Starting and running a small business is daunting. No doubt about it. The number of things that need to be weighed up and decided upon is endless, and varies so much from industry to industry that even seasoned business people can find themselves on a very steep learning curve.
The main focus during the start up phase nearly always ends up being money. The whole, “do I need to spend money on this?” thing, as well as that other old chestnut; “how do I keep the money coming in?”
For business with a customer focus (that’s most of us) who are looking to create and maintain a reputation, strong branding is a key part of the process. How you brand your business can have an impact on several aspects of your sales cycle, from grabbing the attention of potential customers, to reassuring current ones, to generating repeat business.
Large corporates, of course, have the luxury of spending big bucks on agencies or even employing their own teams dedicated to making sure their branding is always on point. For the small- or micro-business, though, branding can seem like a sidebar. Something you shove on the backburner until the business takes off. Or – you know – “I’m a plumber and I’m good at plumbing and people will realise that when they hire me so why would I need to worry about my brand??”
Now obviously, as a graphic designer my first piece of advice is always gonna be “invest in a great logo”. But branding doesn’t end once that’s sorted. with a healthy respect for the image you are projecting and a little bit of diligence you can create a strong brand with even the beeriest of beer budgets!
Here are my 4 essential rules for managing your own small business brand to perfection:
1. Keep it consistent
This is the name of the game, my friends. If you can maintain a consistent look and feel across all the visual aspects of your business, you’ve got a brand! You can hire marketing professionals who can drill down into every little thing for you and style it, but for the cash-strapped startup, consistency can be achieved just by paying attention to the little things.
If your designer has provided you with a style guide, make sure you use your corporate fonts and colours for any documents you generate in-house. Check your social media profiles are all using the same logo, and that any header images team with the theme. Think about your social media posts and keep them consistent in tone and in look – if you’re creating images for your posts get those corporate typefaces and colours in there wherever possible. When outsourcing design work for things like promotional flyers or a website, use the same designer for everything – or choose one who has a good understanding of the importance of branding (some designers like to play a little fast and loose with your established style).
2. Consider your target market
If you’ve written a business or marketing plan, you will already be familiar with who your target market is and what they are into. But if you haven’t yet gone down this road, now’s a great time to give it some thought. Once you know who your customer is you can begin to tailor your branding towards this demographic.
The most obvious way to tailor your brand to your target market is to choose a visual style that is likely to appeal to this group, but you should also consider the content you generate and the language you use to write it. If the people you need can relate, you are part way there!
3. Mind your spelling and grammar
This stuff is so important to the image a business projects. And we aren’t paying enough attention to it any more.
Proof read and correct any spelling and grammatical errors on everything your business puts out into the world. It is cheap, it’s easy – and it can make a huge difference to the way potential and existing customers view your brand.
Don’t limit your proof-reading to printed matter like brochures and reports – be sure to give all your email correspondence and social media posts a good checking as well. The rise of social media and the DIY-ness of it all means that many businesses are cranking out content that’s barely intelligible – which doesn’t inspire confidence.
Don’t get me wrong – the odd typo happens to us all, and they can elude even the most fastidious proof reader. But nothing should go out without a few read-throughs and tweaks to make sure it makes sense and sets your brand in the best possible light.
4. Resolution, baby!
I know it comes under the banner of boring designspeak, but image resolution is important.
Nothing looks dodgier than a pixellated logo or graphic. Like bad spelling or grammar, it can really effect the image your business is putting out there.
Choose a designer who will provide you with your logo files in various file formats and sizes, and then file them away (regardless of whether you can open the files on your computer). Web logos and graphics need to be low-resolution to optimise page loading times, so don’t assume that you can download your logo from your webpage (or images from someone else’s page – yikes!) and use them for printing.
Another hot tip is to never squash or stretch your logo when scaling it – always preserve the ratio. If your designer has provided a style guide you might also find she has created a series of ‘do’s and don’ts’ around using your logo, and these should always be followed. If not, just use your common sense (don’t place it on a crazy background so you can’t read it… things like that).
And for bonus points…
Remember that your business branding is closely tied to your marketing and overall business goals, so to really nail that branding it is important to spend time on preparing formal marketing and business plans. I know that sounds daunting and time-consuming, but there are a number of fantastic planning templates out there that make the process a breeze. Whether you are taking the DIY route, or overseeing a graphic designer or branding professional, a solid knowledge of what your goals are and who your market is will make all the difference to your end result.
At the end of the day, your brand is one of the most valuable assets your business owns. When your business is in the start-up stage, every day can feel like a slog – but by keeping one sneaky eye on your image, you can make sure your brand is working as hard as you are to bring customers through the door.
Go to it small and micro business legends!