Author: Arianne Foulks

Trademark Registration: What Happens When You Skip It

the perils of skipping trademark registration Have you considered going through the trademark registration process? I run a web design studio, Aeolidia, and we just last week had a client get all the way to launching her new site when she discovered that a business in her field was using a name so similar to hers that she didn’t feel comfortable going ahead, and we’re now redesigning for her. I know that this is the kind of thing that seems like it couldn’t happen to you, so I wanted to share two stories from small business owners, so you can see how real this is. Sometimes when you start small, you feel like what you do won’t ever matter on the grand scale, but if you have any hopes and dreams for your business, you should start it off on solid footing.

Being One of Many

The first time we really had to re-do everything from scratch was last spring. Our client had a business selling children’s toys and decor, and she’d chosen a name that was not too unusual. Let’s call her Jane and let’s say her original business name was Little Leaf. It was definitely a cute name for a kids’ shop, and she did search online to see if anyone had a website with that name. It looked safe to use, but then she went to her first trade show, and says:

“Turns out there were lots of stores with our name even if they didn’t have a website. At our first trade show, we were one of 5 that had similar names. I still have people shipping my goods to a store in Chicago, even though we changed our name over a year ago and launched with the new name. First impressions are important, even just logistically.”

We had already made good progress on Jane’s Little Leaf logo, and we were using some natural budding and sprouting graphics in it. She decided to start over after the trade show, and we worked to brainstorm a new business name for her. The new name is unique, memorable, and no one else is using it, thank goodness! However, the name itself was so different from Little Leaf that it didn’t make sense to try to modify the logo design – it deserved its own design. Jane is very happy with what she has now, and her identity is much stronger with the new name, but it’s a shame she had all the extra trouble and expense at the beginning of building her business.

 Too Close For Comfort

Almost a year later, a second client had a similar problem, and sadly we had made it all the way through branding her business and creating her website. Let’s call this client Emily, and call her bakery My Muffin Top. We launched her new website last month and she emailed me a week or two after the launch, saying:

“It feels a bit surreal to be writing you about this just after mymuffintop.com went live. Tonight, as I was reading over the information on the SEO plugin and looking around on Google, an online search found the website muffintopbakery.com. Back when I was brainstorming business names, I did the requisite Google searches, and they didn’t turn up this website or anything else that seemed to be similar. From my research, it looks like Muffin Top Bakery launched shortly after I registered my domain. Unfortunately, my later web searches didn’t turn up the site, either.”

The two businesses had different business models, but the target audience was the same, and the names were way too close for comfort. Emily found out that some of her Twitter followers also followed this other business, and there wasn’t really a way to coexist peacefully using such similar names. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, and it made sense for Emily to change her name before any problems arose.

“I did read your blog post about trademarking shortly after I began working with you and the rest of the team, and my father, who’s an accountant, had mentioned that I should do that, but I’m sorry to say that it fell to the bottom of my list of priorities. I also did a trademark search on uspto.gov fairly recently, but didn’t find anything. I’ve been feeling so awful about this. It’s certainly better that this happened now rather than later, but it definitely wasn’t something I wanted to deal with. At least I know you and the rest of the folks at Aeolidia can help!”

The Risks of Ignoring Trademark Registration

Luckily, neither of our clients got far along enough with their business name to receive a dreaded Cease & Desist letter from another shop’s attorney, but that is something that can happen. The alarming thing here is that you can do a web search, feel like you’re in the clear, and then discover businesses that either don’t have a website, or were working on a website at the time that you started your business. Even if you consider yourself a “local business,” if you advertise online, you need to be sure that your name doesn’t conflict with existing businesses in the same niche. Trademark law is used in any situation where customers could be confused about which is the “real” Baby Bee. This means that a Baby Bee daycare and a Baby Bee bakery, even if both in the same city, would usually not have a complaint with each other. However, a Baby Bees clothing shop in Michigan could challenge a Baby Bee clothes and toy store in California if they felt they were losing customers due to confusion about the website URL or anything else.

