Branding 101: Why you need to start with a mood board

mood board

 

I confess: if someone were to tell me I should put together a mood board for my business a couple of years ago, I would have rolled my eyes and ever-so-politely ignored them. Pfffft. I already KNEW what I liked; I had a strong sense of design, I had some colours and fonts sorted for my brand and I figured I was good to go. Well of course, how totally arrogant of me.

A mood board does a whole bunch more than help you choose your colours and fonts – it sets the complete tone of your brand, and will guide you for every piece of content you put out in the world. Think carefully about your current collection of images for social media and web – does everything all look like it comes from one place? Does it all carry your brand ‘voice’? Just using whatever takes your fancy on the day and then stamping your logo over the top of everything certainly doesn’t make it all hang together, and even when you use the same fonts and colours throughout, you can still have an awful lot of variation.

If you’re in a creative business, if you’re running things on your own, YOU are a brand, and you need to project something cohesive.

To help you figure out just what that ‘thing’ is, mood boards are ace.

 

Mood boards help you create a visual language.

 

Your visual language includes colours, fonts and image style, as well as projecting the overall vibe of your brand.

And they’re not just for when you’re starting out – they continue to be useful throughout the life of your brand! They’re your starting point for when you’re pulling together your branding elements for sure, but they also double as inspiration and focus every time you go to put out something new for your brand – a new social media graphic, a new blogpost, designing you new business card or packaging – your brand mood board keeps you focused and gives you plenty of clues on how to do that.

Putting a great mood board together is a scavenger hunt, and it’s just about the best fun scavenger hunt there is I reckon! Because it’s all about you, and you can spend lots of extended time on it. You don’t need to put it all together in one hit; there’s always more you can add in. Take your time, do it as you go about your day to day business; add in bits and pieces as they appear – it’s a work in progress.

So where do you start?

 

1. What’s the purpose of your board?

What’s your mood board for, specifically? Is this board about your business brand and what you want to project? Is it to help you identify your ideal customer/audience and what their expectations are? Is it to share with your designer, so they can interpret it to put your website together? Or to share with others on a collaborative project so they get a sense on where YOUR ideas are headed (which can save a whole lot of angst further down the track when you present a finished ‘thing’ and they say they don’t like it…)?

The more specific you are about your purpose, the easier it will be to choose elements that relate to that.

 

2. Get some keywords.

Keywords will help you drive the direction of your mood board and keep you focused (and not disappearing down the pinterest rabbit hole).  These should be chosen VERY carefully, as each impacts on the other (context is everything). For instance, “sexy” can mean very different things to different people; combining it with “whimsical” or “electric” will point it in different directions, and adding in “cool” or “vibrant” will shift and define its meaning even further.

 

3. Where can you find the best source material?

If you’re making a mood board for your brand, sure it’s useful to look to your competitors to see what they’re doing, and see what your target audience is responding to. But take what you find as a springboard – you don’t want to copy, because that just means you’ll end up looking like everyone else. Use your personality, especially if you’re a solopreneur – you are what sets you apart from others in your field.

Inspiration can come from anywhere. Don’t limit yourself to Pinterest (and I KNOW there’s oodles of fabulousness on there so it’s definitely one important avenue to investigate). But inspiration can come from many other places too – use images from magazines and books, and old photos (just scan ’em in if you’re making a digital mood board; print out your scan if you’re working with scissors and paper).

And PLEASE don’t forget to look around you in the real world. Pick up things that interest you, write down ideas that capture your imagination, keep your fingers ready for gorgeous textures, and always take your phone camera with you.

 

4. What do you need to include?

Well, inspirational imagery of course. You don’t have to stick to your niche for imagery either. If a sad clown pic expresses what you want even if you’re in the tech industry, go for it. If a cute puppy does it for you even though you’re in the wellness industry, stick it in. Don’t limit yourself, especially when you’re in collecting mode – you can always cull it later.

 

Collate, then curate.

