Kristine Neil

Business

Meet the Community — Kristine Neil

Business, Web DesignKristine NeilComment

How did you get into the industry?

Like most designers, I didn’t necessarily embark on a direct path to a web design career from the start! Where I am now is a mash-up of all my past experiences, and I am lucky to have been able to shape my own job description as my interests and skills have evolved. In some way or another, I’ve worked in and around the intersection of technology, business strategy, communications, engineering and creativity for the past 20 years and for the past 5+ years have used those skills almost exclusively in the web design and development space which is where I feel like I was meant to end up.

Why do you work with Squarespace over other platforms?

My first experience with Squarespace was out of necessity. As an entrepreneur and small business owner myself, I needed a website. I needed it to look amazing, of course, and I didn’t have the patience or time to build it on Wordpress, which is what was de rigueur for the time. It didn’t take long to realize the power of Squarespace to allow other small (and not so small!) businesses to create an online presence in an accessible way. That first experience in building something for my own company turned into doing a few sites for some select clients, which snowballed into doing more and more web work. Markon Brands, the creative studio I own, now exclusively designs and develops on Squarespace for entrepreneurs, solopreneurs and small teams.

What makes your business unique?

At face value, we don’t do anything magical. There are lots of people who are experts in web design, Squarespace, development, strategy, etc. Where we are different is in our ability to tackle projects from both a creative and a business perspective — things have to look good, but they also have to make practical sense. Collectively, our team can cover both of those areas which can often have divergent or competing priorities. Clients are often surprised when we offer simple solutions to seemingly complex challenges. This may be because they have had poor past experiences with other designers who left them wanting more or with developers who made managing information unnecessarily complicated. Whatever the reason, what we hear most from clients is that working with us was a refreshing experience. (Best compliment ever, BTW!)

What services do you offer?

Most of our larger projects fall into two main categories: new web designs or website redesigns. Basically, you either already have a website or you don’t. We like both types of projects. Working with startups on a new site is exciting because it’s a blank slate and we can put some great foundational elements in place to help them succeed as they grow. Website redesigns are very rewarding both creatively and professionally as well. These clients typically come to us because something in their business isn’t working as it should and they’ve attributed the problem in some way to their website. What we discover in working with these clients is that there may be a systems or organizational problem that we can solve at the same time as we give their website an aesthetic facelift. It could be something as simple as helping route forms to the proper departments to reduce admin headaches or more technical solutions like streamlining the way online orders are handled and processed or how blogs are tagged and categorized to improve discoverability.

What work are you most proud of and why?

Markon Brands recently celebrated its 7th birthday which I think is a huge accomplishment! Sadly, most small businesses only last a couple of years so to be able to say we’ve made it over that hump is something to be very proud of. I attribute this success to our ability (and willingness!) to continuously evolve and adapt to changing market conditions. We are always learning and invest a lot of time on professional development and ongoing education, continually pushing ourselves professionally and creatively, so things don’t feel stagnant or boring.

What are your preferred industries to work with?

We don’t work in a specific niche. Our style and strategies can be adaptive to any type of content from service-based businesses to e-commerce experiences. We do work best with entrepreneurs/solopreneurs or with small dedicated teams like nonprofits since we tend to work very collaboratively with clients through our design and development process. We’ve found these clients more willing to push boundaries than larger organizations with many levels of bureaucracy to navigate.

What is one piece of advice you would give clients?

Find a designer or design team that you trust and then truly hand over the reins to them. We are students of our industry and work hard to stay on top of trends, changes, and challenges that the layperson just doesn’t have time to master. We call our process collaborative because we need the input and experience you have about your industry, but it’s not your job to come up with design or technical solutions to any perceived problems — that’s what you hired us to do!

What inspires you?

Personally, I am always inspired by travel, and I do my best to travel as often as possible even if it’s just getting away for the weekend to explore something new. Getting outside your comfort zone, seeing things from a different perspective, learning about other cultures — all of these things inspire my work and push me to help clients communicate better online.

What do you do to overcome creative blocks?

We’re lucky that our office is located in the heart of the city we’re based in so creative blocks are often overcome by walks around the neighborhood to get some fresh air or sometimes taking our laptops to one of the many local coffee shops to work with a change of scenery. Music also helps, and our office is always pumping with something, typically electronic, pop or hip hop.

What are you working on at the moment?

We have several open projects at the moment, and they are all pretty different from one another! Right now, we have new websites in the works for clients from California to Australia to Ireland to just down the street and in industries as diverse as travel, wedding, photography, real estate, and food.

Why did you join Sixty as an expert?

We love that Sixty loves Squarespace as much as we do and that they are building a place to connect pros and clients specifically for the platform. There is a focus on creating a positive experience for all parties involved that you often don’t see; on some other platforms either creative work is devalued, or customer service is lacking. Sixty has proven to take care of both sides. As professionals, we feel valued and respected, and clients are also reporting very positive experiences with the Sixty team and interface. Win-win!

What do you love most about On Demand sessions with Sixty?

What’s great about Squarespace as a platform is that clients do find most of it very intuitive and accessible, but it’s also easy to get overwhelmed or not know exactly how to achieve what you want to do. It’s gratifying to be able to share some of my knowledge and expertise in training sessions or to be able to quickly fix a problem that a client’s been stuck on for a while. One of my favorite things is when clients start with “I know this isn’t possible on Squarespace but…” and then for me to be able to show them that it is! (It’s also fun to get to work with people all over the world every day!)

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I’m excited to see how this industry continues to evolve and change over the next few years. There’s a lot about what we do as web designers that is affected by things like what social media platforms are popular, what devices people are using, how people are accessing information and the dreaded algorithm. In five years, I’ll still be working in this industry, but at the rate things are changing in tech and online I have no doubt that it could look and feel very different. What will stay the same is that business will still be about connecting humans with other humans so even if we’re using artificial intelligence to do the matchmaking it’s still all about relating to and connecting with others.

https://blog.usesixty.com/meet-the-community-kristine-neil-a0bc9e3f7ba3

How Small Businesses Use Websites in 2019

Business, Web DesignKristine NeilComment

Working in web design, it’s difficult to imagine a business owner who thinks our products and services aren’t necessary for business but in a recent survey and report from Visual Objects, a surprising 40% of small businesses choose not to invest in a website citing concerns over cost and relevance.

