Friday Showcase: Elizabeth Gast (aka Firgs)!

I finally got to meet Firgs in person at the last Photoshop World, and it was so much fun hanging out with her and getting to know the person behind the online presence.  She's one of those people that people are drawn to because of her personality, and her humor. Someone who's done a bunch of tutorials in the past for Photoshop, and someone who knows the ins and outs of branding, marketing, and design.  I've asked her today to be my Friday Showcase person and talk about branding for photographers.  (Logos used by permission from http://designbyfirgs.com/).


How to Get Started in Branding Your Business

Hi all! Before I begin, I'd like to thank Michelle for having me on her site today. It's really awesome to be here! For those that don't yet know me, I am a brand identity artist and business consultant for freelancers, that specializes in working with photographers. So today, Michelle has asked me to talk to you all about how to get started with your personal branding and to pass on some tips and tricks that you may not have considered just yet. 

First of all, I want to impress upon people that starting a new photography business is not something you should take lightly. Owning your own business is one of the hardest jobs you will ever have, but it can also be one of the most rewarding. There is a lot that you will need to think about and learn before you can even begin to announce that you are open for business. It’s more than just getting your business cards printed and handing them out. You will need to have a real commitment to doing not just the fun stuff, but also the behind the scenes back end stuff that can become boring, confusing, and often annoying. Make sure you have the time, energy, and commitment needed in order to make it work. If you are lacking in just one of these areas, you can close up shop right now. But, if you really feel that this is something you want to do, then I would highly suggest getting to know the Small Business Administration website: http://www.sba.gov/ – it’s everything you need to know about starting and owning your own business. On it you will find all you need to know from taxes, local laws, forms you will need for just about everything, how to’s on things like – writing a business plan, managing partnership agreements, hiring employees, growing your business, incorporating, and more. If you are tossing around the idea of going into business for yourself, start here and go over every area of this site. And for those of you working from home, I would also recommend that you go over it with your family or significant other so that you can get their feedback on it as well. This will be your business, but it will also effect them. The more they know about what you are being faced with, the better.

That being said, let's just jump right into the branding part of it. Starting with...

Choosing A Business Name

A good name is one that is - a) easy to spell - b) speaks to the product - c) easy to remember. People have to take one look at it and understand you in thirty seconds or less. If that happens, they will be more likely to remember it on the fly - like during a conversation over coffee. Most photographers will choose to use their own name as their business name. Usually, this is a great idea. However, there are cases when I would argue against this. For instance, if your name is exceptionally long and difficult to spell, I would consider using an alternative name. Another example is if your name is already being used by someone else. This does happen more often that you would think. Trust me. As much as I would like to claim that I am a tall, gorgeous blond actress living out in California - I just can't, and this is how I went from being Elizabeth Gast to being Firgs.

If you are not going to use your own name, then it's a good idea to choose a name that speaks to your target audience. If you don't know who your target audience is, stop reading this and spend some time figuring that out. But once you do know who you are going to be marketing to, do more homework. Talk to actual members of your audience and get a sense for what their needs are. The best way to make your business successful is to find a specific need and fill that need. By talking to your audience and getting a sense of where their frustrations are and how you can help to ease those frustrations, you stand a good chance of finding your company name, but you are for sure going to find the foundation of your business.

Once you do your homework, come up with several name options and then hit up Google to see what has and hasn't been taken. Then register the domains that are available - and yes, I did just say "domains" plural on purpose. It doesn't cost much of anything to reserve a domain and with the way the Internet is constantly in a state of growth, what you may see today, may not be there tomorrow. When you have secured the domains that you have chosen then you run a field test study on the names to see which name generates a greater response. Run the names by friends, family, and potential clients. Chances are, there is going to be one that sticks out and it will give you grater confidence in that name. 

Once you have your name, the next step is...

Choosing A Design and Designer

Some photographers also work as designers so picking out their designer is the easy part. They choose themselves. However, not all photographers are quite so lucky. In the beginning, though, it can be hard to work up the funds to actually hire someone so the branding side of things tends to get put on the back burner until things are further along. I'm here to tell you that this is an OK thing to do. There are ways to brand yourself without having a fancy design to go along with your business. Yes, design will always help and when you *are* further along, I really do recommend finding someone to work with. But in the beginning, the best thing you can market yourself with is your own face. 

