Category: Creative Blog

Moving Forward In 2020

Welcome to the new normal; It’s a lot to take in, but one thing that’s really helped me stay optimistic and focussed during these last few months of shutdown and financial insecurity, is seeing (and talking to) people who are still continuing to work on, and move their businesses forward in spite of all the current challenges facing small businesses – especially the ones here in Hawaii.

With that said, I’d like to take a moment to introduce you to Jessica Gauthier R(B) and Justin Ko, who have both recently started their businesses within the last couple months of the COVID Pandemic/Shutdown, and have graciously agreed to share what it’s like to start a new business and move it forward in the middle of a global pandemic. – jz


Me: First, thank you both for sharing…Could you start by briefly describing your business and the services you offer?

Jess: Salt Water Real Estate is my new real estate company in Hilo, Hawai’i that puts sustainability, care for our island and people first.

Our motto, ‘salt water heals everything’ provides the words of our commitment to a healthy lifestyle for ourselves, our clients and most importantly, our island home, and it’s our goal to be your single source for real estate advice, sales and management in east Hawai’i.

Justin: Ko Flooring LLC provides tile and flooring installation services. My primary focus is tile installation (bathroom showers, floors, kitchen backsplashes, etc.), but I also install LVT (Luxury Vinyl Tiling), VCT (Vinyl Composition Tile), and Carpet Tiles.

Me: Nice. So when did both of you first get the idea to start your own business, and what made you decide to finally take the “leap”?

Jess: Over my 15 years working in real estate and 10 years working in vacation rental management on the Big Island, I built a great team of staff, partners and a great client base while working under the brokerage of a large company.

Over time, however, changing market forces continued to highlight the fact that a small business approach would serve my clients best.

I talked to my team and they all supported the idea of opening my own firm. In fact, my team really gave me the support and encouragement to take the leap!  I owned a small business in the 1990’s and knew I had the capabilities and know-how to make it happen.

Justin: I’ve always had the dream of having my own installation company – the thought of being my own boss and being able to set high standards for workmanship and uphold them was appealing to me.

Work relations at my former company eventually became too negative and discouraging…so I decided it was finally time to move on.

Me: I know for a lot of business owners (myself included), timing is everything…What made you decide to start your business in the middle of a major shutdown/pandemic?

Jess: Haha!  Well, the timing was on a much longer curve for me.  I made the decision in December 2019, spent a few months creating the business structure and branding and filed the necessary paperwork with the Real Estate Commission in late February 2020.

This process would normally take a few weeks to be approved but the Commission had to close their offices and work remotely in March…So I was in a weird limbo until my Principal Broker license was approved by the Commission in May 2020.

Justin: The timing was definitely not ideal. I realized it would be basically impossible to get a small business loan and general business because of the huge number of failing companies, but I made a list of pros and cons for going out on my own and the pros outnumbered the cons, so I decided to go for it..

Me: So how has business been going for both of you so far

Jess: There have been some real positives to starting my business during the Covid-19 shut-down. The Legal Short Term Rentals I manage were all government mandated to shut-down so we haven’t had any customers to service.

Of course this means no income coming in, but I have had a lot of time without the distractions of daily business in which to train my team on new processes and software. The real estate sales side of my business is doing fine as residents continue to buy and sell property.

Justin: Business has been great! I have had a steady flow of work, and it seems like people are still re-doing their floors/bathrooms and offices, even in the midst of a struggling economy.

Me: A lot of small businesses are currently struggling to adjust to this “new normal”…What are some of the challenges you’ve either experienced or possibly see your business encountering in the near future?

Jess: Fortunately I already worked from home, so no major change in my daily routine.  However, a lot has changed in the way Realtors conduct business out of the office due to Covid-19.

First and foremost, any physical visits to properties are subject to mask wearing and social distancing practices.  Some of our routines like the weekly Realtor caravan and monthly meetings have all moved to virtual online meetings.  This has meant a quick scramble to learn how to use new tools like zoom for meetings and video tours for property showings.

As of July 1st, we are still not fully open so we watch the news for Governor and Mayor Pronouncements about when and how we may conduct business in the re-opening of Hawai’i – which has had a definite impact on the Vacation Rentals side.

