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 They may not realize that poor messaging or inconsistent logo usage or an outdated web design layout is costing them money; they may only feel that something is off about their current site or know that they can do more.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.

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.

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.

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:


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.


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.”


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.


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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


  • 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 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.

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!

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 (

  • 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.

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.

Happy 5th Birthday, Markon

BusinessKristine NeilComment

Today, we’re celebrating Markon Brand Design’s 5th birthday! For my fellow entrepreneurs, you’ll know this is a big deal. Roughly half of new businesses started in the United States don’t make it this long, and those who do make it to this mark have the best chances of long-term viability. In business school, they taught us stuff like this as well as other important info like the difference between revenue and profits (hint: cash flow problems are the main reason why most small businesses don’t make it) which is all super helpful info and I definitely rely on it nearly every day but what they don’t teach you is just how hard the first five years can be. I’ve repeatedly said that this period has been the most intense series of never-ending learning curves I’ve ever experienced in my life; I don’t have kids but I’d liken it to learning how to be a parent for the very first time. At first, you’re a little scared of every little bonk or bruise… after a while, you learn that those scrapes and cuts aren’t going to kill them - or you. In many ways, Markon has been my child and now, as it turns the big five, I feel like we’re finally able to see the road ahead much more clearly. Whether it’s because the curves have straightened out and the terrain has become more friendly or I’ve just become a better driver, I feel like we’re finally getting into our groove.

For my teammates here in the trenches with me every day, I celebrate you as much as I do anything else. It’s as much a risk to work for a startup as it is to start one and your energy and tenacity are what move us ever forward. It is my sincere goal that as our company continues to grow that your hard work is rewarded and celebrated in new ways. I look forward to the new opportunities and projects on the horizon that I know we’ll all find creatively and professionally fulfilling in ways we wouldn’t have dreamed of five years ago. Here’s to the next five years of branding, design & marketing and however it is we manage to do all of that while still having fun and eating and drinking way too much coffee.

The last stop on this Oscar-acceptance-speech of a post is most definitely not the least bit important: our clients. Many of you have watched as we’ve evolved over the years and have been the most loyal cheerleaders. After all, without all of you, we would have nothing to fill our days with. You’ve allowed us to not only grow but to thrive… and it could take all the tenacity and creativity on the planet and a business like ours still wouldn’t make it without exceptional clients.

As one of those people who subscribes to the “birthday month” philosophy, we’ll be celebrating this milestone for the entire month of February. Sure, it’s slightly self-congratulatory but I think that when you achieve big things that you have to shout them from the rooftops. No one else is going to do it for you. Over the month, we’ll be sharing some of our goals for the next five years as well as giving you a behind-the-scenes look at our updated branding. By the way, if you’re celebrating a milestone of your own in the coming months we encourage you to give your brand a similar refresh. Keeping things current is what will ensure you feel as relevant in the future as you did in the past. BTW, I know just the team that can handle that for you.

Follow #mbdturns5 on Instagram and Twitter to see our thoughts on how Markon will change in the next five years, and learn more about our recent brand refresh.

Reflection & The Personal Brand

Business, Personal BrandingKristine NeilComment

2016 By The Numbers

My last blog post of the year and I’ve pushed it off and procrastinated on it like no other. So, of course, I’m leaving it to my last day of the working year to write. The theme of the month at Markon, as it is in so many people’s minds this time of year, is reflection. The end of a year always brings “best of” lists and “worst of” lists. And memes. Oh, the memes. For better or for worse, 2016 has given the internet plenty to fodder over. In the brave new world we live in, where news is both created and consumed socially, there have been moments to celebrate and those to mourn. History made and changes no one ever saw coming. But to all of the memes declaring that 2016 will go down as one of the worst years ever, I would like to present some opposing evidence - because, at Markon, we’ve had one of the best years ever.

I’m not just talking about sales records or profit margin (those weren’t shabby either) but the metrics that truly matter, at least to me. What matters are the people we’ve reached and the brands we’ve worked with. From engineering startups to emerging beauty brands, we’ve had quite a diverse year. We’ve blogged and designed and built and written our little hearts out and I couldn’t be prouder of my small but mighty team. Together, we’ve accomplished so much. Here are some of my favorite stats:

Obviously, none of this would matter if we didn’t have you, our clients and readers and social followers. I’m hoping that 2017 will bring us together more, especially on Instagram, where we’ll be dedicating our social strategy. I’m already excited at the new people we have joining our team here at Markon Brands, at the client work that’s already in the pipeline for Q1, and at the other changes and growth I know will come along with a new year.

