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Stepping from digital to print

February 26, 2012

My boss recently asked me to design some hanging banners for The Business Octopus office, he wanted them to go above each team to clearly show who was who.

Now, I am and always have been a web designer, I can use Photoshop effectively to mock-up webpages and design creative for banners and user interfaces. Usually this involves making things small both in dimensions and file size. I’m not used to going big.

So my response was: “I don’t do print.” He thought I was joking. I wasn’t. To a non-designer all forms of design be they digital or print are the same, so there I was stuck with the task of designing six 100cm x 50cm banners.

After the initial panic I tried to remember the bits and pieces I’d picked up about print work over the years. Here’s what you need to consider as a digital expert asked to do print:


1. Go big or go home

In the print world bigger is most definitely better, any image you create needs a bit of leeway for the uncertainty of physical printing. It’s not possible to be pixel perfect with your edges and outlines. Get the measurements of the printing material and start with a digital canvas at least that big.


2. Use the right tools for the job

Ideally you should use software such as Adobe Indesign as it is designed for print. However like me you may not have access to such software or be unwilling to learn something new for a one-off project. In which case stick to your favoured tool for designing websites. I stuck with Photoshop.


3. The EPS file format is your best friend

Chances are you are going to want to include the business logo somewhere on your design. If you use the one on the website, or even a high-res jpeg version, you are going to end up with a rather blurred image when you blow it up to the size you need for print.

What you need is a scalable vector image or EPS version of the logo. These can be transformed up to any size in Photoshop without losing the quality of your image. If you don’t have them ask whoever designed your logo to begin with to provide them.

The same applies to any other images or icons you plan to use, you need them big or scalable. Text isn’t a problem, if you are using a good font it will go up to any size without complaint.


4. Crop circles and bleeding what?

In the print world the people who actually do the printing need some guidance on where to position your design on their printer. This guidance comes in the form of bleed marks and crop marks.

These show where your design bleeds over the edge of the page and where a printer needs to line up their machinery to get the size right. If you don’t have space for this (about a quarter of an inch at least) then your canvas isn’t big enough.


5. On closer inspection…

Zoom into your work as far as you can and check that the quality remains. Take a step back from the screen and imagine how this is going to look for real. Big huh?

When you are happy save it in PDF format and send on over to the printer, then cross your fingers and pray you got everything right.


And finally, after a few days wait, the banners came back from the printers and to my immense relief, they looked great:

The finished article

The banners fresh from the printers, awaiting hanging

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Creating a recommend a friend scheme for small business

February 24, 2012

A recommend a friend (or refer a friend, or introduce a friend, whichever lingo best suits your business) is a great way to generate warm leads for small businesses that can provide a truly personal customer service approach.

I recently worked on one for The Business Octopus and have compiled the following list of considerations before you strt following my experience.


1. Do you have a good enough mailing list and database?

Your list of contacts will be at the core of your recommend a friend scheme, you need to be collecting customer names and email addresses at the point of sale be it through your online, telephone or face-to-face channels. Sticking these in an Excel Spreadsheet on your local hard drive isn’t good enough, you need a robust database which you can easily transfer the data from and you need to know which contacts you should be contacting and when.


2. What incentive are you going to offer?

While some of your customers will be so impressed with your amazing business that they’ll happily recommend you for free, most won’t bother unless there’s something in it for them (such is the way of the world). You could just offer straight-up cash but a gift card for a popular high-street store looks a bit more professional on your marketing and when it arrives through their letterbox. Pick yours carefully, make the brand of the store match with the brand of your business. Finally is it a one-way incentive (just for the referer) or two-way (for the referee too), for The Business Octopus we are trialling the former for a month then moving to the latter and monitoring the difference in uptake.


3. Your e-mail marketing system

Whilst it’s possible to send out an email crammed with addresses in the To: field, it’s really not advisable, it looks unprofessional and you will be breaching your customer’s data protection by giving all your other customers their email address. So, use a professional email marketing solution that can connect easily with your database. My personal preference is DotMailer, but there are others such as MailChimp to try.


4. Designing your initial email

It’s good practice to email a new customer to welcome them to your business once a sale is completed, it gives confidence to the customer that your after-sales are as good as your sales. It’s even better practice to include your recommend a friend incentive in this email too. Programs such as DotMailer make it easy to create professional looking emails that will work across the majority of email platforms with minimal fuss.

Ask yourself the following:

  • Are you going to use HTML or plain text emails?
  • Do you need to hire a web designer or developer?
  • What is the next step for the customer once they receive the email?

5. Designing the friend referral process

Perhaps the most important thing to consider is how the friend referral process will work in practise. For this project the customer is going to:

  • Click on a link in the email which will bring them to a landing page on The Business Octopus website
  • From there the customer will fill in their friends details on a simple web form
  • This will trigger a second email to the referred friend
  • The referred customer can either call direct for a quote and quote their friends reference number OR go to a second landing page and request a callback. It’s always better to offer multiple routes to market.