 

There’s lots of other things you can include as well that are evocative of the mood you’re after. Examples of fonts you like would be great for your branding mood board; and especially if you include your keywords in some of the fonts you’ve chosen.

Textures are fabulous too – a crinkly leaf, a gorgeous bit of velvet or brocade, a piece of bark from a tree, a scrap of leather, a pretty carved button, a fragment of patterned ceramic, a shell from the beach…

 

Colour is one of the most important factors in tying a mood board together – you might have to work at getting a cohesive colour scheme, so keep searching and adding in more things that speak to the style you’re after, and culling out things that don’t fit – you’ll get there eventually!

And when you’ve got a harmoniously colourful board happening, then you can start pulling out particular hues – if it’s for your branding, I would recommend including your palette somewhere in your mood board, and don’t forget their hex codes. Also, if particular colour combinations are going to be a key element of your brand, emphasise them.

 

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Inspired? Get onto it! If you’re still a teensy bit unsure about what/how, check out what google brings up.

But wait, I’ve got more!! Next week, I’ll write about the different tools you can use to create your mood board (believe me, a real-life one that you can touch has a different feel to it than a digital one) – including a bunch of tech and styling tips to make yours sing.

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Got any questions about mood boards? Pop ’em below.
Do you have one for your brand? Are you happy with it? Share it on my FB page – I’d love to see! If you’re not happy, what specific aspect are you struggling with?

J x

Small biz how-to : make a great “About” page

 

your-about-page

 

The Number One rule about your About page is – it’s not about you. It’s about your AUDIENCE. They want to know why you’re right for them – so make it easy for them to decide! And of course, there’s a heap of different ways to create a standout About page – videos, graphics, animations… but whatever the format, here’s my checklist of things to remember.

Don’t ever underestimate your ‘About’ page’s importance – next to your home page, your About page is the 2nd most looked-at page on your site. Don’t believe me? Think about what YOU do when you’re checking out a new site. Ha! We ALL do it.

Let me say it again: it’s about your audience, not you. Especially when you’re a small business, and ESPECIALLY when you’re a solopreneur. And your audience want to make a personal connection – so don’t write in the third person; it’s stiff and formal. Always be a human, and always write in the first person – it’s about you and me. See?

Your audience wants to see you. Speaking of being human – we connect to faces, so show yours! Make sure your image is well-lit and crisp. You don’t have to use a professional photographer (although a good one can be ace!) – just no blurry late-night snaps taken at that friend’s BBQ 5 years ago PLEASE.

So who’s it for? Think very clearly about this – who exactly is your audience? What’s their exact problem? ALWAYS keep this in the back of your mind when you’re writing.

What value do you give your readers? There’s a point to the about page – it’s about what you can do for your audience.

People are looking for specific information. What sorts of questions do people ask when they get to your about page? They want to know if you’re a big company or small; and is it just you, or are there other people involved? How long have you been in business? Where are you based? What are your core values? Why should they buy from you and not from your competitor?

Social proof is awesome. Because your potential customers not only want to get to know you, they need some kind of guarantee that you can actually solve their problem for them. Include some testimonials from happy customers! They’re most effective when the happy customer talks about how they were struggling, what they were looking for, how you helped them, and what the result is.
There’s lots of other ways to include social proof too. Press mentions (Remember that article in the local paper with the great photo? Include that magazine article too!) and mentioning that you’ve guest posted on that high profile blog are always good.

Visuals are important, but they’re not the only thing. Visuals are your first-line defence seduction. They’re there to grab your audience’s attention; they’re there to set the mood; they’re there to support what you have to say. Make them count, but remember that the words add substance.

How to write? The tone of your Brand Personality will be your guide when you write your About page, so you can be as down to earth or as quirky as your brand suggests. Branding is all about conveying a consistent message in everything you do – so how you write when your brand is whimsical or ethereal will be quite different to how you write if your brand is boisterous and fun.

