Vinci-Designs & Publishing is a full-service design and marketing agency. Established on the Northwest Florida Emerald Coast, Vinci-Designs is now currently serving over eighty active clients on a regular basis.
Their primary offerings are web-based services such as website design, development, search engine optimization, hosting, mobile website design, and online advertising such as Pay-Per-Click services through Google AdWords. They are also well versed in the world of print and provide print design and print fulfillment services for many of their customers.
Vinci-Design’s focus is helping client’s develop a common sense approach to marketing.
MO: Can you share how your father’s entrepreneurial spirit inspired you to follow your own path?
Jerry: I grew up working for my father. I think I started helping out doing small odd jobs around the print shop when I was in sixth grade. Not because my father believed in child labor, but because I begged him day in and out when would I be old enough to come work at the office. He let me help with simple things like collating, doing copy jobs, folding flyers, etc.
I was always so interested in working alongside him as well as learning how to run a printing press and all the other jobs around the shop that I found so compelling. My mother also ran the art department and was shooting negatives for large print jobs on a camera that literally took up an entire room of the print shop. My mother was a big part of my entrepreneurial influence as well since I saw both my parents flourishing (together) in a business built from the ground up.
I do not think I got my true calling as a designer from them however. They dealt primarily with commercial printing clients, i.e. invoices, letterheads, business cards, business forms, contracts, etc. It was not exciting or by any means artistic.
My father’s caring, friendly, and personable approach towards business was probably what inspired me the most to follow in a similar path. He was always so patient and understanding with both his customers and his staff. I still have yet to know any other business where the majority of the employees never leave. More than 80% of their employees were with them for over ten to fifteen years at least. My dad was a great employer and I took a lot away from how he handled the internal day to day business and how he dealt with the customers.
Around 2007 my parents decided it was time to close up the larger print operation and downsize the business. The print industry (especially the niche market they are in) has shrunk considerably since many companies have gone digital with their business forms or now have in-house printing capability. They chose to close the print shop and run the business out of the lower level of their home (converting that into an office space). The overhead of the shop and the employee salaries was adding a lot of stress on them and the time was right to retool the business. Over the next two years they made the transition to running the business from the home (while still maintaining a warehouse office location). I was an integral part of this process, setting up their home based network, giving them advice on management tools and equipment they will need for the smaller set up to make things more efficient.
For some business owners I think having to downsize or change your business model can be emasculating and a very emotionally draining experience. My parents took it in stride and were always optimistic that this move was the right move at the right time. My father has established an immense network of customers, somewhere around two thousand over the course of 30 years and the majority of them were very loyal to working with his company anytime the need came up. He alone has been the biggest reason for customer loyalty because they enjoy working with him and know that he is honest and fair.
I think those two personal traits are what I have tried to infuse into my own customers. If nothing else I always want my customers to know I am telling them the absolute truth, that my thoughts and concerns during a project are genuine and for the benefit of their business, and that the pricing I give them is fair and reasonable for the work that needs to be done.
Ironically I never honestly sat down and said, “I want to start my own business” at an early age. I never had big dreams of running his business with him or planning to one day have anything close to what I do now in terms of my own firm, client roster, etc. I sort of just fell into it, but I think the seed had been planted very early on and I just had not let idea grow into more than that for many years. It was not until I had my very own taste of Corporate America that I was convinced I needed to find a way to start my own firm.
My father’s entrepreneurial spirit showed me how to treat other people with respect and sincerity in life and I think that has been the foundation for my business as well.
MO: What separates you from the competition?
Jerry: I have a very upfront and honest approach to doing business. I have been thanked many times for my candor and being frank with customers. It is rare for service providers to tell customers what they may not expect to hear, but need to hear. I think truth and transparency are two of the greatest gifts you can give to your customers, and when they know its coming from a good place they are always appreciative. If clients can trust you and know that you deliver on promises and are looking out for their best interests, you will keep those customers for a very long time.
Marketing today evolves and changes often. Many of my customers had an outdated approach or idea about what might work for them. It is my job to steer them in the right direction for their businesses’ sake, not to simply follow their requests blindly. I do not believe the customer is always right. In my line of work they usually are always wrong when it comes to marketing and that is why they came to us in the first place because they have a need or whatever they were trying to do, wasn’t working. They are missing sales opportunities, traffic to their website, or any other various form of missed opportunities.
Clients sometimes come to me with ideas but are typically looking for us to “smooth out” the rough edges. In those meetings its very common for me to be straightforward and identify problems or potential issues that could arise from their plan for the business. I focus on empowering my customers with education and knowledge to make better informed marketing decisions.
MO: What advice would you give to a small business looking to redesign their website?
Jerry: The best advice I can give is to plan your website. To do this you need to do the following:
– Identify who your target market is
– Identify the interests and needs of this market and make sure your products and services are in line with their needs. If they are not, figure out how to make that happen or find a different niche market.
– Figure out what sets you apart from other service providers (this is key in positioning the business among the competition)
– Have your website copy professional written. You might know about your business but you probably are not the greatest wordsmith or salesman for your products and services. Copywriters know how to appeal to the public and unlike the business owner, are not writing from a biased point of view. Business owners will always write about what they know but it might not be that interesting to the general public or truly relevant to selling the product or service.
