Moving Completely Over to the “Light Side”

apple-iieBack in the mid-1980s, my Dad bought an Apple IIe to help him manage his growing medical practice. That was the first computer I had access to. Eventually, he upgraded to an Apple IIgs — with a color monitor even! Knowing what Apple has become since the Mac and the iPhone, these tidbits of my early computer exposure now seem really cool.

But it was the 1980s. My Dad didn’t know then what Apple would later become. We surely didn’t know anything about being cool. Alas, he eventually made the decision to get a PC. I’m not sure of the exact specs, but I think the most capable PC processors in those days were the 386, eventually superseded by the 486 and the 486DX. Apple was a faint memory as we started learning MS-DOS and Windows 3.1.

Returning to My Roots

Fast forward to 2011. I had been designing for a few years with CorelDRAW 11 on a PC. My body of work included personal projects and volunteer work for my church. My portfolio landed me an interview and a temporary design job within the marketing department at Self Regional Healthcare. What was on my desk when I arrived for work? A Mac Pro with a 22″ Cinema Display. I realized after my first week that I had begun to come full circle when I tried to close a window on a Windows PC by moving my mouse cursor toward the upper left corner of the screen.


That process of moving full circle was occurring in August of 2012 as I ordered a MacBook Pro for my business. Later that same year, my son traded a small fortune for a brand new iPod Touch (5th Generation). My wife then decided she would try out the iPhone after seeing her sister enjoy hers. The following Christmas, my other son received an iPad Mini. Without realizing it and without really straining for it, we had become an “Apple family” in just a couple of years.

The latest come-home-to-Apple moment was when I decided to jump on a mid-cycle upgrade opportunity and buy an iPhone 5s to replace my aging Motorola Droid RAZR MAXX.

So far, the hardware and software has been brilliant. I did have a SIM card programming issue that Verizon fixed quickly, but everything else has been great as expected. Many of the apps I used regularly on my Droid (Zoho Invoice, Evernote, Wunderlist, Pulse, etc.) are cross-platform. It was really just a matter of installing what I needed and logging in.

Conventional Graphic Design Wisdom?

All professional designers use Apple products, right? At least the good ones do. That is what I thought subconsciously. It just seemed that everybody who was producing really good work was using a MacBook or an iPad. And I guess, from all appearances, I’m perpetuating that generalization. But the truth is that while I was enjoying my new MacBook Pro, it was the PC that had put me in position to afford that MacBook.

When you observe the AJ Design mobile workspace, I have the shiny MacBook Pro. And yes, now I have an iPhone as well. But we would do well to remember that these tools are a means to an end. An Apple product never created anything. What a designer creates is far more important than the tool that he uses.

Password Security Is NOT Optional

If you own a website, there is a good chance someone is trying to hack it right now. Forget a website … if you simply own a computer that is connected to the Internet, you are probably being targeted. Is this some kind of conspiracy-theory-driven fear tactic designed to sell security software? No. Sadly, this is pure anecdotal evidence from the last 30 minutes or so.

One of my websites is powered by WordPress. To beef up security, I use a plugin called Wordfence. I got an email alert from Wordfence that my actual administrative username had been locked after 20 failed login attempts. Of course, I hadn’t tried to log in at all today, so I knew it was a potential attack. Sure enough, I was locked out of the site. But the site was secure. The hacker tried to get in but was met with a strong password (thank you, LastPass).

Wordfence has an intriguing feature called Live Traffic that allows you to see the IP addresses of any users or search bots that have recently accessed the site. I was curious to see the attempted login activity and was shocked to see that there were multiple login attempts from nonexistent admin-sounding usernames. I checked another site I manage and found a similar thing there.

I’m not scared, and neither should you be. But one reason I’m not scared is that my passwords look sorta like this:


And yours should too.

Learn the security options available to you for your website and/or your computer. Stay smart and prevent hackers from even attempting to access anything. But if all that fails and a hacker is knocking on the door, make sure you have a strong password. Use a service like LastPass.

If you use good security practices, you don’t have to worry about global, distributed brute-force attacks like this.


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.

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.

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!

