Can we talk about graphic designers providing “easily editable files”?

How I feel when clients ask me for an easily editable file

Because sorry, but no, you don’t own the master files and, no, you can’t just have them.

As designers, we get your pain point here, we really do. In a couple months, you may need to make a couple edits to that brochure design, or change the image on that magazine ad. You feel like you bought a design and you feel like you should be able to change it as needed so it can be re-purposed.

Unfortunately, we cannot just deliver you “easily editable files” (our master files). It’s more complex than you realize and there are legalities to be considered as well.

Here’s the short and skinny:

  1. You don’t own Adobe Creative Suite or Sketch Designers use professional software to create amazing designs for you. So even if you "have an eye for design" and feel like  you could “tweak” our designs, you will not be able to edit the files we deliver to you without owning the software we used. We pay $49.99/month to Adobe or $99 for Sketch for the right to use their software. You’d need to start paying for these and download all the programs we used in order to "edit" our designs.
  2. You don’t know how to use Adobe Creative Suite or Sketch Mastering Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe InDesign, Sketch, and whatever other piece of software we used to create your design took us several years in college, tens of thousands of dollars in college tuition, and years of real-world industry experience. It’s unlikely you'll be able to quickly master these same skills over the weekend.
  3. We don’t want you to mess up our design Unless you fully understand and have thoroughly studied visual movement, visual hierarchy, alignment, balance, the rule of thirds, contrast, repetition and you stay current on the latest design trends by reading blogs and articles from industry leaders on a regular basis, you probably don’t have what it takes to maintain design integrity after you’ve “tweaked” the original design. We’d like to feature the project in our portfolios, boast about the awesome final output we created, and feel pride in the artwork we created for you. We can't do this if the design is no longer representative of the original artwork.
  4. We would like to avoid loss of income Believe it or not, creatives have bills to pay too ;) Can you think of any other professional who would willingly remove any chance at recurring income from their table? Me neither.
  5. It’s easier (and probably cheaper) to have your designer make changes and updates As a follow up to the above, most designers are happy to make updates to previous designs created for you. This helps them continue to put food on the table. Some changes can be really quick for your designer (even as quick as 15 minutes). It is a lot more affordable for you (and respectful to your designer) to simply hire them to make ongoing updates. I've made design updates for clients for as little as $37. A lot less expensive than buying and learning design software, buying rights to the master file, and spending hours (days even) trying to reconfigure the original design yourself.
  6. Finally, it is worth noting that under US Copyright Law, you do not own the copyright to the master files, the designer does As the client, you are purchasing the final deliverable artwork only (there are some exceptions, like if the designer signs a work for hire agreement or is a full time employee). I was lucky enough to have a client who is a commercial attorney point out to me that “your clients do not own the copyright in the design. The copyright always resides with the creator and will never be owned by any of your clients unless (1) they contract with [you] as an independent contractor, AND (2) the work falls within one of the 9 categories outlined by the Supreme Court in its 1989 case Community for Creative Nonviolence v Reed. In most instances your client will not own [master files] unless your client separately contracted for ownership of the master files. They too should be considered yours… This right can be contracted away, but your copyright probably cannot.”

All in all, it’s a lot easier to establish a great relationship with your graphic designer and engage them on an ongoing basis to make design updates for you.

A few common analogies designers use:

  • You don’t get a custom pantsuit made, then ask the tailor for the pattern and some scissors in case you want to make some changes.
  • You don’t go out to eat, then call the chef a month later asking for the recipe, a sampling of the spices, and for all the kitchen tools used to prepare your meal so you can recreate it.
  • You don't get a professional haircut and color, then expect the stylist to make continual trims and touch-ups forever. Nor do you try and do that shit yourself and expect the same result.

All of this being said, if you REALLY want to obtain ownership of master design files, many designers will negotiate a price with you to purchase those (a separate cost from the original contract). Plan on paying around 300% of the original design fee — the designer will need to set up the file in an easy-to-understand manner and package up all fonts, images, icon packs, etc. It’s worth noting that designers will often purchase licenses to use certain fonts, images, or icon packs and it is unlawful for them to resell those and make money off of them — you’ll need to plan the cost of all of that into your purchase as well.

There’s one exception to master file delivery, and that is related to logos. When you hire a firm to create a brand and/or logo mark for your business, you should (and usually will) receive the master files as part of the original contract. This applies only if you’re working with a professional agency or professional freelancer (sorry, people who thought Fiverr was a good idea).

And let’s just get real here for a second... would you willingly hand over something to a client that essentially put yourself out of business? Would you consider that good business practice for yourself? Stop asking designers for “editable files” and instead, pay them their worthy rates to make updates for you. They'll be glad to do so!


Want to chat about ongoing design support?

Spotify playlist for creative flow: 12 songs to get in the zone

Waking up, mentally preparing for a productive day, it can be nice to have a little musical inspiration. No distractions, just me, my dogs, and my Spotify playlist. First, I take a moment to feel my feet on the ground, feel my booty in my chair, feel the chair supporting me, my desk supporting my tools (my computer and pens), connect with Mother Earth, breath in - count to seven, breathe out - count to eleven. I'm grounded in my creative powers and ready to tackle my next creative project.

Here are 12 songs I love to get in the creative flow:

In case you don't have Spotify or don't want to play these songs right here in your browser, here they are:

  1. El Ten Eleven, "My Only Swerving"
  2. Message To Bears, "Mountains"
  3. Jackie Greene, "Gone Wanderin'"
  4. Lemon Jelly, "Space Walk"
  5. J Dilla, "So Far To Go"
  6. Nick Mulvey, "Fever To The Form"
  7. Inspired Flight, "It's The Chemicals"
  8. Random Forest, "Hibernation"
  9. Avey Tare, "Lucky 1"
  10. The Album Leaf, "The Light"
  11. Nujabes, "Waiting For The Clouds (feat. Substantial)"
  12. Carmen Twillie and Lebo M., "Circle of Life - From The Lion King/Soundtrack"

What are some of your favorite songs for creative flow?

I'd love to hear!

Marketing your startup: a budget breakdown

Starting a business is exciting, nerve-wracking, rewarding, and challenging all at once. In the beginning stages, many entrepreneurs are unsure what kind of marketing budget they should have prepared - they're miffed when it comes to business startup costs. At Hearthfire Creative, we value transparency, so we’ve put together a handy-dandy list of startup marketing costs, including all of our recommended services, along with our pricing.

The All-Inclusive Startup Marketing Budget Breakdown

☑ Logo Design | Your logo lays the foundation for the rest of your branding and marketing efforts. It is worth investing the time and money here. Read our earlier blog post on why some logos cost $100 and some cost $10,000. | $1,250

☑ Stationery Design | Every business needs on-brand business cards, letterhead, professional envelopes, and custom thank you cards to send out to their clients. While these materials may not be used as frequently as they were 10 years ago, they add an extra level of professionalism to your business when they are used, making sure your clients and colleagues take you seriously. | $500

☑ Leave Behind Design | Depending on whether you’re looking for a basic post card, a folded brochure, or a bounded book, it’s important to have a marketing piece you can leave behind with potential customers when you attend events. Design pricing varies a little based on complexity. | $250 - $1,000

☑ Printing | It’s important to remember actual print costs as well - you’ll want to have that stationery and those leave behinds printed by a professional printer. We help consult with our clients about the best local printer, or online printer, for their print fulfillment needs. This number varies based on quantity and quality of printed materials. | $250 - $1,000

☑ Content Creation | Copy is a critical component of your brand. The content you share on your website and marketing materials is very much worth investing in. Develop your tagline, message, elevator pitch, and more. Hiring a professional alleviates a huge burden and allows to stay focused on your operations. | $2,500

☑ Photography | Photography is another critical component of your brand. Your logo, copy, and photography all work together to communicate your message to potential customers. You MUST have a professional business portrait (a.k.a. a headshot) and you should also have brand photography to use on your website, in your blog, on social media, and in your advertising efforts. | $550

☑ Website Design | As we all know, if you don’t have a website that’s mobile friendly, you look like a dinosaur. Whether you want to generate leads online, or just want customers to be able to check out your site after they hear about you word-of-mouth, it is imperative to have a strategic website with a clear call to action. This number varies based on complexity - if you’re looking for more advanced features and functionality, expect the number to fall on the higher end. | $2,250 - $5,550

☑ Hosting & Domain | Don’t forget about costs associated with purchasing a domain name for your website and hosting for your website. Domain names usually cost no more than $15 (unless your domain is already owned by someone else and you have to pay big bucks to obtain it). Hosting varies based on the website platform your site lives on and on how many visitors you anticipate having on your site at any given time. | $100 - $300/year, $15

