This year for Christmas I thought I’d give 25 days of free business tips from me to you. It’s a huge list of advice, tips, tools and whatnot all gathered together into a series, as a gift for those starting out or refining their business. There’s something in here for the new to business as well as the ol’ hat brigade who have been in business a few years.
So without further ado, here are my tips for business, website, design and more when starting & growing a new business.
Happy Advent countdown to Christmas 2021 .. it’s been tough, fun, testing of resilience and sheer moments of grit to get through this year. So here’s to 25 business and design tips to help you gain insight to help you in your business .. just from me to you!
A business name can be excruciating to think up as we have to get more and more creative as the goods ones are snapped up fast.
Remember that there are more domain endings (called TLDs) than the .com so if that isn’t available, why not try .business, .design, .art and a myriad more.
I really struggle with small businesses where their social media name doesn’t match their business name. Or worse, don’t match their other social media profile names!! 😱 So if you can’t get your domain and social media @ handles to match, then make sure all your social names are the same for professional consistency.
Happy advent calendar countdown to Christmas and the Holiday season. It’s Day 2.
Something that is often overlooked for online business is how you purchase your domain and hosting tech services. Either to buy them separately or together.
My general rule of thumb:
If you making money through your website with sales, then separate your domain supplier and your hosting supplier. That way if one goes down (normally the hosting company under a malicious attack) you can quickly move your website and be back up in hours.
If you don’t make money and are service-based, then you’ll more than likely be okay with a combined purchase from a tech supplier like SiteGround or 20i.
Yay, Day 3 of the business tips Advent Calendar from yours truly!
Let’s be professional and that foundation is also within your emails. Specifically the email address. I can always tell when a business is run by one person or someone who isn’t invested in being professional online.
How you present online is your reputation and becomes part of how your customers interact with you. So make sure you have a professional-looking email by using your domain name and creating a free email account within your hosting account settings.
Which do you respect more:
Ps. the first @gmail.com email doesn’t exist, it’s purely fiction to share an example. I know which one I think looks best to present a professional ‘face’ to the world.
Day 4 .. social media accounts are great for marketing to your customers in places they already hang out. The key is to use the language they use to reach them.
But first, you need those accounts in order to read them.
Yesterday I gave the tip to get a professional email address, you can do this via your hosting account for free when you have a domain name purchased with that hosting provider or linked via a nameserver or MX record redirect (this is done for those who purchase domains separate from hosting, which I highly recommend).
With that professional email account, register for your new social media accounts. Even if you don’t think you’ll want to use them immediately, get the account, set up the profile and link it back to your website. This will at least reserve your account to your business and no one else can steal it and pretend to be your business.
This is about protecting your future ability to market your business and keeping it safe with your carefully researched and chosen business name that matches your new social media accounts.
Day 5 and branding tips. Starting a business doesn’t have to be expensive and there’s no shame in not being able to afford designers and professional branding folks.
In fact it’s your top priority to make money and keep hold of it to invest, use or save as you see fit.
Next time you go into a retail shop and you walk around the sports stores or the makeup counters or the food vendors .. what is the one type of logo you will see 99% of the time?
A wordmark – the technical name for a logo that is made of text only.
In Canva.com (a free layout design tool) you can sign up for a free account and quickly make a simple text-based logo.
Try searching for a logo you like and then edit to enter your business name. Play around with the split of the words, the layout, the fonts and the colours. My best advice is to keep it easy to read so it’s easily recognisable.
let’s continue with the logo. We now know it doesn’t have to be complicated. Just a text-based design of one or two font choices in Canva is enough to start your business with.
All brands and logo’s refine over time, nothing is ever set in stone. Still, a very legible logo, when it is done well will give a great visual business foundation for recognisability and likeability. So if you have the money to hire a branding designer. It’s worth it to immediately appeal to your clients and customers.
That said, here’s a simple next tip to keep being legible and recognisable in all spaces both online and in print.
The one colour that we can always ALWAYS print is black. So make sure your logo stands out clearly in pure 100% black against white and grey backgrounds. Then, make sure the inverse is true. That the same logo in white can also stand out against a grey and black background.
Even if 90% of the time you use the colour versions, there will be a time that you’ll need a 100% black or white logo, you’ll thank me when that day comes!
finishing up the logo tips, make sure your logo can fit any required space. So do variations of how your logo is presented. These 4 shapes are the most often needed for logo layouts for businesses.
1. A long thin horizontal logo. Generally consisting of the brand name in one continuous line.
2. A medium height rectangle. Generally two or three lines of text for the business name and maybe a tagline.
These two are most important for website menus, letterheads, business cards and watermarks.
3. A square format. Any layout of the business name or even a contracted business name into initials.
This is most often needed for social media and profile avatars for the business.
