Christmas Cards - ready to mail

Making Friends in Business

AJ Design and Marketing aims to provide business-friendly graphic design. Initially, that’s a nice goal or slogan that is full of promise. But over time, given enough opportunities to back it up, I’ve found that offering business-friendly graphic design creates a lot of friendships with the businesses and organizations that rely on my services. It makes sense, doesn’t it? If you want friends, you need to be friendly. And if you want friends in business, you should be business-friendly.

This year, I sent more than 80 Christmas greeting cards to clients, vendors, and other friends of my business. It was a chore to hand-address the envelopes and add a personal note to the cards, but what a joy!

I thank God for each of my clients and other friends,
and I wish you all a warmly blessed Christmas season!


Our Analog/Digital World

I saw this sign and had to chuckle:

There is more than a little goofiness to the over-use of QR codes. But a QR code — even a regular ole’ URL — would have been quite helpful in this context.

Never forget that calls to action need to be easy to follow!

Support: A Non-Negotiable Quality for Vendors

I posted about problems with comments on my site a while back. This was especially frustrating because I know that blog comments are of particular importance in a holistic approach to SEO. I want people to be able to discover and discuss my site’s content. If comments don’t work, that causes the conversation to be one-way. It was also embarrassing because the “website guy” shouldn’t have problems with his own website, right?

As it so happens, my business was unaffected (so far as I know) by the dysfunction of comments on my site. Not only did projects keep pouring in, but web development projects kept coming too. I have so much work to do that I don’t have time to curate my finished projects for my portfolio. Truthfully, I’m actually engaging in a subtle form of procrastination on another project by taking 10 minutes to write this post.

Thankfully, comments are now fixed. To whom do I owe gratitude? Hostgator. The ace troubleshooter in the Hostgator tech support department fielded my question and worked through the issue with me from the server end. I’m not even completely sure what he did, but comments now work. We tested posting comments from Safari, Firefox, Chrome, and the Android OS browser. It worked like a champ!

Having cheap hosting is great, but having access to a team of support professionals is invaluable. Having a value-priced web developer is nice, but having access to a troubleshooter who can solve future problems for you is critical.

The next time you are evaluating a vendor for hosting or any other service, make sure you consider the total package and not just the upfront price.

Do you run Quickbooks and an online store? Meet your new best friend: Webgility

Several of my clients have e-commerce capability planned for their websites. While it is much easier to do business on the web than ever before, it’s still not for the faint of heart. Customers have options. Millions of them. And if your front-end or back-end isn’t ready for prime time, you had better not even go live. What happens when someone picks up an item and brings it to the register at the same time as a customer on your site clicks “Buy” and confirms their order? Problem.

Enter Webgility and their eCommerce Connector. In short, the eCC synchronizes Quickbooks activity with the activity on your website. Once eCC is in place and properly configured, sales that occur at the point of sale will automatically deduct inventory quantities from your website. And online customers will be added to your Quickbooks customer list. No more manual data entry, oversells, or backorders. This will save time, money, sanity, your marriage, your reputation, etc. You get the idea. Making beautiful websites isn’t easy. But making beautiful websites that integrate with Quickbooks? That’s business-friendly graphic design.

I’m excited about deploying Webgility solutions on a couple of websites that are in my development queue right now. Expect to read future blog posts once we go live. And certainly, contact me if you want to discuss a new project. But if you would like to get started with Webgility’s eCommerce Connector on your own, feel free to click here to learn more and save $20.

Problems with Comments

Hi everyone,

All two of my loyal readers (including you, Mom) may not really care, but I have recently been made aware that some users are experiencing problem when attempting to post comments on my site. I had wondered why it was so quiet in here! So where does the guy who helps people build websites go to get a befuddling problem with his own website fixed? To another more specialized web developer, of course. We’ll get it sorted out soon.

In lieu of comments in the actual posts, if you want to participate in the conversation, go over to Facebook page or my Contact page.

Hopefully, this will become more of a two-way street soon.

Best regards,


Emma, the Web & Graphic Designer Contestant on Wheel of Fortune

Layout of the Wheel of Fortune from Season 30, courtesy of Germanname1990 on Wikipedia

Big Winner!