☑ SEO Setup | As big of rebels as our team is, we recognize the importance of playing by the rules when it comes to search engine optimization. As you start researching SEO, you’ll find several different methodologies. Take caution whenever an SEO firm promises top page results - those promises are usually only attainable by companies who practice unethically and rarely will your top page ranking remain in tact. SEO Setup is one part of the equation, but regular, monthly efforts must be taken to rank high in Google searches (more on that in Ongoing Support below). | $1,850

☑ Marketing Setup | Once the foundation has been laid for the look and feel of your company, it’s time to starting thinking marketing strategy. Creating a well-researched marketing plan, setting up and designing out social media pages, creating and editorial calendar (and more) are important next steps. | $1,650

☑ Promotional Video | Video is one of the best ways to grab and maintain attention from website visitors. Having a professional company video really helps you stand out from the competition. It’s also a great tool to leverage if you can post video series on YouTube. Leverage that platform to establish trust and credibility and point people back to your website once they’ve watched your vid. | $3,000

☑ Blogging | If you don’t have the time or energy to commit to writing one blog post/week, you need tohire it out. Blogging (and all kinds of sharing of original content) are mission critical to your SEO efforts. Don’t let all the work of SEO Setup fall by the wayside because you don’t have time to write a blog. Hire a pro to take care of it for you. | $100/post

☑ Ongoing Support | From design updates, website updates, marketing implementation, social media advertising, print advertising, and all things SEO-maintenance, it is a relief to have monthly marketing support. This price will vary depending on how much ongoing work you have. | $360-$960/month

All in all, you should anticipate spending between $14,150 to $19,165 for all marketing startup costs and around $1,200/month to ensure the longevity of your business.

A little sticker shock? Must be your first time ;)

Most agencies will work with you to find a solution that fits your budget, even if that means cutting out or minimizing some of the normal steps in the process. They'll also work with you to figure out suitable payment terms. For clear projects with a fixed deliverable, many agencies bill 50% down, 50% upon project completion (though we’ve seen other models, too). Some agenices even offer payment plans - we do! At Hearthfire Creative, you can spread your payments out over 4 to 8 months, depending on all the services you’re packaging together.

And while sure, you can always hire your nephew who is in high school for cheap (don’t worry, he totally took a computer class after second period last year), we’ve noticed that entrepreneurs who go this route usually end up frustrated at a lack of communication and without quality end deliverables. Most end up hiring a professional agency in the long run anyway, so take our advice: do it right the first time.


We’re happy to take care of all the items on this list for you.

A review of Sketch: pros and cons of the latest UI/UX tool for designers

First released in 2008, Sketch has come a long way in the world of design software.

Most of us designers were strictly taught to use Adobe Creative Suite in college (Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign, etc.), but Sketch is making a name for itself as a viable new tool for mobile and web interface mockups in the design community.

After using Sketch on 2 projects (a mobile app UI design and a data-driven web dashboard UI design), here are a few pros and cons I’ve found:

Pros

  • Cost Sketch costs just $99. That’s a huge savings compared to Adobe Creative Suite’s, Creative Cloud monthly fee of $19.99 for one app, $49.99 for all apps.
  • If you know Illy, Sketch is easy to learn Most of the tools you’re used to using in Illustrator are readily available in Sketch, they’re just organized differently. It’s quick to learn if you’re accustomed to using Illustrator. Watch some tutorial videos and leverage Sketch’s Documentation and you’ll pick it up real quick like.
  • Great for web and mobile layouts Sketch keeps us designers accountable to pixel perfect layouts. It leverages grids, snap to grid functionality, and snap to pixel functionality so you never encounter half-pixel renders or imperfect alignment - critical in a world of responsive design/multiple screen sizes and resolutions.
  • Vector based Rest assured your graphics will scale beautifully, because Sketch provides vector outputs. This is true for Illustrator, as well, so this point may be moot if you’re comparing Sketch just to Illustrator, but many UI/UX designers I know still use Photoshop for interface designing and in their case, those raster outputs can be burdensome when it comes to export and implementation.
  • Pre-loaded screen templates, easy to add as artboards This is a HUGE pro for me, as it can be a real task trying to decide on the ideal dimensions to design for, especially considering there are so many different screen sizes and resolutions in the mobile market. Sketch provides a library of pre-built artboards for iOS devices and responsive web design layouts. Just add an artboard and select the device you want to design for, simple as that.
    • *BONUS* There are even libraries with standard iOS icons, Android icons, and Mac icons that you can use in your designs - who doesn't love a little streamlining?
  • Symbols GOLD! Interface designers reuse multiple elements, from navigations, to buttons, to icons. With Sketch, you can set symbols, reuse them throughout your design, and when you modify the master symbol, that modification automatically gets rolled out across your designs.
  • Autosave = fewer heart attacks We’ve all had that “oh shit” moment when your computer wigs out because you are pushing it to the max and everything crashes. Did I save? Are my last 2 hours of work all for naught? Sketch leverages Apple’s Auto Save and your work gets automatically saved every 5 minutes. Phew!
  • Device mirroring This is a real treat for clients. Mirror your designs directly to their devices so the whole team can get a feel for how the designs look right on their own phones or desktops. This is also helpful for us designers, as some of us tend to get a little wrapped up in beauty over function. With mirroring, you can stay focused on usability, making sure that sexy feature will translate well.
  • Sharing in the cloud Another treat for clients and team collaboration, you can share your whole interface up to the cloud and simply send out a link to the team to share your designs. No more sending of massive files, no more trying to figure out if you’re sending the most up-to-date iteration. Just push to the cloud and share a link.
  • “Make Exportable” - shit yeah Convert any group or layer to a slice and export it (or all of them!) as a PNG. This is a super simple way to deliver graphics to developers and a huge time saver for everyone.
  • Community support, custom plugins In one of my Sketch projects, I ran across an issue where I wanted to create a pie chart and couldn’t find any feature in Sketch to accomplish this seemingly simply task. A quick Google search was all I needed to find a plugin for Sketch specifically created to support pie charts in Sketch. (Thanks @abynim on Github for Sketchy Pies!) There seems to a be a lot of community support and resources available, which is exciting and helpful.

Cons

  • Limited illustration - not going to design a logo in Sketch While Sketch is great for mobile and web interfaces, it isn’t sufficient for creating custom logos, complex illustrations, or in-depth print designs.
  • Old habits die hard ("v" is not the hotkey you think it is) While most of the features in Sketch are similar/identical to Illustrator, there are some habits I have ingrained from using Illustrator for years that did not convert well to Sketch. You’ll have to relearn a few hotkeys/workflows in Sketch. For example, “v” does not engage the selection tool.
  • Sharing in the cloud, resolution not so good I also listed this as a pro, but one downside to cloud sharing is that the screens don’t render in totally high resolution. Clients will see pixelation and distortion when they zoom in to your designs, which can be alarming for them.
  • Built exclusively for Mac, sorry PC designers (if you even exist) Sketch is built only for Mac at this point, so if you’re a designer on a PC, you’re out of luck. But you should probably make the jump to Mac anyway ;)

Overall, I still prefer Illustrator for creating more complex designs, and I definitely prefer it for print design projects. It is entirely possible this is simply because of my comfort zone, as I’m sure there are dozens of tools in Sketch I’ve yet to learn. However, at Hearthfire Creative, we are making the switch to Sketch for all mobile user interface designs moving forward. 


Are you a designer who agrees or disagrees with these points?

Shoot me an email - I’d love to hear what I’m missing!


Gotta give a shout out to my cousin and insanely talented UI/UX designer, Erin Nolan at madebyeno.com, for introducing me to Sketch. Love ya. Real talk.

Stand out in the App Store, boost user acquisition

So you’ve got an idea for the next big app.

You’re brainstorming, you’re chatting with friends, you’re dreaming… You can already imagine the conversations: “there’s an app for that. Check out <insert your App’s name here>.”

There are several reasons why some apps fail and some succeed. Having the right team in place is usually a differentiating factor between the two. Standing out in the App Store is another. In order to make your dream a reality, there is something you should keep in mind. And it is all the buzz in tech right now: user acquisition.

Acquiring users is the single hardest part of successfully launching an app, and it is also mission critical if you don’t want to sink tens of thousands of dollars into an otherwise fruitless venture. After all, what good is your app if you don’t have any users?

