Brand Positioning: Riches in the Niches

Niche Marketing

The advertising wisdom is true: if you’re marketing to everyone, you’re marketing to no one. While clients often resist the idea of targeting a very narrow niche, it’s the path to success. Whether you’re a physician or a top architect, your ideal client fits into a fairly narrow definition. From firm economic considerations (can they afford your services?) to more “soft” criteria (does the client’s communication style mesh with yours?) - the fact is, we should all be as specific as possible when it comes to defining our ideal clientele.

By doing so you will:

  • Become the “go to” referral when a friend or colleague runs into someone looking for an X, Y, Z - because this is exactly what you do

  • Nail your “elevator pitch” because you’ve made it clear to yourself

  • Become a magnet for your ideal clientele - because your messaging, your marketing and your offerings will dovetail perfectly with their needs, hopes, motives and longings.

  • Increase your profitability, because your clients come to you asking you to do what you do best & what you enjoy doing

  • Find more fulfillment in your business, as all of your clients will be aligned with your strong suit

Frankly, the list of reasons to do so are enormous. And I could make a much longer list of benefits to niche marketing. But realize that going niche begins in the mind before it translates into marketing copy, services and sales call messaging. You have to DECIDE to commit to specializing in offering your services (your gifts) to a narrow band of clients. Your dream clients.

When I begin this process with my clients we go deep. I want to know as much as possible about their ideal clients. What do they fear? What do they long for? Why would they hire you to solve this problem? Why would they choose your competition over you? We need to understand them AND understand your spectacular gifts to define your “sweet spot.”

Worried you’ll turn of some potential clients? You will. But rest assured those would have been “poor fit” clients who were labor intense and emotionally taxing. We’ve all had them, and they end up costing you in countless ways.

But in committing to your “sweet spot” and your area of genius, you’ll accelerate your success and enjoy deeper, richer, more meaningful client relationships and filling your calendar with wonderful clients you enjoy working with every day. This, is niche marketing done right.

5 Professional Secrets Behind Successful Interior Design Websites

5 Professional Secrets Behind Successful Interior Design Websites

Perhaps your website isn’t generating new leads as well as you’d prefer, or is simply in need of a little zhush. These 5 professional tips are based upon years of experience designing sites & digital marketing strategies for clients just like you. Use these tips to maximize the power of your site to convert casual admirers into happy clients!

YOUR DOWNLOAD AWAITS: 5 PROFESSIONAL STRATEGIES TO ENSURE YOUR INTERIOR DESIGN WEBSITE IS A SMASHING SUCCESS

GRAB YOUR STRATEGY GUIDE

Featured Entrepreneur: Cheminne Taylor-Smith

Cheminne Taylor-Smith

I love celebrating fellow entrepreneurs & business owners. Today's featured success story is a branding & marketing strategist I've known now for many years. I adore her and you will too, especially after reading this fun interview that dives into her day from sunup to sundown. Ready? Enjoy! 


Tell us what you do?

I’m an idea generator – it’s what I love to do. I guide business owners and companies to find or redefine their focus and better communicate core messages to target audiences. It’s about being true to who they are while making their companies memorable. That can include branding, business practices, marketing and communications, or exploring new ideas together.

How did your professional journey lead you here? What pivotal moments or stops along the way led you to launch your business?

I was a journalism major and started out working for newspapers and magazines. I tell people all the time that having that central understanding of communication gives you the skills for marketing and social media, in particular. It’s all about knowing who the audience is and how to get the right message out there.

Working for large corporations like Conde Nast and Hachette gave me key strategic, financial, negotiating, and management skills. And my time as VP of marketing for the High Point Market Authority let me really delve into idea generation, like launching the Style Spotters program.

Who is your typical client and what does he or she really need from you?

My typical client is someone who has a passion for their business and has become mired in minutiae. They feel like they can’t quite get their heads above water with everything they have to do and that’s keeping them from moving up to the next level, or for reaching a key goal. They need someone to help them look up and out, to define new strategies and ideas, and to show them an organized plan for making those ideas happen.

What’s the top mistake you see entrepreneurs or small business make time and time again?