I saw a rerun of Wheel of Fortune recently, and I happened to notice that one of the contestants was a web and graphic designer. Her name is Emma. She and her husband didn’t make it to the bonus round on this military family edition of Wheel, but the fact that she mentioned her name and her occupation on national television seemed like a potential big win to me as the owner of a small business.

Unless the show doesn’t allow contestants to tell about their appearance, I think the fact that your name and face are reaching a national audience would be worth a blog post or two and some social media updates, don’t you? Surely Emma would have agreed and I would find evidence of that on her website or in social media sites.

I hopped over to the computer to do a little googling after the show concluded. I was very curious to see if I could find Emma online by searching the few pieces of information I recalled.

Google: emma web graphic designer wheel of fortune

The top search result was a page on a blog that recapped Wheel of Fortune. I scrolled down the results expecting to find more. I didn’t find Emma, but I did notice in the recap that her last name is Rhodes.

Looking for Emma Rhodes

I searched on, looking this time for information on Emma Rhodes, web and graphic designer. What I was looking for was some sort of website or portfolio site that would allow a person to convert themselves from a viewer on Wheel of Fortune into someone who was in Emma’s sales funnel.

Despite my best Google-fu, I didn’t find anything that conclusively pointed to Emma’s business or career. I did find someone named Emma Rhodes that is an illustrator/painter in London, but she isn’t the Emma I was seeking. In my effort to make a connection between Emma’s appearance on Wheel to her revenue stream, I came up bankrupt (sorry for the pun…I just couldn’t resist!). There are several potential reasons for this:

1 Emma Rhodes is a designer, but perhaps she is an internal designer. If she is neither a freelancer or the owner of a firm, she would have no pressing reason to promote her services.

2 Emma Rhodes is no longer a web and graphic designer (the show originally aired on November 9, 2012 and I saw the show on August 2, 2013).

3 Emma Rhodes is interested in growing her business and finding new clients, but she does not have a website — this is hard to believe since she said she is a web designer (unless of course she has fallen victim to the Cobbler’s Children Have No Shoes syndrome).

4 Emma Rhodes has a website, but she wants to be one of those best-kept-secret kind of designers.

I am not sure what the actual reason is that I was unable to find Emma Rhodes online. I suppose I would actually need to speak with Emma to solve that mystery.

The flip side of this little exercise is this: Will this blog post, with no special SEO magic, eventually rank well for emma web graphic designer wheel of fortune? I am no SEO guru, but I have learned a few things about content. I bet it will. Only time will tell.

Do you happen to know Emma Rhodes? Are you one of her clients? Please contact me and put me in touch with her. I would love to connect and network with her! It is always exciting to meet other professionals in different markets and learn from each other.


The Secret to Effective SEO: Content Creation

The Rainforest Strategy by Michael Q. PinkI was privileged to receive a copy of Michael Pink‘s book, Rainforest Strategy, when it launched a couple of years ago. It’s a great read for anyone in business at any level, especially those who are leaders or aspiring leaders. In the book Pink explains how he studied life in the world’s rainforests and distilled principles applicable to make any business more fruitful and profitable.

One of the processes he observed is a term he coined called fungigation. You will have to read the book to learn more, but Pink explained that fungigation is the process by which organisms in the rainforest (principally fungi like mushrooms and molds) take abundant waste matter such as dead leaves and transform it – fungigate it – into something useful and valuable.

Mushrooms on the rainforest floor.

This is a caption.

What does fungigation have to do with SEO or creating content? Everything. Let me explain.

I am not a SEO expert, but I have learned a few things over the years through training and practice. No matter how search providers’ algorithms change, the one constant has been and forever shall be content. It makes sense when you stop to think about it. But with all the SEO focus on keywords, off-page links, and increasing traffic, it is easy to forget that content is the central aim of any user of search engines. Content is what search engines index. Content is how search engines match results with users’ queries. Content. Content. Content. Without content, there is no SEO because there would be nothing to search.

Content is why blogging is often so important. No matter how well your five-page website is optimized today, it can’t complete with a similar site that has five static pages and a 275-post blog (assuming the blog is filled with on-message content). And how do you arrive at a 275-post blog? You have to get good (or at least prolific) at creating content.

