Templates Help Small Businesses Create a Professional Image

By: Cindy Hartman

Website, e-mail marketing and print material such as brochures, sell sheets, newsletters and business cards can be very affordable and presentable when using templates. Home-based and small businesses can now support a professional image while keeping within their smaller budgets by using template software.

Templates make the process easy, and are now available for almost any marketing piece you want to put together. They offer a variety of styles and colors to create a cohesive business image. Consider the weight and texture of the paper you'll use to promote your business, as it is part of the overall image of your business. Also, it is necessary to use a high quality color printer and copier. Without attention to the equipment, the finished product will scream "home-made"!

Be aware that templates can be limiting, not always offering the design throughout all types of print and electronic marketing materials. Pre-planning your entire marketing package before even one piece is developed will save you a great deal of time, money and frustration. Without thinking about each piece that will be produced, you might find that the initial design created won't work throughout your marketing message. Often complimenting pieces work very well and serve as a variety in your portfolio. However, they must be harmonious in color, image and message.

For print material, consider the business cards, stationery (including the envelopes), brochures, etc. - each piece should fit together like a puzzle, creating one consistent message. Make sure the design template you choose includes all the pieces you need - or think you might need.

By planning ahead, you can find electronic and paper templates that will compliment each other if the image you choose isn't available from one vendor for the entire print and electronic formats. Sometimes you'll even have to use two different vendors for your email template and your web template. If your business colors are gray and red, for example, there are plenty of electronic templates that use that color scheme. One might have a gray background with splashes of red while another might have a white background with gray and red color accents. You can see why planning ahead is necessary, but when approaching your marketing image with a plan, you can create a professional image that will fit any budget.

Business cards are usually the first item created. When printing them yourself, choose a high-quality stock, and one that has clean perforations.

There are a plethora of templates to help you create any type of brochure, sell sheet, newsletter, price catalogue, flyer, etc. Full color gives a better image than black and white. Also, the quality of the paper is as important as it is with business cards. If thin paper is used, the ink will bleed through the paper, leaving a very poor business image. Thicker stock costs a little more, but well worth the investment for the respect it will bring to your business. When creating a 2- or 3-fold marketing piece, content should be placed to allow for a border around the text. Ensure that the text doesn't carry over into another panel and that the folds are straight and clean.

Emails and electronic newsletters are becoming more and more popular because of ease of distribution and low cost. As state earlier, just be sure to choose templates that either match or compliment the other pieces. There are subscription email suppliers such as Exact Target, Constant Contact and Mail-Bots (http://www.mail-bots.com) that provide the templates and distribute your newsletters and other email messages for a monthly fee. For the do-it-yourselfer, High Impact Email and other software packages offer a variety of templates for e-newsletters, invoices, meeting agendas, greeting cards, etc. for less than $100.

Templates for websites are remarkably professional-looking and easy to learn. They can start as low as $15 (and that includes hosting), making it an affordable internet presence for the small or start-up business. You write your own content, and don't even have to know HTML! Uploading the photos is as easy as attaching a document to an email. If you choose to use this format for your website, remember to maintain the site - keep it updated, make sure you're using the proper key words, verify that your links are working, etc. The time commitment can be high, especially during the learning curve, but dollars you save by not having to hire a web designer can be spent on other advertising options.

The key factor to remember when using templates - no matter the media - is the need for excellent writing skills. Though the software makes the production easy, poorly written copy will make your efforts a waste of time. Misspellings, grammatical and punctuation errors and fragmented sentences will not be overlooked just because your graphics are attractive. Be honest with your abilities and spend your marketing dollars accordingly.

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