As we wrap up this series on personal branding, I offer this last bit of advice: counter every negative you hear with at least two positives. When the news of the day has you down, celebrate another brand launched, or another project closed, or a prospective client met. One project may seem small but 479 of them really add up! So celebrate your victories, even when they are small. Not only has exploring the topic of personal branding taught us that it’s the desire for self-improvement that’s half the battle, but it’s also that small victories eventually add up to big ones. And, on a mental health note, it’ll keep you focused on things you can actually control.

10 Insufferable Business Habits

BusinessKristine NeilComment

I’ve put quite some time into thinking about what my last post of the year would be about. It’s the time of year for lists and reflections and making plans so I knew I wanted to write something in that style. But we’ve already made our design and branding predictions for 2016 and so many other people have put together highlight reels of 2015. That stuff has been done. So while the others are going to feed you some touchy-feely, lighthearted fare - nothing too heavy for the holidays - I’ve decided to have my last post give you some things to think on. To really think on. Hopefully you have some downtime over the holidays to do your own internal audit analyzing how the year has gone for you and your business; and if you’re like the rest of us and plan to make some resolutions to do things better in the new year, I’d like to throw some suggestions your way on what you could - and should - be doing differently to get ahead. Behold. My list of things that have annoyed me so badly in the past year that I’ve chosen to devote my entire last post to them. These are the behaviors, attitudes, and traits that are killing your business and making you an insufferable person to do business with. Want to do better in business? Listen up.


There’s an epidemic in America that being “soooooooo busy” is somehow de rigueur. It’s used as an excuse to get out of things you didn’t know how to say no to in the first place. It’s used to placate those you’ve blown off or performed poorly for. It’s used when you’ve dropped the ball and maybe even on the rare few occasions when you’ve legitimately been busy. Here’s the thing. It’s lazy and it doesn’t make you seem important. Telling someone you’ve been “too busy” to do something you said you were going to do is the 21st-century version of hiding your head when you see someone on the street you don’t want to talk to. It’s cowardly and 99.9% of the time it’s simply untrue.

If you wanted to do whatever it is that you say you’re too busy for, you would have done it. It would be made a priority and you would have followed through. Perhaps you simply need to learn to be confident enough to say no. Perhaps you need to feel comfortable saying that you just aren’t into meeting up, collaborating on that project or returning a phone call. Whatever it is. The problem is you and (hint) we all know you’re not that busy… especially when we all saw your Instagram post featuring your brunch cocktail.


This is a mantra I’ve worked hard to instill not only in my own team regarding how they view themselves but also in how we treat and respond to others. Because the truth is the title on your LinkedIn page doesn’t mean shit. Business cards are cheap. Just because you’ve come up with a title that seems important doesn’t mean you actually are. It doesn’t mean you’re good at your job and it doesn’t mean you know more than someone with a different title. This isn’t Downton Abbey. No one cares if you’re a Lord or a Lady. We want to see you do something. Internalizing the “Titles Mean Nothing” mantra is good for you, good for your business and will make you a better person. Trust me. For the longest time, I didn’t put “Owner” or “President” or “CEO” on my business card even though on paper I’m all of those.

I didn’t list those titles because they don’t matter to me. When I meet a business prospect, I know that they care more about what I can do for them than what occupation I list on my tax return. This attitude keeps you grounded and humble and real. Because some days, you know what? I am the CEO. But other days? I’m the janitor, taking out the trash. And if I got too wrapped up in titles I might somehow think I’m too good to take out the trash. And I’m not. Conversely, getting too wrapped up in someone else’s title will often lead you down the very wrong path. I’ve worked with many very-important-sounding-people at organizations… only to find out that the person who really knows what’s going on is the administrator behind the scenes. I’ve worked with executives, editors, publishers, and producers who know nothing about their actual field; while they’ve apparently been busy polishing their resumes other people have been working hard behind the scenes to make them look good. It’s those people behind the scenes that work hard despite their title that I want to talk to. Never let someone’s titled occupation make you think you’re inferior -- or that they did anything more than creep their way to the top.


