Does Your Logo Work for You? Three Principles of Effective Logos

Nike, McDonald’s, Starbucks. These logos popped into your head instantly, didn’t they? They should; they’re iconic. They can stand alone without the company name or complex advertisements. Your logo is your identity, unique to your brand. Make sure it speaks for itself.

Before you go to the drawing board to give your logo a makeover, here are some guidelines to guarantee your logo is a knockout. The purpose is not just to look pretty. It needs to be practical, too!

Your logo needs to be adaptable.

While this is more of a technical (*ahem* boring) principle, it’s something that is often overlooked in favor of flashy, and ultimately complicated, designs. As branding touchpoints become more accessible than ever, even to small businesses, your logo needs to be able to adapt to a variety of sizes and applications. On any given day, your customers will see your logo in a magazine ad, as the profile picture on your social media account, embroidered on the uniforms your employees wear, on the free pen or tube of chapstick they accumulated from an event, or blown up five feet tall on a billboard going 60 MPH down the highway. Regardless of the format or environment, your logo needs to be recognizable and retain the same qualities that make it effective.

In addition to adapting to scale and application, your logo should also be able to adapt as trends come and go. What looks trendy and current today can look dated and out-of-touch next year. Will your logo still convey what it needs to 10 years from now? (And yes, a logo should last at least 10 years.)

Your logo needs to be distinct.

Seeing a great logo can make designing something memorable seem like a simple task – one of those “Of course! Why didn’t I think of that!” moments. Unfortunately, it’s not always as easy as it seems. Your first idea is likely everyone else’s too. And when you fall back on those first ideas and industry clichés, you’re bound to end up with a generic logo that gets lost in the mix. Think of your logo as your signature. Like a signature, logos serve to identify you, not describe what you do. Apple’s logo isn’t a computer, Starbucks isn’t a cup of coffee, and Ford isn’t a car. So instead of explaining what you provide, think about how you want your brand to make someone feel.

Your logo needs to be relevant.

While a logo should be distinct, it shouldn’t be unique just for the sake of being unique. Your logo and positioning still need to be aligned to your market. Think about the differences between Nike and Dior. They are both fashion brands, but their logos are vastly different because their audiences are vastly different. Nike is a contemporary athletic brand, and their simple and dynamic “swoosh” icon visually represents that energy perfectly. On the other hand, Dior is a luxury fashion house, so a sophisticated and modern logotype helps establish their brand aesthetic. Utilize what sets your business apart from your competition and highlight those factors to differentiate yourself while remaining pertinent.

  • If your differentiating factor is the quality of your products, your brand should highlight luxury and craftsmanship. Think jewel tones, a high contrast serif logotype, and stylized product photography.
  • If your differentiating factor is the cutting-edge technology you work with, your brand should highlight knowledge and innovation. Think high-contrast colors, a modern and clean font, and lots of negative space.
  • If your differentiating factor is the convenience of your services, your brand should highlight charm and approachability. Think bright colors, a slab-serif font, and hand-drawn illustrations.

Now that you know what separates a good logo from a great one, go look at your own logo and ask yourself, “Is this how I want my company to be identified?” Keep these guiding principles in mind as you review your logo. You may be right on the mark, or it may be time for an update.

You’ve learned. You’ve reviewed. What’s next?

Great, your logo meets all of the above criteria! Let’s take it a step further.

Congrats on having a great logo! But as important as a logo is, it’s just a part of your business’s brand. Let’s work together to develop your brand and marketing strategy!

Oh shoot – I need a logo that works! 

Don’t fret! We offer (effective) logo design services! Contact us and we’ll get started!

Food Swap: Coworker Edition

One of my favorite things to do is spend an evening cooking in my kitchen. I love thinking about recipes and trying new things. I even love the grocery shopping (hi, Aldi!).

The (not so) downside of cooking

Cassidy Shearrer - Graphic Designer - Columbia Marketing Group

The only thing that I hate about cooking is when I let food go bad. I hate wasting things so much that I rarely buy greens because I know I’ll never get to the bottom of the bag before they spoil. Such is the dilemma of cooking for one. I don’t always cook for one, but most of my adult life I’ve prepared meals for one or two. If you’ve been in this boat, you know the frustration a whole gallon of milk can bring. And how is one person supposed to eat an entire bag of radishes before they go bad?

