Has SEO has changed forever? Meet Panda.

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If you own a website, hopefully, at minimum, you’ve thought about SEO, or search engine optimization. With Google’s latest search engine update called, Panda, the rules of SEO have changed. In my opinion as a designer, it’s a change that brings a huge sigh of relief, because it more closely resembles the way I’ve been evaluating websites for years. But to the rest of you, it probably brings some anxiety and frustration because some of the things you thought you knew about SEO may have changed, leaving you even more uncertain how to get your website to the top of the list.

Fear not. Google’s Panda release makes SEO less of a “game” to play and more of a true reflection of if your site is informative, easy to navigate, and all-around a good site that viewers want to visit and return for more.

One of the biggest things that Google has transformed over the last several years is the degradation of using keywords to determine a site’s ranking. Yep, you heard me right – keywords. If you’ve been online for any length of time, you probably had it drilled into you that you needed to pick keywords and focus lots of attention choosing and analyzing the right keywords for your site. Well, take that mindset and flush it! A couple of years back, Google stopped using keywords in its algorithm and today they have little to no value in ranking your site. What’s more important is what is in the title meta tag in the code of your site and to a lesser degree, the description tag.

And that’s just the beginning. I’m going to save you hearing this twice and just direct you to this excellent video by Rand Fishkin, CEO & Co-Founder of the web’s most popular SEO Software provider; SEOmoz. It’s a very good explanation of the basic concepts that Panda employs and not too much techy-speak. Don’t get overwhelmed by the little technical things he discusses, just listen to the big picture.

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And after you watch, if you find yourself wondering if your website will survive its rankings with Panda, send an email to info@ekcetera.com for more information on getting a site review, complete with a report outlining your strengths, areas of improvement, and a prioritized list of things to work on. Mention this article and receive a special discount!

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Article written by Kelly Garrett: President & Chief Designer of Ekcetera, wife, mother, entrepreneur, web developer, techie, and everyday woman.

