#WomensEqualityDay – A Story Retold of Self-Worth

We Can Do It! Vintage PosterFor #WomensEqualityDay, I recalled a wonderful story told to me just a couple years ago. We talk a lot about employers and companies providing equal pay for women, but we don’t talk a lot about our (meaning women’s) own perception of worth. The story is short and sweet and comes with a great lesson about equality being not just about how others value us, but about how we value ourselves.

A dear friend who was working in a managerial position pretty high up the food chain at Hewlett-Packard told me about an interview process which was very enlightening. He was called in to assist with a department’s hiring process for a rather important position. They had winnowed it down to a handful of candidates. He was to interview a few and provide his recommendations.

“You’re going to be offered the job for <insert amount the young man had asked for> and you’re going to say that you are really looking for $20,000 more and you need to think about it. And, when they offer the job for your amount, you should take it.”

He interviewed a young man for the position, who was in his estimation qualified and a good fit. If he had been the only candidate, he would be offered the job right then and there. However, there were more people to interview. No one was better suited until he interviewed a young woman. She not only interviewed very well and had an exceptional résumé, but she had more to offer in terms of her breadth of knowledge and skills. She really wowed him. Then, as with all the other interviews, he asked her what her salary requirements were. When she replied with a number that was several thousand dollars less than the male he had interviewed earlier, he was taken aback. In front of him sat a person who he felt was exceptional and he could’ve simply passed her back to HR and the department without another word. Instead, he bluntly told her exactly what to say and do when they offered her the position,”You’re going to be offered the job for <insert amount the young man had asked for> and you’re going to say that you are really looking for $20,000 more and you need to think about it. And, when they offer the job for your amount, you should take it.”

My friend was recounting this story so that I wouldn’t undervalue myself, my experience, my skills and talents. So, when it comes to equal pay, equal treatment…anything striving for equality between women and men, it may just begin with how we as women value ourselves. That being said, this is a great article about Women’s Equality this #WomensEqualityDay and I deserve a pat on the back for making sure it didn’t stay inside my head! If you’d like to pay me for this great story, well, just make sure you pay a man the same amount…for the same work. ;-D

What Small Businesses Need to Succeed

Bow-and-Arrows_Marketing-AimA logo that doesn’t connect with customers. A website that is difficult to navigate or unappealing. Tons of cluttery, poorly-written ads in the Valley News. You see it all the time; examples of poor marketing collateral —ads, business cards, brochures, websites— abound with small businesses in Vermont and New Hampshire. They fail to communicate and effectively interact with their market(s). What does a small business need to succeed? Savvy Design.

One of the clearest messages garnered from a local survey we initiated was that most people recognize the need for what I call Savvy Design. Savvy Design is design driven by intelligent marketing strategy. Another clear conclusion from the survey was that most people under-budget or don’t budget at all for marketing. As a result, they pay for someone to turn out design which has no guiding principles of marketing or market-specific goals, and, sometimes, is really poorly designed. What does a small business need to succeed? Savvy Design. Unique Design. And a budget that forces them to think smarter about how and where they invest their marketing dollars. How does a small business accomplish this?

Here’s five first steps towards successful, savvy design in small business:

#1) Set a marketing budget.

Survey Results: What percentage of a small organization’s revenue should be used towards marketing/advertising? 40% of respondents said they didn’t know, and the rest were divided among the four percentage range options given. 18% of respondents felt budgeting 6-10% towards marketing was appropriate.

Observations: There was no consensus on how much of a small business’s revenue should go toward marketing. With the dawn of the credit card, society relies less and less on budgeting as a tool. This trend spills over into small business and creates challenges that can lead to failures. The SBA recommends, “As a general rule, small businesses with revenues less than $5 million should allocate 7-8 percent of their revenues to marketing.” There are many factors which go into determining what is the right amount to budget for your business, but this is a good percentage from which to begin.

What to do: A budget is extremely valuable when creating a marketing plan and making decisions. However, sticking exactly to your budget is less important than using it as a gauge.