4. A vertical rectangle format.
Great for business cards and social media videos in a vertical / portrait format.
Go forth and play in Canva, split and move the different words of your brand name around so that you can get a logo design that will fit all these different colour and layout formats.
This the absolute basics I think everyone should know about and receive from a branding and logo designer. Most of my clients are surprised to know about what I call Logo and Brand Suites. They are mix-ups of colours, layouts and elements of a full visual brand identity which includes fonts, symbols / shapes, text layouts, background colours, patterns and textures.
A logo is the very tip of the brand identity. But it’s the one everyone is familiar with, the rest has a subconscious impact that influences likability, emotions and trust.
Let’s keep you and your business safe from legal action. This is less of a tip and more of a public service announces.
IMAGES FOUND ON GOOGLE OR THE INTERNET ARE NOT FREE FOR YOU TO USE IN YOUR BUSINESS.
This is because you are a business and your plan is to make money. So any image you use on your website, social media or marketing all aim to make money and a profit in your business. For this reason, you will need a commercial licence if you want to use images made by another. OR find images that are royalty-free / license-free.
There are two ways to respect copyright:
1. Pay the individual who made the photo directly.
2. Pay for the image on a commercial stock image site like shutterstock.com, istockphoto.com or my favourite despositstock.com
These are places you can buy your images for use within your business to promote what you do or illustrate a point you’re making in a blog.
All professional photographers are able to track their images around the internet and will follow up with any user who is found to be using their image without a license.
So to keep you and your business safe, respect that images, designs and photographs are immediately copyrighted to the person who made it.
Tomorrow I’ll share how to source images legally for free. These are images that photographers supply that are copyright free for use.
how to find legal and free to use images within your business. These are known as royalty-free / license-free images, or as ‘copyright free’ in layman’s terms, even if the copyright will always remain with the creator.
This is where you’ll find images that are free to use in your business:
Why use these ones? All the photographers have given their images for use by the public, it’s a massive resource where the images can be used in your business without paying a royalty or license fee to use those images. The copyright will always remain with those photographers, but they’ve given permission for anyone to use them.
So now you know where to get the best of the best stock and pay for it. But also get images for blog posts and more if your budget is a bit more restricted!
All the elements of images, fonts, colours etc all make up the visual design language of your business. Part of good design and branding is being consistent in how you use these together.If you have a brand guide, logo suite or other in your business then use it.
If you don’t, try to use the same font & style consistently. Don’t switch fonts for your business rapidly as you will lose a recognisable design. You’ll subtly lose the trust of your customers by always changing.
My design language is dark backgrounds, bright colours, solid legible text with a little bit of handwriting thrown in on occasion to make a personalised point.
What it is not, is a different font every time. My choices are very carefully chosen because each font has a subconscious connotation of how that business is perceived.
I wouldn’t want a handwritten font for my main brand, as you can see it looks child made, friendly which is good but rather happy go lucky .. would you want that from your website designer? I think not.
So once you’ve decided on your fonts, colours and graphics. Keep being consistent and then you’ll be recognised everywhere .. branding your design language goes beyond the logo.
Consistency builds up a business trust and likeability factor, and you are the person in your business we connect to. You don’t switch from being goth, to preppy, to mod rocker, to another look every single day .. so why would your graphics and design style?
Day 11 – Let’s share some graphic design principles to keep in mind for your marketing design.
What we do in marketing is to grab the customers attention, make stuff easy to read and to be in the spaces they are. Good design is good business.
Instagram makes it easier to chunk information and present it across many images in a carousel. Take this post as an example of that.
Hierarchy is mostly about text that is different sizes, colours and placements make it all easier to scan and read what we wish. It’s also about labelling, so using headers to break up chunks of information.
Balance and Proximity is about how close everything is to each other. Is there a break-in types of information being shared .. then make sure it’s in a distinctly different area, either on a new slide or with a gap between blocks of text. Information needs space to breathe and flow when presented visually in graphics.
Colour needs to be of enough contrast in light to dark values, to be legible. If presenting text, that text needs enough contrast to be easy to read ( as well as size).
Chunking, a subtly obvious thing that when you point it out you go .. well that’s so obvious, why didn’t I think of that? This is where headers, breaks, different types of block layouts like paragraphs, lists, quotes, frequently asked questions etc help break up the information you’re presenting. Chunking helps people spot differences and read / scan faster the salient points they want to know.
Nearly halfway through my quick business tips. Today we start two posts on Marketing Tools!
These are fabulous tools I use to work smarter. This advent calendar has been designed in Illustrator and exported as sets of images on my computer. Instead of downloading one by one on my phone and then sharing an image a day, I’ve batched into small groups and uploaded them from my computer to be scheduled to post onto Instagram.
