Why is Focus important?

As a business owner you have probably been told many times to FOCUS your business. But did you heed the direction and advice given to you?

At HT Designs, we have been in business for almost 18 years, and to be fully transparent, we did NOT focus the business until 2 years ago.

We spent too many years, trying to be all things to all people. We took jobs from industries that we knew nothing about, nor if we are going to be honest, cared anything about.  To do good work, you need to have an understanding of the industry of each client so we spent a lot of time researching industries that we knew nothing about. As much fun as it may have been to learn something new, we were being pulled in too many different directions. This meant that time, energy and money were being spent needlessly and we felt frustrated with the lack of progress in our business.

Dog Mountain Trail Signage

Two years ago, we made a decision that has changed the course of our business forever. We decided to FOCUS. We decided to focus on the OUTDOOR industry. We had already been working in the outdoor industry and developed a passion for it. Our media contacts were in the outdoor industry. Our retail contacts were in the outdoor world. Our social contacts were in the outdoor space. It just made sense.

By claiming our niche, not only has it made business development easier, but our knowledge in the outdoor space has grown and continues to develop. We are becoming experts in our space.

Now not only do we believe that outdoor play leads to adventure, creativity and purpose, but we live it and learn from it daily.

Take it from us – FOCUS on one thing and one thing only. It will not be easy, and as the trail sign at Dog Mountain in Washington states, your choices are “Difficult” or “More Difficult”.  BUT you will not be disappointed in the results.



Take the Guesswork Out of Your Cashflow

If you are an independent creative, you may struggle with cash flow or have trouble discussing money with clients. I know I certainly did. But one day the lightbulb went on in my head, and it all made sense. I have put together some tactics that really helped me and I hope that they will help you as well.

Lightbulb went on

1. Change from a “bill by the hour” structure to a retainer.
When you bill by the hour and work project by project, you never really know where you next dollar is coming from. This makes it hard to plan and forecast your annual budgets.  A retainer structure will not work for everyone, so you will have to be the judge if this solution is right for you.

If you have clients that treat you as their in-house graphic design team, this is an opportunity to change to a retainer.  It will ultimately still be based on hours, but it will be managed in a better way. The structure would be based on “x” design creative up to a certain number of hours per month.

A retainer is also a great way to build your business into a more sustainable income generator. Moving a client from a single project to a continuous stream of work is a different business model that will take some thought and planning. For example, if a client has hired you to do photography for a specific project, would they also be interested in hiring you on retainer to provide them with new photo content every month for their social channels or to keep their website homepage fresh and new.

2. Tier your programs.

If you are someone who hates to talk about money, and you have trouble telling someone what you are really worth, then this could be the perfect solution for you. Tiered programs take the negotiation out of the quoting process.

This also allows you to be very clear about what is involved with expected results. When a client refuses to tell you their budget, this is the perfect solution because it puts the decision in the client’s court.

An example structure for Social Media Management:
Bronze – $1500: Includes Posting + Reporting (Content provided by client)
Silver – $2400: Includes Content Generation + Posting + Reporting
Gold – $4800: Includes Influencer Collabs + Content Generation + Posting + Reporting

The client now can decide where their budget lands, and what they can expect from a chosen package. More often than not, the client will NOT pick the smallest package because they don’t want to come across as being cheap! You just made your life easier with less stress.


3. Invoice in phases.
If you do have to work by the project rather than by retainer, invoice in phases so that you have money coming in throughout a project. Depending on the size of the project, will depend on the number of phases you will need to create.

For a smaller project you could do a simple phase structure:
50% Deposit before Creative begins
25% at the halfway point of the project
25% at the end of the project

This way even if you have to “chase” a client for final payment it is only 25% rather than all of it. If a potential client is unwilling to pay within this structure, consider that a red-flag and proceed at your own risk!


Implementing even one of these three tactics can have a huge impact on your business and implementing all three is life changing.  Less guesswork and better cash-flow means you can spend your time on what you actually love to do.

ALL Brand Relationships Affect the Bottom Line

When we think of brand relationships, we most often think about Marketing and Sales.

Marketing manages the relationship between the brand and the consumer, and the Sales team is responsible for the relationship between the brand and the retailer.  These two relationships really drive bookings, sell-through and even re-orders.

