September 26, 2018

25+ free (or low-cost) design resources for nonprofits

Filed under: Design & Art — Tags: , , , , , — lidia @ 3:08 pm

Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

When I present my branding and marketing workshops to nonprofits, I inevitably get asked the question: “Is there any way we can do some of this stuff on our own? (preferably for free or not a lot of money!)”

Well, with a little bit of digging, plus my own huge list of resources (I’m a research junkie), I put together this list of free or low-cost design resources for nonprofits and higher education.

Fonts

Fonts are intellectual property, so they must be licensed before you can use them, so I don’t recommend downloading free fonts unless it’s from a reputable site that sells fonts (see below). Most font sites offer free fonts or inexpensive bundles, which is a great way to test drive fonts and build your collection.

Always make sure you have licenses for the computer(s) you are using your fonts on, and don’t share them unless your license allows usage on multiple computers. Read Monotype’s guide to font licensing for more info.

Stock Photography & Illustrations 

Just like fonts, images are intellectual property. Never—I repeat—never use an image that you “grabbed from the web” (i.e Google Images, blog posts, etc.) I have personally known colleagues who have been threatened with legal action for using an unlicensed image. It’s no joke.

Always make sure you have a license appropriate to the usage you need, or choose royalty-free. See my quick overview of stock photo usage, or head over to StockPhotoRights.com for more in-depth information.

Also, if you are using images from a free stock photo site, just remember that lots of other people are also probably using that same image. So save it for social media or other casual usage, and use licensed stock photography (or even better, hire a photographer) for images that are more critical to your organization’s branding and marketing.

Cision has curated a huge list of websites with images that are not protected by copyright laws and/or in the public domain (i.e. historical images, images created by the federal government, etc.)

Design Templates

Of course, I would always encourage you to hire a graphic designer (hint, hint) to design identity and marketing materials for your organziation. But I totally get it: sometimes timing and/or budget just doesn’t allow for it. In that case, I’ve given my stamp of approval for using a template from one of these sites.

Design Learning

My clients at smaller organizations often ask how they can learn design basics or related applications. The resources below are perfect for diving into a design topic or application.

I also offer onsite design and branding workshops that can be tailored to your needs. Reach out to me to learn more or schedule one for your organization.

Graphic & Video Editing

Images and video are crucial for getting noticed in print and social media. For important organizational marketing materials (identity, brochures, reports, event invitations, etc.), I do suggest working with an experienced graphic designer. But for editing a photo on the fly or creating a social media video, these sites make DIY fast and easy.

Did I miss something? Let me know so I can add it to the list. And be sure to bookmark this page—I will update it as new resources are available.

Stay tuned for the rest of my series, Free (or Low-Cost) Design & Marketing Resources for Nonprofits, as it becomes available.

August 24, 2018

I didn’t check email on vacation—and you shouldn’t either

Filed under: Small Business — Tags: , , , , , , , , — lidia @ 10:48 am

I recently went on vacation with my family and decided to do something I haven’t done in several years: completely unplug.

Cutting the (digital) cord isn’t easy

During the 17 years I’ve been in business, I’ve developed a habit of bringing my laptop on vacation—either to finish up a late or last-minute project or “just in case.” Even if I don’t have projects going on, I inevitably end up checking my work email—“just in case.”

As a small business owner, I know my clients are counting on me so it’s a little scary to completely step away from my work life: “What if something comes up? What if someone needs me to solve a problem? What if the most amazing opportunity of my business life comes up and I miss it?”

However, once we got to our tropical destination, I had a realization: I didn’t have any outstanding projects, my clients knew I was out for a week (and I assume didn’t expect me to stay in touch)—why did I even need to check my email?

The benefits of a digital detox

As a heavy email and social media user—and honestly, feeling a little burned out on it lately—the thought of taking a “digital detox” appealed to me. As this New York Times post about how not to let your phone ruin your vacation points out, “What is the best thing that could be waiting for you? At the very least, checking your phone will distract you. And if you find bad news waiting for you, it can ruin your day.”

