Working with a Small Design Firm

working with a small design firm

So, now that you’re sold on the virtues of working with a small design firm, what comes next? What’s the onboarding process like and what should you and your company expect in the weeks ahead?

Onboarding with a small design firm

We’ll set up an in-person meeting, preferably at your place of business. We’ll want to get a sense of your company, its product or service, and its corporate culture. We’ll want to get to know your team and we’ll want your team to get to know ours. We’ll need to find out who does what at your firm and clue you in on our roles, too. We’ll ask about what’s important to your company, what it is you want to achieve with us as your creative partner and any must do’s we need to take on to get there.

Come prepared to discuss the strengths of your previous creative provider, if you were working with one, as well as their weaknesses. If you have a sense, we’ll also discuss the positives and negatives of your brand’s image and where your brand stands amongst the competition. The conversation will wrap with a budget discussion, where we’ll help you zero in on where your dollars will be most effectively directed. We’ll hope to get some of the simple housekeeping out of the way, too, like exchanging contact information and setting up billing and payment schedules.

What the small firm will need the first few days

We’ll need your company’s brand book for general design guidance. If you don’t have one, we’ll work with you to create one. There will also have to be a transfer of  digital files, including all of your company’s logos, fonts and any projects we might need to reference or build on. We’d love to see any of your company’s existing creative output that you think really hits or misses the mark.

If your company has vendors that we’ll likely collaborate with, like printers or photographers, we’ll want to introduce ourselves to them in these first few days, as well. We understand that they know your company well and that they will be team members of ours, too.

How is all this different than working with big design firms?

If your company is transitioning from working with another, larger creative agency, you’re probably wondering exactly how things will be different when working with a smaller firm.

The process shouldn’t be that different, really. Except for where it counts.

Importantly, instead of an account manager, who’s undoubtedly charged with juggling several other accounts in addition to yours, you’ll likely deal directly with a creative, who’ll put your ideas to paper without your vision getting lost in translation.

Expect us to turn your projects around more quickly than you’re used to, as well, and expect those projects to resonate right from the start.

To ensure that your projects move forward through completion without a hitch, we’ll likely recommend using an application like Basecamp to track project progress, and ProofHQ for project proofing and approvals.

The efficiency should be evident in the first invoice you receive.

Feedback loops with small firms

We’ll check in with you regularly to make sure that the work we’re doing is exceeding your expectations. Frank and honest feedback is the best way to get an outcome that you want- which is why we’re here in the first place. Whatever it is that moved you to work with a small design firm, be it value, responsiveness or quality of work, it’ll serve as our motivation to keep you and your company satisfied that you made the choice that you did.


ABOUT Ryan Bahrke

One of Wordsmithie's senior designers, Ryan has more than 15 years of experience in creative direction and management, working with companies like Google, Quantcast, RSM, Navigant, Starbucks, and Ace Hotel. Ryan is the principal of Auslander Creative in Denver.


Four SEO Myths and the Truth Behind Them

SEO myths and the truth behind them

These days most businesses know that a solid SEO strategy is crucial for any modicum of an online presence. Yet the rules of SEO shift fairly frequently. Unless you have a large marketing department, chances are your digital marketing strategy can be outdated in the blink of an eye (or as long as it takes Google to deploy its latest algorithm update, anyway). We’ve listed the top five SEO myths that persist (they were right at one time, but things have changed) and how you can adjust to make the most of your search engine performance strategy.

Your search engine rank depends largely on backlinks. It used to be that content was secondary to the number of links leading back to your page on other sites (backlinks). It didn’t much matter where these links where, whether they were on highly ranked sites or spammy sites, as long as you had them. Businesses were investing in link building services that popped backlinks to hither and yon on the web. Since the Penguin 2.0 update in 2013, quality has become much more important than quantity. Focus on the quality of the website with the link- you want sources that are relevant and high quality. When you grow your site content with blogs, webpages, lead generation pages and more, you’ll find that you start to attract more backlinks that are aligned with the pages you are posting.

Your ranking is the endgame. The question is, ranking for what? You need to focus on utility rather than rank. If your site is relevant and useful to queries users and potential customers have, you’re far better off than being a high result for something that isn’t particularly aligned with what you offer. There is new research that shows that being highly ranked beyond the first page of search results gets pretty good click through rates (although of course, top three are always best). The bottom line: work out a strategy that ranks you for the keywords that reflect what you offer. If your content is useful, you’ll get shares, backlinks and, over time, that coveted high rank- for the keywords that truly align with your brand and business.