Every department should focus on the relationships that they are building and how they interact with each other. Brand Relationships

  1. Field Service Reps (FSR) – I am cheating here a little bit, because an FSR most often falls under the umbrella of Marketing.  These tech reps are on the road daily, and are the friendly face of a brand or business. They manage relationships with retail staff as well as the end consumer at events. This truly drives sell-through and repeat orders.
  2. Customer Service Reps (CSR) – CSRs manage the retailer relationship from bookings to shipment release to repeat orders. A good CSR is able to do suggestive selling when there are back orders or holes in inventory. Plus, they manage the sales rep relationship to increase sales on the back end.
    We had worked with a company that spent a lot of marketing dollars, but yet had the worst CSR team I have ever met.  They were considered the lowest on the org chart, and it showed. Their morale was low, and they treated customers on the other end of the phone line with disrespect.  As a ‘marketing supplier’ I was frustrated, because it didn’t matter how much in marketing dollars were spent, if the brand experience for the end customer was going to be a terrible experience. One negated the other.
  3. Credit – How a customer/retailer feels during the process of setting up an account, fixing warranty issues, or collecting payments sets the tone for the long-term relationship.  If a credit clerk makes it difficult or treats the customer like a number there is a bad brand experience. This is an opportunity to find out their circumstances, make it personal and make the relationship sustainable.
  4. Finance – This is more about internal relationships. How an accounting department manages efficiencies in all departments can increase the ROI. When every person feels like they are making a difference in how a business is run and can see the benefits, they will work together towards a common goal.
  5. Operations – This is the most forgotten relationship. Proper management of product shipments and inventory keeps everyone happy, from CSRs, to sales reps to retailers and  to the end consumer. How suppliers are treated has a trickle-down effect throughout an organization making everyone feel valuable.

It is about making it easy to do business with your company no matter who is on the receiving end of the relationship.  Even a bad situation can be made better by a cheerful attitude and by being a solution based organization.  When word gets out that you are a business that respects relationships, you will not only have your pick of the talent pool, but you will have created the recipe for success. Don’t forget – it starts at the top!

Make it easy to do business!

Download the PDF: Brand Relationships Affect the Bottom Line


Social Media Simplified

Identify and Understand Your Audience to Create Content that Connects.

Social Media Simplified

  1. Identify social platforms that fit your audience.
    One size does not fit all and setting up an account on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram does not give you instant success. If your audience is visual, then Instagram may be your best choice. If your audience likes to write or research reviews while being a part of a private community then perhaps Facebook is your better choice.
    You may even determine that there is a different target audience for different platforms. For example, you may decide to reach the “Mom Community” on Facebook, but the ‘Millennial” on Instagram.
  2. Identify the message that fits your target audience.
    Your overall messaging may be great for your current audience but may not fit if you are targeting a new growth opportunity. You may need to fine tune the message so that it connects with the new audience.  For example, your product may be based on a “comfort story” that allows you to talk about your proprietary technology. Depending on your audience, you could talk about the innovation behind the technology, or on the flip side you could talk about the lifestyle that the technology enables.
  3. Identify the storytelling tools that best deliver the message to your audience.
    Does creating stop gap videos get your message across the best, or does a series  of photos tell the best story?  Perhaps it is about developing an ambassador program where your fans tell your story for you.  Whether it is the creation of a whitepaper, or writing a blog post, or going on a photo-shoot, always ask yourself what the audience wants to know.
    If you don’t know the answer – ASK.  Ask your audience what they want to see or read. They will be happy to be a part of the process and feel like they are a part of your brand.

Regardless of who your audience is, you need to gain an understanding of where your audience consumes media and how they like to engage with brands.


Blog Post: Do you have the right Instagram Followers?

Do you have the RIGHT Instagram Followers?

Do you spend too much time being envious of those Instagram accounts that have tens of thousands of followers? Don’t be.

Do you get disheartened with the people who follow you just to unfollow 2 days later? Don’t be.

It does NOT matter the # of followers as long as you have the RIGHT followers.

Are your followers local to your business? If your small retail business is in Oakville, ON and 85% of your followers are from the US, those followers are not the right followers.