– Have a budget set aside for design and development and leave 2-3 months of production time prior to starting your marketing efforts. Having too short of a window to get the website done can lead to careless errors and oversights which can lead to a lot of missed opportunities. It could also mean your other advertising begins before the website is done to support it. I’ve seen companies give themselves a month to finish the site and then had prepaid for radio time, print ads, yellow page ads, etc. All of this marketing was geared towards driving traffic to the site and when the site isn’t finished on time their entire marketing campaign is total failure. Finish the site and then begin pushing traffic to the site through other forms of media.
– Plan for on-going marketing and brand awareness building such as Social Media, Blogging, and Search Engine Optimization (SEO). SEO is just as important as building a professional website. SEO insures your website is healthy and your page content is driving relevant search users to your site. So if you sell custom skateboards, SEO should be driving traffic looking to buy custom skateboards to your website. Without SEO you are just another face in the crowd.
– Be prepared to spend the same if not more on web advertising than you have on print. Many businesses have a very hard time accepting this as fact but marketing trends will show you, advertising dollars are being dumped more heavily into online advertising than any other form of marketing. Most businesses spend 70% or more of the marketing budget online. You can reach a much larger audience and target potential customers much easier through online advertising than traditional advertising. This is a huge reason why it has become so desirable in terms of advertising. The ROI on online advertising when implemented properly can be as high as 10% versus .5% or 1% through traditional media.
MO: What has inspired you to go back to school? How do you plan on maintaining a balance between managing a successful and growing company with a demanding course schedule?
Jerry: My business is going its 10th year since we opened our doors. It has grown in major ways but I feel there is so much more I could be offering my customers. Only having an undergraduate degree in Fine Art and Graphic Design limits my ability to talk about bigger picture business concepts, marketing, ethics, and handling higher level customers in the corporate sector. I have certainly learned a lot along the way and put my time in prior to opening my business, learning plenty about how other businesses operate. However, the more I can learn, the more I can pass onto my customers. I am simply at the point in my career where I want to give back and empower my customers, peers, and colleagues as much as possible. I feel that the best way for me to do this would be to further my own education in something that directly relates to my customer’s needs which is why I’m focusing on an MBA with an Internet Marketing concentration.
Balancing the businesses needs with my course schedule will be a challenge but MBA programs are designed for business professionals who work full-time jobs. Most MBA professionals are executives, managers, business owners, etc. I think we are all used to juggling about a thousand things at once. Many MBA programs will limit the number of courses you can take at a time as well to insure you do well and succeed. I will be taking one course at a time and the additional 15 to 20 hours a week in course studies will just be spread out throughout the course of the week.
On-going education is so valuable and I know every ounce of knowledge I gain I can immediately pass along to my clients which will only help improve their businesses as well.
MO: What advice would you pass onto someone considering a career in graphic design?
Jerry: Be Humble. Take Criticism. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or work for free in the beginning. Build up your portfolio and do whatever you can do get some real world experience. All A’s and a 4.0 GPA doesn’t mean a thing to a prospective employer if you never spent any time dealing with customers or creating work outside of the classroom.
I’m currently writing a book entitled “How to Fire Your Boss & Hire Yourself,” and it basically maps out some of the hurdles I encountered along the way and talks about all relevant topics a designer might want to know if they are thinking about starting their own business.
There are millions of designers out there. The market is definitely saturated but that does not mean there are no good opportunities out there. The majority of professional, talented, and educated designers are slim in comparison to the number of self-taught designers who know very little about art and design. The biggest problem with self-taught designers is they did not go through a formal training process which teaches them a great deal about basic art concepts such as color theory, typography, negative space, composition, etc. They also never experienced being pushed outside of their comfort zone or truly thinking outside of their universe and create something they didn’t think was possible. These are experiences and knowledge gained through formal education. And in all honesty the majority of self-taught designers tend to be less interested in the creative process and more interested in the paycheck.
Take the time to get professional training (preferably at least at a four year school). Professional designers are not as common as you might think (by professional I mean those with formal training and real-world experience). I would also recommend taking the time to learn a great deal about business in terms of marketing and communications. Lastly I would recommend taking some writing and public speaking courses to hone your written language and speaking skills. If you ever plan to run your own business or work direct with clients you will probably spend more time writing and speaking than you will designing.
MO: What are some emerging trends that you’re excited about?
Jerry: Some emerging trends would definitely be:
– Responsive web design, which is the first step in truly creating a universal format for websites to be accessible on all devices. By 2014 50% of all internet traffic will be mobile-based. This requires a major shift in web design and development.
– The use of video marketing on all devices is a great emerging trend as well since it allows customer to connect visually and aurally. Increases in mobile bandwidth and data speed on devices has made video such a huge component of internet marketing and social media.
– Retina Ready Graphics – With the growing number of high-resolution devices imagery and visual appeal of websites is at an all-time high. This is great news for designers who have fought with device limitations and with programmers and developers who hate graphics and prefer to minimalize graphics to increase speed and functionality of their code.
– Internet Marketing Integration – overall Social Media as well as a large number of 3rd party marketing providers have increased the ease and functional use of their services and enable business owners to build traffic to their website as well as establish strong social circles to help further build their business. I think there is more of a “community” approach to marketing now more than ever where you can use your fans, friends, followers, and network to greatly increase the reach of your business.
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