The Web has given entrepreneurs lots of new places to market themselves. But it can also help them streamline their marketing in the nonvirtual world.
Numerous sites let you easily design fliers, stationery and business cards; while others let you edit photos and put together booklets and newsletters. And if you decide you need outside help for these tasks, online marketplaces let you solicit ideas from hosts of designers.
Here’s a look at some of the offerings out there—and how to stay away from pitfalls when using them.
Get It on Paper
Dozens of sites have popped up that can help you design and print your own fliers, brochures and other marketing materials. And many of them provide ready-made templates, so all you need to do is choose what you’d like—such as stationery, business cards or fliers—and plug in your information.
Among smaller providers, one popular option is Vistaprint NV, which lets you use a template or upload your own designs and logo. Vistaprint also lets you set up contact lists and will address and send out your materials.
A number of bigger names offer these kinds of services, as well. Staples Inc. and FedEx Corp., for instance, let you design your products on their websites to be printed out in the companies’ stores or delivered. Hewlett-Packard Co.’s Marketsplash service lets users customize materials on its website free, then print them out at home or a professional shop. Right now, only owners of HP products can use the service, but starting in September, all small-business owners will get free access.
Making Pictures Perfect
A good photo—whether it’s a shot of your product or a customer using your service—can be crucial to a marketing campaign. But getting a good photo can be a tough task for an amateur shutterbug.
That’s where the Web comes in. Photo-editing software and sites—including Google Inc.’s free Picasa program—make it easy to turn your photos into professional-quality products. You can crop photos, change the contrast, fix red-eye and perform other cleanup jobs that once required people to use software like Adobe Systems Inc.’s Photoshop. What’s more, sites such as Blurb Inc., Shutterfly Inc. and Eastman Kodak Co.’s Kodak Gallery make it simple to put together a marketing booklet using photographs that you’ve taken.
If you find that you’re not getting any good shots at all, many websites—such as iStockphoto, a subsidiary of Getty Images Inc., and Corbis Corp.’s Veer—will let you buy professional-level photos to use.
Be sure that you trust any site you use, however. In particular, make sure you’re confident that the sites actually hold the rights to the photos they’re offering. Improperly using a photo that someone else owns “can create a significant liability for your business,” says Michael Fleischner, founder of marketing consulting site MarketingScoop.com and The Marketing Blog.
Legitimate sites generally aren’t cheap and are tightly controlled, Mr. Fleischner says: “It’s virtually impossible to download anything from the sites without some type of subscription.”
Don’t Go It Alone
If you decide you need help getting your marketing materials together, the Web can help you get input from lots of professionals.
Crowdsourcing websites such as crowdSpring LLC allow you to post what sort of work you want done—such as having a new logo designed—and how much you’re willing to pay. The designers on the site—who number more than 67,000—can submit entries for the project, and from there you simply pick your favorite.
The site says each project receives about 110 submissions, and it typically takes nine to 10 days to get the first designs. The cost varies based on the project. The site sets minimums for all projects—ranging from $200 for a logo design to $1,000 for a product design—but the company can decide to pay whatever it wants above that, says co-founder Ross Kimbarovsky. Companies that use the service also pay a $39 listing fee and a 15% commission on the award amount.
Things to Keep in Mind
While do-it-yourself websites simplify things, there are some potential traps to watch out for.
If you’re using a template for any of your materials, be careful that it fits with your brand and with what you’re hoping to express without sending confusing messages to your customers. If your business is trying to present itself as very laid back or hip, for instance, a very formal template might send the wrong message.
What’s more, try to tweak the designs a little, if possible, to make your company seem unique—and avoid looking like you just filled in the blanks on a form. Most sites have settings that allow you to do this kind of tweaking.
Finally, don’t get so tied up in technology that you forget the basics of marketing. If you’re using a website to design postcards, for instance, be sure to include a coupon—so when the coupon gets redeemed, you know the cards are working.
“Don’t create content for content’s sake,” says Ann Handley, chief content officer of Marketing Profs LLC, an online publisher and media company. “Add some call to action in whatever marketing you’re doing. It’s basic stuff, but people forget about that when they get into tools and cool stuff.”