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Monthly Archives: June 2015

True Colors Come Shining Through ImageLife

Something that designing men have discovered is that a visual communications business fits their artistic sensibilities. That was the case for Michael Martini, a very successful corporate executive and chief bread-winner for his four kids – ages 6,8,11, and 12 – and for his wife, a woman who works hard at home to maintain the good life in Tennessee.  Michael, with a degree in Industrial Engineering and 27 years at a Fortune 500 company leading business segments, was a man that began to sense he was more than a cog in a machine. He kept seeing something more engaging outside the corporate box.

“I’ve always had a passion for good color, great logos and design. It started as simply appreciation for the power of images,” he explained. So early in 2014, Michael set out on a journey of exploration but kept his day job. He began exploring options, and discovered the sign industry’s depth, complexity and versatility. This was a business that could harness the vision that was beginning to take shape in Michael’s mind. The image of a business that served up graphics without limitations.

Immediately, like so many other would-be entrepreneurs, he recognized that he did not want to simply “wing it.” There is no guidebook, no map or set of instructions for any man or woman who one day wakes up, literally and figuratively, and wants to take on the challenge of business ownership. That is why research plays such a large role – especially early on – in the quest for a new business, and a model to follow.

In time, Michael found a solid partner with three decades of experience and the structure he envisioned for his business. He found Sign Biz, Inc. After extensive due diligence, a few months into his journey to entrepreneurship, he signed on the dotted line and boarded what would be a six month roller coaster ride of site selection, name selection, logo development, business plan tweaking and site build-out planning.

imagelife-sign-shop-interior-space-plan-color_480x299Years of strong managerial acumen came to bear, and as the weeks progressed, Michael brought his vision to life – ImageLife – a shining example of what a visual communications business can be. As he picked out colors for the walls of his new lease site, strenuously examining the pallets and using a Sherwin Williams online color rendering utility, his sense of purpose clarified. Image Life would be an extraordinary sign business, offering high-impact and even rare images for any wall, any surface, and any floor. The shop began to take shape as Michael trusted in his vision and direction. He attacked his mission statement with the same sense of purpose, until there was clarity. He knew he was in this business “because images impact life!”

His business opened officially in February of 2015, and his Grand Opening Celebration took place on April 1st. Since opening, the journey has continued to be rewarding. Michael won “Best in Show” in the Ace of Space competition judged in Las Vegas, NV at the Sign Biz International Convention just two months ago. See his winning entry here on YouTube for some true inspiration.

The authentic life of an entrepreneur is one that fulfills and challenges Michael, allowing him to build on his business experience while at the same time giving him the chance to celebrate what it means to let true colors shine through. Michael Martini can be reached at ImageLife Signs and Graphics, 921 8th Ave South, Nashville, TN. Phone: 615-970-6200.

Representatives from the  Nashville Chamber, Small Business Development Center, friends, family and current customers joined in the Grand Opening celebration on April 1, 2015.

Representatives from the Nashville Chamber, Small Business Development Center, friends, family and current customers joined in the Grand Opening celebration on April 1, 2015.

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SEO Basics for Busy Business Owners

We are fortunate to have a veteran of web development on staff here, so this question, “What is SEO?” never had to be asked. But it should be asked. It is as important a question as “How are my customers finding me?” or “When should I hire a new employee?”  This is an article for busy business owners who want to be sure they understand the basics of SEO. It is important for every business owner, and SEO will continue to grow in value until it is “the water we swim in” and no “bad” websites ever show up in search! At the same time, we know you don’t have a lot of time to spend “cracking the books.” So, let’s cover the most important elements of SEO for you today. First of all, SEO stands for “Search Engine Optimization.” This is exactly what it infers: A way to make your web real estate easier to find, and more desirable for search engines. The most widely used search engine is, by far, Google. So in reality, SEO should satisfy what Google wants. So what does Google want? According to Google’s quality guidelines, there are three overall factors. Here is the short version, so you can get back to work:

1) Design & Content – should be really valuable, good, hearty and satisfying information. Keep links to a modest number. Minimize the use of images to tell your story. Why avoid using images as a crutch? Because search engines don’t know what that image is “saying.” For those images, use an “alt” tag to convey that content.

