The most common mistake that can sabotage your business in 3 seconds

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3 seconds is a pretty long time.

We usually form an opinion based on visual perceptions much faster.

Just think about how quickly you “scan” a brochure on its way from your mail to your waste box or what’s the longest you’ve waited for a webpage to load, before abandoning a site. 

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Now try to remember how you felt entering a beautifully decorated workplace or what your first thoughts were about the owner of an exquisite business card.

First impressions are crucial!

Creating a great first impression is crucial and often your only chance to grab customers’ attention.

Consciously or subconsciously, our choices are quite influenced by a unique presentation of a brand or product. Visual communication is the basic tool of advertising.

However, a large number of freelancers and small business owners are sabotaging themselves, with a poor, even lousy image. What makes matters worse: they’re totally unaware of this damage!

I daily visit commercial spaces, websites and blogs, see tons of print or digital promotion material, watch videos, slideshows and PowerPoint presentations. The majority of them have something in common: low quality design.

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This explains why so many people are used or even addicted to it. Bad design is everywhere, even in the creative industry.

Your business image can become your precious, silent assistant that sells before you even say a word. All you have to do is to apply the basic rules of image marketing.

But, what exactly is your business image…

Whatever represents you or/and your brand visually, such as:

  • Your logo and brand.
  • Your online presence – website, blog, social media pages, newsletter, ads and all sort of promotional material, like videos and slide shows or PowerPoint presentations.
  • Your offline presence – your business card and stationery and all print material representing or promoting your brand.
  • Your physical presence – your professional space, which can be your office, studio, shop, the place where you meet your clients or you showcase your work and products.
  • And of course, you and your team!

So what is image marketing?

According to Cambridge dictionary definition, image marketing is:

“the job of creating and influencing people’s opinions about a company and its brand so that they want to buy its products or services. Image marketing should create a presence for your brand and leverage that presence to create customer relationships.”

In short, a smart and tasteful presentation of your brand automatically sends a powerful, positive message to your potential clients.

Not only you connect your brand with high quality and classy design, but you’re considered as a reliable, trustworthy, competent and experienced professional. On the contrary, a crappy business image can instantly degrade you to a B class amateur.

So, what keeps you from being and looking like an A class professional? 

You’re too small for such a luxury as visual branding

“It is not enough that we build products that function, that are understandable and usable, we also need to build products that bring joy and excitement, pleasure and fun, and, yes, beauty to people’s lives.” –Don Norman, professor, author

After all, you’re just a solopreneur running your business from your kitchen table! You haven’t even set up your website yet! (Just don’t wait for too long!).

In that case, your business card and your Facebook page or LinkedIn profile are representing you.

A low resolution cover image and a cheap brochure can do the damage. There’s no need to compete with the websites of multinational corporations, but as long as you pay attention to a few details, a decent, clean and simple online presence, is something easily attained.

You believe that doing a great job is all you need to have clients

“Design is more important than technology in most consumer applications.” – Dave McClure, entrepreneur

In the pre-internet era, word of mouth was the only way for freelancers without a budget, to advertise themselves.
Things have changed enormously since then.

Nowadays, if you are not on the web, you probably don’t exist!

Internet gave us the opportunity to reach out to a broader audience from our home, something we wouldn’t even dream of a few years ago!

All that for just a few pennies! Which is of course a huge advantage for new freelancers and small companies.

Even in case most of your clients come from referrals, the majority of them will Google you first.

(Be really careful with what you reveal on the web, especially when your brand is your name!)

Prospective clients will visit your website, blog or LinkedIn profile a few times before they finally contact you and will judge you based on how you present yourself.

I do this all the time, I bet you’re doing it too.

Looking like an amateur will get you a hard time proving your value

A few months ago, a good friend of mine, who runs a small family business with food products asked my opinion about the logo design of their brand.

It was a completely amateurish concept, outdated and awfully designed.

I was honest and warned him that it would definitely harm his business.

He admitted that their products were already not accepted in a few shops, because of poor package design.

Since they couldn’t afford to hire a professional to do the work, I advised them to make a research online to see how similar products are branded and then, keep it really simple.

This way, it will also be easier for them to rebrand as soon as they can spare the money.

You don’t invest in good and effective design thinking you’re saving money

Like my friend, a lot of freelancers and small business owners, due to their tight budget, do not hire an expert.