Justin: One struggle I’ve encountered is the delay in flooring materials arriving on island. It takes a while for orders to get across the ocean anyway, but we have been told to add an extra 2-3 weeks delay in anticipating materials, simply because distribution centers on the mainland have slowed their production due to COVID.

This makes it harder to plan out jobs, and makes it even harder for our customer who wants their home or office to be completed so they can also gain a sense of normalcy.

Me: Interesting…How have you dealt with, or plan to deal with these challenges going forward?

Jess: For the vacation rentals side, we’ve created enhanced cleaning and disinfecting practices for cleanings between registered guests. We also now block a full day on the calendar on either side of guest reservations to allow amply time for the enhanced cleaning.

This will reduce the number of days in a month that we can rent the homes, which will decrease revenue…but the safety of our guests and staff comes first, whenever we’re allowed to reopen.

Justin: I just offer complete transparency with the customer, in communicating about their selections and the anticipated delays.
Usually custom orders take longer, so I have them prioritize which is more important: the job completion time or their choice of material. Then we adjust accordingly.

Me: I always say running a business is like being on a never ending roller coaster…What are some of the things that you’ve found helpful in dealing with the day to day stress of having to run your own business now?

Jess: Well this isn’t my ‘first rodeo’…I owned a business in the 1990’s so I was prepared for the roller coaster!  However, starting a business in the midst of a pandemic is something I never imagined, and the stress has certainly been more intense…but here are some daily routines I’ve found helpful:

  • Daily self-soothing work, including: meditation and surrounding myself with beauty (fresh flowers and incense or scented candles in the office).
  • Limiting my intake of negative news and following/reading posts from leaders I find inspiring and positive.
  • Keeping a daily ‘habit tracker’ to remember to take vitamins, stretch, exercise and water my pandemic veggie garden.
  • Setting boundaries: With work only a few feet from where I live, it is also important to make strict work/life boundaries. I stop work at 6pm no matter what!

Justin: I always devote one day a week to spending time with family and relaxing. It’s important to have the balance between work and family, and it’s especially important to instill that habit when you first start your company.

That has helped me to be able to manage my day to day stress so I don’t feel overwhelmed.

Me: Before we finish, are there any final words of advice or things that you’d like to share that have helped you to remain focussed on moving your business forward over these last couple months

Jess: It is critically important for business leaders to remember we are humans first. When we take care of ourselves (body, mind and spirit), we are in a better space to care for the business which cares for the staff and customers.

Never lose sight of the goal of the work which should be to enhance or create the life you want to live. Work to live, don’t live to work!

Justin: I would say prepare yourself for highs and lows – know that your business won’t always be thriving 100% of the time. But remind yourself that having your own company is worth all the challenges and rewards that will come your way!


It’s no secret that Hawaii is the most challenging State in the Nation for Small Businesses. But with all of the pitfalls and challenges that come with owning a business in Hawaii, there is one major benefit that many large business owners and cities will never truly understand…and that is our innate sense of community.

For those of you who aren’t dog enthusiasts, I’d like introduce you to my friend and client, Niki Libarios, co-owner of Hawaii Doggie Bakery, who has recently had the honor of celebrating the Bakery’s 20th Anniversary of doing business in Hawaii!

With Hawaii being the most challenging place for businesses in the United States, it is more important than ever for Small Business Owners to invest in branding and marketing their business – especially on Social Media, which is really where Hawaii Doggie Bakery truly shines. For this reason, I wanted to take a moment to sit down with Niki to discuss some of her marketing strategies, along with a few tips she has for other Business owners who are using Social Media as a platform to help market their business online.

1. Create Experiences

Kicking off their 20th Anniversary at last month’s Hawaii Pet Expo, one of the Bakery’s special promotions was a “doggie lei” photo contest, where customers were encouraged to submit a photo via Instagram of their dog wearing one of the Bakery’s special Anniversary Leis.

At the time of this “interview,” they still had yet to pick a winner.

“Which is crazy,” Niki said, “Because we had about 50 participants…and I didn’t even tell them what the prize would be! That makes me really happy and really says a lot about our customers…I mean, I’m not even sure who the winner is yet and no one’s messaged me about it, which means that they didn’t really care about winning anything, they really just wanted to help us celebrate.”