Brand-building opportunities aside, the benefits of having a website for your business are tremendous and done right, the return will far exceed the cost over time. The following is an excerpt from that report which I was happy to contribute to. Be sure to click the link at the bottom for the full article!


Website-building software still costs money and often requires time and manpower that small businesses may not have. Some agencies like Markon Brands, however, work within website builders to create beautiful products for their clients using existing frameworks.

Kristine Neil primarily develops high-quality Squarespace websites for small businesses working with limited resources.

“The cool thing about working on a platform like Squarespace is we’re able to offer a high-caliber product to a client with a smaller budget,” said Kristine Neil, Markon Brands’ owner and creative director. “We hand [clients] a website where they have some modicum of control, but they had professional help to take care of all the backend settings – the things that were a little overwhelming from a DIY standpoint.”

Squarespace and other platforms, with professional help, provide a greater ROI for small businesses with limited budgets. Agencies like Markon Brands help small businesses create a beautiful website with a high-quality UX and empower clients to manage the day-to-day aspects of website maintenance.

Although hiring a web design agency often feels daunting for small businesses looking to launch a simple website, partnering with a qualified team is a worthy investment for building an online presence.

https://visualobjects.com/web-design/top-web-designers/small-business-websites-2019

More Than One-Third of Small Businesses Have No Website, Survey Finds

Business, Web DesignKristine NeilComment

More than one-third of small businesses (40%) choose not to invest in a website, according to a new survey from Visual Objects, a portfolio website that showcases work from top creative firms from around the world.

In addition, the survey found that 28% of small businesses are unlikely to create a website in the future.

Graph - resources small businesses use to maintain their websites

Graph - why small businesses do not have websites

In contrast, most small businesses (60%) do have a website, primarily to establish brand legitimacy and authority.

The survey of 529 U.S. small businesses found that quality websites are affordable and accessible for small businesses. Most small businesses believe a website is a necessary component of any successful digital marketing strategy in 2019.

Some Small Businesses Consider Websites Irrelevant

Nearly a third of small businesses that choose not to have a website (28%) say a website is irrelevant to their company's needs. These companies tend to leverage their personal networks and traditional marketing strategies, such as email and PR, to generate business.

Industry experts, however, are skeptical of businesses that rely on word-of-mouth marketing strategies without websites.

"At some point, businesses get into the outer reaches of that word-of-mouth network," said Jackson Fox, director of user experience at Viget, a full-service digital agency near Washington, D.C."Without a digital presence in some way, people who don't know you may not trust your business."

Cost and the use of social media for a web presence are other reasons small businesses gave for not creating a website.

Most Small Businesses Spend Less Than $10,000on Their Websites

Websites have become more affordable for small businesses: 65% spend less than $10,000 to design, build, and launch a website.

Website builders such as Squarespace and Wix help small businesses establish a basic website presence quickly without budgetary strain. However, the ability of these website tools is limited, and the advanced design features are often beyond the average small business owner's skill level.

Kristine Neil, owner and creative director at web design firm Markon Brands in Vancouver, Wash., says website builders tend to establish unrealistic expectations for amateur web designers.

"Those [platforms] really oversell and underdeliver when it comes to the lay person's ability to execute or recreate the samples that they're seeing," Neil said.

Web Design Agencies Help Small Businesses Meet Strategic Goals

Nearly 20% of small businesses use a web design agency to maintain their websites. Most small businesses (52%), however, keep website maintenance in-house and may not have the necessary expertise for complex website features.

Web design companies can save small businesses time and effort by creating a high-quality product that empowers clients to take over day-to-day maintenance of the final version.

Roxana Colorado, creator of the LatinaNomad business blog, hired a developer after attempts to build her own website came up short.

"The hours spent trying to figure it all out were insane," Colorado said. "The learning curve on the development side was huge. I would have been better off hiring someone."

https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/more-than-one-third-of-small-businesses-have-no-website-survey-finds-300803983.html

SEO & Squarespace

Strategy, Web Design, BusinessKristine NeilComment

Highlighting Features & Busting Myths about SEO and Squarespace

As web designers & developers, we naturally get a lot of questions about SEO or search engine optimization. As Squarespace designers & developers, we also get alot of questions about how choosing the platform itself affects SEO. This can be a complex and confusing subject with lots of information out there meant to confuse and conflate things and there are plenty of myths that we love busting whenever possible. Let’s jump right in! 

THE BACKSTORY: SQUARESPACE & SEO

Somehow, way back when, Squarespace got a bad rep when it comes to SEO. This may have been relevant in the early days of the service and could still apply if you’re still operating off the now deprecated Squarespace 5 platform which does not have the same SEO features that the current Squarespace 7 one does. The current platform, which all new websites are built on, features a robust toolkit when it comes to SEO. The best part is that no third-party apps are needed to be able to work on the SEO features of your site and you don’t need to get into any super-technical code either. 

BUILT-IN FEATURES

  • All Squarespace sites are optimized for mobile and all templates have been scanned with Google’s Mobile-Friendly Testing Tool to ensure that they are mobile friendly. Google prioritizes mobile-optimized sites in search results. 

  • Areas where you can edit the search engine and page descriptions on both a site-wide and per-page basis. No third party plugins are needed for this!

  • Sitemaps are automatically generated and itemize all of the URL and image metadata on your site. Everything is given proper priority and is ready to index regardless of the template you choose. 

  • SSL Certificates are included in every domain that is connected to a Squarespace site. SSL-secured websites may rank higher than those that are not secure. 

  • Squarespace automatically generates clean HTML markup that can be read by search engines when your site is indexed without the need for any extra code or tags.

  • The tags that improve search engine indexing (alt, title, meta and link tags) are automatically included. 

  • Clean URLs for all primary pages that are easy for search engines to read and index.

  • If you have multiple domains or use a custom domain on your Squarespace site, automatic redirects ensure that search engines will only see your primary domain.

