Since I started Lorrie Walker Communications, Inc. last year, I have been incredibly flattered by the hundreds of compliments on my Web site and business card design. Receiving all those compliments made me realize that obviously there are a lot of boring business cards and Web sites out there that aren't living up to their potential. I thought I'd share my experiences in creating my brand, as well as my thoughts on branding in general, in hope that it will help other public relations professionals and those starting their own businesses.
I knew going into this business that the first two things I needed were business cards and a Web site. No matter how mighty the Internet becomes, I think business people always will need business cards for those face-to-face opportunities. And these days if you don't have a Web site, people just don't take you seriously. And I'm not sure they should.
I was blessed in knowing where to go for assistance in developing my brand: Barrett Creative in Lakeland, Fla. Michael Barrett gave me some great advice that I think anyone who works in public relations ought to practice and recommend to their clients. He said branding is everything. When someone looks at your business card, your Web site, your letterhead and your promotional brochures, it ought to look like everything was created by the same person. There ought to be continuity in the design, color scheme, look and feel. That's how you create your brand. If a business does this, Barrett is convinced- and I agree- that people will come to know and recognize your brand. And that, my friends, is good for business.
I think Barrett Creative has effectively demonstrated this formula with one Lakeland-based client in particular- Gate Arty, a Lakeland Realtor. The first thing most people will notice about Gate's promotional materials is the creative little "g" on everything. I notice it every time I visit his Web site or see his ad on a for sale sign or a bus bench. He's building his brand.
BUILDING A BRAND- WHERE TO START
When I met with Barrett to discuss my branding needs, I had an idea in mind. I wanted a retro look, and I wanted a design that would stand out from the rest and over time, be recognizable as belonging to me. I thinks its a good idea to have some idea of what you want. I had some specific requests when it came to the font used in my name, as well as the color scheme. I don't know if this helped Barrett or if I became a colossal pain in the butt during the design process. If I'm thinking like a true customer, I don't care whether it was helpful or not. What I did care about was the finished product, and whether it met my expectations.
In the end, Barrett's design exceeded my expectations. Who could ask for more?
When it came to creating my Web site, Barrett's job was easy. He designed a Web site that mirrored the design of my business card. I wanted the Web site to look professional and I wanted it to project me and my business as entities to be taken seriously. Basically, all I needed was an online brochure at this point. I needed people to be able to find me on the Internet and call or email me if they had questions or wanted additional information.
Barrett, in partnership with Jim Mosier and Lakeland, Fla.-based Mosier Information Services, Inc. recently created Donkasites, a company that designs Web sites to help businesses establish an Internet presence. That's exactly what I needed, and it's exactly what Donkasites has done for me.
A big misconception is that building Web sites is expensive, and doing little things that lend a more professional appearance are out of reach for small businesses. That simply is untrue. For example, a lot of people seem to think it's too expensive to have this as your email: email@example.com. IT'S NOT. Read this again. IT'S NOT. You owe it to youself to get with a Web designer and secure a domain name that accurately reflects your business. And there is no reason that if your business name is Lorrie Walker Communications, Inc., that your email address can't be firstname.lastname@example.org.
If your business card shows an email address that ends in "@yahoo.com" or "@hotmail.com" or "@aol.com," you don't appear to be invested for the long haul. You don't appear professional from a business or public relations standpoint.
My advice to public relations professionals and those who are starting small businesses is to do some research and find those companies such as Barrett Creative and Donkasites to help you create an Internet presence. They have made a huge difference for me. They have leveled the playing field and enabled me to compete on the Internet with public relations/professional writing firms that are much larger and more established than I am.