There are numerous reports and studies out that serve to remind us that despite all of the newfangled ways we have to communicate, email is still the top dog. According to The Radicati Group, a Technology Market Research Firm, email remains the predominant form of communication in the business space and - newsflash! - it isn’t going anywhere. By the end of 2017, it is expected that over 132 billion emails will be sent and received per day. A survey by CMS Wire revealed what I already knew: a whopping 95% of business people not only rely on business communication tools such as email, they prefer them over in-person meetings. So here’s my big question: why can’t you email me back?! If I send you a message on a Monday at 9am do you know how long you realistically have to respond and not be a total ass? Until about 3pm on Monday. And I don’t mean the Monday after next. I mean the same day. Seriously.

If you are out of the office on a particular day, in meetings, on a plane, or otherwise being held against your will you need to set an out of office reply that lets people know what’s up and when they can expect to hear back from you. It is simply unacceptable to allow more than 1 business day to go without responding to an email. Even if that response is something to the effect of “I’m so sorry! I got caught in an epic meeting today and totally fell behind in responding to emails! I did see your message and I’ll write you back in full tomorrow!” Do you see how easy that was?

If you’re chronically asleep at the wheel or generally just DGAF (and you use Google Apps for Business) you can set up canned responses so you don’t even have to use your lazy fingers to type a response. But you must respond. Every email you ignore dilutes the goodwill you’re (hopefully) working so hard to build in person and in all of your other marketing efforts. Responsiveness to emails will win you business. Guaranteed. My agency has won over many clients simply by replying to every message we receive within one business day, often much faster. Clients routinely tell us horror stories of working with other agencies that would take weeks to email back or not respond at all. That’s ok. Your laziness just won me a bunch of work. All I had to do was be the one to click reply.


We’ve already learned that response time is critical to your success when it comes to emails. Well, unfortunately, if you’re habitually unable to respond to emails you might as well pack it in and go home because you’re probably also a failure when it comes to responding to social media comments, mentions and messages. Where the lifespan of an email is measured in days, ignoring something on social media starts to stink in a matter of mere hours. This is your business! If a customer, a vendor or even a completely random person takes the time to share, comment, tag, post, retweet or otherwise engage with you on social media and your typical response is to do nothing, I have nothing I can do to help you.

I know your type. You’ll come to me asking me to help solve all your marketing problems. We’ll come up with a plan and a brand and a mission and you’ll screw it all up by assuming the point of it all is what you push out to the world. You could not be more wrong. The beauty of social media is that it is a place to engage, to interact, to have a conversation. If all you’re doing is peddling your own content you are now that jerk at the party that won’t stop talking about himself. Be gracious. Make it a habit to respond to everyone who mentions you on social. Every single person. Even if it’s just a like or a thumbs up or a heart. Do something. If you think you’re too small to be able to keep up with this, don’t worry. Soon you’ll be out of business and have plenty of time to spend on social. That’s how important this is. Seriously. (If you really need help, my recommendation is to check out the array of tools available, including Mention, my personal favorite.)


I’m sad that this topic even has to make this list because to me it really represents the fall of one of the most basic tenets of polite human society. Because being on time is really about being respectful. But you know the people that should be reading this and maybe you’re one of them yourself. You’re the type that repeatedly shows up late to happy hour. The one that is “never on time”, the one who misses the opening credits to movies and the one whose friends have a running joke about it. You must be a real hoot at parties that your friends tolerate your rude behavior but when it spills over into your business life, you have a problem. It’s not cute or funny. It’s embarrassing.

Perhaps you have fallen victim to the “Myth of Busy” or you somehow missed that day in kindergarten where they taught you how to tell time. I don’t know what the excuse is but when it is your job to be somewhere at X time and you show at X time + 15 minutes, you’re literally going to have to work 3x as hard to get ahead. Because now I know that you’re not only rude, you’re unorganized. And because you apparently don’t value my time, now I suddenly have no real reason to value yours. I’ve had clients miss meetings with me or show up late and then wonder why things didn’t turn out well. I’m going to be honest here - it’s because the second you were late to our meeting without so much as going through the effort to white lie to me about “how bad traffic is” I’ve already moved on. I’ve got things to do. And I made a specific time for you that you apparently did not value. Again, I’ve won over big clients before simply because I was the one who showed up on time or, sadly, the only one who bothered to show up at all. Sad.