Changes We’ve Made

One of our clients went through the process of having her business name trademarked by an attorney. The process was painless, and she mentioned to her attorney, Ben Pollock, that he might want to see if our other clients would have a need for the service. When Ben of The Juniper Law Firm got in touch with me, I recognized him from some very helpful legal articles that he’d written for Design*Sponge’s Biz Ladies series, and it was great that we could offer this service from someone so familiar with creative small businesses. Now, it is such a relief to be asking all of our clients up front if they’ve trademarked their business name and be able to offer them the research that determines if their name is safe to use, and then the trademarking service that will protect them if anyone new decides to use it. We have been fitting the two day research process in before we begin logo design work, and we can all feel more confident that the name and logo will stand the test of time.

What Should You Do?

If your business has a name that hasn’t been trademarked, please get in touch with a trademark attorney! If you don’t have one in mind (and your business is based in the US), email me, and I can let you know how trademark research and registration with Juniper Law works, and suggest a plan of action with pricing to you. I have a mental block about finding these types of services for my own business – it just seems so hard to find someone trustworthy and affordable, and leaves me wondering how much work (and paperwork) will be needed from me along the way. What a relief to just tell Ben a few details about my business, then get to forget about it while his team do all the work and all the paperwork, then report back to me with their results and recommendations. Since this is such a huge relief and decrease in hassle, I wanted to reach out and offer this service as a standalone (no need to sign up for any design work from us). We aren’t marking up Ben’s usual pricing (though he is paying us for our project management time, the price is all the same to you), and it’s very reasonable – less than other online services offering the same thing. Trademark services begin at $159, plus the standard $325 government filing fee. Research begins at $139, and you can add an Attorney Analysis & Opinion letter for $349, which includes the attorney’s opinion on the likelihood of a successful application and the likely strength of your trademark in the marketplace.

Check This One Off Your To-Do List

Email me today to get the full list of services and zip right through this simple and speedy process.

Do you have experience with either trademarking a business name or wishing you had? Share your stories of business names & trademarks in the comments!

Software & Apps That Save My Bacon

Best productivity apps for small business

Before dishwashers, clothes washers, robot vacuums, microwaves, takeout, grocery delivery, etc., it wasn’t easy to run a household. You needed a person out making money and a person at home keeping everything livable. With all of these tools making it easier to take care of our homes, those responsibilities now take less time and we can focus on other things.

Similarly, there are a variety of new tools that can get things done for you and your business. If you find the right group of tools, you can let the “housekeeping” take care of itself, and get back to work. You can’t get all the work done completely hands-off, but I do like to make things more push-button as I’m able to.

I run a web design studio with a 20 person team, and I get a scant handful of hours each day to stay on top of things before my kids get back home. The list of software I use to keep my mind and business organized grows all the time, and I’m not timid about trying new things and dumping the things that are no longer working for me. Here is a list of the best productivity apps for running a small business.

Email:

I started using Mailbox app on the advice of a friend, after Gmail’s separate inbox feature simultaneously helped me focus on the important stuff and made the unimportant start piling up. Mailbox works on my phone and iPad and lets me use some simple swiping gestures to archive, delete, sort, or request that the email pop back up in my inbox at a future time of my choosing. This is a lifesaver if you attempt to get to zero every time you open your mailbox using one or another of these swipes, though I can see it not being helpful if you don’t approach it with the right mindset.

I just used Unroll.me for the first time today, and it found 80 email newsletter subscriptions in my inbox. I unsubscribed from 26, put 39 in my “rollup” (a single digest email that they’re going to make for me whenever I get new junk), and am allowing 15 to continue to my inbox.

I use Zendesk for my work email. It’s customer service helpdesk software that allows me to share emails with my team, make private notes on them, quickly show all emails from a particular person or business, or reply with a form letter, to speed common interactions along, while giving people all the information they need. Help Scout is another great option, and the one I’d probably use if I wasn’t already set up with Zendesk.

