How Robin rebooted her event branding and design business, one smart move at a time

Robin Hammer

More focused, more productive and happier running her business

Starting with making the effort to network

Getting out the door to attend a networking event instead of staying home to get client work done requires mental energy from me. But most of the time, I’m glad when I make the effort.

One event that I made a priority paid off big for me because that’s how I first met Ilise Benun. It was in 2010 when someone invited me to a Jersey Shore advertising and marketing association’s networking lunch. Ilise was the featured speaker and when she talked about the marketing challenges of freelancers I said to myself, "She’s talking to me!"

I signed up for Ilise’s Quick Tips newsletter and, for about 8 years, I received her marketing words of wisdom every two weeks. Then, about two years ago, the feeling that l was all over the place with my business started to consume me. Though I have a BA in graphic design, I wasn’t taught the business of design. I was relying on word-of-mouth business and, except for the occasional networking event, I didn’t put myself out there.

A friend said I needed a coach and I thought, ‘Yes, yes I do!’

I had a niche focus on design for the “mitzvah market,” helping Jewish parents celebrate their son’s and daughter’s rites of passage into adulthood. I also had a pretty active Etsy business. But I really wanted more from my branding and design business.

I remember talking with a friend about my work frustrations. She said I needed a coach and I thought, "Yes, yes I do!" I’d been listening to Ilise’s Marketing Mentor podcast, so it was a no-brainer to take advantage of her free 30-minute consultation. Things really took off from there.

Right from the start, I loved the flexibility of working with Ilise. Our individual coaching calls could be weekly or every other week. Our focus could be on whatever opportunity area we identified as the priority.

Although my initial target audience was moms and mitzvahs, I began to think bigger working with Ilise. My new focus became the professionals associated with these events, including event planners. Ilise coached me on developing a strong elevator pitch. We worked on my LinkedIn profile, and she helped me see how learning to speak the industry language would become key to my marketing.

Better pricing to make sure I charge enough

With my new, improved LinkedIn page — and a new tagline in place: Branding design for events, startups and more — I started to do some outreach and found success almost right out of the gate.

Ilise and I also worked on my pricing because I knew I wasn’t charging enough. I was offering just one package but clients wanted more art and logo options. I was always dealing with add-ons, which took too much time.

Initially, I changed my pricing model to three tiers: Bronze, Silver and Gold. After a year, I realized the Bronze package wasn’t cost-effective for me. So I dropped it and renamed the others Deluxe and Essential, which has proved to be much simpler for me and my clients.

Finding time to work on my business, a few minutes each day

Working with Ilise changed the game for me. I’m more focused, productive and happier running my business. I’ve been able to say goodbye to smaller clients, and the new ones tend to opt for the bigger design packages, which is great!

If you’re just starting out as a graphic designer or need a business reboot as I did, here’s advice from my experience:

  • Find time to work on your business, even it’s just a few minutes each day. The actions I take (even the small ones) add up to more effective marketing and better decision-making. Ilise encourages a go-slow, marketing-smart mindset, and I love that.
  • Standardize your processes to free up time for other things. I took the time to craft standard responses for the typical inquiries I get. This saves me time because I don’t have to write a new message for each response. I also created a four-page PDF to send when a new prospect inquires. It has package info, prices and work samples and makes a positive impression that helps me close more (and better-paying) clients.
  • Social media marketing is great, but it doesn’t replace targeted outreach. Initially, I was unsure about how to use social media for my business. So I jumped in and watched what others were doing, including Ilise. I’m more confident in how I use social media now, and Instagram seems to be working well for me. However, contacting event planners directly is even more effective!
  • Your website is your online home and your sales rep. It’s great to connect with people on social media, but those platforms can change the rules at anytime. So I make sure my website is always updated with the right look and messaging. It represents my professionalism and creative work, selling me and my services before I get the chance to.
  • My business means a lot to me but family comes first. My daughter got Lyme Disease about a year into my work with Ilise, so I put my business on hold for three months to be there for my daughter. Ilise understands that life happens and she was still there when I was ready to start up again. I quickly got back into the groove and haven’t stopped since.
  • Group coaching is a great option. Not everyone can hire a business coach, and I love that Ilise also offers small group coaching. I joined one of her accountability groups last year and love it, even though I plan to continue our one-on-ones. Meeting with like-minded creatives is amazing. We have a private Slack channel where we encourage each other, provide feedback and share business tools. Working solo is challenging, so this community means a lot to me.

It felt like I was floating in the ocean — then Ilise tossed me a life-preserver

I’m excited about the new things I’m incorporating into my business, including a calendar system to streamline appointments. My new onboarding questionnaire for clients is reducing email back-and-forth. I plan to continue my email marketing and develop case studies, too.

Regular, effective marketing is powering my business. But it’s the effort I put into it that’s most powerful. I used to get frustrated with the smaller design projects I worked on. Now I feel empowered to go after bigger clients with bigger budgets.

Before I met Ilise, it felt like I was floating in the ocean — and then she tossed me a life-preserver. Knowing I don’t have to go it alone feels good. I can talk through marketing and business challenges with her — and I actually feel like she’s my silent business partner.

Today, I’m taking charge of my business. I know where it’s going and what is possible. And to think it all started when I left the house to head to a networking meeting!

Robin Hammer is the owner and art director of Robin Hammer Design in New Jersey. Her focus areas include branding design for professional and private events and start-up businesses.