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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.

HeARTworks at Cipriani's 42nd St, NYC

special performance by Tommy Tune, Broadway legend

Bright lights, lofty architecture, free-flowing caviar and champagne, silent auction items in the thousands of dollars, the most dedicated and talented medical researchers and surgeons in the country, Mayor Bloomberg, and Broadway legend Tommy Tune – all came together last month in support of the National Marfan Foundation’s 10th Anniversary Gala, at Cipriani 42nd Street.

Gala invitation, designed by Julia Reich Design

My design firm created all the collateral for the event (invitations, signage, program, and much more), so I was fortunate to be able to attend this fabulous event.

Julia Reich and Hoda Kotb

I even got to meet Hoda Kotb, news anchor with the Today Show and Dateline NBC!

About Marfan and NMF

The National Marfan Foundation is a non-profit voluntary health organization dedicated to saving lives and improving the quality of life of individuals and families affected by the Marfan syndrome.

Marfan syndrome is a connective tissue disorder that affects the heart, blood vessels, eyes, bones, joints and lungs. It is often, but not always, characterized by a tall stature and disproportionately long legs and arms. Other skeletal manifestations are curvature of the spine, a protruding or indented chest and loose joints. The most serious problem associated with the Marfan syndrome is its effect on the aorta, the main artery carrying blood away from the heart. In affected people, the aorta is prone to progressive enlargement, which can lead to tears in the aortic wall that require surgery. If aortic enlargement and tears are left undetected, the aorta may rupture, leading to sudden death.

Approximately 200,000 people in the U.S. have Marfan syndrome or a related connective tissue disorder. In most cases, the condition is inherited; one-quarter of people with Marfan syndrome are the first in their family to be affected.

While it is still too soon to gauge how successful this year’s gala was in raising funds to support for Marfan syndrome research, individuals and families affected by the disorder, and public awareness and education, in past years HeARTworks has raised nearly $7 million for The National Marfan Foundation.

Nonprofit Giving

Recent surveys show that giving has slowed – for instance, The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that online giving, at least, continues to grow but at a slower pace. And findings from Convio’s Online Nonprofit Benchmark™ Study show “an increase in gifts drove fundraising gains” and that “Donors were still giving, but giving smaller amounts”. I myself was impressed to witness several individuals gifting BIG moola at the gala. Is recession relief in sight?

Design of the Gala Materials

NMF approached me to design their gala materials because they knew about our reputation working in the nonprofit sector. They showed me past years’ gala materials with the request that this year, the 10th Anniversary design needed to be more polished, more corporate, more festive. After presenting them with several options, the invitation design they chose featured celebratory fireworks bursting forth with hearts (hearts are a long-standing theme for the NMF gala) and stars. The invitation was printed in gold and silver foil on thick paper stock with a gorgeous column texture, and placed in a gold metallic outer envelope. All the other collateral for and at the event – down to the placeholder slide on the overhead screen and above the stage at Cipriani’s – utilized this same look and feel to achieve a branded consistency that felt worthy of a gala with seats starting at $500.

I care about the causes my firm promotes, and find meaning in the work beyond monetary rewards. My clients trust Julia Reich Design to help them achieve their mission, in many cases as long-term partners, since our values are aligned. I understand the clients served by my firm because I’ve been on “their side” – prior to starting my company I was an environmental educator who worked for various nonprofit education centers and museums. Through my company, I help organizations like National Marfan Foundation tell their story so they can have greater impact with their audience.

Kudos

The materials you designed for our 10th Anniversary Heartworks Gala truly achieved the look we were hoping for! We received so much positive feedback from our guests – the fun and festive, yet elegant design really helped to convey the feel of the evening. We were so pleased with the results, and felt that changing the design used in previous years helped create new interest and peak the interest of those that have been supporters for years.”
—Kristin Braun, Development Associate, National Marfan Foundation

Branded signage

Mayor Bloomberg, Corporate Host Karen Murray, and "Hero with a Heart" Duke Cameron, MD

PHOTO CREDITS: Timothy D. Joyce

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.

