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Expanding Your Consultancy

I’m a member of a creative design business-focused discussion group, where every other week I join a moderated phone call with other ’solopreneur’ design firm owners. Together, under the tutelage of Ilise Benun of Marketing Mentor, we work on our business challenges.

On a recent call we had the pleasure of welcoming super-polished and inspiring guest Heathere Evans-Keenan of Keenan PR, which provides integrated marketing/media relations services. We invited Heathere to join us to discuss the notion of running a virtual agency, whereby teams of high-level talent are custom-assembled for each client and project, teams that may be geographically remote from the team leader, the client, and each other – and how to unabashedly and eloquently introduce and explain the clear benefits of this concept to our clients, prospects, and referral partners.

The topic originally arose because all of us in the MM group recognize the need to grow our agencies beyond ourselves, but do not want – for a myriad of reasons – to run a traditional brick-and-mortar agency with employees, workstations, and all that this entails. What is the next step once we have too much work to do ourselves? Heathere coached us to:

1. Identify our services range and where we want to grow. Beyond graphic design, this can include social media, web & software development, brand strategy, full-service marketing, public & media relations, and more.

2. Identify our preferred partners/subcontractors within that list of new offerings.
How do we find good people? She suggests we strive to keep our network alive – these are people we know or once knew, and people we meet. Surround ourselves with those we know and trust. Keep tabs on good people we knew from the past. For instance, I just recently became re-connected with a woman I worked with years ago on a website project, an excellent new media consultant. This took place through LinkedIn, when she saw and responded to a tweet I posted on Twitter – since my tweets get funneled to LI as ‘updates’. Social media makes this easier than ever before.

But what if we need a person in a field of expertise we are not that familiar with? This is riskier. Heathere advises we reach out to local and national networking/membership groups, like the PR Society of America, the PR equivalent of our professional organization, American Institute of Graphic Arts. Top contributors in any field are members of these kinds of professional groups. A lot of the effort is just talking with people – but we’ll find that word gets around.

3. Position our firms.
Define ourselves. Proudly and unapologetically use the term “virtual firm” (or as they say at, a variation on the creative agency model, “Your global collective of senior creative minds”). The benefits are manifold:
Senior level talent. Each person has at least 10 years experience.
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. The team on the original call is the team you work with for the duration.
Value. Virtual agency rates are more reasonable and competitive as compared to medium and big and firms.

Some clients will always be more comfortable working with a firm in the conventional model of a Landor or Edelman. Let them go. A client who ‘gets’ the benefits of a virtual agency model is a client we want.

Since we’re all now thinking about how this translates into day-to-day details, Heathere shared a few tips on logistical details. At Keenan PR:
• each team member operates as part of the brand name of the firm
• they have their own phone number, but get a Keenan PR email address
• team members are 1099s subcontractors
• team members have a partner agreement, with a noncompete clause
• they utilize free or cheap online services that facilitate working within a virtual community, like, a free-portal for large file sharing; or, where faxes get sent to your email in-box

Her final suggestion: read The Distance Manager: A Hands On Guide to Managing Off-Site Employees and Virtual Teams

What is your experience running a traditional firm or a virtual one? Or are you on the client side, and want to share the pros and cons of working with one or the other?


I had a lovely chat today with a friend who runs the communications dept at a small liberal arts school. Among other things, we discussed summer in the Finger Lakes (wonderful but busy), local winery marketing (mostly abysmal), her design needs (bountiful yet budget conscious), and my business (growing).

She said she constantly receives materials from creative professionals such as designers and writers, and admitted that if their promotions look too good or too slick, she tosses them, assuming they are too expensive. This is eye-opening for me, since my promotional materials need to look as professional as possible in order to communicate that I am in the business of design & marketing. Yet I also work with nonprofits and businesses that are on a limited budget. I will never be the cheapest design firm out there, but nor am I the most costly. I believe in getting fairly remunerated for my work, and understand how to help my clients gain as much value as possible from our business relationship and the products and services I create for them.

So here’s the dilemma. if you receive my promotions (via direct mail or online) or visit my website, you’ll see my firm does great work. But how do I effectively communicate the value I bring to an organization or institution? How can I prevent the next Communications Director or Marketing Director or Executive Director from seeing my stuff and thinking – ‘hey that’s beautiful, but I’ll never be able to afford it’ ?

How can I help them understand that the investment they make in strong, effective brand strategy and visual communication will help them save time & money in the long run?

UPDATE, 8/9/10: I met with the organization, wrote the proposal, and my firm has been shortlisted for this project.

Lately I’ve been writing a lot of proposals, but they have not been yielding good results. I’m determined to vet the proposal-writing process more carefully, instead of jumping into it with a “nothing ventured, nothing gained” attitude, since my proposals are carefully considered and thoughtfully written, and as such, take a lot of time.

