November 12, 2018Comments are off for this post.

12 Things I’ve Learned as my Special Needs Son’s Mom that are True in Business & Life

Here is a list of twelve things that I've learned as a mother of a special needs child that I have found to be true whether dealing with my son or working in my business. 

1. Complacency can be painful

Sometimes it's hard to see how NOT doing something can cause you pain.  Well, it can.  I have a 16  year old son with Smith-Magenis Syndrome and have learned that NOT paying attention, that sitting comfortably and watching a movie or reading a book can be painful.  In my house you never know when the next toy, plate, cup, or electronic device may take on a new life as a projectile. For those of you who may not have experience it, let me assure you these items can hurt, especially if you're comfortably ensconced in whatever you're doing.

The same holds true with business. You are comfortable with your place in the market.  You're communicating with your loyal customers. They are happy with what you provide. Things are going along smoothly.  You never saw it coming when that new startup came on the scene and your loyal customers are now theirs, your market share has plummeted and your offerings are behind the times.  Complacency can be painful.

2. Tone of voice matters.

How you say it cam matter so much more than what you say.  When I'm talking to my son and ask him in a sweet voice to get up in the morning I end up with him pulling the covers backover his head and promptly going back to sleep. When I pull the covers off him & tell him to get his butt moving,  I get movement (okay, some mornings it is him literally wiggling his butt, but it's movement.) And by the second, third, okay fifth time I state it, heactually does get up.

The same philosophy holds with business.  You can be sweet, you can be firm, but how you say things matters.  As a women, I've found sweet can get you dismissed as not being someone who should be taken seriously.  A firm and authoritative tone can produce better results, you may not be liked as much, but it's not a popularity contest when there is work to be done.

3. Be Aware of Your Surroundings

It's easy to get caught up in what you are doing and not pay attention to what is going on around you.  Be it home or work,you need to be aware of your surroundings. In my house not paying attention can land you with a toy bouncing off your head (sounds funny - hurts like hell when it's one of those Fisher Price animal flashlights.  Actually, gave me a concussion.) 

In the workplace it can equate to the conversation you really shouldn't have or the one that was when someone else wasn't paying attention that you were there.  Either way, it can mean hurt feelings or the wrong people finding out about business plans/actions before they were supposed to. The consequences could be minor, or they could jeopardies your job because you weren't paying attention.

4. Situations can change at a moments notice

The day is going great, everyone is happily doing their thing, then it all falls apart.  Why?  Who knows. But that's the life of a special needs family.  Crisis can come at any moment and for no discernable reason.

The same thing happens in business.  You may have had an idea that although the company that bought yours out 6 months ago, and said nothing was going to change wasn't quite being on the level, you still got blindsided when they let you go with no notice.

5. Be prepared to leave if things go bad

Where:  The grocery store.  What:  flying frozen chicken wings… Time to go!

At work: if you start seeing things that make you question your organization's commitment to ethical business practices, you're not part of "in-crowd" in the office so you're never going to move up, You just get the feeling that something's not on the level… time to go.

6. While rules can be difficult to implement, not having structure can be hazardous

Okay, I'm not one for a lot of rules. But there are times when that structure is absolutely necessary.  At home - my son MUST sit in the passenger back seat.  He is absolutely NOT allowed in the front seat or behind the driver.  Why?  Hmmm.. From the front seat he's pulled the keys out of my ignition and thrown them into the woods (never found that set), put his foot into the windshield breaking it, grabbed my steering wheel, pulled my hair & destroyed my glasses.  He's also really good at doing those last two from the driver's side back seat.

In the office structure provides stability (just like at home).  Everyone knows when they are supposed to be there, for how long, and what is expected of them.  Without these basic rules and structures, your business could go under because no one was everywhere they were supposed to be & nothing ever got done, or clients are never able to reach you.  It may not be a literal car wreck, but it can still wreck a business.

7. Duck and cover

There are times the best option is to just duck & cover.   We've learned, there are time you just can'tget out of the way, or things are flying - duck & cover.  Most things can be replaced, but no one needsanother concussion!

At work - hopefully things aren't actually flying through the air (if so -- absolutely duck & cover!), but social politics can be just a dangerous.  If it's not an ethical, legal or moral situation & you are not involved - your best course of action could be to just duck & cover. 

8. Bring a change of clothes, probably two.

Having a teen who's not fully potty trained it an interesting situation, and one that taught me early - always bring a change of clothes for him & if you're going to be out for a while  you had better bring two!

At work, this isn't necessarily about having actual clothes (although, I can think of a few times that would have been useful), but more just about being prepared for any eventuality.