I just learned this morning that I did not win a juicy design and branding project that I submitted a proposal for, in response to an RFP, and am bitterly disappointed. I feel I was an extremely strong candidate – well-qualified to handle the work, with a strong creative portfolio. This was a project in the tourism sector and included a “quality of life” brochure series; new county-wide brand identity for this central New York region; and a web site portal that would be utilized by several city and county agencies.

When I do not win a project, the first thing I do is ask the prospect why. Do you do that? It’s very useful. I promptly picked up the phone to discuss the matter with the agency leading the search, and was able to learn some things about how the committee made their decision and also how I can improve my proposals for the future. Our talk also led to some unanswered questions, so if you have any insight I’d really like to hear from you.

I learned that the committee – made up of reps from various city and county agencies – used a fair, thorough methodology to score candidates, consisting of categories and a point system. The decision was not based on price. Apparently I came pretty close to the top three firms that made the cut (I came in fourth).

In an ideal world, after I submit a proposal, I should be able to meet with the committee making the decision in order to discuss and answer questions. In this case, unfortunately, insisting on an in-person meeting was just out of the question. Because I was not able to talk to them, I’m afraid they made some assumptions about my work and my proposal that I was not able to defend:

• the committee questioned my ability to handle the research necessary to complete the branding portion because they thought Julia Reich Design consists of just one person – me – even though I emphasize “my creative team” in the cover letter. Which leads me to wonder if I need to change the name of my company. Does using my name make it sound like I am just one person?

• the RFP requested copywriting & photography services, and I received low marks here. Why, I wanted to know? I do not offer these services in-house so I included names, websites, and ballpark pricing of two highly talented creative freelancers in the area that I have worked with before, that I would hire as sub-contractors for the project team. Since the scope of work in the RFP for this portion of the project was as-yet undefined, I provided hourly rates for these services and indicated that in some cases, the fees were TBD. How did the firms that made it to the next level include these services? I discovered that they provided a fee range (for instance, $1200-$1800), and made it look like these services were provided in-house. The committee may have appreciated the apparent “ease” that comes with hiring a design firm which provides “the whole package”. Lesson learned – next time, I will do the same, and save the specifics of each creative team member for the interview stage. How do you list sub-contractors in your proposals?

• finally, even though I submitted a strong portfolio showcasing several brand identity projects I have done, I found out that the committee chose other firms over mine because of the recognizability of the other projects. In other words, the decision-makers had seen the other firms’ work previously in the local central New York community – while much of my client base is in New York City. I am not sure what to do about this. Like McDonalds, is the familiar always preferable? I moved to this small community 2.5 years ago from New York City, and have thrown myself into all sorts of community endeavors and taken on leadership positions in local organizations. In spite of this, are they suspicious of perceived outsiders?  Should I take this as a lesson to re-focus my efforts back to metro New York?

……

Of course, there’s no guarantee that the changes I make in my next proposal, based on the lessons I learned from all of this, will win me the next project. But I’m glad I made the effort to call my contact to communicate about the decision rather than fuming silently in my office.

Have you lost a project recently? What would you do differently next time?

– and Julia Reich Design created their new look!

The agency that brings you the famous Union Square Greenmarket and a host of other city-wide environmental initiatives unveiled their new name and newly-designed suite of logos late last week. Learn why, after 40 years, Council on the Environment of New York City opted for a fresh look here.

The apple is the iconic symbol of New York City, and the style in which it is rendered directly references the organization’s own iconic Greenmarket apple. To create a cohesive package, each of their programs received its own “sub-logo” (below). These are visually branded to remain consistent with the main umbrella logo, above.

William & I decided to take a break from late summer bliss and head into NYC for a few days on the cheap. I had an offer of a free fancy place to stay that could not be refused – and William was able to squeak out a little free time from his pre-semester craziness to join me.

You either have to drive thru the Poconoes or the Catskills to get from CNY to NYC and I always prefer the latter – there’s never any traffic on rt 17; driving along the Delaware River is lovely; and there’s the opportunity to stop at Woodbury Commons during the last leg of the trip in order to get out, stretch the legs, and do some bargain shopping.

