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 Sacramento’s first-ever Freelance Camp is coming October 17. Freelance Camps—whose motto is “In Business for Yourself, Not by Yourself”—offer a venue for freelancers and self-employed people to discuss and explore different approaches to running a successful freelance business or service company.

Freelance Camps are a revolutionary form of user-generated events—also known as “unconferences”—whose content is fully provided by the participants. Anyone with something to contribute or with the desire to learn is welcome and invited to join. Each camp is run by a local team of volunteers and is put on for the benefit of the community (not profit).

Freelance Camps are highly productive, yet informal gatherings where businesspeople can share their expertise with each other. They are a radical break from routine business conferences. Rather than sit back and be talked to, participants select topics they’re interested in and then break into discussion groups. To date, dozens of Freelance Camps have been held on three continents, with more cropping up almost daily.

Who should attend? Anyone who provides business services (or is considering it) is a perfect fit: designers, accountants, bloggers,  journalists, realtors, lawyers, carpenters, engineers, financial advisers, marketers, salespeople, musicians, artists, inventors and more. All types of business owners are encouraged to come to provide a balanced perspective. Participants can:

* Get experience-based answers to questions
* Network and meet people running successful freelance businesses
* Form partnerships and collaborate
* Find clients
* Help others and be a person of influence

Enrollment in the Sacramento Freelance Camp includes a full day of informative seminars, networking and connection opportunities, breakfast, lunch and an after party for participants.

Hosted by The Urban Hive co-working center in midtown Sacramento, this is the event that local freelancers, self-employed people and small business owners will not want to miss.

Freelance Camps are not-for-profit, volunteer-run events. Any leftover proceeds are donated to a charity of the organizer’s choice.

Date: October 17, 2009

Time: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (After party to follow)

Location: The Urban Hive, 1931 H Street, Sacramento, 95811

For more information: Janna Marlies Santoro, 916-837-1646

Website: http://www.freelancecamp.org

Twitter:  #freelancecamp

Registration:  http://freelancecampsacramento.eventbrite.com/

For sponsorship information, contact Janna Marlies Santoro.

Sponsors include:

The Urban Hive (theurbanhive.com)

Cassia Communications (cassiacommunications.wordpress.com)

Sacramento Marketing Labs (sacramentomarketinglabs.com)

 

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It seems like every day a new story emerges, in which someone has miscommunicated, off- or online, creating controversy or damaging the good name of their company. In a recent situation, a small firm’s lawsuit over a tweet —and a spokesman’s off the cuff response—sparked outrage in the social media world.

Although the dynamics of public outreach, media relations, and member/investor relations are changing almost daily, one rule of communication remains steadfast: Clear, consistent (and sometimes compassionate) communication can save the day.

First, a true story from one of our colleagues. His client had achieved incredible company growth, running a multi-million dollar company on mere thousands a month. The company had succeeded in just about every facet of business, had built a faithful customer base and was on the verge of even more growth. However, economic conditions changed and the company found itself up against a shortage in cash, waiting for accounts receivable and investor funds to come in. Before they knew it, they had missed payroll and were past due on some mid-sized vendor invoices.  

In today’s economy, we see this happening with more and more frequency, with even huge corporations (such as British Airways) facing challenges they never anticipated.

As you well know, employees and investors are two of the greatest assets within a company and their happiness and confidence can directly translate into your success. Knowing some basic communication missteps to avoid—and strategies to keep in mind—will help guide you through turbulent waters.

One of the worst errors in communication during times like these is waiting, both in terms of waiting to reach out to affected groups and waiting to draft a plan.  When under fire, the best plan is one that is already laid, hands down. So figure out how you will handle an unfortunate or crisis situations now, rather than later. Run through potential scenarios and from there, determine how communication will flow, what exactly will be said and through what mediums or channels. Develop your key messages and communicate them with company leaders and spokespeople to avoid contradiction and confusion.

Depending on the severity of the situation, you should be communicating and updating internal relationships once every other day to once a week. Appropriate, effective outreach can take many forms: a newsletter, e-newsletter, or other confidential, internal channel.

However, before jumping into any form of communication, you must have a crystal clear idea of intent. What do you want the outcome to look like? What do you want to convey? What core company strengths can you call on to help guide your communication? In the example from above, the company wanted to:  

1. Convey its sincerity, concern and professionalism

2. Protect its stellar reputation and relationships

3. Be open, transparent and fair

These are excellent intention guideposts, and when feasible, should be duplicated.

Whether through verbal or written forms of communication, remember to stay focused on the problem at hand, avoid being negative and listen to concerns.

Compassion and concern can go a long way, when done in a professional manner.  Also, providing doable incentives and possible positive future projections will help build a bridge over the hump and keep employees positive and faithful, and investors confident and in the game.

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Take a tour of the Winter Graphics North website and you will understand why they have earned a small stockpile of awards and recognition. A virtual desk is the theme of the site, and each page encourages you to roam and seek information; it is both entertaining and interactive.

