One of the biggest challenges in starting a small business is developing the “visual identity” of the business. Sometimes known as “branding” – to say that the visual elements you choose to represent your new business are important would be a gross understatement.
Part of the “brand” development process is to create visual elements – such as a logo – which help to carry your marketing message. Every detail plays a role in how well the “brand” communicates the “who, what and why” of your business. Seemingly inconsequential elements such as the choice of colors and the style of font used play pivotal roles in the overall message your “branding elements” communicate.
Developing a logo is definitely one of those “easier than it looks” part of launching a new business.
Branding for your Small Business
Building a visual identity or “brand” for any size business is a big job. However, -if the small business you’re starting is a freelance or service based business – branding is especially difficult. For many service providers – creating an image which conveys who they are and what they do is excruciatingly painful. Often, the initial branding and logo development experience is the first time a new business owner has tried to convey what his/her business is about via a 2 dimensional image.
If you’ve never tried to brand your service based business – the only experience which can compare is the task of choosing an avatar to represent you when you comment on blogs. If you think choosing an image based avatar is hard – try creating a visual identity for “who” you are in the world of business.
Coming up with a single image the “represents” who you are and what you do is excruciatingly difficult if you don’t have a clear picture of who you are and what exactly it is you do.
That’s one of the reasons I embraced so completely the whole “WordPress as CMS” as a foundation for my web development business. Often times, clients will arrive without a visual “identity”. Using WordPress as a CMS allows these clients the opportunity to begin building content for their web site without making a commitment to a visual identity. Using WordPress as your CMS -it’s possible to “try on” visual identities while maintaining content continuity.
One of my favorite “web site development” strategies with those launching a new business is to use the Thesis theme. That way, the boot strapping entrepreneur can begin building content while working on developing the “visual identity” elements which are so crucial to brand development. Once the visual elements are developed – the Thesis theme can be easily modified to display those visual branding elements as part of the design.
“Cheap and Easy” Branding Resources
You’ve got a “stupid” small business idea that you want to make reality. Of course, you don’t have NEARLY enough cash on hand and as such, you need cheap and easy branding resources. While true “branding” services are rarely cheap and NEVER easy – the new “social” web now offers the next best thing which is offered via crowd sourcing design sites such as 99designs.com and crowdspring.com.
Crowd Sourcing for Design
On the typical crowd sourcing design sites – designers “compete” for the prize of your business. In essence, designers are working on “spec” which means you only pay if you choose their design. This is how it works: you launch a “contest” with a predetermined prize. The prize is the amount you’ll pay for the final design. Talented designers then “compete” for the prize you’ve offered. You set the parameters of the contest and during the contest, the new “social” technology allows designers to quickly and easily communicate with you about what you like – and don’t like – about various designs.
This arrangement is VERY attractive to the small business owner and it removes an underlying fear most boot strapping entrepreneurs have which is that they’ll hire a designer who CAN NOT create what they want – which is often undefined. This arrangement is also attractive to designers who are just starting out and who appreciate the feedback from prospective clients on what they can do to improve.
I’ve had several clients run crowd sourcing design contests to create their visual identity in recent months. Without exception – each contest has resulted in high quality designs offered at rock bottom pricing.
However, not everyone I know who has used crowd sourcing for their design has been thrilled with the end result. The clients who have been PLEASED with the process began their contest design after having hammered out a clearly defined marketing strategy.
Creating a “brand” for your business is MUCH easier when you have done a complete and thorough SWOT analysis.
Once these business owners had a clear cut marketing strategy in place – launching a contest for a logo design was a successful and satisfying experience. After more than a few successful crowd sourcing design outcomes – I began recommending crowd sourcing design sites to clients who had NOT hired me to work with them on their marketing strategy. After one particularly disturbing customer service story, I began to “hedge” my recommendation of using crowd sourcing design sites to those not well verse in the basics of advertising, marketing and design.
The other day, I discovered the brandstack.com site. Brandstack bills itself as the world’s largest marketplace to buy and sell branding elements. The site is filled to the brim with branding elements such as logos just waiting for an aspiring entrepreneur to grab for a song and develop into a successful business. You can purchase one of these “pre-packaged” branding elements and either use it “as is” or have it customized for your business.
The difference between brandstack.com and crowd sourcing design sites such as 99designs and crowdspring is that with brandstack.com – you can enter the process without a final “destination” in mind. It’s a great place to go for inspiration.
With that in mind – Brandstack may be a better starting point for those small business owners in search of branding elements who don’t have a well developed marketing strategy in place. However, keep in mind that creating a well developed marketing strategy is still an essential step of launching a successful small business – for many people creating a marketing strategy seems to “flow” better once the “branding elements” issue is nailed down.