7 Things You Need to do BEFORE You Make Content


This word, more than any other in the last decade, has been beaten to death in the context of branding, marketing, and business development. There may be a good reason for that. The world seems to have an endless appetite for it.

You probably know you need more of content in order to establish yourself in whatever market you’re trying to reach, but do you know the who/what/when/where/how behind not wasting your precious time developing it?

It probably comes as no surprise that this question is why so many businesses drag their feet when it comes to creating content. While others might try to encourage you to look past your doubts and just get started, I’d argue that this gut feeling exists as a survival response we’ve evolved as human beings to keep ourselves from squandering what little precious time we have on this earth.

So what exactly will fill this empty feeling of impending failure? The answer is a content strategy, and you can develop yours in 7 simple steps.

Step 1 – Define Your Goals

Start out by identifying all of the goals you’re trying to accomplish with your content. Are you trying to get new customers for your business, users for your app, attendees at an event, or just people in the audience to enjoy the show? What kind of product or service do you want to offer the viewer, reader, or listener? Do you want them to join a community of like-minded members?

Getting clear on your objectives first thing will give you an excellent point of reference whenever you’re making decisions regarding your content down the road. As you proceed, continue asking yourself, “Is this moving me closer to my goals?” If the answer is yes, you’re likely on the right track.

Step 2 – Define Success Metrics

How are we going to measure the achievement of our goals? Is it by the number of impressions, conversions on your webstore, or members joined? Defining success metrics keeps us aware of whether or not our efforts are yielding results, which can tame that emotional deficiency that comes when thinking about the hours it takes to craft the perfect video, blog, or podcast.

Step 3 – Content Audit

Before we act, we should reflect. Winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize for Economic Sciences, Daniel Kahneman, says that human beings have basically 2 methods of thinking. System 1 is built for speed and specializes in things like reflexive behaviors for things like sports, casual conversation, or simple reading. System 2 is designed for more complicated tasks like complex equations, intricate movement, or listening intently to one instrument in a song.

The second System is much better at analytical reasoning, so it’s important to shift into it before we do something important. Slow down before you start shooting videos or writing blogs to take the time to reflect and review past content you’ve made to find both successful and unsuccessful attempts as examples of styles and techniques to either repeat or avoid, respectively. It can make a world of difference when it comes to the impact your content will elicit.

For those of you who have little to no experience creating content, try to review the most recent informational writing you’ve done. Old college or even high school reports can be quite revealing when it comes to our strengths and shortcomings with regards to communicating ideas, especially if they’re graded by an instructor.

Step 4 – Evaluate the Competition

Now that we’ve taken a healthy look inward, we’re better qualified to eye up the competition. Feel free to dig into them the same way you just tore into yourself. You owe it to yourself NOT to be nice in this instance. It’s not like we’re doing it to actively belittle them, anyways.

If you’re the kind that gets discouraged when you see the thousands of hearts and comments on your competitor’s Instagram posts, pivot to find the chinks in their armor that can be exposed to create an advantage. Their Facebook page could be an abysmal wasteland of low engagement. Take the time to reverse engineer both their successes and failures in order to turn them into your strategy.

Just remember: don’t imitate, innovate! The goal here isn’t to jack a popular hashtag or leverage someone else’s audience (though I’m not ENTIRELY against these ideas in certain contexts). We want to freshen up our own unique ideas by getting a good idea of what has been done before.

Step 5 – Ideate Content

Put on your thinking cap and get ready to write down all of the ideas that are likely already racing through your head after such a comprehensive dive. Draw inspiration from every success and failure you’ve observed in order to ideate content that can actively achieve your goals.

Maybe you retool some old content in the context of an Instagram tactic inspired by a competitor’s successful campaign. Perhaps you film a series of informational videos on a topic relevant to your business’ industry that got a competitor’s blog post a ton of engagement. Hopefully, these examples give you a good idea of how you can turn all of your recent research into actionable ideas.

Step 6 – Evaluate Your Bandwidth

What resources do you have available? Is there a competent crew ready to get on the job, or are you struggling just to turn on your computer? Believe it or not, both of these scenarios are capable of proucing some grade A content, but only if an accurate evaluation of the situation is made.

Don’t attempt to replicate your competition’s high production 30-minute talk show (complete with a live band and audience) if the only camera you’re working with is the one on your smartphone. Why bother setting yourself up for the dissapointment of inevitably not measuring up when you can focus that energy on getting creative within your limitations? Limitations are the whole reason why people get creative in the first place. What would be the point of challenging ourselves to make things that are greater than the sum of their parts if we had unlimited resources?