A marketing budget can help you stay on track. For example, let’s say a new local bakery budgets 10% of their projected sales for marketing. Halfway through the fiscal year they notice they’ve only spent a quarter of this amount. The owner should use this information as an indicator to review where they should be. Does the bakery have a large-ticket marketing item coming soon, like an exhibition? Is the bakery realizing the traffic and sales goals for the first 6 months? On the other hand, if the bakery has spent MORE than half of the budget at the six-month point, they should assess likewise. Was there a larger-ticket marketing item within the first 6 months? More importantly, if an unplanned marketing opportunity arises, the bakery needs to think twice. Will this new marketing opportunity really hit the market(s) which are outlined in their goals? Is the possible gain worth the investment?

Creating a marketing plan is easier when you know that you have limited funds. Look at all your options for marketing. There are a lot of low and no cost options with inbound marketing, such as social media and writing blogs. Use your limited budget to question each decision. All businesses rely on having a home on the internet, but some rely on it more heavily. If you are selling via the internet, or your product or service requires explanation —think of a non-profit that needs to communicate its mission and vision in order be found worthy of a donation, or unique technology which needs to be understood— you need to place more marketing dollars into your website. If already know that most of your customers come from or will come from a home show exhibition, then you will want to put a good portion of your budget there. Strategizing how and where you spend your money is easier when you know how much you have to spend.

Budgets help keep your finger on the pulse of your marketing —and that will help you determine the best route to long-term success. Set a budget. Remember that marketing is an investment. And THEN, create a marketing strategy to achieve your goals.


#2) Set market-specific goal(s) to empower your marketing decisions.

Survey Results: How important is high-quality web and print design created with marketing savvy to the growth of a small business or organization? 94% of respondents said somewhat or very important.

Survey Results: What are the purposes of a website? Everyone agreed that a website should communicate, whether that be vision and mission, services offered, or another idea. 94% agreed a website should also brand the company, organization, or product it represents. 76% said websites should sell products or services directly, and 65% said they should solicit an action other than direct sales.

Observations: The reason respondents knew how important marketing was is that most people are consumers too. We KNOW we are influenced by marketing. If you have a favorite brand of anything, whether it be your local grocer, your cell phone, your cereal or your sneakers, you cannot deny being influenced by marketing. Remember, marketing is not limited to ads and websites. Marketing permeates nearly all facets of a business, from customer interaction in person or on the phone to how the product or service is designed. The response above, regarding a website’s purpose, is not far from what all marketing is expected to do —communicate and brand. Marketing is intended to make a connection and solicit a response. How are you going to get your marketing to do this?

What to do: “I want to be successful” and “I want to increase sales” are something that ANY business can say. Set goals which have specific market(s) in mind to guide each piece of marketing you create. A market-specific goal takes into consideration what you want to accomplish and what market will help you get to that goal quickest. Example: A bakery sees strong sales in all items except for gourmet cupcakes. Their goal is to increase gourmet cupcake sales by 20% by year end. With a little sleuthing, perhaps a survey, they determine that they have two major markets to target: people in the 50+ age group and high-end/specialty grocers. With this market-specific goal in mind, the bakery can ask this question with every piece of marketing collateral it creates: Does it reach and communicate to the 50+ age group? Or to high-end/specialty grocers? If you don’t hit this mark, you are likely throwing marketing money in the trash.


#3) Free and cheap is not a long-term answer.

Survey Results: The majority would expect to pay $50-$90 per hour for graphic design services and $500-$2000 for a owner-modifiable website with unique design and modest functionality including a blog and contact page. That value increases to $2000-$5000 if the website were to included higher levels of functionality such as client login or a store.

Observations: Many respondents recognize the value of design because they do not have the time or expertise to do it themselves. The respondents might not have considered that their need for marketing.

What to do: Small businesses do not have the large budgets of mega-marts and corporations. But there are many options for no and low cost marketing which should be approached with marketing savvy. For instance, a new bakery may decide it needs a website, but as a start-up it has a very tight budget and needs to spend a larger portion on a wedding exhibition within the first two months. The bakery decides to build a website by itself using the many low-cost, one-size-fits-all web design sites. They have the time now to do this themselves, but won’t as the business launches and grows. Minimum viable product. The bakery is going to do what it minimally needs for a website to get started. Marketing savvy means recognizing that no business starts out saying, “I’m not going to grow.” You should grow. And all your marketing collateral should grow ahead of you. With this in mind, the bakery plans to hire a professional to design their website at the nine-month mark because they know they cannot keep momentum rolling without a website that supports their unique proposition. The benefit is that by the nine-month mark, they will know their market(s) and the business’s identity better. This will guide them in creating a new website that caters to both these things, and thus, makes it a more powerful marketing tool. So, economize and think of less expensive ways to market yourself, but remember to plan for a professional answer. Remember, your job is not marketing, it’s guiding the marketing so that you focus on your product or service. With very rare exceptions, free or cheap is not a long-term answer and not a good investment towards success.

