How Not to Design a Flyer (Guest Post)

This is a guest post from Jill Lee of Jillybean Designs. She not only designed our awesome greeting card gifts to clients, she also designs lots of other things. 

Due to their short life span, flyers can seem like such a fleeting part of our lives, and it’s easy to brush them aside as trivial pieces of information. But as a very basic and ubiquitous form of informational design, flyers tell a lot about the value the author places on the information presented, their understanding of informational hierarchy, and their sense of aesthetics.

The following are three of the most common flyer design mistakes I see on our bulletin boards around Bar Harbor. Their pervasiveness signals how easy it is to fall into their trap, but also how simple it can be to make yours stand up to the competition just by remembering these tips.

1. Violating the integrity of photos.

Few things betray the unprofessionalism of a flyer more than the presence of unsuitable photos. The two technical criteria that I care about the most in determining the acceptability of photos are resolution and proportion. With commercial printing of any shape, size, or volume, you’re going to come across the number “300 dpi” which sounds a little mystifying at first.

To put it simply, an inch on the screen does not look the same as an inch on paper. In general, images on the screen are shown at 72 pixels per inch while images on paper are printed at 300 dots per inch. That picture that’s 5 inches across on your computer screen (zoomed in to 100%) is actually only 360 pixels across, which means it’s going to be just a little over an inch on paper. Either that or it’ll be a very blurry 5-inch picture. An image needs to be at least 1,500 pixels across to come out acceptably as a 5-inch picture. The best way to ensure that your image is high-enough resolution is to use the original version straight off the camera. If your images are still too low-resolution, your camera settings might have them save as low-resolution to begin with.

There is another branch to preserving the integrity of a photograph—the proportion problem, or what I call, “Don’t place your photo next to a black hole.” When you change the width of your image at a different rate than you change the length, your image gets stretched out of proportion – tires become flat, faces grow longer, or trees become shorter as if they were approaching a black hole. Hold down shift while scaling your image to make sure that it stays in proportion. If scaling is not an option, cropping is your friend.

2. Evenly spreading out information.

This may seem a little counterintuitive, but it is not a good idea to uniformly disperse pieces of information on a page. What do a rock garden, a piece of music, and a good story have in common? They contain emphases and dynamics to appeal to the human brain, and flyers work much the same way. This is what hierarchy of information means to me: It almost doesn’t matter what the most important piece of information is – so long as there’s a focal point and an organic flow of information that follows, I’m ensuring higher likelihood of retention by all readers. Turn your information into dots and see if they lead you through a pleasant curve or if they take you all over the page. Even a just straight line is better than risking loss of interest with the latter.

The Pipers Gathering

Example 1


Example 2

3. The rainbow throwing up on your flyer.

In the interest of grabbing the attention of passers-by, many flyer designers give into the temptation of splattering all the colors, all the fonts, and all the clip arts in the world on the same page. Not only does this drive people away with its information overload, it interferes with legibility itself. This is the truth of “less is more”: When in doubt, stick to two fonts, two colors, and two images. If you prioritize straightforward communication, all else will follow. Heck, all else will usually end up looking much better that way anyway.

Bonus: When choosing your fonts, avoid Times New Roman, Comic Sans, Arial, Papyrus, Copperplate, and Corsiva. Invest a little bit of time picking a font that truly reflects who you are.

This is a guest post from Jill Lee of Jillybean Designs.


BEC Story #6: Send In The Cards

When being in business for awhile, like being in any relationship, it can be easy to get into a rut. You find what works and do more of that. You get into a routine and go along your way, nose to the ground.

Problem: We have had literally hundreds of clients from people who came to one $25 workshop to people who have collectively spent over $10,000 with us throughout the years. In just doing what we needed to do (i.e. our routine), we hadn’t reached out to these people in awhile.

Some of the local sentiments we sent out.

Solution: For less than half the cost of a direct mail campaign (yes, we did price one out), we sent all our our past and current customers a copy of some custom drawn greeting cards. We worked with local illustrator Jill Lee and local printer Print Bangor to come up with some fun ideas and packaged them together with some bright envelopes that were not only in our brand colors, but would stand out in someone’s mailbox or on someone’s desk when clients sent them out.

We did one pack of ‘local’ greeting cards with local and one pack of ‘internet’ greeting cards. Included was a standard letter and a handwritten sentiment from me. I tried to make each one personal. “I’ll never forget those flowers you brought us.” or “You and Sandy are doing such a great job on the blog.”

Here is the artist’s portfolio of the ‘local’ cards.

Here is the artist’s portfolio of the ‘internet’ cards.

I honestly sent these out with pretty low expectations. I knew that, since this was a package, everyone who got it would at least open it, unlike a sales flyer. I thought if we got some business out of it, great. I thought if I could sell the spare prints of the internet cards online, double great. But honestly, it was just fun to send out a gift. Really.