Many app startups choose to launch their app first on the Apple platform - feel free to shoot me an email to ask me why. Here are 9 things to consider from a user acquisition/App Store perspective when launching your app:

  1. Do your due diligence
    • Take time to understand Apple’s latest features and the way the App Store works. Apple adds new features to their core operating system on the reg. They tend to rank apps higher when they are leveraging these new features, and even higher if app pages effectively call them out. The App Store should not be viewed as just a form you fill out after you’ve done all the hard work of design and development - you should have a researched strategy for optimizing your app page within the App Store and it should be incorporated into your plan from the get-go.
  2. Killer UI design is a must
    • The interface design of your app is a fundamental component of user acquisition. A user is more likely to download an intuitive, nicely designed app over an outdated, cumbersome app that is difficult to use, right? Duh! We’ve all done it… downloaded an app, just to open it up, close it, and immediately hit delete. Don’t underestimate the value of user experience/user interface design. It is worth investing in a skilled UI/UX designer if you indeed want your app to be successful.
  3. Strong icon design is also a must
    • Your app icon is the first thing your user sees in the App Store - make sure it grabs their attention. App icons are small. Leave words/phrases out of the app icon design, as the name of your app will display in text below it and you don’t want to waste valuable design real estate on unnecessary text. A strong app icon will also encourage users to continue opening your app, as it is the sole representation of your app on their phone screen.
  4. Custom screenshots are becoming standard best practice
    • Hire a pro to design custom App Store screenshots, which sell your app to potential users. Include iPhone mockups (and iPad mockups if you'll support that) in the screenshots, as Apple appreciates any ode to their devices. Describe the benefits of your app briefly on each slide (for example, “Get paid on time.” or “Stay close with your friends.”). Users in the App Store often scroll through screenshots before deciding to download your app. Make an impression and tell them how your app is going to change their life for the better.
    • Bonus, add a video! Apps that have videos are also more likely to see higher download rates, as users are afforded the opportunity to experience your app without having to take that extra download step immediately.
  5. Be strategic about metadata
    • Metadata is the information you report to Apple and that is displayed on your app page in the App Store. Treat that page like you would a landing page on a website. Take time to research keywords that are being searched for and include those when describing your app. The title of your app should include a couple keywords and your app name, while also being short and catchy: “OWLe - Operations Efficiency for Airports”. Apple has also reported that users tend to appreciate and download apps that are built on-shore (in the USA). If you didn’t leverage overseas developers and contributed directly to your own local economy, feature that in your metadata!
  6. Niche wayyyyyyyyy down for the initial launch
    • Most marketing professionals understand the importance of defining your niche. Don't waste money on broadly marketing your app to "everyone". Instead, start with a distilled down target market. Consider taking our Ideal Customer Persona exercise to help you define this niche.
  7. Release on a Tuesday
    • Apple releases new curated lists for Featured Apps on Thursdays - it is believed that launching on a Tuesday gives them enough time to notice your app, while also realizing that is fresh, new, and hot.
  8. Don’t write off traditional PR and advertising
    • Start out by pitching your app to Apple - ask them to feature it! Send an email to appstorepromotion@apple.com or appoftheweek@apple.com and share with them why your app deserves to be featured. It’s worth consulting a PR pro to help you draft this email. You should also have an integrated marketing plan that leverages outlets outside of the App Store to drive downloads and acquire loyal users. Build a promotional website, advertise on Facebook, reach out to media outlets outside of Apple, and build the hype around your app in other targeted markets.
  9. Keep a close eye on ratings
    • Ever wonder why so many apps ask you to rate your experience? It’s because they want to acquire other users from your positive review! According to Business Insider, “Apple looks at reviews, engagement, star rankings, downloads, revenue and sales, and simple stuff such as whether your app carries the appropriate key words for search, targeted in the right way.” Stay in touch with the people who are reviewing your app, pivot and add new features when your users ask you to, and solicit positive reviews from your mailing list as often as possible. If you give your users what they want, they are more likely to give you a five star rating, leave you a positive review, and help boost your app in the App Store.

User acquisition is only one component of app success. There are several other things to consider when scoping out and planning your app (the MVP model, for example) and having a great team in place can help. Launching an app is just like starting any other business - there are risks that need to be measured, investments that need to be made, market research that needs to be performed, and a willingness to pivot if/when your users give you feedback that they want a new or different feature.

Unsure if the app market is worth investing in?

Global app stores are expected to exceed $139 billion [in revenue] by 2021.
— App Annie

According to App Annie's report from the end of 2016, “2016 is shaping up to be a phenomenal year for the app economy. By the end of December, we expect $52 billion in gross consumer spend on mobile app stores and a staggering $77 billion in gross spend on mobile in-app advertising. Mobile is more mainstream than ever, and businesses from all industries are relying on this channel to bolster existing revenue streams and unlock new ones.”


Yeah, I think your app idea is worth a shot.

I’d love to consult with you. Give me a shout.

Define your niche

Many business owners struggle with defining their niche. We all want to serve “everyone” right? While that is a great sentiment, it is a recipe for disaster when it comes to marketing. It’s imperative that as a business owner, you define a very refined niche – that you know and understand your Ideal Customer Persona – in order to see your marketing dollars perform at the highest level.

My good friend and colleague at Mash Marketing, Atalie Taziri, once told me:

Imagine you have a pint glass of water and a large bucket of water sitting next to one another. You drop one drop of food coloring in each. Which one is going to result in the strongest color? The most potency? The pint glass!

This is one of my favorite target market analogies to date. If you only have $40/week to spend on Facebook advertising, you must distill down your audience in order for that spend to even be worth it. Same applies to a larger budget – even if you can drop 100 drops of food coloring into the pint glass and the bucket, the pint glass will still remain more potent.

In order to ensure your messaging is received well by your target market, You MUST become intimate with your ideal customer persona.

Alas, we offer you our Ideal Customer Persona exercise to help you define your niche. The theory here is to create one persona, one personality, one character who represents your absolute ideal customer. Of course, you will work with other types of people… but getting strategic and creating one dream persona that you can center your marketing plan around helps to effectively guide messaging and creative design. This person should be someone that has a budget to hire you, is easy and fun to work with, and has an obvious need for your service or product. In going through this exercise, you should start to feel like you could even role play your Ideal Customer Persona in a play or movie – imagine what it would feel like to be this person, what would they say, how would they act and react, and why they feel the way they do.

Fill out the form, take your time, and at the end hit submit and we’ll email you a custom PDF overview of your Ideal Customer Persona at no charge. Fill in as much as you can - the more detail, the better. Print it out and hang it near your desk to be constantly reminded of whom you are marketing to!


Ready to get started?

How to give effective design feedback

As a client, it can be a challenge to express your vision for your logo, brochure, ad design, website, etc. When it comes to the design of your next piece of marketing collateral, you probably already have something in mind, or maybe you’re one of those “you’ll-know-it-when-you-see-it” type folks. Either way, once you’ve communicated your initial vision to your designer, there will come a point in the process where you have to critique the first pass that the designer sends over.

Here’s where things get interesting

Giving that feedback to your designer is mission critical to getting the job done well, on time, and on budget. While your designer should have the skills to intuit a lot of what you’re saying, there are several things you, as the client, can do to make sure you are giving effective design feedback and to – as a result – streamline the whole process.

Here are 6 things to keep in mind when you are giving feedback to your graphic designer:

  1. Adjectives are subjective. When you say “pop” the designer hears “high contrast” but you might mean “yellow”. When a different client says “pop” the designer still hears “high contrast” but you might mean “drop shadow”. See what I mean? Master the art of taking a screenshot so you can provide visual references and provide examples to illustrate those adjectives clearly.
  2. Computer monitors can render colors differently. It’s important to make sure your screen is well calibrated and – if all else fails – print the piece with a high quality printer to make sure you are seeing the colors accurately. Your designer may have intended that blue to lean towards aqua, not teal.
  3. “Design by committee” can be very damaging to the design process. As fun as it sounds to involve all of your employees, your grandmother, your father-in-law, and the neighbor next door in the design process, this can be detrimental. Think of the “too many chefs in the kitchen” analogy – when you get too many people involved, the creative message gets lost, the visual impact is diluted, and you lose control over something you actually know the most about: your business. It is your business and you hired a professional, keep the feedback limited to the two of you as much as possible – ask 1 or 2 of your closest colleagues for their thoughts if you must, but no more.
  4. Designers want MORE feedback from you, not less. You may feel like leaving some of your thoughts out of the feedback process, assuming the designer already knows what you’re thinking. More feedback is always better than less. Get specific, and lay everything out there. DISCLAIMER: This does not mean you should send your stream of consciousness to your designer. No one likes reading 10 separate emails, which start with one thought, circle to another, then back again to the first one. Get clear on your thoughts, then provide thorough feedback. SECOND DISCLAIMER: Ask your designer how she prefers to receive feedback and honor that communication platform. Designers work with more than one a client at a time (usually) and you can help them stay organized by keeping all of your feedback on one platform (Slack, email, text, voicemail, choose one and roll with it).
  5. You’re not going to hurt their feelings. During college, design majors go through dozens, if not hundreds, of design critiques – from their peers, professors, and even potential employers. They are used to getting vulnerable, putting their work out there, and hearing “yeah, this kinda sucks” many times before they enter the professional realm. They’ve learned that negative feedback is just as helpful as positive feedback. If you don’t want to go in a certain design direction, they need to know that so they can change gears. Do us all a favor and be honest about how you feel about the design. Ditch the compliment sandwich. We are all adults here. This will greatly help expedite the process and will ensure that you are 100% happy with the finished product. A good designer retains that as their top priority anyway!
  6. The designer may actually know a thing or two about graphic design. When your designer pushes back a little bit on some of your feedback, it usually isn’t because they aren’t open to feedback, it’s usually because they feel that specific piece of feedback might sacrifice the design integrity. Be willing to be pushed out of your comfort zone a bit and trust that your designer has got your back. Ultimately, they want a rocking portfolio piece too!