Think about the About pages you’ve read. The ones that really grab you are not the factual ones, the ones that simply list qualifications, or the ultra brief ones that say “I’ve got three kids and in my spare time I like cooking and listening to music.” It’s the ones that tell a story about that person – what they think about and how they got to where they are now.

For instance, my About page includes “I live on a farm in the middle of NSW, and I love this space. But I’m not just a farmer – because the world is a place full of endless ideas and things to investigate.  If I disappear for a moment, it might be because I’m researching the latest tech-gadgety-thingy that I’ve seen on the interwebs; or it might be that I’m admiring the tiniest flower bud at my feet; or I might just be curled up in a chair with my nose in a book.”

Tell a relevant story – snippets from your life can ground a sense of who you are and what you’re like to work with. It could be a story about your humble beginnings, and about your dream. Bring your readers into the story of your vision for the future. And yes you CAN include the odd random fact about you – shows you’re a real person and just as weird as the rest of us (psst: Don’t include your whole life story – it’s too long, and the vast majority of it’s probably not relevant to what you’re doing in your business. Save it for your autobiography when you’re a squillionaire.

Include your call to action on the page – if people like what they read, they’ll want to maintain the connection. Don’t get them all interested and them leave them hanging for more… because chances are once they click away, they’ll get distracted by the next shiny interweb thingy and forget all about you. Once they’ve given you their email addy, you can maintain the connection and build on the sense of expertise, familiarity and trust by sharing beautiful, relevant and useful information.

Break your text up. We’re a culture of skimmers. ONLY if something grabs our attention will we be bothered to stop and read the whole damn thing. Break your text up with headings, highlighted text etc. And add images – photos of you!

Don’t include everything and the kitchen sink. Include your social connections here if you like, but ensure they’re secondary to your call to action. And don’t include EVERYTHING unless you intend to regularly check on everything…

Check and update regularly. Don’t use that 5 year old photo of you. Don’t include your Blab connection or your Periscope or any of your other out-of-date-social-media-that’s-disappeared-into-a-black-hole.  And of course, make damn sure that what you say in your About page is still aligned with who and what you are, and what you have to offer.

 

Have I convinced you how important this page is? Good! Now, go back and plan out your About page, and get writing.

 

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Not your average stock images : The Photo Forest

I’m SO excited to announce that my ridiculously talented friend Nora is launching a wonderful new not-your-average stock photo site – The Photo Forest.

 

everybody-needs-beautiful-photos

 

Nora first came up with the idea when searching around for good stock photos and yet again being disheartened by the lack of quality, REAL-looking photos. Stock photos seemed to be always too slick, or too bland, or… something. And the good ones were being used by EVERYONE.

Nora is a photographer herself (besides being a totally kick-ass graphic designer at norawendel.com), and went out in search of real scenes and real people doing real things to fill that gap. But as many photos as she could take herself, she wanted to build something bigger and create a community at the same time.  So, she dreamed up the fab idea of creating a membership site where other photographers could contribute, and visitors could put in requests for whatever photo they wanted! So, if you want a picture of a teddy bear sipping a pina colada next to a swimming pool – request it, and someone will take that photo for you. How good is that!? It’s a fantastic concept, and nothing like it anywhere else.

 

what-photos

 

Here’s what Nora has to say –

“I’m on a mission to revolutionize the stock photography industry by providing custom on demand stock photos to lifestyle, wellness and smaller niche businesses that are underrepresented in big name stock photo sites.

At The Photo Forest we are about DIVERSITY -in all forms of the word! Race, size, economics and more! Our aim is to provide Real Life Stock Photos through our platform so that every business can have beautiful imagery to market themselves with.

The other important aspect of The Photo Forest is the community that I want to build and engage with – there will be a members only community where we can share what we are looking for, how we have used the stock photos, ask for advice and also talk to me and my team on how to make The Photo Forest better in terms of design, functionality and usability! I will be open and honest with all members about the inner workings of The Photo Forest so that everyone can understand how it works and feel included in some big decisions. It’s totally going to be community over competition.