I didn’t hear from everyone, nor did I expect to. But the right people ‘got it’. And several people loved them.

And that’s all I wanted.

Additionally, we have one scheduled meeting and some potential work that’ll pay about half of the costs to send. (I am clearly not including my time putting them in little cute cases, etc. but anything I can do while watching Pride and Prejudice I can’t in good conscience count as ‘work’.)

Cost breakdown (approximate):
Design fee: $2
Envelopes: $0.50
Manila envelope: $0.10
Clear jewel cases: $1
Printing fee: $1
Postage: $3.25 (I delivered some by hand, I paid more than this internationally for others, this is average)
Paid staff time packaging/processing: $2-3
Total cost: $9.85-$10.85/package

As you see, since it was designed, printed, and packaged/processed locally, almost half this money stayed locally (with either BEC employees or subcontractors/service providers) and I’m as happy about that as I am at how cool the cards turned out.


Values Demonstrated: collaboration, creativity, generosity, love, thoughtfulness

How Could This Story Be Better: Normally, I am the kind of person who always has a reason for doing something. People who like me would call this logical and people who don’t would call it having an agenda. But this utilitarian approach has honestly kept us in business (and growing) mid-recession in an industry that’s considered icing on the cake rather than the cake itself.

This project was one of those rare times I let myself act on a gut feeling. To me, spending about $3000 to make people happy was an okay thing to do. I’ve bootstrapped this business for eight years and it was nice to give a little something. The only way I can think of this story being better is finding more ways to make people smile and understand just how grateful I am for their patronage.

BEC Story #5
BEC Story #4
BEC Story #3
BEC Story #2
BEC Story #1
Why I Am Writing All These Stories About My Business

Marketing an Event with a Flyer: Some Thoughts

A picture is worth a thousand words, and a flyer tends to grab more attention (online and offline) than a block of text. That’s why visuals are now an almost vital step when marketing an online event. Whether you create a flyer yourself or have another person/business create something, the next step is sharing it online and offline.

“Eye-tracking studies show internet readers pay close attention to information-carrying images. In fact, when the images are relevant, readers spend more time looking at the images than they do reading text on the page.” – Jesse Mawhinney for Hubspot

Some things to consider during flyer creation:

Shape, Size, Format: Different social media platforms will respond better to different shapes (i.e. square vs. rectangle). Although Instagram has been updated to handle rectangular shapes, it’s default is still square. The best advice I’ve heard (and applied) when creating a flyer for social media is saving it in a few different shapes for different platforms. The dimensions and sizes for featured images for all social media platforms change from year to year, and it’s worth double checking if you aren’t sure. No one wants to have their event flyer cut off in a weird place on the Facebook Event photo, right? (For 2016 social media image guidelines, check out this breakdown from Hubspot).

Share-ability: One litmus test that I’ve used in creating event material for Breaking Even and clients is simply “Would share this?” Although you’re using the image as your business, it helps to create something that others will in turn share on their own personal accounts and help promote things for you. It’s also just a generally decent way to gauge work, I’ve noticed.

Things to Consider As You Share:

Does your event have a hashtag? Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram all use hashtags, and it’s pretty common to create a hashtag to promote an event. As you share information and your flyer, make sure you share the hashtag, too. If your event isn’t big enough to have its own hashtag, think of using one popular in your geographic area or industry. Read our blog post about finding hashtags for help if you need it.

Can you tag the location? If you are hosting an event at a different venue (or even if it’s your own venue, really), tagging the venue in your post accomplishes a few things. First, it can increase exposure to a wider audience (i.e. on Facebook, people who like the venue will see the event). Second, it makes it easier for people to find the event, because they can directly explore from your event description. Sometimes people even look for events in their area… and if your event has a location, that’s one more way to come up in a search.


For example, Breaking Even and Smart Datamap Services hosted this event at Anchorspace (which was separately tagged)

Where are you sharing? There are plenty of places online and offline to share an event flyer, the obvious being social media accounts. You will definitely want to make a page on your website and link to it in the flyer caption. This is also a great way to keep track of the number of people who view your event vs. sign up vs. show up, and use that information to shape future marketing efforts, and you have control over things like layout and registration. Community calendars are also a great (and usually free) place to share your event online. If you’re a member of a Chamber of Commerce or other organization, they may also be willing to share your event (with a flyer) on their websites. By looking over time and how people got to your event, you can decide if posting to X website and Y calendar are worth your time and proceed with future events accordingly.

As you create visuals to promote an event, keep your audience and intended social media platforms in mind. You don’t have to be a graphic designer to create a decent looking event flyer! Our May theme for the blog will help you along the way with some tips on flyer distribution and creation. Stay tuned for more next week!