Not actually taking the steps to reach goals. It’s one thing to have a plan or an idea, but it’s another to make the moves to implement the plan. Day-to-day business can trap you into thinking you don’t have time, money, or the energy to make a move or to shift strategically. But usually it’s just our own fears holding us in place.

Without naming names (but if you do, we’re totally here for it!) can you share with us one of your favorite client success stories?

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a vault when it comes to clients and what they’re doing – maybe it’s the Scorpio in me. But I can say that I have a client who just signed a multimillion dollar contract for her cybersecurity firm, another company that is about to have a big product licensing announcement, and a third person who is hitting her goal of getting published in a major national magazine. For me, I really want each person or company to understand what their own version of success is and work toward that. I don’t want people to compare themselves to others in their definition of success.

What do you want to be known as the best in the biz for doing?

Generating ideas. I love thinking differently about anything and everything. There’s always another way to do something, or a new way of communicating, or a unique strategy that will get you to your goal.

How do clients typically find you? Online marketing, networking or word-of-mouth?  

Just like any other business, networking and word-of-mouth are the best drivers of new business for me. I like that, too, because it’s about communication and trust. Two of my favorite things.

For those of us who’d love to connect, which social channel is your absolute fave & where can we find you?

I’m just as crazy about Instagram as anyone else who loves a visual world – but connecting on Facebook is my go-to spot for the business. You can find me there as @cheminnets.

I believe success is the result of great rituals & powerful habits person, thus, the next few Q’s will dive into your life processes a bit more...

Rise & shine: Tell us your morning routine. What do the first few hours of your day look like?

I get up so so early. But I love the peace at that time of day. My first move is always coffee and then my yogurt/oatmeal/fruit concoction. Depending on the day, I either go to kickboxing or start walking. I live near a 240-acre preserve, so there are lots of trails. If it’s dark or stormy, I walk on the treadmill while yelling at the news. I have great ideas in the shower, so that’s always a must in the morning. And I like to read or write to get centered just before I turn the Open sign around. Sounds like a lot, but I’m up so early that it’s easy.

Drink up: What’s your favorite “power up” beverage? Tea? Coffee? Green juice? Water? Other? Do tell…

I only have one cup of coffee per day – more than that and I’m hard to handle. And then it’s water water water.

Schedule: Early bird or night owl?

I believe I’ve made that clear. I will always get the worm (laughing).

Books: are you a Kindle-type or is your nightstand piled with hard copies?

That’s complicated. The short answer is both. The long answer is that I love the smell and feel of real books far too much to give them up. My house looks like a library. But I love my tangerine-colored Kindle, too.

Great reads: fiction or non? And what are you reading at the moment that’s rocking your world?

I’ll read anything – my mom said I would read shampoo bottles, cereal boxes, and fine print on medicine bottles if I couldn’t find anything else. She’s right.

Lincoln in the Bardo was an amazing book I just read – incredible writing. I also liked The Alice Network, and I’m just finishing The Girls in the Garden. I also read, and loved, The Power of Nice. I’m a big believer that nice guys (and gals) finish just fine, thank you very much – and with less drama, too.

Short cuts: are there any tech tools (apps, services etc.) that really help you optimize your workflow or business communication?

For me personally, Quickbooks Self Employed is terrific, and really keeps me on track. I’m an app geek, so I have way too many. I like Expensify, ClickMeeting, GSuite, Trello, Spotify, VidLab, Genius Scan – and on and on.

Do tell: what’s the last thing you downloaded to your phone?

#Slack.

Screentime: Favorite app?

I should be all cool and say something really biz-oriented, but it’s Spotify. It’s always Spotify.

Tuning in: what type of music powers your day?

Inside information about to be imparted – I put myself through college as a DJ at the on-campus station. So I know the words to way too many songs and love to listen to just about anything at all. That includes ‘80s, electronica, swing, opera, old-school rap, punk. My head is filled with lyrics I don’t really need to know.


Swing by and say hello to her at Cheminne.com and tell her Franki sent you ;)

Online Business Tools You Need Right Now

online tools you need right now

Pssst... my solopreneurs and startups out there will appreciate that many of these brilliant tools offer free & scalable subscription plans. With that, let's dive in...