Step 7 – Establish a Content Creation Workflow

Now that we’ve got the ideas, let’s plug them into a schedule. I’ve touched on this before (https://www.facebook.com/aetoricdesign/photos/g.190424928224940/2176143502402473), but I want to make a few quick points on scheduling that are extremely important here…


Nothing discourages creativity like a missed deadline and nothing makes us miss a deadline more than overly optimistic planning.


Sometimes, there are emergencies that throw us off. Be prepared for life to try and buck us off our horse and to get back on after we fall off.


All good things take time. Your content is a continuous work in progress that deserves an appropriate amount of time to grow and blossom into the world.

I hope you feel much more prepared to tackle your content after reading and following through on this post. What kind of impact do you want your content to make?

Consider sharing your feedback in our Facebook Group, Tactical, a community with daily content for business owners, marketers, and designers developing brands.

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Getting Your Brand on Schedule

🕛🕑🕓 Time 🕗🕘🕚

We’ve only got a limited amount of it, and we’re never sure how much we’ll actually have in the end. It’s so precious that you could save it’s more valuable than any other commodity on earth. But we also give it (or sometimes “throw it” 🗑) away more freely than anything else we own.

There’s a shift in mentality going on in our society, though. It’s especially evident in the tech world, where “assistant” apps for everything from dog walking to buying late night snacks to full-on virtual servant level care have begun to make a killing promising high-quality services that will give you back your time.

But what else can you do if splurging on digitally facilitated personal assistants isn’t in your budget this very moment? Start scheduling. 

If you’ve been running your business by the seat of your pants 👖, you’ve likely been wasting a huge amount of time. That might have hit some of you in the gut. I get it. It’s frustrating to hear something like that when you’ve been working extra hard just to keep up. It’s extra hard to slow your mind down to think methodically about how to optimally organize your daily routines in tandem with your long-term goals  when you’re frantically trying just to keep up. Sometimes, though, we’ve got to slow down before we run into something hard. 

Start by itemizing all of your activities by daily, weekly, monthly, and annually. You can use a calendar system  📆 like Google’s, a card system like Trello (I highly recommend them), or sim ply post-it notes on a dry erase board. Look at what activities can’t be moved first, as these will anchor you to specific times and places. Then take the other activities and find time/space appropriate spots for them.

Does your calendar fall apart because there’s too much to do? Then it’s likely time to start utilizing some sort of assistance. The apps I’ve alluded to before can help in some areas, but when it comes to running a business, onboarding helpful partners or employees can make all the difference. Creative/Marketing agencies are excellent partners when it comes to optimizing your business’s time, so reach out to one for a quote if possible.

Finally, don’t stress if you can’t stick to your schedule. Stuff happens! It’s important to keep your schedule from being too jammed pack to lower the failure rate and increase morale. Try to find some fluidity in your timelines to ensure your own success to keep your motivation high. Branding is an endurance test. We’re prepping for a long distance run, not a sprint.

What do you do to optimize your time? Are you on a schedule? What is keeping you from hitting your goals on time? Let’s share and help each other in Aetoric Design’s Facebook group, Tactical, a community with daily content for business owners, marketers, and designers developing brands.

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How to Utilize Customer Feedback for Your Brand

Most people will tell you that nobody likes a complainer. 

Someone who harps on what’s not working is generally seen as a “drain” on “positive” energy that demotivates.

It only takes a small shift in perspective, though, to turn complainers into one of a business owner’s greatest assets.

There’s a universal truth about complainers: They want to be heard. 👂📢 Over the last couple of decades, customers have come to expect a more democratic approach to their relationships with brands. The advent of the internet has given consumers instant access to a seemingly unlimited number of brands and direct access to decision makers within those brands.

If you’re willing to acknowledge and solve the issues of an angry customer publicly (say, on Twitter or in a negative review), you can build trust not just with that customer, but with all future potential customers who see it. You can also incorporate that feedback into your brand strategy, increasing the value of your product or service.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. Not all complainers can be soothed, and some must be let go for the mental health of the responder.

Another issue is that people are not always fully aware of what they truly want. A study was done on coffee drinkers where they were first asked what kind of coffee they preferred to drink. Most said they liked it bold and strong.  A blind taste test revealed, though, that most people preferred their coffee weak and milky. 🍼 Sometimes, pleasing your customers means reading between the lines or going the extra mile to make sure that what they’re saying matches what they actually prefer. 🔍

With all of that in mind, talk to us about how you get customer feedback. How do you collect and analyze the data? Have you ever implemented something because of a negative comment? Has there ever been a time where an interaction with an upset customer became a positive for you?

Consider sharing your feedback in our Facebook Group, Tactical, a community with daily content for business owners, marketers, and designers developing brands.

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How to Share Your Brand Story

One of the greatest tools humanity has at its disposal is the story. 

Before the written word, stories were an incredibly effective way for information to be passed down from generation to generation. One could reasonably argue that stories are the most responsible for the advancement of mankind.