Part Three: How to Hire a Designer

Alright, we’re starting to feel comfortable with what we know and what we don’t know. If not, part one and part two will get you up to speed. You’ve decided to hire a designer to help you create your business graphics, stationery, or website. Or, maybe you’re still unsure if you can make the investment, but are at least in the process of educating yourself about how to work with creatives (because it can be a rough ride sometimes…I’ll sheepishly admit this because I’m definitely a creative!). There’s one thing you need to understand about creative people and designers. The best ones tend to lack certain communication, organizational and business skills. (No offense to my fellow creatives, but let’s be honest – that’s what makes us best at what we do)! Their ability to disregard organization and order allows them to think outside the box and come up with something that your linear brain has a hard time conceiving. The opposite applies to creatives who hire other creatives. You’ll both tend to be bouncing around with new, exciting ideas and will have a hard time staying on task and having a clear direction for the project.
So how to choose the best creative service provider for the job? Here’s a list of things to shop for:
  • A good portfolio. This one seems like a no-brainer, but it’s important to know what makes a portfolio a good one. Be aware that depending on what type of client the designer worked with, their contribution in a design may be varied. They may present a major ad campaign from a huge corporation like Target, for example. You find yourself thinking, Wow, you designed an ad for Target! However, when you dig a little deeper you discover that Target’s branding guidelines are so strict that the ad design was actually conceptualized by a senior manager, laid out roughly by an art director, and trickled down to the designer, who only decided to nudge the text (which, by the way, color and font were already chosen by another executive) a couple of centimeters to the left. Lesson: It’s important to ask the designer how they contributed to the design, in what capacity they worked on it, and how they came up with the idea. This will help uncover their strengths and will lessen the surprises when something they design for you is vastly different from what they showed you in their portfolio.
  • Portfolio items match the project you’re hiring them for. Again, this isn’t rocket science, but it’s important they have experience designing the type of project you’re asking them to design, as well as experience in the same industry you’re in or style similarities. Designers often excel at one particular type of design or style. If you want a super-feminine swirly swoosh pattern (don’tcha like that ultra-technical description?!), you’ll want to find someone that designs for other female business owners. This type of designer often dabbles in stationery and invitation design. They’ll probably have fewer corporate clients, because corporate design often calls for a more serious, cleaner style. Lesson: Spend time thinking about your desired style, find some words to describe that style, and find someone with a portfolio that matches that style and type of project you’re hiring them for.
  • Communication skills. Like I was saying before, designers tend to live in a world of free-flowing ideas and endless possibilities, so getting them to hammer down exact details and be excellent about follow-up and be pro-active about communication is not going to be their instinct, but that doesn’t mean that all designers are poor communicators. You just have to search for them. Lesson: Be very clear about your expectations in the project and don’t be afraid to request specific communication practices. Search for someone who already has good communication, but give them a little slack if they’re not up to your standards. It’s very rare to find a truly excellent designer that has perfect communication skills. It goes against the way they were created.
  • Find out what they know and don’t know. Don’t just assume that designers have studied marketing. I think this is the most common mis-conception when mompreneurs hire designers. The reality is that most designers have never taken a marketing course in their life! Find someone, or a firm, that has a background in marketing. Understand how to separate the design (art) aspect from the strategy aspect of the project. So many designers claim to be branding experts, but when I study their work, it’s obvious that to them, branding means they know how to create a color scheme and how to make everything coordinate well together. It does NOT say to me that they know how to make my image convey the true spirit of my business and how to speak clearly to my audience. I’m not sure they will keep my business goals in mind when creating my logo, but I can be sure that it will match my new coral handbag that’s in style this season. Be sure to convey your business goals to them and if they don’t have marketing background, remind them of those goals and your audience over the course of the project. Lesson: find out if their strengths lie in the art aspect, or the business aspect of design. Ideally, find a designer or agency that has both, but don’t assume that just because they say they are branding experts, that they really know what that means. Make them prove it!
  • Find a good fit. I see mis-matched designers and clients over and over again. The way to get the best result when working with a designer is to make sure you are compatible with the designer in the first place. Some people just mesh well together and that creates the best synergy for creating the best design. Design extends beyond a tactical job you are hiring someone to do. It crosses the boundary of order and organization and requires someone to intimately try to search inside your brain and pull something out that you are not able to pull out yourself. You are often unable to speak the words that convey what you want to appear on the page. The designer has the complicated task of magically translating your unspoken ideas and to do it in a way that appeals to the customers you are trying to reach. They often make decisions based on a “gut feeling” and those feelings are often right. Lesson: Find someone you trust because you have a good feeling about them. Give them a little breathing space and trust them. Try to make their life easier by being as clear as you can be about what’s inside your head. Don’t make them pull something out of thin air.

The thing I’m going to leave you with when it comes to hiring a designer is to remember the unattainable project triangle. Are you familiar with the concept? Think of your project as a triangle of good, fast, and cheap. You can achieve two of the three points of the triangle, but can never achieve all three without one suffering. This leaves you with three options for your project:

  • Quick design, with high quality, but it will not be cheap.
  • Quick design that is cheap, but will not be high quality.
  • High quality design that is cheap, but will take a long time.

As a designer, I wish all clients that came to me would remember that all three are unattainable. It’s really important to determine which two you want and focus on those two, rather than constantly trying to achieve all three.

Next time, we’ll get into the meat of your graphic identity. Hopefully you’re starting to feel more confident about tackling your marketing.