“And that’s another thing I’ve realized: While the treats and cakes are definitely an important part of our business, what I think really keeps our customers coming back is the experience…We’re giving owners a chance to create memories and share important life moments with their dog(s), whether its a ‘pup-kin pie’ on Thanksgiving or a ‘pup cake’ on their birthday.”

2. Build Engagement

You can’t have a community without interaction, and one of Hawaii Doggie Bakery’s biggest strengths is its Social Media Presence.

But while most people are under the impression that you need to “pay-to-play” or have a large fan base/following to run a successful Social Media campaign, Niki does very little paid marketing campaigns, and instead has found success in focussing on the business’s values to drive engagement through the following areas:

Live Videos

Over the past few years, Facebook’s algorithms have given videos, particularly live streams, top priority, which is one reason why Niki has started to make it a point to do a Live Show every Wednesday on both Facebook and Instagram – with topics ranging from upcoming event announcements to weekly menu specials.

“On Facebook, we don’t get a lot of views during the broadcast itself,” she says, “But I know people must be watching it later, because I’ll have customers coming in and talking to me about something funny I said…and it’s funny, because some of our older customers come in and tell me ‘Oh, I saw you on TV!’ which must have been Facebook, because I haven’t been on TV in quite a while…For Instagram, I get a lot more engagement.”

Regular Posts

While consistency is often a challenge for a lot of independent small business owners (especially when it comes to posting on Social Media), Niki has solved this problem by creating a post grid and plotting out her posts at least one to two weeks in advance.

What that means, is that she will use her brand’s values (i.e. dogs, celebration, family, business/brand) as  a guide for future post topics –  writing them into a 9×9 grid before creating/scheduling the actual post.

This not only helps with content creation, but also insures that people/customers are always aware of the many different events, products and “experiences” that the Bakery has to offer.

3. Community First

Over the years, both Niki and her family have been heavily involved in the local dog community on Oahu. From volunteering at the Humane Society to participating in social clubs like Shiba Inu Hawaii and (more recently) Hawaii Pet Business Networking, collaboration and partnerships have not only contributed, but also expedited Niki, and her sister Tasha’s success as a new(er) business owner.

Today, Hawaii Doggie Bakery features an always changing roster of different local/boutique dog brands and pop ups, along with local business professionals such as Keri Pet Photography and Animal Communicators Hawaii. They also regularly help/support non profits, such as K9 Kokua, The Hawaiian Humane Society and Poi Dogs and Popoki, just to name a few.

In short, the “secret” to Hawaii Doggie Bakery’s 20 years of business success is their love for both their customers/dogs and local community. And it is this love and passion that not only guides, but also drives them to continue to evolve and grow as a business and brand.

Want help building a loyal fanbase and community to market and grow your business, or have any questions about any of the items listed above? Let us know, we’d love to hear from you! -jz

*Photo credits: @hawaiidoggiebakery via Instagram

Learning to KISS

A common misconception with logo design is that it has to describe everything there is to know about your company in one single brand mark. Both amateur and professional designers are all guilty, at one point or another, of being “too clever” and creating a horrendously overcomplicated logo. Simply put, before starting a design or advertising project it is vital that you learn how to KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid).

For example, this coffee shop logo to the left begins with a fairly basic and simple black and white logo design (top right). At a quick glance, the logo works for the most part – we’re not quite sold on the font choice and the coffee cup illustration – but when the designer applies it to cups and coaster concepts, things really start to get messy.

A lot of times, people and designers feel the need to illustrate the business name in their logos. In this case, rolling hills with a hint of road was added to convey the message of “coffee on the go”, and literally illustrate the “Espresso Lane”. This concept may have worked, but the inclusion of the coffee cup begins to complicate things and makes the visuals feel a bit crowded. Throw in some steam for good measure  and you have yourself all the workings of a bad logo.

With so many elements and ideas, the once straightforward design has now become a struggle to look at, with the main message, (which should be the Company name) now takes second place to all of the other graphic elements. In short, the designer should have remembered to KISS.

Can you think of any examples of logos that might have fallen victim to too much creativity? How does your  logo work to promote your business? Click here to schedule a design/logo consultation today.

Designing To Sell

A few weeks ago, a local real estate agent asked us to help him design a two page advertising marketing piece, which would appear in an upcoming magazine publication here on Oahu.

While the Publication had originally offered and actually did produce an ad design for him, it ultimately failed to meet his expectations, which is where I came in.