Bottom line: learn to give good design feedback and you’ll enjoy the process more and you’ll get more bang for your buck!

Looking for a laugh? Check out this this leaked email between Jeb Bush and his graphic designer (fair warning: it's a joke).

Self-care: why it's important and why I'm focusing on it

The big thing about self-care is this: it must be self-initiated.

That’s where I’ve been struggling, because in total honesty, I have been OBSESSED with my business the last two years and have prioritized basically everything other than self-care. I’ve prioritized client deadlines, Hearthfire Creative marketing ideas, and constantly watching new software tutorials over my own health and wellbeing.

Now that we are officially two years old, it is time to check in on my own health and take the initiative to prioritize self-care. I’ve gained around 30 pounds over the last two years, haven’t had my hair cut in over a year, and have felt disconnected a bit from Spirit. I need to connect more intuitively with my clients and friends, cut out gluten and dairy for good, and get back to a healthy exercise routine. I need to start caring more about me… After all, if I don’t start caring more about myself, who else is going to?

Here are 10 reasons why self-care is so important, especially for entrepreneurs:

  1. If you don’t practice self-care, you won’t feel clear on your goals – or clear on much of anything really.
    • Problem solving becomes more of a challenge because your mind is fogged. There’s no clarity. It is hard to make great strides towards your goals when you don’t even feel clear on what they are.
  2. If you don’t practice self-care, you won’t respect your own boundaries, and your clients will take advantage of you.
    • Getting taken advantage of is commonplace when self-care isn’t a priority. “Sure, I’ll do another round of revisions for free” came out of my mouth more times than it should have these last couple years. When you aren’t respectful of your own boundaries, no one else is going to be either.
  3. If you don’t practice self-care, you’ll be tired and less productive.
    • Without a sense of self worth, depression and fatigue set it. Instead of giving yourself that 30-minute nap, you sit there spinning your wheels for hours and hours without progress…
  4. If you don’t practice self-care, you won’t value your services as much as your competitors value theirs.
    • Simply put, you won’t be getting paid what you should. Truth is, you are a badass. You deserve to make as much money as you need. You are worth (probably more than) the industry standard rate. Without a sense of pride in yourself, you won’t make as much money as our competitors.
  5. If you don’t practice self-care, you’ll let important opportunities slip through the cracks.
    • When you don’t love yourself fully, it’s easy to make excuses. Instead of submitting that proposal for the huge, life-changing gig, you tell yourself, “meh, I probably just wouldn’t get the job anyway.” Instead of following up on with that big potential client, you tell yourself, “they will probably just think I’m annoying.” Taking action is a lot easier when you prioritize yourself and have a strong sense of self worth.
  6. If you don’t practice self-care, your stress levels from work will affect your personal life negatively.
    • It’s easy to pass up that camping trip opportunity, girls night out, or board game session when work comes first. Come on, self! What is life without fun? Work stress should not carry over into your personal life – you must shut down the computer or leave the office a little early here and there. Or at least on time. I got engaged this year – lucky to have such a supportive partner who has loved me when I didn’t love myself – but still I judged myself a lot more than I loved myself.
  7. If you don’t practice self-care, your physical health will suffer.
    • You may gain or lose too much weight, develop an addiction or unhealthy behavior, or even cease to upkeep personal hygiene. Self-care is mission critical for our physical health, which we all know translates into our self-esteem, vibrancy, and energy levels.
  8. If you don’t practice self-care, you won’t feel connected to your community, your tribe, or your spirituality.
    • If you don’t love yourself, it’s hard to believe that others should/will love you in return, and therefore you lose connection with valuable friends and family. But these are the people that want to watch us thrive, support us, celebrate successes with us, and help to pick us up when we experience failure. Connection is important – maybe even a requirement to exist as a human; self-care comes first.
  9. If you don’t practice self-care, you’ll miss out on big (and little) life events.
    • Didn’t make it to your best friend from middle school’s wedding? Probably because you didn’t care enough about yourself to prioritize an event that would bring you great joy. Late to your siblings’ college graduation? Maybe you were thinking they wouldn’t notice anyway – you aren’t that special. You struggle to make commitments when you don’t care about yourself, and you can end up losing friends and/or living with regret.
  10. If you don’t practice self-care, you’ll feel triggered by anything and everything.
    • When you’re not in touch with your heart and soul, you’re fragile. You’re insecure and unstable. This makes it easy for anything to trigger a reaction from your past or present life – sadness, fear, anger, you name it. It’s easy to trigger these difficult emotions without a sense of self-awareness, self-conviction, and love. My triggers cause riffs in my productivity in business, in my love life, and in my relationships. When I’m grounded in myself, caring for myself wholly, I’m in control of my triggers and can move through them with grace and ease.

When we don’t focus on our own baseline needs, we fail to meet the needs of others as well. Classic oxygen mask on yourself first scenario. We all need to stay properly hydrated, properly nourished, active, and clean. You know, basic shit like taking a long hot shower, eating a salad, going for a walk.

Self-care, for me, goes beyond baseline needs. It means being in touch with who you are and making that a priority. Taking pride in your work and yourself. Saying “no” when it’s not a good fit. Not saying “I’m sorry” for everything and instead saying “f*ck yeah, that’s what I meant!” I meant that and I’m sticking to it. It’s caring for yourself enough to make yourself a priority. You deserve it. You ARE worthy.


I’m committing to self-care.

How to create an editorial calendar

Alas, 2016 is coming to a close and if you’re like me, this is the time to really start thinking about how you’re going to crank up your marketing in 2017.

The most crucial component to your online marketing strategy? Original content.

While it can be overwhelming to prioritize creating and sharing original content on a regular basis, it is one of the cornerstones of a strong search engine optimization (SEO) and marketing strategy.

Enter, the editorial calendar.

What is an editorial calendar, you ask? In a nutshell, it is a content planner/social media calendar/blog strategy/marketing schedule all in one. It’s the relief you need when thinking about all of the original content you’ll be creating next year to boost your presence online. We update our editorial calendar quarterly. It is really helpful to hammer out all the planning and strategy related to your original content in a day – then tackle the writing week by week. Still at times, you may find yourself struggling to create original content on a weekly basis. When feeling overwhelmed, leverage the power of a professional writer to help fill in the gaps (love you, Rebecca!) – your editorial calendar will likely be enough direction for the writer to create the blog post for you that week.

 
 

In the spirit of giving, we offer you our very own editorial calendar template for free. Download it here. Print it out and fill it in – we’ll walk you through what goes in each column below:

Month

This one is pretty obvi. Shoot for creating an original blog post 4 times per month (once a week), fill in the month in this column. If you’re ambitious and you love writing, aim for more regular posting. The more original content, the better!

Blog Category

Come up with 3-5 blog categories that fully encompass your business. Categories are higher up in the hierarchy than tags – you want to come up with 3-5 and stick to them, rotating between them evenly and never veering outside of them (tagging is where you can get more creative). In our case, we rotate between the following blog categories: Branding Tips, Lexi Love, Industry News, and Work.

Blog Tags

For every blog post you write, you’ll want to tag around 5 things that really highlight the meat of the content in your post. Tags should be a popular phrase or a highly searched term. What would someone search for that your blog post addresses/answers for her or him? Tag it up!

Working Title

What will your post be titled? We like to keep this fluid because as you draft your content, you may find yourself wanting to tweak the title slightly. Be creative here, but also stay search friendly. Teeter the line between an attention grabber and some more common terms.