Pop ups are bad for SEO. This is a myth I myself used to believe, largely because of Google’s 2016 announcement that obtrusive pop ups would begin to hurt pages’ SEO. Yet there is little that demonstrates that non-obtrusive pop ups hurt or hinder. Just make sure your pop ups are unobtrusive- easy to dismiss, and perhaps even complementary to the entire user experience on your site.

Keyword optimization is critical for SEO strategy. Funnily enough, you don’t need to have a locked down, inflexible list of keywords you are hoping to rank for. Google now uses Rankbrain, which finds keyword topics that are related to one another, to assess what keywords to apply to your site. Thus, although you want to make sure you have a tight group of keywords that you use, you don’t need to be overly strict with it; Rankbrain is a machine learning platform that will evolve the keywords it applies to your site based on a variety of factors, including the words on your site and the words users who search for your site and similar sites use. Cool, huh?  


ABOUT Khaleelah Jones

Khaleelah Jones is a digital marketing consultant who has worked with tech startups, educational institutions and non-profits on acquisition and engagement strategy, implementation and KPI modeling. When she’s not working, she can be found reading, writing, pontificating history, yoga-ing and making up verbs.


Taking Care of Business Without Sacrificing Your Soul (or Your Stamina)

These days, it seems like we’re always crazy busy, every one of us. We’re all working hard at elevating our brands, supporting our clients and delivering results to ensure we excel professionally. During the beginning of autumn in particular it  feels like there’s so much going on (probably due to all the stuff we let pile up in August when we were out on vacation or enjoying the great outdoors.).

How can we best support our business growth while not sacrificing our own well-being? Finding balance is a tricky business and we’ve got to learn more about optimizing our professional efforts so we can effectively recharge. When we do, we can work hard so we can focus up.

Most of us hit a saturation point during our action-packed workdays when we just can’t think or do any more. Sure, there can be wild stretches of all-nighters to meet important deadlines. Because we’re constantly inundated with content, input, meetings, calls and presentations, it’s a wonder we can meet any deadlines at all.

It’s important to know what you’re up against not only for each project but for each day and week. When you make an honest assessment of milestones and expectations you’ll be able to stay the course, expertly, without burning out.

Structuring Your Day is Key

Some experts believe that 90 minutes of concentration is all we’ve got without needing a break. Others say it’s really under an hour. Everyone operates differently. We’ve all got different personalities, working styles and preferences, emotional strength, times of the day when optimal work occurs and of course project stipulations and client needs. No matter what’s going on, the fact remains that we’ve all got to take breaks to reboot, refocus and recalibrate in order to keep working effectively.

Build breaks in to your day. Move, stretch, and replenish. Your energy waxes and wanes and you need to be primed to take advantage of those super creative energetic bursts and sprints. You also need to listen to the lulls and allow yourself a break to replenish when needed.

Remember that physical exercise – even just a short stint walking outside – can help clear and relax an over-taxed mind.

Reinforcing New Habits

Learn to say no. Delegate tasks. Gather information before reacting. Focus on solutions rather than churning on problems. Prioritize and plan. Practice time-management skills. Take positive action!

Eyes on the Prize

It’s easy to get bogged down with little details (which do matter, of course). But when you remind yourself of the bigger picture, for a project or program, client coaching session, online training class discussion or anything else, you’ll be able to plow through some of the smaller tasks without letting those same elements sidetrack you and your overall effectiveness.

It helps to keep the goal in sight. When we make clear connections between project components and end results, it can be more motivating to move through the process to get there. It also helps to remind yourself, your team and your clients of a project’s overall value or reach. Even better: connecting with people who share  your values, and projects that demonstrate what those values are, actually boosts your attention, energy and drive so you can call it a job well done every step of the way.

Please share your professional self-care best practices with us. Any tips on taking breaks? Setting up productive workstations? Powering through those afternoon lulls? Finding values-based projects and setting realistic goals?


ABOUT Eve Connell

Eve spends most billable hours writing, editing and helping professionals of all stripes with communication skills and leadership development. With degrees in French literature, philosophy, and linguistics, she also enjoys helping businesses and entrepreneurs develop their brands. Fancying herself a successful worm rancher, singer and flower arranger, Eve also lends her talent and expertise to several non-profit arts and educational organizations.


Five Great Digital Writing Resources

Digital Writing Resources

Writer’s block isn’t what it used to be: gone are the days of flipping through magazines and books hoping for divine inspiration to strike. These days, there are tons of digital writing resources that you can search quickly to clear away the cobwebs and get going again on your project.