What does Responsive Look Like2) Technical Guidelines – this can be pretty overwhelming for those that don’t build websites for a living. Here are the top priorities: A)  Make sure your site works in mobile devices. This is called a “responsive” website – meaning the top navigation links should probably fold up into a little accordian for the touch of a finger. Fonts should not shrink too far, but images should resize to fit the screen width. B) Clearly direct robots to keep away from pages that don’t contain the kind of content people would visit your site to find such as login pages, or archives. Direct the robots via a little text file loaded by FTP to the root of your website. This Wikipedia page has a wide variety of examples you can use as needed, plus instructions. C) Make sure your site loads fast. 40% of visitors abandon a website that takes more than three seconds to load! Test your site here.

3) Quality Guidelines – keeping this a clear and simple definition for all non-webmasters out there, what this boils down to is this: Build your site’s information for real people first, then consider search engines. In fact, Google offers a great piece of advice, as follows: “A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you, or to a Google employee. Another useful test is to ask, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”

So that is in a nutshell what you need to think about. Focus on authenticity and transparency. Provide real and valuable information that really addresses a need of fellow humans. If you do this legitimately, Google will find you. You will be ranked appropriately, based on freshness of that information, the quality, the ease of your page to navigate, and understanding website basics.

Oh, and next article in this series, we will review, in layman terms, what SEO is NOT, and what will get you penalized. So, stay honest, my friends!

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Corporate Insecurity? The Golden Handshake May Offer a Silver Lining

During the mass layoffs in 2001-2002, thousands of corporate and factory workers were in panic and fear of losing their jobs. But for self-employed business owners, it was just a matter of tightening the belt. Someone self-employed has built some “muscle” to weather income fluctuations. In fact, someone with a “regular” job may have had less income security than a successful self-employed professional. Entrepreneurs are better prepared for a recession, because they know what it takes to give their revenue a boost.

corporaterefugeeThe Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in April that both the unemployment rate (5.4 percent) and the number of unemployed persons (8.5 million) were essentially unchanged. Over the year, the unemployment rate and the number of unemployed persons were down by 0.8 percentage point and 1.1 million, respectively. Contrast this to 2009, when the overall unemployment rate rose to 9.5 percent of the labor force in June, the highest since 1982, when the rate peaked at 10.8 percent.

As the economic nosedive was occurs, self-employed professionals don’t waste any time. They vigorously promoted their services, expanded their network of contacts, created more sources of income, and invested in new courses. See Business Survey here.

With each recession, many professionals want to become independent, but may be too scared and have no idea where to start. We offer the guideposts. ~ Teresa M Young, President of Sign Biz, Inc.

How important are small businesses to the U.S. economy?
Small firms:
Represent 99.7 percent of all employer firms.
Employ about half of all private sector employees.
Pay 43 percent of total U.S. private payroll.
Have generated 65 percent of net new jobs over the past 17 years.

We meet people like this every day – smart, hard-working professionals with years of experience, who are either too tired of working for another company, want to make more money, or want to take control of their own future,” explains Young. “They are, often “corporate refugees” — forced out on their own.”

These challenges have created opportunities for some, as they are forced to look outside the normal channels for their future careers. In this search, if they stumble upon the sign industry, they have an “aha” moment,” says Young.

“They look around, and suddenly notice a rich and diverse industry that appears boundless. If they want a solid and streamlined start to becoming a world-class visual communications company, we are the only business development company offering that. And, we have worked with these transplanted corporate executives for nearly three decades, and understand the personal nature of such a career change.”

signsofcrossroadYoung saw the need for educating and supporting such professionals as they researched enterprises and start-up opportunities. She launched a comprehensive corporate website back in 1994, and included a business plan tutorial. Today, the FTC, the Small Business Administration, and the Dept. of Commerce all report statistics about business success and failure rates. What is pointed out by these reports is how very little the public knows about why companies succeed, and why they fail. The Sign Biz website now features multiple studies and resources to education budding entrepreneurs.

“Unlike school, where training is measured at most in years, a career can be measured in decades. There is no equivalent to a college catalog listing required, recommended, and elective courses. Most people aren’t assigned a mentor, the working world equivalent of a college adviser. Very few people have a mentor who will promote and package their work for them. That’s where we can help. Sign Biz exists to provide aspiring entrepreneurs with knowledgeable business training, support and promotional opportunities for growing a business of their own,” she adds.

Sign Biz offers a full-service business development program for individuals entering the sign industry as entrepreneurs. The award winning program contributes to the unmatched success rate of their chain of sign companies. The education curriculum totals three weeks, and is complemented by a minimum of one week of home study, and a week of In-Store Training, plus more than 17 proprietary manuals and all equipment and extensive support services in perpetuity. For further information call (949) 234-0408 or (800) 633-5580.

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