9. Some things just take a long time to accomplish

Boy is that the truth.  We've been working on potty training for 16 years.  We've been working on talking so others can understand for almost as long. We get some really good days on the potty front at school… they keep telling me it will eventually translate to home, but were at 16 years and counting… some thing just take a REALLY long time.

At work, some projects are just slow.  I've worked on websites, business reports, IS0 9000 compliance.  Some things just a lot of time.  Others that can seem more complex get done in a flash, but you just got to keep plugging along - eventually you'll get there.

10. Celebrate the small successes

Take joy in the little steps.  This morningwas an okay morning.  My son got up, tooka shower without too much banging around, had a really bad time when I told himit was too cold to wear shorts & again when it came to his deodorant, butpulled it together & got on the bus. I take this as an okay morning… hassome bad, had some good, but ended on a positive — I didn't have to take him toschool!!

At work - keep track of those little successes. Some time when you don't get the big win in can become frustrating.  You work & work & don't get the big one. This is why you write down and celebrate the small wins along theway.  When you look back you realize you are getting a whole lot more wins/successes that you originally thought. 

If we only focus on the big things we miss out on a lot of little joys along theway.

11. Stay calm in the chaos

When things are flying and everyone else is coming apart at the seams, if you can keep it together you can guide everyone back to the right path and smooth everything back out.

At home, this can sometimes be literal.  Sometimes it just that everything that can go wrong does.  Regardless, if you can be counted on to navigate through the storm, you'll get through it quicker and without as much destruction and loss as you could experience if you fell apart too.  Now, once everything is back on solid ground -- then you can have your break down. Yes, everyone looks at you like you're nuts, but hey you had the same emotional turmoil, you were just strong enough to get everyone through it before you broke.  I would recommend - for the office, wait till you're home, or at least alone.

12. Examine things with an eye to unintended uses

This has been a critical lesson.  Withchildren in general, but absolutely with special needs children (definitelywith mine) if it can be used in a manner it was not intended to be used in, itwill be.  My son looks at everything withconsideration of how it can be taken apart (and yes, he can take it apartwithout tools … brute strength is amazing), be used as a projectile and/orsomething to banged on or with.  Ittotally changes the way you look at gifts. A busy box… Nope that will hurt when it gets thrown at you.  A tablet? Hmmm, can it withstand being used as a Frisbee or beaten against a tableor his head?  (Just an FYI - Kindlessurvive the best.)

I the work environment.  Well, I create logos… Paying attention to the unintended is a must.  Too many logos end up having imagery that,well, wasn't what was intended.  You really need to make sure your images, products, copy all reflect what you REALLY want them to.  Take the time to have outsiders take a look, they may come back with a response that would horrify you if it made it to the outside world as a representation of your business.  On the flip side, look for new uses to what you've currently got.  Can a product you currently have served a different function?  A different market base? A product or service that you think is a dud, may be a star that's being directed to wrong audience. 

October 30, 2018Comments are off for this post.

Photoshop CC 2019

Transformation Distort Function

It is always an exciting time when the newest release of the Adobe Creative Cloud rolls out.  Some things are great.  Some things seem to just be broken. Then there are the chain reactions that occur with plug-ins and associated programs require updating because of a change or break in their functionality. This last roll out of the Creative Cloud was no different.

Personally, I’ve experienced everything from my font manager not working to not being unable to open any program file in the new or old version of the software.  Thankfully, these issues tend to be rectified with quickly released updates, or even the unhappy task of uninstalling, running a cleaner & reinstalling.

This time around, however, Adobe did something, well, for lack of a better word – stupid. They decided to reverse a fundamental shortcut/behavior inside of Photoshop. Historically, when using the distort transformation feature we have always just clicked the corner of the image/shape we were working with and drag each corner independently. As of CC2019 when you try to move a corner point independently, it just doesn’t work. Now the point wants to stay on either an x or y axis. To regain the original freeform functionality of movement you must now hold down the SHIFT key.

Once you know what to do, you can go back to getting your work done. But boy was it a shock when you go to do an activity that you've done day in and day out for almost two decades to have it NOT work.  Don't know who at Adobe thought this was a good idea ... it wasn't, Especially, as I sure don't remember seeing a "hey heads up - we're changing how this works" in any of the pre-release information. 

#photoshopCC2018  #distort-function  #adobe

August 29, 2018Comments are off for this post.

Why did I become a graphic designer?

Wow, that seems like a simple question.  I could give you the simple answer… I enjoy it, I’m fairly good at it, and it pays the bills.  But, I want to give the complete answer.  A behind-the-scenes look as to why I went into graphic design and why I started my business.