I’m going to make this one super simple because apparently there are a whole mess of you that missed this boat. Here is how this goes. “Hi! My name is {name} and I’m with {company}. I’m calling today about {thing}.” When you make a business phone call and start out with “hey, it’s Brian” and nothing else you sound like an imbecile. How do you know that I don’t know nine different people named “Brian”? What makes you think you’re special enough that I can recognize your voice? Why do you assume that I know what you’re talking about? I mean, thanks for the kudos but I’m no magician and I’m definitely not a mind reader. If I’m in the middle of a project and you call me to chat, I need that little introduction to get my head in the game and focus on your phone call.

If you start out a phone conversation without a proper hello and introduction it. is. costing. you. business. I promise. If you struggle with this the answer is to practice. I’m serious. Write yourself out a little script - I’ll even let you copy mine above - and put it on a sticky note next to your phone. Absolutely never ever ever should you make a business phone call without using that script. Even if you think you’re chummy enough with the person you’re calling to skip it. They’ll respect that you still think highly enough of your work together that you want to start out the phone call like the true professional you are.


Sure, we all realize by now how creepily small the world is. One little venture down memory lane on Facebook will remind you that the dorky geek you bullied in high school is now a gajillionnaire yachting around the Mediterranean with his model wife while you’re busy slaving away in middle management. But this concept means so much more than that to me. It’s not just a silly golden rule story about being nice to everyone, it’s a reminder that sometimes your actual business success hinges on whether you’re able to be a professional, functioning adult in spite of tough circumstances.

Sometimes things aren’t going to go your way. Sometimes you’re going to royally screw something up. Sometimes everything about a certain project will just go wrong for some reason. The winners here are the ones who decide that for whatever reason things didn’t work out that a decision to go a different direction doesn’t mean automatic blacklisting. You never know if the assistant you’re being atrociously rude to one day is going to get promoted to CEO the next. You have no way of knowing if your competition that you just got done bad mouthing on social media might be a great partner for collaboration with in the future. In business, you’ve got to be willing to play the long game. Being short-sighted and impulsive will do nothing but earn you a spot in the loser’s circle in the end. Stay classy, everyone.


Guys. If I had a dollar for every networking event I was invited to in the middle of a work day where I was promised “thousands” of referrals and sales in return, I’d be writing this from a hammock on a Belizean beach right now. Sure, some networking events are a nice way for you to get out of your office and rub shoulders with people in your community or industry but let’s be honest here. If you spend as much time working as you did networking, you wouldn’t have to waste your time pretending to listen to a bunch of used car salesmen pimping themselves out in exchange for a free cup of coffee and a stale doughnut.

The success of a networking group as I see it is not only a total myth, it’s basically akin to the promises an Amway salesman makes - complete lies. Anyone who promises to work with you just because you belong to their “networking” club over another should be kept on a short leash. You do know that the mob used the same techniques, right?! This is ridiculous. The secret to business success isn’t spending three days a week golfing with the right people, it’s working hard and sticking with it. Most businesses, especially small businesses, fail because they simply don’t have the ability to manage their business or their money for the long haul. Again, they’re playing the short game and see a networking group as a way to circumvent actual work. This is lazy, irresponsible and a disservice to your business. If it’s 9am on a Tuesday I better find you at your desk working, not out clinking teacups with a bunch of other work-shirkers.


I work with a lot of people in lots of different industries. I work with startups and established businesses alike and I have a pretty good track record at predicting who will make it and who won’t. You know what the #1 sign is? The business owner that is penny wise and pound foolish. They’ll spend hours nickel-and-diming their marketing budget and then spend the first 10K they “earn” buying a boat. They don’t understand the difference between revenue and profit. They won’t invest in branding or signage or design or anything else consistently proven to help their business succeed but they will find it necessary to find room in the monthly budget for catered lunches or unnecessary decorations or something else that gives them the feeling of getting something done.

This is a business basic as old as time: you have to spend money to make money. It’s simple. If you don’t have enough money to start a business right (which includes factoring in not paying yourself for at least 3 years) you should think twice about quitting your day job. That’s fine. We all need employees and maybe you’re meant to be someone’s employee. You’re clearly not cut out for this. But if you want to be the head honcho, the HBIC, the big cheese - you have to pony up. I don’t care how you do it and I’m no financial advisor by any means but I’ll tell you this: if you can’t wrap your head around the fact that not all expenditures are expenses, that some costs are investments, you’re in trouble. Sometimes you have to get into debt. Sometimes it means going really deep in those pockets before you can turn around and head back out the other side and if you can’t handle this, at a minimum you at least shouldn’t be the one in charge of making rational business decisions. At worst business ownership just isn’t for you at all. Business success does not come easy and it doesn’t come cheap.