The post goes on to say, “Mentally and physically, we can’t be two places at once. So every time you turn your attention to your phone, you are turning your attention away from everything else.” Which in my case were my family, palm trees and a beach across the street. So the laptop stayed off and phone was relegated to photos, daily journaling, and the occasional Instagram post (old habits die hard!)

Also, checking your work email can affect your partner’s mood. According to this study on email inclivity, people transmit their inbox-related stress onto their partner. Kind of a vacation buzzkill, right?

And lucky for parents, kids are a natural deterrent to our digital devices. Our son has a habit of saying, “Put your phone down and play with me!” And I totally agree with Arianna Huffington’s thoughts on the subject: “Having children was the best possible antidote to my workaholic ‘always on’ tendencies. It gave me perspective and the ability to be more detached from the inevitable ups and downs of work life.”

Vacations can keep you healthy—and wealthy

According to Project Time Off’s State of American Vacation 2018, more than half of Americans are still not using all the vacation time they earn. Many people admit skipping vacation days due to workload or fears of appearing less productive than coworkers.

However, not using those vacation days can actually hold you back: According to Project Time Off’s study, more than 50% of people who use their vacation days to travel reported receiving a promotion in the last two years compared to those who use some or none of their time to travel.

We need a new way of defining work success

In Arianna Huffington’s book Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder, she makes a case for redefining success in our society. She emphasizes that success shouldn’t be defined by working long hours or not taking any vacation time (hear, hear from working moms everywhere!)

Huffington says, “For far too many of us, vacations often serve only to amplify our stress and busyness and desire to do and accomplish—with our smartphones keeping us fully connected to the world we’ve ostensibly left behind. We all know the feeling of coming back from a vacation more drained than when we set off.”

According to a study by Fierce Inc, half of all employees check in with the office while on vacation, with 13 percent checking in daily. How’s that for a nice, relaxing vacation?

As psychologist Karen Horneffer-Ginter says in Thrive, “Stress is bad for us, yet we wear it as a badge of honor. It is seen as a socially desirable thing to be overworking. We don’t seem to have the same respect for people who work a 40-hour week.” Huffington adds: “This kind of thinking feeds on itself, creating a downward bad habit spiral.”

So, what happened when I didn’t check email for a week

Well, here’s what didn’t happen: Nothing alarming came up. There weren’t any problems that needed to be solved. I didn’t miss out on any amazing opportunities. Basically, the world carried on without me. (What? How dare it?)

Here’s what did happen: I was especially relaxed. I slept well. I was not distracted. I was focused on my family. I stopped and really noticed the beautiful environment around me. I was not pulled into other people’s problems. I didn’t feel like I had to find solutions. I spent time sketching, playing kids’ games, reading magazines, and journaling.

Cindi Leive, former Editor-in-chief of Glamour and Self, also did a one-week “digital detox” and she describes exactly how I felt upon returning home: “We returned from vacation slightly less informed but slightly more blissed out, and more likely to stay Zen in annoying situations because of the little digital detox.”

And Lori Leibovich’s post about her vacation “digital diet” also echoes how I felt on vacation once I set aside the digital distractions: “It felt exhilarating to use my hands for digging tunnels in the sand and turning the pages of a novel instead of just for tapping away on a screen. For the first time in I don’t know how long, I was really seeing my kids. And they were relishing being seen.” Even if you don’t have kids, don’t you owe this to your vacation companions?

Zen and again?

So, will I do a vacation digital detox again? Yes! Do I think everyone should ditch email on vacation? Most definitely.

However, I will say there was one negative in the experience: 1,239 emails to go through upon my return to the office. (Which put a bit of a damper on the post-vacation relaxation feeling!)