  • Easy enabling of Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) to create lightweight versions of every page on your site so that they can load faster when people view your website on their phones. Sites with AMP may rank higher in mobile searches. 

  • Products on Squarespace are structured so that data like the product name, image, description, price and URL so that Google can display this information as a rich search result

  • Automatic and easy integration with Google Search Console so that you can see Google search keywords analytics directly in your Squarespace analytics platform. 

The Secret to Getting Seen: CONTENT

One of the greatest misconceptions out there is that SEO is as easy as adding a plugin (something like Yoast if you use Wordpress). The real truth is that plugins like Yoast are nothing more than a checklist. You’d be just as well off printing an actual to-do list and putting it on a clipboard next to your desk. These plugins do nothing for your SEO just by being connected. The secret to getting noticed is having great content, something that is completely independent from what platform your site is on or what SEO tools you may be using. That being the case, we know that people love checklists so here’s one you can work off of: 

  • Site Title (less than 60 characters, include keywords)

  • Site Description  (50-300 characters, make it a readable description)

  • Location Info (i.e.  a map and business contact information)

  • Use a Custom Domain 

  • Connect Your Social Media Accounts

  • Add SEO Descriptions (for each page, 50-300 characters) 

  • Page & Title Formats (for all individual pages, home, blog, shop)

  • Custom 404 Page 

  • Clean Blog post URLS (include post title in URL)

  • Clean Page slugs (use real words and make it relevant)

  • Verify site with Google Search Console

  • Index your site with Google

  • Verify your site with Bing Webmaster Tools

  • Connect your site to Google Analytics

  • Regularly check Google analytics search keywords panel and update content as needed

  • As content updates and changes over time, be sure to redirect or fix any broken links using URL redirects

  • Update your site frequently by blogging

  • Use keywords strategically 

  • Use Squarespace’s built-in features for creating headings

  • Add alt text to images

  • Add social sharing images to every page

  • Give images readable file names 

  • Use tags & categories on blog posts, products and galleries

  • Link to other relevant content on your site 

  • Keep images under 500KB

There you have it! Print that list out and you’ve got yourself an SEO plugin 😛 

WHAT IF THINGS AREN’T GOING WELL?

If you’re searching for yourself on Google (who doesn’t routinely do this?!) and not liking what you see, there may be a few culprits. If you’ve worked through all of the items in the checklist above, it may just be that your site is too new or that it was just moved from another platform. You’re just too new to the neighborhood! Google & Bing are crawling sites all the time but it can sometimes take a few weeks for your new site to be scanned. If your site does show as being indexed already in Google and you’re still not seeing the results you’d like, we recommend taking a look at the keywords that you’re using on your site. Like we’ve said before, content is king

We know that SEO can be an overwhelming subject so if you’d like to learn more about this topic, you can also check out our SEO Guide. It’s specific to the Squarespace platform that we create all our sites on but the principles are universal so we think it would actually be helpful to anyone who’s wanting to learn a little more on the topic or feel more empowered when it comes to discussing the subject with a pro. 

https://markonbrands.com/blog/seo-and-squarespace

Making User Experience a Priority

UX, Business, Strategy, Web DesignKristine NeilComment

When it comes to designing websites the most significant tension is not what most clients would expect. Finding the perfect combination of fonts - not a problem. Incorporating a stunning color palette - easy. Working with custom code, integrating a third party feature or organizing a robust content system - bring it on. Striking a balance between user experience and the needs of the client when it comes to ongoing website upkeep - surprisingly tricky. 

Understanding the push and pull that happens when it comes to this topic can be challenging as well. What do we mean when we talk about making user experience a priority? Moreover, why does something have to give when we’re confronted with a challenge between the needs of our visitors to have a pleasant time on our websites and our own need to make things easy to take care of behind the scenes? Ultimately, when it comes to user experience, why can’t we have our cake and eat it too? 

Before we jump into how to make user experience a priority, we have to understand that the way most people talk about web design is fundamentally wrong. We talk about users and visitors (i.e., your potential clients and customers) as the only demographic we’re designing for or the only ones who’s experience matters on your site. And this isn’t really true. In reality, websites are as much for us (i.e., the business owners and employees) as they are for them. Website structure is often very strongly linked to the physical systems used in your office or place of work. Sure, we want the client-facing portion to be appealing and intuitive but we also strive to create organized and robust back-end features that make managing your site less intimidating then it may have once been. This is where the tension begins.

Read the full article on Medium.

https://medium.com/markon-brands/making-user-experience-a-priority-66c510b59591

Technological Illiteracy is a Real Problem

Business, Web Design, UXKristine NeilComment

We’re at a place in history unlike any other when it comes to access to such a large amount of information at the tips of our fingers. So much of what happens in our real lives, in our communities, in our classrooms, in our town halls, and in our boardrooms is affected by or has the power to be shaped by the information that we get first online. Unfortunately, technological illiteracy is a real problem and those of us who work every day online and with technology often forget how overwhelming it can all seem to those that don’t. Teaching everyone how to use, manage, evaluate, and understand technology and information online is as critical a subject as reading or math. I believe that we have a civic responsibility to make sure that not just our students but other demographics that are routinely marginalized online have the tools they need to access information and engage in the conversations that will shape our collective future.

https://medium.com/authority-magazine/technological-illiteracy-is-a-real-problem-and-those-of-us-who-work-every-day-online-and-with-102bb9ba509d

Kristine Neil, Owner & Creative Director at Markon Brands accepted into YEC Next

BusinessKristine NeilComment

YEC Next is an invitation-only community for the world’s most promising early-stage entrepreneurs.

Vancouver, WA (February 4, 2019) — Kristine Neil, Owner & Creative Director at Markon Brands, has been accepted into YEC Next, an invitation-only community for the world's most promising early-stage entrepreneurs 45 and younger.

Kristine was chosen for membership in YEC Next based the success she has already achieved with Markon Brands, as well as the selection committee’s analysis of her potential for future growth.

As a member of YEC Next, Kristine will have access to a curated network of influential peers, personal brand building and publishing opportunities on top media outlets, volume discounts on business services, and VIP events. Kristine and others in YEC Next also benefit from the mentorship of members of YEC (Young Entrepreneur Council), which counts among its ranks some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs.