So here’s a look at the proposed ad that was initially sent to him (Note: While the layout is the same, we’ve changed some of the content, as I have not been given permission to use the original design).



Without getting into everything that’s wrong with this design, we do want to quickly highlight what we see as its biggest problem; which is its “Compositional Flow,”  or the way your “eye” is led through the design. Looking quickly at the piece, you’re eyes (aka focus) will probably be drawn to either:

  • The Agent’s Photo
  • The Black Bar in the upper right of the page, containing the Agent’s name, website and company logo.

After reading the Headline, which in this case is the Agent’s name and website, the next logical element or piece of information, would be the CTA or Call To Action, which (to the designer’s credit) does appear next.

The problem is that the weight of the CTA’s font is a bit too light in comparison with the other fonts that are in the design. This means, that instead of your eye moving naturally down the page like it should, it will instead be distracted and drawn to, the more prominent design elements, which in this case, would be either:

  • The agent’s picture, or
  • The bold black copy text directly below it

Having now taken about 2-3 seconds, coupled with the fact that there’s nothing that really draws your focus back up to the top of the page, in most cases, you’ll probably stop reading and totally miss the CTA, which is really the most important part of the ad.

So with that being said, here is a look at one of the preliminary ad comps that I submitted to the agent (Again, the design has been altered for the purposes of this email).


Once again focussing on the design’s composition flow; at first glance, your eye should immediately be drawn to either:
  • The Main Image, which subtly leads your eye down the page (from left to right) along the “leading (coast) line”, to a short headline, followed by the CTA. Or…
  • The Agent’s Photo, which would also lead you (from left to right) to her contact info, and then the CTA, which in both cases, is ultimately the most valuable part of the ad.
And while not as bold and graphic heavy as it’s predecessor, this version:
  • Strips away the excess information and content,
  • Focussing directly on the Ad’s message and CTA, which is
  • Reinforced by a clear and direct compositional design flow

This not only creates a much cleaner and effective design/message, but also reinforces idea of luxury real estate services in Hawaii.

In short, when the time comes for you to create an effective marketing piece that sells, always remember to:

  1. Create a compelling Headline and Call to Action that speaks directly to your Audience and
  2. Pay close attention to the Compositional Flow, using it Guide and Direct Them To Action.”
Have questions or need help creating a marketing piece that sells? Contact us to schedule a complimentary planning session for your business today!  – jz

Creating Your Logo

It’s no secret that there are a number of affordable (i.e. $200 or less) online services and options that you could use to design and create a logo (or entire brand package for that matter).

But rather than wasting your time trying to justify a $2,400+ price tag by breaking down the entire planning/design process to you –  I’d like to instead take a moment to quickly highlight two main areas, along with a few important items that you should focus on when creating a logo; regardless if you are working with a Professional Designer, Agency or Design App.

1. The Design Brief

No matter who’s designing your logo, first and foremost, you should always start with a basic design brief or brand style guide. While it doesn’t need to be a long or elaborate document, it does need to address the following:
  • Name of Company
  • Products/Services
  • Competitors (optional)
  • Target Market
  • Values
  • Vision

Example: Green Apron HI Design Brief

To give you an idea of how this is put into practice when creating a logo, here is a rough outline of the design brief, created and used for Green Apron HI’s logo design.
  • Name: Green Apron HI
  • Product/Services: Heart healthy catering + meal delivery services
  • Target Market: Business Professionals in the Downtown Area of Honolulu
  • Values: Clean eating, sustainability, “support local”
  • Vision: “Become the premiere plant based delivery meal service and caterer on Oahu”

2. Your Brand Mark

When creating a logo design always remember to:
  • Use your Design Brief. From your color choices to font selection, everything contained in your logo should reflect the ideas and values found in your design brief/brand style
  • Keep it simple.  Remember: logos are symbols, not illustrations. And while there are definitely exceptions to the rule, it’s important you don’t overcomplicate your brand’s message with a bunch of graphic images or decorative font styles.
  • Think outside the box. Your brand should be both special and unique – avoid using the same generic stock graphics and imagery as your competitors.