We’ve compiled a list of our favorite resources, as we are a team of writers who know all too well how important it is to keep up to date with the latest rhetorical trends, grammatical conventions and, when the mood strikes, funny cat memes.

Grammarly. By far the best blog out there when you can’t figure out what word you want to use, what punctuation you need or whether a phrase is outdated or not. Also, there’s some listicles and interesting facts in there that can help you while away the hours if you just want some distraction and inspiration.

Portfolio Life Podcast. This podcast by Jeff Goins, who also has a popular writing blog, uses interviews to share how to find inspiration, motivation and ideas for your writing. Definitely a good resource when you have writers block!

Copyblogger. If you’re a digital content or SEO writer, you’ll want to read this blog fairly often. Its dedicated to helping digital marketing and comms writers do their best, and is up to date with the latest and most important news that could influence the efficacy of your copy.

Grammar Girl. Whether you need a straightforward grammar question answered, or just want to bone up on the rules, this is the place to turn. Think the Chicago Manual of Style, but in an easily searchable format. It makes life so much easier!

The Creative Pen. If you’re more of a creative writer, the Creative Pen is a great resource to learn about how to make headway in a very competitive industry. With tips on everything from your first proposal to marketing your books on Instagram, this is a resource for all you aspiring (and seasoned) writers out there!

Have any more to suggest? Tweet us @SparkingBrands.


ABOUT Khaleelah Jones

Khaleelah Jones is a digital marketing consultant who has worked with tech startups, educational institutions and non-profits on acquisition and engagement strategy, implementation and KPI modeling. When she’s not working, she can be found reading, writing, pontificating history, yoga-ing and making up verbs.


The Case for the Little (Small Design Firm) Guy

The design field is a particularly competitive one, filled with providers ranging from individual freelancers to huge multinational firms. I’m here to present the case for the “little guy,” the owners and employees of  small design firms.

I run a small design firm. We’re “little guys,” for sure. I’m the sole employee, and along with a creative partner, we’re supplemented by a couple of excellent, part-time contract designers. We routinely go up against the “big guys” for projects. These are design firms and advertising agencies with a huge amount of staff and almost unlimited resources. It can be daunting.

But, we’re fortunate to regularly work with some big names, on some important projects. People are sometimes surprised when I tell them the names of the companies we’ve collaborated with and, inevitably the question arises: “Why would a big name like so-and-so ever work with a small design firm like yours?”

More to the point, though, why wouldn’t your company consider working with a small design firm?

The small design firm wants your business more.

A small project for a large firm is a large project for a small firm. A small design firm never wants to say “no” to a project or a client, and is motivated to work creatively to make your vision a reality.

The small design firm is less expensive.

It all comes down to lower overhead. A small design firm likely doesn’t have the expense of a prestige address, probably isn’t paying to advertise and (hopefully!) isn’t subsidizing luxury lifestyles for its proprietors.

The small design firm is more responsive, meaning more face time with the people who are working on your project. 

Fewer projects in the mix mean fewer plates for a small design firm to spin. Each project has more riding on it. When you call, you’ll likely speak directly with the designer or owner. There’s likely no dealing with an account manager or receptionist. Nothing gets lost in translation.

The small design firm is personally invested.

Many small design firms literally have the owner’s name on the door. There is a level of pride that runs through the whole operation. A small design firm understands that a good reputation takes a long time to build and will work to protect that reputation fiercely.

The small design firm is scalable.

A small design firm runs efficiently day to day and has the flexibility to get more talent on board, typically in the form of freelance consultants, when needed.

The small design firm puts out quality work.

Small design firms are staffed with people who attended the same schools, have the same experience and approach their work with the same passion as those working for large design firms. And, more often than not, those at a small design firm have a sense of entrepreneurship not necessarily shared by those working for the big guys.

The small design firm relies on word of mouth to succeed.

A small design firm relies almost exclusively on word of mouth for business. It’s in the firm’s best interest to keep customers happy and willing to refer the firm to others.

Yes, I’m biased. But when it comes to motivated people who produce quality work quickly, efficiently and on time, the “little guys” are tough to beat.


ABOUT Ryan Bahrke

One of Wordsmithie's senior designers, Ryan has more than 15 years of experience in creative direction and management, working with companies like Google, Quantcast, RSM, Navigant, Starbucks, and Ace Hotel. Ryan is the principal of Auslander Creative in Denver.