The next concern is time and talent. How much time away from your core business can you dedicate to marketing and designing? And, how much skill do you have in these areas?


#4) Plan what you CAN do yourself.

There were no survey results that shed light on this step. But I can tell you that I’ve had more than a handful of well-meaning speakers and articles telling me what specific marketing tools I NEED to employ to succeed, and, frankly, they are all right AND all wrong. There is no one answer. Each business and each market is unique.

In October, I went to a very large small business exhibition in Boston. A charismatic speaker had finished his stage “commercial” and was sitting at the edge surrounded by a group of curious small business people. I was in the crowd, but because I felt like his act was more like a car salesman than a knowledgeable professional, I was not as receptive as others in the crowd. He took a look at my business card and, not knowing a thing about me or my clients, spouted off that I needed this or that on my card. Why was this missing on my card? At that moment, I realized that many people, some with more altruistic aims than this man, have great ideas to offer, but in one minute or five minutes, they cannot completely understand you, your market(s) or your goals. It was a valuable realization.

So, listen to and read as much as you can get your hands, eyes and ears on, then sift through it by asking, “What can I do without going insane? What is best for MY business, MY target markets? For what do I have an aptitude?” You cannot do it all, or you won’t have time and energy to do what your business does. And don’t forget that this may take experimentation. Reassess every month or two to determine if your time, energy, and money is being well spent. And then, pick something new to try. Do what you CAN do yourself; don’t do everything.


#5) Go to professionals for what you CANNOT do.

Survey Results: Respondents were asked to rank the order of importance of seven factors by their influence on the decision to make a high-dollar purchase. 73% of respondents put “quality of product or service” in the top 3, followed by “quality of customer service” and “timeliness or responsiveness” at 65% and 53%, respectively. 75% of respondents indicated “availability of payment plan” in the bottom 3, followed by “convenience or location” at 69%. The remaining factors, cost and whether the business is local, were more evenly spread.

Observations: The responses clearly show a high value placed on the quality of products/services, customer service, and responsiveness. Your business may very well possess these qualities, but this is only part of the solve. You have to communicate this value and marketing is your communication tool.

What to do: Go to professionals for what you CANNOT do…sometimes. The real step should be: take a look at your bucket of what you do NOT have the time and/or skill to do, and pick the items which will provide greatest support to your marketing goals. Take those to the professionals. The rest of the bucket, well, just keep nearby. Down the road, you many find that one marketing idea did not work as anticipated, and you may need to experiment. Or you may discover a new item to put in the bucket and it may require a shift or change-out. The key concept to take away from “go to professionals” is that you are a small business, and there are a lot of hats you must wear; you can’t do it all. You must wear the marketing hat part time. But don’t become a full-time marketer, web designer, or graphic designer unless that is REALLY what your business is all about. And spend your marketing dollars wisely to get the best long-term return.

On-Target-Market-Aquilino-ArtsThe need for small businesses to have quality marketing collateral was the inspiration for our business, Aquilino Arts. Since inception, we have used principles of branding and marketing to guide our production of websites and graphics. As we absorbed the results of this local survey, our team recognizes that small business needs intelligent, unique design to truly succeed and have added to our offerings. Here’s a short list of what we offer to support Savvy Design, including some new twists:

  • One-page website package (with a future-growth option)
  • Payment plans
  • Marketing planning (a campaign, a marketing calendar/plan, or a marketing assessment)
  • Unique, One-Size-Fits-ONE graphic and web design —all original artwork, no clipart
  • Personalized, responsive attention for you and your vision

Talk with us. There is no fee to meet and discuss your dreams. Call Maria at 802-291-3655.

Make every arrow count & Happy Marketing!

Being Present in Business —It’s profitable.

