Hiring A Virtual Assistant

In a world of Siri and Alexa it’s no surprise that the virtual assistant field is booming. Companies like Upwork and HireMyMom.com allow you to contract individuals to work remotely. These individuals are typically self-employed independent contractors who work from home, and have backgrounds in anything from professional administration to technical or creative fields. Assistants communicate with clients primarily via email, but Skype, phone calls, or Google Voice calls are also standard. Work is arranged on a contractual basis.

Deciding which tasks to delegate can be tough,  especially when you’re just building a relationship (and trust!) with your new virtual assistant. Here are some ideas for tasks you can easily outsource:

  • Scheduling – Digital tools make it easy for a virtual assistant to handle your schedule remotely.
  • Bookkeeping – Your assistant can follow up on outstanding invoices or unpaid bills.
  • Data Entry – Hire an assistant to enter sales lead contact information or project report data.
  • Proofing – Even if you’re a strong writer, get peace of mind by having your publication professionally proofed.
  • Research – A virtual assistant can conduct leads research, or report on industry or market trends.
  • Travel Coordination – Find the best deals and accommodations with the help of an expert.

Hire someone for a few hours or a few months. It’s up to you. The key is, you don’t have to — indeed, shouldn’t — try to do everything yourself. Chances are your time is better spent following up with prospects than it is typing in those email addresses after your last trade show.

So don’t do what you can hire someone else to do, especially when it’s so easy to hire someone remote.

Hiring A Virtual Assistant 2018-05-07T21:01:49+00:00

Meet the Artist: Will Bassett

As a 2016 graduate of the Iowa State University College of Design, Will Bassett is the newest member of our design team. He has quickly become an integral member of our agency, working closely with clients to deliver hardworking print & digital communications.

What’s your favorite color palette to work with?

I’m not sure there is a specific color palette that I enjoy over others. I would say in general, my favorite palettes include black and white, plus some soft, natural colors with a powerful, vibrant spot color. I love design that pops, and it usually starts with a strong spot color. If I had to choose, I’d say reds and blues are my favorite to work with, though depending on the day it could be something completely different. It really depends on the project and which side of the bed I woke up on.

What is your favorite typeface and why?

My favorite typeface is probably Futura. I love how simple yet versatile it is. It works when it’s thin, and it works when it’s bold. Futura makes a great headline typeface, body copy, all caps, or upper and lower case. It’s absolutely one of my go-to’s.

 

For a serif typeface, I really enjoy Bodoni. It’s super clean, and the contrasting thin and thick lines make it a beautiful choice when I need a more formal option.

Where do you find design inspiration?

My favorite place to find inspiration is on Behance. It’s a great place to see what designers are doing all over the world. From small, personal projects to corporate branding and major promotions, I think Behance is a wonderful source of inspiration and trends.

Another great place for inspiration and design knowledge is Skillshare. Skillshare is a site where anyone can become a teacher and post tutorials, how-to’s, and technique videos for others to learn from. The site has videos on everything from cooking to technology to business, but the design videos are extremely informative and helpful. There are some really well-known designers who post tutorials on Skillshare like Paula Scher, Aaron Draplin, and more. I highly recommend checking it out!

Tell us about your most memorable project.

I think my most memorable project would have to be a semi trailer wrap that I did for the Iowa DNR’s mobile exhibit. It is certainly the largest project I’ve done in my career so far. Every day I am learning new things, and this was one of the largest learning curves I’ve had as far as scope and technicality.

The trailer exhibit debuted at the Iowa State Fair and travels around to schools and educational events around Iowa to inform the public of the impact of how we live on the environment. I believe that the best design is design for good, and getting the opportunity to create something with so much public impact was incredible. It’s always fun to see something you’ve done out in the world, especially with so many people interacting with it at a place as iconic as the State Fair.

Who are your favorite artists or designers?

One of my favorite design groups out there today is DKNG Studios. DKNG is an illustration-based design firm out of LA consisting of two designers, Dan Kuhlken and Nathan Goldman. I was turned on to them in college, and have been borderline obsessed ever since. They do a lot of promotional work for movies, bands and festivals, and their designs are both intricate and beautiful. These guys are also very involved with Skillshare and are regularly posting tutorials on Adobe Illustrator shortcuts and techniques.

A local designer that I really admire is John Bosley. He is also an illustration-based designer who does mostly screen printing for events and locations around Iowa and the Midwest. His designs are super clean and the compositions are brilliant. A few of his posters may or may not be on my Christmas list this year.

What are your favorite well-executed brands?

