You’ve got yourself a creative business and it’s small right now, but scrappy! There are so many things that are important to do. It feels like you need to have it all in place. How can you prioritize? When you get a bit of a business budget, where should you put it first?
I think about this all the time (pretty much every day, for the new and newish businesses that contact me), and the “order” I think you should go in may surprise you!
What to do before your business has a budget
What are the best steps to take before you have profit in the bank to spend on design, strategy, and software?
- Understand and develop your brand. This doesn’t mean paying for graphic design, but instead it means all of the thinking that goes into creating the story of your brand. Without the story, you’ll struggle with every other part. You can learn more about understanding your brand story here.
- Name your business and purchase a domain name. Your business name will (hopefully!) stick with you for a long time, will anchor your brand identity, and will be hard to change down the road, so be serious about this. If you feel stuck on this, and have the budget for help, we do offer a business naming service that I’d be glad to tell you more about. The domain name can be pointed to your website, social media profile, Etsy shop, About.me page, any web presence you have now. With the domain name, it will be easy to move customers over to your new site as you grow. Learn more about business names.
- Be a hero at customer service. Sticking around for the long haul is going to rely heavily on listening to your customers and delighting them with every interaction. Learn the basics of good customer service here.
- Get some kind of website going. There are many free or cheap options here, or if you have a bit of a budget, you can get a proper ecommerce site going now, using free or inexpensive design templates. Your first website doesn’t need to be custom-designed or 100% perfect, but it does need to work well and look professional. For an easy start with this, try Shopify. You can get a professional-looking design from their theme store and set it all up yourself.
- Understand how to pitch your work. Much of your time should be spent contacting bloggers, magazine editors, and wholesale customers to introduce them to your work and get them to share it or invest in it. Learn how to stand out among all the pitches these people receive by reading Jena’s very affordable Pitch Kit.
You may be surprised to see how simply you can start out. You can survive without a professional logo for years as long as your customer service is stellar, your story is unique and compelling, and your products are well made and unique. Your first website doesn’t need to be custom, but it does need to be smart, and you’ll need a strategy for using it.
What to do when you have a bit of money to work with
You’re not rolling in dough yet, but your business has had some modest success, and you find yourself with a bit of profit to invest back in your business. Where should it go? If you can afford just one thing, and the rest will have to wait:
Now is the time to invest in your brand identity design.
You’ve done the thinking about what’s unique about your brand, what it stands for, and what its story is. Now tell that story to an Aeolidia designer, and let her create a graphic design that will communicate this and show that your business is legitimate, interesting, and worth learning more about.
As soon as you can budget for it, pinning down the look of your brand is vital. That slapdash logo has got to go, you can’t keep guessing at which fonts to use where, you need to be consistent with your graphics, colors, and style. When a potential customer sees your ad or your product somewhere, you want them to remember it the next time they see it, and relate it to your logo and business name. You need your look to be memorable and unique to you, something that people will see and love, and then recognize the next time and the next, and finally feel trusting enough to buy from you.
A professional logo, created by experienced graphic designers with a solid understanding of how to build a full brand identity is definitely an investment. It doesn’t come cheaply, and it shouldn’t. Can you imagine Target without that big red target? Starbucks without their green mermaid? Big brands pay tens and hundreds of thousands (and even millions) of dollars on their brand identity.
When clients come to me with a budget in between $5k and $10k, I will often steer them toward building their brand instead of springing for a custom-designed website. Our brand identity packages leave you fully prepared to present your brand in the best light, including design work to keep your packaging and business identity cohesive and polished.
With a solid brand identity, you can:
- Stick out in the mind of your customers
- Sell more products in their new pro packaging
- Attract wholesale clients by looking established and not risky
- Get press based on your smashing new look
- Be chosen for juried shows
- Interest customers in sharing your products on social media
- Modify a website design template to match your brand
- Correspond professionally with branded stationery
- Feel proud of a business card that will help people remember you
- Create your own marketing materials easily, following brand guidelines
- Advertise more successfully with a memorable look
- Help others believe in your business and in you!
I would much rather design a lasting brand for a client and slap it onto a pre-made website template as a temporary measure than try to build a big beautiful custom website around an ill-thought-out logo. If you skimp on the logo and want to revisit it later, that becomes really expensive, as your website will need to be re-done, as well as your business cards, packaging, stationery, advertising and marketing materials. Putting a lot of work into the design of your business without a logo that’s “the one” is going to result in a lot of re-done work.
Your customers aren’t scrutinizing your business the way you are, and if your website is using a template, they’re likely not to realize that. If your packaging looks homemade, your logo doesn’t represent your business, or your look isn’t the same from one place to the next, they’re not going to be interested in what you do. Better to catch their attention with a well crafted brand now, and fuss around with the rest of the list later.