This morning, an opportunity landed on my desk, and I am trying to decide how to approach it. The RFP is for a branding project in a neighborhood in Rochester:

I think my firm would be appropriate for this project because:

1. My business is located close to Rochester

2. The neighborhood in need of branding is ethnically diverse, and I have demonstrated work experience in ethnic & international sectors

3. I have strong branding experience

4. Description includes enhancing the business district, and as the President of the Aurora Arts & Merchants Association in Aurora, NY, I’m in a leadership position committed to enhancing business development in my local community


OK, now here’s the red flags:

1. scope of work is undefined (“cost should include design of logo and other branding materials, such as a tagline”)

2. budget is not defined

3. RFP is publicly available; it was not submitted to my firm directly

3. and here’s the biggie: they request work on spec (“submit 2-3 project ideas”)


So how to proceed – I will call with questions, for sure. Should I also request an in-person meeting? Discount it entirely since it requests work on spec?

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

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?

(*this entry was originally a guest blog post I wrote on the Marketing Mix Blog last April; this new version below has been expanded upon)

I used to go to this one diner every day for lunch. This was back when I lived in the city. One time, after my meal, I went up to the cashier to pay, and the lady at the register started laughing at me. Was there food stuck in my teeth? Was I having a bad hair day? I followed her gaze down to the counter at my book that I had brought with me to lunch: Keith Ferazzi’s Never Eat Alone. BUSTED. The irony was lost neither on me or the cashier, as I was, of course, eating alone.

The book’s full title is Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time. It’s about using the power of networking to build relationships and community with colleagues, contacts, friends & mentors.

Each of 31 short chapters highlights a specific networking technique or concept.

In one of the chapters, he advises readers to “Be A Conference Commando.”

Last March I went to the BRITE conference—Branding, Innovation, and Technology—sponsored by Columbia Business School’s Center on Global Brand Leadership. What would Keith think –  was I a Conference Commando?

Let’s find out. (So far, I’m doing pretty poorly on the Keith Ferazzi scale, based on the fact that I almost always eat lunch alone.)

I went to BRITE for two main reasons:

-in 2007 I moved out of NYC to rural central New York state so I needed some mental stimulation, exposure to new ideas, and a good write-off-able excuse to hang out in the city for a few days.

-At the time I was in a program with a group of other creative professionals, following something called the Grow Your Business Marketing Plan + Calendar and felt attending this conference would be an excellent networking component to my marketing checklist—along with all the other strategies we’d been learning about: research calls, crafting an online bio, blog creation/posting, etc.

Ferazzi suggests that conferences are not actually for gaining information and insight, but instead are opportunities to develop relationships. And in order to do this, you must be pro-active, not passive.

How does he do this? He researches the attendee list to make plans in advance for who he wants to rub shoulders with. But who do you think is more even more important to know about than the attendees? The speakers and presenters – the VIPs. He volunteers to help on the conference planning committee in order to have access to the Speaker list. Then what does he do with that? He’ll co-opt some planned boring evening cocktail event and throw his own dinner for the VIPs. He’ll plan the dinner in advance and send out invitations personally to them.


While I was at the BRITE conference. I attended various addresses, breakout sessions, and a fantastic keynote given by Seth Godin, the social media and marketing guru and author of 10 books, including Purple Cow, the bestselling marketing book of the decade.

I gained a better understanding of such current catchphrases as ‘crowdsourcing’ (the average person can be tapped, via the internet, to help companies with solutions to their problems) and ‘tribes’ (leading a movement is the most effective way to spread your ideas); was able to hone my Twitter skills on my iPod Touch (in fact, unlike most other public gatherings, this audience was actually encouraged to dialogue with their devices while the talks were taking place, and after each speaker, the MC would field “tweeted” questions); and was exposed to compelling new technologies—my favorite of which is, zooming presentation software.

However, according to Keith’s standards, as a conference attendee, I failed. (Well, maybe a D+).

Did I sign up to volunteer at the conference in order to gain access to its inner workings? No.

Did I research the VIPs beforehand and set up opportunities to hobnob with the ones I wanted most to meet in person?

Uh, no.

Much like some of you, I did not even really set goals for myself, other than that I would go, meet people, and learn a few things.

However, upon returning home, I did follow up with each of the people I met (one of Ferazzi’s tips), with an email that read:
Hi LaTeisha,

Nice to have met you at BRITE. What did you think of the conference?

Although there were some speakers that I felt were better than others, I really enjoyed the conference and came away with some new ideas and a better awareness of what’s currently going in the branding world. I run a small design and branding firm in central NY, and most of my clients are nonprofits and small companies, not these huge global brands. My challenge will be to take what I’ve learned and see how I can apply it to the work I do in this sector.

What are you working on these days? Have any challenges or questions I can possibly help you with?

Finally – would you be interested in receiving my email newsletter? Very occasionally I send out a short e-blast with news from the studio and marketing tips.