July 26, 2018

Why your small business needs brand guidelines—and how to create them

Filed under: Branding,Small Business — lidia @ 5:38 pm

Why your small business needs brand guidelines

I was recently designing packaging for a small business and when I requested their brand guidelines, she had never heard of the term. I’m guessing this is common for many small business owners. Or else, you have heard of brand guidelines, but don’t know where to start when it comes to creating them for your business.

What are brand guidelines?

Brand guidelines (also sometimes called brand standards, style or identity guidelines or graphic standards) provide a detailed overview of your business’ (or product’s) branding—from the graphic look and feel to the overall voice and tone. It assures that everyone in your organization—as well as outside partners and vendors—are expressing your brand consistently and accurately.

Since many small business owners are managing many (if not all) marketing tasks internally, having strong brand guidelines can make marketing and promotion of your business (or product) much easier as there is always a reference point. Plus, it keeps everyone inside and outside the organization on the same page (literally!)

Why your small business needs brand guidelines

  1. Consistency: It keeps your branding and marketing consistent across all print and online media.
  2. Efficiency: When you have a reference point for your marketing pieces, you can create them more quickly and efficiently.
  3. Professionalism: When all of your marketing materials are consistent and on-brand, it shows people you know what you’re doing.
  4. Convenience: When everything is in one place, it helps your partners and vendors (such as graphic designers, photographers, writers and print vendors) do their job faster and easier—which also saves you money.
  5. Accuracy: When brand details are easily accessible, it helps to avoid costly mistakes such as using the wrong color or font on a printed piece.
  6. Continuity: When everything is in one place, necessary brand assets such as logos or brand colors, can be easily accessed when needed and project delays can be avoided.
  7. Onboarding: New employees can get to know your brand quickly and easily, so they can get to work faster. It also provides them a constant reference as they get acquainted with their new job.

What should be included in brand guidelines

A good set of brand guidelines will assure everything people see and experience related to your small business is an accurate expression of your brand. So, what should be included?

Before getting started, think about how your organization will use the guidelines:

  • What types (and channels) of marketing do you use? (i.e. print, digital, social media)
  • Will your in-house team mainly use them or will you share with outside vendors?
  • If you work with outside vendors, what types of work do they produce? (i.e. brochures, flyers, advertising, email marketing)

At the very least, the following should be included in brand guidelines:

  • Mission and vision statements: including verbiage about how they relate to your overall brand.
  • Logo usage: including sizing requirements, clear space (the space around the logo that separates it from other design elements), logotypes and icons, logo lockups (i.e. if the logo should always appear with another element such as a tagline, date or URL). It’s also a good to include misuse examples, for example: the logo should not be stretched disproportionately or used smaller than ¼”.
  • Taglines: including when and how to use the tagline, and where it should be placed in relation to the logo.
  • Fonts and typography: including allowable primary and secondary fonts for both print and online usage. Optionally, include examples and/or suggested usage for headlines and body copy.
  • Color palette: including primary and secondary color palettes for print (Pantone, CMYK) and digital (RGB, HEX) usage.
  • Imagery: including suggested types of photography and illustration that should be used, as well as when images should be used. May also include recommended website for purchasing stock photography or illustration and/or image guidelines for in-house or contracted photographers.

Depending on your small businesses’ needs, you may also want to include:

  • Voice and tone: including writing guidelines for print marketing, as well as digital marketing such as blogs and social media outlets.
  • Sample layouts: including commonly-used marketing templates such as business cards, stationery, flyers, brochures or print ads
  • Social media guidelines: including an overview of how your brand will be expressed on social media (if available, include an overview of the business’ social media strategy and editorial calendar)
  • Guest author guidelines: including guidelines for writers who will contribute articles to the organization’s website, blog or social media.
  • PR reference: including organization blurbs (ranging from a 5-word blurb to several paragraphs), staff bios, headshots, and other materials that may be needed for PR opportunities. Include filenames and shared drive locations for easy access by all staff members and contractors.
  • Email signature: what should be included (logo, name, title, email, phone number, legal verbiage, other relevant links) as well as the specified format (text, HTML). Have a template handy on a shared drive to supply to new employees or contractors.