Content creation. Sounds like hard work to me…

How do you create all this content? You can either hire a blogger or dedicate an extra five to ten hours every week to writing articles and stories for your blog. Or you can call a play from rainforest mushrooms and fungigate your blog content from other sources.

What sources are available to you? Your mileage may vary, but I’ve discovered a goldmine of content in my own business: emails to clients and prospects. I may not block out an hour every day just to write for my blog, but I often take 30 – 45 minutes crafting an email to a client or following up with a prospect. What is in these emails? Lots and lots of content. My emails to clients often include tips on marketing, website development, or graphic design principles. Sometimes I link external resources. Sometimes I provide examples and images. There is a huge body of content that I create as a matter of course in developing relationships with my clients and staying in touch with them. And it is just a matter of fungigation to craft some excellent blog content from these messages I have sent to clients. Remove this opening greeting, expand that thought with another paragraph, insert links to those resources, and in a short amount of time, I will have a new blog post. That is the beauty of fungigation as it applies to creating blog content.

This particular post isn’t pure fungigation, but I can tell you that in the future, you can expect to see more posts that began as emails sent to clients.

It’s your turn now.

What about you? What “shortcuts” have you found to creating content? Share in the comments so we can all benefit.

Clean slate.

I needed to make some updates to my website. Long story short, I had to reinstall WordPress and start from scratch. No pages, no posts, no plugins. Just a vanilla site, complete with a Hello Dolly quote.

How liberating! The blank canvas is stark, but it holds limitless possibilities.

Liberating as it was, I really needed to restore my blog posts for SEO purposes. My good friend Jay Hughes of Ingage, LLC was able to help me restore my posts from a SQL backup I made before all the chaos began.

The saga that is the blog of AJ Design continues.

Cobbler and barefoot boy

Barefoot Kids, Workflow, and (still) Being Found Online

“Cobbler’s children have no shoes.”

This adage is all too true in my own experience. I help clients tell their story, connect with their audience, and build their reputation. I tell them with wide-eyed enthusiasm how blogging regularly can crush any whizbang, one-time SEO wizardry. I assert that winning the SEO battle and being found is all about content.

Then I hop over to my own website and I see my latest post was more than six months ago. Ouch.

(For those of you concerned about the welfare of my own children, thankfully, we are able to afford shoes for them. Whether or not they are able to locate them is yet another question.)

It’s all about workflow.

What I’m coming to realize is that I’m subject to all of the same dysfunction that I observe in my clients who also run small and growing businesses. I make sure to stress to them how a growing footprint of on-message content will help them build their visibility and reputation – both online and in their local marketplace. We talk about workflow, planning, and delegation. Back at the ranch, in my own business, I’m juggling projects, deadlines, expectations, marketing, administration, and everything else that makes my business tick.

My business is not at all unsuccessful, but there are things I ought to be doing that just don’t get done. I’m not suffering from ignorance. I have no lack of enthusiasm. But I am often hamstrung by a lack of organization in my workflow. It’s the classic tortoise and hare example. As a creative professional and small business person, I find it very easy to dive into a task with which I am enthused. I usually have a variety of projects in motion, so this avoidance is quite easy. Not feeling very inspired on a logo project? No problem…just shift gears and spend some time on that book layout job. Feeling the tedium of a communication and form design project? Easy fix…just pick up the sketchbook and start brainstorming ideas for that event promotion project. I can run as fast as the proverbial hare, but I often make precious little progress.

This policy of striking while (and where) the iron is hot is not a completely bad idea. At some level in any successful organization, the leadership needs to be able to deviate momentarily from long-range strategic objectives to pursue an unforeseen near-term opportunity. Whether you are running an international big box retailer or a mom and pop restaurant, you have to have the ability to recognize and harness opportunities that hadn’t presented themselves when you were planning your strategy. However, too much of a good thing is too much. When you are so “agile” and “responsive” that you yourself don’t know when a certain project will be finished or when you will have time to deliver on a promise, you are probably a victim of a poor workflow.

Despite my relative dysfunction, new business keeps on coming.

