Innovative, Intelligent, Unique.

Your Company's Attitude

Approachable, Conservative, Expansive, Future-facing, Inclusive, Leader, Professional, Questioning, Responsible, 
Risk-taking, Warm.

Your Company's Main Focus

Cost, Customers, Future, Growth, Innovation, Partner, People, Products, Profit, Quality, Recognition, Relationships, Scale, Service, Solutions, Stability, Staff, Techniques.

What Your Company is Like to Work With

Collaborative, Consistent, Dependable, Exceeds Expectations, Expert, Flexible, Have-a-go, Meets Expectation, 
Proactive, Procedural, Reactive, Supportive, Value-for-money, Worth-the-expense.

Your Company's Culture

Dynamic, Evolutionary, Feminine, Formal, Fun, Informal, Laid-back, Open, Revolutionary, Serious, Stable, 

Your Company's Style

Bold, Contemporary, Different, Edgy, Exciting, Loud, Quiet, Sexy, Sophisticated, Surprising, Traditional, Uniform, 
Witty, Young.

Your Target Audience
Describe your target audience - their sex, marital status, age, profession and lifestyle. Nail down as many specifics as possible - What do they do in their spare time? What kind of activities to they enjoy? Remember, if you are an established company, you are not looking at what audience you are currently attracting, but the audience you want to attract - your ideal customer or client. You can then evaluate if you are actually attracting the correct audience, and if not, put steps into place to change this.

Your Competition
Who is your competition and how are you different to them? You may have many or few competitors,
but your USP (unique selling point) will be the thing that sets you apart - pinpoint it.

Your Future
Where do you want to be in 5 years? What is your vision and your ambition for the future of your business? Think both big and small and put it all down.

Your Ideas
Building a mood board is a great way to focus visually on your business. Whether you are yet to get your brand built, or whether you have a current brand that may require development, building a mood board can be extremely fruitful.

Your board can include absolutely anything - from colour ideas and photographic styles, to random bits of imagery or pattern that inspire you - it is really just all about building a visual feast of the things that you feel help to represent your business.

If you already have a brand - whether you are unhappy with it, or whether it may just need a little tweaking to bring in line with your businesses development - put it out of sight and begin your moodboard from scratch, with fresh eyes. Whatever your circumstance, this in itself will highlight what parts of your current brand are failing.

Your Brand
If you have yet to get your brand built, take some time to think about the things that might need to be included. If you are at the very early stages, this could begin with brainstorming your company name,
but if you already have that established, think about whether you perhaps need a strap-line.

Your brand covers much more than your logo of course, so think about what else you will need - a website, what stationery your company will need to really strengthen your brand, and what promotional material you will require to get your business out there. You may also want to research social platforms, to figure out which ones might benefit your business - not all will, and to some extent it is a case of trial and error. Remember - they are free advertisement, so you have nothing to lose by giving them a try.

If you already have an existing brand, do not discount this part of the brief. No matter where you are with your business there is always a need for reflection to keep your brand relevant as your business grows.
If you are unhappy with your current brand, or something isn't working quite right, start again from the beginning - what bits are working, and what bits are failing you? By pinpointing them really specifically, you can move forward. This isn't just a case of thinking about whether your logo or colour palette is right, it is about the whole picture - think about your materials and online presence as a whole - anything and everything that represents your business. Go through your brand experience through the eyes of your customers and clients - are there any inconsistencies or is there room for improvement?

I hope that by the end of this exercise, you will feel like you have really re-engaged with your business, and feel much clearer on how to move forward. This is the perfect time of year to do this exercise, as we approach the end of 2012, with an eye on the next year and all that it holds. But remember to also reflect on how far you have come this year, and give yourself credit for all that you have achieved to date!

16 November 2012

Visual Snacks...

I can confirm that pregnancy heightens creativity. In all honesty, I have never in my life felt so inspired (by this tiny being inside of me) and the smallest of visual snacks can give me such a huge sense of inspiration...

It makes me feel...
(left to right & top to bottom)

Appreciative - Inspiring me to pause and appreciate the beauty all around me...
Linen & Lace Camera Strap, by Rhyah Papaya - etsy.com/RhyahPapaya

Reflective - Inspiring me to really appreciate the wonder of our universe...
Mountain Brooch, by Sweet Bestiary - etsy.com/sweetbestiary

Crafty - Inspiring me to create new things and practise new skills...
Crochet Bunting, by Emma Lamb - etsy.com/emmalamb

Relaxed - Inspiring me to put my feet up and take time for me...
An Apple a Day Cushion, by Zeena - heartzeena.com

Imaginative - Inspiring me to embrace my own inner child...
Mr Fox, by The Linen Cat - folksy.com/thelinencat

Adventurous - Inspiring me to seek adventure, and see & try new things...
Safari Suite Pads, by Crane & Co. - crane.com

What's inspiring you at the moment and how? Strong inspiration can come from the most unlikely places.