The administrative services available to entrepreneurs at the moment are straight up amazing! Who would have believed that getting contracts signed could be a snap or that invoicing could be so painless? And depending upon the size of your clientele, many of these may be used for free with paid subscriptions available as your business grows. What I appreciate most about these services is that they minimize the time spent "running" your business and maximize the client-focused time. Think: invoicing, scheduling, whipping up agreements, etc. If it's something you loathe doing, there's almost surely an app for that.

Whether you're just getting serious about your side hustle or are a seasoned pro in your field, there's an online tool in here that will take the energy drain out of those tedious (but essential) administrative tasks. (Note: this list is far from complete and is really a snapshot of what I'm loving and/or using at the moment. If you have a service you suggest or would like to me review, please send me a note!)

MANAGE CONTRACTS LIKE A BOSS

Two services come to mind here:

Agree.com is brilliant if you're in a creative service industry (or other field) and have no clue what to put in your Terms & Conditions etc. or how to construct a project agreement. With a simple interface and easy checkbox style form fields you can have a legally binding agreement ready to send to your client in no time. Advantages: brilliant interface & pre-built (but editable) service descriptions & fine print. Drawbacks: it asks for specific start dates and payment amounts, which you may or may not want to include in this document. Still, this is a service I adore and can't wait to use for future contracts to eliminate process redundancy. Free subscription plan available.

Already have your agreements drafted or want more flexibility? Hellosign.com takes all of the pain out of gathering e-signatures and allows anyone anywhere (including multiple people) to quickly sign any document online. Free subscription available.

BILLING & INVOICING

Harvest is an oldie but a goodie in this arena. I have been using them since they were in beta and I still adore their ease of use. This app earns bonus points for being able to send gentle reminders to clients about past due invoices. You can customize your documents by uploading your logo and change the look & feel to suit your preferences. Built-in reporting makes it easy to track your billing, project expenses and time. I use it for invoicing only, but power users will love the accounting features and at-a-glance data this service offers. Free trial available.

Invoicely is another great services that takes the sting out of asking for those hard-earned Benjamins. Like the other tools, this one offers a free level of use with limited features. I love that this service makes it easy to bill in any currency, a growing need for businesses of all sizes. This service earns points for its focus on invoicing. If you don't need the fluff of a more robust app, this is your ticket to easy billing. 

EMAIL MARKETING

Oh, email. How we loathe (but need) thee! I've had a long history of designing email marketing for clients. The complexities of determining what messaging flow to send to your audience is enough to make your head spin. After many (many) dalliances with various email services I'm surprised to say that MailChimp's paid subscription is far and away the best.

First, let's put it out there that their monkey-infused marketing was a turnoff for me. But try as I might I could not get away from services and apps that integrated flawlessly with MailChimp. That primate branding was everywhere I looked.

Finally, I bucked up and splashed out the $10 per month for the Business level subscription. **Update: the $10 upgrade features are now absolutely free in MailChimp** Oh. My. Goodness. What a difference ten dollars made in my life. They've done the complex thinking behind those "what happens next" diagrams we've been whiteboarding all these years. Even without design savvy & coding skills, MailChimp can help you achieve the customer marketing you are lacking. If you DO have coding skills and design savvy, the possibilities with this service are nearly limitless.

Where it shines? MailChimp isn't kidding around when it comes to the industry standards of email marketing compliance. Visitors or customers who visit your site to shop or just snap up that free newsletter will be asked to confirm their opt-in via email. Compliance with email marketing is key, and not following standards to the letter will get your blacklisted. MailChimp makes this a no brainer and does the heavy lifting for you. While a double opt-in and captcha tests might seem tedious (they are), employing their use keeps your marketing lists clean and gives you a sense of confidence that your audience WANTS to hear from you. Also, it handles the dirty work of cleaning your list by handling unsubscribes like a boss and removing bounced emails from your list. Go, chimp, go!