Understandable, yet it may cost you more than you can imagine!

What I often have to deal with as an interior designer is coming to fix problems, that my clients would have definitely avoided with the right guidance.

I often remodel or rebuild spaces that were not well designed from the ground up.

Instead of hiring an expert, many professionals do things on their own, taking the advice of unqualified friends or relatives, who claim to know a few things about design.

This way they believe they’re saving money.

The consequences: unnecessary expenses, lot of stress and countless lost hours just to end up with a low quality outcome.

In some cases, the result is a complete disaster!

It will definitely cost you more to redesign or rebuild, than starting properly from scratch.

You may not tell the difference between great and poor design – your clients do

Perhaps not all of them, but never underestimate your clients’ taste and knowledge.

In fact, plenty of them can be visually more educated than you. I hope you are not dealing with architects or artists!

Experts or not, we all experience positive feelings when we look at a harmonic color scheme or a perfectly designed object.

Image has a powerful, almost magical, subconscious influence on humans, therefore design psychology research is one of marketing’s most precious tools.

Even if it’s not your style, you can distinguish an elegant office place from a tasteless one.

You may not understand why one banner ad is compelling and makes you to take action, while another one gives you a headache without delivering the message effectively.

But you feel the difference.

I’ve recently stumbled upon a decorator’s web page, advertising a color service.

The text about color properties was undoubtedly copied and pasted from one of those popular blogs where one can find makeup and fashion tips, cooking recipes, relationship advice and a daily horoscope!

In addition to that, she apparently thought that a multicolored text, followed by some vivid color interiors in low resolution pixelated photos and all that in colorful background, would accentuate the importance of color in design and decoration!

What she really did was showing everybody with one click, that she doesn’t have the slightest idea about color combinations, she lacks taste and is an uneducated and lazy professional.

In my opinion, she should definitely change profession!

Actually, this was fair – she let everybody know in advance she is incompetent for giving decorating advice!

It wouldn’t be fair, however, a professional that wouldn’t be hired for his designing or decorating skills, to give such an awful first impression, due to his ignorance.

Having access to design software does not make you a designer

Just because you’re sketching well doesn’t mean you have the skills to design your logo.

Having access to design software and free tools, like website and blog platforms, a lot of freelancers and business owners decide to set up their website and design their logo, cards and promoting material on their own.

Many of them believe, that acquiring Photoshop is all it takes to be a designer.

What they’re not aware of is that such powerful tools in an amateur’s hand can lead to a disaster!

You wouldn’t dare take your family for an overseas flight, just because you’ve learned the functions of all these colorful buttons, switches and displays in a cockpit, right?

You just don’t realize that you are doing the same thing with your business (OK,  almost!), when you decide to design your logo or a promotional banner, just because you have access to Photoshop and Illustrator.

Or, even worse, Ms Paint!

The fact that a poorly designed website or social media page is now instantly accessible by anyone from around the globe, makes things worse.

I’m sick of seeing low resolution photos and graphics, some of them even watermarked as Facebook page covers and email newsletters!

While you’re proudly sharing on social media the first poster you designed, using every magical effect available in Photoshop, your competitors are having a party for the unexpected gift you’ve just offered them!

Ignoring the basic rules of design marketing can lead to wrong decisions

Being a man, it’s likely you dislike violet, one of the 3 most favorite colors among women and artists.

Being a woman, you may ignore that almost 6% of the male population has problems distinguishing green shades.

You wouldn’t stand a chance in the creative business, having a logo with the most hated font type worldwide among designers, Comic Sans.

Not only it would be a complete disaster but also the joke in graphic designers private Facebook groups!

Likewise, your office’s decoration and location send a strong message to prospects about your work and your rates.

Making decisions relying entirely on your personal taste and preferences is a huge, yet very common mistake among freelancers and solopreneurs.

Your brand or commercial space should reflect your own personality but should as well take into consideration your industry guidelines and your target clientele’s preferences and habits.

Otherwise, you communicate ineffectively.

Projecting the right message to your target audience is not as simple as it may seem.

Besides, the look and color scheme of your office, promotional material and online presence should be cohesive, therefore carefully chosen.

Consistency is vital to getting your message across and make your brand recognizable.

Looking cheap ruins credibility and shows disrespect

I recently received the yearly catalog of a famous furniture and home accessories brand.

I opened it and couldn’t believe my eyes! The entire layout looked like it was done by amateurs while half of the pages were badly printed.