Not all stories are that memorable, though.

So what makes the difference between a story with impact and one that fizzles? Look back on the tales you were told that stuck with you over the years. Do you recognize any common factors?

It’s likely that the first thing you’ll spot is the fact that stories need impactful characters. So who are the characters in your brand’s plot? Let’s keep things really simple and just start with two.

NOTE: Both of these characters are going to consists of multiple people. They are going to be characterized conceptually, meaning that they will be personifications of more complex systems of people, products, services, etc. If that doesn’t make sense, leave a comment below for clarification.

The Brand 

This character consists of the owner, any possible employees, the products and/or services offered, websites, storefronts, etc. 

The Customer

This character consists of someone who is in need of The Brand’s offerings and can stretch to include other interested and attached parties such as business partners, pets, family members, etc.

Now we have to put these two characters in motion. It starts with an origin story for either character and eventually leads to a completed interaction between The Brand and The Customer. Feel free to write alternate endings with slightly altered characters to experiment with more possibilities. Writing this script will give you an immensely powerful tool to not only attract new customers but to refine your own business to better suit their needs.

Interested in telling your story? Get feedback by sharing it on Tactical, a community with daily content for business owners, marketers, and designers developing brands.

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How I Quit Freelancing and Day Jobs to Start My Agency

I learned at 16 that I was a hustler.

My family bought our first computer in the early 2000s and within a few years I discovered my passion for graphic design. I took to the internet and started selling those services.

Aetoric Design by HandsomeJake
This qualified as a logo to me when I got out of high school. Things have changed.

But my rise as a seller of creativity has been less than meteoric. There are a lot of possible reasons for that. It’s possible that my “natural talent” has always been insufficient, or that my independent practice wasn’t intense enough to compensate for the tremors that hindered my drawing abilities. It’s possible that my design education at community college didn’t give me a satisfactory foundation to build upon. It’s possible that I got in my own way by wasting time resenting a world that expected me to get a job at the local manufacturing plant and to be happy I had anything.

In reality, it’s most likely that I had no idea that I needed brand strategy.

While stuck in the limbo of working day jobs and doing freelance gigs on the side, I spent what little free time I had struggling with the dramas of playing in punk bands. In high school, I worked tirelessly to bring people out to my band’s shows. When we started getting booked, the promoter would tell us that people didn’t show up for openers as to temper our expectations.

Instead, I raised mine.

A photo of me (far left) and my highschool band posing for an interesting photo.

I made some money as a teenager by spamming ads for my design work to Myspace band pages. You probably remember; those online profiles for musicians whose soon-to-be chart topper started blaring the second it finished taking 3 minutes to load. Promoting shows, I took a similar approach to informing every person in the tri-county area that my band was going on first and to get there early. The promoter couldn’t believe the turnout – an opener that actually packed the venue. He continued to book my band and our relationship was long and successful. It was from that moment that I realized I was onto something. I could build attract customers.

As my musical muscles grew, I fell in love with math rock, a niche blend of punk’s raw energy mixed with the high brow compositions with odd time signatures of jazz. I approached it with virtually no musical theory background, counting on my fingers to decode the off-kilter riffs of my drunken virtuoso bandmates so that our drummer could recognize when the next bar began or how to properly transition from one movement to the next. Unfortunately, the tedium of this decryption usually made me seem more like a hindrance to creativity than a facilitator. The people I was playing with just wanted to have fun.

A photo of a young me struggling to play my instrument.

I wanted to be a success.

The punk rock scene, which prided itself on community and tolerance, transformed into a drunken hellscape of pretenders before my very eyes. Here I was, writing, performing, and releasing music in an attempt to support myself while most of my peers believed that the end goal was to play and not to grow. Fun or not, there was no way to stay chill living off of less than a thousand bucks a month. I needed something more.

I lashed out. I screamed at the top of my lungs, but not into a microphone. This time I was yelling at the people I loved. It was confusing why it was so hard for them to meet deadlines or show up on time for practice. I forgot that they had problems and motivations all their own. And after a series of terrible, hurtful decisions, I was exiled and lost everything. No more band, no more friends, and no more math rock.

In a lot of ways, it was the best thing that had ever happened to me. I realized that unless I was the perfect drinking buddy, I would never succeed in that world. I was ostracized but I was finally able to see things clearly. The melancholy and intricate tunes died down and the rap jams started bumping. Instead of crooning along to weepy tales of unrequited love, I started screaming, “We gon’ be alright!,” with Kendrick Lamar. It was an admittedly bitter beginning to my eventual shift in mindset, but at least it was a start.

Improvisation is the most important skill of any creative. Laptop overheating? Not anymore.

