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I’m taking a 12-week class called The Certified Networker, a program of The Referral Institute. Each week a small group of students – mostly solopreneurs like myself – meet in Ithaca to learn how to build our businesses by referral. I’m in the process of identifying my network (or ‘contact sphere’ of people who can help me with information, support, and referrals – and vice-versa); investing time to develop individual relationships that strengthen this network; working my network to generate referrals; and eventually, soon – although it hasn’t happened yet – turning those referrals into clients.

I’m spending more time than I ever did before, getting to know people better through ‘one-to-ones’. This might be the core benefit the program holds for me, since I am chronically afflicted with feelings of isolation (have an hour and a therapist’s couch? We can talk more about it). A recovering introvert, I’ve been wanting to pull myself out of the isolation for some time now, with half-baked notions of project collaborations with other creative professionals, but did not, until now, have a structured plan and rationale to do so.

What do I spend all that time talking about with my potential partners in these 60-minute ‘one-to-ones’? I’m still learning about it – and have yet to put it into practice – but in order to generate effective referrals, my contact sphere needs to know a whole lot about me and my business. And I need to know the same about them.

Our homework last week was to develop a GAINS profile (an acronym for Goals, Accomplishments, Interests, Networks, Skills) I can give to the people on my list – the people I’ve identified as being strong potential referral partners – so we can share our personal, networking, and business goals.

My first effort read more like a curriculum vitae, but I’ve since made it more succinct. You can download it here: GAINS_JuliaReich.

Go ahead – download & read it. In my GAINS profile, you’ll probably learn more about me than you might have in a typical conversation or networking event. For instance, now you know that one of my goals this year is to get to NYC more often. If we were in a one-to-one, and you asked me why, that would give me the opportunity to let you know that I miss the city, and the relationships I developed there over 15 years. My intention this year is to re-commit to maintaining those relationships. I’d love to find a situation where I can land a retainer client or contract gig that gives me an excuse to get there every few weeks.

You might also not know that some of my accomplishments include: winning the 2009 Cayuga County Small Business of the Year award; having my design work featured in several books; writing a monthly food column for a local newspaper in 2008; and counting swing dancing and Settlers of Catan (a German board game) as two of my interests.

Why go into so much depth? What goes around comes around. If I help people achieve something important to them, they will remember me, and want to help me, too. And they will be more likely to share their information with me if I share mine with them. I’m learning a new, deeper way of communicating who I am and what I do, and my referral partners are being trained to employ the same strategies and language.

It makes so much sense, don’t you think? Stay tuned while I go out over the next several weeks and try this stuff in real life. I’ll be writing about the results.

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I’m currently enrolled in a 12-week class called The Certified Networker, held by the Referral Institute of Ithaca. In the class, I am learning how to develop relationships with people and create a referral network, which will help me grow my business. Part of this work involves enhancing my business image by developing a marketing communication strategy. This strategy includes developing a short introduction about who I am and what I do, and a longer, 10-minute presentation, which is what follows in this blog post. It should have an emotional-based marketing theme, and a call to action.

You know I am a graphic designer, and that I am owner of my business, Julia Reich Design. Let me tell you about myself and WHY I do what I do.

I grew up in NJ, in the suburbs. My father worked on Wall St. as a securities analyst, commuting over an hour each way into the city every day. I did not see him very much, and we were never very close. To this day I could not really explain to you what he did for a living. My mother (now retired), with whom I was closer, started out as a high school math teacher, eventually earning two masters degrees and becoming a learning consultant where she tested teenagers with learning problems – special ed kids – and making recommendations for appropriate schools or programs that would best serve their needs.

As a kid, my two main interests were animals, and drawing. When I went off to college, I thought I’d study to become a wildlife biologist. However, at about the same time I learned that scientists need to have an aptitude for statistics & math, I discovered environmental education – teaching nature to kids – which I loved. i was drawn towards education since i admired my mother and her career, so I went down that path, but in my own unique direction, based on my love for the outdoors.