This may sound like a lot of work, but it can be as simple or complex as your small business needs. And enlisting the help of a branding designer can make it much easier. Believe me, it will all pay off in the end. As a designer, I know how frustrating it can be to search for logos, color specs and other necessary design elements when working on a project.

Need inspiration or examples?

Sometimes the best way to get started developing brand guidelines is to see what others are doing. A good place to start is by Googling “brand guidelines and [your industry or business]” to see examples.

Or check out this roundup of 80+ brand and identity guidelines from various organizations and brands around the world.

Need help creating your brand guidelines? If you can’t tell, I love creating them. Let’s chat!

June 25, 2018

How nonprofits can thrive during challenging times

Filed under: Marketing & Promotion — Tags: , , , — lidia @ 10:00 am

ACN Annual Meeting 2018

On June 1st, the Association of Consultants to Nonprofits (ACN) held their annual meeting in Chicago. This year’s event featured networking, breakout discussions on specific topics and a panel on consultants discussing how they are helping nonprofits grow and thrive.

The panel was moderated by Chicago broadcasting legend and philanthropist, Merri Dee, and included panelists Clara L. Carrier 
of Breaking Through Consulting, LLC, Gregg Mellinger 
of USI Insurance Services, Joyce Golbus Poll of
 J.G. Poll & Associates (and former ACN Board President) and Amy Schiffman of 
Giving Tree Associates.

How nonprofits can thrive during these challenging times

1. Funding—and What is Working Now

A hybrid/diverse approach is best: corporate, foundations, individual giving. Think about different ways to bring in funds. Call on board members and make them accountable. Be realistic about who wants to fund you, make sure they care about what you do. [Amy]

Connect with people, be specific about what you need (i.e. volunteers, goods, etc.) [Clara]

2. Making Use of a Documented Fundraising Strategy

Break down what to do: why do you to raise money and how will you get there? It functions as an insurance policy against desperately coming up with ideas throughout the year. Determining your strategy is the first step. [Amy]

3. Utilizing a Workflow Analysis

Do what you can to save the organization money. How can we maximize efficiency? Create an effective workflow: it makes for a happy customer and staff morale increases. See who’s doing what and determine how it can be done better. Use resources such as software and consultants, or form teams. [Joyce

4. Reprioritizing Spending

Insurance is your second biggest line item (after payroll); create a proactive, documented multiplayer strategy tied to your budget, so you are not scrambling at the last minute. Follow the money: where is the money going? People will accept lower pay if there are benefits that are suitable to them. Follow the formula: PEOPLE > PREMIUM > PURPOSE. [Gregg]

5. Hiring Employees or Consultants

Whomever you hire must be passionate about your cause. Get to know millennials or other groups, know what their purpose is and how they can relate to your cause. Ask candidates about failures or what they learned. [Clara]

Look for someone who understands and wants to be a key part of your organization’s future. They should want to become am integral part of your team/purpose. Gregg also spoke about asking for a tour of a prospect’s facility in order to better connect with them—and the prospect commented that no one had ever made that request before. [Gregg]

Look for consultants with a strong track record, success working both with people one-on-one and with the board, and a strong belief in your mission. [Amy]

6. Deciding to Become a Funder

Things to consider: need, who they are in community, and how prepared are they are to ask: do they know their needs? Have they done their research and pre work? [Merri Dee]

It was an inspiring, hopeful discussion and it made me feel good about being a creative partner with several local nonprofits here in Chicago. Together, we can do great things!

I’ve joined the ACN Board

I’m also thrilled to share that after being a member for two years (and part of the Marketing Committee), I’ve been invited to join the ACN Board of Directors as VP, Marketing and Communications. I’m excited to be a part of this growing community of nonprofit consultants in Chicago. And stay tuned to hear more about ACN!