Organization and projects:

Evernote is like an extra corner of my brain. I use it for writing, storing ideas, making to-dos, creating checklists, saving things to read, archiving kids’ artwork, storing recipes, and saving info that I need to be able to get from anywhere. I wrote about Evernote in detail here.

Basecamp is the web-based software we use to manage client projects, and includes a project milestone calendar, to-do lists, messages for us to collaborate with clients, and a way to upload files. Basecamp can be used to manage any kind of group project, from yard sales to web design to creating software. When I started using it (in 2005!) I instantly had no idea how I’d operated before having it. It is essential to our process.

I don’t have to worry about backing up my data, and I can share it with my team and our clients using Dropbox. I can sync my iPhone photos with Dropbox just by opening the app, and we use it at Aeolidia to share files between designers and developers. If my computer explodes, I won’t have to panic, because all my stuff is safe in Dropbox.

We use Invision at Aeolidia to present web design mocks to clients. It’s saved a ton of confusion about how wide a design is going to be (browsers often shrink gifs or jpgs to fit the window), and we can do neat things like show how a mouseover effect will work, etc.

We get new requests from potential clients every day. I used to keep track of what stage we were at with each person (discussing the project, preparing the proposal, invoicing, etc.) in a spreadsheet on Google Docs. Nightmare! Zoe on our team pointed me towards Trello, a very simple project management tool, and its simplicity means that it can adapt to a variety of uses. We create a card for each business, on a list that shows where we’re at in the process, with a due date to remind us to check in with them again. With so many people to keep track of it’s been a lifesaver!

IFTTT stands for If This, Then That. I have barely scratched the surface on what IFTTT can do, but I use it to take care of little business “housekeeping” tasks that are sucking my time. For example, I just use it to save all my new Aeolidia blog posts as notes in Evernote with certain tags. Zapier is another option.

Marketing:

I’ve found that a mailing list is the best way to stay in touch with the people who are interested in what you do. MailChimp is my tool of choice here. Their site is super mobile-friendly, and they also provide some great apps as well. Search the app store for Chimpadeedoo to let people sign up from  your iPad at events, Golden Monkeys to select certain VIP members and see what they’re reading, the regular MailChimp app to see how your campaigns and lists are doing, and the MailChimp Editor to easily create and edit campaigns from your phone or tablet.

I use WordPress for blogging (and soon it will be running my entire website). Using the Akismet plugin saves me from the drudgery of deleting spam posts, and is completely worth the $5/month.

I finally got around to researching Buffer as I worked on this post, and you guys, I am loving it! Social media can be a hassle, and I’m feeling way less hassled already. I had a ton of articles I’d saved up to share with Facebook and Twitter, but actually doing it takes time, so they were just piling up. Today I entered them all in as prepared tweets to Buffer, and they’re just ready and waiting and will begin going out on a schedule.

Social media is best when you make a real connection, and you’d think scheduling a robot to post things for you would cut down on real connections. I think it’s actually going to boost my “real” chats on Twitter, as my pre-scheduled posts will roll out and I’ll be enticed in to chat with people as they respond.

Paperwork:

Blinksale is the tool we use to invoice clients. It does everything we need, and allows us to add notes and adjust the look of the emails sent. Another good choice for invoicing is Freshbooks.

We used to send clients a PDF of their contract, have them print it, sign it, and mail it to us to sign and send back. Ugh! I was surprised to find out from my attorney that a digital signature is totally legit, so we now use SignNow to painlessly get signatures for contracts. Another option is RightSignature.

Reading:

Feedly is my blog feed reader of choice, since the demise of Google Reader. I don’t like how it works much on my computer, but I do like how it works on my phone, and I shouldn’t be reading stuff when I’m at my computer to work anyway, ha ha. This saves me lots of time, because it puts posts from all the blogs I’m interested in in one place, to be read, skimmed, or skipped with a few swipes. Of course, reading blogs at all can feel like a bit of a time suck, so it all depends.