In my 20’s, after college and then living in NYC, I was an environmental educator. In my last job in that role, I was education director of a nature center on the Hudson River. But more & more I found myself interpreting science lessons with art rather than science, culminating in an environmental & artistic tour de force that was a life-size, indoor, walk-through Hudson River marsh, that I made with my elementary school students.

Soon after, I took an evening class at the school of visual arts in NYC in graphic design, which really resonated with me. In a few more years, I left my education job to attend Pratt Institute, and got a degree in graphic design two years later.

In 2001 I started my own firm. I had worked briefly in a corporate setting, as an in-house designer, but the cubicle life was not for me. I found the hierarchies in those firms stifle creativity and meaningful personal relationships, and which make business development satisfying for me as a “solopreneur”.

Because I was familiar with the nonprofit world, this quickly became my target market, and remains to this day. I’ve had the pleasure of working with some great organizations, educational institutions, and progressive businesses: Brooklyn Botanic Garden; GrowNYC (the org which runs the famous Union Square greenmarkets); Wildlife Conservation Society; National Environmental Education Foundation; Educational Video Center; Slow Food USA; Food Systems Network NYC; Hawthorne Valley Farm. These are the ones that have missions related to my own personal interests, that I feel passionate about, and are usually the most fun to work with. And that list hasn’t changed much since I was a kid – nature, environment, animals, and similar sectors – gardening, food, and anything that could be labeled ‘green or ‘sustainable’. And of course, education.

The services I provide for these nonprofits and progressive businesses include print design (such as brochures, reports, newsletters), web design, and branding. Branding is when I design not only a logo for a client, but create their entire identity, and often also aid them with positioning and messaging – how they communicate who they are in the marketplace. This is my favorite type of work because it is strategic and involves a deep Discovery phase, which is fun, because I really get to dig deep into who a client is – figure out their personality, what’s the story they want to tell, and then translate that into visual language. Once this is established, all those other things I just mentioned – reports, business cards, websites – will need to be designed using a consistent look, feel, and message. In essence, I help organizations create their identity from the ground up, by developing their character, logo, stationery and website – a strong visual gestalt that gets carried through everything else – packaging, advertising, eBlasts, and more.

I run my design firm as a “virtual” agency. By “virtual” I don’t mean “fake” – as I have an office, in Aurora. What I mean is that I work with a collaboration of experts that I hand-pick – professionals such as designers, developers, and photographers – but they mostly work offsite. These are teams of high-level talent that are custom-assembled for each client and project. As compared to a traditional brick & mortar office – with staff – I believe the benefits of a virtual model are manifold:

• Senior level talent. Each person has at least 10 years experience, and because they are all independent consultants, it allows for a more focused application of each expert’s individual skill set.
• Flexibility. To organize a top level team and do it quickly; and to change the team from project to project.
• Personalized service. One of my clients told me recently that the large branding firm they’ve been working with for several years sent their top execs to the first few meetings, but after that, meetings and phone calls were run by staff members who did not seem to be familiar with the client or the project. With the virtual agency model, there is no bait & switch from a senior team member to a junior-level person once the project is awarded. As creative director and project manager, I am always the point person.
• Value. Since I’m dedicated to working within my client’s budget most efficiently, my virtual agency rates are more reasonable and competitive as compared to medium and big firms.

I am growing my business, and maybe you, dear reader, can help me. One of my current clients is the Cornell Small Farms Program. To work with them, I became a “preferred vendor”. Now I can work with any department or program at Cornell, so I’d like to ask – if you know someone who needs graphic design services at Cornell, or knows someone who makes these kinds of purchasing decisions, would you be willing to introduce me to them? I would welcome the opportunity to talk to them about my business and how I may be able to assist them, and would be most grateful for your referral.

Once again, I’m Julia Reich, owner of Julia Reich Design, and I help organizations tell their stories, visually.

And if we ever went for a hike together, I could also teach you to how to identify birds by their calls, plants growing along the trail, and animal tracks in the snow. Oh, and anything you’d like to know about Hudson River marshes.