Present-is-a-PresentA few days ago, a prospective client said to me, “We would like to compensate you for the all the time you’ve spent.” They had reached out to our team and asked for help, but hadn’t had the time to move forward.  To be acknowledged for time, effort and talent is a gift itself. I explained that we believed in investing the time in a relationship from the beginning and there was no need for compensation. Our team had spent approximately 8-10 hours tailoring a proposal for their business —from rough sketches of logos, to website, to logistics and functionality. That time translates into a lot of money; why would we approach our business this way?

It is all about being present. These small businesses put all their passions, work and, in many cases, personal financial support, into their business. They’ve put so much presence into these dreams; don’t they deserve the same? So, we are present; we treat or clients and potential clients like they are all that matters. Why? It’s personal. If you have ever called a customer service line or walked into a mega-store and felt like you were just another number, then you understand. We all desire to be treated as significant, worthy people.

From a purely business perspective, why would it matter? Wouldn’t we lose money in some instances? If you are a start-up you probably hear this phrase time and again: “It’s an investment.” Every time you work on marketing your business, there is no guarantee —it’s an investment. This is no different; it is a long-term investment in a relationship.

Nearly all of our clients return time and again for new projects. Aside from relationship building, this approach is valuable; we need to insure we design the best for them. If we hadn’t taken the time and energy to get to know them and understand their vision, how could we create great design for them?

And, last, but not least, it’s about honesty. We need relationships with our clients that nurture honesty. We need them to tell us what they think and feel. Just recently we were designing for a gentleman who had directed us to create a logo with a specific style and approach in mind. We spent several hours and submitted two different logo designs. He apologized and said that he wanted to take a different approach. Because he was honest, the resulting logo speaks more boldly about the identity of the business than before. It wasn’t just good design, it was great —and all because he wasn’t afraid to say, “let’s take a different direction.”

Think about your business. Are you present with the people with whom you interact? Are you rushing to the next thing, or do you give them the gift of your time and energy right then and there?  Being present may not make you the richest person in terms of a bank account, but you WILL BE rich and so will all those whose lives intersect with yours. No matter what the world tells you, being present is profitable.


There’s No Page Like Home

Understanding Website—Web Host—Domain—CMS

Dorothy_and_Chicken Getting your own website for the first time? The excitement of starting a business and getting a website can be swept away in a cyclone of unfamiliar terms. This guide will provide an understanding of the basic components of website creation: website, web host, domain and CMS (Content Management System).

toto For a fun visual version of this post, scroll down!


One-room farmhouse or the Emerald City, your website is not just what houses your business, but a place where others come to visit and, hopefully, stay awhile. Each page of your website is like a room for your guests to explore. The difference between a website and your house is that a website always has the light on and someone’s always ready to communicate. It’s like a 24/7 employee! Invest in a great contractor to build your web home (web designer/developer, such as Aquilino Arts) so that it represents you well.

toto Just-for-fun examples: FeedTheHead.net and WeaveSilk.com.

Web host

Your munchkin landlord is happy to provide a spot for your house for free since you rid them of the Wicked Witch of the East, but most landlords require you pay a fee to rent the lot your website sits upon. All web hosts rent the space, but each web host is unique in their amenities and restrictions, so choose carefully.

toto Web hosts, AKA landlords, that we like: Bluehost, Site5.


Address, phone number, email—these are all important so people can find you. Whether you are a farmhouse in Caldwell, KS, or the Royal Palace of Oz, you have to have a domain name to get found.

toto Your domain could be your business name like secondgrowth.org or a pique-interest name like wordle.net.


Adding a room? Want a new coat of paint? Ready to move furniture in? Your contractor and interior decorator are your CMS (Content Management System), capable of adding a new page to web home, changing the way it looks, and allowing you to update content like text and photos.

toto WordPress is our preferred CMS to use, but there are many others, such as Joomla and Drupal.


Build a website yourself? Hire a professional? Some guiding questions to ask before skipping down the yellow-brick road:

  • Do I have the time and inclination to learn a website-building app?
  • How much time can I afford away from my primary business?
  • What are my expectations for website capability (on-line store, ticketing system, other special functions)?
  • Am I happy with selecting from templates or do I need to stand out?

In the coming weeks, we’ll explore each of these components in more depth, providing technical insight and advice about choosing providers.

There's No Page Like Home: Understanding Website, Web Host, Domain and CMS. An Aquilino Arts infographic.