BEC Story #5: Flyer Workshop

flyerworkshopWhen people want to work with you, sometimes they’ll try to get you to do things outside your pay grade.

I take it as a compliment but am quick to deflect. I’ve been asked to design rack cards, be an event planner, co-create an app, start a real estate related business, and more.

Contrary to what some believe, I have said ‘no’ to a lot of things.

The upside to saying no to things outside my skill-set (besides my own personal sanity) is getting to meet and work with people who ARE good at those things.

Problem: Several people asked me for help with flyers. It is tangentially related to online marketing because a lot of people share flyers they’ve created on social media and their websites. I bookmarked it in my brain that this was of interest and let it sit there for awhile.

Now I’ll ‘design’ my own stuff (note the air quotes) but print design is NOT my thing and probably never will be. I have a couple print designers I like working with, one who is in the process of getting her business established. (Jillybean Designs did the card designs I’ll talk about in an upcoming story.)

Around the same time, one of my friends, who is a published author, approached me about sending her copyediting work. She likes helping out locally and figured I would know people.

Solution: Somehow, all these things went together in my brain in a coherent way. We decided that Jill (designer), Carrie (copywriter/editor) and I (marketer) would do a ‘Make Awesome Flyers’ workshop together. I made a online registration form on the Anchorspace website (we charged $35 for the two hour workshop), we promoted it to our people, and we split the proceeds three ways.

We really enjoyed doing it and are thinking of taking the show on the road to chambers of commerce, downtown areas, and other business groups. Plus I learned a lot from Jill and Carrie while they were giving their presentations.

Values demonstrated: collaboration, willingness to learn, education, community service, connecting, problem solving

How this story could be better:

More pictures. So during events, I always mean to take pictures but then I’m so busy making coffee and being in the moment that I forget. If you have an event, just have one designated picture taker, even if you have to pay them. In this blog post is the one picture I managed to take.

More video. Carrie Jones, who is a friend who happens to be a New York Times bestselling author, is a really engaging speaker. I should have gotten her on video talking about typos with a passion that was awesome to witness.

BEC Story #4
BEC Story #3
BEC Story #2
BEC Story #1
Why I Am Writing All These Stories About My Business

BEC Story #4: Dealing With Trash Talk

There are all these sayings out there that boil down to “When you seem like a threat, people aren’t going to like you.”

Don’t believe me? Type ‘haters gonna hate’ into Pinterest and watch how many different ways this has been reworked:


What I’ve always found kind of interesting is that people who talk about haters seem to have a lot more of them than the rest of us. I have a feeling talking about them adds fuel to that fire.

And that’s why I don’t talk about it…Until today.

Problem: Based on a misreading of an email I sent, a local person decided I was incompetent… and began telling everyone in town.

I found out because three people told me. (Thank you everyone who didn’t tell me at the time; my skin was a lot thinner eight years ago than it is today.) The people who told me laughed it off as they know what kind of person I am… but they also wanted to bring it to my attention.

I was very worried this was going to effect my reputation since Chatterbox (which I’ll use as a stand-in name for this story) was much more established than I was. I emailed Chatterbox back to explain what I meant in my email but it was clear an opinion had been formed. What was I going to do now that someone had already made a firm judgment?

Solution: I ignored it. It’s hard to control what someone else thinks of you so all you can do is try to clarify (if they are willing to listen), put your head down, and keep doing a good job.  Guess what? It blew over.

Years later, I was having lunch with a friend whose judgement I admire who had a business relationship with Chatterbox. I asked her about Chatterbox and basically, she told me when she got her information, she always considered the source. The fact that Chatterbox did this to me was not surprising to her.  Years later, Chatterbox and I continue to exist, ignoring one another. It appears the issue has officially blown over.

Values demonstrated: integrity, whatever the opposite of petty is, the ability to ignore and keep going, friendship

How this story could be better:

You know what doesn’t make a good story? De-escalating someone trying to start drama. I actually have a fair bit of non-stories like this I am proud of.

Invoking how this is a small town thing.  Living in a small community, we are all forced to interact with each other in multiple ways. So you could have a heated discussion with someone at town council then run into them at the grocery store in the same 24 hours. The ‘ignoring’ thing is something we all have to do living in a small town. Maybe inserting more small town markers into this story would have made it more relateable, since many of us reading this live in small communities.

Dropping some inspiration would have been a little more… inspiring. I bought myself a copy of the Tao Te Ching a few years ago. It really helped me see my ‘let the water flow in and out’ type attitude is something worth cultivating. One way to beef up a story is to bring another way of looking at an issue from some inspirational person in the way of a quote or story. That could definitely help here. Maybe I could have grabbed one of the ones from Pinterest for this story!

