Your Ultimate Branding Checklist

Jun 1, 2020 | branding, small business

Your Ultimate Branding Checklist

A step-by-step guide for small business startups

If you’re starting up a small business, I know you’ve got a lot on your plate right now. And you probably have a lot of money going out and not much coming in yet.

It’s a hectic time, and I am guessing branding is one of the many things on your to do list. Maybe it’s near the bottom because it seems less urgent than other tasks. Maybe it’s even been tossed in the too hard basket because you don’t know where to start.

Branding can be a huge exercise, involving applying design and marketing expertise to every layer of the public face of your business.

But for those of us starting lean and keen, it can also be a case of knowing what’s essential, and what’s nice to have. What to do now, and what to roll out later. What you can DIY – and when it’s best to call in the professionals.

Follow the steps in my Ultimate Branding Checklist to get your business ready and raring to go! I have also created a downloadable version, which you can use to mark off your progress and record important info about your brand.

1. First, you need a logo

The good news is – step 1 is one of the most fun ones on the list! But it’s also the one where you really need to do some soul searching when it comes to DIY.

If you choose to design yourself (or have your niece who’s learning Photoshop in school do it) you need to make sure not only that you have those mad design skills, but also a good understanding of how the technical side of print and web graphics works. It’s why I would say that if you hire a professional for any part of your branding process, it should be your logo.

A professional graphic designer will be able to provide your logo in a range of file formats, resolutions and colourspaces, to suit the full range of print and digital applications. This will save you having to spend money down the track having your logo re-drawn so it can be printed properly. It will also save you from having your logo look dodgy on things when you use it – think pixellation, weird cropping, or an annoying white box around it when you’d rather have a coloured background.

If you can afford it, you should also consider having your logo designer create a style guide for your brand. A well designed style guide specifies typefaces, colour palettes and graphic elements as well as alternate versions of your logo. It’s an investment that keeps on giving, especially if you plan to do your own marketing in-house.

A good logo design should be one of the first things you do when starting up a business. Partly because logos can be a pain to change down the track. That’s not to say it can’t be done, but if you have built any sort of brand recognition amongst your customers, a drastic change can be damaging.

But apart from that – you will be surprised at how often that pesky old logo keeps turning up on old forms, online directories and other people’s websites! Getting a professional looking logo right from the get-go means you can then start using it in all your branding and marketing activities as you roll them out.

2. Set up a profile on Google My Business

This one is definitely an essential – and has the added bonus of being an easy and totally free essential! Whoop whoop!

Having a Google My Business profile means that when someone googles your business name – as well as any relevant results Google returns – they see a dedicated listing for your business. The listing includes all of the info you add to your GMB profile, and can include photos, posts, opening times, offers and reviews from your customers.

This is a fantastic boon for businesses who are not yet at the stage where they can afford a dedicated website, as it allows you to get an online presence for free. But it is also a must for businesses who do have a website, as a GMB profile helps immensely with search engine optimisation – that is, getting your website to rank higher on Google searches. It also allows people to call or message you with a single click from their mobile, and contains a bunch of other great features that make for a perfect intro to online for small businesses.

3. Set up a Facebook Business Page

Facebook Business Pages are another free resource that your small business should definitely be tapping. Not really a social media kind of person? Well you are now.

In 2018 Sensis reported that 79% of Aussies were social media users, and of that group 94% used Facebook. It’s an audience that just can’t be ignored. But having a Business Page on the platform is not only useful for the ‘follow and like’ stuff, but it is also another great way for businesses without a website to create a legitimate web presence, and for those who do to improve their search engine rankings.

Creating a page is fairly simple, but make sure you create quality graphics for your profile icon and cover image that are consistent with the rest of your branding. Taking the time to write some good copy for the ‘About’ section is also a great idea. It’s an opportunity to describe what you so and to sell your business to your potential customers.

Oh – and make sure you post something, at least every now and then. Even if you are not ready or able to launch into a planned, goals-driven social media marketing campaign yet. Posting something relevant from time to time helps to let people stopping by via the search engines know that your page is current and you are open for business.

4. Business cards – they’re still a thing!

OK, so most of us aren’t meeting face-to-face at the moment, but the time will come again. Be prepared for that time with a snazzy business card.

It’s amazing how enduring the humble business card has been in this digital age. They are used extensively in networking and business-to-business situations. They are fabulous for jotting down appointment times in service-based industries. But if you design your card cleverly, it can also economically double as signage, packaging or a marketing tool.

Whether you decide to go with a pro or DIY, the options for business card design are almost endless. If you do need to DIY, this is one of the times when you will be glad you got a good quality designer to create your logo. Perfect logo artwork makes using online templates much less frustrating, and ensures the end result is flawless. And yeah, I say this a lot, but don’t forget to keep your cards consistent with everything else to be sure your branding is on point.

5. Industry-based essentials

Depending on your industry, there are a couple of extra essentials you need to take care of at this point.

If you produce a product, now is the time to design your packaging. Packaging can form a significant part of the cost per unit, especially for luxury brands who use high-end materials, printing and finishing techniques to package their products.

