From the April 2006 issue of Entrepreneur

Stressed out and the owner of a newly diagnosed ulcer, Stephanie Chandler realized that her high-pressure job as a software salesperson wasn't worth sacrificing her health. She had always loved books, so she decided to pursue that passion, launching Book Lovers Bookstore, which specializes in gently used paperbacks, hardcover books and audiobooks, in 2003.

Since the beginning, Chandler, 33, has done things on a shoestring budget, from bribing friends with pizza and beer to help her clean and organize her initial inventory of 23,000 books to designing her own website. Admitting that graphic design isn't her strongest suit, she finally forked over $400 to a professional to create a logo for her store.

"Having never had a logo commissioned before, I didn't know [what] questions to ask," Chandler says. "After spending quite a bit of money on the logo, the results were disappointing."

The logo was not reflective of her store, and her tag line was written in script that could not be read when the logo was used in a small format. Her website was functional, but it didn't reflect the warm, inviting environment of her store. As her Sacramento, California, business continued to grow, Chandler found herself wanting to improve the design of her website and logo. So when Entrepreneur magazine and VistaPrint, an online graphic design and print company based in Lexington, Massachusetts, announced the "Extreme Brand Makeover" contest in 2005, Chandler didn't hesitate to log on and enter.

"The logo redesign was a real motivator," Chandler says. "It's not like it was breaking my business, but I'd love to increase my image any way that I can."

Turning a Page
Selected from a pool of more than 4,600 entrants, Chandler won the contest in January after a panel of judges from Entrepreneur and VistaPrint reviewed her application. As the winner, she received a prize package valued at almost $5,000, including a complete logo redesign by VistaPrint; 1,000 each of premium business cards, business card magnets, large magnets, standard postcards, envelopes for standard postcards, oversize postcards, brochures, letterhead and notecards; 500 presentation folders; and 840 return-address labels. In addition, she received a full website redesign from Website Pros, a Jacksonville, Florida, web services and online marketing company, and a year's subscription to Entrepreneur.

"We wanted someone who could represent everyone, and your local bookstore [owner] is someone everyone can relate to," says Janet Holian, chief marketing officer of VistaPrint.

A team of marketers and designers at VistaPrint promptly went to work on the Book Lovers makeover, conducting extensive interviews with Chandler. They found that, from the beginning, she tried to set her store apart. Used-book stores have an image of being disorganized and even dirty. Chandler's store, on the other hand, was meticulously neat, clean and organized. The staff is outgoing and enthusiastic. And two resident cats--Sugar and Sweetie, both adopted from a local animal shelter--have become wildly popular with customers, filling the positions of unofficial store mascots. After learning about the personality and unique elements of the store, the team whittled down Chandler's key brand messages into three words: neat, organized and friendly. They took a little extra time revamping Book Lovers' brand image, and 10 days later, they presented a logo and design package that reflected the unique elements of Chandler's shop.

The new logo features neatly stacked books and a friendly cat, uses warm colors, and has a polished, stylish look. Book Lovers Bookstore is written in a fun and funky script that is easy to read, and by separating the name of the store and the tag line, the print portion of the made-over image can be scaled differently to work in a variety of formats while remaining perfectly legible.

It's critical that entrepreneurs ensure their logos work well for their business needs. According to Melissa Crowe, senior director of marketing services at VistaPrint, "A lot of creative people [commission an] intricate logo [but] don't ask whether it can be used [on media] as big as a billboard and as small as a Coke can. [Chandler] may need to use a small version in the Yellow Pages, or she may need a billboard. You want to make sure the size [and] color of the mark work."

Out of Site

With the logo and stationery package designed, next up was the website. Spearheaded by Website Pros, the goal of the site redesign was to create an online location that would reflect the key brand messages that had already been defined--neat, organized and friendly--while making the site useful for customers and consistent with the new design work.

"The [main] consideration was to make sure the customer got a site that was modern-looking and fit the current state-of-the-art look and feel for websites," says David Brown, president and CEO of Website Pros. "[Chandler's] site was fairly stale and looked like it was built three or four years ago. Web authoring trends change rapidly, and we needed to update the site's look."

In addition to conspicuously featuring the new logo and colors, the site offered a perfect opportunity to give customers a peek at two elements unique to Book Lovers Bookstore--the clean, organized aisles and the two loveable cats. So the design team at Website Pros included photos of both on the home page, as well as an easy-to-read, bulleted list of the store's benefits. The site was designed with a program that will make it easy for Chandler to update news such as author appearances and featured titles.

Another important consideration was to create the site for maximum search engine optimization, which makes Book Lovers' site appear high on results lists when customers perform online searches for criteria that match her shop. Brown explains that the website copy was written to include certain keywords thoughout the site's text, as well as in the site's title. That way, he explains, search engine algorithms that crawl the site during a search will recognize its key messages and rank it according to the proper criteria.

"The single biggest mistake that small-business owners make in optimizing their sites is not being specific enough in their keywords," says Brown. He explains that, in the case of Book Lovers Bookstore, it would be a mistake to just focus on the word books, since that would leave Chandler competing with every bookseller on the internet. Instead, he used focused phrases like "antique books" and "used books," as well as the city where her shop is located.

With new marketing materials and a resuscitated website, Chandler's store is once again ready for business. "The main thing about this package is that it will allow her to keep consistency throughout every element of her marketing. She will have coordinated materials that will help her build an image," says Crowe.

And what does Chandler think of this flurry of activity? "I adore the logo and the look," she says. "They have captured the essence of my shop--whimsical and fun, but professional."

Chandler plans to integrate the new look throughout the store and within all the store's marketing materials, and she advises other business owners that investing in their own image makeovers is well worth it. "A good logo design projects the image of your business and tells customers who you are," she says. "I'm so proud. I can't wait to use this everywhere. That's a great feeling."

Building a Better Website
Your website is the place where customers and pros-pects can get information about your business-and perhaps even place orders-24/7. So it's important to get it right. Web designer Douglas K. van Duyne, author of the forthcoming book The Design of Sites: A Pattern for Creating Winning Websites, reveals the five most common mistakes growing businesses make with their websites.

1. Being all things to all people: "Too many businesses try to serve all their audiences on the home page-their customers, their investors, their employees," says van Duyne. "Ninety-five percent of the real estate on your [home] page should be used to serve customers. Use the footer of the page to have links for partners, investors [and] the media."

2. Using vague language: If people visiting your site can't figure out what you do in a few seconds, you've lost them. Van Duyne says all businesses should have a clear statement on the home page of what they do and what they promise their customers.

3. Making it too complex: Van Duyne advises against glitzy Flash animation or slow-to-load multimedia intro-ductions. "Most people are irritated by these things," he says. Instead, hire a professional artist to design a clean, easy-to-navigate site, and let customers choose whether or not to access your site's multimedia options.

4. Speaking "corporatese": Don't use jargon, acronyms or overblown terminology on your site. Keep language simple and easy to understand. "Sometimes, companies have internal language that [is] reflected in their sites," van Duyne says. "Be sure your internal language isn't ignoring what you need to say to customers."

5. Ignoring the value of testing: Van Duyne says it's not necessary to spend lots of money on testing. Just having a group of core customers review the site can be help-ful. "Have your customers complete simple tasks on the site, like filling out forms or checking different pages," he says. "Then, get their feedback. You'll probably get great suggestions for improving the site's performance."

Overall, simplicity and easy navigation should be your priorities, says van Duyne: "If it's too complicated, the business misses an opportunity to talk to a customer, which can translate into significant [losses]."

Gwen Moran is Entrepreneur's "Retail Register" and "Quick Pick" columnist.