 

 

 

June 20, 2018

3 Ways Your Organization Can Celebrate the Summer Solstice

Filed under: Marketing & Promotion — Tags: , , , , — lidia @ 10:00 am

photo by pexels

The Summer Solstice, in agricultural terms, is a time when crops are in full growth and approaching harvest. But why let farmers have all the fun? Here are 3 ways you can use the energy of the Summer Solstice to assess and foster the growth of your organization.

1. Conduct a branding audit

How has your organization grown in terms of branding? Is your brand accurately telling your story? Is there room for improvement? I suggest to my clients that they perform a branding audit at least once per year, and this is the perfect time to do so.

Download my Branding Checklist.

2. Make a list of this year’s highlights

We’re all accustomed to making “to-do” lists, but how about making a “done” list? This is a list of your organization’s growth and accomplishments. Some ideas are: program highlights, speaking engagements, events, press mentions, new services or programs, growth in membership or supporters, etc. I actually recommend doing this on a regular basis. Personally, I keep a note in Evernote and I update it monthly.

3. Review your marketing campaigns to-date

Make a list of this year’s marketing campaigns, along with the results for each. What were your successes and why? (Don’t forget to add them to your “highlights” list) What areas of improvement are there? How has your organization grown or moved forward this year?

Download my Marketing Campaign Assessment template (Google Doc)

However you decide to celebrate the Summer Solstice, I encourage you to step back from the daily work of promoting your mission, and admire the growth of your organization. You deserve it!

 

June 18, 2018

Recap: A to Z of Design blogging challenge

Filed under: Design & Art — Tags: , , — lidia @ 10:00 am

For the last 4 years, I’ve been participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge—a daily blogging challenge during the month of April.

Last year, I started a series called A to Z of Design (including basic design terminology for non-designers) but work/life got in the way and I never finished it. So this year, I restarted the series and I’m happy to say, I finished it!

Read the A to Z of Design and learn design basics—everything from A (alignment) to Z (zip)!

See my past A to Z blogging series’, A to Z of Being a Mom in Business and A to Z of Branding.

June 15, 2018

Creating a better world for my children—one design at a time

Filed under: Biz Mama — lidia @ 9:15 pm

Lidia Varesco Racoma on CWC

I spend a lot of time interviewing moms in business for my online community Biz Mama, but I rarely share my own story so I was thrilled when Creative Women’s Co. (a Chicago-based group that hosts intimate gatherings for creative women entrepreneurs) asked to interview me.

Read on to get a peek into my creative inspirations, what a typical day looks like, and why I do what I do.

01. Introduce yourself.

Hello! I’m Lidia Varesco Racoma of Lidia Varesco Design, a branding and marketing design studio in Chicago’s West Loop. I help education-focused organizations such as nonprofits, associations and entrepreneurs share their mission and make an impact. I also outfit kids in good design with my line of baby and kids apparel, typebaby and have an online community for moms in business called Biz Mama.

02. Summarize your life in a few sentences.

I’m a mom of two—kids and businesses (my kiddos are 2 and 6 years old) and my husband is also a creative (writer) so I am creatively-challenged and inspired in both my work and home life.

03.Tell us about your education background.

I graduated from the graphic design program at Columbia College Chicago and was lucky to have talented professors working in the field, as well as an amazing internship at a small design studio that turned into my first job. This helped pave my own career path.

04. How did you start your business?

Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, I always knew I wanted to have my own business. I had an amazing mentor at my graphic design internship-turned-first-job (thanks, Robin!) so after getting a few more years of experience, I took the plunge and started my design studio in 2000.

05. What inspired you as a creative woman?

I am inspired by what I see around me. I’m a very visual person, so I need to be constantly surrounded by images and words (technology has made this much easier and neater!) Now that I have kids, my children also inspire my creativity as well as my problem-solving skills.

06. What was your first job ever? Any funny or memorable story?

My first job was in middle school as a receptionist at our local church rectory. It was by far the quietest, least stressful job I’ve ever had. In high school and college I worked in retail, which provided many opportunities to hone my customer service skills.