Transparency has certainly been a buzzword this year. We all look for it in the businesses we work with and the charities we give to. The reason why it’s so important shouldn’t have to be spelled out but I’m going to do it anyways and it’s a great point to end my list on. Transparency means being authentic. It means being honest - with yourself and with others. It does no one any good for you to be anything but transparent. At the heart of it, this concept is an underlying theme in all of my gripes above. If people were just open and honest and eager to communicate effectively, they wouldn’t have the problems they have not showing up on time, not being able to return an email or not being able to close a business deal.

The reason why you can’t do this is because you’re not being authentic. I routinely meet clients that are too afraid to show me all their cards out of fear that they’ll lose some sort of negotiating power. But I can’t meet needs or targets that you don’t tell me exist. Sure, I’d love it if you had 50k to throw down on a new website but if that’s simply unreasonable for where your business is at right now, don’t waste my time giving you an estimate for that. Tell me: “My budget for a website is $5k. What can we make happen?” Now I know what I’m working with and I can do my very best to give you what you need within parameters that you feel comfortable with. Lying to me about your needs (or to yourself about what you can handle) wastes time and makes you look like an amateur.

So there you have it. My list of gripes, complaints, lessons learned, lessons shared and other little pearls of wisdom. I mentioned way back there when we were first getting started that my company recently put out our predictions for the branding & design trends that will rise to the top in 2016. One of those trends was the concept of personal branding. I bring it up here because it was one of the items I truly and passionately felt belonged on the list, despite it’s somewhat tenuous connection to the core of our business, which is normally focused on business branding. The reason why I think it’s so important is the same reason I felt it necessary to call out some of the bad behaviors I’ve seen: that great business branding means nothing if the people that make up that organization aren’t also on point.

I regularly tell clients that once they step into the business ownership spotlight, they have lost the ability to slum it. You can no longer flake out on emails or phone calls. You can’t roll up to the supermarket in your pajamas. Every single thing you do is as a representation of your company. Like it or not. Investing your time and energy branding your business without also taking a long hard look at yourself, and the things you’re doing to affect your business’s success is time and energy wasted. And I hate inefficiency. Maybe no one’s ever told you before. But you have no excuse now. So I hope you have the best of holidays. Spend the time relaxing and eating and drinking with friends and family. Spend some time reflecting and planning. That’s what’s great about a new year. It’s a time for fresh starts and new beginnings and even if you only master a few of these, you (and your business) will be better for it in 2016.

The Fall, Moving Forward & Turning The Page

Strategy, BusinessKristine NeilComment

The opportunities of forward-thinking

I’ve always been a forward thinker. By the time Fridays roll around, I’m already thinking about Monday. Near the end of a month, I have a hard time restraining my urge to flip the calendar ahead. There’s just something great about the start of a fresh day, a new week or the clean slate of the next month. It’s like dialing the score back to zero and starting from scratch. It’s like Groundhog Day… where even though Bill Murray was living the same day over and over he got a chance every time to build on what worked and toss what didn’t without anyone around him being any the wiser. It’s new beginnings.

Most people have similar feelings around the end of the calendar year. They spend the holiday season reminiscing, evaluating the year’s ups and downs, making plans to do better the second that ball drops in Times Square. Personally, that’s not my favorite time of year. Not even close. Perhaps it’s because there’s so much pressure to make promises you know won’t be kept (this is the year I bring my lunch to work every. single. day.) or perhaps because it’s psychologically hard to make change when what’s ahead feels so much like what’s behind in terms of seasons. This forward thinker needs something more visceral to motivate her. Something like pumpkin spice lattes and falling leaves.

Blame it on the perpetual student in me that can’t remember if it was 1990 or 1991 but can definitely tell you whether it was the 5th or 6th grade, but to me, the new year starts in September. I get so excited, that here at Markon HQ, our office calendar said goodbye to August a week ago. September brings with it the excitement of new beginnings that January can’t even compete with. In the Pacific Northwest, that means a fresh crispness in the air. The first hint at a rainy season to come. The first time you wear a scarf for function as much as fashion.

There’s something about sending kids back to school that makes even us adults think about what it was like to pick out new clothes, dream of what new friends we’d make and ready ourselves to tackle challenges that seemed way too overwhelming in the heat of summer. Summer is for being lazy and September is for getting back to work. And unlike January, there are no societal pressures to do it all and do it perfect. In September you have the liberty to make mistakes and not feel defeated by them; after all, the year is just getting started and finals are a long ways off. You’re not expected to know everything on the first day of class.