In my opinion, Nike is one of the most well-executed brands out there today. They do a great job of appealing to about every demographic while keeping their look and brand consistent and recognizable. You can’t go anywhere without seeing that swoosh, and people (myself included) will certainly pay extra to have that logo on their outfit.

Apple is an easy answer, but I have to say I wasn’t an Apple convert until a few years ago. I used to try to fight the overwhelming Mac/iPhone trend until I visited my dad’s cousin’s house/design studio. He opened up a Power Mac G5 computer so that I could see the inner workings, and it was beautiful. The inside of this computer (that most people would never take the time to look at) was a work of art on its own. Everything had a place. Since then, I’ve been fascinated by the clean design and order that Apple prides itself on. I didn’t even want to throw away my MacBook or iPhone boxes because the packaging is so well done. That attention to detail and presentation goes a long way in selling and building brands, and Apple is probably the best there is at it.

Meet the Artist: Will Bassett 2018-05-07T21:44:23+00:00

Grow With More People, Not More Business

A lot of business owners say they want our marketing expertise because they need “more business.”

The fact is, often they can’t handle more business.

As a rule, marketing brings leads, not sales. Someone is going to need to qualify and close those leads. If you don’t have manpower to follow-up quickly, those prospects will grow cold or worse yet, buy elsewhere. (Then your competitors will send you thank you notes for spending on marketing that builds their business.)

If you have sales in place but customer service or fulfillment is lacking you risk creating a disgruntled customer and losing any future revenue their repeat business might bring.

Do yourself a favor. Hire first. Build your operations into a fine-tuned machine. Then launch your fierce marketing efforts. Your leads will convert more quickly, and customers will be happier—and THAT will bring more business.

Grow With More People, Not More Business 2018-05-07T21:02:00+00:00

All About Paper

We love paper. After nearly 25 years of business, and countless print projects, we can confidently recommend the best paper for each project. We work closely with paper suppliers and our local printer partners to choose the perfect paper. Beyond color, you’d be surprised how many versions of “white” there are. Here are the basic paper stock options to consider.

Paper Weight

  • Text – Text weight stock is the weight of standard printer paper. It is used for letterhead, handouts etc.
  • Cover – Cover weight stock is thicker, and similar to what a file folder is made from. It is used for things like postcards or business cards.

Paper Texture

  • Smooth – Both coated and uncoated paper can have a smooth finish
  • Matte – Non-glossy, flat looking paper with very little sheen
  • Satin – Colors will be sharp and vivid, but the finish is less shiny with a lower gloss level
  • Glossy – Glossy paper makes photos pop and colors more vibrant, and has a high sheen

Paper Coating

  • Coated – Coated paper make details sharper and colors denser. Coating can be matte, dull or glossy, and paper can be coated on just one side. Applying coating makes paper difficult to write on.
  • Uncoated – Uncoated paper is used for stationery, envelopes, and other projects you intend to write on. This is the easiest paper to write on because it absorbs ink.

Eco-Friendly

If your company is interested in reducing its environmental footprint, we can source recycled paper made from post-consumer waste, (from 10% to 100% recycled), and can request soy-based ink for your projects.

“Non Paper” Paper

There are several printable plastics and fiber-based papers available that are moisture and tear resistant. They’re often used for menus & envelopes, or in place of printing techniques like lamination.

 

A printed brochure, business card, or mailing is a chance for you to provide a tactile experience to your customer. Choosing a unique or high quality paper stock can really help your print piece stand out.

 

All About Paper 2018-05-07T21:01:09+00:00

Repurposing Video Content

So you did a really interesting expert interview on Facebook Live, and it got fantastic engagement from your followers. Now you want to share that message with a larger audience. Great idea! Here are a few ways that you can stretch that content even farther:

1. Add Your Brand Visuals

Download the raw video from Facebook, then send to your videographer. He or she can add your logo and branding, plus make any simple edits necessary. Then upload to either Vimeo or YouTube so it’s easier to share.

2. Make A Podcast

Strip out just the audio, and turn that into a podcast. You can do this with iMovie or a free online audio converter, or you can work with your go-to videographer. You can also edit out any “um’s” or other unnecessary content.

3. Create A Blog Post

Transcribe the interview yourself, or send the video to a transcription service. Then, turn the interview into a blog post.

4. Craft An Email

Write an email to promote the video and include a link to Vimeo or YouTube. Or, write an email that promotes the blog/podcast version of the content and link to that.

5. Create a Facebook Ad

You can either boost the original Facebook Live post, or use the video to create a new Facebook ad. Be sure to think through your goals and call-to-action.

