Category Archives: Deep and Meaningful

For those times when you just can’t sleep……

As a professional sign company, we see a lot of things that don’t follow general design ‘rules’. Sadly, some of those people that break the rules are from other sign shops.


But rules are made to be broken, right?


Well, no. Rules are there to keep everything on an even keel. Rules are guidelines that have been largely conceived from a lot of trial and error. Rules are, well…. rules.


Speed limits are a prime example. If a road has above average road accidents, the first thing authorities will do is lower the limit. The new speed limit is essentially a new rule for that piece of road. The second thing the authorities do is hide a radar trap in the area to catch those drivers that don’t think rules apply to them… but that is another subject entirely for another day.


Rules are in everything. Parents have rules for children (You can’t watch TV until you’ve done your homework). Employers have rules for employees (You can’t smoke in the canteen). Governments have rules for their citizens ( You can’t disobey a rule without paying a penalty).


But what has that got to do with design errors I hear you ask somewhat impatiently.


It is important to realise that good readable design also has rules. Tried and tested rules that define a good design against a poor design. If you ignore the rules, your message will probably be totally lost because people are more likely to concentrate on the confusing design more than the message.


Some DIY design errors are more common than others.


One design rule that is often ignored is the use of many fonts in each sign or poster.

Craig Minchington, in his article for Creative Blog, points out correctly that too many fonts just clutters the page and makes it harder to read. Two fonts and several weights are the general rule in poster and sign design.


Another rule often broken is coloured fonts on a coloured background.


Simone Sala points out in her blog ‘Typography cheat sheet’ that a general mistake is to use two tonalities that are too much similar to the point that distinguishing the words from the surrounding becomes very difficult. While this is irritating for most users, it’s generally a show-stopper for anyone with vision problems.


By far the most common mistake we see is the wrong font choice. This would be the rule that is broken on a daily basis when producing a DIY poster or certificate in-house by most DIY designers.


So what is the rule?


The rule is simply this – Never use a script style font in all capitals. With few exceptions, a script style font should only be used in an upper (Capital) and lower case format. It not only looks untidy but the spacing is nearly always wrong, especially when a flowery or feminine style is used.


There are some beautiful scripted fonts available, but they were never, by definition, designed to work as all capital letters in headings or definitive text.


Another problem with most scripted fonts is that some ethnic groups that don’t speak English as their first language, find these styles much harder to read. If you are doing a poster with an important message and the headings are all scripted capital letters, it is a fairly safe bet that the message will be lost on any reader who has poor eyesight or who has a poor grasp of the English language.

typoSo next time you are entrusted with using Word, Illustrator or Coreldraw to produce that certificate congratulating someone for a job well done, spare a thought for the readers who will have to see the thing week in and week out on the staff room wall. At least make it easy to read and not an assault on the eyes.


Lets all make sure that, if we are the person given the weighty responsibility to design a well deserved award certificate, we take that very seriously and we think of the reader as well as the recipient.


One is no less important than the other. More importantly, think of the poor sign person who has to look at the all capital script. They often lose the will to live just a little bit every time they see it. It’s not something that we’d want to be responsible for I’m sure.

Negativity, it is our enemy




For the past few weeks I’ve been doing a lot of navel gazing. Why, I hear you ask. Well, simply put, there is nothing on TV.


It is more than that though. I don’t know about you, but elections and election debates and promises aren’t riveting viewing for me. I’d rather watch paint dry to be perfectly frank.


But, when an election is called, my business tends to go on a holding pattern. Historically, elections tend to spook people, making them uneasy. They start worrying about their future, worrying about their investments, worrying about their retirement funds and generally worrying that the ‘other’ party may secure government. Negativity takes hold.


Small business owners are often the hardest hit during the election process. Either Federal or State, when it comes to an election, it is a given that business momentum will suffer.


It’s not hard to understand why either. The media is filled with negativity and actually feeds on it. Each political contender is always happy to share a negative story about their opponent, whether it is true or not. There is rarely a positive story in the press during any election campaign. Added in to the mix we are all bombarded with special interest groups wanting concessions, more this, less that. More negativity and accusations usually result from these groups trying to help a political party get in on the promise of a better deal from the other lot.


Is it really any wonder business often stagnates during an election period? No not really.


I’ve spoken to all sorts of industry representatives since this most recent election was called. All say the same thing… business has slowed. Those who deal with government contracts are no better than those that don’t. Once a government is in caretaker mode, nothing proceeds.


Speaking to a gentleman today from one of Australia’s largest hire companies, he tells me that negativity in the press quickly affects his sales figures, almost from day one of a campaign. People hesitate, waiting to see the direction of the economy.


I’ve spoken to government employees too. They stress over their jobs when an election is called. Will the status quo be maintained or will a new government come in and change the job prospects? Nothing is a certainty any more. They usually change their spending habits like everyone else. Only essential purchases are made.


So, what can we do to stabilize our small business? How do we compete with the increased negativity in the market place?


Well, largely it depends on our own attitude. That goes a long way to restoring the balance with our client base.


