Brief Guide To The Use of Stock Photos and Copyrights

With so many images widely and easily available, it seems that you can just use any one of them for whatever you want. After all, what are the odds that anyone will ever see them? Please don't ever do this as it is illegal. When a photographer takes a photo, the copyright belongs to them for life as well as for 25 years after their death. IF you’d like to read through the US Copyright Law, you may do so here.

There are several legal free and paid options to acquire stock images for use for your marketing purposes. There are the obvious choices like Shutterstock and iStockPhoto. These pay-per-use sites have almost any image you can imagine. The fee you pay is for the right to use (not own) the image as you see fit. This is a great option for larger businesses with a creative budget. But what if you're just starting out or have little to no budget for high quality stock photos?

Don't worry! There are several free stock photo sites available! Some allow for a donation to the photographer, which as a photographer, I highly recommend, but it's not required. Even though some of these photo sites allow for full, unlimited image usage, some do not, so really pay attention to the licensing rights. Some photographers allow full commercial rights to the image, including allowing you to modify the image as you see fit. However, others only allow personal use with no modification and you have to attribute the photographer. As long as you adhere to the licensing rights, you are legally covered to use the images. My favorite sites are: 




Creative Commons

Using the Creative Commons is not like using the other sites. You have to ensure that you have the proper boxes checked (they are checked by default) to ensure that you are using images that allow full rights. (See red arrow). Creative Commons is good for much more than photos only. You can search for anything here. 

As always, I hope you found this blog helpful! I'd love to hear from you about topics you'd like to learn about as well as your thoughts on this blog. Until next time.....




6 Ways to Avoid Branding Pitfalls

So you have a great idea for a business! Cool! What do you do next?

When I started my first business venture, I thought of a cool name, then I got some free business cards from VistaPrint and then a Yahoo website. Really! Have you done something similar but found that sales are disappointing despite the great idea, killer product and unlimited enthusiasm? If you're in that same boat, then this article is for you. I have complied some critical and useful information for you of lessons I've learned both through years of research, trial and error.

Step One - Research

To begin successfully, you have to research.

Research your competitors. How many other people are in your city, state and country and even internationally that sell what you sell? Is there a need for your product? Is your product something that is a necessity or a luxury? These are all important things to know.

You need to research who your target market is. What gender, income range, education level, net worth, parents or not, homeowners or not, etc....

After you have identified your market and settled on a product to sell, the next step is to find out the psycho-graphics of your target market. Are they conservative? Liberal? Health Conscious? Energetic? And many other soft details like this.  It helps to make personas which are fake characters that have the same qualities as your target market. It helps to name them and market to "Michele" or to "Oliver".  Why is this necessary? You have to understand this data in order to market effectively. How else will you pique their interest or make your product speak directly to the consumer? Here is a free persona development guide for you to use.

Step Two – Be Unique and Fill A Need

Your product must be unique and it must fulfill a need. If your product does not fill a need for your target market, it will not sell. It is really that simple. So how do you discover if your product will fill a need? You investigate your target market you created above and what they consider a need.

Step Three – Find Your Name

Now that you have your research done and you know your product fills a need, now it’s time to choose a name to both describe your product and communicates to your target audience.

Avoid names that:

Sound outdated in a few years – Many people want to ride the pop culture wave, but pop culture changes so quickly that your name will sound silly in a few years.

Sound Gimmicky  - People are used to being bombarded with sales messages on a daily basis so if you want them to pay attention to you, you have to show how what you’re offering will benefit them, not you.

Choose names that:

Identify what your product is

Are timeless

Speak to your target audience

Step Four – Design Your Brand

Colors! This is such a fun part! BUT – you shouldn’t just pick your favorite colors. Each demographic and target market responds differently to different colors. Color is fundamental to visual communication. The great people at HelpScout have a great guide that goes into much more depth than I will in this blog, so check them out!

Fonts! Another fun part! I have seen many business signs that immediately turn me off of their product because of the poorly designed sign. Fonts are vital to conveying the tone of your business to your client. A lawyer wouldn’t use the same font as a disco. However, you’d be surprised at how many business owners make this mistake.  To get started, look around at sites that are dedicated to fonts to get an idea of the feel and style, as well as readability of different font options. Some of my favorite places to download free fonts are DaFont, 1001 Fonts, and FontSpace. As with anything for free on the internet, really check the licenses to ensure you don't violate the artists' copyright.