Score! Arriving in the city around 6pm, I used my superlative car parking acumen to find a (free) space on Riverside Drive, in the 80s, where I would not have to move the vehicle for alternate side during the course of our stay. As we rolled our suitcase thru the streets of the city, William and I giddily tossed dinner ideas back and forth. Ah, to have the culinary world once again at our fingertips. It came down to Artie’s (Jewish deli) or The Hampton Chutney Co (unique Indian dosas), finally ending up at Land, a commendable Thai eatery that is physically little more than a hallway.

After dinner we stopped at Emack & Bolio so William could get a scoop of his favorite flavor, Heaven. More sidewalk suitcase rolling till we finally arrived at our destination, sweaty and tired. We were happy to relax in air-conditioned bliss when suddenly, a freaky summer storm unleashed sheets of rain, lighting bolts and hailstones outside our 23rd floor suite window.

First stop next morning was Sarabeths so William could satisfy a craving for goldilox, and which give him the energy he’d need for a fully sustained day of museum-going. I accompanied him to the Folk Art Museum (kaleidoscopic quilts – beautiful) and

Paula Nadelstern, quilt artist

Paula Nadelstern, quilt artist

MoMA (Ron Arad, visually stunning exhibit); and the Gug, but had to pass up more art by that time because my ankle – recently sprained  – was feeling sore. Besides, the experience at MoMA left me really irritated. Many visitors carrying cameras seem not so much interested in viewing art but taking photos of themselves in the museum. I was constantly getting in someone’s way as I attempted to look at the objects, while they were shooting pics of their boyfriend. It was really out of control.

Ron Arad//No Discipline//MoMA

Ron Arad//No Discipline//MoMA

While William checked out Frank Lloyd Wright at the Guggenheim, I sat on a bench for a good while to rest my foot and had ample opportunity to observe people. There’s a lot of people playing with a lot of electronic gadgets. What are they actually learning from the museum exhibits, the world around them, their visit to NYC? One family with two teenage boys didn’t really seem to know why they were there; maybe their guidebook told them it was not to be missed. Mother: “What is there to see here?” Father: “I don’t know, but for $50 I guess we’ll go see.”

I departed museum mile for a slow hobble across Central Park to the west side, while William continued on to the Whitney and the Met. Did I mention that all of these museums were free for both of us since William is a card-carrying member of the American Association of Museums?

On Broadway in the 70’s I found a great little generic nail salon where I was able to give my ankle a break and freshen up a little with some wax and polish (hold the spit). Manicure – only ten bucks.

Dinner that night was at The Green Table in Chelsea Market. (I did some graphic design work for them a while back and was partially paid with a gift certificate for a nice amount). It was a lovely locavore meal, save for a bottle of French rose. Leafing through the latest copy of

the latest issue

the latest issue

Edible Manhattan, we started with cold corn chowder with curry, then worked our way across a delightful cheese plate where we were pleased to discover a new favorite – Old Chatham Sheepherding Co‘s rich and creamy Camembert, accompanied by drunken figs dipped in honey. Entree for her – fish tacos; for him – pork prepared in a tasty, unidentified southeast Asian style. The meal was flavorful, fresh and unpretentious. I was happy to discover that there was more than enough money left on the gift certificate to merit a return trip.

the High Line

the High Line

We took a post-prandial expedition to the nearby and newly-renovated High Line, which was a revelation. Ambling north for a few blocks, on one side of the roughly 30-yard wide walkway were plantings of native grasses partially obscuring vestigial train tracks. On the other, custom-designed wooden-slatted lounge chairs on rollers and also set in a track. People of all ages lolled above the meatpacking district enjoying the cool night air and a festive, if anonymous, block-party ambiance. A large group of people in their twenties went past, each wearing a furry animal mask. Traveling through an open-air tunnel lit by overhead blue lights, we descended the stairs and headed back.

On the way back to the car the next morning, we popped into Zabar’s to purchase some of the aforementioned delicious sheep’s milk cheese (AND lox, AND rugelach) to take home with us.

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