Generally, if we have a negative attitude, our clients will respond in the same manner. If we have a positive approach, they will feel that we are more in control of our business and that will subconsciously give them confidence.


Something like a simple smile can relay a positive approach. We don’t have to lie about how bad business is, but we don’t have to tell them either. Keep it positive.


I’m not going to pretend it’s easy either. I can have a classic whinge like the best of them, but it really doesn’t help the situation we find ourselves in.


Author Lindsey Rietzsch is quoted as saying “A negative attitude drains, a positive attitude energizes.” She is right.


We have all experienced it I’m sure. If you have had a bad week, things aren’t going as planned; it is easy to get into a negative frame of mind. When we do, we also experience tiredness sooner than normal. On the other hand, when things are going well, and we experience a lot of positive experiences, we can often just keep going and let sleep wait for another time. I’m sure you have probably experienced that at some time.


So in conclusion, even though most of us are experiencing a down turn in trade for the short term, perhaps we could take the opportunity to follow up on clients we haven’t seen for a while or make some positive changes around our working environment.


You could even take the afternoon off and spend it with family.


We are all going to be affected by negativity at some point. Some things we can’t change. But if we can, why not find a positive and dwell on that instead.


On that thought, I’m going back to my navel gazing. There is still nothing on TV.



Sign up for our newsletter to receive news, delivered weekly to your inbox.

Don’t you just love the smell and taste of freshly baked bread? The aroma in the air, the crust crumbling and crackling as you rip apart a bread roll and smother it in layers of soft butter…. Makes me hungry at the thought.

It seems that no one likes it better than the French. So much so in fact that it was basically law that the town bakers couldn’t go on holidays until the government had assigned them the days or weeks they could take a break. They couldn’t just close at a whim which is a surprise to me. The bakers in France had to stick to a roster of sorts.

The French apparently love their fresh bread and baguette so much that a baker in Paris is basically considered an essential service. So why the crisis?

Well, for the first time since the French revolution, the French Government lifted the requirement that a artisanal baker remain open over the slow summer months so the locals could be assured of their daily fresh bread supply.

But, no sooner had the reformed labour laws taken place, any artisan baker worth his salt decided to close shop and have a holiday, obviously taking advantage of the off-season fares and holidays on offer.

The crisis escalated quickly when the locals couldn’t find a decent baguette anywhere in Paris. quotes Rémi Héluin, the founder of Painrisien, a blog about Parisian bakeries. “Parisians are in a grotesque situation, many of the artisanal bakers have decided to close at the same time, and there has been a total lack of co-ordination.”

Aude Debout, a 30-year-old designer who lives to the east of Paris told “…. I find myself buying more sliced bread from the supermarket — and that’s not even really bread.”

So I guess the lesson here is to take your own baguette if you are heading to Paris in the summer months, or be content with supermarket bread, which isn’t really bread, according to the experts.

It sounds like a #1stworldproblem to me. Perhaps someone should introduce them to the English muffin. That should go down a treat.


Google isn’t everyone’s friend

I think any business owner would have to agree that the recovery from the recent GFC has played havoc with many small businesses and it is still playing a part in business strategy.

It is no secret that most small and large customers have, since emerging from the most recent fiscal nightmare, reduced discretionary spending. This was made worse in Australia, as we’d also had political elections on state and federal levels. The associated negative publicity and media circus that ensued stopped any positivity in the market. Consumers lost confidence in their future. Spending stopped..

As we emerged from the negative and pessimistic outlook, clients, buyers and vendors felt the need look for what they perceived, rightly or wrongly, more affordable methods to get services and goods they wanted to purchase.

The internet became the method of choice. The big winner has been China. Alibaba, Amazon and Ebay have been instrumental in changing people’s buying habits. But Alibaba has been the main success story in the last 5 years, making the very humble founder a Billionaire overnight, once the company went public recently.

Their low prices could soon change though. Going public may well curb their growth as prices will probably rise as shareholders are now in the mix. Investors will want increased profits to maximize their investment, and resellers will probably be expected to cut them a bigger piece of the pie in terms of %’s paid for each sale.

But I digress.

Because of the ease of access to the web, finding alternate sources and comparing prices and reviews is amazingly easy and fast to do. But for every positive, there are a few negatives. It is also easier to be ripped off. It seems that every shonk in any business has a Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail account.

Businesses are finding it increasingly difficult competing with a sluggish market. Add Google to the mix and it is making it more difficult to compete on a level playing field.

How many of us now shop online? If we are honest, we are all doing it. I’m not even sure why they produce telephone books any more. I haven’t opened one in 7 years.

Consumers are working longer hours and simply do not have time to window shop as much now. Shopping online during the nighttime when we have time to sit back and relax is becoming the norm. No phone, no kids, no chores… just a relaxing time to browse without some sales assistant pestering us for a sale.

What about or own industry? Do we find our business prospects who looked excited about our product last month are procrastinating this month? It can be a telltale sign of a Google shopper.

So what is the answer?

It’s pretty simplistic; we need to maintain a presence in cyberspace.


