The most successful marketing tool my design firm ever had.

The year was 1993 and I was a young designer, eager to succeed and hungry to grow my design firm. But I was feeling stuck and scared.

It was painful to even flip through the pages of any graphic design annual. My self-critic would always kick in and all I would be thinking of is how much better everyone else’s work was than mine. By the time I put the magazine down, I felt frustrated knowing that I wasn’t marketing my firm well or creating any special self-promotion pieces that were winning me clients—or awards. That frustration led to shame. And the shame would stop me in my tracks.

In search of direction, I attended my first HOW Design Live conference, and I walked away with two very important insights: without marketing, my business had no serious future; secondly, the essence of marketing is to stay in conversation with your clients and prospects. 

I returned to my studio with a simple self-promotion idea that would become the pillar marketing piece for my company for the following 14 years. As my business was just starting, I didn’t have a budget to devote to marketing and there were a lot of people I wanted to stay connected to. So I had to get creative. I approached the local print shop that was printing most of my work (in those days printing was a major expense for every design firm) and convinced them to trade services to create a joint marketing piece we both could use. The printer jumped on the idea and we became each other’s marketing partners for years to come.

We created a calendar to send to our clients and prospects. But rather than send it all once, with the entire year bound together, we sent a single sheet each month, to create 12 points of communication instead of just one. It was important for me that the piece had value and that it wouldn’t end up in someone’s trash bin after they received it. So it had to be useful, it had to be beautiful and it had to be on time. I often used to joke that our calendar sheet was the only piece of art some of my corporate “suit” clients would have in their office.

The calendar was a hit with the people who received it—to the extent that they’d ring us if they missed a month, asking what had happened to it. The calendar was a true promo piece as it demonstrated what to expect from working with us: loyalty, consistency, expertise in marketing and our personal approach to developing business. It kept our clients and prospects connected and happy to hear from us.

There was a lot of love put into every single mailing, from the overall design to the handwritten addresses on every envelope to the love clients felt when they received it. This was definitely a “love-creation” piece.

The simplicity of this marketing piece and the intention in which it was sent supported an ongoing conversation with our clients and prospects. The calendar, which we mailed every month, was by far the most successful and cost-effective promotional piece our studio produced in a span of 18 years in business.

Be the gardener of your business

Bee and lavender

I live in Los Angeles, California, and though we tolerate bad traffic, bad acting and bad earthquakes, the gorgeous weather we get year round makes it all worthwhile. One thing I enjoy as a result of the weather is the ability to have a garden with an abundance of plants and flowers. My partner and I work hard to keep this garden alive, but we also have some help from mother nature. 

As we were designing the garden, we wanted it to expand and grow. We knew that if we could attract bees into the garden, they would bring with them ongoing activity and help pollinate the space. So, we planted a few lavender bushes around the edges of the garden in hopes that they would attract bees and pollinate the garden. 

It occurred to me that the garden, the lavender and the bees are a lot like your business, your marketing and your clients. 

Your business is the garden that provides you with the fruits you desire. The lavender is the marketing you put out into the world, and the bees are the clients who come and pollinate your business. 

Planting lavender in our garden was intentional. We knew that if we wanted a healthy garden, we wanted to attract bees. And, we knew that bees would come only if we had the right type of plant to attract them. 

Your ideal client is that bee that will look for the lavender in your business. The lavender is your marketing plan that needs ongoing care and nourishment for clients to keep coming back. Having healthy lavender will attract the clients you want. 

Want to grow a better, healthier business? Treat that business like a garden and you are the dedicated gardner. Here are a few tips on what it takes to create a flourishing garden. Apply this to your business and watch it grow. 

1. Experience: Gardening makes you a better gardner. The more you spend time on your garden (not just in it), you will learn more, fail more and grow more. Nobody wakes up one day knowing exactly what to do in their garden. You learn by doing. Same for your business. You need to spend time working on it, not just in it. 

2. Consistency and Persistence: Plants need ongoing care. Growing a garden isn’t like learning to crochet. You can’t put it down and take it back up three months later and expect everything to be right where you left off. Develop a habit of going out there on a regular basis. Your plants are like your marketing—consistency and persistence will give you a chance to understand your market, catch problems and observe changes. 

3. Plant the right plants for your climate: Chances are you won't be able to grow every type of plant you would like, so choose the type of plants that will grow well in your environment. Start with a small variety of plants and see how they do. Once they are growing well on their own, you can add more. Same goes for marketing. Choose the right tools that are the right fit for you and your business. 

4. Embrace Failure: Perfectionism is dead. As long as you have a garden, you will have plants that die. Sometimes plants die on their own and sometimes gardeners kill plants. Don't let that stop you from keep planting. If a marketing tool fails or stops working, learn from that experience and move on. Take chances and give yourself room to screw up. It's often in those failures that we have our biggest a-ha! moments.

Growing a business doesn't happen by itself. Without you, the business owner, nourishing and loving your business, you may find yourself in the middle of a dying garden filled with weeds and pests. Be the best gardner in your business and watch the magnificent beauty you can grow. 

Subject : 50 ways to thank your clients

One of the foundational pillars of designing an abundant business is being in a state of gratitude for what you have: recognizing the good in your business and giving thanks to your clients.

Besides earning major karma points and getting a warm fuzzy feeling for doing something good, thanking your clients can also count as a marketing touch. When you say thanks you create an opportunity to have a heart connection with your clients and thus deepen the relationship.   

Recently, I've challanged some of my coaching clients to strive for a more intentional state of gratitude with their clients. We focused on being more active and paying more attention to the way they thank and appreciate their clients. 

Being in a state of gratitude is not easy for most business owners. When we're not actively recognizing the good we tend to see what's missing, what's wrong and what we don't have. We live in a culture that thrives on bad news and worry, so paying attention to what's working doesn't appear on our radar.

Just like any other marketing activity that must be practiced on a regular basis, giving thanks and being in gratitude is also a practice. Point your radar at all the good your clients have brought to your life and your business and make a deeper human connection by saying thanks. Do this on a regular basis and watch how your business gets into a beautiful flow of giving and receiving from your clients. 

You don't need a special occasion to say thank you.  Sometimes random moments are the best.  A heartfelt letter (or email)  telling your client how much you appreciate working with them, how they help your business grow and how much you enjoy the creative challenges you get from them will bring a smile to their faces and make them only want to give you more work. 

And if you're too shy to write that letter (but trust me, it works) here are 50 more ideas you can do to say thanks. 

Pick one.