If you can't afford a to hire a designer right from the start, then instead, spend some money on getting yourself a really good portrait. A good portrait will have both of your eyes facing the camera just as if you are attempting to make eye contact with your client. One of my biggest pet peeves is when photographers take shots of themselves holding a camera in front of their face. This is not a good image to brand yourself with. Most cameras look alike making it hard to distinguish one from the next, and by cutting off eye contact, you are disconnected from your potential client. Think of your photo as your digital handshake. You want to make an impression but what is more is a *connection* with your client. So keep that in mind when picking out your portrait photo.

If you are lucky enough to be able to hire a designer, then there are some things that you should be looking for. 

First: look at how strong is the designer's portfolio and reputation. When visiting a designer's website (if they don't have a website, keep looking) ask yourself: Are the designs strong, versatile, clear, and do they appeal to your design taste. If the answer to all of this is yes - then do a little digging to see just how long they have been in business. Sometimes it can work out hiring someone relatively new, however, it's usually a better option to go with someone that has been in the business a while and will know what to expect. 

Next: does the designer come with reviews from clients they have worked with in the past. A good designer will always have quotes from their clients not only showing that they have completed work in the past, but also that their clients were happy with the services they received. By reading the quotes you can actually learn more about the designer and their process to see if it will be a good fit for you.

Next: check to see how available your client is through multiple forms of communication. Once you start to work with your designer, you should have easy access to them. If they only have one form of communication, and that form seems to be disrupted somehow, then the work will stop. A designer that is available to their clients should questions arise, is a good designer. 

Last: check into the designer's process. Is it easy to follow? Does it come with a contract? Is there a questionnaire involved? Are they willing to do research on you, your target market, and your competitors before they begin to design? Are they willing to take your deadlines into consideration? Is your design guaranteed to be original? Are payment plans available? These are all questions that should answer in "yes", because if they don't, then it's time to keep shopping.

Personality will always play a part. You will want to choose someone that will make you comfortable when you are with them. If you are uncomfortable at any time, then there is a good chance that your project might not flow as well as you would like it to. 

As for hiring a logo service or a croudsourcing company, I do not recommend it. Often times designs through these companies are not always safe in originality, nor are they flexible with file formats. And should you later need adjustments made to your design, it can be very hard to track down your designer, or worse, the service has gone out of business and left you hanging. In my experience, and I'll admit, I could be just biased here, hiring someone that you can work with one-on-one, and that you will have access to after the project is over for future design needs, is a much stronger business decision.

Once you have your designs, the next step is...

Marketing 101

The word “logo” derives from the Greek word “logos” meaning “speech”. In order to grow your business you are going to have to spend a large amount of time talking about it to others. This is the basis of marketing. Through marketing you will develop your brand identity (the personality of your business), connect with your target audience, sell your product or services, and grow your business. Your new logo is a key ingredient to your successful marketing campaign because it will do a lot of the speaking for you and your company. So the first thing you want to do is make sure that it follows you *everywhere*. Business cards, website, avatars for social networking, letterhead, watermarks, postcards, and even having it printed on items that you ware, such as hats or shirts, are all places that your logo or design should be on. The more you can saturate your surroundings with your design, the easier you are going to be recognized and found - which is really the whole point of your marketing.

Side Note: When working with any printing company the first step is to check their printing specification requirements. This usually refers to file types, document sizes, and color information. By talking to your printer before handing over your logo, you can save yourself time, energy, and money. Also, having your designer on hand when you do this is not a bad idea in case you run into any questions that you can't answer.

Once you have your logo, take some time to study it and brainstorm how you can expand upon the design. Believe it or not, your logo is not limited to just one graphic. Usually there are three main features of a logo that can be used for marketing. One – the company name, Two – the image design, and Three – the colors within the design. By dividing these three features up you can expand upon your logo and create a marketing flexibility that will increase the size of your brand. The company name can be best utilized for small printing or advertising. The image design can possibly become animated and turned into a moving graphic. The colors, if used correctly, can be great memory triggers – for example the colors yellow and red can be associated with McDonalds as they are not only on the logo, but also on Ronald McDonald’s clothes.

However, it’s a good idea that how you choose to expand upon your logo stays consistent throughout your marketing campaign. It’s a good idea to create a style guide that lists colors and their printing or hex codes, how the logo is to be used and where, as well as how the logo is not to be used. By making sure that the use of your logo and it’s elements are consistent, your brand will become stronger, more concrete and therefor, more memorable.

Well, that's the information I have for you on getting started. I hope you all found it useful and helpful. If you have any more questions on anything I talked about or would like to talk to me some more, please leave a comment here or stop by my website http://designbyfirgs.com and come get to know me. :) I'd love to hear from you.

Thanks again Michelle!!

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