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Core Design Materials to Get Your Business Started

Core Design Materials to Get Your Business Started

This post on starter design materials originally appeared as a guest post at Craveity Marketing.

You’re the owner of a brand spanking new business- yay! Congrats to you! Now you have to work on getting your new venture out into the world. You know that your visual branding and marketing materials are important, and you want them to be well-done. They have to live up to your awesome business idea, right? But as a small business, you also have a limited budget to get up and running. Instead of minimum viable product, you need minimum viable design. Where are you going to get the most bang for your buck?

Here are my recommendations:

Logo

Priority: highest
Recommendation: professionally designed

Your logo is the cornerstone of your visual branding. A well-designed logo sets you up with an aura of professionalism right from someone’s first interaction with your company. It shows that you take your business seriously, and implies that you’ll take your customers seriously, too. This is one of those times where you want to do it once and get it done right, even if it’s a bigger sticker shock up front. It’ll save you time and money down the road to not have to redo a poorly conceived or poorly executed logo again and again.

And once you have a logo, even if you stick to bare bones design for the rest of your materials, you will still have that unique, high-caliber mark to set you apart. It can guide the rest of your visual branding and will elevate any marketing materials or graphics you decide to DIY.


“Buy the best and you only cry once.” — Miles Redd


 

Website

Priority: next highest
Recommendation: professionally designed if you can, but there are quality DIY options to get you started.

A web presence is obviously of top importance for any business whose primary service is online or location-independent. But even brick-and-mortar businesses benefit from having a good website. The yellow pages are a thing of the past. Now if a potential customer wants to find a new business, they go one place: Google. And if you don’t have a website, you are missing out on that huge potential for new customers. A Yelp listing or Facebook page gives you some presence, but it’s not the same. It certainly doesn’t give the same professional impression that an independent website with your own domain name would have.

And with how affordable it is to get a website going, you really have no excuse! Even if you can’t hire a designer at this stage of your business, you can still have a good website. Get a hosting plan for $11/month, and a domain for $12/year. Install WordPress (free!), pick out a free theme that works for your business, add your content and you’re set. Or you can go with something like Squarespace, or Wix. Even if you need to have an online shop, there are affordable and free options. I like WordPress, because it lets you customize more and gives you room to grow as your business grows, but pick what works for you and your business.

A DIY website can probably see you through the first couple of years with your new business, but, when you can, have a professional come in and revamp it.

Bonus: Your own website will also let you have a custom email address (yourname @ yourbusiness.com) instead of having to use Gmail; again, just another level of professionalism.
 

Business Cards

Priority: low, unless you’re doing a lot of in-person promotion
Recommendation: professionally designed if you can, but there are great templates available too.

For the most part, printed design materials can wait until the need comes up. Brochures, sales sheets, etc. – those are not essential to launch for most businesses. Depending on what you do, you may not ever need any print materials other than business cards. If you have a little room left in your budget, business cards can be very handy, especially if you’re doing a lot of in-person sales or networking events. The small format is more forgiving for DIY design; you don’t need much more than your awesome new logo and contact info to get together a decent business card.

The quality of printing does make a difference, though. I would recommend Moo Printing for business owners starting out. Not only do they have a great array of templates to choose from and customize, but their paper quality is top notch. A first batch of about 100 cards will get you started and not break the bank.
 

If you can get these three design materials done well, you’ll have a solid basis for your business’ visual branding. And if you DIY any element now, consider having a professional designer rework it down the road as budget allows.
 

Do you agree with my recommendations? What would you consider a small business owner’s most pressing design need?

Need help with these core design materials?

I’ve got just the thing for that. Check out The Newbie Design Bundle, specifically for new business owners.

 


Creative Wavelength

Creative Wavelength

Time for another round of Creative Wavelength! Here are some of the cool art-y, design-y, creativity-related things I’ve found around the web lately:


 

This Designer Turns Selfies into Art using a Mirror and Markers

This is pretty cool: Designer Turns Selfies into Art using a Mirror and Markers. That is dedication to the art of the selfie.


 

Intricate Paper Carvings by Maude White

Intricate Paper Carvings by Maude White. How does she not tear them?!


 

Damon Hellandbrand Re-Creates Zodiac Signs into Mythical Creatures

Damon Hellandbrand Re-Creates Zodiac Signs into Mythical Creatures. Whoa. These are legit creepy and really well done.


 

Distilling The Visual Language Of Video Games Into A Clever Logo. This is a cool case study.

The Subtle Genius of Elena Ferrante’s [Deliberately] Bad Book Covers. Interesting marketing approach.

Introverts Do It Better: Why They Make Great Entrepreneurs.

Do Templates Make Good Design Accessible to All or Diminish the Role of the Designer?

The Creative World’s Bullshit Industrial Complex. This is so spot-on.

Why Being Constantly Busy Is Killing Your Creativity.

Have you stumbled on any interesting creative projects or thought pieces lately? Share below!
 