Instagram Insights - The Right Followers

The RIGHT followers will:
– Give you consistent likes and meaningful comments and feedback on your posts
– Be local to your business

See above photo of the Instagram Insights for @HTdesignsca . We only have 600 followers in 5 months, but we are happy with that. The majority of our followers are from the GTA – Toronto, Hamilton, Oakville, Burlington, Mississauga. This did not happen by chance.

Get the RIGHT followers without spending a fortune on ads.
– Use local hashtags ie/ #burlon – People who are also using that hashtag will
find you, and you can also search and follow people using that same hashtag.
– Follow and chat with other local businesses, and like-minded individuals
– Engage with your followers in an authentic way and you will see your account grow

Remember that if you want likes and comments, you have to reciprocate and do the same to others. Be authentic, and create real relationships.

Path of Brand Adoption

The journey of a fan from brand discovery to purchasing a product for the very first time to becoming a loyal ambassador is very important to the marketing planning process.

This concept is built with 3 key objectives in mind: EDUCATE. ENGAGE. EMPOWER.

Path of Brand Adoption - The Journey of Brand Discovery

If you are a young brand, your marketing will be heavier with tactics involving educating and engaging potential fans. If you are an established brand, your tactics will lean towards engaging and empowering your fans to tell your story in an authentic way.

Every brand’s tactics will be different, but each will target a different customer who is at a different point in their journey.

Interested: Introduce your brand to a new target customer and educate them about the reasons they should try out your product or service. Possible tactics: Media Preview Event for articles and product reviews / Media Ads / Banners Ads on industry sites

Research and Purchase: This is about giving the potential customer all the information they need to make that initial purchase. Possible tactics: Website with product specs and stats / Product reviews / Email highlighting product launch / Facebook Page with product reviews / Customer Service

Fan:  The customer has bought the product and loves it, so they dive deeper into the brand to find out more. Possible tactics:  Blog posts / Videos / Social Feeds / Industry Events

Community: The fan is ready to go deeper and wants to chat with like-minded individuals who are also fans of your brand and your experience. Possible tactics:  Social Platforms / Branded Events / Giving Back Partnerships

Ambassador: The fan has become a loyal customer, and tells everyone about your brand. Empower them with ways to become a true influencer of your brand. Possible tactics: Seeding Product / Loyalty Reward Program / Social Takeovers

The brand experience is important through EVERY step of the customer’s journey, and yet businesses often are so focused on trying to get new customers, that they forget about the ones that they already have.

Educate. Engage. Empower.

To download your chart, visit: Toolkit – Path to Brand Adoption

Visit our website to learn how we can help your brand come to life!

What Creates The Total Brand Experience?

Build relationships with retailers and consumers through multiple touch-points to create the TOTAL brand experience.

The Brand Experience Diagram

Displays: Floor, wall or table-top displays have been proven to increase sales by upwards of 45% or more. Having a section that stands out from the clutter will have people looking at your product before the competitors.
Promotions: In-store contests or a Gift with Purchase (GWP) is a great way to introduce your brand or product to new customers as well as build brand loyalty.

Sales Tools and PKs
Kits and product knowledge sessions for the floor staff give the tools and education they need to sell your product with confidence. Creating sales incentives will keep your brand and product top of mind with the sales team.

Seeding your product to the right influencers will drive word of mouth business, build product reviews online and create photography for social feeds.
For example, if your product is for a specific industry such as Kayaking, develop relationships with Kayak instructors and organizations/clubs.If the instructors love the product and wear it on the job, they will recommend your product to each of their students.

PR and Media
Building relationships with media will help tell the right story and will build trust with retailers and your potential fans.
Co-op/MDF: Local advertising helps drive traffic into the retailer to find your product. Brands and retailers usually split the cost of a MDF program 50-50 up to 5% of their total bookings (orders). This is a great way to support your retailer and help drive sell-through plus ensure an increased booking the following season.

Digital Storytelling
Create a digital asset kit for your retailers so that they can post your brand’s stories on their website and social accounts, as well as be used for in-store screens.
Social Currency:
Create innovative storytelling that allows fans to engage with your brand in a different way and allows new fans a sense of discovery.

Creating brand activations at a local event in a community or at one of your retailers helps build brand awareness and brand loyalty.

Future blog posts will expand on each of these touch-points to give you ideas of what you can do create your TOTAL brand experience.

(Original Post : October 2012 / Revised December 2016)