The Beginning

It started 19 years ago. I was working a full-time job at an interior design firm as the office administrator.  No, real excitement there.  I made sure the office had supplies, answered the phone and did the bookkeeping. What was going on in the other side of the office was fascinating, but with a degree in history, a husband and two children, I wasn’t heading back to college to become a certified interior designer. Besides, I was more intrigued with the software than making an office or medical center look great.

I hunted around the web looking for more information about the software and what else could be done with it and found a new online school (yep, they existed way back in 1999) that was offering certificate programs in graphic design & multimedia. Signing up for both programs, I excitedly waited for my software to come in the mail.  I remember the first time I opened Photoshop & was amazed and overwhelmed by just the interface.  Looking at my husband and I ask, “Just what have I gotten myself into?”  He just laughed and told me that I asked for it, so I needed to get busy learning.

That is exactly what I did.  Each program was expected to take 6 months.  I finished them both in three, and I loved it.  I had just scratched the surface and was busy trying to find more things to learn.  Now, at this time graphics was only one of my artistic pursuits.  I was painting, doing glass etching, sewing (I can make a mean dress – as long as it’s not for me), and graphics.  I wanted to do something artistic but couldn’t settle into what I wanted that to be.

At the time I had no idea just how integral my decision to sign up for those classes was going to be to our lives.

Life Changes

In 2001, roughly two years later, I was let go during a restructuring.  life-altering like everyone was restructuring as it was just after 9-11 and the market was experiencing a major flux.  I was also 6 months pregnant, so was the easier choice to let go, as this was my third child and my return to work was questionable.

At this point I was more wrapped up with having a new baby and taking care of the two I had to spend too much time of design, but I still read a book here or there & did projects for friends and family.   When the baby was two I went back to work full time for a magazine/mortgage broker (don’t ask) as a graphic designer/receptionist. During my time with this organization, we discovered our youngest has a genetic issue. 

Finding out your three-year-old has a genetic issue is definitely a life-altering moment in your life.  Going through the behaviors for his condition (Smith Magenis Syndrome) I read about the prevalence to put things under their finger & toenails. Leaving straight pins laying around didn't seem to be a great idea with that particular propensity. That took sewing right out of my list of creative endeavors. I pretty much limit it to repairs now – mostly of things he’s ripped up.

Smith-Magenis Syndrome (SMS) info-graphic

His behavioral issues took painting and glass etching off the table too.  Paint is messy, and I didn’t need him throwing my paints around the house. Although, he did give daddy a wonderful backrub one day until my husband realized our little guy was using my red paints to finger-paint his back.  As for glass etching, well a Dremel and glass... need I say more?

This left me with graphics.  No dangerous or messy materials, yet I could still get my “hands” dirty.  No need for a large area for supplies or materials.  Nothing to keep little hands off of or out of, other than the computer – but that’s a whole different story.

So here I was with a special need 3-year-old son, a 7-year-old daughter and a 9-year-old son. And a firm commitment to pursuing graphic design. I had also had enough of the dubious behavior of my mortgage brokerage bosses & gave my notice.

New adventures

I started off 2006 by being hired on full time at a temp position with a transportation asset company, as a graphic designer in their business development department.  Here I took hold of my interest in design and started reading everything I could find, pushed the organization forward to using layout software (Adobe Creative Suite) for proposal development.  After the organization acquired new owners, I pushed again to become the design POC for the organizations North American business enterprises. I was in this position until the organization outsourced all of their designers in 2012.

At the time of the layoff I was working on my Master of Fine Arts in Media Design, which I completed in May of 2013.  As frustrating as being laid off was at the time, it was again that design showed me the way. Two months after I was laid off, my youngest was expelled from school.  The public school acknowledged that they were unable to provide sufficient services within the school to educate him appropriately. So, I ended up with him home, generally within three feet of me for four months until we were able to go through the process of getting him into a special needs school.  During this time, I officially hung out my shingle and in 2013 opened Alice Pettey Branding & Strategic Design, LLC.

My why?

So again, why did I become a graphic designer?  It has provided me the creative outlet that I need while minimizing possible dangers, allowed me to be there to care for my children – with the completely non-business approved schedules required, enabled me to continuously learn new and exciting things which I have been able to translate into new techniques and skills for my clients, opened the door to help others with their own struggles in business and beyond, and yes, I enjoy it, am fairly good at it & it pays the bills.

If I sound like someone you'd like to work with I can be contacted at
804-464-3925 or by email.

August 19, 2018Comments are off for this post.

Customer Profile and Journey

There is a lot of talk about customer profiles or customer personas nowadays.  You may wonder what the real purpose of these endeavors are.  After all, if you’re in business you know who your customer is right?