I’m becoming an expert in preservation techniques. I only buy vegetables with long shelf lives (thank you, spaghetti squash). I pawn off extra celery on my boyfriend. Sometimes, I just eat the same meal for like five days straight. And by day five, I have lost all desire to eat the amazing New York Times cooking blog recipe I was so excited about.

Co-worker food swap meet

So, when COMO magazine’s editor-in-chief, Emma, said she wanted to eat more vegetables, I got an idea. I knew Emma probably had similar meal frustrations, and I also knew that she brings her lunch to work most days, so I proposed a lunch swap. Maybe I could pawn off some of my extra meals on her! Okay, and maybe bond a little with my coworker ?.

She agreed, and with the not wanting to disappoint, I made an old standard of mine. Rice noodles and zoodles with steamed veggies topped with a peanut tahini sauce and sesame seeds. I made it for dinner the night before, brought in lunch for Emma, and ate it for dinner the next night. And then it was gone! Nothing went bad!

The only issue I hadn’t foreseen with this plan was that food brings out my competitive side. And Emma totally brought her A-game. OMG, some kind of delicious Asian turkey lettuce wrap (I immediately asked for the recipe). Plus, she gave me sides! Grapes, a mandarin orange, and chocolates. I’m feeling the pressure for our next swap. I’m over here fangirling and writing blog posts about it, and she still hasn’t asked for my recipe! We are swapping lunches again next week. I need to go read some food blogs…

Erica’s Recommended Reading List

This is one of my favorite quotes: “You are the same today that you are going to be five years from now except for two things: the people with whom you meet and the books you read.”
― Charles Jones

I often get credit for the culture we have at our company or the way we cultivate the relationships with our clients, but the truth is that I have learned everything I know from a couple of great mentors and the things written in the books I’ve recommended below.

These authors have served as great inspiration for me and given our team direction when we needed to strengthen our foundation. May they serve the same for you.

If you ever want to chat about the concepts represented on this list, feel free to make an appointment with me and we can chat over coffee.

The Benefits of Personality Assessments

I am typically a behind-the-scenes kind of girl. Pretty stereotypical of an editor type. I prefer to interview and photograph those with the story, not be at the center of the story.

And while I can stand in front of a large audience when I have something to say, it also makes me feel anxious and vulnerable.

I don’t prefer the spotlight and I would rather listen to you than talk about myself.

Except when it comes to personality assessments.

If you ask me what makes me uniquely me, I’m quick to offer an answer. Not because I’m impressed with myself, but because I strongly believe that being vulnerable with who I am is a gateway to building healthy, meaningful relationships.

I believe the same is true about you and the teams you lead. The more we understand ourselves and strive to understand each other, the stronger bridges we build to connecting with those who are different than us.

So, what about me?

I’m people-structured, and according to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, I’m an ENFJ (just barely an E. If in doubt, see above).

By DISC Profile standards, I’m an SC combination.

Prefer Strength Finders? My top five are relator, strategic, maximizer, responsibility, and discipline.

I’m also the color blue on the True Colors Personality Test, and I strive to be playful, engaging, affectionate, loyal, and courageous, the qualities of a counterphobic Enneagram six.

These assessments don’t determine my worth or tell me how to act. They simply describe who I already am. And with that clarity, I can better engage my inner self and the world around me.

But it’s not all about me.

Armed with the same information about my team, I seek to make sure that their roles line up with how they’re instinctively wired. For example, our best sales people are often “I’s” on the DISC, as well as the color orange. Great project managers are usually task-oriented and have some gold in their profile or show up as a “C” on the DISC profile.

The DISC and True Colors Personality Test do a great job of helping people know where they best fit. Does a person’s role fit their natural bent?

The Strength Finder and Enneagram tools are more advanced and lend in-depth information into how people will do their job and what motivates them.

The possibilities are endless, yet the outcome is clear. The more you know, and help your employees explore, the more engaged and productive team you’ll have.

Social Media: How Much is TOO Much?

For many businesses, social media remains intimidating territory. There’s no denying the fact that your target audience is there, but the notion of accumulating content, adhering to your voice, promoting your brand, and controlling your online image can seem like too much to handle. 

At CMG, we operate under the golden rule: consistent content is king. 

Your audience must SEE your brand in order to interact with it, and that only comes from posting consistently.

However, on the flip side of the coin, posting too frequently can lead to your brand becoming more “white noise” than a fun page to interact with. The last thing you want your brand to become associated with is annoying newsfeed clutter. 

So, how much is too much?  As with most things with life, social media moderation is extremely important. 