Step Five – Create Your Website

There are a lot of free website options out there that may serve the purpose for now, but what about in the future? You will need a website to grow with you.

I personally love to recommend SquareSpace to people who want to manage their own site. It is cost efficient, intuitive and has great features.  It allows for basic analytic information within the platform, branding for colors and logos, blog, search engine optimization and more.

The other option that I like is WordPress, but most times, you will need to hire a web developer to do the integrations and special coding that you will really personalize the site.

This section can be greatly expanded but for the sake of staying on the branding topic, I’ll stop here.

Step Six – Social Media

Social Media!

We love social media, don’t we?  We love to make it personalized and our “own”.  For businesses, it is imperative that your social media pages match your logo, font, colors and website.  Our friends over at Hubspot show some great examples to emulate.

It is important to remember that each social media channel has its own quirks. Posting very frequently (when you have a large following) on Twitter is so important, but you can’t do the same on YouTube, LinkedIn or Facebook.  Learn the ins and outs of each platform and use them effectively. (More on that coming later!)

Book Review of "The Not Perfect Hat Club"

Do you ever feel that you just don’t measure up? I have talked to PhD’s who feel that way and it made me wonder why because they have all of the outward trappings of success.  Personally, I struggle with feeling inadequate on a daily basis. It seems that no matter what huge obstacles I have overcome, or what I have accomplished, I am still just not “enough” in my work or in my personal life.

Recently, I had the privilege to be given a chance to read “The Not Perfect Hat Club” written by Jena Ball.  Several times, while reading this book, I felt choked up a little because I completely identified with the children, and yes, even the dogs in the book. Told through the eyes of a former show dog, this kid friendly book is packed with reaffirming messages and gentle reminders that we don’t have to be perfect to be successful. So often, we look at what we have created and compare it to those who are more successful than we are and we feel not good enough.

In my opinion, the advent of social media has provided great opportunities but also has provided another front for people to present a not-so-realistic version of themselves. It is true that we don’t like people to see our flaws, our errors, mistakes or failures, so we present our best “face” at all times. I have often thought of the disservice that this provides to children, people who are struggling, young entrepreneurs and others who have goals, but all they see is the success, not the failures behind the success. Many times, I have reminded people as well as myself that behind the perfect social media mask and public mask, that “successful” people are still flawed with mistakes, failures and struggles and not to think that their life is perfect just because of the public face that they show.

“The Not Perfect Hat Club” is an excellent book for children and adults alike; especially those who like to look down on others like one of the characters in the book who seem to forget that others don’t need to be their version of “perfect” in order to be successful. I would highly recommend that any parent, school and even workplace have this book on hand.

I highly encourage you to get a copy! You can find it here:



Testing Out A Coaching Platform

Since I am moving from production work into coaching work, I am testing out a new platform and would love your feedback on this guide I created. It is a beginners guide with 6-steps on how to optimize your Twitter profile to work for you!

Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

11 Things Graphic Designers Wish You Knew....

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What do you mean?

I mean “this job will only take 10 minutes for an experienced designer, so my budget is $10”. That’s what I mean. (You see this frequently with online freelance sites)

Graphic design is everywhere. No business goes without it in one form or the other, yet designers are treated like an afterthought. Your design itself may only take 10 minutes (in very rare circumstances), but it doesn’t include opening a client file, creating the file structure, reviewing your brief, ensuring we have all the moving parts that we need to do the design right the first time. It doesn’t include living expenses, educational investment, equipment investment, time investment or business expenses.

Remember: if the design was so easy to begin with, you’d have done it yourself. You are paying for expertise and talent. 

Try to understand the logic and reason for the design/colors/typography that we are recommending which is based in solid theory & psychology. Different markets react differently to verbiage, color, layout and we know this, so if we design a piece for you for a particular market, we need you to at least listen long enough to understand why it was designed the way it was before you start asking for changes that make no sense from a design standpoint and that violates the theory behind that design.

How this became a common assumption is beyond me. There are some platforms that designers can create and manage, but invariably, a website needs a web developer to work out any bugs, crashes, or add customization. They are totally different careers and educational paths.