6. Create A Shorter Version

Clip out the best six to ten seconds of the video, and create an Instagram post. Or create a GIF that you can run in a promotional email.

7. Integrate Into Your Website

Feature the video on your website, or use it on your pop-up/squeeze pages.

 

Content creation can be time-consuming, so when you have something that excites your audience, make the most of it! Be sure to use one (or more) of these ideas on repurposing video content to stretch that content gold.

Repurposing Video Content 2018-05-07T21:06:54+00:00

Conversations with Computers – What You Need To Know About Chatbots

Common marketing wisdom says go where customers are hanging out. More and more, consumers spend time in messaging apps like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.

In fact, research shows consumers are using messenger apps even more than social media, with more users on messaging apps than on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.

Capitalizing on this fact, conversational marketing has popped up in the form of chat bots. A quick chat with a bot provides a really easy way for users to order a pizza or find the perfect shade of lipstick.

Chat bots are programmable computer software that can have a conversation. Bots are primarily used for customer service or information searches, and are widely in use. Brands like Sephora, Disney, Domino’s, AirBnB, H&M, and Spotify have all made chatbots part of their marketing mix.

Of course, there are limits to what chat bots can do. Chat bots can’t completely replace the need for human interaction:

“Bots cannot feel or think or intuit in the same way as people do. They can’t think creatively or display emotional intelligence….the purpose of AI assistants and bots is to enhance the human experience, not replace it.” – ETIENNE MÉRINEAU, Venture Beat

Still, chat bots provide an opportunity to engage with customers, and are a major cost savings. Setting up a call center with real people to operate chat sessions isn’t affordable for most businesses. Chatbots are cheaper than hiring real people, and can be used for routine customer service conversations.

Interested in developing your own chat bot?

Custom bot development costs vary based on how many bots you need and the anticipated number of interactions. Costs to create a simple bot start at $5,000 (plus ongoing monthly maintenance fees), while a more robust bot can cost more than $100,000. Or, you can create your own chatbot with tools like Bot Framework from Microsoft, the bot developer tool from Facebook, or Chatfuel.

So, do you need to invest in building a chat bot right away? No, but it’s definitely something to consider in your long-term marketing planning. By 2020, 80% of businesses want to use chatbots.

Conversations with Computers – What You Need To Know About Chatbots 2018-05-07T21:09:47+00:00

More Than A Theatre

Theater or theatre? “Theater” is the common spelling in American English, while “theatre” is used pretty much everywhere else. We’re in America, yet around our office we’re used to “theatre.” Why? Because of our nearly 10-year relationship with the Des Moines Community Playhouse. They prefer the more worldly “theatre” spelling of the word, and now it’s in our brains that way!

The Playhouse is a community institution in central Iowa. Founded in 1919, it is the oldest continuously operating theatre in Iowa, and one of the largest community theatres in the nation. Over 70,000 attendees visit the theatre for over 200 performances each year on the Mainstage and Kate Goldman Children’s Theatre. More than 2,000 students participate annually in theatre classes, workshops and summer camps. And, over 4,000 underserved children experience theatre with complimentary tickets.

To make it all happen, 1,700 volunteers are involved each year as stagehands, costume designers, and set designers, giving 75,000 hours.

We have the privilege of being on the team that makes all of these wonderful theatre experiences happen. Sally serves on the Des Moines Playhouse Marketing Committee, and our agency has done design work for the theatre for almost 10 years. We support all of their efforts, including season and show promotion, advertising classes and workshops through their education department, website support, and fundraising.

BRANDING

We started working with the Des Moines Community Playhouse in 2008, when we used our Persona Study process to develop a brand-new and award-winning logo for the theatre. We have continued our work as “brand shepherd”, making sure all new building signage, print materials, advertising, and any other elements are in step with the Playhouse identity & voice.

“The highest compliment we receive, and we receive it often, is when someone tells us they recognize Playhouse materials,” said Lee Ann Bakros, Playhouse marketing & public relations director. “Cooper Smith very smartly developed a look that conveys theatre through the use of a stylized curtain in our logo and red curtains in our print materials. The look is classy, and incorporates photos from shows and classes wherever possible to convey the quality and fun that guests associate with the Playhouse.”

WEBSITE REDESIGN

In 2014 and 2015, we worked with the Playhouse team and eWay Corp on a complete website overhaul. The goal was to make the site responsive, but we also wanted an intuitive user experience. To make ticket purchasing seamless, we also added a page skin and header to the Ticketforce page to keep a cohesive look and feel.  (When buying tickets, customers go to a separate page run by the ticketing platform Ticketforce.)