In general, the answer depends on the size of your following. 

At CMG, we love to contribute to our local community, which means we manage primarily smaller businesses ranging from a few hundred followers to a few thousand. For pages of such sizes, we find that posting three to four times per week hits the sweet spot of providing steady content without annoying users to the point of them hitting the dreaded “hide all content from this page” button. 

Spacing your posts out for a day or two here and there is a great way to offer your audience some breathing room. If that seems a little light for your taste, increase your weekly post count incrementally. Just remember to keep it capped at one post per day! A study by Hubspot recently found that posting any more than that will lead to diminishing returns

Always consider your company’s overall goal when it comes to social media. Are you a relatively new entity? Perhaps brand awareness is the way to go, in which case, posting more frequently would serve you well.

Or maybe your end goal is to drive customers to your brick-and-mortar store? Pace yourself a bit and include sponsored incentives that give your page more evergreen exposure. These are great ways to prompt your online users to leave the comfort of their chairs. 

Whatever the case may be, just remember to remain consistent in churning out content. Then, when the engagement inevitably comes, interact with your audience! The whole draw of establishing an online community is the ability to forge personal connections with your customers in the first place. 

“Yeah, yeah, so what’s the TLDR?” 

When it comes to social media, your company’s needs will be different than your neighbors across the street. Take your overarching goals into consideration and conduct a little trial and error. Strategically increase your post frequency while monitoring your unfollows. Generally speaking, never post more than once per day. Soon enough, you’ll find your own sweet spot. 

Above all else, when your audience bites on your content, make sure you’re logged on and interacting with them!

While “everyone is different” might seem like a cop-out, that’s actually what we find so rewarding about social media management at CMG! Our agency invites every single client into our office to discuss a digital strategy specifically tailored to them. This level of familiarity reaps rewards across the board, especially on your company’s social platforms. 

If you have questions about social media management, or you’re interested in the benefits we can offer your company, contact us! We’d love to meet with you at your favorite coffee shop.

Erica’s Wordy End of Year Reflections

by Erica Pefferman

I’ve been doing something really cool this fall. I’ve checked something big off of my bucket list! I have been teaching at Stephens College as an adjunct professor for their magazine publishing course “Stephens Life.” It’s been a lot of fun and has brought my own experience as a non-traditional student full circle. I graduated with my undergrad degree in July after an on again, off again journey of 23 years and sent two sons off to college in August. Graduation and accomplishment have been a theme for 2019 for me as I reflect back on this year. It brings to mind a commencement speech I gave at Stephens College a year and a half ago where I talked about how everyone needs six things for the next chapter of their life. As we look ahead to a new year and those pesky new year’s resolutions, I submit these six things to you as I did those students.

One: You will need a community.

You need a community of people that you like to do life with. You’ve all heard how important networking is. And it is!! But, I know that some of you may hear the word networking and think that it’s an inauthentic bid to meet someone for the sole purpose of what they can give you. But the truth is…networking is about building a community of people that are mutually interested in your success. True, authentic networking is about learning who the person you’re talking to is. What makes them tick? What are they trying to accomplish and what can you do to help them with that? That’s true networking. I’ve met my best friends by being engaged in non-profit work and the Chamber of Commerce.

Two: You will need wine.

You’ll need a great glass of wine to celebrate with…to rest and to reflect. There’s something about the elegance of the glass, the feel of it in your hand, the taste of it on your tongue. For me, a glass of great cabernet is the pause button for me. Pause to think. Pause to relish. Pause to appreciate. If you don’t drink…what else is that in your life? Find something that feels indulgent to you and participate. A great cup of coffee. That piece of rich, dark chocolate. What makes you feel good? What is a signal to you and to your brain to take a break.

Three: You will need a break.

You need a break. You’ve worked hard this year. Are you tired? It’s okay if you are! I am too! Take an actual break from all things. It’s ok. The world WILL survive without you and you certainly deserve it. I know how hard it can be, but I have done it myself and lived to tell the tale.

Since I joined the 40’s last year, I have committed to doing as many things for myself as I could. New things to try. New places to go. It has included trying new music, getting a new tattoo and the biggest thing yet…going on vacation alone. As an extrovert that likes to get things accomplished ALL the time, taking a week long solo vacation was a huge risk for me. I picked a place I’d never been. I planned to do things I’ve never done. I ate things I’ve never eaten. And I learned how to be comfortable in my own skin without the coulda woulda shouldas that we do to ourselves all the time.