My first thought was the company faces big financial problems!

As an interior designer, I was never fond of their products – I find them expensive for their actual value.

But I believed they used a clever marketing strategy. However, after seeing the catalog disaster, I completely lost my respect for the multinational company.

In addition to that, I perceived their decision to deliver such a lousy catalog as a sign of disrespect to their customers.

Clients are buying a perception and experience as much as a service or product. Keep that in mind every time you make a decision that seems like a temporary cheap solution.

By devaluing your brand, you ruin your credibility and good reputation – something that probably took you years to establish.

Besides, showing respect to your potential and existing clients is the only way to earn their respect too.

We usually receive what we transmit.

As a result, you don’t take full advantage of your silent assistant

“Good design is obvious. Great design is transparent.” – Joe Sparano, graphic designer

A well-known secret among marketers is that people do business based upon who you are rather than what you do.

Introducing yourself to them the wrong way, you miss the opportunity to show them the amazing work you’re doing.

I don’t mean to frighten or disappoint you, although I’m sure some of you have already switched to your website trying to figure out what could possibly sabotage your business!

After all, having a perfectly designed website or logo, it’s not all you need to be a competent and successful professional. Running a business surely requires more than that.

My intention is to point out why you shouldn’t overlook such a powerful tool as your business image.

The most successful way to attract attention is by giving your brand the image it deserves.

What you’ll do is completely up to you.

Perhaps it’s wise to reconsider whether it’s worth investing on high quality design that brings results.

In case you can’t afford to hire an expert yet, you have to perform an extensive research to see how successful companies in your niche are marketing and presenting themselves, get feedback by clients and friends you trust and then keep it as simple as you can.

Stick to some basic guidelines in order to ensure you have at least a decent looking brand.

Keep in mind that, the most visually appealing your brand is, the easiest will be to communicate your value, and gain high budget clients.

Apparently, it takes a lot more than your nice business looks to thrive in today’s hyper-competitive market.
But it’s a good start.

Great quality design will definitely help you stand out and give you an advantage over your competitors!

Now honestly, how would you evaluate your image? Is it selling or sabotaging your business? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

You can find a lot of helpful posts here on Millo, regarding your business image.

Here are just a few:

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About Mania Mavridou

Mania Mavridou is an architect and an interior designer, owner of DesignMania the interior+graphic design studio, where design meets psychology to create spaces for people to live and work in happily. Having a rich experience in teaching architectural drawing and CAD, she now gives lectures and seminars on interior design psychology, color psychology and image marketing. In 2014 she founded Designing for Happiness, the 1st Greek blog about design psychology.

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Comments

  1. Kim Solberg says:

    This truly is the best article I have ever read. Thank you so much for this information. I am keeping it!

  2. Mania,
    This is an EXCELLENT post. I’m always trying to convey this exact message to clients and potential clients.

    “Looking like an amateur will get you a hard time proving your value”

    I’m going to use this one next time a potential client asks me why I’m charging so much for design.

    • Thanks Mike for the kind words!

      Actually, I’m going to send this article to prospects and clients!

      Also, a good idea is to present them some bad examples and some good ones.
      For instance, I show my clients the before and after photos of apartments or commercial spaces I have remodeled.
      They find it hard to believe this is the same space.
      Sometimes there’s no need to say anything!

  3. “Many of them believe, that acquiring Photoshop is all it takes to be a designer.”

    -So painfully true!!!!

    • When I was teaching Archicad, a 3d software for architects, I had the chance to meet a few people who thought that learning the program would make them architects!

      They all gave up very soon!

  4. Oh my goodness Mania, what an amazing post! Thank you!! I literally felt like you were reading my mind when I read it. It’s just what I needed and at just the right time! The clouds parted and epiphanies manifested themselves. You literally hit it “out-of the park” for me professionally – covering the very topics that I find maddening – and they are similar to what I have been writing about.

    I could go on and on about how your words provided positive and supporting affects but instead may I simply say with gratitude 🙂

    • Thanks a lot Barbara!
      In fact, I’m good at reading other people’s minds! My next post is revealing my secret!

      Today I got more positive feedback than I can stand!
      In the morning from 2 extremely happy clients and now from happy readers!

      I don’t know how many professionals have the chance to work on something they love with passion -like us, creatives- and make other people happy too!

  5. Well said