SEASON & SHOW PROMOTION

Our work each season begins with season ticket promotion. We help design mailing campaigns for season ticket holders and campaigns to attract new subscribers. We also develop show logos, all designed to reproduce well at a glance and from a distance on window graphics, and in all other print & digital promotions. Throughout the season we design posters, ads, mailers and other assets as needed, and we manage Google & Facebook advertising campaigns.

EDUCATION

The Playhouse Education Department helps students explore theatre and fosters an appreciation of the arts. We work with the staff on print and digital promotions for Friday Funday and Second Saturday events,  school matinees, and other classes & workshops. In addition, we also design the Playbill Jr., a kid-friendly playbill for children’s theatre performances.

DEVELOPMENT

As a non-profit, fundraising efforts are critical to Playhouse operations. For Act 1 of their capital campaign, we designed recognition banners, email headers, pledge forms, event invitations, and a 16-page booklet. This phase of construction required over $4,600,000 in donations. Improvements included the new 42nd Street lobby and updated main lobby, new signage, among many other updates. We will produce similar assets for Act 2 of the capital campaign, which will require an additional $4,500,000. This phase of renovation will include an overhaul of the Mainstage auditorium, ADA and safety improvements, upgrades to the education and volunteer areas, plus mechanical and safety systems updates.

MAJOR MILESTONES FOR THE DES MOINES COMMUNITY PLAYHOUSE

The 2018-2019 season marks 100 years for the Des Moines Community Playhouse. We’re preparing for the celebration with a special “100th anniversary” version of the logo. This will be used on letterhead and other branded materials throughout the season. The theatre is celebrating with “Countdown to 100” performances, featuring flashbacks through Broadway and Playhouse history. We’ve designed the promotions for each of these events. Finally, the Playhouse team also has an Anniversary Gala and 100th Birthday Party in the works.

We are pleased to be one of the corporate partners of Des Moines Community Playhouse. This organization is key to the cultural landscape of our community, bringing great theatrical and educational experiences to central Iowa. We look forward to the next 100 years of community theatre in Des Moines!

More Than A Theatre 2018-05-07T21:14:42+00:00

Content Management Systems: WordPress Security

Every now and then I get a client who, citing security risks, objects to the use of WordPress for their custom website project. And I don’t blame them! With the scary headlines about WordPress hacks, I can understand being leery of the WordPress platform. So what do I think about WordPress security?

The facts are this: WordPress is the most popular content management system (CMS) for a reason.

It is open source, meaning it’s free, and is very easy to use and update on the front end. And with countless themes available, it’s easy to get the look and functionality you need without any coding knowledge.

Nearly 25% of all sites are WordPress, which makes the platform a bit of a target. But because it’s the largest, it’s also the best supported. WordPress developers are very diligent, and patch their code whenever a vulnerability is discovered.

Therefore, frequent updates are issued for WordPress security, along with its many plugins and themes. One of the keys to website security is regularly installing these updates. A site becomes vulnerable to attacks if ignored for even a short period of time. In addition to updating your plugins, there are many other things you can do to harden your WordPress website security. Check out “The Ultimate WordPress Security Guide – Step by Step (2017)” for more ideas.

PRO TIP

For added peace of mind, we like the Wordfence Security plugin. This plugin prevents sites from being hacked, blocks potential threats and brute force attacks, and helps you recover from a hack if one ever happens. There is a free version of the plugin available, or you can buy a Wordfence Premium license for $99 per year. The Premium version gives you access to mobile sign-in, premium support, and other features.

BOTTOM LINE FOR WORDPRESS SECURITY

With the proper precautions, WordPress is very secure. One of the top precautions is regularly updating your website plugins. Not willing to do regular maintenance on your website yourself? Unsure of your DIY skills? Hire a pro to do it for you. Website security is not something to take lightly. Recovering from an attack is a huge headache, and can take weeks, or even months to fix. Even worse, your brand’s reputation will be majorly tarnished if a customer discovers your site has been hacked before you do.

Content Management Systems: WordPress Security 2018-05-07T21:16:17+00:00

Strategy for Solopreneurs

Like many of our clients, Sheree Clark is a consummate entrepreneur. She spent the first 25 years of her career running an advertising agency, then studied nutrition, became a certified raw vegan chef, and is now a healthy living coach with her business Fork in the Road. Her no-nonsense straight talk and irreverent sense of humor have earned her a fiercely loyal following of clients and email subscribers from around the world.