Part Two: DIY vs. Hiring: One size does NOT fit all

I hope you checked out my last post that introduced my series about marketing for mompreneurs. Now that we know we’re all on the same page with our marketing basics, let’s talk about how to accomplish getting your business out there to the world. I find that one of the most challenging parts of being a Mompreneur is knowing when to DIY and when to hire someone else to do the job. If you’re like me, you may want to be a DIY’er. We’d all like to add that to our list of titles we carry. I think that because we’re Moms, we’re programmed to feel like if we don’t do it ourselves, somehow it won’t get done or up to our standards. Believe me, I’m the guiltiest of them all when it comes to trying to DIY. I’m also blessed to have a husband who is equally guilty. I’ve tried it all, from literally building a retail store interior with a hammer, nails, and some paint, to avoiding hiring legal counsel because I could research things on the internet and make my own, smart decisions about business situations.

It wasn’t until I heard one client’s perspective on DIYing that made me reconsider my DIY stance. He said, “I’m not a designer, why should I try to design my business cards when you’ll do it so much better?” Something about what he said sat with me and my new perspective on trying to do it all to pinch a penny is this: there is a time to try to save money and a time to hire someone. You have to find that balance for your personality and for your business. You’ll find that your stance on DIY vs. not will change as your business grows.
Many of us want to know exactly what’s going on with everything in our businesses and that often feeds our urge to DIY. We can’t stand the thought of someone else taking control over a piece of the business you’re working so hard to develop and grow. But, let me pose a question for you…Do you REALLY need to know how to do whatever it is that you think you should do yourself, or can you hire someone else to do it and save yourself the time, energy, and worry that comes along with DIY. You have to weigh the time you spend researching, making mistakes, and doing it for yourself against the time you could be spending finding new clients…what is the opportunity cost of NOT hiring someone? How much money am I missing out on because my time was spent doing this instead of making money? Another wise thought I’ve heard is how much time do you spend actually doing the things you’re best at? We spend so much time doing the things we’re not very good or mediocre at that we’re not really using our talents to the best of their abilities. Think about how much you could actually accomplish if you focused almost entirely about what you’re best at and let other people handle the things you were only “ok” at. What accomplishments you could make!
Having said that, choosing to do something ourselves usually stems from a lack of funds to hire someone else to do it. That’s most definitely the case when just starting out by bootstrapping. In these cases, it might be best to start small – hire someone for only a few hours or for only the most difficult of tasks so you can make more revenue that can then buy more time and more help.
I have a personal bias and expectation for myself to learn as much as I can. I’m genuinely interested in all of the aspects of running a business and want to learn about them. However, once I’ve learned the basics, I don’t need to keep doing it and fumbling my way through the more advanced things (been guilty of that far too many times).
My point is…It’s important to know what are your strengths, weaknesses, and what things you genuinely want to learn about. When you decide to hire someone to do the job, realize that one size does not fit all. Just because Web Firm A sells a package for $10,000 dollars does not mean that ALL web packages are $10,000 or that you need to buy one that expensive. Nor does it mean that a $200 web package is going to give you what you need to make your business successful. Remember that every service you could purchase out there has some other alternative, so it’s important to evaluate your options and do what you can to learn exactly what you’re buying so you can make the most educated decision possible.
So if you’re going to hire someone: Make a list of the top 3-5 things that are important to you when finding a business to hire and what results you wish to see. Then, search for 2 or 3 business that meet these criteria to compare and seek information about their products and services. It’s likely that one will stand out as a clear fit with your business and your needs. Don’t get wrapped into their “schpeals.” They are going to convince you that they have exactly what you need, but the best businesses are the ones that aren’t afraid to tell you they MAY NOT be a good fit for you and are very clear about who they work best with.
And for those of you who continue to go the DIY route and end up banging your head against a wall more times than you should, challenge yourself to think smarter and use your time more wisely. Make use of chat forums and ask questions quickly, rather than spend hours trying to figure it out for yourself before you ask for help. Sometimes just walking away from something and coming back later can do wonders for approaching the problem with a set of fresh eyes.
And if you Mompreneurs haven’t figured it out yet, let me write it on the wall. Running your own business, raising a family, and being a super-woman isn’t easy. As far as business goes, the markting piece can really be a humm-dinger. But don’t worry. We’re in this together, you and me. Check back again, when we’ll talk about the professional design process.