I love this system so much that I doubled down on the service and decided to master those automated workflows everyone covets so much. (For those interested, email marketing integration is now a part of most of my packages and it's one of the key features clients ask for) If you can get past the chimp logo (I finally have) this is the solution to your opt-in marketing woes.

ONLINE SCHEDULING

While I don't presently use online scheduling apps, I've invested considerable time researching various tools for clients and implementing them into their web sites. Many options exist, but not all play well with web site integration. Here are a few popular options that do:

Acuity is pretty slick, especially if you're looking to offer real-time online scheduling for your clients via a clean interface. If you are a coach, a physician, a consultant or even just a designer opening yourself up to more leads, this services offers a try it for free option. More robust business can take it a step further and allow clients to make payments online as well.

Calendly is (in my opinion) more suited to the small business looking to reduce those tedious "when can you chat?" email threads. With a simple interface and easy integration tools, this is a service many of my clients love using and adding (via embedded code) into their web site.

EASY ONLINE PAYMENTS

We've tracked your time, signed your contracts and organized your invoices. Now let's collect the hard-earned cash you've earned! Many options abound, but I have a favorite. I occasionally use PayPal invoices when working with international clients, since it converts currency for them (typically showing them the invoice in their currency of choice), but I really have a love/hate relationship with the service. It just never feels professional to send clients links to a PayPal invoice. However, know that this option is there for you.

That said, I've moved on to Stripe payments integrated into my site, setting up products as digital services. Now I send my clients a private link (password protected, if desired) where they can make project payments online via credit card in a SSL encrypted online environment. No need for my clients to visit PayPal, no need for them to leave my site, no need to try to figure out the always less-than-intuitive PayPal interface. No icky feeling (sorry PayPal). Not only can I accept major cards online via my branded site (thank you, Squarespace!), thanks to the Stripe smartphone app I can also sit at a cafe with a client and accept payments over coffee. This makes it a win for clients across the pond and just down the street. The app literally could not make it easier to keep the revenue-receiving side of your business humming. Which brings me to my next topic...

ONLINE BANKING

A few years ago I opened a Simple account and life has literally been better ever since. The "big bank" behind this online bank is BBVA and they run this purely online service the way all banks should be run. My Stripe payments are deposited into my Simple account immediately and I incur no monthly or yearly fees with this account. Via my Simple debit Visa I make all of my business purchases and keep my accounting clean. Their gloriously easy-to-use site and app make it a breeze to see all transactions. And if I have any questions (as I occasionally do) their support team is not only helpful but lightening fast with in-app messaging.

I cannot imagine my life without Simple. Note: At the moment they only offer personal accounts, so my business-only use of my account is a bit off-label. But this system works for me since I keep the funds and expenses strictly business. My accounting is simplified with monthly statements, searchable transactions and more. My client payment flow is integrated (hello, Stripe!) and painless. Most importantly, I am smitten by their excellent customer service. Five stars all the way for this lovely banking option.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

None of these will revolutionize your life, but they will make running the back-end of your business a breeze. If administrative efficiencies can give you a few extra hours a day to do actual revenue-generating work by minimizing or automating the soul-draining tasks vital to your workflow, I consider that a major win.

Take some time to give these a try (all of them offer free trials or free plans) and try them on for size. Remember, what works for one business may not work for another. The point of all of these is to be less burdened by the "work" of running a business and enjoy more time flexing your God-given talents and wowing clients.

QUESTIONS OR IDEAS?

If there are tools you would like to me try or review, please send me a note or book a call using the button below! I love discovering new tools and I adore meeting new readers all the time. Don't be shy, say hello!

{Hawaiian palm elements above via}

The Art of Interior Design Websites: Where Project Portfolios & Storytelling Converge

interior design

There's something truly special about creating portfolio sites & online boutiques for interior designers. Every group of people have a unique story, and thus every project relating to where we live, work or play has a story to tell. Interior design is about designing for people and the lives they live, so uncorking those stories and peppering them in with the portfolio imagery draws us in as an audience. It's this mix of glorious imagery and insightful notes that I love creating.

Along those lines, I offer a few tips for interior designers, interior decorators, architects or builders considering a new website.