The obvious answer is Social Media. For a long time I assumed this form of interaction was a phase. I learnt quickly that it wasn’t. My Facebook business page generates a lot of interest and it does help people recognize me when I’m out and about. Yes, I have got work directly from my social media pages.

But, it is not just a case of having a page and hoping for the best. For social media to work, you have to be regular with your interaction. You need to post every day. You also need to keep up to speed with the way social media works. Remember, it is a money making concern so if you opt for only the free choices, you will make little impact. Sometimes you have to invest in promotion. Social media is still one of the cheapest forms of business promotion on the World Wide Web.

Look around. How many people, either clients or prospective clients, are Android or iPhone savvy? Consumers and business people are increasingly reachable electronically via smart phone, computer or tablet for a large part of the day.

The demographic using electronic communication is huge – everyone from teens to retirees. The Internet is not limited to their home or work computer. Now, they have access to data 24/7. If you want their attention, you have to be available 24/7 too. So a good website is a must.

That has become the nature of business accessibility now. The humble web site has become a valuable tool that needs to be updated constantly. A web site gets dated. It needs to be kept relevant or consumers will overlook your site for a fresher look. The internet is constantly evolving and we need to keep that in mind with our yearly marketing budgets.

Another way to combat losing customers to the internet is communication. We need to show the existing clients that they have a real value to our business.

In the ‘Spoken Communications’ blog, the author researched the cost of acquiring a new customer as opposed to retaining an existing client.

Their research found that it was 6 to 7 times more costly to acquire a new customer against retaining an old customer. The research also found that if a customer is left dormant for over 5 years, you have a 50% chance of losing them forever. Personally, I would have thought you’d have 100% chance but I didn’t do the research so what do I know.

The author also found that a business can increase their profits by up to 95% simply by boosting their customer retention rates by as low as 5%.

That is a pretty good argument for better communication, don’t you think?

We also shouldn’t assume a former customer who hasn’t purchased from you for a while will never buy from you again. Some businesses continually monitor their direction. Someone that let you go a year ago may realise that you offered a better service, were easier to deal with, or that you were a better proposition than the company they changed to. Your old client may ask you to come back. It does happen. It has happened to me. If you haven’t kept in contact with them, they are less likely to remember you. Out of sight, out of mind.

Then you have those that move over to a franchise only to realize that they have systems in place that perhaps don’t fit in with their needs, like faster turnaround. They may also turn over staff regularly. There is no bond, trust or relationship forming between the client and the supplier. This bond or trust will often be enough to keep customers coming back.

Statistics show people will probably switch jobs seven to 10 times within their careers. Just as it is expensive to find new clients, it is equally expensive to keep training new staff. We can have a better prospect of retaining business if our clients feel comfortable with our staff. Regular turnover of staff often prevents clients from building up a bond with our business. That’s why small businesses often have an easier job at retaining clients than larger ones do.

The business owner of a successful business should know his/her clients too. Taking an interest builds that bond. It also makes communications with the client base much more worthwhile.

The real secret to success is to treat all your clients as partners in your business growth – whether they spend $200 a month or $5000 a month.

I’ll give you an example. Back in 1996 I went in to business for myself after my family sold off our large sign shop. I struggled to get regular work and frankly I would have cleaned an elephant with a toothbrush if it helped me pay my rent.

One day I got a reply from a letterbox drop I had done in an industrial area. A small motorhome manufacturer wanted a small job done every month putting pin stripes on motorhomes. The previous contractor doing the job had been sacked for abusing the management.

The job was a bit of a pain, always last minute, always changing colours and always working in a dusty environment. But I appreciated the work. It was an average of $400 a month every month. It paid some bills.

Over time, I got larger clients, bigger contracts and my business took off. I no longer needed the small motorhome manufacturer but, I had built up a good relationship with the staff, their business was growing and I felt obliged to stay.

Then out of the blue, the owner died and his ‘silent’ partner put the business in to administration to keep creditors at bay and give him time to work out the businesses viability. I was out of pocket a few thousand dollars.

The administrators cleaned out the bank account of $500,000 in fees and charges. They took every last cent and the motorhome company was put up for sale. I think I got 10c in the dollar back.

The business was quickly sold to an American multinational. All the staff was kept on and I was retained.

They told me latter that I was retained as my relationship with the management was always good and communication was always free and open.

When the new company took over they ramped up the business immediately and my income went from $400 – $600 a month to $5,000 a month within a very short period of time. They became one of my biggest clients and remained like that for many years.

The lesson I learned was this: don’t ever pidgeon hole a client as a dollar value. You just never know how they will grow.

But again, I digress.

Running any business is never easy. It can feel like you are caught between the proverbial rock and hard place. So what can you do to soften the prospect of tough times? Communicate.

It can be as simple as Direct mail, Email, Social Media, Loyalty cards or a simple phone call. Whatever you do, do it sincerely.

It is all about being proactive rather than reactive. Become a partner with your client base. If they are struggling, find a way that you can help them. Value their business and they will value yours. It will lessen the need for them to try and google someone else.

Google is often touted as being our friend, but when you are in business, it can also be enemy #1.

It all comes down to our own attitude to our client base. The rest is up to you