  • Consider a variety of options. Whether you are crowd sourcing, commissioning or creating the design yourself, it is important to get as many ideas down on paper – even if 99% of them absolutely suck.
  • Create a color palette. It’s important that the colors you choose not only reflect and reinforce your brand’s message, but also don’t overwhelm the design itself. Once again, keep it simple and try your best to contain your palette to 4 colors or less.
  • Choose your fonts wisely. Last but not least, make sure that the fonts you choose not only reflect your brand’s message, but are also able to be read at a quick glance – in other words: Avoid using calligraphy, scripts and other highly decorative typefaces.
If you are interested in seeing how these guidelines were applied to Green Apron HI’s logo design, you can read more about the design process here.

Have questions or need help creating a brand style or identity for your business? Contact us today to schedule a free consultation for your business today!

The Art Of Minimalism

The irony of living in a tech filled world is: The more we try to simplify our lives through technology, the more complicated and convoluted it seems to become.

In the early 1900’s German Designer, Lucian Bernhard developed the idea of Sachplakat (aka minimalist poster style). This deliberate move away from the artistic complexity of Art Nouveau was revolutionary to say the least, and was the precursor to Apple’s minimalistic branding and ad campaigns.

While there are those who still favor complex designs; with today’s excess of media options and noise from social media, whether they like it or not, today’s Designers and Marketers have been forced to simplify and declutter the way they communicate with their audiences.

In other words: Even though you might be paying upwards of $1,000 for an ad space, you don’t have to showcase every single one of your products or menu items, let alone write an entire essay about them  – because the truth is, no one’s going to read it anyway.

Stop trying to showcase all of your services and products and just remember to Keep It Simple Stupid!

Spend your time picking out the single most important thing you want people to know about you and/or your businesses/brand, then find ways to communicate that message in 10 words or less.

This way, whether or not a person spends 3 seconds or 5 minutes looking at your content, at least you know they got your message loud and clear.

Need help optimizing your brand and marketing designs? We’d love to help. Contact us for a free design consultation today.

What’s Your Type?

One of the very few things I remember from my College Typography class, is my Professor, Clifford Rushe’s, anal attention to detail and his utter disdain for free internet fonts – which, at the time, I thought were the greatest thing since canned Spam.

At the time I merely dismissed it as him being old fashioned…but it’s something that has always stuck with me over the years.

Ironically, what really changed the way I approached and viewed typography was my fascination with Wildstyle Graffiti…which, due to its counterculture roots, is an art form often frowned upon by the majority of veteran industry professionals.


Despite the fact that I usually have no idea what any of it says, trying to read and make sense of the abstracted shapes and letterforms really made me start to notice and appreciate the composition of the design, finally understanding what my College Professor was trying to teach me all along:

Typography is, more or less, a collection of images/symbols that, when properly combined, have the power to communicate complicated thoughts, ideas and emotions.

Whether you’re designing your own logo or hiring a designer; before going with the “coolest” font you’ve just pulled off the internet, stop and ask yourself the following:
  1. What instantly comes to mind when I look at this font and what does it say about my business?
  2. Can I read it in 2 seconds or less?
  3. Have I ever seen this used anywhere else?
  4. What type of feelings arise when looking at this?
With that being said, here are a few things to keep in mind when selecting the right font style to go along with your design:


Legibility – While I would recommend avoiding Decorative, Script and Calligraphy fonts (mainly for legibility purposes), if you are going to use any of these types of fonts in your design, always make sure it can be quickly and easily read. The same rule applies for creating your own typeface as well. When in doubt, don’t be afraid to get a second opinion.


Simplicity – While you don’t need to necessarily use a plain san serif font, you should always try to avoid getting too creative and going wild with fancy flourishes and a kaleidoscope of colors. Remember the KISS Rule and “Keep ISimple Stupid.”


Aesthetic – One of the main drawbacks to using stock/free fonts is the fact that they sometimes don’t fully work with the flow and aesthetic of the design. In other words, pay attention to spacing issues (aka Kerning), connecting lines and the symmetry of the design; especially when working with script fonts. And if you are using a font that isn’t quite working with the design, don’t be afraid to modify it to suit your needs – I’d recommend using Adobe Illustrator.


And last but not least: Don’t settle for the quick and easy solution. Take your time to really develop and create a Typeface that truly expresses your Brand and separates you from the rest of the crowd. 

Learning From Your Mistakes

Marketing is made up of a series of assumptions: What you assume people want, why the want it and what (you assume) will make them buy it.  The thing with assumptions, though, is that they are totally subjective and often times wrong.