  1. LET YOUR WORK SHINE BRIGHT
    A picture does indeed tell a thousand words, so don't skimp when it comes to having your blood, sweat & tears captured on film. Assuming you've invested in yourself and have a bevy of your firm's project photos to share with the world, design your site in such a way that they can be seen in all their glory. Create a method for your audience to see your work in large format via galleries or slideshows. After all, it's the details that truly matter, so let your attention to the finer points shine!
     
  2. SHARE THE STORY
    Here's where storytelling comes into play. Perhaps your team converted an old firehouse into a modern space for a tech start-up, complete with areas of exposed brickwork and (of course) the fireman's pole. Share that story along with your photos. Or maybe your clients adopted twins and had to rethink their living environment to make way for their newest family members. Tell that story in the portfolio. Maybe the marble slab in the kitchen was hand cut by the homeowner's grandfather in Italy and has a story all its own. Your audience would love to know those details and see closeups of the marble. By anchoring your work with the "why" behind your decisions you convey your mastery of craft and ability to transform rooms into highly personalized living spaces where memories are made. Each project has a story to share. Seek opportunities to celebrate them. 
     
  3. BE SPECIFIC IN YOUR MESSAGING & YOUR DESIRED OUTCOME
    Who are you trying to attract? Most of us are serving a niche market. We hold expertise in a few areas and really shine there. It's where our passion and our gifts align. If you're a residential designer, you may love doing high-rises downtown for bachelors but feel completely lost in a sprawling suburban house.

    Or perhaps it's the reverse and your firm knows just how to transform a 6,000 square foot house into a warm and inviting family home. Maybe you're a celebrated commercial designer and no one is better than you at designing sexy Miami hotel properties. Whatever your gift is, own it!

    Craft your messaging and tell your story in such a way that you attract your specific ideal clients and make sure your portfolio reinforces that message. Your clients - your real, true, perfect clients - will be quick to get in touch once they feel the connection and understand that you "get" their needs and are the one for their project.
     
  4. TOOT YOUR OWN HORN
    Has your business won awards? Are you rocking your ASID credentials? Been featured in Domino, AD or Elle Decor? Do you have great testimonials from your favorite clients? Tell the world! Social proof (yes, there's a name for this) builds credibility. Scour up the links to blogs you've been featured on, and feature them on your site as well. The world is coming to your site to see the greatness of your work, offer them your press mentions and client praise and it will give your site the sense of history your brand will benefit from.
     
  5. GET SOCIAL
    Let's face it, if Jan Showers & Mary McDonald have a presence on social media, so should you. Show your work .Tag your work. Instagram your install days. Take photos of your trips to High Point and share them with your followers. Take "sneak peek" photos to share when your upholstery arrives or you're putting the finishing touches (hello, flowers!) on a project. Even if you don't win direct business on social media, you'll be creating a buzz around your brand and establishing a digital footprint with search engines. The next time someone Googles "Schumacher turquoise cotton velvet" your tweet or instagram post might be revealed in their results because you shared that very thing with your followers.
     
  6. OPEN THE LINES OF COMMUNICATION
    I'm always saddened to see a great brand or business online with no way to contact the owner. Don't make your audience resort to online stalking. Give them a contact form, give them your business email, give them your address (if applicable) and allow your raving fans (and soon to be clients) to call you and set up a meeting.
     
  7. MAKE AN APPEARANCE
    A great headshot is priceless. Keep yours current and don't be shy about crafting a personal note on your "about" page. Remember, clients are buying into your brand or your firm's brand and love "meeting" you online. If you are a larger firm or a have a team of designers working with (or for) you, shine the light on everyone and offer a bio or introduction for each key player. It honors their role and reinforces your success as a professional design business.
     
  8. SELL YOURSELF
    If you've written a book, created a fabric line or designed a collection of area rugs, offer a way for customers to purchase those through your website. Whether it be via affiliate links, partner websites or a small ecommerce boutique on your site, make it easy for your anyone and everyone to access your branded products.
     