Dizzy Mompreneurs: Marketing, Graphic & Web Design

Hey all you Mompreneurs out there! Do the words Marketing, Graphic & Web Design make you dizzy? Maybe you’re like me and think you have some great ideas, passion, drive, and a little bit of stubbornness that tells you to carve your own path in this crazy world. You can’t stand the thought of some company telling you how to spend your day – AND how to raise your family. You want to do it all: create a business empire that will rise to the top as the saving grace that this pitiful world needs, seek world peace, financial freedom for all, cure disease, advance technology, all while having your own little corner of the world that is clean, organized, on schedule with laundry done every day, a hot meal on the table at dinnertime, while you win an award for top volunteer at your kids’ school…all without having to put hundreds of miles on your minivan each week, while getting enough sleep to make you look like a beauty queen, and with enough time to get weekly massages and start up a new hobby! [Cue a choir of "ahh's" and bright, shiny sparkles swirling around you standing on top of a throne.]

Ok, MAYBE that’s a bit ambitious. But, we’ve all had those dreams, haven’t we? That’s what makes us the Mompreneurs we are. Even if you don’t have children yet, but have the dream that someday you will do it all, you are just like me. I started to live my dream when I was in college. Now that I’m a wife and mompreneur, I know that the dream takes a lot of hard work and dedication, but is well worth the struggles. Now that I’ve overcome many of the hurdles in starting up a new business, I wanted to share some of my knowledge and experience with other Mompreneurs. When we own a business, we are most likely experts in whatever product or service it is we are selling, but how many of us have studied marketing or graphic and web design? Probably not many. It just so happens that I have – A LOT. What good is your product or service if you can’t get it to your customers? So many Mompreneurs overlook the importance of marketing and that is why I’m here to help. I’m going to guide you through the dizzying task of marketing your small business over the next 10 days.
There are so many Entrepreneurs and other Small Business professionals I run into that feel overwhelmed – even nauseated – when thinking about marketing themselves or their businesses. Even more frustrated, are those who have trouble figuring out what the term “marketing” even means; after all, “isn’t that something that large corporations spend billions of dollars on, creating outrageous TV commercials and ads? I’m just a small business, marketing isn’t relevant to me.” Well, my fellow Entrepreneurs, heads up. Marketing IS something you need to do in your small business. It just happens to be that the over-used ‘marketing’ buzz-word is such a huge umbrella to classify many activities, it often makes people’s heads spin. In addition, there’s so much disparity coming from the world of designers and marketing professionals, no wonder you’re sent into a tailspin.

I’m here to bring you good news! You CAN figure all of this out. Unfortunately, I don’t have a magic formula – otherwise we’d all be millionaires because we’d be marketing the heck out of our businesses! – but I do have the basics, broken down for you in ways I hope will help wrap your head around the art and science (because, yes, it’s both) of making your business stand next to the likes of those corporate companies on your shoestring budget. It’ll take some work and a lot of thought, but you’ll be better for it both in the eyes of your customers, and in your own feeling of having all of your ducks in a row.

Here’s how I’m going to break down the topics:

  1. Marketing vs. Sales vs. Advertising
  2. DIY vs. Hiring out: One size does NOT fit all
  3. The Professional Design Process
  4. Your Graphic Identity
  5. Your Brand Identity
  6. Your Website
  7. Social Media
  8. Your Marketing Strategy
  9. Bootstrap Marketing
  10. Pulling it all Together
So roll up your sleeves, and let’s get started.
Part 1: Marketing vs. Sales vs. Advertising.
Let’s establish some general concepts so we can be sure we’re covering the basics. In small business, the distinction between Marketing, Sales and Advertising is small – often invisible – as one person (often the owner) is usually wearing all three of these hats. Therefore, the need to divide these categories is much smaller. In larger companies, however, each area is often treated much more individually and each has its own distinct functions. I’m always surprised, when I work with larger companies, that many of them push sales efforts outside of the marketing umbrella and rarely have a succinct strategy in place that make the two gain from each other’s efforts. It seems like an obvious thing to me – to have sales and marketing be on the same page, working towards the same goal – but I’m continually surprised to see this isn’t the case in many companies.
So what is the difference between sales and marketing, you ask? Imagine marketing as an umbrella that covers all the activity that is done, both inside a company and outside, that relays messages and interacts with your customers and in the marketplace. It’s ANY interaction between your company and the world. This includes anything that is not intentionally done as “marketing” – even the perception the world has about your company. All of this is marketing. It is an activity that is done, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not, to let people know you exist. Let’s face it, the world is so huge; even though you feel like your business is the best thing EVER, you’ve got a lot of divided attention to grab to let people know you exist. Today’s media-centered world makes it seem simple. Well, the “if you build it, they will come” mentality just isn’t true for most of us Entrepreneurs. That’s where marketing comes in… Have I convinced you yet of the importance of marketing your business? Good, let’s move on.
How about sales? Most obviously, this is the act of selling your product or service to your customers. Good companies have a well-defined sales process, or a consistent, repeatable way of approaching a customer, informing them about your product, learning about their unique needs, presenting solutions to their problems, and closing the sale. They are responsible for welcoming the customer at the door, taking them by the hand, walking them through the process of buying from you, and waving at the end of the driveway as they drive off. Like mom and dad after the kids go off to college, sales people check on the customer after the purchase to make sure everything went as expected.
Finally, advertising consists primarily of the exact messages or campaigns you send to your customers telling them about your business. It relates more to the specific campaigns or messages you send to your customer. The biggest mistake Entrepreneurs often make with advertising is a lack of being consistent with your message to create a brand presence (more on branding later). Also, your ads should be targeted to speak to a specific audience you are trying to reach. You’re not going to get anyone’s attention by plastering your logo as large as you can get it on the ad. In fact, I try to convince my clients to make their logos smaller in their ads and instead, come up with a captivating headline that catches the right customer’s attention. A favorite example I like to use is this: Imagine it’s 10pm at night and you have a leaky faucet that can’t wait until morning before it floods the house. You scan the yellow pages and see Bob’s Plumbing, Pete the Plumber, Joe Schmo Fix-it, Your Local Plumber, etc. and then you see Late Night Repair! We’ll take care of it so you can get your sleep. Who are you going to call? You don’t care if it’s Jim-Bob, or Paul that comes to your door, but someone who you know will help you so you can hit the pillow fast; now you’re ready to dial the phone.
The plumber example is a good one for commodity services like plumbing, repair, etc., but my guess is that many of you Mompreneurs are selling some sort of creative product or service, perhaps something you make or find unique. So, you may not have as much competition as a plumber, but the concept is what’s important. You still need to find a way to distinguish yourself from the other options that are out there and find a way to catch the attention of your target audience when they are overwhelmed with so many messages directed at them each day. Rather than focusing so much on yourself and your desire to make your logo as big as it can be because we all know how awesome you are (no joke – I truly believe in your rockstar ability – otherwise you wouldn’t have considered being a business owner in the first place), you need to first consider your audience and really dissect what will attract them and make them feel like their prayers are being answered. Remember, humans are selfish by nature. The way to get someone to flock to your business in droves is to appeal to their most primary need – self actualization (remember Maslow’s hierarchy for those of you who took college psychology?). While they might entertain your catchy business name with a quick, passing glance, nothing is going to make them stop dead in their tracks more than something that screams, “I will pamper YOU and fix something that you have been endlessly searching for an answer to!” That, my friends, is the way to develop an advertisement AND to get your customers’ attention.
Is this coming together yet? I hope that you can connect the dots between your advertisement that speaks to your customer and the fact that it only one specific piece of your overall brand and marketing strategy. This strategy needs to be consistent to avoid confusing your target customer. You need to know who it is that you serve, what motivates them to purchase something, and how exactly it is that you meet their varied needs and can help them solve their problems. Then, the sales process needs to seamlessly guide them through the act of doing business with you and needs to remind them continually why you are the best match for them and can understand their most primitive needs (self-actualization or independence, autonomy, belonging, etc., remember?).
Ahh, there it is. The big picture. Congrats, you’re now a Marketing 101 graduate. Stay tuned for the next part, when we begin to take apart the pieces of marketing and learn when it’s best to do it yourself and when it’s best to hire someone to help.
If you know others Mompreneurs who run their own businesses, share this with them and feel free to take credit for being the genius who discovered the keys to marketing themselves and you can enjoy learning about this stuff together.
Until then…

