Sometimes you have to DIY, and that's OKAY

The non-profit my wife and I started that provides special chairs for children with feeding difficulties, in a lot of ways, feels like a small startup business. When we got started (and to some extent, even today), we did a lot of DIY marketing. For most small businesses, and especially those just starting, there’s no budget for hiring professionals to do the work of website building, social media management, and other marketing.

I am not a graphic design specialist, and though the professionals at Monkeythis donate time to help us with the heavy lifting, I still use DIY tools. There are a lot of amazing Do-It-Yourself tools out there that can become essential for success.

I wanted to share with you some helpful ideas on how to make the most out of Canva, the DIY tool I seem to use most often.

Canva is a helpful tool for creating flyers, presentations, social media posts, and a wide variety of graphic designs, but before you get too far, there are a few “traps” you need to be cautious of.

The first trap is the “familiarity trap.” While Canva is very intuitive, like all DIY tools, you have to stay familiar with it through practice. It isn’t realistic to think you can use a program today, ignore it for two months, and pick up right where you left off.

Another trap is the “sameness trap.” The sameness trap is especially noticeable around the holidays when your newsfeed is full of posts that all have a similar font, color, and image. Your goal is to stand out among your competition. While it is good to be on-trend, you don’t want to become “just another post” on someone’s feed.

The “mutant trap” is a trap I find myself in often. If you could look at my design library you would find a trove of abandoned designs that started as a beautiful template and ended in disaster. If you mess with a template too much, which is a common mistake, the coherence of the design falls apart. You’ve seen these mutants before with fonts that don’t match, colors that clash, and no clear focus to the design.

Finally, and the one that causes me the most trouble is the “no plan trap.” Having a plan or campaign to work with makes a huge difference. Often when I find myself struggling for ideas or what to say, I realize I don’t have a plan. Creating a monthly social media calendar allows you to work ahead, build on your previous post, and work on multiple posts at the same time. I find I can put together several designs quickly once I start working. When we are in a fundraising campaign or promoting an event, the posts and designs seem to come very easily. When I am thinking about what to post on a random Tuesday morning without a plan, it feels like pulling teeth.

You can easily overcome these issues by keeping in mind these four tips;

Keep an eye out for look-alikes. Turn a critical eye to your social media feed and look for trends; you will see repeats of the same basic template. By tracking what looks similar you will be able to choose a unique template that stands out.

Dig deep into the library. There are thousands of designs on a site like Canva, so take your time finding a good template. I will often search for a keyword that has nothing to do with what I am promoting to find a unique design.

Spend the money for the extra tools. The paid version of Canva provides many more options for design and customization. A significant advantage is the resizing of an existing design. This allows you to pick a design and rework it for any social media platform and, in some cases, to use it for other purposes, like banners. It also allows for a small amount of animation in your ad or post. Creating some movement in the graphics of your post can grab attention.

Have a plan. There are a ton of downloadable templates out there for creating a social media calendar. Don’t overdo it, start with a post or two a week. Then sit down and create a few designs. I love getting ready to create a post and realizing I already have one sitting in my library, waiting to be used.

Fortunately for me, I know I’ve got Bobbie and Maggie at Monkeythis to bail me out if I need help, but there’s a sense of pride when I create something original to share on the feed for Charlotte’s Day.