In the past several months, I have had promising conversations with three new clients/prospects. Two of the three found my website by searching graphic design greenwood sc or graphic design abbeville sc. The third new prospect was referred to me by a colleague who has done freelance web design in the past. He recently took a full-time job and will not be able to continue doing web projects on the side. I’m thrilled with the potential that these new relationships bring! All three of these new relationships came as a result of my marketing efforts over the past six months to a year. I developed the lion’s share of my website in early 2012. I networked with that colleague at a bi-weekly networking event in the fall of 2012.

What’s the lesson here? I haven’t blogged as often as I should. I also haven’t been able to participate in as many networking events as I would like. But past blog posts and long-forgotten lunches led to three new projects. That’s the great thing about quality marketing efforts. There is a durability to reputation, for better or for worse. Sure, no blog may be better than a stale blog. And making no impression may serve you better than making a poor impression at a networking event. But if you emphasize quality over quantity and focus your efforts, they will bear fruit over time.

Wrapping Up

Over the next couple of weeks, let’s both take a look at our workflow. There’s no way we can achieve perfection, so let’s cut ourselves a little slack. Relax. Inhale. Ahh…that’s better!

With that out of the way, we can think a little more clearly. Line up your priorities and ongoing projects according to urgency and importance. If you’re not already using a robust project management system, might I suggest Wunderlist?

Be realistic with how long things will take to get done. If you bill time in your business, this is doubly important. Slice up your workload into manageable chunks, and see if there is anything you need to delegate. Broken promises can poison and undermine your efforts to build your reputation, so keep your promises at all costs. I use Zoho Invoice and Zoho Mail to keep my ducks in a row.

After you take care of what is already on your plate. maybe there is one action step you know you need to take to improve your website or your marketing…publish that blog post, attend that networking event, or plan that direct mail campaign. Maybe you need to make weekly or monthly space to execute that growth-related action consistently. Add it to your calendar and build a habit.

Andy Johnston, Lead Creative

Andy Johnston, Lead Creative

We can do this. It’s not rocket science; it’s just business. And if you need a hand with your marketing efforts, don’t hesitate to give me a call at (864) 554-5061 or contact me online. As I told one of my good friends who recently became a client, I don’t currently charge anything for writing emails or talking on the phone.

Why don’t I just give you $1,800? Adobe Creative Suite for One Third the Regular Price*


Students and Teachers Get a Break

I have had conversations with several college students lately who told me they have an interest in the graphic arts. Some were business-focused but had an artsy side. Others aspired to be professional graphic designers one day. One young lady wanted to eventually teach sculpture. In addition to sharing an interest in the arts, these students also have another thing in common:  Adobe is willing to give them 66% (or more) off the commercial purchase price of the industry-standard Creative Suite software simply because they are students.*

In what other profession or trade is the same deal available? Let’s put this into perspective. Folks learning to be plumbers don’t get a 66% discount on tools at Lowe’s when they flash their technical school ID. Someone in police academy can’t buy firearms or other tactical gear at 1/3 the market rate just because they are in training. A music major doesn’t have the opportunity to buy a $3,000 guitar for $1,000 just for showing they are enrolled in the music program at their local university.

* < asterisk

This kind of deal is just too good to be true…and yet it is. If you noticed the asterisk in the title and are looking for the catch, this is it. You must meet Adobe’s eligibility requirements for academic pricing. Read through their guidelines, but the short version is this: if you are a student in K-12 or college (even homeschool), if you are a teacher of K-12 or college, or if you are a homeschool parent, you probably qualify. I would like to link an article explaining why it is good for Adobe to do this, but a quick search yielded nothing significant. The only reason I can imagine that Adobe allows this is that people who qualify for academic pricing may eventually NOT quality when they want to upgrade in the future. They are buying future loyalty with that hefty discount.

Do It Now

So all you design-inclined teachers, high school students, college students, and even homeschool students, do whatever it takes to scrape together the cash and secure your license for the Adobe Creative Suite application(s) you might need — even the Master Collection is available! Ask your parents for some financial help. Ask your boss if you can pick up some extra hours this semester. Enlist the help of friends with a Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign. Make the decision to secure this incredible advantage and equip yourself for freelancing, volunteering, or independent creative work. Hey, if nothing else, your term papers and presentations hot-rodded with InDesign, Photoshop, and Illustrator will be head and shoulders better than what your classmates turn in with the typical office software!