“I’m honored to have been invited to join YEC Next and look forward to sharing with and learning from my fellow entrepreneurs,” says Kristine Neil. “The coming year is poised to be a standout year for Markon and I look forward to the opportunity to further solidify our footing as Squarespace web design & development experts.”

Scott Gerber, founder of YEC Next, says, "We are honored to welcome Kristine to YEC Next. Our goal is to provide the most promising up-and-coming entrepreneurs around with the opportunities and connections that will accelerate their path to every business milestone.”

For more information about YEC Next, visit yecnext.com.

https://markonbrands.com/kristine-neil-owner-creative-director-at-markon-brands-accepted-into-yec-next

Why being authentic is the most important principle for success in social media

Business, Personal Branding, Social MediaKristine NeilComment

Be Authentic. The quickest way to get people to zone out is to show them exactly what they see on everyone else’s accounts. You’re not keeping up a robust posting schedule and all that goes with it to blend in! Users are quick to notice when someone isn’t being real. When faced with an endless scroll of pretty, polished, manicured personas, offering an authentic picture of who you really are as a person (or as a brand) can be a breath of fresh air. Brands and influencers alike shouldn’t be afraid to put themselves out there; I’ve found that the messy behind-the-scenes posts usually generate the most engagement. If you’re hesitant to post anything less than perfect to your grid, that’s what Stories are for! You can be silly, speak directly to your followers, play with fun features like gifs, polls or questions and still maintain the picture perfect main profile we all strive for.

https://thriveglobal.com/stories/why-being-authentic-is-the-most-important-principle-for-success-in-social-media-with-kristine-neil/

Creative Studio Markon Brands Helps Brands Tell Cohesive And Compelling Stories Online

UX, Web Design, BusinessKristine NeilComment

Below is our recent interview with Kristine Neil, Owner and Creative Director of Markon Brands:

Q: Kristine, can you tell us something more about the company?

A: Markon Brands is a small, creative studio based in the Pacific Northwest. We specialize not just in designing websites but in helping brands tell cohesive and compelling brand stories online. We are first and foremost, communication experts and it just so happens that in 2019 nearly all communication is digital! Our best clients are small to medium businesses or nonprofit organizations that want to communicate better with their target demographic. They may not realize that poor messaging or inconsistent logo usage or an outdated web design layout is costing them money; they may only feel that something is off about their current site or know that they can do more. We also do a lot of work with new companies that are in the startup phase so for those clients the goal is to anticipate the needs of an audience that doesn’t entirely exist yet and build in room for growth and adaptation.

Q: Can you give us insights into your services?

A: Of all the projects we work in during the course of a year, I would say that 70% of them are website rebuilds and the remaining 30% are entirely new sites. Whether we’re working with a client that has an existing site or not, our process remains pretty much the same. After working on so many websites over the years, we’ve honed and refined a method to make things easy for our clients who may not be as familiar with technology or the ever-changing demands of search engines like Google. Our services are designed to be holistic treatments of the entirety of a brand’s digital footprint, with the foundation being a beautiful, user-friendly, modern website. We also provide ongoing website support services for clients whether we built their original site or not. For us, it’s not just about getting a client to launch day; it’s about allowing them to have a website that can grow and change for them as their business does.

Q: No one in your studio has ever taken a dedicated UX design course? Is that true? Why?

A: This is true! That’s what happens when you’ve been at this game for as long as we have; what used to be taught under several different disciplines has now been modernized under the singular “user experience” banner. So even though neither of us has ever taken what is now billed as a UX design course, we’ve unintentionally been training and building our UX knowledge and skillset over decades of real-life education and experience. User experience as we define it is really just an amalgamation of the theories and teachings of many different fields. From understanding things like buyer psychology and color theory to what actions convert and how environmental conditions affect buyers, user experience design has been given life through all the new ways we interact with brands – online and IRL. Creating great user experiences pulls equally from the fields of psychology, art, economics, design, information sciences, and linguistics, and these are all areas we’re lucky to be able to translate into a digital medium such as web design.

Q: What is the best way to create readable web pages, and why is it important?

A: Most pages need to be way more straightforward and simple than the average business owner imagines! Most of us can probably differentiate a great website from a mediocre one when we land there as a visitor ourselves, but the problem we see most business owners have is that when it comes to their own site, they get bogged down by their personal knowledge and passion for their industry. They forget that visitors don’t share their same level of skill or expertise in their field and end up providing too much of the wrong information when, in fact, pared down copy with a highly targeted call-to-action helps create a highly readable web page and more enjoyable experience. Putting yourself in your client’s shoes is the best first step in this process. Try to understand what they know, what they don’t know and when it’s appropriate to share different types of info with them. Clearly defined sales funnels like this convert at higher rates and have the side effect of being more readable by search engines as well!

Q: From your perspective how can search engine optimization change a business owner’s life?

A: SEO is a very tangled and complicated topic, and there are definitely people who consider themselves “experts” in this field that see things differently than we do at Markon. We tend to feel that there’s a lot of over-promising and under-delivering that happens in this segment and it’s unfortunate because many of the victims of sometimes predatory practices are otherwise pragmatic business owners that are just trying to improve their web positioning so that they can stay open another week. Search engine optimization best practices change faster than most companies can afford to respond to so, at best, most businesses are just playing catch up in a game that they are never going to win. We would recommend that for SEO to be truly “life changing” that business owners should focus on organic content creation that builds relationships and reinforces their position as an expert in their field. All of the fundamental elements (things like proper page or content formatting) should be taken care of as part of your web design experience. To us, great design is the foundation of great SEO. Growth happens as a result of the everyday activities that come after launch.

Q: What are your plans for the future?