It didn’t help that my family wasn’t supportive, either. Up until this point, my mother could only point out that she hated hearing me yell, as I had “such a pretty voice.” My father, who may or may not have liked my music, was abusive to the entire family and passed by the time I was 20 from a brain tumor he battled for 7 years. My sister, unbeknownst to us, was struggling with addiction and resented my decision to move from Podunk to Pittsburgh in order to establish some sort of creative career. Little did she know I dreamt of creating a living where I could become our broken family’s financial savior. I wanted success and had to move on to a better playing field, but when I got there, I found that I was essentially damaged goods. My temperament more or less prevented me from sustaining any sort of gainful employment in a traditional workplace. Someone from an older generation might put it more simply by calling me “a fucking millennial.” In my experience, though, most millennials are great at disguising their motives in both the workplace and in their relationships. Doing well at a job isn’t just about doing a good job. In reality, employees are beholden to the whims and infrastructure set in place by the employer, regardless of how inane they may be. Punk rock and emotional trauma had lead me to express myself whether it benefited me financially or not.

Since my music career was essentially over, I decided to double down on my design work. I had been working at a t-shirt shop through during college, and I wanted to help it thrive instead of stagnate. The owner resisted any change, though. He had been in financial trouble for a long time, with multiple bouts against the IRS to his record. He was not in a position to fix what he didn’t see as broken. Like the band members I had played with, this guy couldn’t take himself seriously enough to be better than just okay and I was getting to a point where I couldn’t work with people like that.

After 5 years, I walked out.

One of the last jobs/designs I helped create at the t-shirt shop I worked at.

For a moment shortly after, I thought I had found my stride with freelancing. With some luck, I landed a magazine gig that paid me two grand – a fortune at the time. A lot of lottery winners later realize that the money ultimately ruined their life and that there was some unknown curse attached to it. Such was the case here. The company was unclear about their wants, their needs, and their expectations. After working through Christmas and New Years, it became too much to bear and I was mentally worse off after the gig ended. Cut and paste this experience with the next gig. And the next. And the next.

After a year of stops and starts, I found myself once more needing a day job. My past experience as a telefundraiser lead me to a position with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. As a musician, it seemed like a great fit and they agreed. Unfortunately, on my second day of training, the PSO went on strike. I was laid off in a position where I couldn’t market my creative services, nor could I land the kind of job it seemed that society expected of me.

pittsburgh symphony orchestra strike
This image pretty much sums up the PSO strike perfectly.

It was during this time that I discovered an educational YouTube channel that preached something that I had known all along but had never acted on: designers are problem solvers. We are the ones who craft solutions to problems that clients don’t even realize they have. All we had to do was connect that no one ever just needs a graphic – they need customers. I knew I could attract customers, and here I was being presented with the perfect framework to sell it.

The YouTube channel’s Black Friday sale approached and they announced they would be giving away fifteen-hundred dollars worth of educational materials that could jumpstart a career selling design and strategy. At the same time, the Pittsburgh Symphony ended their strike. They asked me to come back on the same day as the giveaway. Steady work. Steady hours. Security.

I had a decision to make.

The YouTube channel was smallish, with less than a hundred thousand subscribers. As a gambling man, I knew I had decent odds of winning. With what some might call reckless abandon, I called the Symphony and informed them I wouldn’t be returning.

And so, with a fateful retweet, I heard my company’s name, “Aetoric Design,” read aloud on stream. I won.

Fuck a job. I dove headlong into my winnings and started learning from the pros on how to market myself as someone who fixed problems.

I told all of my regular design clients that I would no longer be taking on the odd freelance jobs, instead offering this newfound consultative approach. I would no longer just design logos, build websites, or rewrite their copy. I said “If you want to work with me, it’s not for a quick buck. We’re going to figure out what your business is and we’re going to build it. Together.” And so working with the clients who have trusted my approach, we have tripled social media engagement and added thousands of dollars to yearly revenue. These brands have finally come to realize who their customers are, what they stand for, and how they can turn their mountains into molehills. No company has to fail if they understand what they’re doing.

I took a chance. I stopped fucking around with bands that didn’t work, family that wasn’t supportive, and friends who didn’t get why working a day job just wasn’t for me.

And wouldn’t you know it?I’ve been self-sufficient ever since.

This has changed the lives of my clients, too. Working in these partnerships, I’ve tripled engagement and added thousands of dollars to yearly revenue of the brands who have entrusted their identity to me. The sense of satisfaction in both my clients and my work has increased exponentially.

I believe that every designer who recognizes that their ability to problem-solve is the most powerful weapon in their creative arsenal is capable of the same kind of change if they also recognize that their prowess is being dulled by allowing those who haven’t to facilitate their income or, more importantly, their happiness. Once you take that leap, the opportunities you require to move forward will present themselves to you. You’ll only need recognize them when the time comes.

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