When Sheree started her business, she was most passionate about teaching the benefits of raw food and nutrition. But as she’s worked with more and more clients, she’s recognized the need for healthy life coaching and lifestyle support, which she provides in one-on-one and group coaching sessions for women ages 40+. As Sheree continues to hone in on her niche audience, we’ve helped fine-tune her message and brand. This year, she has been laser focused on list building, lead generation, and lead nurturing, with huge results.

“My business model has done a complete evolution since 2009 when I started working with Cooper Smith & Company, and I can honestly say I would not be in the solid place I am now without their help. The expert guidance I’ve received over the years has been priceless.”

Our work with Sheree touches nearly all aspects of her multi-faceted business, including strategy and design for her email newsletter, expert interview series, social media, website, speaking engagements, and other special promotions.

We look forward to supporting Sheree as she continues to grow her business, and helps clients figure out “what the fork” to do with their lives!


Promo Banner for Video Series

 

Lightbox Pop-Up on Website

 

Email Newsletter Template

 

 

 

Strategy for Solopreneurs 2018-05-08T15:38:25+00:00

Where Small Budgets Die

We get a lot of clients who see a really cool die cut, fold or finish in their mailbox or at a tradeshow, and want to include something similar in a project.

Special finishes can add big impact, but they require extra production time and quite a bit more budget than you may expect. To avoid sticker shock (especially if you tend to print small quantities like many of our clients), read on to learn more about what it takes to make some of our favorite fancy finishes happen, and when to consider finding the budget for that extra pop.

Die Cutting

Photo Source

For the most part, those cool edges, shapes and folds you see require a printer’s ‘die’. The metal edge cuts the paper; the rest is padding that pushes the cut sheet back off the edge. Dies range in size from huge (for pocket folders), to small (for a few business cards), and if you create one custom for your company or project, your printer stores them for use when you reprint. You can also request to use dies your printer already has on hand. Most printers or finishing houses have stock dies for things like envelopes, pocket folders, and divider tabs. These kinds of dies are also used to create custom edges, fold-ins, windows, patterns, etc.

Simple die cuts are easy to incorporate even in smaller print runs of 250-500 for business cards, brochures and more. The die is a one-time investment of a few hundred dollars, and only adds a day or two to your turnaround time.

Things get trickier when you use die cuts for direct mail. Non-standard and even non-solid shapes are mailable, but the surcharges are something you’ll want to keep in mind for your budget if you don’t plan on putting your piece in an outer envelope.

 

Photo Source

 

Photo Source

Embossing & Foil Stamping

Foil stamping and embossing require a printer’s die also, and are a great way to add depth and dimension to artwork, or bold text on a cover, pocket folder, invitation, or business card. Here are some examples:

Photo Source

Multilevel dies will cost you more than single level, and you’ll want to invest in a heavy, quality sheet of paper — thick enough to handle the depth of the emboss. Cost and process to emboss and/or foil stamp is similar to die cutting in that a die must be created. There’s usually some back and forth between the designer and the finishing house to get the artwork in just the right level of detail for the size and substrate. Simple embossing can be affordable even for smaller quantities, but the sky is the limit. For example, 500 business cards like these will run you $1500 just for the printing.

Photo Source

If you want the look of embossing, but don’t have the budget, you can get hand embossers to add a simple seal. They’re usually best used on text weight paper.

Other Finishes

Other cool finishes to explore include spot varnish (pictured), scratch offs, or scratch and sniffs.

Photo Source

General Rules of Thumb

Intrigued? Here are some words of advice before you decide to add a special finish to your next project:

Add a week (or more!) to your schedule.

Special processes like these take more time, but are worth the wait. Designers need extra time to come up with that cool die cut and make sure the folds work just right. Then the printer has to have a die made. Then once the project is printed, it often has to go to another press specifically to be die cut or embossed, and sometimes to another facility. Plan ahead, and allow for extra time and budget for design, production, and printing. Cool things come to those willing to wait.

Consider your quantity.

Special finishes can double, triple, or quadruple your per-piece cost on small quantities. If you only need 50, 100, or even 250 of an item, you have to weigh whether or not the impact per recipient is worth it. Is it possible to increase the quantity and use those brochures or binders for something else down the road? Or is the event you’re hosting a fancy affair that’s worth the extra cost per invitation for the foil and the multilevel die?

Consider your message.

Does this piece need to help you stand out? Are you offering a high-end product or service? If you’re looking to have a conversation about attention to detail or being the best of the best, detailed finishes provide a wow factor that can be well-worth the price tag.

Where Small Budgets Die 2018-05-07T21:52:33+00:00