All Best,

This follow-up resulted in a few nice email conversations and a way to grow my e-newsletter readership.

The conference was short (1.5 days), small, and well-organized. Being an introvert (OK, a recovering introvert), I often feel drained by longer conferences. I left BRITE, however, feeling I had sufficiently established a few connections with people I did not know, and was appreciative of the insight I gained into the current branding and technology world.

So in these regards, my goals were met. Maybe not on the Ferazzi level, but I felt satisfied.


Let’s go over some other, slightly more superficial Conference Commando tips. These are my own (not Keith’s).

1. Dress the part.

a. Attending a conference is business. Even though you may be out of the office, that’s not an excuse to look sloppy. Wear business-appropriate clothes.

For the BRITE conference, I figured attendees, being in the technology, marketing and branding worlds, would probably look sharp, and I was right. I made sure I did too, and I fortunately fit right in.

(As a side note, I did notice many of the men had a kind of “uniform” – jackets, jeans, and nice shoes. Sometimes jackets, jeans, nice shoes and TIES. Nice jeans – dress-up jeans.)

b. add something unusual to your outfit, like a necklace or funky tie. In my field, as a creative professional, I have a little more leeway here, but still, you can try it, as long as you don’t look like Carmen Miranda or anything. It will help you stand out from the crowd, give people something to break the ice with as they comment on your unique addition, and help you be memorable after you’ve met (“oh yeah, I remember her, she was the one with the light-up pin”)

2. Shaking hands

When you meet someone and shake hands, grasp firmly, not wimpily. Women are the worst offenders here. Practice in advance if you have to. Look the person in the eye, and smile.

Nametags: You may also want to say hello and use their real name, but not if you can’t find their nametag or its obscured. You will probably be shaking with your right hand, and so will they. Where do you think is a good place to put your nametag?


Keep in mind that we all can’t be great charismatic networkers on the level of, say, a Bill Clinton. But I do hope this helps motivate some of you to attend a conference more ‘actively’ , less passively, and to think more about how to create relationships when you do go.

I don’t feel too bad that I may not have earned a Keith Ferazzi Conference Commando merit badge. I did some things right, and through the book Never Eat Alone, I am now aware of further strategies that I can work into my repertoire for next time.

Week before last I gave a presentation on self-promotion and marketing strategies to Finger Lakes Culinary Bounty members, a lively – but not particularly tech-savvy – audience of farmers, wineries, small specialty food processors, and restaurateurs. I knew the group especially wanted to learn about online social networking, so a large part of my talk centered around the Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter triumvirate.

Here’s three of my main points, distilled:

1. WHICH ONE? All three sites afford opportunities to interact with users and share text comments, photos and video, so if you’re new to online social networking, how do you know which sites to try? Each one has a distinct personality and culture. Facebook can be compared to an informal block party where you mingle with neighbors and friends. It often feels busy and chaotic. LinkedIn can be likened to a chamber of commerce mixer where it is all business all of the time. Twitter is more like a huge cocktail party where you wander around amongst clusters of people, deciding whom to listen to and who to pass on by.

(Credit for these apt metaphors goes to blogger Hildy Gottlieb. Among the overwhelming abundance of articles on online media, I find her writing holds great appeal for the non-techie networker).

2. BUILDING COMMUNITY These online social outposts are great for community-building and developing relationships. Your audience is out there, socializing with like-minded folks about such things as their favorite hobby or brand, and now you have this unprecedented opportunity to meet, greet, and chat them up, in a way that is personal and genuine. This approach is the antithesis of mass-market media campaigns of the days of yore.

Occasionally I get direct messages via my LinkedIn account from vendors such as printers and photographers looking to sell me their services. The hard sell turns people off, including me. Save other mediums for selling, such as your website and email newsletter.

3. TELL YOUR STORY All of these sites require you to set up a profile, which can simply be a few lines about you or your business or organization, or an extensive curriculum vitae with pages of links, photos, video, and more. Before you throw something up there, think carefully about how you want to represent your organization, which further ties into developing your brand.



Branding is the first step to getting the word out about your organization. But first you need to know, what is that word? You must be able to identify your company’s personality, objectives, and audience, then you can utilize various online media to disseminate your brand’s story, and branding is all about storytelling. Does your organization have an interesting production technique? Is there a charismatic figure in your company’s history? People love to know this stuff. It helps them personally connect to your brand because it’s what makes you unique from the competition.

Once you settle on what this message is and how you can use it to set up your online profile, be sure to keep it up to date, and consistent from site to site, and also consistent from online venues across to your other ‘traditional media’ marketing strategies.

If you’d like to view the presentation in its entirety – which goes on to cover email newsletters, blogs, branding and more – click here. If you’d like to listen to an audio recording, click here. Heck, listen and watch both together, it’d be like you were actually there at the event itself (minus the delicious lunch!).


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