This down time between Christmas and the first week of the New Year is a perfect opportunity to give your personal branding a lift and start the New Year with a fresh image.
Here are eight ways you can use free templates and other inexpensive tools available on the web to give your business or personal brand a lift.
1. Reinvent your name for the new year.
Is your business name unique–or is it lost in the crowd? Consider finding a new name for your business and a unique URL — an identifier that people type into the browser to find your website. Do a little research on Go Daddy or directly from WordPress, and see if your business name (or your personal name, or the name of your book) is available. If your name is generic, hard to remember or hard to spell, change it today before you start your branding campaign.
Check for copyright availability too before you buy your URL. If your business name is no longer available in Facebook, Twitter or Go Daddy, consider modifying or changing it today to something unique before you move on to step 2.
If you aren’t the first whatever that shows up in Google, you’ll need to pay dearly for that in advertising. Names are free. Ads are expensive. Save money by choosing a unique name before you start your web marketing campaign.
2. Start a blog with a free WordPress theme.
Do you have a blog yet? Or do you have an old website that desperately needs an update? A blog is the hub and the center of the wheel of your integrated web marketing strategy, so start with it first.
I recommend a blog, not a Website, because blogs are filled with words, and Google uses words to search for you. In short, blogs, which are filled with Tags and Categories and Words are instantly Search Engine Optimized.
Moving from an old static website to a new WordPress blog (or adding a blog as a link on your old static site) will generate an instant surge in traffic and customers in the New Year.
With one click and you can move your old, outdated WordPress site into a new theme and try it out. Just click “theme options” in your Dashboard to try on a new look — or spend a little to get your site hosted and you’ll be able to choose from thousands of free templates for your site.
Choose a template that offers a “custom-background” and “custom-header” and custom colors, such as this Elegant Grunge template I used for Visibility Shift.
Your background is important and spend enough time to really find one that strikes you. I like to start with a clean, white, simple zen-like template as a blank canvas and add bling from there:
3. Add a new free custom background to your theme.
You can find a free wallpaper online to use as your background, or buy stock art or better yet, use your own photo that you have rights to. There are thousands of free backgrounds available, here’s just one site to check out:
Some WordPress sites enable you to drop in a photo, crop it and add text to create a custom banner or header. I used a photo by my brother in law, Adrian Fernandez, (of a galaxy) for this blog, Visibility Shift. Prior to that, I used a free image of Times Square that matched the wallpaper in my Twitter page.
5. Add free plug ins or custom fonts to your blog.
If you are hosted, you can use a wealth of free Plug Ins to jazz up your blog. If your site is WordPress hosted, you can use Typekit for two free fonts. (Two is the max you should use anyway for clean design.)
Unique fonts will really make your site stand out. I used two very distinctive Typekit fonts in the Laughing Heart site and the colors of pink, lavender and purple for a playful look that suits this husband-wife spiritual comedy team.
The most important plug in is a Share This button that will encourage readers to virally share your content via email, Facebook, Twitter, Stumble Upon, Digg, etc.
6. Start a free newsletter.
Your newsletter should use a similar color scheme, template, banner, background, photograph and font as the rest of your branding. My branding designer recommends the free My Newsletter Builder for a newsletter. Most of my friends and clients use Constant Contact. A new service, My Emma, is more stylish.
Make sure you add all of your social networking pages into the signature line in your newsletter.
While you’re at it, update your email list and type in or scan the contacts from all those business cards you gathered in 2010. When you build social media pages, you can use that email list to invite customers and contacts to join your pages.
You can manage your email list for free in a free email program like Fastmail or Gmail.
7. Update (or start) your Facebook Fan Page, Twitter page, Linked In profile and Yelp page.
If you don’t have a social media presence yet, the winter break is a great, quiet time to hunker down and do the tedious, time consuming work it takes to get your pages built and invite all of your contacts into them.
Again, use the same photo, name, background wall paper or logo, and the same fonts consistently in all of your web and social media pages.
8. Send out a New Year’s holiday greeting with your e-newsletter to announce your new look.
There are tons of free New Year’s wallpapers out there that you can use to spruce up your newsletter, or better yet, commission a portrait of your family, work group or business, or a collection of photos that sum up the highlights of 2010. Use your newsletter to announce your new website and Social Media pages to your friends, family, business contacts and customers and start the New Year with a fresh look for 2011.