It’s in this spirit of forward thinking that I challenge you to think about what this year will mean for you and your business. Will this be the year you rise to the top of the class? Score the winning touchdown? Discover your passion? What will you do to make those dreams a reality? Will you stay after class for some tutoring? Run that extra mile after practice? Stay up late reading a book under the covers with a flashlight?

For me, I’d like to think that this is the year Markon finally gets to sit at the upperclassmen table. In the nearly four years that I’ve owned this fledgling little company, we’ve grown from geeky, unsure freshmen into pretty cool seniors. There’s still a lot of road ahead of us, but I just couldn’t be more proud of how we’ve come into our own and how we daily give shape to our vision as a growing design agency. This year we’ll help more businesses tackle branding and identity in ways we’ve never been able to before. We’ll take a few rookies under our wings and show them how they can achieve their goals with easier-than-you-think marketing strategies. We’ll be the funny kids with painted faces sitting in the front row at the homecoming game... just so damn excited that our team is back on the field that we don’t even care what the score is.

So, let’s work. I’d love to share a bit of my September excitement with you. Maybe we could get a PSL first? And then we’ll talk about how we can work together to make this the best.year.ever.

Down With Hipster Design Firms

BusinessKristine NeilComment

Here’s the thing. I love paying attention to industry trends.

I read graphic design blogs the way some people read their twitter feeds. And I won’t lie: I quietly stalk our “competitors’” websites. I check them out on Facebook and LinkedIn. I want to know what others are doing and who they’re doing it for. I find this a good check-and-balance but I don’t do it because I want us to be anything like others in our industry.

I do this because I want us to be different.

A few projects have crossed my path lately that have forced me to do some… investigating.

I call it this because it’s practically become an epidemic of "designers" and on design websites these days to make it not entirely clear exactly what’s going on. To figure it out, you’ve got to put on your little sleuth hat and get out a magnifying glass and go on a little mystery-solving tour.

Let me paint you a picture:

You land on a graphic designer’s site because you’re a business and you need some graphic design help. (Logical, right?) Well, the site is just downright beautiful. The landing page is an atmospheric photo of a mountain lake with some (vague) headlines floating on top: effective design | inspired brands | modern creatives. You’re not entirely sure how these relate to what you need to be done but you came this far so maybe they’re about to get down to the nitty-gritty. You scroll down.

And right into a collage of their Instagram feed: Lofty office shot. Team building meeting at a local brewery. A heavily filtered snap of some hand-knitted mittens holding a cup of hot tea. All of the “design collaborators” playing foosball in the office lounge area.

It goes on and on and suddenly it dawns on you! You have no idea what you’re doing here and, moreover, what in the heck these people even do for a living. I know you do this because I do it, too!

As a business owner, sometimes I wonder how they can afford that huge renovated loft in the trendiest downtown district, how they can afford to keep 35 people on staff when there’s no work of note in their portfolio… how they can spend their days playing darts instead of WORKING. Sometimes, I’ll be honest, I just wonder how I got swindled into sitting through the digital version of someone’s vacation slides: Here’s me having fun doing this. Here’s me looking fabulous. Here’s me being awesome.

And, if you’re anything like me, you probably think that whatever they’re selling you’re not buying because in no way do you want to fund someone else’s iMac fund when you’re trying to be a responsible business owner. Ain’t no one got time for that.

Confused and lacking direction, you’ve also been left thinking that all graphic designers are self-involved hipsters with offices you’re afraid you’re not cool enough to even walk into. And so you decide to DIY a solution to whatever graphic design dilemma you had. (Read here for our thoughts on that!)

{Cue the superhero music!!}

This is where Markon is different. And I’m telling you this from this blog post so that I don’t have to clutter up the rest of our website… where we really are way more into you than we are ourselves. Because it’s you that matters. It’s your business that needs some TLC. It’s your money on the line. It’s your time. And all of that stuff matters to us.

Now, I’m not going to pretend that I don’t have a Pinterest board devoted entirely to loft-like office spaces filled with reclaimed wood desks and floating glass walls. I do. But I’m a realist and I know that when it’s time to get to work, you want to know how we can solve problems not how amazing I look in my vintage tee and hipster flannel. (Neither of which is actually in my wardrobe, FYI.)