A: In 2019, we plan to focus more on creating intentional user experiences and integrating more personalized elements into the sites we build for clients. This means being even more thoughtful about the placement of essential items on the page and increasingly conscientious about what motivates people to connect. On the personalization side, we’re discovering new apps and integrations every day that are at very accessible price points for even the smallest of businesses, and we’re excited to see how those features help our clients better connect and engage with their own customers. Designing for a great experience and staying ahead of trends is what sets us apart from ordinary web designers.

http://techcompanynews.com/creative-studio-markon-brands-helps-brands-tell-cohesive-and-compelling-stories-online/?fbclid=IwAR39gO1JgkkqQn_YCY_gtZf2cD4g2lzaIUXi79auwNdnwRkMhIxtxdeLaOg

30 Entrepreneurs Share Their Best Business Tips

Business, Personal BrandingKristine NeilComment

Stay True to Your Passion

In many ways, it’s easier than ever to start your own business but many people quickly realize that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the CEO desk. Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart! There is a lot of romanticized content out there (especially on Instagram) that makes it seem like a dream to be your own boss; from the #digitalnomads who claim to only work four hour weeks while traveling the world and blogging from the back of their camper van to the always perfect snaps of #workathome life, it can be tough when your reality doesn’t seem to match up to what you’re seeing online. My biggest tip for succeeding as an entrepreneur is to stay true to yourself and not compare your version of success to anyone else’s. Being an entrepreneur can be risky and unpredictable enough without feeling like you haven’t figured out the “magic formula” for success yet. If you’re bold enough to step out on your own, stay true to that passion and success will eventually follow.

https://rescue.ceoblognation.com/2018/12/07/entrepreneurs-share-their-best-business-tips-4/

17 Experts Reveal the Ecommerce Trends Set to Fuel Serious Sales Growth in 2019

Business, Web DesignKristine NeilComment

Innovative ecommerce retailers will push the current limits of personalisation in 2019. This means going beyond passive product recommendation models by integrating conversational features that actively recommend products to consumers based on demographics, purchase history, locality and any other actionable data.

“The idea will be to create an online shopping experience that feels like it comes with the support one would find from a human associate in a store. Imagine logging into a favourite clothier’s website and being greeted by a bot that knows your dimensions, colour and style preferences, and can actively assist you in shopping for a new item.

https://www.veeqo.com/blog/ecommerce-trends-2019

Business Owners Need a Holiday Break, Too. Here's How to Take One.

Business, StrategyKristine NeilComment

For business owners, taking time off during the holiday season can be challenging. For one thing, you risk losing income if you’re not working. Second, it can be hard to find someone else to manage operations during this busy time of year.

The good news? Most of your customers will probably be taking a break, too. So with a little planning and a lot of communication, you can actually relax and enjoy the holidays yourself. Here are tips to giving yourself some rest and relaxation over the holiday season:

Communicate

Your holiday planning should start weeks—if not months—before your scheduled time off. Give your customers, clients and staff as much heads-up as possible, and then remind them of your plans at every opportunity. When Paige Arnof-Fenn, founder and CEO of marketing firm Mavens & Moguls, took a month off to travel to Italy recently, she made sure colleagues and clients had months to prepare for her absence. “I told them about my plans, reiterated the dates as we discussed timelines for projects, and put it in emails, proposals, invoices and pay stubs,” she says. The best part: By creating that sense of urgency, clients pulled the trigger on some projects that had been lingering so they could launch before she left town.

Delegate

If you have staff who can cover for you while you’re away, have more than one person trained to handle key tasks, advises Jamie Cunningham, with SalesUp! Business Coaching. Also document all of your critical systems. “There are usually only a handful of mission-critical systems in a business that, if failed, would cause irrevocable damage,” he says. “These are the ones to focus on.”

Automate

Technology and IoT (Internet of things) have made it easier than ever to be out of the office without being out-of-pocket when clients need you. Kristine Neil, owner and creative director of Markon Brands, lets automation take care of routine tasks when she’s not in the office. She creates workflows in Dubsado, her customer relationship management (CRM) platform, to automatically respond to leads, follow up on proposals or even track down anyone who may have missed a scheduled payment while she’s out of the office. Ruby Receptionists will route calls to her cell so she can answer them from anywhere in the world. “If I’m truly trying to disconnect, they can answer basic questions or route callers to helpful resources until I’m back in the office,” she says.

Outsource

The rise of virtual assistants has been a game-changer for many entrepreneurs. As their name implies, virtual assistants are contract or freelance workers who perform basic executive assistant tasks while working from home. They can answer your phone, respond to emails, manage projects or maintain your social media presence while you’re away. They can be hired by the hour, by the project or by the week or month, depending on your needs.

Check In

The reality is that you may not be able to completely sever the line between work and home during your days off. So if you do need to check in, set boundaries around your availability. Let your staff and clients know that you’ll be checking messages or emails once or twice a day, and leave an emergency contact number on your voicemail. Also set your email to out-of-office mode and leave a message letting them know you’re on break and how to reach your business if necessary.

“While I’m not a fan of a business owner being on call during their holidays, it can give both you and your team peace of mind knowing that if an absolute disaster happens, there is a way to connect with you,” Cunningham says. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, these disasters never come to pass, but the fear they will often prevents business owners taking the length of holiday they really should.”

https://spectrumbusinessinsights.com/technology/business-owners-need-a-holiday-break-too-heres-how-to-take-one/

The Nightmares of Web Designers [Stories About Difficult and Unsolved Cases]

Business, Web DesignKristine NeilComment

In our years of working with businesses to build successful online experiences, the projects that have presented the most friction are the ones where clients try to micromanage the design process despite having little-to-no experience or authority in the world of design. As designers and UX professionals we bring our best to every project, so when a client is attempting to steer the project in another creative direction that we don't think will help them achieve their goals, it can grind the project to halt. It's an unfortunate scenario considering the client has paid for our expertise. In these cases, our job becomes helping clients see beyond their own design bias to what is best for their target audience.

https://www.templatemonster.com/blog/web-designers-nightmares/

Data is Lying to You

Business, Marketing, StrategyKristine NeilComment

A quick Google search on “key metrics to track for your website” yields a plethora of resources on everything from bounce rate to conversion rates by traffic source and from authors as diverse as the well-respected Hubspot to some random guy online who decided he was an expert on this topic.  