Four: You are going to need another goal.

You’ve accomplished some things this year. What’s next? What will keep you moving forward from here? Is it a new job? Writing that book that you’ve been thinking about incessantly? We all need a next thing. In fact, I think we all need the next several things. What is the goal you have for your life? For me, my ultimate goal is to slide in sideways at my own funeral and leave a huge group of people laughing and telling stories about all the fun things we did together. I want children that saw me work hard and give a lot to those around us in our community. I want them to know that I lived an authentic life and hopefully will have passed that value on to them. What goals do you have for yourself?

Five: You will need flexibility because your path will be twisty.

One of my favorite quotes is God draws straight with crooked lines. I resemble this A LOT. I don’t know about you, but my life looks NOTHING like I thought it would when I was 10 years old. It also doesn’t reflect anything I thought my life would be when I was 30 years old. Heck, life threw me a pretty good curveball just three years ago. The one thing I know to be true in life is that none of us know what will happen or what choices we will be faced with. And knowing this, you must remain flexible and pliable to changes as they come up. When a door is shut, look for a window to crawl through. And if there is no window, ninja kick that thing open. There’s ALWAYS a choice. Often more than one. Step back, assess and move forward with intensity.

Six: You will need to stay hungry, humble and smart.

My favorite author and speaker Patrick Lencioni recently came out with a new book. It’s called the Ideal Team Player. Basically, anything he writes is required reading for our company but this one in particular gave my leadership team and myself the words we’d been looking for that describes who we hire and ultimately who we keep at the Business Times Company. Hungry, humble and smart describes what you must be to be on our team.

Hungry refers specifically to your work ethic. You must have a strong work ethic to succeed. I’m not talking about merely the number of hours you work. In fact, an overabundance of time spent on work is often an unhealthy thing. I’m talking about a desire to be better. To grow and learn more. Your internal motivation.

Humble isn’t just being humble yourself. It’s bringing your full self to what you do for the sake of your team. Being humble is a great thing. It’s required on our team. We have no divas. But, being too humble can also be a horrible thing. If you err on the side of so much humility that you actually keep yourself from putting your gifts in play for the betterment of your company and team, you are stealing from your community and yourself.

Lastly, stay smart. I am not talking about your skill level or intelligence. I’m going to assume that you’ve got the necessary skills and intelligence to do your job. I’m talking about emotional intelligence. If you don’t know how or why you process thought, are recharged or deal with conflict…how will you understand those around you? Smart is being able to read the people around you. Smart is being able to know when to talk and when to listen. Smart is knowing how to successfully be an engaged member of a community. Smart is being what they call people smart. It’s sometimes even more important than being book smart.

In closing…if you read this whole thing, you get a very special prize. Email me here to not only prove Bethany wrong (she didn’t think you would) but to get your awesome prize!

Posted in CMG

What Does This Dress Code Mean?!

A Casual Guide on how to dress at every event.

As if dressing every day wasn’t hard enough, we now have events Friday, Saturday, and Monday all with different dress codes. With more and more clothing options every day, it has begun to feel impossible to pinpoint exactly what we should wear.

At CMG, we’re event creators. We’ve devised a quick go reference for whenever we’re in a fashion rut.

So, take a breath and put down your grandmother’s Emily Post. We put together a quick guide for the four main dress codes you’ll encounter.

Formal/Black Tie

This is THE chance to go all out.  Jazz it up with jewelry and hair accessories. Color-wise stick to jewel tones or black to instantly pump up your look.

Be mindful of your hosts’ desires and the goal of the event whether it’s a dinner, wedding, or a fundraiser. Makeup is the bow on top of a great outfit. Use it to tie your entire look together.

Failsafe: A long, fitted black gown with a sweetheart neckline will flatter most shapes. Pair your dress with a statement heel and simple eye drop earrings for a simple, yet elegant look.

Something for the Fellas

First off, wear a real tie, not a clip-on. Check yourself before you wreck yourself, guys. Wear a dinner jacket with matching pants. Traditionally, men wear a matching waistcoat or cummerbund as well, but these days that is not a requirement.

Black tie optional: formal dress not required, but a more fashionable cocktail dress or long gown will work. Men should wear darker colored suits. Chinos are not an option.

Black Tie Dress
Black Tie Attire for Women
black tie male
Black Tie Attire for Men

Cocktail

Pay close attention to your invitation. The location and purpose of the party will sway your outfit choices. A cocktail hour before a wedding reception is a different experience than a company reception.