Concept

What are you going to write about? Jot down a few notes about the main points you want to hit so you don’t forget later when it comes time to draft the content. Blogging can be overwhelming – do yourself a favor and get clear on your concept from the get-go.

Keywords

Use Google’s Keyword Planner to come up with 7-10 keywords per post that need to be included in your content. In addition to Keyword Planner, you may simply try searching for some articles related to what you want to write about and reference the related search terms that appear at the bottom of your search. Keywords are mission critical. Your content needs to be honest and original, not forced,  but it does behoove you to include as many strategic keywords/key phrases as possible without sounding like you’re “faking it.”

Post Date

Choose which day of the week you are going to post. If you’re posting once/week, try to post on Wednesdays. If you’re posting twice/week, try to post on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Search engines appreciate patterns and regularity with your content, so try to stick to the schedule.

Platforms

Where will you be sharing your original content each week? It’s easy to start on your blog, and then share that blog link out to your social media platforms. We recommend sharing on at least 3 social media platforms each week. Typically, Google+, Facebook, and LinkedIn cover the gamut for most businesses. Other options include Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, and/or MailChimp (or another email marketing solution).

Enjoy!


Still overwhelmed?

Filetypes: when to use what file

Part of being a professional designer is learning how to set up design files correctly.

From websites to print collateral to mobile app user interfaces, different situations call for different file types. A professional designer understands when to use the PDF format and when PNG makes more sense. But usage is only part of the puzzle.

Once the designer passes the final files to the client, the client is often left wondering, “Am I supposed to send a PDF or JPEG to my printer? Should I use PNG or JPEG on my Facebook page? What is an AI file?” When your design contract ends, it may be up to you, the client, to take the reigns on implementing your new designs.

Let’s review some common file types, why your designer set the file up this way, and a few appropriate ways to use each file.

There are two distinct types of files: raster files and vector files. Raster files use pixels to populate tiny squares with color. Vector files use points to populate tiny dots with color.

Let’s start with the raster files:

.JPG

  • Best for use on your website or social media platforms (exception: photographs taken by a professional photographer; their high-end cameras result in a suitable resolution JPEG that can be sent to print)
  • For use online, without the need for a transparent background
  • Use in your blog posts, on Facebook posts, and spattered throughout your website content

.PNG

  • Best for use on your website or social media platforms (don’t send to print)
  • For use online, with the need for a transparent background
  • Perk: PNGs can be compressed versions of JPEG files, usually resulting in quicker load times online
  • Use for posting graphic artwork on your website

.GIF

  • Best for use on your website or social media platforms (don’t send to print)
  • For use online, when animation is needed
  • Use in your blog and social media postings

Now, on to vector files:

.PDF

  • Best for use in print (sometimes websites will offer downloadable PDFs)
  • Use to send a marketing piece to print; designers usually export a file as PDF when it includes graphic elements like typography, shapes, and lines as opposed to just a photograph
  • Perk: PDFs can usually be scaled up or down without losing resolution
  • Use PDFs when you ultimately want to print something (an ad design file in a newspaper or magazine, for example, or as a stand-alone brochure or marketing piece) or when you want to maintain very high resolution of graphics

.EPS

  • A slightly older file version that’s best for use in print
  • Used by your designer when they want to export a design from Adobe Illustrator that can later be opened in Illustrator by another designer and/or sent to print
  • Downside: this is a legacy file that may be disappearing as technology advances
  • Use when you’re passing a design file from one professional designer to another

Finally, there are native files (also called the master file).

These are files used by Creatives who use industry-standard professional software. You’ll most likely have to hire a designer to manipulate a native or master file.

.AI

  • Designers export AI files when they export a file from Adobe Illustrator
  • Adobe Illustrator is used to create custom graphics and illustrations; logo designs take place in Adobe Illustrator

.PSD

  • Designers export PSD files when they export a file from Adobe Photoshop
  • Adobe Photoshop is used by designers when layered files for website and/or mobile app interface designs are required; it’s also used by professional photographers for manipulating pixels in a photograph

.INDD

  • Designers export INDD files when they export a file from Adobe InDesign
  • Adobe InDesign is used by designers for desktop publishing – creating multiple-spread books, magazines, and brochures

Other file types are available but these nine are the types we use most often at Hearthfire Creative—and the file types we deliver to our clients.


Have a question about which file type to use?

Reach out! I’d love to guide you in the right direction.

8 things I didn’t learn in design school

It’s one thing to get a degree. Actually knowing stuff is a different deal.

Yes, I earned a B.S. in Digital Media Design & Advertising and yes, I learned a lot: principles of design, color theory, typography, subliminal messaging techniques and the Adobe Creative Suite.

What I didn’t learn was how to be a successful freelancer, and then how to start my own business. Those things took know-how that had nothing to do with design. Things like writing a business plan, devising a marketing strategy and putting together a balanced team. All that came through trial and error, leaning on colleagues, reading, operating from the gut and going with what felt right.  

With two years under my belt as founder and owner of Hearthfire Creative, I’ve identified 8 things that I didn’t learn in design school (but wish I had). These 8 beauties keep us afloat at Hearthfire— afloat and growing! In the spirit of we’re-in-this-together, I offer the following:

1 | Pricing your services

Hourly rates? Fixed prices? Here’s what I’ve learned: look at what your competitors charge, compare your work to theirs, consider offering extras that add value, then decide which pricing strategy you prefer. I focus on fixed-rate projects and typically convert ongoing clients to an hourly contract. Be flexible. Some clients want a set fee and could care less about time. Others prefer to be charged by the hour. Depending on your location and the demand for your services, rates for graphic designers generally range from $35 to $150 per hour.

2 | Getting feedback, then selling the design

Some clients are reluctant to provide feedback; they don’t want to hurt your feelings. Others are harsh and squelch your creative process. Two people can provide the same feedback but mean something completely different. Use your intuition to interpret what they’re saying. Provide visual examples to gain clarity. Our logo process at Hearthfire includes a mood board where our designers assemble a board on Pinterest to ensure that the client and the designer are visually aligned. 

Incorporate the feedback and then sell your design. Mock it up with different treatments. Show the design on business cards, on a website and, if applicable, a t-shirt. Seeing a variety of applications helps the client feel into the logo and see how the design will work in the real world of their business. 

3 | Specializing in specific web platforms

Squarespace, Wordpress, Drupal—they’re all great solutions for rapid web development. Those archaic programming techniques you learned in college? Hand coding? Dinosaur! Leverage open-sourced modules and incorporate tools that speed up development. Pick a web platform and become really good at it. Sell your expertise as a streamlined solution to your clients.

4 | Using business efficiency tools

There are design tools, and then there’s running your business. A plethora of glorious business efficiency tools are available on the Internet. My favorites? Trello, Slack, Google Drive and a shared calendar. They help you run the show more smoothly and keep your team on the same page.

5 | Networking and building relationships: getting clients

THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT THING I didn’t learn in design school: how to build relationships that turn into work. Hanging a shingle doesn’t make clients magically appear. Build those relationships. Find a networking group that resonates with you and get involved. Play a leadership role because here’s the thing: networking and building relationships will always take time—and they will always matter. Don’t stop.

6 | Writing proposals 

Most business owners request a proposal before they sign on to work with you. Those proposals provide background information about your business and outline the scope of the work, including deliverables, timelines and costs. At Hearthfire, we end our proposals with an official contract. It makes the decision-making easier for the client and facilitates a smooth transition from discussion to saying yes to paying!

7 | Setting yourself apart

We’ve developed customer service practices that make our clients feel super special. We coordinate print orders on their behalf. We make the unveiling of rounds of logos an experiential moment. We provide ongoing consultation (even after their website has launched). Devise ways to provide above-and-beyond service. A lot of graphic designers offer a skill set comparable to yours; set yourself apart with unique service offerings. They’re a great way to not only get business but to retain it. 

8 | Keep learning 

Buy and read new design books, attend conferences, surround yourself with designers whose work and business practices you respect and want to emulate. Things keep changing; so does design. Our designers spend a lot of time on Dribbble and MaterialUp to stay on top of what the design community is up to. Stay on top of it and, dah, utilize Google to the fullest. 

9 | How to count... ;)


Ready to jump from freelance work to starting your own business?

I hope these tips are helpful. If you’d like to connect, don’t hesitate to reach out.

Slack… SO hot right now... Slack.

Real-time, collaboration, teamwork (makes the dream work)… it’s all SO HOT right now.