This morning I found out I did not win a project located in Tompkins County, NY, in spite of the fact that the client contact said my proposal was “the most professional” and my “prices were competitive”. The reason I was given for losing the project:

“Your location and other work outside the community influenced the executive committee’s decision to “stay” local.”

I live and work in Cayuga County, about 30 miles north of Tompkins County. Tompkins County is a 30-minute drive away. I am a member of the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce; I do most of my shopping in Tompkins County; and much of my leisure & professional activities take place there. I come to Ithaca at least once a week.

Last fall, The Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce President recommended my design firm to the Ithaca Times (a local newspaper), for their special feature on small businesses. They declined to interview me since I was not in the same county.
Last month I did not win a project with Cayuga County. One of the reasons given was that my work was not recognizable in the community (most of my clients are based in the metro area).

Sometimes I feel like giving it all up and moving back to NYC. Today is one of those days.

The first-ever IGNITE event took place in Ithaca this past tax day, April 15, 2010. Dozens of people, including entrepreneurs, technologists, DIYers, creative professionals, grad students, and other brainiacs gathered at Pixel Lounge in Collegetown to view fourteen presenters, who had just five minutes to convey their ideas, using 20 slides that automatically advanced every 15 seconds.

The IGNITE network is a global one – “a force for raising the collective IQ and building connections. And, via streaming and archived videos of local talks, local Ignites share all that knowledge and passion with the world.”

I was one of the presenters, with a talk entitled “Sacred Cows: Anatomy of a Recycled Logo Project”, a narrative of my experience working with a farm client, who hired Julia Reich Design to design their new organic yogurt cup packaging.

Other illuminating talks included:

Dave Cameron – ”Sandwiches: Food of the Geeks”

Ed Cormany – “Why Nobody Ever Taught You How To Write Good (and what you can do about it)”

Bob Picone – “Childhood Dreams: Why They Are Important”

Matteo Wyllyamz – “How to Forget You’re a Human Being”

Tom Mansell – “Think While You Drink: Appreciating the Science of Wine”

Soon, video of the event will be posted online so everyone can see the presentations. I’ll update this post to include that link. Until then…learn more:

About Ignite, the global movement

Ignite Ithaca on Facebook

Ignite Ithaca website

List of presenters (including your truly)

Follow on Twitter (or search #igniteith)

Flikr photo page of the event

Before the event: article in the Ithaca Journal, April 9, 2010

After the event: article in the Ithaca Journal, April 16 2010 (including mention of my talk, the branding of organic yogurt)

Hackers and Sharers and Tweetups and Mittens

On June 24 I had a booth – along with 85 other businesses & organizations – at this trade event held by the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce at the Ithaca Farmers Market. Visitors came out to meet and greet local businesses, pick up lots of free crap (those little clippy things that hold my used corn chip bags were a popular giveaway this year) and try to sell me stuff as I stood hostage behind my display. As a new chamber member and a relatively new resident in the area, it was a effective way to get some exposrue for my graphic design firm. My pic was even in the paper, Tompkins Weekly (they screwed up the name of my biz, but *sigh*, what can you do).Tompkins Weekly, featuring Julia Reich Design at Showcase Tompkins

Rory at the Ithaca dog park

going...

running around the dog park

...and coming.

Here’s my dog, Rory, a cross (I suspect) between a walker coonhound and a redbone coonhound. At 2.5 years of age, she’s graceful, affectionate, athletic, social, smart, and incorrigible. I adopted her when she was 6 mos old from the Wanderer’s Rest Humane Assoc. in Canastota, NY. I try to take her to this dog park of all dog parks, in Ithaca, en route to my weekly Toastmasters meeting at Cornell U. The plan is to totally tire her out so she sleeps in the car throughout my one-hour meeting. And you know what, it always works like a charm. But let me tell you, it is very difficult to capture moving dogs with a still camera. As you can see, she is either constantly moving IN or OUT of the frame.

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