  9. ENGAGE. ENGAGE. ENGAGE.
    It's one thing to share what you do. It's another to really let your audience "in" to the inner workings of your creative mind. Nothing can compare to a great interior design blog filled with project install photos, new market introductions, inspirational photos and insider wisdom. This is one of the best ways to elevate your brand (both your personal brand and that of your business) and your organic SEO (Google loves a site that regularly adds fresh content).

    What you consider a typical day's work your readers will find endlessly fascinating. Trips to High Point Market, project renderings, fabric selection, unique floor plan challenges? All of those make for "can't pull my eyes away" content on a blog. Most of all, you'll be able to connect with readers in your real voice and give them a sense of your style, your personality, your mastery of craft and your unique skills. Frankly, there are only upsides to having a blog and you will love the new connections it affords you and the creative outlet it provides. 
     
  10. BE PINNABLE AND PIN-WORTHY
    In the world of pretty pictures, few pairings are as perfect as a great interior design website and Pinterest. Those pretty portfolio pix are ideal content for you to pin on your own Pinterest boards as a way to create links back to your own site. The same goes for those lovely blog photos you'll be posting. Likewise, ensure that your gallery images, your portfolio pictures and your blog photography are all properly tagged via ALT tags and perhaps even watermarked to ensure you're given proper credit when they are repinned and repinned agan. When set up properly, images pinned from your site will ultimately result in fresh eyes on your incredible work and new clients in your books.

My story? I've designed numerous wonderful sites for award-winning interior designers and major industry brands such as Drexel Heritage, Pearson, Pearson Textiles, Furntiure Brands and Broyhill. If you would like to discuss bringing your vision and your brand to life I would love to have that conversation with you.

Book your complimentary discovery call
Questions? Enjoy a 30-minute complimentary call so we can explore your needs. I look forward to learning more about your business & how I can bring your ideas to life.

Featured Client: William T. Baker

William T. Baker

I have to admit, I have some of the best clients on the planet. Intelligent & talented individuals and innovative businesses who appreciate quality and excellence. Recently I had the pleasure to re-imagine and rebuild the online property of award-winning residential designer William T. Baker.

If you're not familiar with is work, he designs exceptional homes for clients all over the world. These are not your ordinary homes. The level of thought and consideration that goes into every detail of these residences needed to be reflected in his site.

Moving from WordPress, I rebuilt his site from the ground up. This was as much an SEO project as it was an online portfolio, and thus the creation of contextual content was key. Rather than row upon row of images, we created galleries that put the user's needs first. Large photography coexists with relevant descriptions that is both user-friendly and search engine optimized.

Much like his luxury residential projects, every bit of this web site was custom crafted and thoughtfully planned. The result is a powerful online experience that serves as a powerful marketing tool for his firm, is e-commerce enabled to sell his books, boasts massive SEO-rich content and is stunning in appearance on every device. In addition to the site we leveraged the power of MailChimp to power his email marketing needs and have partnered up for a series of Facebook campaigns.

Visit wtbaker.com to learn more about this remarkable residential designer.

When redesigning your site, seek out a digital partner that will do more than just give your online branding a facelift. Ensure they understand the value of SEO-rich development practices and user-centric design. If you have any questions at all, don't hesitate to book a 30-minute call so we can chat about your needs. It's absolutely free and I'd love to brainstorm ways to bring your brand to life online.

SHOPIFY VS. SQUARESPACE COMMERCE. WHICH IS RIGHT FOR YOUR BUSINESS?

Shopify vs. Squarespace Commerce

This is the top question I'm asked by clients. My simple answer is this: it depends. In this post I'll weigh out some of the major the differences and strong points of each platform...

First, let's help by outlining the similarities. Both ecommerce solutions have made launching a storefront of any variety relatively easy. Squarespace and Shopify both offer complete solutions: the ecommerce development platform, the hosting solution and the site development tools. Both are hosted solutions, meaning you have no software to install, no security updates to concern yourself with and no special hosting type to secure. Squarespace and Shopify both take care of the secure checkout, the data encryption and the credit card transaction flawlessly. One stop shopping, if you will.