At Hearthfire Creative, we are big on creative collaboration and teamwork. Most of the projects we’re involved with are multi-faceted and have varying requirements. Often we bring on various partners in collaboration to help us accomplish project goals in the most effective manner for the client. At times, we’ll bring on our copywriter, Rebecca, our photographer, Willy, our videographer, Mitch, our marketing & PR specialist, Atalie or our developer, Ben. It’s imperative that our team communication is open and active. Further, we need the ability the quickly share files – images, videos, design files – to multiple team members.

In tech, using tools that increase communication and efficiency empowers everyone involved with the project to contribute their thoughts. Project management is a beast of its own – Slack helps.

Our favorite collaboration tool is Slack. SO HOT RIGHT NOT!

The Slack app works like this:

Step 1 | Create a new team.

Create a new team on Slack

Step 2 | Enter your validation code (which will be emailed to you).

Slack email validation code

Step 3 | Create your profile name.

Create a profile name in Slack

Step 4 | Create your password.

Set a Slack password

Step 5 | Create your team name and web domain name.

Create a team name and web domain name on Slack
Create a Slack web domain name

Step 3 | Send invites to the folks you want on your team.

Send invites to Slack collaborators

…that’s it, you’re in!

From here, you can use Channels to communicate about specific topics related to a project with the whole team and use Direct Message to Slack chat directly, 1:1 with a teammate.

Slack Channels to communicate with whole team
Slack direct messages to communicate directly with team members

With Slack you can text message, upload files (from .PDFs and .PNGs to native .AI and .PSD files), add emojis and more.

What’s also awesome and differentiates it from other services is that with Slack, you always pick up in the conversation where you left off. If you have to step away from your computer for a meeting or lunch, when you come back you’ll get to see all the messages you missed easily and quickly.

There is a Slack desktop app and a Slack mobile app (for Apple and Android), all of which sync up so your data and communication is up to date across all platforms.

At Hearthfire Creative, we create Slack teams for every big project we have – we’ll have 6-8 active Slack teams going at any given time. It's that hot.

We highly recommend this tool for creative collaboration and teamwork.

Side note… What does Slack show us about other collaboration tools we’ll see in the future? Users want real-time features. With human attention spans dwindling, and the masses adopting new technology daily, communication must be super quick. Slack will likely start dissolving other collaboration tools like Dropbox and Google Drive as users learn more about its unique file-sharing and real-time chat features.

Get started here.

Google fonts: the best & the worst

Fonts say a lot about your brand.

There’s a lot of psychology that goes into typography: are the letters rounded and silly? Swirly and whimsical? Clean and modern? Strong and academic? Choosing the right font is imperative in sending the right message and making sure your clients perceive you as competent and professional.

At Hearthfire Creative, we gravitate towards using Google Fonts in several cases. For starters, Google Fonts are usually free! Yay! They are also very easy to embed on your website – Google recognizes them quickly and easily which may help in your search engine optimization. Finally, Google vets these fonts to ensure they are quality, versatile fonts – who doesn’t want a Google stamp of approval in branding and design?

The font you choose will vary depending on your business. Serif fonts are appropriate for academic and legal businesses. Sans serif fonts are appropriate for tech, aerospace, and cutting-edge businesses. Script fonts may work for nutrition and coaching businesses. Hand writing fonts may work for spunky, child-focused businesses. It all depends on your brand message and your target market.

Your graphic designer will consult with you on the appropriate font your business, but here are some of our favorite and not-so-favorite Google Fonts (with samples of each!) to get you started.


5 best Google Fonts for business

Use these fonts to ensure professionalism in your business communications.

1 | Source Sans Pro

Graphic designer displays font sample of Source Sans Pro

2 | Droid Serif

Graphic designer displays font sample of Droid Serif

3 | Lato

Graphic designer displays font sample of Lato

4 | Crimson

Graphic designer displays font sample of Crimson Text

5 | Montserrat

Graphic designer displays font sample of Montserrat

5 worst Google Fonts for business

If you want to look competent and professional, do not use these fonts.

1 | Papyrus

Graphic Designer begrundingly displays font sample of Papyrus

This font is probably already installed on your machine. Not that you'd want to download it anyway.


2 | Comic Sans

Graphic designer begrundingly displays font sample of Comic Sans

This font is probably already installed on your machine. Not that you'd want to download it anyway.


3 | Herr Von Muellerhoff (or anything like it)

Graphic designer begrundingly displays font sample of HERR VON MUELLERHOFF

4 | Orbitron

Bank Gothic's sad, sad little cousin.

Graphic designer begrundingly displays font sample of Orbitron

5 | Lobster

You may think it is cool and retro, but actually it is incredibly trite.

Graphic designer begrundingly displays font sample of Lobster

Interested in learning more about fonts and typography?

Get in touch with Lexi to geek out.

Entrepreneurial lessons from a single mother

Being raised by a single mother is one of the biggest influencers of my success as a business owner.

Since I was young I’ve watched my mom break through the glass ceiling and succeed as a businesswoman by taking action on her passions. She also took me to soccer practice, held me accountable for my grades in school, and tied our smaller family unit together with the rest of our extended family. My mom worked her ass off to give me a good life, despite the odds being against her.

In many ways, she taught me how to be an entrepreneur.

Through her advice and her actions I learned the skills I’d need to manage on my own. And not just how to manage as any ol’ entrepreneur, but a moral, competent, and hard-working one at that.

Here are 10 lessons I learned from my single mother, Jill Steele, that directly translate to my business now:

1 | Self-starting & Creativity

Having a single mother means the family unit (which in our case was just her and I) must be sympathetic to mom’s many responsibilities. From a young age I learned to come up with activities that were creative and fun that I could do on my own.

At age 8 I converted my room into a library. Anyone (including myself) who wanted to read a book had to go through the library check-out process. I had little index cards taped into each of my books and would track the time and date that each were read. By age 10, I was going outside and “healing” the trees in my backyard by putting gummy worms on their “wounds” and giving them hugs. I cured many of my stuffed animals from ailments they were suffering from – even if it meant surgery. I’d deconstruct them, replace their stuffing, sometimes adding a battery for a heart, and sew them back up. I’d direct neighborhood plays where I got my friends together to perform numbers from Grease or dances to songs by The Spice Girls.

Later, I got really into computers (shocker!!) and began writing stories, making gift cards, and playing games on our home computer. I was fine on my own – I loved being creative. These independent activities laid the foundation for my business now.

2 | Organization

My mother expected me to be organized and accountable from a young age. If I forgot my shin guards on my way to soccer practice, I was reprimanded and expected to remember them next time. If I left a jacket at a friend’s, I’d receive a scolding and was sure not to forget it again. While I wasn’t perfect at organization as a child (sorry for the lost mittens, Mom!), organization is vital as a business owner. I use Trello for keeping lists of internal projects, client projects, and personal projects, and I use Slack for communicating with my teams. I keep notes during every meeting in case I need them for future reference. I wouldn’t have these skills if it weren’t for my single mom’s emphasis on keeping myself organized, even as a little lady.

3 | Problem solving

My mom was great at teaching me problem solving. Didn’t like the grade you got on a paper? Go talk to your teacher. Can’t figure out how to set up the stereo? Re-read the instructions. Unhappy with the team you made at volleyball tryouts? Practice on your own and get better next year. Always forward progress, always forward thinking. She expected me to think rationally to work through things, as opposed to just “fixing” them for me. I learned to look at situations objectively and take what lessons I could, while also reacting positively and moving forward.

In business, this is huge. I hit road blocks on projects from time to time and because of the problem solving skills I learned from my mom, I usually use it as an opportunity to learn and go above and beyond for my client. Got an issue? Deal with it!

4 | Make a plan, work the plan – efficient processes

Have a process and a plan in mind for everything. Know your morning routine. Know your route walking home from school. Know what needs to be done when you get home. If something was sitting on the stairs, you picked it up and brought it with you on your way out the door. Do the hard things first, then relax and enjoy.  Our family unit needed to run smoothly. Having processes in place helped to avoid disappointment and conflict. Same thing in business - I aim to make Hearthfire Creative as systematized as possible so that expectations are aligned and the team can work smoothly to hit deadlines and please our clients.

5 |  Hold yourself in high regard

Get clear on your morals and honor them. Who you are is how you run your business. I remember when I was about 12, my mom was outraged at the treatment of women in the middle east after the Taliban took over. Before their reign, women weren’t required to cover their bodies from head to toe or be completely subservient to their husbands. After the Taliban came in, things changed. My mom had a huge moral problem with the stories she’d hear about women getting stoned to death for accidentally exposing flesh. Did my mom sit back and watch? Hell no! She drafted a long letter to then President Bill Clinton and was sure to include salutations to First Lady Hillary Clinton as well. She wanted her voice to be heard; she wanted to stand up to injustice. My mom received responses from both Bill and Hillary – each response letter hand signed with thanks to a Colorado woman for caring about folks an ocean away. I remember thinking, “my mom is a badass!”