Sometimes I get bogged down and distracted by articles that I want to read when I’m supposed to be working. Now I just save it to Instapaper and when I find myself with some downtime, I can get caught up.

Business:

I make myself behave using the basic Reminders app on my iPhone. I have a list for Work, Maintain (chores/household), Create, and general reminders. I date them, and spend each day consulting and checking off color-coded items from my daily to-do list. Working to keep them specific and reasonable is a job unto itself!

Since my team is flung all over the states (and Australia!), we can’t gather around the water cooler or call a meeting with a white board. Instead, we talk via Basecamp and email, Campfire chat, and our private Facebook group. I am also interested in trying out the WordPress P2 theme for internal status updates and items of interest – kind of like our own personal Twitter or Facebook.

I use Aviary on my iPad to edit photos (mostly of my kids, mostly to send to family), but I’ve also used it from time to time for photos to use on the Aeolidia blog, and the process seems much breezier than firing up Photoshop. Though I do miss being able to size things to certain pixel widths.

What I’d like:

I am missing a few things from my arsenal here! If anyone has an app for one of my situations below, I’ll be grateful:

  • A simple CRM (customer relationship management) tool that links up to my other tools and allows me to get the info I need about my clients. With client info spread among all my other software (Basecamp, Zendesk, MailChimp, Blinksale, etc.), but not in one centralized location, I feel a bit scrambled sometimes.
  • Better reporting for our projects. One of my goals this year is to gather and analyze some data about our projects. What types of projects do we work on most? Which are most profitable? Which are taking up too much time and not bringing in enough profit? What is increasing in popularity, and what is declining?
  • I would love an iPad photo editor that allows me to specify a size for the final graphic in pixels.
  • A password management tool that I can use on my laptop, tablet, and smartphone. There are certainly options out there, but it seems like such a hassle to choose one and get started using it that I just haven’t done it!

What software saves your bacon?

What about you? What apps and software can’t you do without, and why? How do they save you time, and what were you doing before you found them?

How Quilting is Like Creative Web Design

How Quilting is Like Web Design

I used to spend a huge amount of my time designing and coding websites. I found that when my creative web design company, Aeolidia, grew enough that I was in a management role and could no longer do client work myself, I needed a replacement creative activity. Today I’m taking a break from my usual all-business posts here to show you something just for fun.

My son was almost two years old, and I found some vintage jungle-themed sheets at the thrift store and thought I’d see if I could make a quilt out of them. Well, I dusted off my old Home Ec. sewing skills and I made him a quilt in time for his second birthday.

I am a bit of a crafting dilettante, I must confess. I have dabbled in knitting, crocheting, doll-making, painting, jewelry-making, embroidery, and the list goes on. Once I figure out the basics of how to do something, I tend to lose interest, and rarely have many completed projects to show for my efforts. However, the quilting was another story, for some reason!

Since that first jungle quilt a few years ago, I’ve made eight quilts, and while working on them, I noticed that the process of making a quilt shares many similarities with designing a website. I think that’s why it keeps my interested, and why I’ve stuck with it.

I’m going to show photos of a recent quilt that I made for my son, as a fun example of why I find making quilts a good creative replacement activity. Calvin has been pretty obsessed with space for the last year, so we dreamed up the Denim Solar System quilt.

How Designing a Quilt is Like Creating a Website

1) Both projects start with a sketching or “wire frame” stage.

With a website, you think about all the things that will need to be on the home page, and what links you’ll need elsewhere, and put together a rough sketch of the layout, so you can be sure that once you are working on the pretty details, you have the bones of the website right.

With a quilt, I take graph paper and plan out a geometric design that’s going to fit the size I want and I work through different ideas at different sizes.

"Wire frame" to show the relative size and placement of each planet.
“Wire frame” to show the relative size and placement of each planet.

2) They both use the grid system.

