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Interview with Jeff Fisher

Design's Jeff Fisher

After 30 years in the graphic design business, two successful books and several prestigious memberships, Jeff Fisher could work anywhere. He chooses to work at home. Fisher talked with Savvy Marketing Secrets about running a successful business while sharing his views about small business marketing.

Fisher, a sixth generation Oregonian, comes from a family of public relations and marketing professionals. He lives in Portland, Oregon with his longtime partner, Ed Cunningham.

Q for question Tell me about your business. When did you start it? Is this your first business?
A for Answer I began my own business back in 1980 by default. I had just gotten out of school and moved to Portland at a time when there were no "real" jobs to be had. The week I moved to the city several design and ad firms literally closed their doors. Designers were being laid off left and right. I had not intended to begin working independently. However, after informational interviews with several people in the industry, design projects began to come my way.

For about the first 17 years of my career I took on any and all design projects that came my way. I thought that was what graphic designers were expected to do. In a conversation with my sister I mentioned I was starting to get burned out by my work.

Her comment was, "Why aren't you focusing on what you enjoy most?" I kind of looked at her with a blank stare and she said. "Logo design."

Soon after that I adopted the business name Jeff Fisher LogoMotives and began to market myself primarily as a designer of corporate identities.

Q for Question How do you find customers?

A for Answer At this stage of my career customers find me. I usually get several email requests a week from potential clients who have come across my website, seen my work elsewhere online, read about my business (in magazines, on my blog, in books or elsewhere), or seen examples of my logo design work in one of the 100+ books in which it is featured. A number of prospects come my way as a result of referrals.

Jeff Fisher on Working at home:

I work to live, rather than living to work. Having a well-balanced life is important to both my partner and I. I have established business hours of 8:00 to 5:00, Monday through Thursday. That doesn't mean I'm not working additional hours, but I try to not let work butt into what should be personal time.

With any home business it is important to separate home and business with work in its own space. My office is in the upstairs of our home. When I come downstairs in the evenings, and close the door, the office is closed. I do try to not work evening and weekends.

Q for Question What marketing strategies do you use?

A for AnswerI use a wide variety of marketing, promotion and advertising methods.

However, I do no paid traditional print advertising at all. Early on in my business history I learned that print advertising was simply not effective in marketing my services. I also do no Yellow Page advertising - it tends to bring designers too many "tire kickers" looking for services based on price only.

My press releases, distributed online and through traditional snail mail, are my primary marketing method. With my train-themed business name and logo image in place, I began to put "Toot! Toot!" at the top of all my press releases - with a asterisk to the defining line "If I don't "toot!" my own horn, no one else will." Many editors have commented they look forward to getting my releases because they are attention-getting, well written, in the proper format and to the point. I promote new clients, awards won, magazine and book exposure, speaking engagements and more with my press releases.

Writing also has become a major marketing element for my business. In recent years I've been asked to write numerous articles for design and business publications and websites. In 2002 I was asked to write a book about the graphic design business and "The Savvy Designer's Guide to Success: Ideas and tactics for a killer career" was released in late 2004.

In 2005 I started my writing my business blog bLog-oMotives  and it has become an incredible marketing tool. With the release of "Identity Crisis!" I began writing a blog about the book as well ( After a decade, my traditional web presence began to get a little stale and I transformed it into what I have been referring to as a "blogfolio,"

This past November my second book, "Identity Crisis!: 50 redesigns that transformed stale identities into successful brands ," was released by the same publisher, HOW Books. Four other publishers have contacted me recently to inquire about me writing books for them. The writing of books and articles has kind of taken on a life of there own and generate even more work for that part of my business.

I often speak to high school groups, design schools, colleges and universities, design organizations, and at conferences like the design industry's annual HOW Design Conference. (

In addition, I often do pro bono work for causes in which I have strong personal convictions. While such efforts might not be considered marketing by many, it does get my name out into the business community, puts me in contact with many local "movers and shakers, and provides an opportunity to promote the end results.

The constant theme in much of my marketing and promotion is the fact that most are low-cost - or no-cost - marketing tools. In fact, some - like the writing of articles and books and speaking engagements - have become part of my business as income-producing activities.

Q for Question What is your biggest marketing challenge?

A for AnswerThe biggest marketing challenge for any graphic designer is setting yourself apart from the many other designers seeking similar work. Any major city has literally thousands of independent design professionals all competing for the same work. There is also the challenge of educating the consumer as to what you actually do, how you do it and the value of the work. The fact that someone has a home computer with a few software programs, and charges extremely low rates, doesn't necessarily make them a talented, professional graphic designer who is able to provide a client with an effective end product. Someone paying an incredibly discounted price for a logo, or other graphic design project, are often going to get exactly what they paid for - and be very disappointed.

Q for Question Are there tools or other resources you would recommend to Savvy Marketing Secrets visitors?

A for Answer The Internet has tremendously changed how business owners can research and act on marketing their business ventures. Business networking sites, such as and, can be of major assistance to anyone seeking business or marketing advice.

Participation in the community forums on such web presences can eliminate the sense of isolation felt by many business owners. A person will soon find they are not the only one dealing with the challenges being faced on a daily basis. The opportunities to share one's own successes, and failures, is also of great benefit to many others.

Q for Question Tell me your best or funniest story about marketing your business or dealing with clients?

A for Answer Some years ago I was attempting to get the attention of a potential client.

Messages left with the receptionist went unanswered. Sending one of my marketing packets did not result in a response. I delivered a traditional carry-out carton of customized fortune cookies (I'd pulled out the original fortunes with tweezers and replaced them with ones reading "Jeff Fisher has designs on your business" and the like) to the front desk of the office without a reaction. I dropped off a second carton of cookies about a week later. I then got a call from the person I was attempting to reach, who said, "Stop dropping off the damn cookies and just come in and talk to us."

Sometimes you just need to be persistent.

Q for Question What comments do you have for small businesses in the real world who want to create an online presence for their business?

A for Answer The biggest mistake most businesses make in trying to create an online presence is trying to do it all themselves. I always tell business owners "don't try this at home." Hire a professional who knows what they are doing.

It doesn't need to cost a fortune - but there will be tremendous benefit in bringing in someone who really understands how to create what a business needs to get off on the right foot. Check out designer portfolios online. Contact local design schools,, universities or community colleges for recommendations of outstanding students who may be able to help out for monetary compensation and possible school credit. Some college business programs have outreach programs to assist small businesses in marketing and promotion efforts. Research the resources available though the Small Business Administration and local Small Business Development Centers. If a small business has a service or product of value to a design professional, consider bartering or a partial trade in equal value. Remember that the initial online impression made with a potential customer can make all the difference - the cost of the online presence is an investment in the future of one's business.

by Marcia Ming -

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