If we had to sum Winter Graphics up in three words, those words would be: professional, fun, creative. Exactly the reasons why we at Cassia Communications and Winter Graphics North have worked together for more than a decade. We’re on the same page. In terms of services offered, our firms complement each other entirely and often call on the other to round out communications packages for clients. Winter Graphics is a sure bet when you need logos (they created ours and many more, like the L Wine Lounge) websites or printed collateral.

Winter Graphics has also worked for a myriad of other clients/projects, such as the Smart Investor Annual Reports for the Sacramento Superior Court, UC Davis ITS, WALA, the Pacific Legal foundation, convention packages for the California Association of General Contractors and the California Apartment Association. Notches in their belt include: Addy’s, Pollies and Cappies awards as well as awards and distinctions from the Sacramento Advertising Club, American Corporate Identity, Global Corporate Identity and the Gallery of Superb Printing.

Thinking you might want to step up your print and online presence? Contact Derek Hocking at Derek@wintergraphicsnorth.com or go to their website: www.wintergraphicsnorth.com.

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For any business wondering whether to implement a public relations strategy, the timing could not be more perfect or more critical. A new era of social media, a new way of thinking about (and implementing) public relations, and a shifting economy are all road signs pointing to why tackling your communications agenda should be a priority for you now rather than later. Here, we discuss in a little more depth.

  • The economy has changed, and with these new times come both anxiety and opportunity. Employees, investors and clients may be feeling a tad insecure about job security, direction and  your next move. Trained communications professionals can help you design and implement perfected messages that communicate to each of these groups in a way that re-invigorates trust, good-will and business overall.

 

  • While many are bemoaning the slump, several new opportunities exist now that didn’t before.  In terms of public relations and messaging, a new environment has opened up a treasure chest of business-related story and messaging possibilities. Take advantage of the inclement weather that may have rained out some of your competitors by increasing the level of exposure, quality and creativity of your brand to put you at the forefront of consumer thinking.

 

  • The media is now comprised of thousands of new online outlets, in addition to traditional press. These outlets are both goldmines … and landmines. Knowing how and what to communicate to these different groups can inspire fans, increase word-of-mouth brand awareness and put you in front of groups who are ready to buy or invest in you. While it’s tempting (and in some cases even advised) to reach out to traditional or social press on your own, what you don’t know can hurt you–and your chances of being heard. PR professionals have updated information on thousands of journalists worldwide, including their preferences for how and when to be pitched. Don’t make the mistake of calling when they prefer to be contacted only by email or vice versa!

 

  • One of the most significant reasons to choose public relations over another form of communicating (i.e., advertising) has to do with the underlying current of the way people receive information. Traditional advertising has its place, no doubt. But it is considerably more costly than PR and it consists of a one-way dialogue in a medium that’s also one-way. Most people today get their information online, even if they still subscribe to print and glossy publications. Online and “earned” media exposure allows for a conversation to take place, and for you to be a part of that conversation.

 

  • Public relations firms are starting to get it: You don’t have $50,000 a month to throw at a PR machine. Firms that are now entering into the market are doing things differently from the old regime, have set their sights beyond the traditional and have cut a lot of the excess fat from processes and retainer fees.  Sometimes, firms will even offer you custom, targeted packages that focus on just one or more areas of PR. When vetting experts, ask yourself these questions:  Do they ask a lot of questions? Are they flexible? Do they love your product/service as much as you do? How do they measure results? Are they passionate about what they do? Do they have references, portfolio or clipbook samples upon request?

What can we do for you? Find out by calling (916) 538-4146 or emailing cassiacomm [at] gmail [dot] com.

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Your online presence is an extension of you and your business. It should be an intersection of form and function and above all else, a well-managed reservoir of expert content. Once you have a great online presence in place, you probably want some people to see it! If so, you will need to know a little or a lot about html, linking, SEO and even marketing/public relations to increase your visibility. Below are two quick checklists to raise your site a few notches and help you avoid some of the common pitfalls.

 On the Web side:

  • Is your website easy for customers to navigate and find information quickly?
    • Create organized and intuitive categories, tabs, and links
  • Is your company’s branding strongly emphasized on your site?
    • Invest in non-template graphics/logo
    • Make sure themes and logos are consistent on all pages
  • Does your website encourage customers to stay and learn more?
    • Brainstorm ways for creative interaction
    • Ensure content is useful and updated
    • Use multiple forms of content: video, photos, text, podcast
  • Does your site encourage visitors to develop a relationship with you?
    • Create engaging and astute content
    • Enable comments and feedback forums
    • Ask for comments and feedback
    • Entice visitors to opt in to a regular e-newsletter
    • Mention or praise your visitors — and their business

 On the SEO side:  

  • Do you know the most important ways to optimize your site for Google and boost page ranking (the order in which your site appears in a web query)?
    • Get high-traffic sites directing to your site (this is where marketing and pr can come into play)
    • Use powerful, creative SEO terms and tags
    • Make your site the “hub” for your multi-tiered online presence
    • Create valid, transparent content and publish it on the Internet

Did you know that employing “black hat” techniques could be hurting (not helping) you in search results? Here are some “don’ts” to help you stay on the “white hat” side of the web.