07. If you can build a million dollar company, what would it be?

Basically, I want to help create a better world for my children. I want to help as many organizations as possible get their message out so they can focus on making a difference. I do this by offering nonprofits and other small- to mid-sized organizations the type of strategic design they would get from a large agency but in a more affordable, accessible and personal way. I also aspire to grow my Biz Mama online community and bring more awareness to the many amazing mom-owned businesses out there. We are all in this together!

08. Walk us through your day.

I start off my day with breakfast and getting the kids ready. After I drop off my son at school, I work in my studio until school pickup time. Evenings are generally family time, but I catch up on work or social media in the early morning or evenings. Weekends are generally work-free zones.

09. What has been the highlight of your career thus far?

The highlight of my career was having my design work featured in HOW Magazine (twice!) I’ve been reading HOW since I was in design school, so seeing my work on their pages is an honor and a thrill.

10. Share a quote/advice that you’d like to tell the 25-year-old you.

Don’t rush—you’ll get there. I still have a tendency to try to do too much too fast, so I would encourage my younger self to be patient and know you have plenty of time to achieve all your goals (not to mention, the new ones that will come along!)

This post originally appeared on the Creative Women’s co. blog

Learn more about Creative Women’s Co here.

If you are a mom in business, visit my Biz Mama page to submit an online interview.

May 15, 2018

How smart is your social media branding?

Filed under: Branding,Marketing & Promotion — lidia @ 1:15 pm

How smart is your social medai branding

Social media is a smart way to promote and increase awareness for your organization or nonprofit. In fact, social media may be the first point of entry for a prospect or supporter, so you want to make sure your branding accurately tells your story.

What is social media branding?

Social media branding is how your organization is perceived on social media. This encompasses both visual (logo, imagery) and verbal (writing, voice) but for now, we will be focusing on the visual aspect.

Keep it consistent

One of the first steps to social media success is having well-designed and consistent branding throughout. You want people to easily recognize your organization or nonprofit wherever they may find you on social media.

Design a smart social media brand

The first step is to claim your page on all the major social media channels (even if you’re not using it yet): LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google+, YouTube, Pinterest (just to make a few). Ideally, you should choose the same username for all social media channels.

Then, you need to upload the required images, which usually includes:

  • Profile
  • Header
  • Cover
  • Background

You can use the same or similar images for each social media channel, but be aware of the different sizes and specifications required by each. Whatever you do: DON’T just drop in your logo or stretch it to fit!

TIP: Sprout Social has a great “always-up-to-date” social media image size reference here.

Have some fun with it…

With many of my logo design clients, I will create a custom version of their logo specifically for social media purposes. And since you are not limited by paper size or ink colors, you can get creative with it. For example, Facebook now offers business pages the ability to upload a video profile image.

Bring more awareness to your events or programs

You can also create custom social media graphics, headers or profile images to promote special events or programs within your organization. And don’t forget to create a custom hashtag for the event too.

Your social media branding can—and should be—constantly evolving. How well are your telling your brand story?

I know it can be overwhelming keeping up with ever-changing social media specifications and the myriad required images for each channel. Let me help! Check out the social media branding we’ve designed and then give us a call.

 

 

May 10, 2018

DESIGN DEMO: Tracking

Filed under: Design & Art — Tags: , , — lidia @ 2:14 pm

When you are typesetting a presentation or other large design, it’s always a good idea to adjust tracking (letter spacing) as large gaps between letters can be more noticeable at large sizes.

May 2, 2018

A to Z of Design: Z is for ZIP

Filed under: Design & Art — Tags: , — lidia @ 3:47 pm

A to Z of Design: Z is for ZIP

A ZIP (Zone Information Protocol) file is a file format that compresses multiple files into a smaller, more manageable size. ZIP files are easily restored by clicking to unzip the file.

I always recommend creating a ZIP when sending multiple files—especially if sending font files as they can get corrupted in transfer.

See all of the A to Z of Design posts here.

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