When working on my quilts in the graph paper notebook, I saw that both websites and quilts use a grid or pixel system. Since everything in a website is built on a box system, a website is built of many rectangular sections. Quilts are also geometric, usually being pieced together from many smaller squares, rectangles, or triangles (not the planets quilt, but every other quilt I’ve done!). There are ways to make websites and quilts have rounded elements, but ultimately they are blocky beasts.

3) Mood boards are useful for both.

Coming up with a color scheme, patterns, shapes, and setting the general tone of a website or quilt is important. I find myself using Pinterest to gather quilt ideas in the same way our web designers capture the mood of our clients’ sites.

Solar system quilt board on Pinterest
Solar system quilt board on Pinterest

4) Choosing fabrics feels like using stock art.

Our web designers are thankfully much more skilled than I was, back when I was designing websites, and they usually create all the design elements involved in their websites. But back when I was working on websites, I was not an illustrator, and would often go to stock art/illustration sites to pull together the “materials” I’d use to design a website, be it a repeating pattern, illustration, or fancy banner.

Selecting the fabrics I want for a quilt and laying them out to spark ideas feels just like pulling my patterns, fonts, and colors into Photoshop to make a web design come to life.

Seeing how possible fabrics look together.
Seeing how possible fabrics look together.

5) Client feedback on mock-up.

For this year’s birthday quilt, my son was turning five, and had a lot of input. I showed him my sketches to see what he thought, and he offered feedback to me, much like our clients do when seeing the wire frame or first website concept.

In this case, Calvin told me:

  • happy faces were preferred over plain planets
  • the planets had to go in the right order, but didn’t need to be a straight line
  • the planets should be roughly proportional to real life

My client also came to the fabric store and was involved in fabric choice.

Rough sketches to solicit client feedback.
Rough sketches to solicit client feedback.

6) Prototype when trying something new.

I hadn’t done much appliqué before, and I wasn’t sure how it would all turn out, so I worked on a few smaller test planets and tried some things that didn’t work, before settling on the final design.

When a web design client asks for a new feature, we’ll often build a prototype of it, in a very limited, basic state, to first see if it’s even do-able, and then have the client try it out to see if it works for her, before we sink a lot of time into doing it right.

My client testing out the Earth prototype. Back to the drawing board on the shape of the continents!
My client testing out the Earth prototype. Back to the drawing board on the shape of the continents!

7) Settling in to develop the project.

Once all the design work is out of the way, the time comes to actually make the quilt or develop the website. Most of our designers now hand that work off to a dedicated developer on our team, but I used to move right along to code my designs myself.

This stage of the project also has a whole lot of similarity. Measurements need to be taken (pixels vs. inches) and you need to either slice up your fabric or slice up a Photoshop document (and they do call that “slicing!”). Blocks need to fit next to each other, and then it’s either sew, sew, sew, or code, code, code.

The creative work is not done, because there are usually some kinks that need ironing out at this stage, and often some embellishments need to happen.

Embroidering a cheerful face on Venus.
Embroidering a cheerful face on Venus.

8) Adding special features to surprise and delight!

We’re always looking to delight both our clients and their customers. We will hide cute little illustrations behind menus, which are only seen when you mouse over, or put special care into making the newsletter signup form clever and eye-catching.

My client was surprised to find a glow-in-the-dark rocket stitched next to the Earth!

Rocket, stitched with glow-in-the-dark thread
Rocket, stitched with glow-in-the-dark thread

The final product

In the end, you have a project that took a lot of planning, a whole bunch of measuring, a knack for color and balance, and perhaps some sweat and tears during the development phase. Hopefully, your client is just as pleased as you are (and cozy, too, in the case of the quilt!), and you can snap a few pics for your portfolio.

Denim Solar System Quilt

You can see my quilt “portfolio” here, and Aeolidia’s web design portfolio here.

What is your creative outlet? If you’re in the business of being creative, do you also do projects just for yourself, or are you satisfied with your main method of creativity?