Your designer is not less of a designer because they don't "do websites".

Sending a file back and forth 10 times for 10 tiny changes is as annoying as a mosquito who won’t leave. Do not send 10 emails with 1 change included in each email. The time needed to open separate emails is better spent towards your design or your retainer will be eaten up quickly. Designers usually give 3 variations of the design, so be as thorough as possible the first time.

Many years ago, I had a client, who after her third revision meeting, tried sending me an addendum…then an addendum to the addendum. No joke. Don’t do it. See point #1.

See #1.

Plumbers, Locksmiths and other service industries charge a premium for urgent work. Designers are (or should be) no different. We often have to drop what we’re doing and totally change gears to meet your deadline. This means we often work later in order to finish up the work already on deadline before your urgent project. Respect that.

Designers are very detail oriented, so be as detailed as possible – “do whatever you do” doesn’t work. Our software and creative minds have unlimited potential. We need and crave parameters to work within – We will add our creativity within those parameters.

See #1.

Like your business prices, designer’s fees are based on educational costs, equipment costs, living expenses, business expenses plus general income to support them and their family. You don’t question the price at a restaurant, hair salon, or other places of business, so don’t question a designer's prices either.

Screen Shot 2016-07-17 at 1.18.24 AM.png

The longer you wait to get your revisions back to us, the farther down the stack your project goes. If you treat your project as a priority, we will too. If you treat it as an afterthought, don’t be mad if we do as well.

Do you know how much we studied how layout, color and more affects your client’s perception of your business?

Generally, the first layout we give to you is what we feel is aesthetically pleasing and will communicate best while following design best practices. I’ve seen some pretty awful revisions come through and despite advice (See #2), the client insists. Then they wonder why there is not much response to the ad….well…..see #1. That's when we sit back and shrug our shoulders. We told you so.

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard the words “Just pull a photo from Google!” STOP. RIGHT. THERE. NO.

Designers, the good and ethical ones anyway,  will respect copyright law. It is illegal to pull images without crediting the source. Also, the resolution on some images are cringe-worthy at best.  If you want world class photos, then be prepared to buy the rights to use them from iStock, Shutterstock or more. There are also sites like Pexel that have absolutely beautiful stock images for free. There are options. We know them and will point you to the right one to fit your budget.

Don’t say “similar”.

We hate wasted time on a design.

Provide us the original working files and we will make the changes you want. If you say “similar”, it will have similar elements but it will be a different design.

Similar does not equal Same. 

We don’t copy designs or ever try to make our pieces look exactly like another designers piece. That’s just wrong and being asked to do so is insulting and as chafing as wet jeans on a long walk.

However, if you own the source files (Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, Premier) and want minor changes, JUST SAY SO. Otherwise, spending hours on a “similar” design, just to be told that you wanted it exactly like the sample, but with a color or verbiage change, is worse than pouring salt in your eyes.

Special thanks to Ernest Richmann IV of E4Design Studio, a Cleveland, OH based studio for his input. Be sure to visit his website at: He wishes you to know that his site sucks because he doesn't "DO" websites. 

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3 Awesome Tools To Use to Spy On Your Competitors

We all do it. Just admit it.

When going into business, if you don’t spy on your competitors then you’re in the minority. Of course in the marketing world we have a term that sounds better than spying. Competitor Analysis. (but it’s still spying)

There are several ways to spy. A simple internet search to check out their website, pretending to need their services to get a rate card and included services as well as simply stalking their Social Media pages.

However, when you REALLY want to get into the nitty-gritty parts of competitor analysis, more information is needed such as how popular they are online, what keywords they are using to rank higher in SEO as well as their social media score. This is necessary information so you can prepare your social media strategy to be as strong as possible. We will explore only the free options in this post.