  • Don’t create blogs whose main purpose is to link back to your site
  • Don’t use “hit boosters” or link farm services
  • Don’t use non-related keywords to boost ranking
  • Don’t use sites like Wikipedia unethically or against the terms of service

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As you may have well realized by now, building it doesn’t always ensure they will come. You must entice, endear and sometimes entertain “them” – your customers – and do so in a way that is heard above the roar of competitors.

One of the most basic goals of the new era of marketing is becoming “top of mind.” Essentially, this means communicating with your customers creatively, effectively and consistently so that when they think of X widget, they think of you.

To occupy this space, first look to the basics of traditional marketing, the first step of which is a clear plan. No stumbling around bare-footed or blind here. Create a laser-focused plan by asking many questions and defining what you want to achieve. Align all other elements, tasks and messaging around this piece.

Speaking of messaging, every company needs to have a cohesive, core message that is clear and easily communicated (can it fit on a matchbox?). Perfect messaging is like perfect lighting. Without it, no one sees the ultimate beauty of the object it illuminates. Messaging should reflect your brand’s tone, personality and value it brings to the customer. It should be creative and fresh, and inspire your prospect to take action! Then, extrapolate what you have created to other areas of your business. Be consistent.

In the past, marketing was almost synonymous with selling or public relations. Today, this is less true. While the end result still includes increasing positive public awareness and essentially sales, the marketing landscape has shifted dramatically over the last few years. The easiest way to sum up the new philosophy is this: Give first and ask (sell) last. Disseminating useful information on your field, donating product/ services/time to an event, and even nurturing relationships are all included here and will get you in the game – if not ahead of it.

Get creative here – and “talk” about what you are doing as much as you actually do it. It’s also important to know exactly how your brand “plays” in your market. Getting to know your target audience can help you determine this. Many companies and communications firms used to rely on market analysis firms to help them identify consumer groups’ thoughts and behavior. However, with the avalanche of user-generated content on the web (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, industry forums), you can get a very eye-opening picture of customers’ sentiments. (Though be prepared to dedicate a significant number of man hours to this endeavor!)

Your website can also act as a feedback loop and should be the hub for all the internet outlets you use to broadcast, so make sure it is up to snuff. Based on the communication areas you want to implement –traditional marketing, guerrilla marketing, public relations, social media, web development or all of the above – figure out what skill set, hours and resources you will need.

With new technologies arriving every day, this is an industry that changes more than it stays the same. Staying abreast of trends, tools and techniques is time consuming, but will give you an edge. We suggest hiring a firm or expert who can manage part or all of this process for you. If you have questions, please reach out to us at cassiacomm [at] gmail [dot] com. We are happy to hear from you.

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Hiring a communications firm will help manage your budget and your relationships

If you are one of the millions of businesses in the U.S. right now affected by the downturn, then now is a good time to implement or re-evaluate your communications strategy.

The right communications firm can help you speak to concerned employees, hesitant investors, the elusive media and consumers. These were tricky waters to navigate before, but now, with non-existent job security, evaporating investor funds, and word-of-mouth press, the effects of a well-defined, well-executed communications plan can make a tangible, real difference in the success of your company. The right messaging combined with an effective strategy can restore faith, secure funds, bolster reputation and save you precious time and money.  

But, you may be thinking, “How can we afford to outsource, now?” You may be surprised to learn that you can’t afford not to.

Communication firms worth their salt will consult with you free of charge to help you draw a clearer picture of your desired outcome and the map to get you there on time. This will save you countless man hours, money and headaches in the short and long term.

A targeted plan begins with the right questions – and plenty of them. Some of these questions, like “what do you want to communicate?” and “who is your audience?” are no-brainers, while “what’s the problem?” (What? I have a problem?) or “what is the frame of mind of your targeted audience?” are not so intuitive. An outside firm can help you get off to the right start by answering these critical questions and finding the message your audience will hear.

Need a few other reasons to look outside the office?

  • Time is money — and now more than ever.  Your time is probably already maxed out generating new business, saving that certain project, focusing on your staff, and of course, figuring out how you are going to wiggle around in this uncertain, “new rules” economy.
  • Money is money. Considering salaries, benefits, insurance, training, etc., a dedicated in-house option will cost you thousands more per year than hiring out. Plus, most communications firms will offer some, or most, of their services “a la carte.”
  • Contractors provide additional, third-party expertise and an outside perspective. Often, this vantage point allows them to offer fresh ideas, solutions and strategies you might have missed going it alone.
  • One less project for you to manage. The firms you vet should present you with the option to manage the project start to finish for you.
  • Stellar firms will have an army of expert resources at their fingertips in several areas of communications such as marketing, social media, public relations, website development, printing and of course, top-notch writing and editing ninjas. (Who doesn’t want a ninja on their team?)
  • Hiring a firm gives you a lot of flexibility. You choose how involved you want to be in the project, whether it’s a short-term gig or long-term relationship, whether you want full-service or a la carte, and of course, the flexibility to switch firms — because sometimes, you just want change.

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