For start ups, however, packaging is often something created on the office printer and assembled at the kitchen table.

Packaging is necessary in the sense that the product needs to be wrapped or contained. But it is also an essential source of information about the product and your business, as well as a huge marketing opportunity.

So much of the decision making when buying rests on the visual appeal of the product. This doesn’t mean that it can’t be done well on a shoestring, and it’s another moment when a little bit of professional graphic design can go a long way.

For example, investing in a professionally designed template that you can adapt and print yourself is one great way to get home-made labels that look the biz. Or having a designer create your logo and a branding style guide which you can follow to DIY packaging glory. A good packaging designer should be able to put their knowledge of print and production to work for you, so you get a solution tailored to your product and budget.

The other industry-based essential is for those who have a shopfront. You’re gonna need signage. And you are definitely going to need a professional for this one.

Sign writers are amazing professionals whose focus is the creation and installation of signage. Their knowledge covers a huge range of materials, construction and printing techniques. A good sign writer can provide advice as to what signage you might need, as well as any hoops you may have to jump through with regard to council permits, etc.

Design work can either be done by your graphic designer or the signwriter themselves – but it will definitely need a bit of professional know-how. When briefing your sign writer, make sure they are aware of any existing branding you have in place, such as business cards, so that they can utilise similar colours and typefaces where possible.

6. Get a domain name

There’s no need to wait until you are ready to build a website. Buying a domain name as part of the process of setting up your business allows you to make sure you own the most relevant one right from the start.

Domain names need to be paid for by the year but are cheap and simple to register – the hardest thing is coming up with the perfect one! There are tonnes of registrars out there to choose from, just check out the web to find the one you like best. Or drop Powdermonkey Design a line – I’d be more than happy to help.

Another great advantage to having your own domain name is it means you can create your own, vastly more professional, email address @yourdomain.

This is often done when setting up a website, because you get email hosting with most web hosting plans. But if you are still a long way off from having your own website, it is well worth looking into email hosting plans. In fact, if you have a Microsoft 365 Business Plan, you will have email hosting already available to you. Having a custom email address is a branding must, and will give your business a huge aura of legitimacy and trust.

7. Create an email signature

It’s a sneaky little thing that can have a big impact on your branding. The email signature. It’s an opportunity to add another layer of professionalism and legitimacy to your business. It can also be a chance to spruik your website and social profiles by providing links directly to them.

Setting up your own email signature is quick and easy. The main thing to know is that signatures created within your email client are going to display differently from device to device. Some might show the signature larger; some smaller. Missing images are common, either because of broken links or users opting to block them in their settings.

When designing your own signature, ensure that all of the text elements of the signature are actually text. Don’t be tempted to create a JPEG that includes your name and all your contact details – when this image fails to download, your correspondents will be left wondering who just emailed them.

Another useful tip is to pick a common typeface for your signature. Like one of the ones that shipped with your computer when it was brand new. This will help make sure that for most users your signature is appearing as intended.

An alternative to the DIY email signature is to purchase an HTML signature. Just like a website, these signatures contain code that provides the device receiving the email with instructions on how to render the visual aspects. This means your signature gets to the other end looking just the way you want it. A professionally designed HTML email signature is a nice thing to add-on when you are having your logo done. But a DIY version does a great job when you are starting out lean, as long as you design it with care.

8. It’s website time!

Finally the big kahuna. The website all of your own. A website is definitely a business branding essential, but it is also one that involves some outlay of time and / or money. Which is why it is all the way down here at number 8.

By utilising free options like Google My Business and Facebook Business Pages, startups can begin trading without this outlay. This means more time to develop your products and services, decide on what you need from a website, and to establish cash flow.

If you are running an ecommerce business, a website of your own might become more of a priority than it is for others. But you may still choose to start up with as little outlay as possible by leveraging online selling platforms like Ebay or Etsy.

There are so many options when it comes to getting a website. The choices run the whole gamut from freebie website builders that come with your hosting, to hiring a developer to create a completely bespoke site. Choosing the best web design solution comes down to assessing your own skill level and the amount of time you have available to do it. Then weighing this up against your budget. If you need a bit of a hand with planning your website, I have put together a nifty checklist and downloadable Website Planner to help.

You can create a DIY website pretty cheaply, but you will need to set aside a lot of time. Both for initial design and for regular maintenance going forward. There are some really slick DIY web building apps out there that offer ease of use and cool templates, but you will pay a premium for them. This can be well worth it, however, if you need to make a lot of content changes to your site and want to keep things as nimble as possible.

Even professional website design covers a lot of ground. You can choose from marketing experts who create sites with a focus on SEO and traffic. Graphic designers who place an emphasis on the look of the site and the user experience. Developers who are masters of functionality, security and all things back-end. Like any big purchase, it’s just a case of working out what is most important to you and your business.

Building a brand takes time. By keeping it front of mind, even when you first start out, it can end up being one of the most valuable assets your business has.

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