If you want something different, a shorter or knee-length dress in rich color is foolproof. If you want a maxi look, go for flowy material like cotton or chiffon. Hand-held bags like clutches or tiny purses will keep your outfit on the formal side.

Failsafe: Your LBD, little black dress, investment pays off here. Pair with your favorite heels, but the ones that are fashionable and somewhat comfortable. Cocktail parties usually mean two-plus hours of standing.

For the Fellas

Wear dark suits with a tie. Think navy or charcoal gray. Black will be too formal, but if that’s all you have, try losing the tie and loosening a button.

TIP: Don’t even take your new pants home before dropping them off at the tailor. $20 at the tailor will change your life.

Cocktail Party Dress
Cocktail Attire for Women
Cocktail Attire for Men

Polished Casual

You may have recently been invited to a party with a polished casual dress code. I’ll answer your first question: No jeans. No denim skirts, shirts, vests, or denim of any kind. Think cocktail with flats–a step up in comfort but not in style.

This is a great opportunity to bust out your party pants, party blazer, or party tank top. And by party, we mean sparkle. This take on smart-casual is more about the ability to mix pieces in a polished way than about the actual pieces themselves. Let the function, location, and other guests guide you.

Failsafe:  Jump into a jumpsuit for an instantly smart look. Statement earrings, shoes, or a bag will turn your look up a notch.

For the Fellas

Fitted. Tucked in. The no denim rule applies to you as well. But, your chinos with leather loafers or lace-up oxfords are welcomed. No boat shoes.

Polished Casual Attire for Women
Polished Casual Attire for Men

Business Casual

The less formal cousin of polished casual, business casual

While most often connected to office wear, business casual can escape the cubicle during weeknight event, especially if that event is a happy hour.

Transition this look from the office to happy hour by freshening up your makeup, adding accessories, and shedding a layer.

Failsafe: Blouse and a fitted pair of trousers or slacks. Add earrings or a colored lipstick for some personality.

For the Fellas

Both a well fitting button up and slacks, but don’t worry about a jacket or tie.  See our polished casual example.

Business Casual Woman
Business Casual Attire for Women
business casual male
Business Casual Attire for Men

Casual

Finally, your bell-bottoms and high waisted jeans can see the light of day!

The elevation of your look will come from the cut and textures of your garments. Try a fitted skirt with a billowy satin blouse and flats or wedges. Remember, there will always be cameras around. Casual does not mean yoga pants.

Failsafe: Think summer dress for the warmer months and dark denim with a ‘going out’ blouse for the cooler months. 

For the Fellas

If you’re wearing sneakers, try to elevate the look with fitted chinos or a dark wash, high-quality denim. T-shirts are ok if complemented with a stylish jacket or accessory.

Casual Woman
Casual Attire for Women
Casual Male
Casual Attire for Men

The end-all rule: If you don’t feel comfortable don’t wear it! Confidence will win out the best dress every night! Shine bright as yourself. The best part about fashion is that it’s an expression of who you are.

Three Little Ways We Show Our Clients Appreciation

Gratitude goes a long way inside and outside of your office.

We aren’t challenging any Emily Post fanatics’ positions on the handwritten thank you note, but we do favor a few other ways to show gratitude to clients.

What’s Your Love Language?

This is a personality test office. Myers-Briggs to the Enneagram. We’ve tested it. We have the chart hanging in our kitchen.

One of our newer personality assessments centers around love languages. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, the five love languages are quality time, words of affirmation, gift giving, physical touch, and acts of service.

Love languages can be used for personal, romantic, or business settings. It’s all in the application.

Does your client have quality time as their top language? You may want to schedule a longer meeting complemented by lunch.

Is gift giving more their jam? Keep Your clients preferred alcohol and snacks in office. Nothing says ‘I appreciate you,’ like having their favorite drink or snack waiting for them. Not even our spouses do that anymore.

Physical touch is trickier in the work environment, but can still be extended through high fives and handshakes.

Hey, Just Thinking of You…

Our staff loves helping small businesses grow. We think small business is the backbone of a community.

We don’t stop thinking about clients when we leave the office. Our clients are always on our mind, so whenever we see something that reminds us of their business or personal hobbies, we make sure to send it their way.

It’s one of the small ways to say, “Hey, I thought of you.”

See an article or book that might help a client, why not send it over? Who doesn’t love to be thought of?