If you operate your business in a way that is in line with your values and morals, you’ll attract the people you jive with. Avoid having to work with people who don’t hold you in a high regard and you’ll definitely make waves.

6 | You don’t get what you don’t ask for

Don’t expect the world to just hand you things on a silver platter. Shit happens and no one is required to give you anything or help you "just because". If you need a raise, ask for it. If you need time off, ask for it. Justify your needs logically and take strides to get what you want. I was babysitting by the time I was 13 to pay for any extra frills and activities that I was interested in. I was taught to value each dollar I made and to negotiate rates with babysitting clients. Sure, I also expected to receive my allowance for completing chores around the house, but I knew it was my responsibility to offer up my babysitting services to neighbors if I wanted to spend extra money on clothes or going to the movies as a pre-teen. Thanks, Mom, for teaching me how to ask for what I want and make efforts to get it.

7 | Fight for what you believe in

Speak up for those experiencing injustice.

We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.
— Elie Weisel

While your beliefs may isolate those who disagree, you’ll be respected for expressing opinion. My mom is a vegan. Sometimes she offends people who aren't vegan, and they offend her. However, I've watched over the years that these conflicts don't derail her from taking a stand for what she believes in. This is something that translates to my business now - as a feminist, I'm equipped with the skills I need to speak up and address sexism in the workplace head on.

8 | Hard work pays off

When I did well in school, I’d get rewarded. When I tried as hard as I could on the soccer field, I’d get rewarded. There weren’t any “participation points” in our house – but there were large rewards for large efforts. I learned early that hard work paid off.

Now I know I'm 100% capable of breaking through the glass ceiling - and so are you! Serve your customers and clients to highest level you possibly can and you’ll surely reap the benefits of hard work.

9 | Be financially and emotionally independent

You’re essentially invincible if your independence outweighs your codependence. It’s important not to rely on others to take care of your business. That’s your responsibility. Your independence will lift you up and make you stronger. I saw my mother manage her finances independently and she never let the fact that she was a single mother stop her from giving me a bright future. Sure, she struggled at times (as all of us do), but seeing her independent accomplishments is something that has largely shaped my character today and equipped me to be a strong business owner.

10 | Persevere in the face of adversity

This is the most important lesson of all. I’d be lying if I said my mom and I have always been peaches and cream. We differ in a lot of ways and life was/is tough at times. But I was taught to always persist, always continue, and always hold your head up high. To walk with your shoulders back and keep going through the challenging moments that life presents. When we persevere, we make progress. And usually, just that is good enough to set you apart from the competition.

Here's to you, Mom! :)

Being raised by a single mother is badass. It’s not a pity party. It’s something that has made me stronger, more self aware, and equipped me with the skills I need to run my business like a machine – a really fun, fluid, and somewhat quirky machine, but a machine nonetheless.

Thanks, Mom, for the sacrifices you made and for the valuable lessons you taught me about running my digital media startup. Oh and thanks for raising me in Denver, Colorado, the coolest city on the continent.

Want to meet my mom? She owns a retail boutique in Downtown Castle Rock, Animals Rock!, where she sells art, apparel, and assorted frills. Everything is animal themed (in line with her morals as an animal lover). Check it out here or shoot her an email if you have any questions about her products.

Until next time!

—Lexi

A review of Ionic Framework: pros and cons from a designer's perspective

Ionic Framework is a hybrid app development platform that uses Angular, Cordova, and JavaScript.

If you're a person with an app idea: Ionic Framework should be something you look into because you can launch your app on iOS and Android for less time and money. More users, quicker access to profit. Yay!

If you're a developer: Ionic Framework great for transitioning your web development skills to app development. You already rock at JavaScript... why not use those skills to build a hybrid mobile app?

If you're a designer: you'll enjoy the prototyping tools and the extra control over the design process you get as a result. I love you, Creator!

We've completed two app projects using Ionic Framework now (the OWLe app is one of them), so I thought it'd be nice to do a little pros and cons review. This is coming from my perspective as the UI/UX designer and overall project manager. I'm not a developer myself, but I enjoy working with developers to bring app ideas to life for my clients. On both projects, Ionic has been a great resource for all parties involved from the client, to the designer, and to the developer.

Pros:

  • Creator
    • A rapid prototyping tool built into the Ionic Framework? Yes please! Creator allows a designer to build out their wireframes and even add certain themes/styling elements with zero knowledge of code. The best part is that Creator allows the designer to export some HTML and JavaScript for the developer to work off of later.
  • Ionic Market
    • Starters, plugins, and themes abound at Ionic Market. This helps streamline dev, especially when the designer can select and design the user interface and user experience around some of the resources offered at Ionic Market. Pricing is also reasonable, with most plugins costing between $10-$20.
  • Amaze-balls Blog
    • The team at Ionic does an incredible job updating and including their community. The blog has dozens of great video tutorials, product update announcements, and examples of apps that have successfully been built in Ionic.
  • Hybrid
    • Ionic allows an app team to launch on both iOS and Android for a much lower cost than if the app were to be built natively on both platforms. Pretty sure all of my clients love saving money!

Cons:

  • Launching on 1 while 2 is in beta
    • When the Hearthfire Creative team was working on the Skin Saver app, Ionic 2 was just coming out. It's always a tough decision whether to build a new app on a system that is still in beta. We ended up choosing to build on Ionic 1 with tools that would make migrating over to 2 easier in the long run. When we're ready to migrate, this will, unfortunately, be an additional cost to the client (con).
  • Custom transitions/animations (the lack thereof)
    • Ionic is NOT a good choice for developing games or highly complex apps. There aren't a lot of built in tools for highly advanced graphics or highly interactive transitions. Apps like this should be built natively and not on Ionic.
  • Hybrid
    • Yep, this is both a pro and a con. Hybrid is great for saving money, but you'll encounter slower performance since it's not native. The app will feel a bit more like a mobile themed website than a fully custom app.

Overall, I'm really impressed with Ionic Framework. Curious to get a developer's perspective on Ionic? Our go-to developer had this to say about it:

Ionic is basically CSS and JavaScript snippets that help you build an app faster.
— Ben Buie, Buink Web Development

Learn more about Ben's development skills here. Enjoy exploring Ionic!


Are you an app-preneur with the next big idea?

Reach out to us for some consultation.

Work-life balance much? You can rock your biz on vacation!

Can you be productive while traveling?

Travel is rejuvenating, mind-opening, and healing. As a business owner, all of these things translate to your biz. For me, as a creative, I find that travel correlates directly to fresh new ideas in my business. Not only are the new experiences and lessons you learn while traveling helpful to operations, marketing, sales, etc., they are also helpful for mastering boundary-setting, prioritizing, and self-care rituals (thanks for the reminder to take care of myself, Universe!). Further, travel inspires creativity. Communication may not be as prompt for a week or two, but the end result is worth it. What client do I have that would be bummed to know I designed their logo while floating on a boat in the ocean surrounded by whales? Not many, I suspect.

If you're anything like me, client happiness is paramount. My business is successful because I communicate, hit deadlines, and listen closely to my clients. So it is important that I stay on top of things, even while traveling. Here are some tips for being productive as a business owner while on vacation:

  • Don't set your work schedule, then your vacation schedule. Do what you want to do and fit business in the gaps. You don't want to go home with the regret that you didn't go on that one hike or visit that one museum.
  • Only respond to emails once a day. Help your clients get used to a scaled-back amount of communication while you're on vacation right out the gates.
  • Designate a business emergency contact. If you work for yourself, ask a trusted friend or colleague if you can contract them as your back-up while you're gone and provide their contact info to your clients. Their job isn't going to be to do work for you while you're gone, but they'll take notes, put your clients at ease, and help you manage your task load when you get back.
  • Accept that something bad will happen while you're gone. You know you can fix it when you get back, so don't worry.
  • Remember that your clients go on vacation, too. We are humans, not robots, after all. We all need a break sometimes.
  • Plan 3-4 important work tasks you want to accomplish while you're away before you go. Once you're done with these, you're done working for the whole trip!