09 November 2012

How to Choose the Right Design Company for You

Just lately we have heard some real horror stories about very negative experiences that people have had with design companies. This is a huge shame for businesses who then go without, and also a huge shame for the design industry as a whole, which ends up with a negative reputation.

Experiences have often been brought to light when we have been discussing projects with new clients, and they have been learning the process in which we manage things. It struck me that many people
don't seem to know what to expect from the process when using a design company, so I thought it might be a good thing to tell you a bit about how we work, in order to give you some insight of what you
could expect.

Of course all companies will work very differently, so this is very unlikely to be exactly how other design companies operate, but at least it gives you some idea. We hope that from this, bad experiences can be avoided for anyone who is needing the help of a professional designer, because we truly believe - wholeheartedly - in the power of good design.

First Contact

This crucial first stage is all about getting to know each other. You need to feel informed about how things work, in order to establish a level of trust with the company, while they need to ensure that they deliver this.

We always find the first contact a really important time to glean as much information as possible on what our potential client could possibly need, so ideally, we like to meet up for a coffee and a chat before we do anything - this meeting is free, and carries no obligation. This enables them to get a feel for who we are, which establishes a level of trust, and it also gives us the opportunity to discuss their vision and their needs. Clients who are looking for a full brand development often feel overwhelmed and unsure of what materials they would need. By discussing this with them, we are able to advise and can help them to prioritise things within their budget. If a client is is not local to us, we can do all of the discussing via phone or email, and if the client is after something specific like a logo, then a meeting like this is less important.

Ensure that you are clear on whether a meeting like this is charged for. Some design companies do charge for consultations like this, and should make you aware of this before arranging - you should not
be expected to pay for things like this if the costs are not pointed out to you first.

Gaining an Estimation

The next stage is to supply the client with an estimation, so that they can get familiar with costs. It is always helpful to send an estimate across that covers a whole host of eventualities, and all with the costs broken down, so that they have it to refer to for their budget - that way they can organise their funds to schedule bits in over time if needed. We are always striving to be as flexible as possible in this way, to work around budgets and make the most of funds for the client, which is of course key for small businesses. Aim to find out how flexible your chosen design company is, and their processes, in order
to feel secure in your decision making.

This stage is also very important to make our potential client feel at ease and informed about what they will be getting for their money. For these reasons, we always give an overview of the process with the estimation - this covers what they will get at the end of a project and the process in which we work.

Some companies may not bother with estimates, and go straight into quoting, and you need to be clear on what this means. We prefer to estimate first in order to help clients gain a clear idea of costs before they commit to anything, and also to allow them to plan around their budget. Below, we outline what our procedure for quoting is, and what you should expect to be informed of.

Receiving a Quotation

After the initial estimate has been sent across and our potential client has decided on what they would like to proceed with at that point, we would then draw up a quote. The quote outlines the project details, hours that will be spent on the project, and the costs, all broken down with the deposit information. This is teamed with a copy of our terms and conditions, which clients are urged and expected to read before confirming that they are happy to go ahead with things, and before paying their deposit. No company should begin your project until you have confirmed that you wish for them to do so.

The most important thing to look out for in terms & conditions is payment details and the cancellation policy. Payment wise, you will need to know what you will be expected to pay and when, and what you will be getting for your money. In our terms and conditions we have included a brief outline of the different stages of a project, and clear details on copyright and cancelation. If everyone knows where they stand, then communication is at its best, and trust can be established between company and client. You can view our terms & conditions as a rough guide, here.

Money is obviously a huge factor to small businesses, and this can make a project feel really daunting to those who have never experienced working with a professional designer before. When factors like this are not addressed by a design company, businesses can feel put off and will often try to do their own brands themselves, which is a huge shame. Not only it this obviously bad for the design industry, but also for the small businesses themselves, who end up feeling constantly held back by their image.

The Briefing

Usually, if we have had a meeting with a client at first contact, then we would have taken a full brief at that point, but if we have not met up with them, (because they are not local or because they are after something specific) then we would usually wait until now to take a full brief.

The briefing stage is by far the most important stage of the project for us, as it is a time for us to really get to know a business. There is no better way to get to know what a business needs from the design process, than getting into the driver's seat and learning about them. So, in the briefing stage we ask lots of questions about the business, the owner, and their goals, to really gain a deep understanding of who they are and what they need.

After a brief has been taken, we always get it typed up and sent over to the client for them to read through. This is not only important for us to ensure that we have understood everything correctly, but for clients to feel that we have, giving them confidence and enthusiasm in the process.

We strongly doubt that there are any design companies who would not take a brief, since it would be impossible to be properly equipped to enter the design stage and create a relevant solution without taking a brief. However, just be mindful of this when dealing with a company - you need to feel like they know your business, in order to trust that the end result is going to be representative of your business.

First Ideas

No design company should expect to deliver a finished solution to a client at first visual.

Where logo's are concerned, we usually offer a small number of solutions for a client to look at during
the first visual stage, along with supporting descriptions. This gives the client insight into the different solutions and enables them to supply us with feedback on which design they would like to have developed.