Consistency is Key

One of the best ways we show appreciation to our clients is being consistent. Consistency lets our clients know they are as appreciated today as they were the day they signed on for our services.

How can you show consistency to those you service?

How do you show your clients you care? As a client, what has an agency done that made you feel appreciated?

Write to us on Facebook or Instagram about how you show your clients love.

 

Wrapping Things Up: A CMG Internship Anecdote

I remember exactly where I was when Columbia Marketing Group called me about an interview for an internship. It was nearing the end of my winter break and I was stuck in the Dominican Republic, unable to fly home due to torrential downpour. By the time they called me, I had been waiting to leave the airport for four hours. Needless to say, a phone call for an internship wasn’t on my radar at that point. It was only a few months ago, but I look back now and I couldn’t be happier they called me in that airport.

Growing Those Digital Chops

It was clear to me from the beginning that CMG had confidence in me to complete real-world work for actual clients, and that’s something I really appreciate. I wasn’t going to be running and grabbing coffee for the team. I wrote blog posts. I helped run the CMG social media accounts. I became familiar with web analytics and wrote some digital reports. I helped on email campaigns. I even got to create and edit some web content. That’s a lot on the plate for a kid who hadn’t worked in an agency before.

Getting this full, hands-on experience from CMG really helped me grasp some of the abstract concepts I had been learning in my classes. This semester, I’ve primarily been focused on building a skillset linked to client account management and digital strategy. Learning about things like click-through rates and search engine optimization in a classroom can be confusing, so getting to apply the concepts to my internship real-time completely boosted my understanding of those concepts.

Though the foundation of digital marketing knowledge that CMG laid out for me is invaluable, my time at CMG and The Business Times Company gave me an even greater experience – working with people in an agency. Even if I were a whiz kid with all the digital advertising knowledge in the world, I still wouldn’t know how that knowledge applies in a team setting, where people are counting on you to deliver good work. CMG gave me that opportunity, and now I can be as confident as ever walking into any gig with any agency.

Before I Go

Heading into CMG, I was just an advertising undergrad treading water, not sure what I wanted to do or where I was going. In a few short months, I’ve developed a foundation of professional experience and digital knowledge that has launched me into a digital marketing intern role this summer at a company in London called MintTwist, and a digital strategy role with Mizzou Journalism’s MOJO Ad this fall. These are both incredible opportunities for me, and neither would have happened without my time at CMG.

Having said that, I want to thank Crystal, Jamie, J.J. and Tay for welcoming me aboard and allowing me to leave my mark on CMG. You all made it very easy for me to feel like a part of the team, and for that I am truly grateful. Whether it was talking about music, daydreaming out loud about exploring the world, or coming up with cringe-worthy text acronyms parents could use that totally don’t exist, I’ll never forget my time here! TAFNTS. (That’s all for now – talk soon.)

Uncertainty and Big Decisions — J.J.’s Path to the Web

JJ Carlson - Director of Web Development - Columbia Marketing GroupI’m an introvert. I’m a nerd. I don’t have a fascinating story to tell. For the most part, I walk through every day unbeknownst to the world around me. I pursued a career in the digital space not because I want to minimize my interactions with people, but because I want to maximize my time with what I enjoy doing for a living.

“The path to success is to take massive, determined action.”
Tony Robbins

Humans don’t create straight paths. We are incapable of creating straight paths. If we employ instruments to create straight paths for us, we end up diverting those paths in some way. I aim to create a straight path for me and my family, and at the same time, I work hard to disrupt that line and create obstacles. After all, if life was predictable, it would be boring. Progress comes from making committed decisions and disrupting the flow of daily routine. With change comes opportunity.

Creative strategy and technical expertise were always mutual interests of mine

My path to the Business Times Company (BTC) can be traced back to my elementary school years. While I managed just fine for a while in all subjects, the areas that captured most of my passion were in creativity. I wrote stories that were dozens of pages long while my classmates barely could pen a single page. I spent time outside of school working out the details in my art projects. I drew at home.

To create what you want, learn to use the tools you need

When I first was introduced to computer art, the screens at the time had large blocks of pixels rather than the high definition screens we use today; yet I spent time creating something on screen, pixel by pixel, until I was satisfied. In eighth grade I wrote a “choose your adventure” program on the computer. My brain wasn’t comfortable working just in the left or the right. I had to dive into both.

