Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 140 / MAY 1992 / PAGE 74

First and lasting impressions. (use of the computer in small-business marketing)(includes list of information sources)
by Rosalind Resnick

Many people wouldn't dream of putting a For Sale sign on the front lawn without slapping a fresh coat of paint on the house. The first thing a job-hunter does is get a haircut and maybe a new suit. Cosmetics makers search out perfect models for photos to accompany their products. Why? Because for better or worse, looks sell.

Still, may home-business owners continue to use uninteresting, blah-looking business cards, letterheads, and brochures, wasting an opportunity to grab the attention of potential customers. That's too bad because now there's no reason why a small business has to look its size. With a computer, a little imagination, and some simple desktop publishing software, it's easy to make your business look like a million bucks without spending a fortune at the printer.

Even if you're not a professional artist, you can jazz up your company's image by choosing bolder typefaces, adding color, or incorporating graphics. It all depends on the message that you want to send--traditional, competent, funny, even outrageous. The key is getting your customers to sit up and take notice. Even a member of the most staid profession can benefit from a business card that shows panache. Professionalism doesn't have to equal boredom.

"The idea is to quickly describe, both visually and verbally, what your company does best," says Rob French, who helps redesign company logos as senior art director at Tatum Toomey & Whicker, a High Point, North Carolina, advertising agency. "If you can create an image that helps make you look more professional, you've got a leg up on the competition."

Here are ten ways to give your business a fresh look without busting your budget:

1. Copy from the pros: "The best thing to do if you're a beginner is to look at other stuff," says Daniel Will-Harris, an author and designer who writes about desktop publishing. "Find business cards and stationery that you like, and start by copying." If you can't tell serif from sans serif, however, it also may be a good idea to look for ideas by leafing through some catalogs at your local print shop or graphic arts store.

2. Find your own style: The style of type you use, be it on envelopes, business cards, or even the body text of your letters, tells your customers who you are. That's why it's important to choose a typeface that sends the message you want. A lawyer, for instance, might choose a conservative type face to suggest competence and evoke trust. A computer consultant might opt for a more modern look to stress creativity. You can also convey your personal style by combining upper- and lowercase, italic and bold. As a rule, mixing upper- and lowercase type conveys a friendlier feel than using solid uppercase. It's a good choice if your customers are small businesses. Type that is all uppercase tends to impress big corporations, while italic type can make potential customers think of speed and efficiency when they see your card.

3. Keep it simple. When creating your design, don't get carried away and use a whole lot of rules and a big mess of typefaces. While you want your business materials to convey information, cramming too many words, fonts, or graphics into too small a space will mark you as an amateur.

4. Be consistent: Whichever typeface you choose, be sure to ouse the same one on all your written materials--letterhead, envelopes, business cards, advertisements, and brochures. If you have a logo, include that on all your materials, too. "The classic example of this is IBM," Will-Harris says. "[It's] used the same type of Bodoni in every ad. Even before you've read the ad, you know it's IBM."

5. Dare to be different: You don't have to type your letters on hot pink stationery to get clients to notice (and if you did, you might not get the kind of attention you want). On the other hand, you may want to switch from horizontal business cards to vertical. Or you may want to type your letters using a typeface other than the two that are tried-and-true, Times Roman and Helvetica. To make your letters stand out, Will-Harris suggests trying other typefaces such as Trump Medieval, Baskerville, Cheltenham, Galliard, Souvenir, and Palatino. "You can use any of those typefaces and still get a fairly traditional look," he says.

6. Add a splash of color: Nobody ever said that business communications had to be conducted in white. Though you'll want your clients to be able to read what you send them, "choosing a color other than white will get people to notice it," Will-Harris says. "If you have something very artistic and you want to use purple paper, that's fine." On the other hand, it's important to beware of certain colors, such as goldenrod, a favorite of grade-school teachers, which can come across as ordinary and cheap. Go for thicker paper. A sheet of 24-pound paper stands out from a sheaf of letters written on 20-pound. And, if you can afford it, use a linen- or cotton-content paper. Even a blank sheet of fine paper carries a message about the person who uses it.

7. Design a logo: A good logo sums up your company's image in one easy-to-remember graphic. If you're not artistic, consider hiring a freelance designer or a local art student. If you don't want to start from scratch, many software programs offer clip art you can use free of charge. You can also use an image from a book, though you'll need to check to see if the photograph or illustration is copyrighted.

8. Brighten up your business cards: "For someone in business for himself a business card can serve as a minibill-board," French says. It's also the one piece of business literature that customers see every day while leafing through their Rolodexes. French recently redesigned a card for a client who installs cabinetry. Before the redesign, the card looked pretty ordinary--a horizontal card with the client's name in the center and his address at the bottom. French made the card vertical, changed the typeface to one that looks hand-tooled, and drew a border that looks like the exterior frame of a cabinet door. The result is a card that sells a service.

9. Get your computer to help: Though word processing programs such as WordPerfect and Microsoft Word are fine for publishing the occasional newsletter or flier, you may need to invest in some desktop publishing software as your needs grow. Will-Harris suggests Ventura Publisher for its speed and precision, though he says that Lotus's Ami Pro is easier to use. French, who uses a Macintosh, recommends PageMaker for desktop publishing novices.

10. Say it right: No matter how classy your business materials look, your efforts will be wasted if you can't get the message across to your customers. Misspelled words and grammatical mistakes can cast doubt on your abilities in other areas. "Don't fall into the trap of spending more time formatting your work than you do writing it," Will-Harris says. "If the content isn't good, nothing else will matter."

Your Design Is Your Fortune

Its' important to realize how valuable a first impression is. The first time you saw the car you drive, the house you live in, perhaps even the person you're involved with romantically, chances are that something clicked. Something made you look a second time. That's the impact you want your business card and documents to have.

No matter what your first impression was, though, you probably wouldn't stick with a car, a house, a partner, or a friend if the quality weren't consistent throughout. That's why you should approach every design decision from letterhead to invoice with the same industrious attitude. If you make a good first impression and live up to its promise, success can't fail to find your door.