How do I do that?
INSSIST Chrome Browser Plugin
I pay for the monthly plan, to make sure that I can upload a design from my computer, write the post, research hashtags and schedule this advent content to go out at set times each day.
You can do the same. Work smarter, not harder.
Day 13 and my other favourite marketing tool. Zapier.
Zapier at its free level allows for 5 zaps to be created which can each do a task. They are a sequence of events that you say what initiates the automation process and what to do during that process.
I have a zap that watches for an Instagram post and cross shares it over to LinkedIn for me.
You can do the same with so many many things from social to social, website to social, website to accounting software, website to email newsletters. The world is your oyster for creating automation between systems using Zapier.
Day 14 and something I hear often from my website design clients is: how do I figure out what to write for my website?
To me, I’m always led by what I think or after doing some market research (ie. ask folks in social groups) know they want to know.
You have a service or product you want to offer.
There will be three questions that will help frame your thinking about the content of your website:
1. What do your customers what to know from you?
They want to know your opening times, your location, how to get in touch with you, who you are as a person and what you do in your business. Why are you in business, what is your business story, what will you solve for them, what products can they buy from you, what are they made from? aaaaaaand so much more.
2. What do YOU want your customers to know?
You want your customers to know how to buy from you, what services you offer, how this works and what to expect. So that you are pre-setting your customers expectations. Some of the questions above also apply here.
3. What do YOU want your customers to do?
This is about action .. what are the actions you want your customers to do. The topmost action is to be able to contact you, so your website MUST have a contact form at a minimum. On top of that do you offer commissions .. if so how do they ask for that? Do you want them to book an appointment, buy a product, buy a service, buy a ticket to an event?
WordPress is highly adaptable in the functionality of what it can do, adding plugins to WordPress add functionality.
So what does the process of working with you or buying from you look like? Map it out.
Once you have your map of the process, think about the information needed for every step. Use humour, concise wording to encourage action.
That is your website content. Answering questions, inspiring and driving your customers’ action, so that they can get what they want.
Day 15! So now we have a clue about writing the website content .. but what about blog posts!!
Agggggh, more content to create and value to give? DON’T PANIC .. cease the red alert!
Blog posts are a great space for answering questions.
One question, write one blog post. The answers you write to those questions, the case studies, the scenarios, the reality you share in response to questions all give value.
All that value is what search engines love because when people search, they ask questions. And what are you doing in your blog posts? You’re giving answers that search engines want to provide.
So blog posts are huge value machines, way waaaay better than a social media post that goes within 4 hours. Your blog posts stick around and can be relevant for the entire lifetime of your business.
So go forth, superpower your website with answers, value and your customers will grow to like, trust and know that you’re the person for them.
Day 16 and after you’ve written a blog post did you know that you can schedule it?
YES, yes you can!
If you find you get into a writing spree, use that time effectively and write your heart out. Edit it and then schedule it to go out on dates and times you define.
In WordPress on the right-hand side near the top it says ‘Publish: Immediately’ .. click on the blue ‘immediately’ and it’ll bring up the date and time calendar so that you can select when you’d like your post to publish. Once you’ve entered that in, click away from that box and you’ll notice the big blue button that normally says ‘Publish’ now says ‘Schedule’.
So go ahead and with all power to you, schedule your content .. so that even if your superpower is sleeping .. your content will still go out while your tucked up cosy in bed at 8 am. *Happy Sigh*
Day 17 and sometimes we have a bloop moment where we’ve changed something on a page or a post and then go ‘I didn’t mean to do that!!’.
WordPress has a function called Revisions. You can use it to undo mistakes by going back to the previously saved version.
There’s a slider that will show you the differences between one version and the next, sharing what specifically has changed. This is much easier to see with post changes vs page changes .. especially if you use Divi which designs pages using shortcodes. Still, even if you don’t like the previous version, you can always restore the latest version with the mistake which you can fix however you wish.
It’s a little magic superpower of WordPress that it saves a version of every update you’ve done to pages and posts etc. So now if you have a bloop moment, don’t worry .. revisions have kept it.
There’s only one downside to revisions and that is that they clutter up the database and eventually will slow down your website. So do remember to optimise and clear them out occassionally.
We’ve been learning how to create blog posts, fix mistakes by going backwards in post revisions and we’ve learned how to schedule blog posts. What’s next?
That would be telling the social media world that you’ve published a new blog post. Now you could do this manually for each social network every time a blog is published. But you’ve already done a heck of a lot of hard work just creating the blog post with a featured image and content!
So let’s work smarter by auto-publishing! There’s even a free plugin by the creators of WordPress that’ll help you do that .. and its name is JetPack.