So far there is no other stock photography site like this out there and that makes it even more exciting as I and all our members get to decided on how we want this to work!

What started your interest in photography?

I have a passion for photography – when I lived in India I used to do real life situational photoshoots for travelling yoga teachers and I really loved that – but that was location dependent and I have since moved to Cape Town in South Africa – so for the last year I have been trying to come up with a way to still be a photographer but be able to work from anywhere. Yep a total digital nomad 🙂

I started making some photo packs and sold them through my website norawendel.com. As part of that I did some market research into what type of photos people where looking for and couldn’t find. I called it #RealLifePhotography as that was my style – shooting situations as they were in life. – When I  started to get more and more feedback from my market research about the struggles people were having finding niche photos or photos that represented diversity like coloured women, or women over 50, or photos of plus size people – I knew I was onto something.

How does it work?

The whole idea of the platform is that members get to request the themes of the photos they really need and can’t find anywhere else. Since this has never been done before I can’t say exactly how long it will take from request till download of the photo to your computer- however I am estimating that it can take anywhere between a week to three weeks – it really depends on the photographers and how many photographers pick up the request! Each photographer can choose which request they want to go out and photograph and every photograph is reviewed before it is released to the members. As much as possible will be automated but we will still be reviewing each photo submission form the photographers to make sure they align with what we represent  – reality and diversity!

How soon are you launching and what have you got already?

Keep in mind though that there will already be more than 1000 photos ready to be downloaded when we do launch in October, and this number will be increasing as the requests come in and the photos get taken. It will be a continuous cycle of new content on a monthly basis, likely even a weekly basis depending on the amount of request that come in and the amount of photographs our carefully selected photographers submit to the platform.

Overall it’s going to be one juicy platform!”

 

the-first-community-stock-photo-site

 

Want to find out more? Check out The Photo Forest here! ->

www.instagram.com/thephotoforest

www.thephotoforest.com

www.facebook.com/thephotoforest

 

Free stock images? Here’s a roundup.

boring stock photos are boring

 

There are soooo many places to grab free stock images for your blog/site/social media these days that the choice is almost overwhelming. And people STILL get it wrong!

 

You’re boring.

Firstly, remember that if it’s free, there’s probably going to be a heap of other folk using exactly the same photo. Secondly, like any of the places that you can find free stuff, there’s a ton of junk to sift through before you get to the good stuff.

Also, what you use on your website and social media says a lot about you and your brand. What mood are you trying to convey with those images? Are they projecting your true business personality? Are they interesting to your ideal audience? Or are they just there to fill a gap?

NOTHING says ‘bland’ quite so much as a website full of sterile stock photos.

It’s those manicured hands hovering over a white keyboard, it’s those artificial smiles. It’s all the equipment on the desk arranged in a unbelievably neat grid. Seriously – whose desk is like that??

Yeah, I know not everyone’s a photographer, and we all use stock photos from time to time. But please choose wisely.

 

Get outside of your box

It’s a big wide world out there, and the number of Public Domain image providers is growing exponentially. Like many ‘free’ versions of things, they make their money through advertising, and/or links to a paid, higher quality version of what they do. Some sites have a subscription service where they’ll send you new photos every week; some are bit overwhelming in the amount of advertising that they have – have a look around and bookmark a collection of sites that suit you best.

Also, just a time tip – you will most likely spend a heap of time trying to find photos you like, so start up a new folder on your computer now, and set aside an hour or two to find and download a bunch that you like (10-20 at a time) so that you always have a stockpile of photos that you can dig into when you need something in a hurry.