Finding out who your friends are is a valuable universal (even business) theme. My friend didn’t believe this person. And I like to think that most of our clients are my friends as well. Getting that reaffirmed is a good theme. Let’s all tell more stories about  how awesome our friends are. I should have gotten my friend’s permission and named her in that story.

BEC Story #3
BEC Story #2
BEC Story #1
Why I’m Writing All These Stories

BEC Story #3: Space To Grow

One thing I love/hate about running a business is when problems you thought you solved reappear (or sometimes more accurately, decisions you thought you had already made and were done with). For example, once upon a time had an office… until we needed another office.

Problem: After four years in business, Breaking Even got an office. And when we were two people and our income was at the level it was, that office was very functional. When we (the business) needed to increase to three and four people, I hired a part time, two hour away friend (telecommuting) and worked with a subcontractor (also who would work remotely). Then one day, I thought how helpful it would be to get us all in the same room for a day. So I started calling around.

I wanted someplace private (a lot of the local banks have conference spaces but they don’t feel like you can really close the door and be undisturbed… unless you were having a meeting with a bank employee of course). I wanted someplace nice. I wanted someplace with good internet. I didn’t need to pay hundreds for a banquet hall for a weekend wedding; I wanted six hours of peace and quiet in a nice room with a table, some chairs, and the internet.

As I tried to make a list of amenities writing this, I realize more of what I wanted was for my coworkers to feel a certain way. I wanted them to feel taken care of. Relaxed. Inspired. Happy. Productive. Engaged. Warm.

I ended up renting a hotel ballroom. When I walked in, I smiled. In this relatively large room with a crystal chandellier was a small table (big enough for four people) with four water glasses in the geographic center of the room. And nothing else. I chuckled because it looked cute and a little absurd. And I wondered how many other people needed what I needed at least sometimes. If we were going to work well together, we needed a room we could all fit in.

I had done a pretty exhaustive search of office spaces in the area.  I’ve seen about 20 total offices in my community and much of what I looked at years ago is still on the market now.

Why? Remember the feelings I wanted my coworkers to have at the retreat?  These spaces exuded none of that. And if we were going to make a change, I like changes to be ‘onward and upward’, not ‘lateral and with the same issues.’ Plus, a new office space was not going to be able to fulfill our meeting needs anyway, even if we could get past weird smells, a lack of natural light, or lack of parking options for our clients.


Honestly, a bigger office would have been a lot less work than opening up a whole new business. But in these stories, you may know hard work is one of the qualities I value and try to cultivate.

The idea of a coworking space has been rolling around in my head for almost four years. Since I heard of the concept, I loved the idea. It makes a lot of sense for an entrepreneurial community like the one I live in to have something like this, not just for Breaking Even Communications but small businesses operating out of homes, coffee shops, and libraries as well as bigger firms who did work in the area but didn’t have office space nearby (contractors, engineers, etc.)

Opening Anchorspace was part selfish-we needed more space. But I truly believed that the solution to our problem could simultaneously be beneficial to the community, so why not help others while we were at it?

So I wrote a business plan, did cost projects, worked with a career counselor, worked with an intern on market research, secured a space, painted the space, furnished it, had security cameras installed and a few other upgrades, and opened Anchorspace in less than a year. My coworkers in the meantime picked up my slack at Breaking Even so I had not only the time but the brain space to deal with this very big idea.

Values demonstrated: Open to ideas of others, community minded, hard work, teamwork, resourcefulness, going with my gut (intuition maybe?)

How could this story be improved?

If you’re emotionally attached to something, have someone else write it. Problem is, when you are very emotionally into something, it’s hard to step back and make it interesting. Like in this story, I didn’t tell you we opened and had no customers for three months. Or any of the other small and big struggles that would have made it more interesting and relatable. I’ll admit this, I’m a writer and I paid my friend to write my bio on this website. What comes across is something much more balanced and less weird than it would be if I wrote it. This is why most magazines have journalists interview authors. Authors could write their own story… but it’s just not as good somehow, especially for that emotional stuff.

Take credit. I think as a woman in particular, I tend to not take as much credit for my accomplishments as I should. I remember in college doing well in something and hearing myself say, out loud, that what I did was nothing, not important, anyone could have done it, blah, blah, blah. Actually, I had worked hard. I had earned that grade. I told myself that from now on, when someone gave me a compliment, I would simply say, “Thank you.” I would take the credit for the work. In saying, yes, I made Anchorspace happen, I am not taking away anything from people who helped. I am just taking ownership of what I did. I saw a problem we had, zoomed out and saw we could help others, and took a harder road than a lot of people would have taken to get there. So yes, I’m going to take some credit for that.

Epilogue: I’m really struggling to write these stories. In other words, if you’ve taken our story challenge and our struggling, please know I am too!

Previous Stories:
BEC Story #2
BEC Story #1
Original post about why we’re doing these stories.

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