JetPack does a myriad of things as well as auto-publishing but it’s one of the key features that I like about it best. It helps you publish a preview of your blog post to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Day 19 and this is one of my key tools for actually designing the looks of WordPress websites: Divi, by Elegant Themes.
I design with tools that my clients will find easy to use, and Divi has a fabulous What Your See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) interface. When you enable the Visual Builder, the interface shows you exactly what it will look like when published. It’s a drag and drop interface that lets you easily copy design styles across modules and has many layout options for content.
Yes, all page builders have a learning curve, but in my experience of building many websites .. Divi has the most natural learning curve. Simply because of its WYSIWYG builder.
Secondly, the other powerful feature is that any content designed and laid out within this builder is automatically responsive. Meaning that the website will change and wrap the content to stretch to fill out a full desktop browser or fold itself down to fit a mobile phone screen.
Do you know who else loves this?! Google. One of the items that Google will not actively promote or use are websites that are not mobile responsive. So let’s be friendly to your users, make a website that will work on any device they use and help google put you in front of your customer on their search engines.
This is the day that Google will start to love you .. if you install an SEO tool like Rank Math (or its alternatives like Yoast and All In One SEO).
I like Rank Math, it works well with Divi (Yoast sometimes bloops with Divi, every so often) and it’s got a really simple setup wizard that has an easy beginner mode and a great advanced mode.
So let’s help the search engines love you, use Rank Math to help be found and stand out on Google, Bing and more.
Day 21 of 25, so soooo close to CHRISTMAAAAAASS! Eee 😍
Today we cover SSL Certificates, something you can either get for free depending on your hosting or something you’d need to pay a few pounds for every year.
If you’re using SiteGround you can get an SSL cert for free. What it does is help encrypt and secure the data that is being sent between your browser and the website’s database etc. These are channels of data that hackers can er .. hack! So SSL is one aspect of making your website more secure.
There’s a really easy plugin that will help you set up SSL on your WordPress website and it’s called Really Simple SSL.
Install it, follow the wizard instructions and hopefully, it’ll go bish bash bosh done. If it doesn’t, get right onto your hosting company’s live chat support feature and ask them for help to get it to work. Don’t be surprised if you do have to pay as not all hosting companies will do free SSL.
Once it’s all active it will make sure all traffic on your website will go through the ‘https://’ secure encryption.
Day 22, and this is a pretty big deal this one .. this is about having a backup of your website for when it all goes wrong, and you need to restore your website.
To restore your website, you first need a BACKUP .. and I recommend a free plugin called UpDraft Plus. I recommend spending that little bit extra dosh and spending it on the pro version of this, simply because it will do automatic and offsite backup of your website.
Still, if money is tight, the free version does a bang-up job too. Just make sure to download the backup to your computer to keep it safe.
Do a daily database backup and either a weekly or fortnightly full backup of everything. Then download that backup to your computer. That way, if everything corrupts, you’ll be able to upload and restore a copy of your website from your computer.
Remember that a good hosting company will often keep 30 days of backups of their servers, so as long as you are quick in spotting mistakes or hacks or problems .. the hosting company can restore your website to an earlier version.
But. Don’t rely just on your hosting company. Get used to making a backup of your website BEFORE you do any updates to plugins and themes.
Day 23 and one of the often hated parts of owning a website are the spammers, the commenters and the ones using your contact form to send you a spammy email.
While I try my best to find free plugins wherever possible, the best anti-spam tool is not free. However, it is very friendly to low budget business pockets, and the amount of spam it catches and deals with on your website is impressive.
So to keep it short and sweet, look up Clean Talk and get their plugin. It’s been the best anti-spam plugin tool I’ve found in my decade of making websites.
Day 24 .. one of the things that is so obvious that for so many many it really is NOT obvious is this: how can you promote yourself if you’re not happy with your headshots or marketing materials?
Business when it comes down to it is about people. We connect, trust and like people. The fastest way to do that is to make a great first impression and show who we are as a person.
Hence why personal branding photography is crucial when it comes to marketing who you are, what you do and how you help others.
Make an impact, stand out and share ‘you’ in your business. I guarantee you that when you are authentically yourself, your ideal clients start showing up because they want to work with you.
Merry Christmas, today this post like all the rest is scheduled. I’ll be tucked in cosy with my family stuffing my face, giving and receiving gifts and watching movies. I also may need to undo the button on my jeans due to eating a bit too much!
So here’s my last business tip: remember why you are in business. I don’t think its because you want to work 24/7, so start thinking about what can be automated, and start working smarter ‘on’ your business as well as ‘in’ you business.
Happy holidays to you all, whether you’re starting now or later. Let’s be kind for Christmas.