In high school I had the privilege of developing my own personal track in art class, so I spent most time drawing. I created my first website in computer class, but this was in the 90s, and the previous year we had typewriters instead of computers in that classroom! So, given today’s digital culture, I was already behind. That didn’t stop me from using the tools I had to create, however, and my interest in digital creation only grew.

Hard work isn’t just on the farm

JJ Carlson posing with Pluto at Disney's Hollywood Studios
JJ Carlson and Pluto

Before graduating college, I was lucky enough to participate in the Disney College Program in Orlando. The program turned out to be one of the most exciting and growing times of my life. Not only did I gain lifelong friends but I also worked hard and had a blast doing it. It was also a nice perk to go and play in the parks on days off, which I did often.

Upon graduation from Minnesota State University, Mankato, with a graduate certificate in Technical Communication, I accepted a position at a technology company in Austin, Texas, where I wrote and edited a manual for a teen robotics competition. Unfortunately, after a few short months, I realized that the work I thought I’d enjoy doing just wasn’t fulfilling. My creative passion was nearly wiped out of my daily tasks. I needed to disrupt my flow. So I ditched the job and pursued web and graphic design.

What was so helpful at that point in my life is that the employer who was willing to hire me wasn’t looking for someone who knew how to do everything; they just wanted someone who could get the job done in an adequate way. I wasn’t interested in half-assing through my creative projects there, however, and I sharpened my eye for great design. My time in and out of the office was often spent learning design techniques and software that I could have learned had I chosen that path in college. It’s a path that has become more common in recent years with the internet offering both free and paid resources to learn.

My wife forced me into uncertainty, and it became one of my greatest life blessings

Bichon, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, and Dachshund (Lily, Monty, Simone) - JJ and Alisa's dogs
Lily (Bichon), Simone (Dachshund), and Monty (Cavalier King Charles Spaniel)

I worked with that employer for nearly three years, and during that time, I met my wife, Alisa. Our love for dogs is what brought us together, because our dogs, Monty and Lily, insisted on meeting each other. After that, we often met outside, leashes in hand and dogs playing at our feet, to chat for long hours. Alisa, who currently works as Associate Curator of European and American Art at the Museum of Art and Archaeology in Columbia, was pursuing her PhD in Art History when we first met, and her pursuits actually played a significant role in my path to where I am today.

JJ and Alisa on their wedding day
JJ and Alisa on their wedding day

Soon before our wedding day in June 2011, Alisa was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to perform research in Berlin, Germany, which was an exciting disruption in our lives. I left my job and we embarked on a new chapter as newlyweds in a city (and country) full of captivating culture, art, and people. While Alisa did her research on the portrait drawings of Hans Holbein the Elder, I was the “Hausmann” (house man, or house husband, as we often said). My duties included making the meals, cleaning house, and other tasks.

The greatest professional opportunity for me while we were in Germany was the option to study and practice coding and design. I had a membership to one of my favorite resources, Lynda, where I regularly took courses in web design and development. By the end of our time in Berlin, I had learned how to customize themes from scratch in WordPress, design in Illustrator and Photoshop, and more, and I had created and published a portfolio site of my work.

Illustrator artboard with wolf illustration work in progress
Arctic Wolves sports logo illustration using techniques and software learned while in Germany

Photoshop document of jjcarlson website
Work in progress Photoshop document of JJ’s portfolio website.

Uncertainty brought about opportunity

The scary thing with returning to the U.S. after a year abroad was answering the question, “What next?” Because Alisa was writing her dissertation in her PhD program at the University of Texas at Austin, we decided returning to Austin was the most logical next step. I was applying for jobs in both graphic and web design, but had no certainty as to which path I would end up in.

After interviews at various employers, I was offered the position of Graphic Designer at a small web and technology company. While I was excited about having the job, I wasn’t as excited about fitting into a position solely focusing on graphic design. All of the coding I learned over the previous year sparked a strong interest in me for designing and developing for the web.

Just five days prior to starting that job, I was contacted directly by the marketing director at Practice Cafe. She found my resume on Indeed and viewed my online portfolio, and indicated that my visual design skills fit what they had been looking for. I interviewed the next day, and was offered the job the following day. As a web designer at Practice Cafe, my role was to not only design a website but also code and publish it. Typically job roles exist either in design or coding, rarely both. Practice Cafe’s needs met my ambitions perfectly.