 

So here are some of my fave sites (there’s a ton more – just google “Public Domain images”, you’ll come up with a big list of sites for you to investigate. Some of these sites are searchable, although many of them are not and require a LOT of scrolling. But there are still some gems in there, so it can be worth your time).

http://thestocks.im/ The Stocks is a collator of sorts, linking around 15 of the most popular Public Domain and CC sites, including Pixabay, Unsplash, and New Old Stock. It also gives you a preview of what images are on each site. Because it’s a collator, it’s popular and tons of people tend to look here often – which means that you’ll find most of the images you like on lots of other blogs and websites too 🙁

https://stocksnap.io/ StockSnap has a bit of personality to it, with contributors adding everything from their own travel photos to highly styled food photos, and it’s searchable by tag and by popularity too.

https://picjumbo.com PicJumbo is another searchable site with some great images, especially of architecture and food (although there is a LOT of advertising on the site).

http://publicdomainarchive.com/ PublicDomainArchive has a big collection of both vintage and modern Public Domain pics. They’re not searchable, but the images are lovely, often featuring gorgeous symmetry.

http://nos.twnsnd.co/ New Old Stock is an absolutely fascinating collection of vintage photos, sourced from public archives throughout Europe and around the world. There’s lots of photos of the US space program, as well as Victorian-era images of buildings and people, old maps, and a bunch more things. Be prepared to spend some time scrolling – and not only because it’s not searchable.

https://freestocktextures.com/ is great for textures that you can add as an overlay to your image to give it age, or grunt, or sass etc – just adjust the transparency. Brick walls, greenery, concrete, rust, graffiti…

http://kaboompics.com/ and http://freestocks.org/ are both sites I came across recently, and both are searchable. They appear to be fairly typical subject matter (people in landscapes, flowers, flatlays of office setups etc), although they do both seem to have a bit more personality.

Keep searching, there’s plenty more!

(Psssst…. you might even like to try some of my small collection… 😉 )

 

 

But there’s still more to watch out for…

Free stock images can still have strings attached. They might be free, but if they’re licensed under Creative Commons, then you might be obligated to credit the image’s author at the very least.

Creative Commons is great for both makers of work (because you can get your work out into a huge audience, and it grows as users spread it around) and users of work (so much more beautiful work to access!). CC has a range of different licences, which range from CC-BY (basically, you can use and edit/manipulate the work in any way you want for both commercial and private use, as long as you credit the original author), right throught to CC BY-NC-ND (you must attribute the author, you can’t use it for commercial purposes, and you can’t alter the work in ANY way).

Public Domain pics on the other hand require no attribution, and you do whatever you like with them!!

Now it IS tricky, because in a global marketplace the thing is that different jurisdictions have different laws around copyright… and so what might be considered Public Domain in one jurisdiction may still be under copyright in another… and so Creative Commons (a wonderful organisation AND search tool – you can find them at creativecommons.org) has created a kind of ‘anti’-licence – CC0 – so that authors can choose to waive all rights to their work. Because whenever you create a work, basic copyrights around intellectual property exist automatically (in most jurisdictions). CC0 is a way of stating that you waive your rights and place your work into the public domain completely for people to do whatever they like with. So that’s part of what Creative Commons is for as well – to try and make things a bit simpler for us creative folk.

 

Finally…

Google is NOT the place to go searching for images. Google simply collects and archives what’s out there – it doesn’t check the validity of any licensing or credits or image attachments or ANYTHING. Right now, if I put up an image of the Mona Lisa and put my name on it, that’s the information that Google would archive. So, do your own research, and find images in reputable places – for instance, you can also find lots of CC0 images in Flickr too, direct from the original photographers.

If you get caught using an image (or other work) incorrectly, it can be a big headache – even a financial one, if the owner of the work chooses to come down hard on you. At the very least, they’ll ask you to remove the image – and you’ll have to find another one anyway, so why not choose a Public Domain image in the first place!?

Don’t get caught out – always check.

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Have you heard any gruesome stories about people getting in trouble for using images that weren’t theirs? Share it here! It’s important to let others know that this is SERIOUS.
Because the upshot is, we want our artists to get paid AND acknowledged for all their beautiful, amazing contributions to the world. Don’t we!?

Julie x