Even the best marketers will tell you that their brilliant ideas and assumptions don’t always turn out the way they expected and sometimes, it is necessary to either revamp or discontinue the failing campaign. Change is never easy, especially when it requires giving up on an idea/project that we are emotionally and financially invested in; but the thing is, in order to succeed, you need to be willing and able to let what isn’t working for you go…

To illustrate this point, here is a case study on one of our failed projects:

The Project

Your Story Hawaii was a project I came up with that was meant to give us the opportunity to not only connect with, but also support and promote the local businesses community of Hawaii by telling the story of the amazing business owners & families behind it.

Based upon the idea that traditional methods of communication such as word of mouth marketing were taking a backseat in today’s tech savvy society; the goal of the project was to use social media as a means to tell the story of Hawaii’s older small business owners – giving them the opportunity to attract and (re)connect with a younger millennial audience.

The Assumption

Using their experiences and stories as a way to personally engage and connect with their customers – a major part of the project was the opportunity to win a free video promotion, as determined by the local community via social media.

After running the idea by a number of different colleagues and business owners, I was absolutely convinced that my assumption was solid and the opportunity to receive this type of marketing promotion would be a no brainer for any business owner.

Needless to say, the videos were key; not only because they required a significant time and monetary investment on my part, but also because they were literally THE cornerstone of the entire project.

The Problems

While video content and influencer marketing are now at the top of every marketer and business owner’s mind, at the time I think I was a bit ahead of the curve (at least here in Hawaii).

As awesome as the project and my assumptions sounded on paper, shortly after shooting our first video and launching the project online, I began to notice the following problems:

  1. My target audience was not online – While I knew that not every business owner in Hawaii would be on Facebook or Instagram, I did assume that at least some of them – or at least their family members – would be. Upon reviewing the analytics, however, I noticed that I was completely missing the mark in terms of connecting with veteran business owners. Something else that should have at least been considered, was the fact that the majority of business owners who did have an online business presence were either not actively online or weren’t personally managing their social media accounts at all.
  2. Failure to address a need – I still haven’t quite figured out the actual problem to this one – and maybe this plays into what’s known as “Social Credibility,” but for one reason or another, the business owners that I was reaching and corresponding with, were either too busy or weren’t really interested in receiving any type of free promotion; which led to the next problem….
  3. Lack of engagement – As mentioned before, I had assumed that the opportunity for free promotion, along with the chance to receive a free promo video – with the only requirement being to contribute a story – would be a no brainer for any business owner…But while everyone I pitched the project to seemed very excited and expressed great interest in the idea, that was pretty much as far as I got.
  4. Timing – During one of our planning sessions, we decided that we’d aim for the first video to be released at the beginning of 2016. This meant shooting and launching the project around November, which in hindsight was a pretty tight timeline. I can also admit that launching the project during the holidays was another mistake on my part. Not only were potential participants tied up with family and holiday events, but also those working on and helping out with the project.
  5. No foreseeable ROI – While my first priority was to help local businesses, I’d be lying to say that my plan was to spend all of my money giving away free advertising. The long term goal was to ultimately use the project as a way to connect and engage directly with small business owners, some of which we could eventually convert into clients. The lack of response and participation, however, forced me to sit down and decide how much time and money I actually wanted to personally invest in this project without any foreseeable monetary return.

The Conclusion

After a lot of careful consideration and weighing all of my options – many of which meant investing more money on advertising and PR for the project than I could personally afford at the time – I came to the conclusion that I just did not have the time or resources to keep this open ended marketing venture going.

It was then that I decided to place the project on indefinite hiatus, focussing my time and energy on things that would still allow me to not only help business owners, but turn a profit as well.

Moving Forward

Negative results are just what I want. They’re just as valuable to me as positive results. I can never find the thing that does the job best until I find the ones that don’t. – Thomas Edison

The secret to dealing with failure is to understand what you did wrong, learn from your mistakes and then continue moving forward. While the project itself was far from successful, I can’t even describe how extremely proud I am of how amazing the video turned out, and would like to especially thank Pono Grace for his awesome video and production work.

I’m also very happy to have been able to provide our client Kamala Skipper, owner of Kamala Wellness Company, an amazing marketing piece to help promote her business. – jz