5 Time-Saving Tools Every Entrepreneur Should Use

5 Time-Saving Tools Every Entrepreneur Should Use

Guest Expert

Today’s guest post comes from Clarisa Ramirez, the Founder & Principal of Small Coffee here in Austin. Equipped with a decade of journalism experience, a Media Management certificate and a MA in Interactive Publishing from Northwestern, she has been helping people effectively grow their businesses by planning and executing successful marketing strategies since 2013.

When it comes to running a successful business, providing the best quality in the shortest amount of time is key.

However, it can be challenging for entrepreneurs with limited resources to organize and manage everything—planning events, creating social media posts and staying on top of email—when you don’t have any help. As a publicist with a limited amount of time and money to spend, I rely on several tools and apps that are designed to make my life a little easier. Luckily, there are a lot more tools these days that eliminate the need for relying on a personal assistant—or even needing to outsource the work. My intern Madison and I gathered up some of the go-to tools we’ve been using to be more efficient. Try them out!

Boomerang for Gmail

Grace Bonney referenced this tool in her After the Jump podcast, and since I’m a huge Design*Sponge fan I jumped on the bandwagon. Now I could be a spokesperson for Boomerang for Gmail. Basically, Boomerang lets you schedule emails and resend emails to yourself when you want to get to them later. You can also do fancier things with it, too, like remind yourself if you don’t hear back from someone. Boomerang costs $4.99 a month for a personal account and $14.99 for a professional account. If you’re someone who frequently uses your drafts folder and worries about forgetting to send emails, or accidentally sending too many reminders, this is the program for you. I actually feel less stressed just thinking about it.
 

Doodle

Doodle prevents you from sending 10 different emails about scheduling and setting up meetings. It’s awesome to hear people’s reactions after completing it the first time: “Wow, that was so easy.” All you have to do is provide a link to Doodle and teams can vote on which times work best for them. Genius.
 

Basecamp

Basecamp is a great project management suite. It’s user friendly and it saves you from sharing a bunch of emails back and forth. I like how it visually shows you how much you’ve accomplished. If you’re looking for a way to manage tasks, the free Basecamp should be sufficient; but if you want to manage multiple projects, it’s $29 a month, regardless of how many employees you have. Do-able, right?
 

iScannner

iScanner saves you the time it takes to warm up your computer scanner by letting you scan and email documents directly from your smartphone. Mind boggling, right? I still remember the day I found out a former boss used an app to scan documents. She was instantly taking photos of all of her receipts while I was folding mine up and saving them to scan for later. I felt like a fool when I realized it was only $4.99 to use an app like iScanner. I’ll admit, in the past I’ve used a variety of phones that snap photos and convert files into clear PDFs and JPEGs, so I’m not married to this particular app, but it comes highly recommended.
 

Buffer

There are a lot of social media management tools out there: Tweetdeck, HootSuite, and Edgar come to mind. Buffer, however, is the least cumbersome and has the most bang for your buck. It lets you schedule all of your social media posts in advance—and it has a widget that lets you “Buffer” any photo or Tweet from a website, just like Pinterest lets you pin. The best part: you can Buffer a tweet or a post for a later time that Buffer thinks would be good, so you’re saving yourself all of the clicks it would take to program exactly what time and day you want your posts to go out, and the same goes for retweets. Buffer is free if you only want to manage one profile per platform. However, you can manage up to 10 social profiles for only $10 a month or 25 for $99 a month.

Am I missing any from the list?
Leave a comment below with your recommendation!

Note from Amanda: Thanks, Clarisa! I can second the recommendations for Boomerang and Buffer- I use those all of the time! I also use a phone app as a scanner – my personal pick is ScannerPro.


Covers Reimagined: Lord of the Rings

Covers Reimagined: The Lord of the Rings

I am an escapist reader.

The further something gets from modern-day, real world problems, the better, as far as I’m concerned. This means I end up reading a lot of fantasy books. Imaginary lands, magic, elves, dragons- I soak up all that good stuff. And I knew from the start of the Covers Reimagined series that I would eventually be tackling a particular fantasy titan. That day is today, and that titan is The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.

That’s right! Not just one cover for this post, but three. If you didn’t already know, The Lord of the Rings series (LOTR for short) is a trilogy of books, with a story that takes place after the events of the standalone book The Hobbit. All of these books were major motion pictures in the past decade, so I can’t imagine you haven’t had at least some exposure to the story. But for a quick sum-up: book 1 is The Fellowship of the Ring, which sees Frodo inherit the titular ring, the associated quest to destroy it, and subsequently become hunted and acquire companions to help him survive. Book 2 is The Two Towers, which sees the fellowship pulled in separate directions to address the fight against evil on different fronts. Book 3, The Return of the King, brings everything to a climax, with a rightful king revealed, a major battle to win, and a race to see the ring destroyed before it’s too late for the non-evil races of Middle Earth.

While The Hobbit was originally published in 1937, the LOTR trilogy didn’t see the printed page until the 1950’s. That has still given the series plenty of time to go through a whole lot of covers. They have largely tended to feature illustrated scenes or landscapes from the story, with a few more minimal covers (some stark, some fancifully elven).

