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A marketing strategy will help you identify your best customers, understand their needs and implement the most effective marketing methods.

The internet has transformed business marketing. No matter what you do, the internet is likely to be at the heart of your marketing strategy.

Social media is firmly established as a marketing tool. Having a presence opens up new lines of communication with existing and potential customers.

Good advertising puts the right marketing message in front of the right people at the right time, raising awareness of your business.

Customer care is at the heart of all successful companies. It can help you develop customer loyalty and improve relationships with your customers.

Sales bring in the money that enables your business to survive and grow. Your sales strategy will be driven by your sales objectives.

Market research exists to guide your business decisions by giving you insight into your market, competitors, products, marketing and your customers.

Direct marketing can be a highly successful way to generate sales from existing and new customers. Find out how to target them in the best way.

Exhibitions and events are valuable for businesses because they allow face-to-face communication and offer opportunities for networking.

PR

Favourable media coverage can bring a range of business benefits. But how do you attract the attention of editors, broadcasters and journalists?

Employing a designer

A professional graphic designer can turn lack-lustre promotional materials into marketing gold. However it's vital to find the right designer for your needs - Rachel Miller offers some guidance

Why employ a designer?

It is possible to produce your own brochures and flyers using software you already have on your computer, such as Microsoft Word, Publisher and PowerPoint. And with a wide selection of usable templates, many small businesses can and do produce their own marketing materials.

So why employ a designer? There are three main reasons why it can pay to hire a designer. Firstly, graphic design is a specialist skill and a good design will be more effective than an amateur effort. The second reason is time. Trained designers can produce great layouts and graphics quickly and they know the software intimately. Do you really want to spend hours trying to position a picture when you could be getting on with more important jobs?

Thirdly, good design - especially logos, branding and corporate identities - are crucial for your business. It's vital to get key visual elements right, because a shoddy look, frequent changes or inconsistency can make your business look unprofessional. A designer can create a powerful look for your marketing materials and can also produce templates for brochures that you can use again and again.

Finding a graphic designer

There are two options when it comes to buying in design skills. You can go to an agency or you can look for a freelance designer. A freelance designer is usually best-placed to offer a professional job for a reasonable fee. However, with an individual, you are putting all your eggs in one basket so it's vital you choose the right person for the job.

Successful agencies have earned their reputation thanks to the quality of the work they produce. While they may be more expensive, it's worth asking them if they can work within your budget.

To find a designer or agency in your area, start by asking around for recommendations. If you see examples of good design in your area, try and find out who produced the work. All good designers and agencies will have websites that showcase their work so it's a good idea to search online for a designer in your local area.

Checking your designer's credentials

Ask everyone on your shortlist for examples of their work. Also ask if it's okay that you contact previous clients to verify the quality of their work and check reliability. Any designer or agency worth their salt will have no problem providing testimonials and references.

Interviewing and pitches

At the interview, ask the designer or agency to present their previous work to you so you can find out more about how they respond to a brief. If you are meeting an agency, find out who you would be working with - it may well be someone more junior than the people who attend the meeting. It's not uncommon for design agencies to have to pitch for large contracts. When budgets are small, however, not all designers will be prepared to present concepts at the pitching stage. You can ask for some initial reactions to your brief but don't expect a full-blown creative strategy.

What makes a good designer?

  • A strong portfolio.
  • A good understanding of marketing. Good design is not just decorative - it communicates and motivates. Designers should be able to tell you how their work has produced tangible results.
  • Business skills. A designer must be focused on your needs and make the best use of your time and money.
  • Qualifications. Graphic design is not just about software skills, it is a craft. Make sure the designer you hire has the appropriate expertise.
  • Someone you can work with. Finding a good fit is important to ensure you have a productive working relationship.

How much should I pay for a designer?

Give everyone the same brief so you can compare quotes. But when you make your decision, don't just go for the cheapest option. It is also important to understand what you are getting for your money. Ask about the following:

  • Will the designer provide more than one solution so you have a choice?
  • Does the budget allow for amendments?
  • How does the fee break down into design, artwork, print and agency fee? Is it negotiable?
  • How competitive are the printing costs? Can you shop around for a better printing deal?
  • Does the fee cover costs such as couriers?

Agreeing schedules

Missed deadlines can be incredibly frustrating and may even be damaging for your business. So it's important to agree timescales up front. Always make sure that enough time has been allowed for the design process and also for checking and sign off. Avoid rush jobs at all costs - any overtime may cost you more. Creative people are not always efficient so ask the prospective designer about their time-keeping and reliability.

Briefing the designer

The more information you give a designer, the better the final product is likely to be. Tell them everything about your business:

  • the target market
  • your objectives and goals
  • your marketing strategy
  • the USPs of your products and services
  • list the key elements of your brand
  • describe your marketing messages
  • come up with a call to action

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