With both, you can get a store up and running fairly quickly and accept major credit cards (and/or paypal) with quickly. That said, each platform offers strengths in certain areas, weaknesses in others and it helps to know which one might be best for your bright idea.

FOR THE LOVE OF SHOPIFY

If you're aiming to develop a product catalog the size of Horchow, Shopbop or Nordstrom (think: thousands of SKUs) Shopify is clearly the way to go. This is because Shopify is an ecommerce solution first and foremost, and a site design/blog solution second. Ecommerce is its core offering and it is what Shopify does best. Your admin panel centers around customer data, order details and store management. If your focus is to built a world-class online shopping experience with many products, I encourage you to take a look at Shopify. Many of your favorite brands have arrived at this conclusion and entrust their online commerce to Shopify. Tesla, Budweiser, Redbull & Kylie Cosmetics (yes, that Kylie) are just a few examples of major companies who have established serious digital footprints online and are leveraging Shopify to power their online sales.

Another strength of Shopify is its massive list of third-party integrations. Building an on-demand t-shirt business? Shopify is the solution to automate that process. They integrate beautifully with Printful, Gooten and other on-demand print services. (Note: Much has changed since this post first published. Now Printful now integrates with Squarespace and the platform itself has really begun to win me over for running boutique stores, on-demand product sites & other online shops).

Running a drop-ship business? Shopify rocks. In fact, you directly integrate with drop-ship suppliers from your Shopify admin panel.  Need POS for your physical store? Again, Shopify is the way to go. For mid to large-scale retail solutions, Shopify is absolutely wonderful. Frankly, there is very little this platform cannot do and if someone comes to me looking for a rock solid online shopping solution I'm likely to guide them this direction first.

Why look elsewhere, right? Well, here's why...

SPECTACULAR SQUARESPACE

Squarespace is an interesting platform that addresses multiple needs effortlessly in a seamless fashion. Over the past few years they have quietly encroached on the footprints of other platforms (I'm looking at you Wordpress & Shopify) to offer a complete solution for today's more integrated online sites. 

What if you want a gorgeous web site with blog content peppered in, context-sensitive products appearing on appropriate pages and customized sales pages that drive your audience to those products? Squarespace does this with incredible ease. Need video smoothly integrated as your page background or an easy way to sell those ebooks? Squarespace. I've developed a genuine appreciation for the platform's versatility and ease of use. Squarespace is (in my opinion) the winner if you see your needs as branded content first and also want to sell some products securely and safely. As noted above, it now has seamless integration with Printful and is a more robust ecommerce player. If you are running a boutique ecommerce business selling a limited number of your own products, I would consider Squarespace as the platform of choice first. Yes, first.

As an advanced front-end developer, both allow me the freedom to custom design any template with CSS and custom coding, meaning you are never locked in to an off-the-shelf design.

TOP QUESTIONS

Which platform is best for ebooks and PDF downloads? Both. Each solution (when set up properly) will generate a unique link for the customer to download the link to your digital content, good for 24 hours. Customers will also be able to download it instantly after checkout is complete.

I run an online apparel store, which solution is best?
If you run a niche apparel brand, either could work. But if you have Tory Burch sized dreams and an ambitious plan for growth, I would nudge you in the direction of Shopify in large part due to the robust administrative panel and ever-growing third-party app integration solutions. Also - the customer admin panel allows you to manage your orders the way a larger brand would. 

I run a brick & mortar business and want a better online presence to match, which solution is best?
If you have a physical boutique and area ready to take it online as well, Shopify's POS cannot be beat. You can use their system for in-store transactions and ensure real-time inventory updates with your online storefront. Shopify also offers robust accounting and other third-party integrations that make this option the best in class for your needs.

I want to have a successful lifestyle blog that also sells my art. What should I use?
For me, Squarespace takes the obvious lead. Your online store can grow with your art collection and I love the platform for blogging and site design. Products can be featured and integrated on virtually any page of the web site (including blog posts) and/or on a dedicated page, giving you rich content options.