Alexa  - IF there is enough activity on the site you're looking at you will see:

  • Global rank
  • Demographics of their audience
  • How engaged their visitors are
  • Where their visitors come from before visiting the site
  • Inbound links (backlinks)
  • What sites are related to the site you are looking at
  • Site load time
  • Information about the company

Spyfu – Allows exporting of search results

  • Organic vs. paid clicks from Google
  • Organic SEO (keywords, clicks, seo click value)
  • Paid Search (Adwords)
  • Top organic and paid competitors
  • Competitor shared keywords
  • Top organic and paid keywords
  • AdWords History
  • Site Rank History
  • Inbound links (backlinks)
  • Most Valuable Keywords
  • Newly ranked keywords
  • Keyword rank gains/losses
  • Keyword Groups
  • And the very fun KOMBAT feature to gauge your keywords vs. your competitors

SEMRush – Allows exporting of search results

  • Organic & Paid Search
  • Backlinks
  • Organic Keywords
  • Ads keywords
  • Top organic & paid keywords
  • Organic & paid position distribution
  • Main organic & paid competitors
  • Competitive Positioning Map
  • Branded vs. non branded search
  • Sample ads
  • Backlinks
  • Top anchors
  • Referring domains
  • Indexed pages
  • Phrase match keywords
  • Related keywords
  • Keyword difficulty tool

How To Identify Customers for Non-Profits

As a result of the many inquiries, we decided to offer some insight on how to identify customers for non-profits.

One mistake that Non-Profits often make is to identify the recipients of their goodwill as their customers. This is not the case. Non-Profit customers include donors, investors, visitors, corporate sponsors, volunteers and brand ambassadors. These are the prime people who will support and advocate for the organization, which means that they are the customers to reach.

So how do we identify and find these prime customers? Identify a target market is usually the answer to that question. Guess what? Relying solely on target market data won’t get provide the information needed to help the organization reach its optimal growth.

Target market identification generally consists of age, gender, ethnicity, location, income, and educational status among other things. Knowing this information is helpful, but it just isn’t enough.

In order to reach the prime customer, we need to research psycho-graphics. Unlike the hard qualities of a target market, psycho-graphics are soft qualities such as lifestyle, values, personality, attitudes, interests and more.  Using this information, you can get an idea of the person you are trying to market to. 

In the marketing world, the people who have similar lifestyles, attitudes, and values are called a Tribe. Once your tribe is identified, fashion a fictional person within that tribe. Give your persona a name and ask: Where does she shop? What activities does he participate in? What car does she drive? Does he have a pet?  As you answer these questions based on the psycho-graphics, your persona will evolve in front of you. The process is so much fun and gives you a focal point of WHO you are marketing to.

Download our free guide to help you identify target market & psycho-graphic data as well as build a persona.  

7 Important Things to Consider Before Launching a Business

Oftentimes, businesses come to me after they have created a name, domain and business cards, and I love helping them progress from there, but I have seen firsthand the cost of branding based on pretty logos alone. It costs more to rush ahead than it does to take time to invest in your brand with planning and professional help.

I created a little presentation of important things to consider before making a website and getting business cards.

This is from a design and marketing perspective - it does not substitute or count as legal advice

Nearly everything you do with your name, brand and more goes back to two main things: Target Market and Psychographic Data - Everything you do needs to speak to those two things.

Step 1: Choose the Right Name

Step 2: Get Registered

Step 3: Identify Your Target Market

Step 4: Develop Your Brand

Step 5: Brand Focused Graphic Design

Step 6: Marketing Plan Development

STEP 7: Contact Us

This is not legal advice but advice from a branding, design and marketing standpoint. Following these steps will help you start strong and be set up for success right out of the starting gate. 

How to design your own cinemagraphs

This blog is designed for those who have access to a version of Photoshop that accepts video. Since all of us designers have at least Photoshop, I decided to create this 5 minute tut explaining the simple steps to create cinemagraphs in Photoshop.

Depending on your client's budget and your time allotment, it is often much more cost effective to make your own clips from footage that the client provides or bought for the project than to subscribe to a third party service.

If you've never made these before, be sure to only use footage from tripod mounted video cameras. If the footage is shaky, the video will be all over the place and the end result will seem like an intoxicated unicorn went into a parallel dimension with a Go-Pro.

Here is the short tutorial:

This is a short, basic tutorial on how to create your own Cinemagraph in Adobe Photoshop. ('s my first tutorial ever so send me suggestions on how to improve them!) Video clip from: Sound clip from:

This is on our brand new YouTube channel and my very first tutorial ever so send improvement suggestions or questions my way!

Make sure you post a link to your Cinemagraph in the comments so I can see the end result!