Customer Profile

Well, not necessarily.  The purpose of these types of activities is multifaceted.  One, you may think you know who your customer is, but maybe having difficulty connecting with them.  A customer profile can help you to look more in depth as to who your customers are.  What their demographics and psychographics are, beyond that they have purchased your product.  It looks for answers to the question of why did they purchase? Where are they getting their information about your company and products from?  How are you engaging them?  You may want to say that you know your customers, but do you really?  You may be targeting one group but have found a purchasing base somewhere totally unexpected.  For you to be able to better market and engage with your desired target, or this secondary audience, you need to understand exactly who they are.

Customer profile worksheet

Two, you may not know who your buyers are, or your product/service may not have been rolled out yet so going through a customer profile exercise will allow you to develop the desired target audience so that you can focus your marketing and outreach campaigns. Moving forward with a direction and focus will allow you to quickly see if your marketing endeavors are producing the desired results.  If you don’t have a clear focus you can end up spending time and money trying to reach everyone and never making the connection with the people who would purchase from you.

Pains & Gains

Third, having made a study of your customer you can now take it a set further and start to examine their pain points and look for ways that you can provide your customers with relief to these issues. (Strategyzer) As well as, how your product or service could provide them gains of some sort. Once you start to understand the motivations behind your consumer maybe you can develop value propositions that will show the benefits in terms of value that your product/service are providing. Customers are no longer purchasing solely based on price, they are looking for value, and experience, the ability to part of something larger. If you can make a connection to them on an emotional level, you have moved beyond the realm of price competition into value-based purchasing.

Customer Journey

Fourth, once you have determined who your customer/user is you can develop the desired user experience. This is the process of examining every step along their journey.  It starts with how they are introduced to your company, product or service.  Follow them to the when/why they make a purchase.  It extends through the post-purchase period where they are actively engaged with you. Do the products/services meet their expectations? Does the company stand behind what they provide? How do you handle complaints? How do you encourage happy customers to repurchase or to become ambassadors for you? Are you expressing the value of the product/service – not a price, but a value it time, experience, social connection?  Do you continue the engagement past the point of the sale, or do you abandon them once money has changed hand?  (Harvard Business Review)

August 5, 2018Comments are off for this post.

Provide A Consistent Customer Experience

Whether your business is big or small there are things that you can do to provide a consistent experience. Consistency will sets small businesses apart allowing you to offer the individuality and personalization that is expected from a small business and the comfort, predictability, and trust typically found with large organizations.

Consistency starts with the first interaction that a prospective client has with your organization. This first interaction is typically the Website. Here you set the tone for how all future interactions are going to be. Once you have set the stage you need to make sure that this tone carry's forward into all future interactions.

Don't deliver a product. Deliver an consistent customer experience. Handwriting on a napkin with a cup of tea

What can you do?

One of the keys to this experience is to make them as simple for the customer as possible. You need to ensure simplicity in your websites menu choices and call to actions. Try limiting your call to actions to one per page so visitors are not overwhelmed and know exactly what is expected of them at each stage of the process.

Now that you have set the stage, future interactions need to continue in the same manner. Keep the same tone regardless of what form that interaction takes, whether it's your emails, newsletters, or printed marketing materials.  Limit your call to actions to one per piece and make it clear as to what action that you want the reader to take. When a customer contacts you directly, by phone or email, they need to be experiencing the same tone.  Provide the same level of value that they have come to expect from the website, newsletter, email campaigns and print material. Social media needs to follow the same structure as well. Together this reinforces the organizations brand and builds trust.

Personal interaction needs to be consistent as well.  This is a bit harder to control, as we all know each person has their own personality, as well as good and bad days, that can affect an interaction.  Because of this, it is important that you provide scripting for how to answer the phone so that each customer is treated the same way… consistency builds trust.  Provide training on how to handle common client interactions.  This helps to ensure that no matter who the client is or who is working with them, they will have the same level of consistent customer service.

Why is this so important?

Customers have changed. They no longer are looking for just a "good" product.  It has now become the experience that they are looking for. Whether that is the feeling they have when they use the product, the feeling of being part of an exclusive "club" or "tribe", or the way you make them feel through each stage of the buying/user/ownership process.  These feelings are now what is leveraged when customers discuss the reputation or trust with a company. Positive feelings and trust are developed through consistency.  Consistency brings loyalty.  Loyalty brings revenue.

Additional Resources:

How to Create a Consistent Customer Experience (and Why You Should)  https://100mba.net/how-to-create-a-consistent-customer-experience-and-why-you-should/

7 Steps to Delivering a Consistent Customer Experience   http://journeys.getsynap.com/7-steps-to-delivering-a-consistent-customer-experience

Why Consistency Matters in Customer Experience   http://customerthink.com/why-consistency-matters-in-customer-experience/

Midlothian, VA 23112
Tel.: 804.464.3925
Fax: 804.729.3295

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