All of this is really to tell you to be on the lookout for some continued improvements to our site… making it even easier for you to have access to design in a space where you don’t have to feel intimidated by designers who don’t speak plain English or make you feel stupid for not understanding the meaning of negative space. We’re here to make your life easier!

p.s. Our office is actually really cool in a we-work-in-an-industrial-park-in-the-suburbs kind of way. We’ve got the requisite in-office espresso machine and vintage conference table. But there’s no pretension behind any of it. It’s really just that we drink A LOT of coffee and were really into repurposing this cool old table we had.

p.p.s. Ready to work with the most real peeps in the design industry? We promise the conversation will be 99% about you and only 1% about how cool we are.

On 3 Years of Owning Markon Brands

BusinessKristine NeilComment

It’s not a memo. It’s a Mission Statement.

February 1st marked the 3rd anniversary of me buying Markon. Have I told you this story before? Sit down, it’s a pretty good one. You see, this business crossed my path in a rather mundane way: via a business broker I had contacted to inquire about businesses that were for sale. Very transactional. You know, general mergers-and-acquisitions-territory... except it was just me. Looking to buy a business.

I did quite a bit of looking into various businesses, even franchise opportunities (eek!!) and let's just say that Markon wasn't the shining star of the listings page. Sure, the company had made some pretty strong inroads into a few particular niche markets. And it did have more than three decades of history in this county, doing work that was good enough... for a time that appeared to have long since past. There were other deficiencies. Quite a few of them.

The company had no real website.

No social media accounts.

No established price list.

No professional marketing materials.

No order process.

Outdated equipment.

Obsolete computers and software.

And, if you ever saw the old place, well... let's just say organization and cleanliness were a little lacking. And that's putting it mildly.

So what was the appeal? Why would I walk into that place, situated smack dab in the middle of a quickly changing and increasingly competitive industry and... see my future? Was I crazy?


I mean, I was basically doing the equivalent of walking into the animal shelter and asking to take home the dog that has been there the longest. The one no one wants to adopt. The one with a rough and questionable history, potentially unknown issues and a few "quirky" behavioral problems. The one that barks and scowls and comes with a warning that things could be... rough.

But anyone who knows me knows I love animals and I love a challenge. I'd be the person to take that dog home. Because in him I would see loving eyes. And a coat that just needs brushing. And a tummy that just needs rubbing. And a sweet soul that just needs loving.

And that is what I saw in Markon.

Let’s be honest, the past three years have not always been a leisurely stroll in the park. The time has been punctuated by both highs and lows, the inevitable pain of an intense series of learning curves. But every day I come to work with one simple goal: Do Something Today To Make The Company Better.

I do this when so many other small business owners focus only on: Make a Dollar.

{Hint: They're wrong and I'm right.}

And here's why:

If every day over the past three years I panicked because the phone didn't ring that day... or no order big enough to pay the rent came in on any one month, I'd be toast. I’d be back working for someone else instead of for myself. No. Instead... on those days, and in those slow times, I slowly but surely began ticking everything off that list above. And then some. Shiny, new, efficient location? Check. Improved operations? Check. A better understanding of our market? Check. A new website? Check. (Actually... several different iterations of websites... but, hey! That's growth!)

There are still so many things on my list. And I know I'll get to them- we'll get to them! (That's right, I have a great little team when the company I bought those years ago had no real employees!) But we're too busy these days to do as much of our own work as I would like. Because we're pretty occupied taking care of you, our clients. Our friends! Helping you build your own amazing little empires.

Over the past three years, we've grown into a fantastic small agency that above anything else understands business. Sure, we're great graphic designers and pretty kick ass marketers. But at the end of the day, we mean business. It's the drive in each of you entrepreneurs that fuels us. It's that passion that's my passion.

It's the reason I love coming to work every day and the reason I put in long hours and read industry trade magazines for fun on weekends.

It's the reason why I know the next three years are going to be NOTHING SHORT OF AMAZING.

So maybe, á la Jerry Maguire, my decision to buy this company was my breakthrough. (Though, trust me, there were whispers of a breakdown.) And maybe what I've written here is somewhat "touchy feely." But I don't care. I'm the me I've always wanted to be. In my vision for Markon's future, I see us savoring the simple pleasures in creating amazing brands. It's all pretty clear, really. The answer is focusing on our quality clients. Caring for them, and caring for ourselves.

And maybe getting a dog. ;)