Once the referred customer has completed their transaction it is imperitave that your business is set-up to deliver the incentives in a timely fashion, if you don’t and the referral is lost it could have a damaging impact on your brand reputation, quite the opposite of what we are aiming for here.


6. Make the process as slick as possible

Don’t make your customer work too hard for their incentive, avoid unnecessary terms and conditions, offer multiple channels for them to refer their friend and make the process seamless.  For example when the customer hits the first landing page most of their information is already pre-populated on the form, all they have to fill in is their friend’s email address.

If you get all of this right you should be well on your way to a successful recommend a friend scheme, I’ll update this blog with the results of this one, please let me know your thoughts, ideas and success stories for your own schemes!


10 steps to creating a WordPress development site

February 17, 2012

When I first turned my back on my comfortable corporate job using an enterprise-level CMS (Fatwire) and dove headlong into using WordPress as a CMS for a small business the first thing I wanted to do was create a development area.  A test site.  A staging area.  Call it what you will it all means the same thing, somewhere that you can break the site on a regular basis without losing your job.

I thought this would be fairly easy, a fundamental thing that everyone wants to do.  As it turns out a lot of people are happy to edit their site live (MADNESS). Those people who did have a test site suggested a myriad of ways of doing it and I soon found myself confused.

So, here is how I did it in ten simple steps, it’s worked for 3 sites now and may help you:

Note: This assumes some knowledge of FTP servers, website databases and WordPress CMS, but if you aren’t sure about something just post a comment and I’ll help out where I can.


1. Create a ‘test’ folder at your site root

You can call this folder whatever you want, to make life easy name it whatever you want your test site URL to be (e.g. http://www.domain.com/test or http://www.domain.com/staging). It’s easiest to do this via your FTP client, my personal choice is Filezillla.


2. Duplicate your current site database

This assumes that you want your test site to be an exact copy of your current live site before you begin editing away.  All of your site settings, pages and posts will be the same (except for the ones we will change later).

First, export your live database via MySQL using a database management tool (I use phpMyAdmin) and save the .sql file locally.  Next, create a new database and database user via your web host control panel, name it something distinct from your live database to avoid confusion (preferably include ‘test’ in the name somewhere).  Finally, login to your newly created database and import your saved .sql file.

 


3. Amend the test database to point towards your test domain

Access your replica database via your database management tool and navigate to the table ‘wp_options’.  There are two fields in here that you need to edit, usually they are at row 1 and row 37.


4. Copy your WordPress site files to the test folder

Using your FTP client copy all of your live site WordPress files to your local directory (this will serve as a backup of your site). Include wp-admin, wp-content, wp-includes and all other files at the root of your WordPress folder.

Once complete, copy the same files from your local drive to the test folder we created in step 1.


5. Amend wp-config.php to point at your new site and database

In the local back-up of your site open ‘wp-config.php’ in your HTML editor and amend the following lines to point to your new domain and database:

/** The name of the database for WordPress */
define(‘DB_NAME’, ‘yourtestdb’);

/** MySQL database username */
define(‘DB_USER’, ‘yourtestuser’);

/** MySQL database password */
define(‘DB_PASSWORD’, ‘yourtestpassword’);

Then add in the following under the WordPress Debug section to complete the redirect of your site to the sub-folder:

define(‘WP_SITEURL’, ‘http://www.yourdomain.com/test’);
define(‘WP_HOME’, ‘http://www.yourdomain.com/test’);

Save this file (do not overwrite the file in your backup if you want to be able to revert to it) and copy to the test folder via FTP.


6. Amend the .htaccess file in your test folder

This file should be in the root of your wordpress installation, if you don’t have one you’ll need to create it. In it’s simplest form your file should look something like this once you have added ‘/test’ to the end of the domain:

# BEGIN WordPress
<IfModule mod_rewrite.c>
RewriteEngine On
RewriteBase /http://www.yourdomain.com/test/
RewriteRule . http://www.yourdomain.com/test/ [L]
</IfModule>
# END WordPress

Save this file (again, don’t overwrite the one in your backup) and copy it over to the root of your test folder via http://FTP.  If you go to http://www.yourdomain.com/test/wp-admin you should now be able to access the login screen for the replica of your site, the username and password will be the same as they are for your live site.


7. Amend robots.txt to stop Google finding your test site

This file should be in the root of your WordPress directory, if you don’t have one create it and add the following:

User-agent: *
Disallow: /test/


8. Make sure Google can’t find your site via the WordPress privacy settings

Login to the dashboard of your site and go to Settings > Privacy, change the option selected to ‘I would like to block search engines, but allow normal visitors’ and save.


9. Install the ‘WP Maintenance’ plugin to hide your test site from the world

This is an optional step but if you don’t want the general public to stumble across your test site this plugin will present a holding page when activated to users who are not logged into the CMS.


10. Test your replica site

Before tearing your site apart make a few simple changes to various pages and check that they only occur on the test domain. Just to be sure!


I’m sure there are probably better ways of doing this, but this method works for me!