For over three years with Practice Cafe, I moved the web department to where it is today. When I started my role with the company, we were a staff of two, and we designed and custom coded all of our websites. When I departed, the web department had more than doubled in size and was developing custom WordPress sites for our clients, and providing ongoing web support and backup services. During my time with Practice Cafe, I stressed the importance of stronger SEO focus, and that led to the launch of an SEO program, which resulted in the start of Practice Cafe’s SEO team. The SEO team became the fastest growing department on staff, and it continues to be the leader in SEO for dentists among dental marketing companies.

The people you have relationships with matter more than your abilities, and your loyalty to each other strengthens your work

I value people and relationships more than most anything else in my professional life, and at Practice Cafe I developed a strong loyalty to my team and leaders. We cared for each other not only inside the office but outside as well. They are my friends, and I am so grateful for my time with them.

Loyalty through change sharpens our character

Alisa and I moved to Columbia in September 2015. I continued to work for Practice Cafe, but took on a remote role. Up until that point, Practice Cafe only had on-site staff members. Given how Alisa’s job could lead us in any direction, my leaders recognized the likelihood that I would not remain in Austin, but valued my contributions enough that they wanted to keep me on staff. The loyalty worked in both directions.

It’s funny, then, that I talk about loyalty to Practice Cafe, and I’m now working for the awesome BTC. Well, let me tell you, it was quite the interview process! I was contacted in the spring of 2016 regarding a new position (Director of Web Development) at Columbia Marketing Group (CMG). My first response was no thanks, I’m happy where I am, but I was encouraged to at least do an interview.

I met with Erica for the first interview. She explained to me that CMG was looking to expand into web with someone who can design and code websites, which is what I’d been doing with Practice Cafe for over three years. Immediately I could tell Erica was someone I can get along with and have a great deal of respect for, so I was torn. I talked with Alisa about the position and the company, and she said she would support my decision either way, but had strong feelings toward BTC. Still, I declined, with my main reason being my loyalty to the people at Practice Cafe.

Erica reached out again to me, encouraging me to come in to interview a second time and meet some of the team. She insisted that I would be the right fit for the team. I was sincerely flattered and felt that it would be in my best interest to meet with her again and be introduced to some of the team.

My second interview was more casual, which demonstrated BTC’s commitment to its people in another way. Erica explained the importance of healthy culture within the business, and man, she really is a person you can trust and respect by listening to for only a short time! I then met with Jamie and Brenna, two brilliant people with strong visions and goals.

After my second interview, I actually called my boss at Practice Cafe and told her just how torn I was. What followed was one of the best conversations I’ve ever experienced. She said that (as my boss) it would be sad to lose me as a valued employee, but (as a friend, and if she was my sister) that I should go for it because it’s a great opportunity to start something exciting and get involved within the community I now live. Having that real, open and honest conversation with my boss and friend reinforced my belief that people in general are kind and caring.

I disrupted my path in order to strengthen my future. BTC and CMG are now my home!

JJ Carlson goofified!
JJ in a Photoshopped, goofy way.

The people and the culture at the Business Times Company are what make the company successful. The passion and drive demonstrated here create and maintain progress. The commitment to each other produces results and keeps us moving forward. The loyalty that comes from that environment has proven to me that my decision to accept this position was the right one, and I’m excited to see where we go.

We have plenty of work to do, and plenty of exciting things to create. I love to create. I have a passion for both creative and technical, which is why I’m so grateful for an opportunity to do both. Without having that balance, I feel like I’m missing out. I’ve taken action in many directions of my professional development in order to get where I am today, and with the digital world’s horizon only expanding and diversifying, I’m never going to stop learning about how to provide unique and exciting experiences on the web.

I decided early on that I can be creative, and I can learn the tools to create what I want, so I wrote long stories as a child, and I learned to code and design websites as an adult. Now I get to do both of those things with CMG. The only limitation I believe we have is the limitation we choose for ourselves. I’m eagerly looking forward to where CMG will continue to go, and how our team will evolve with the digital world around us. It might not always be what we expect, but we can always expect to evolve and succeed when we continue to believe in each other.

My path at home

Cohen, JJ's son, in a baseball uniform pajama outfitAlisa and I have seen a lot of new directions and uncertainties in the last couple of years. Our most joyful direction this year is a diaper-filling bundle of joy named Cohen. He makes it easy to have an excuse to stay home. We’re blessed to have this little cutie to take care of, even if taking care of a dependent human is one of the scariest, most challenging jobs anyone can have. It’s also (obviously) one of the greatest jobs anyone can have, and we’re so ready to take on the challenge.