Metrics are important because in many ways having a website is like opening a retail store on Main Street, leaving the front door unlocked and walking away. Without them, you don’t really know who’s coming in, who’s interested in what inventory or who’s getting frustrated and leaving before making a purchase. You’d never leave your shop unstaffed, and website analytics are the online equivalent of watching what customers do to figure out how to give them more of what they want and (hopefully) get them to eventually become your customer. 

I’m definitely in favor of making well-informed decisions backed by data and tracking and analyzing all these metrics can absolutely help you understand some of what’s going on when people visit your site, but the real truth is that the metrics never tell the whole story. The data, unfortunately, is lying to you. 

Not intentionally, of course. But at best, it’s at least not telling you the whole truth. As much as the left-brained people in the room would love for us to be able to chart and graph our way to understanding what motivates people as they explore and discover our content online, there are just some things that are nearly impossible to map. Here are five things to consider when looking at your metrics that might help you understand the rest of the story. 

Understanding Behavioral Economics & Buyer Psychology 

I believe that any good post on metrics or analytics has to start with at least acknowledging that there’s an entire field of study devoted to understanding why people make irrational purchasing decisions that routinely defy economic theory. The long and short of this when it comes to thinking about how users experience your website is that sometimes we, as humans, simply do not act in our own best interests. We’re dumb like that. Your site may logically outline the benefits of your product or service, provide social proof in the way of user reviews and testimonials, ethically appeal to the emotional triggers that motivate a purchase… all the things. And users still may not buy. Well, what does this do to that neat little traffic funnel you’re analyzing? Right - it makes it look like for some reason you have control over why this person has opted out.

The truth is that while traditional economics would have us believe that we all always fairly weigh all options presented to us and make rational purchasing decisions based on facts that this is just not the case. People may be distracted, they might have other personal things going on, they might have had a few too many glasses of wine at happy hour, they may have some deep, psychological block that is preventing them from seeing the value in your work.

I find this especially true for service-based businesses (like Markon and so many of our clients are!). We know we could help people improve their web presence, better showcase their brand, get noticed for how amazing they are and… they just may not be ready for that. They aren’t not purchasing from us because they don’t recognize the value we offer, they’re not purchasing because they don’t feel that they are worth it. Maybe they’re suffering from impostor syndrome. Maybe they lack confidence in their ability to succeed in business. Whatever it is, it’s not your fault, and the metrics aren’t going to fill in these blanks. The nuances of purchasing behavior aren’t something inherently graph-able. You’re not a psychiatrist, and your website isn’t a failure because someone else just isn’t ready yet. 

The Art of Perfect Timing

At a conference in Boston last year, I had the pleasure of listening to Daniel Pink speak. He gave a wonderfully informative presentation about timing, based on the findings he outlines in his book. It was all brilliant, scientific, rational stuff. But, as we said, we don’t all always perform rationally, and a lot of our success in business comes down not only to what but when. I’m not talking about timing when it comes to when to get into a particular business or industry; I’m assuming that as a smart business person that you’ve researched and studied the trends relevant to your field and are getting into the market at a time that makes sense for profitability. I’m talking about timing when it comes to interacting with the right potential clients at the right time for them

Metrics assume that all visitors are at the same place on their journey and that they are all in a position to buy right now. But unless you’re doing some sort of exit polling as people click away from your website (and wouldn’t that be annoying?!) you have no idea why people aren’t doing what you want on your site right when you want them to. Say you offer a service only for businesses that have been open for three years or more, but a visitor saw you on social media, loves your work and is aspiring to be your client one day. If they are just starting out, it may take years for them to convert. They may visit your site periodically because it helps motivate them towards what they are working for. You may see their visits in your analytics panel as another lead lost, but they’re just waiting for when they’ll be qualified enough to work with you. The perfect time

Asking the Right Questions

Metrics are great at providing answers but are you sure you’re asking the right questions? Because so much of looking at analytics is us both trying to make sense of past data without full context and trying to guess at what future user actions might be without being mind readers, there’s a ton about the numbers you look at every month that is 100%, completely and entirely arbitrary. That can be a bit unsettling if you use those numbers to make significant business decisions regarding staffing levels, pay raises, inventory holdings, budgeting, etc. Setting targets is great but what if you pick the wrong target? Your numbers will either look really great or super crappy as a result of your lousy target picking. Maybe you didn’t under- or over-perform; perhaps you did just fine, and you’re just really bad at picking targets. The whole thing is a crapshoot if you look at data within a vacuum and fail to make sure you know what you’re asking the numbers to tell you. Vanity metrics are like vanity sizing; at the end of the day, the only person you’re fooling is yourself.  

Leading with Heart

In business school, we spent some time debating whether leaders are born or whether they can be made. Is there an innate sense of what it takes to be a great leader within some people, and do other people just have to work really hard to train that sense? For me, the answer was always a mix of both. It takes a little bit of intuition and a whole lot of experience to be able to lead a company (even if you’re a company of one!). The trouble is that we tend to give a ton of credit to that which we can measure and objectify and downplay the ability to make decisions just because they feel like the right thing to do. These decisions may seem subjective and may go against everything the numbers tell us to do, but they are still the right decisions.

A great example of this can be seen when looking at online shoe retailer Zappos. The company is well known for going to extreme lengths to take care of customers. From spending hours on the phone,  to sending flowers to grieving clients, to taking back discontinued shoes - the company routinely makes decisions that fly in the face of “good metrics.” But they’re asking the right questions (see what I did there?), and they know that the things that truly matter (i.e., customer loyalty, brand devotion) may not be measurable in a traditional sense. And if you’re still on the fence about whether it’s worth it to pay a call center employee hourly to spend an inordinate amount of time being helpful to your customers, here’s a number that may work for you: $928 million.

Quality vs. Quality

I was chatting with one of our search partners the other day and not to get too Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance on anyone but we ended up having a conversation about what quality really means. It was deep. Unlike traditional search which weighs potential matches and returns a ranked list, what we were looking at with this partner was a matching algorithm that instead was trying to provide the one best match to every searcher. This logic is similar to that used by your voice assistant (Alexa or Siri or whoever); in a world of virtually endless possibilities (quantity), voice assistants seek to return only what they deem to be the best match (quality).