I was recently in Craig, AK, where I was still able to send out my monthly branding tips e-blast, complete 2 new logo designs, and conduct a virtual meeting with a time sensitive project. All the while, I was able to see whales, grill brats over an open campfire with a stick I whittled, pull shrimp and crab pots out of the ocean a few times, go hiking almost daily, spend time with my bestie, and sit by the ocean and read almost daily as well. Craig is pretty different than big ol' Denver. It's a tiny little town. There's one bar, one grocery store, and maybe three or four options for ordering food. People don't have humidifiers there, they have de-humidifiers, which was weird coming from the dry climate of Colorado. I was glad my hosts ran one in their home occasionally. They don't have natural gas because they can't bury cables (too many earthquakes) so people heat their homes with electric or diesel heaters. I was very obviously a tourist when I said "rope" instead of "line" and "car" instead of "rig." There's no sushi on the island, but you can have it flown in on a puddle jumper plane from a neighboring island for a delivery fee of $14. Bringing bananas on a boat is bad luck. It's generally frowned upon to pull another fisherman's pot from the ocean, but if you're in a jam, just put a couple cans of beer in the pot, re-bait it, and toss it back in (I know, I sound like a real life fisherwoman!). Finally, if you're sitting around a campfire and you want the smoke to blow in a direction other than right in your face, just chant "dim dim yan yasala!" That shit works!

Craig, AK business owner, Madelaine Voegeli, understands the importance of work-life balance. Her charming shop, Strictly Local, is filled with treasures garnished entirely from Prince of Wales island. For her, the focus is on community engagement. Madelaine regularly teaches yoga, leads hiking adventures, and performs commissioned work for her fellow Craig-ians.

In a community as small as this, owning a business is nearly synonymous with building a sense of community and culture, things I strive to cultivate in both my professional and personal life.
— Madelaine Voegeli

When Madelaine wants to travel, she'll hire someone from the community to work at the shop and checks in with them from time to time while away. It is possible as a business owner to be productive on vacation - no matter the industry, no matter the location.

Here's a peek at my trip. Click an image to expand it and view the gallery as a slideshow. I'm sorry I'm not sorry I didn't get any pics of me working while I was there :)

Later skaters!

<3 Lexi


Want to chat more about the perks of being a business owner?

Give me a shout!

First time hiring a graphic designer?

Ten things to know before your first meeting.

1 | Get your ducks in a row.

You’ll waste your time—and hers—if you go in without an executive summary or business plan. Be prepared to talk about the long-term goals for your business, what you want to achieve and how you plan to get there.

2 | How do you want your customers to perceive your business?

Ask yourself the question, then go into the meeting prepared to answer it. Your answer gives the designer a perspective on your biz that’s incredibly helpful in creating an identity that pulls customers to your brand. 

3 | Set your budget and share it.

Your designer is a resource for money-well-spent; pick her brain. Ask for introductions to other marketing professionals who’ll share their tips for success. If money is tight, find out where you can save some without compromising the end result.

4 | Forget pop, awesome and fancy.

Avoid words that mean different things to different people. Be specific. Specificity in language eliminates confusion. Avoid the hassle of mixed messages—so not helpful in the creation of your brand.

5 | Get ready to let go.

You’re not in control of this process. Your input is invaluable, your feedback is essential and your trust is critical. Unless you’re working with a college intern or your high school nephew who likes to draw, your best move is to trust that the design professional you’ve hired knows what she’s doing, then let her do it.

6 | Trust the process.

Progress will be made with or without you. Don’t expect to watch your designer in the act. This puts unnecessary pressure on both of you and gets in the way of you getting what you’re paying for.

7 | Forget about hurting her feelings.

I’ll say it again: your designer’s feelings DO NOT MATTER. Give direct, honest feedback. Don’t sugar-coat your impressions. Negative feedback is as constructive as positive feedback and saves everyone time (and time is money). That said, who doesn’t love praise, so if you love the font, the colors and the graphic, tell her. 

8 | Practice being decisive.

If you can’t get clear on what you like, if you love something one day and change your mind two days later, it could cost you. Clarity moves the process along. Efficiency keeps the process on-track and on-budget.

9 | Your designer is not a copywriter.

The language for your brand is as important as your graphics but creating that language is a different expertise. Be prepared to provide your designer with content, or ask her for a referral (our fave is Rebecca with Rebecca Lee Content Creation). Determining the direction of your content, creating a concept and crafting the language are not in the skill set of a designer. Don’t expect them to be.

10 | Most designers are not photographers.

Images enhance the power of your brand and strengthen your advertising. Be prepared to purchase stock images or to hire a professional photographer. Those images will help you tell your story, and help you tell it better (our go-to is Willy of Life Unstill Photography).

Find the right fit, and on-boarding with a graphic designer is a fun, fluid, creative process with big yields at the other end.


Want to learn more?

The tech world needs more XX

Why? Because girl-power rocks.

Women bring assets that are uniquely female to the tech table, assets with the muscle to enrich, expand and strengthen an industry where men outnumber women by more than three to one.

Based on diversity reports (2014) from 11 of the world’s largest tech companies, CNET reports that, on average, women comprise 30 percent of the tech workforce (and 59 percent of the US labor force). I know what you’re thinking: 30’s not so bad.

30’s not the whole story.

Drill down and the numbers plummet. More from CNET: “A closer look at the breakdown of females in (tech) leadership (22.5%) or technical (15.6%) roles shows significantly fewer women in positions to influence their companies’ product development or strategic direction.”

So, what about those assets women bring to the table?

  • Women show a propensity for connection, including the ability to connect nerds to designers to laymen.
  • We have an eye for creating work spaces that help clients feel comfortable; let’s face it, most women are more tuned into their surroundings than men.
  • In my experience, women are better able to translate geek-speak into language that clients can understand and even relate to.
  • Females have a knack for intuiting the feelings and emotions of others in the group, which translates into unique business development ideas.
  • Women are collaborators and community builders—two essential skills for pulling people together to accomplish complex tasks.

In addition to bringing more women to the tech table, we need to shift the way we treat women in tech. In my early days out of college, I was the sole female working in an innovative tech firm. A man was interested in hiring our firm. I replied to his inquiry with a professional email, to which he responded, “Oh Lexi, I think I’ve seen you in a porn!” I took the issue to my boss and suggested we not work with a client who showed that level of disrespect. My boss’s response? “Just pass the account to a male colleague if you can’t handle it.” His lack of loyalty to one of his original employees blew me away. Misogynistic attitudes prevailed and eventually I left, ready to create something new. Something that empowers people, not just men.

I’ll give men this: I doubt most of them, most of the time, even realize they’ve offended a female colleague. Society teaches men and women to act in certain ways. The patterns are ingrained in both genders. We all need to step up to initiate change.

For the record, I love men. And their beards. Feminism in the tech world—in every industry—isn’t about targeting hatred. Feminism is about calling out those things that need to change. Bringing more women to the tech table is a great place to start.


Know any young women interested in jumping into the tech world?

I'd love the opportunity to mentor them. Send all inquiries to lexi@hearthfirecreative.com.

Contemplating a tech startup?

Hey you, with the app idea!

Think lean. So say the experts. Launching a web or mobile app requires the same smart business planning, savvy leadership and sound management as launching any other business. . . and then some.

If you plan to raise investment capital, you need to at least be able to bootstrap your way to a minimum viable product (MVP). Not exactly Most Valuable Player status, but sort of. An MVP is a product that has just enough features to gather valuable data about how it functions and performs so as to justify moving forward with development. Lean could be the one quality that keeps your product alive through the bumps and hurdles on the road to launch.

Silicon Valley entrepreneur Eric Ries and his Lean Startup movement argue that lean is the most cost-effective method for product developers, the most scalable for future growth, the most approachable for team development, and the easiest way to get in the door without breaking the bank. We couldn’t agree more. In fact, we aligned Hearthfire Creative’s Super Helpful Tech Startup Branding & Consultation Package with the Lean Startup philosophy.

What else besides lean? Investors want to know about your team—who’s on it, how do you work, what’s your process. Do your founding members bring complementary strengths to the table? Do they offer a diverse set of experiences? Asked what they look for in a startup, the folks at TechStars say “team, team and team, (followed by market, progress and idea),” as reported on their blog. Despite the cutting edge, latest-and-greatest persona, the app world values people and their skill sets, work experience and character as much as any industry in today’s marketplace. Good to know.

Team, team, and team (followed by market, progress, idea).
— TechStars

Investors also keep an eye on your marketing plan and look closely at your ability to gain traction, a concept tied to early use. They want to see users engaging with your app to make purchases, view ads or do whatever it is you’re asking them to do in order to realize an income stream. The idea is to gain traction early, to move from development and experimentation to the real thing as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

We’re super-crazy about the app world, love working with startups, and believe we’d bring value to your party. Ready to chat? Give us a shout.