Turn “Tire Kickers” into Customers – Tune Your Landing Pages

One of the interesting paradoxes about what I do is that after I spend my professional expertise developing creative and engaging content for clients’ ads or marketing collateral, I have little or no time remaining to do the same thing for my own business. Such is life, right? The cobbler’s children have no shoes.

I may have a hard time doing a few critical things for my own marketing efforts, but it doesn’t mean I don’t know what to do. (Yes, that even sounds like a cop out to me as I type it…)

Here is a link to a great infographic from our friends at HubSpot via their Unbounce landing page testing utility. Read it with me, and make improvements to your own landing pages when you have the time. I know I will!

And if you want to contribute to my overgrown workload and further prevent me from having time to actually implement these principles myself, call me at (864) 554-5061 or Contact Me to discuss your project. I know I need to do a better job marketing my services, but I’ll be glad to be the “cobbler” with barefoot kids so you can have a better marketing function.

Branding as a Security Mechanism for Your Customers

padlock-secure-brandingA article outlined a recent rash of “smishing” threats in which people reported receiving fraudulent text messages indicating they had won gift cards from Best Buy or WalMart. The article cites Best Buy’s website as the source of this quote:

“Don’t respond to e-mails, text messages or online ads offering free gift cards. Make sure the website address and branding match up with the company referenced in the offer.”

How about your business and your brand? Would you be able to tell customers to steer clear of messages that don’t carry your brand? Could the average consumer tell the difference between official communications from your business and a cheap knockoff?

Branding – and all of the sub elements of branding like logo design, advertising, etc. – is a strong tool for the sales function of any business. That is understood without much explanation. But Best Buy’s tip on their website hints that branding is a tool for security. In an age where identity theft is becoming increasingly commonplace, it is no longer optional for businesses to have strong security practices. The next time you are considering your security vulnerabilities, consider these best practices of branding as tools to enhance your customers’ confidence in your business.

Consistency and Precision

There is a difference between ACME Widgets, Inc., Acme Widgets, Inc., and Acme widgets. People who resort to phishing (or “smishing”) tactics usually don’t attend to the details like capitalization or punctuation. Many logo designers prepare graphical  standards to ensure the logo is properly reproduced in a variety of contexts. In addition to visual standards, your branding standards should also encompass text-based presentations of your company name and other identifiers like  your web address, product names, and slogans. Make sure your name is presented the same way every time. This uniformity helps differentiate the genuine from the false.


Anyone can buy a piece of clip art, drop that in Microsoft Word, and add text under it. Some graphic designers with professional quality software tools even resort to cookie-cutter art. But when you take the time to craft a unique logo to support your brand, you are telling the world, “I am here, and there is no one else quite like me.” You are also making it harder for would-be thieves to mimic your brand and take advantage of your customers.


Brand clarity is closely related to consistency and precision. Is it easy or hard to discern your message? What is the purpose of a particular email or document? The more obvious the answer to those questions, the better. Make sure communications stay on point. Use clear subject lines for service-related emails. Don’t make a customer guess at the message you intend to convey.

It’s your turn now. What are your thoughts? Have you seen any great examples where branding has strengthened security or prevented fraud? What about really poor examples? Comment and post links below. Feel free to change names to protect the guilty if you must!

Mobile Marketing: Something Worth Doing Well

Today Hubspot offered a great post about mobile marketing. I have to admit that I’m not a mobile-crazy, app-developing, mobile expert (except that I’m a fairly adroit user of an Android OS phone). But I am aware of how mobile consumption of the web is trending, and I’m aware of how that trend is shaping design and the entire marketing function. For those of you who are jumping into the mobile world to promote your business, Hubspot’s infographic presents 17 factors you should consider before, during, and after your efforts.

In the wild world of business, sometimes you just have to shoot a few times then start aiming. This is especially true for start-up companies. But I highly recommend you at least consider these 17 suggestions and ask yourself, “Do we have a plan for that?” If you do, great. If not, make sure your business goal justifies the risk of ignoring these sensible and helpful principles.

The 17 R's of Savvy Mobile Marketing [INFOGRAPHIC]

Note about my relationship with Hubspot: I am not employed, in contract, or in any other way compensated by Hubspot. But I was certified as a Hubspot Inbound Marketing Specialist when I worked for Lee Resources International, Inc.