What does this have to do with metrics? A lot, really. As we start to see a more significant number of users shift to search methods that are seeking quality over quantity, some of us may see a dip in related metrics. Without understanding why this may be happening, we may falsely attribute the apparent reduction in traffic or click thru rates to something we’re doing wrong (asking the wrong questions). What we should really be thinking about is whether it matters to us that we have a high volume of irrelevant traffic or if, just like the customer, we’re actually seeking out our one best match. Personally, I don’t care if one thousand people see our site if they aren’t the right people. I would rather have one person check us out and think This! This is exactly what I’m looking for! These are my people!

So what to do about this? 

I’m definitely not saying to abandon the analytics panel. Metrics have a strong role to play in business decision-making and can help guide us towards understanding some of what’s happening on our website or in our social feeds. We just need to be aware that the numbers and targets we’re looking at can only be as good as the context in which we frame them. Spending time trying to understand the motivations and challenges your target demographic may face can help you fill in the blanks when the charts seem mystifying and guide you towards the rest of the story. If you find yourself too bogged down by what look like dismal numbers on the surface, take a step back and think about what else may really be going on. If you’re playing the long game, you’ll care more about the 10,000-foot view than any one day’s worth of data anyways.

https://markonbrands.com/blog/data-is-lying-to-you

27 Email Management Tips From ‘Inbox Zero’ People

BusinessKristine NeilComment

Keep things from piling up by checking your email throughout the day.

During the work week, I keep a browser tab with my inbox open pretty much all day. I like knowing what’s happening as it’s happening.

Immediately respond to anything requiring only a minute of your time. (Or if you want to take things really seriously, try to OHIO method—Only Handle It Once.)

Use the ‘one-minute rule.’ If something takes less than one minute to accomplish, try doing it right away instead of putting it off for later.

When you’re in the middle of something, use Boomerang to temporarily pause your inbox.

I use Boomerang, a Gmail plugin, to pause my inbox whenever I’m just not ready to deal with it. This keeps me from getting overwhelmed or distracted when I’m in the middle of something else.

Use Boomerang, Superhuman, MixMax, or Streak to temporarily hide an email from your inbox and bring it back when you need it.

I use Superhuman, a paid email app, which makes things super fast and efficient. I love using the option to bring an email back into my inbox if I don’t get a response. And even if I mark a message to just bounce back to me at a later date, moving it out of my inbox gives me mental permission to not work on it until the time is right.

Use Superhuman, Boomerang, or Sortd to schedule responses to emails.

Using Superhuman to schedule a message that needs to go out later lets me handle a message right away (and get it out of my inbox)—even if it would be more appropriate to send it at a later time.

https://www.self.com/story/email-management-tips

31 Crucial Business Email Etiquette Tips

BusinessKristine NeilComment

Learn the Appropriate Use of CC & BCC

Learn CC and BCC and Use Responsibly: It’s always a bit of a rub when you take the time to CC someone and then the recipient of the email only responds to the original sender, again and again. CC is about keeping someone in the know, it’s like a primitive push notification to let you know that people are doing something you should know about. Unless it’s clear you can continue without that person, keep the CC going. Similarly, BCC is a useful tool when emailing people whose email you want to keep confidential. This is great for emailing a list of people. It’s great…except for when it’s not used and then you and twenty-seven people you don’t know, have an email with each other’s names all over it.

https://fitsmallbusiness.com/business-email-etiquette-tips/

Reach Conference 2017

Business, DesignKristine NeilComment

Last Monday morning it was a rainy day in New York City where a group of creatives convened with one mission: explore the future of our industry and how to lead it. Among the panelists and presenters were some of the most influential and - dare I say - prolific creative leaders that are forging the way. The two day Reach conference, presented by HOW and held at NYC’s School of Visual Arts, was the type that you leave feeling smarter just for having been in the same room as so many creative pioneers… and also a little exhausted because your mind has been stretched and crammed full with so many great insights.

When the amazing (and adorable) Debbie Millman opened the conference by telling us that the role of creatives in our society has fundamentally changed and is becoming more important than ever there was a silent sense of acknowledgment from the crowd that we were all there for a real purpose. This wasn’t just about design. This was about the role of design in today’s world. And also I’m sure everyone in the room was like: hi Debbie it’s me your biggest fan I love you.

MY HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Automation, data revolution, and channel proliferation have created a CRAZY increase in demand for creative content. It used to be that brands had months at a time to plan content for primarily three channels: tv, radio, newspaper. (We all know how outdated that model is.) With so many opportunities for brands to interact and engage with consumers, creative leaders have a responsibility to ensure that the relationships that are formed are positive. — Alex Withers, Chief Marketing Officer, InMotionNow | @inmotionnow

  • Gretchen Rubin, author of The Four Tendencies (and former clerk to none other than Sandra Day O'Connor) talked about really getting to know what your personality and the personalities of those you work with is in order to lead and communicate better. She got maybe one-third of the way through her presentation when a lady in front of me in the audience leaned over to the person next to her and said: screw my coworkers, this is the best marriage therapy I’ve ever had. We all laughed but then quietly added the book to our Amazon wishlists and Rubin’s The Happiness Project podcast to our queues. On her transition from law to a creative field: “I would rather fail as a writer than succeed as a lawyer.” SWOON (@gretchenrubin)

  • On what it takes to lead into the unknown: “optimism, creativity, authentic communication and humanity” — Sara Kalick, VP & General Manager, Leadfully by SYPartners | @sypartners@leadfully@sarakalick

  • Mike Rigby, VP & Executive Creative Director at R/GA talked about using design as a tool to help people and not just to sell shit. (His words, not mine but AGREE.) When you are a designer, you are a communicator and not a decorator. Designing logos is kinda pointless, especially when all you’re doing is applying a beautiful veneer to a failed business plan. Branders have a unique ability and opportunity to help shape business and design a brand that communicates their values. Ultimately, design is a business asset and a competitive advantage to businesses that embrace design thinking. (@mikerigby)

  • The incomparable Stephen Gates caught my attention because he talked about how designers are a lot like chefs: “Just like a chef, designers all get the exact same ingredients to work with. It’s what we do with them that matters.” It’s also why a designer is not a designer is not a designer. If you don’t select carefully, you may end up with the designer’s version of a gas station tuna fish sandwich. Stephen is awesome and as long as we’re adding podcasts to the list, his podcast, The Crazy One with Stephen Gates, should be at the top of the list. (@sdgates)

  • Jessica Walsh Of Sagmeister Walsh talked about the joy of constraints. Designers love feedback because, like we’ve said before, it matters just as much knowing what doesn’t work as what does.