I am not an illustrator. But I still wanted to take a crack at these paragons of the fantasy world. I specialize in photo-based and type-based covers, and for this trilogy I decided to blend those two approaches. Take a look:

Lord of the Rings covers

Lord of the Rings covers

The Fellowship of the Ring flat cover

The Two Towers flat cover

The Return of the King flat cover

Cover elements:

  • Highly textural photo backgrounds for each cover: a green Shire-like hillside for book 1, rough layered stonework for book 2, and battle-scarred armor for book 3.
  • Negative space icons for each cover: a ring/circle for book 1, a set of two crenelated towers for book 2, and a crown for book 3. These same icons appear solid on the spines.
  • Cover-spanning type for each title, morphed to outline the negative space icon. A lighter version of the same, un-morphed font is used for the supporting type.

The icons and the photo backgrounds were picked to fit the content and the title of each book. I went with a block/sans-serif font for both a more modern feel and for the manipulation I needed to do. I kept the supporting text (book #, author, etc.) in the same placement for each book to help with series consistency.

I probably had the most trouble with The Two Towers, simply because I didn’t have as much text to work with for the title and still achieve the negative space icon. But overall, I’m pretty happy with how these all turned out. I like the contrast of the white, bold type against the darker, grungy textures, and I got to try out something a little outside of my norm. And I think they are good representation of theses stories, while being different from the covers already out there for The Lord of the Rings series.

What do you think? Epic covers for a epic series?

Need Cover Help?

If you are an indie or self-pub author looking for a unique cover & more, I have just the package for you:
The Pageturner design bundle, for everything you need to pimp your book.

 


3 Visual Branding Tips for Entrepreneurs

3 Visual Branding Tips for Entrepreneurs

This post on visual branding originally appeared as a guest post on the Small Coffee marketing blog.

No matter what type of business you own, there are certain best practices in developing your visual branding that will help you come out the other side with a look that appeals and engages. This assumes you’ve already done some work figuring out your brand messaging, and are ready to translate that into your business’ new look. Here are 3 tips to help you do just that.

1. Your personal taste is not the focus.

I wrote a whole post about this, but what it boils down to is that your business’ branding should be about what appeals to your target audience, not what you personally prefer. Your favorite color may be pink, but if you’re trying to sell something to conservative men in their 40’s, that’s not going to be the smart branding choice.

Once you know who your target audience is, your designer can utilize their knowledge of color theory, font personalities and more to make sure your visual branding lines up with who you’re trying to reach. Branding is all about effectively communicating who your business is for and what it does for them, so the focus should be on them, not on you the business owner. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t like and be happy with your business’ branding, but keep in mind that a business owner rarely falls into the target audience of their business.

2. Keep it simple.

Don’t try to crowd too many different elements into your visual branding. It will end up looking messy and schizophrenic. These points are things a designer can help guide you through, but if you’re set on the DIY track here are some basics:

  • Fonts: Stick to 2-3 fonts total, that complement each other. One font for headlines, one font for large blocks of copy, and maybe a third for contrast in other stand-out text.
  • Colors: I’d recommend sticking to 2-4 colors (not counting black and white). That’s enough to establish a recognizable brand look and still have contrast between elements in a design. This is your overall color scheme for ALL branding pieces; it should be noted that you don’t have to include the full color scheme in your logo alone. In fact, a good test for a logo is making sure it still makes sense and is readable when shown only in black.
  • Logomark (the symbolic, non-text part of your logo): Simplicity is key not only for longevity (simpler tends to be more timeless), but also because your logo has to appear many different places in many different sizes. An intricate logo might look great sized for your website’s header, but what about when it has to fit onto a business card? a small social media avatar? a pen? If the beautiful details of your logo devolve into a indistinguishable blob, then it’s not the best choice. Take a page out of Nike or Apple’s book and go for simple symbolism.

3. Keep it consistent

The best way to make sure your business’ look stays consistent is to put together a brand guidelines document. Once you have the basic visual elements figured out, sit down and put all of that information together. Note what fonts you used and for what purpose (i.e. “this is the font for headlines”), what the color codes are for your brand’s color scheme (RGB, CMYK, web hex), acceptable ways to use the logo, etc. You can even include what textural elements or photographic style your brand pieces should have.

If you want to get really in-depth, you can also include non-visual brand notes, like the tone of voice all writing should have, or how certain ideas should always be phrased. It takes a bit of time to put together, but once you have it you can always refer back to it if you forget what font you used, or can’t remember the code for that specific shade of green. Not only that, but if your business grows to where you have employees or partners, a brand guidelines document makes sure everyone is on the same page and representing the brand consistently.

If you can keep those three ideas in mind, you’ll already be ahead of the game compared to most business owners.
 

What do you think: do any other tips for establishing visual branding come to mind? Did you follow these best practices when establishing your business’ look?

Need help with your new business' visual branding?

I’ve got just the thing for that. Check out The Newbie Design Bundle, specifically for new business owners.

 


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Amanda Guerassio

From freelance designer to studio owner, I've been a self-employed, independent graphic designer for over a decade. I love helping people find the right visual voice for their businesses and projects. Let's talk!