Pick 3. Spend 50. Save your local economy.


By Cinda Baxter, Founder of The 3/50 Project
4/7/2009
Cinda Baxter

No one needs to tell storefront retailers times are tough; truth be told, we were the first ones to see the mysterious tea leaves, being the closest connection to consumers. As early as last June, stores began seeing serious drops in revenue.

In the words of Erin Burnett, business news anchor for MSNBC (and my new favorite media voice), “I do think a lot of this is psychology,” referring to how determined the media seems to be to make things sound as hopeless as possible. “I’ve been collecting words the media has been using to describe the crisis: carnage, apocalypse, bleeding, hemorrhaging, crash. There is something to be said for a loss of perspective and a sense of hyperbole that’s taken over.”

Hear, hear.

Folks, it’s time the message changed, and if the media’s not going to do it…well…. who will? Yup. You.

Enter The 3/50 Project.
In a nutshell, The 3/50 Project is built on a simple concept—consumer loyalty to independent storefront businesses equals stronger local economies.

Pick 3. Spend 50. Save your local economy:

  • Pick three locally owned stores you’d miss if they disappeared, then return to them. Say hello.
  • Pick up a little something that will make someone smile. Those purchases are what keeps those businesses around. If just half the employed US population committed to spending $50 in locally owned stores each month, it would generate more than $42.6 billion in revenue. Imagine what would happen if 3/4 of them did that.
  • For every $100 spent in locally owned stores, $68 returns to the local economy through payroll taxes, property taxes, sales tax, payroll, and other business related expendatures. When purchasing from a chain or franchise, that amount drops to $43; if it’s spent online, nothing comes home.

Since the idea first popped up in a blog post mid-March, The 3/50 Project has taken off like a rocket.

To learn more about The 3/50 Project, visit http://www.the350project.net/.

Bridal Mania!

It’s that time of year again… wedding season!

We will be hosting an Invitation Workshop in the store Thursday, February 19th at 6:30 pm and Saturday, February 28th at 10 am. No matter what your style or budget, Ekcetera can help you create wedding stationary to match your personal, creative style. This free, informational workshop will feature tips and tricks on creating the perfect first and final impressions for your wedding, including advice on creating your own invitation, cost-saving tips on how to make your invitations fit your budget, invitation etiquette and working, design ideas, and coordinating your wedding stationary.

RSVP by Monday, February 9th to emily@ekcetera.com.

Ekcetera will also be at the Bridal Expo this Saturday at the Maplewood Community Center. Please stop in and check out our new spring invitations including fabulous invitation label wraps and envelope enclosures! The Maplewood Bridal Expo is from 1pm-4pm on Saturday, February 7th. For more information, please visit http://www.maplewoodcommunitycenter.com/.

It’s time for Minnesota Bride’s annual “Best of…”. If you love Ekcetera as much as we do, please take a minute to vote for us for “Best Invitations” and/or “Best Overall”. It’s easy, just go to http://www.mnbride.com/, click on “Vote for the best of 2009.” Then you will need to vote for your favorite vendors in at least six categories. Voting ends March 1. Thanks!