The key thing here is choice - although we are the professionals when it comes to working up a good strong solution that will work for that business, the client must be and feel involved in the process, and have a choice.

Solution Development

Having gained feedback on the chosen solution, it would then enter the development stage, where any changes would be implemented, and the artwork would be perfected for use. The client would then be provided with a proof of the finished artwork for them to confirm and sign off ahead of supply or production.

It is really important that you are given the opportunity to confirm that you are happy with the artwork, before it is supplied or printed, and you are invoiced.

Supply of Artwork

This is the end stage, where materials are supplied to the client. If it is a logo that has been developed, then the full suite is sent over electronically with details on how to use the different versions supplied.
If however there are materials involved, then of course you should be aware of whether the design company manages print and production, and what stage you will be expected to take over, if there is one.

In our case - and in the case of the majority of other design companies we are sure - we manage the process all the way through, from first contact to delivery of materials to your door step. In this day and age, there will be very few design companies who do not manage print and production, since the two processes are so closely linked in the result of the end product, but you should be well informed
either way.

Some clients like to take the print and production into their own hands - especially if they have a contact themselves that they have a good relationship with. It is however part of our service to advise on which print technique would be good for a specific job, which is very important since it can make or break a piece of design work. Find out if a design company offers this service, and is willing to advise you on this kind of thing.

While a lot of design companies outsource print, you should always expect to be informed of estimated costs upfront, before you decide on which technique to go ahead with. Print techniques vary massively in cost, so you will need to be well informed of your options beforehand. A lot of design companies put fees on top of print costs, for their time taken managing it all - what you need to be aware of is those that seemingly pluck figures out of the air. It is an unfortunate thing that some companies throw on huge fees that are not at all relative to their time taken managing production, so you do need to be wary of this.

I think that this just about covers the need-to-know information, and we really hope that it proves useful to anyone who is seeking help with their image. Good design is so important to business, and professional designers have a huge and important role in this. Just make sure that you choose wisely - with the industry so saturated with design companies nowadays, it can be a case of sorting through the rough to find the gems that will be right for you. The design process is such an exciting thing, and should result in an image that represents your business as an individual and communicates your personality and ethics when you can't be there. It is a asset that gives your business results, helping you to grow, and making you feel like you might just burst with pride. That is the power of good design!

We are of course open to questions if any of you have any, so do feel free to leave us messages in the comments box below.

06 November 2012

Our Christmas Discount

Adding a little magic to your Christmas...

It's that merry time of year again, and as we are about to hit the festive season, we would like to offer you over 25% off our beautiful letterpressed 'Magic Little Christmas' cards. Dropping from the original price of £12.50 for a pack of 10, they are now down to a generous £9.00 a pack, which we hope you will agree is a bit of a bargain for something as unique as these. Our handsome cards have been left blank inside for your own message, and are teamed with natural kraft envelopes in harvest tones. Shop now >

The perfect stocking fillers...

Also included in our offer are our beautiful letterpressed 'Garden Bird' notecards, which are available mixed or in a single design - the choice is yours. Originally priced at £12.50 for a pack of 10, our notecards are now also down to £9.00 a pack, and are the perfect stocking fillers for those who like to give something more unique. Teamed with our natural kraft envelopes in harvest tones, and left blank inside, the notecards can be used for any occasion - to keep in touch with friends and family or indeed as greetings cards. Each pack of notecards is lovingly finished in our special Christmas wrapping of natural brown paper and festive twine, ready to slip straight into your stockings. Shop now >

{Offer valid until Friday 21st December, when Leaff will be closing for Christmas.}

02 November 2012

Discovered Artists - Part 4

This is the fourth and final post in the series of Discovered Artists that I have been sharing with you over the last few weeks. If you missed the others, you can catch up here, here and here.

It was whilst taking a gentle stroll through Abbotsbury in Dorset, that we came across this artist. Sitting on a step in front of a cute little door, was a small box of cards, with a sign urging us to take one. There was also some of the amazing work on display, and I was curious, so I popped one into my bag for further investigation. Visiting the website confirmed it all...

Abbotsbury Stonework

(All images sourced directly from www.abbotsburystonework.com)

I just love coming across unusual things, and I find this talent of stone carving quite rare in my world. Perhaps it is because I have never actively sought out stone carvings before, but at any rate, for this
to catch my eye just proves it is something special in my book.

The artist behind Abbotsbury Stonework is award-winning stone carver Rebecca Freiesleben, who specialises in hand crafted letter-cutting and carving in stone - from unique memorials and name plates to sculptures, relief carvings and other decorative items for your home and garden.

I love the fresh, quirky feel of the letter-cutting and the accuracy of it, while the more sculptural pieces have such wonderful details and such a natural feel to them. Amazing, amazing work. Visit her website to find out more about Abbotsbury Stonework, and view more of her portfolio.

I hope you have all enjoyed being introduced to the fantastic array of artists that we have covered in
this series - and remember, if you know of any great artists, we always like to know about them!

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