What payment solutions does each use?
Get ready to meet your new BFF: Stripe (more on that here). This nimble payment processing tool is integrated with Squarespace and has a sleek (and enjoyably simple) app for your smartphone. You can even take payments from clients you meet in real life, over coffee, for example. Stripe integrates with many cool apps and offers high-quality bank security. Shopify now uses Shopify Payments or a number of other payment processing services.

I want to sell subscription memberships to special content not visible to the public. Solution?
Squarespace. All day long. It's not that Shopify can't do this, it's that it Squarespace is more nimble in the "what would you like to do with this page" arena. Using Shopify (in my opinion) would be overkill for the secured content and private access solution you are seeking.

I'm authoring another post on this topic shortly since this is the area of growth I'm seeing for most of my clients this year. Sign up for the newsletter to make sure you catch that post. It will be juicy!

I've been designing ecommerce storefronts since 1999 and have designed online stores for some very well known brands. This background only means one thing: I know a great ecomm solution when I see one and I can very easily spot deficiencies (and strengths) when I see them. Each of these platforms offer unique advantages to slightly different (and yes, sometimes overlapping) audiences. This brief post barely scratches the surface of the lengthy comparison of features and benefits of each solution.

If you are currently vetting ecommerce solutions, the above info has likely raised more questions than it answered. If you would like additional information, please enjoy a complimentary personal call and we can discuss your ecommerce and online marketing ideas. No obligation. No expectations. I'm happy to answer any and all questions you may have, free of charge. I look forward to hearing from you!

Why I Love To Take on Freelance Projects & How This Benefits My OTher Clients

I'll never forget the day the first call came. "We received your name from XYZ and wonder if you have bandwidth to help us on a few projects." Interestingly, I'd never heard of the source of the praise, but I knew everything there was to know about the digital marketing agency on the phone. I was a huge admirer of their work, their fun creative culture and their impressive client roster. And here they were calling to see if I could jump in and help on projects. I said yes, of course. And thus my love affair with freelance work began

That may have been 14+ years ago, but I've never lost my passion (and gratitude) for taking on freelance and overflow work from successful ad agencies & creative design companies. Much like my regular client projects, the experiences build upon one another, shaping me into a better designer & better professional creative with each new role.

Whereas design projects for my regular clients are more comprehensive, usually starting with branding and moving through launching an entire website or ecommerce storefront, agency work tends to be more concentrated on one particular skill set. Perhaps I'm asked to jump in and design a microsite for a giveaway or promotion for a major mobile phone network. Maybe I've been asked to create digital holiday greeting cards for a major theme park. Or perhaps the request is to rethink the ecommerce flow for a global brand. Regardless of the challenge, I love these opportunities to deep-dive on a specific skill set and partner with other team members on the project.

The benefits to my traditional clients are many. First and foremost, freelance work keeps me razor sharp and continues to refine my design skills. The collaborative nature of freelance projects offers constant lessons in teamwork and requires one to be an expert listener. More so, working with brands of such a high caliber on highly visible projects is the best way to bring out excellence (yes, we type-A's love a good challenge!). 

A not-so-obvious benefit for my Branding Glamour clientele is the feedback I receive from the creative directors and VPs at the agency or from the clients themselves on these projects. It's great to be asked to try something different or shift the design approach to the left or to the right. It's the collaborative spirit at its best, and it's fantastic to receive valuable feedback from these industry experts pushing the boundaries of design in their niche.

Which brings up my final benefit. Each agency or design firm has unique specialties. Being invited to the table to help them deliver excellence in their area of expertise opens my eyes to new styles of design, new marketing strategies, new technology stacks and new ways of creative thinking. Even the smallest of projects provides an opportunity to learn a new skill or truly demonstrate mastery of an existing one. And it's this continuous growth, refinement and expansion that keeps us happy as humans. As a creative? We live and breathe for opportunities to learn and improve.

In addition to some really fabulous agencies here in Plano and the Dallas area, I've recently discovered the Toptal community, designed as a matchmaking service of sorts for today's top design & creative talent. These opportunities allow me to flex my creative muscles and benefit from an ongoing source of new creative experiences.

Want to see more of my work? Swing by to see my portfolio or client roster. If I can help you, your business and your brand, don't hesitate to book a call.