At this point, Day 1 was over and all our minds were tired. Champagne and city lights to the rescue!

Day 2 opened with the one and only Jonathan Adler who was nothing short of delightful. Listening to him talk about his design process and how he once struggled to balance his aspirations to be both a potter and an affluent Jewish American Prince (again, his words) will make you head straight to JonathanAdler.com and buy this mug, which features the faces of both Run DMC and Kanye West, just to make sure this guy never ever again has to sit out at a rain-soaked craft fair. You’ll do it knowing that he’s already a bazillionaire but you don’t care: it’s for the art. And because he had this life-affirming piece of advice about not being afraid to put yourself out there and fail: “Failures don’t matter - things move too fast for anyone to care!” (My mug will arrive gift wrapped in approximately 5 business days.)

  • “No one is going to fall in love with your slide deck... they are going to fall in love with an EXPERIENCE.” - Moira Cullen (Did I mention that Moira was in charge of that simple little branding update at a little company called COCA-COLA?!)

  • Carole Bilson, from DMI, reinforced how valuable design is to business. Design is a force multiplier and should not be considered a “below the line” activity. Comparing the Design Index to the S&P 500, we see that companies that invest heavily in design and value design thinking outperform the rest by over 200%. That’s money in the bank, y’all.

  • John Maeda is the Global Head of Computational Design & Inclusion at Automattic (@johnmaeda) and he dropped so many gems that he could have his own sub-bullet section. The best? The reason why his job title is about design AND inclusivity is simple: inclusion is central to design and is just good business. Creating an inclusive strategy about technology means combining access to things in an equitable way as well as making things economically viable. Also, any friend of Paul Rand’s is a friend of mine.

  • Pentagram, the eponymous NYC design agency, continues to impress and guide me. Eddie Opara, a partner at Pentagram described how the flat hierarchy of the company allows them to be nimble and responsive. With no pesky account managers to muddle up client communications and no CEO to throw the power balance out of whack, Pentagram operates lean and mean. He reminded me that there’s so much power in simple 1:1 communication.

  • “The best search results don’t show up on a web page... they show up in people’s lives.” — Robert Wong, who spoke so casually about the fact that he led the entire redesign of all the Google products and interfaces that you would have thought he was giving you directions to the nearest Starbucks. Which, coincidentally, is something Google is really good at doing in a beautiful user-friendly way. Because the best search results ensure that you end up with a hot coffee in your hand.

So much good, right?! Among all that there was to take away from the brilliant minds who spoke at the Reach Conference, among the most significant is this: you have to blaze a trail that is right for you. You can’t get caught up in what other people are doing, and you can’t lower your behavior, or standards, to meet someone else's. Do you. Take risks. Create.

https://markonbrands.com/blog/reach-conference-2017

Experts Weigh In: 101 Things Entrepreneurs Are Thankful For

BusinessKristine NeilComment

I am thankful for our new location! Five years ago, I started my small business and set off on what has been some of the most challenging and rewarding work of my career. Early on, I had a vision of the type of space I wanted to work and grown my business in: creative, open, warm and inviting. Most importantly, I wanted to find a space in our downtown neighborhood that would be walkable, connected to community and close to all the action. This wasn’t financially feasible at first so we toughed it out for the last five years in an industrial space in the suburbs, quietly growing an amazing little company under the radar. In May of this year, exactly five years to the day of signing the first lease on our first location, I moved my company to a new downtown location perfectly that fits the vision I’ve had in my mind! I’m thankful for all that we’ve achieved this year as an agency but also grateful for the years we spent in a less glamorous space – it’s taught me and my employees how to be patient and work hard. I can’t wait to see what we achieve in the next five years!

https://blog.mycorporation.com/2017/11/experts-weigh-in-101-things-entrepreneurs-are-thankful-for/?platform=hootsuite

Summer’s Right For Reflecting On Your Brand

BusinessKristine NeilComment

Two dates on the calendar are natural times to stop and take stock. New Year’s is a time for resolutions and fresh starts. And summer is not just the halfway point of the year, it’s also a time to recharge and refresh.

It’s the reason most people take vacations in the summer. But is this the time to also recharge and refresh your brand? It’s really the time to reflect on your brand.

Let’s assume you set goals at the beginning of the year for your brand and business. Let’s also assume you plan on doing an annual review in December. This is the perfect time to check in and see where you are.

Here are some tips from Kristine Neil, owner and creative director at Markon Brand Design (https://markonbrands.com/blog/2016/9/6/acceleration-the-personal-brand):

  • Measuring your progress in business can be as complex or as simple as fits you.

  • The numbers themselves aren’t what’s really important. What’s important is that you know them and that you track them.

  • Remember that your path may not be the same as someone else’s. What matters is that you’re forging ahead. It is only this tenacity that can’t really be measured. It’s difficult to put a hard number on the amount of determination you have. Stats can’t measure your hunger to succeed.

https://www.leaptobrand.com/single-post/2017/06/14/Summer%E2%80%99s-Right-For-Reflecting-On-Your-Brand

Examining Culture and Habits of a Small Design Team

BusinessKristine NeilComment

Kristine Neil (@TheKNeil) is head of branding and design company Markon Brand Design. She purchased Markon when it was an old-fashion sign company, and has since transformed it into a small creative studio, now boasting a team of three.

In our conversation, we cover the quirks and rituals used by the team at Markon, Kristine’s personal productivity habits, and the general challenges that face all busy design teams nowadays.

https://busycreator.com/podcast_episode/examining-culture-and-habits-of-a-small-design-team-with-designer-and-agency-boss-kristine-neil/