Brand Yourself (or your biz) for $0
Foundational brand elements (like a mission statement and ideal client) can drastically change the trajectory of your branding, so decide these things BEFORE wasting any time or money developing your brand.
Most people starting a solo business endeavor out of their skills and passions aren't going out to get bank loans or investment funds. You're boot-strapping your operations while you build your business and work to make an impact. And kudos to you! You are my favorite kind of business owner :)
Boot-strapping can be tough though. You've got a vision for your business, but don't always have the funds to execute that vision in the way you've dreamed. When you've got limited funds to invest in the creation of your business, hiring a designer can't always be at the top of your list. AND THAT'S OKAY.
However, that doesn't mean that you have to forgo having a polished and professional brand that represents you and your business. I do think having this brand goes a long way when it comes to launching your business, getting people to take you seriously, and being memorable and recognizable - AND you can do it with just a little bit of your time and $0. Yep. Sans moolah.
What's Necessary to Brand Yourself (or your biz)
I'm not a designer, but I've been a part of at least a handful of brand development projects of all kinds. They ran the gamut on scope and budget, but they all went beyond just creating a logo. They developed a full brand identity - which is what I always recommend, even for small business owners.
A brand identity is exactly what it sounds like - the various elements of your brand that make you identifiable. It establishes colors, fonts, overall style, personality, logo (of course!) and anything else used consistently to establish the look and feel of your brand.
Let's look at how wide ranging a brand identity development project can be:
When I was in the corporate world, we spent tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars just to launch an extension of an existing brand by hiring naming agencies, branding agencies, advertising agencies, and doing tests upon tests.
When I started my coworking space, Platform 53, I paid $6000 for a full brand identity from a design agency.
When I launched this pathfinding strategy business, I developed 80% of my brand identity myself, then paid a graphic designer $600 to help me put the finishing touches on. I do all of the day-to-day design work myself.
I built a brand identity from scratch for the pre-marital class my husband and I volunteer for with a budget of $0.
I love my $0 brand and my $600 brand just as much, if not more, than my $6000 and way-too-expensive corporate brands.
So, I'm going to give you all the deets on how to brand yourself (or your biz) for a whopping $0, without having to go through the experience of mutliple expensive brand identity projects first.
Know Your Foundation
If you're like me, getting to the creative design stuff is the fun part. It's tempting to get sucked into that early on, but do yourself a favor and wait, or you'll waste a whole lot of time.
Wait for what, you ask?
Wait to brand yourself until you have a solid brand foundation set. This means:
Trust me when I say that once you have your foundation set, you will be so much more discerning about what fits and what doesn't, so it doesn't feel like you're shooting in the dark, trying to pick a random direction for your brand. If you are working on your branding and feel like you could go in a million different directions, chances are you need to go back to developing your brand foundations first.
The year before I launched this business, my desire to dive into the fun creative stuff led me to start pulling brand inspiration on Pinterest. I did not have my brand foundations figured out yet. Checkout my Pinterest board #1 and board #2 with actual inspiration I pulled. You can see how far of a departure it is from my brand now (just look at my website). Once I figured out my foundations, it was so incredibly clear that the inspiration I had pulled on these two boards did not feel right for it, so I started over from scratch. Like I said, you'll waste your time. I did.
But once you have a solid foundation, then you can start getting creative...
Need Help with your Foundational Brand Elements?
Here are three free downloads to help you do just that.
Click the links below to get the ones you need.
Pinterest is for more than just wedding planning & home decorating
Hop on over the Pinterest and start a new board to capture your brand identity inspiration. (Men, if you're not on Pinterest, don't be afraid, just do it.) I suggest creating sections within your board to keep the various types of information separate.
Checkout my personal Pinterest Board that I used to inspire the branding for this business (the one I created after my random premature boards). You can see how my pins inspired the branding you see on this website.
I suggest looking at categories such as
Logo design/other recognizable assets
Material style (like business cards and handouts)
Headshot poses and/or stock photography style
Anything else you want a part of your brand
To find your inspiration, play around with your search terms. For example, you could start with just "websites" and then when you find a few you like, ask yourself what they have in common (or look at how people describe them in the description), and then do a search for that, such as "minimalist websites" or "one-page website" or "pink website". Whenever you find a great photo, scroll down for related photos. Save them all to the corresponding board section, not worrying too much about locking in on anything at this point. You're not making decisions, you're just gathering inspiration.
If you look at mine, I have a pretty clear style in each of those categories. If you start pinning inspiration photos and they don't seem to have a lot in common right away, that's okay, just keep pinning. Eventually you'll start to figure out what it is about them you like and you'll probably start being drawn to one style more than another. When that happens, you can review the photos you've pinned and remove any that no longer speak to the direction you've decided.
Choose Your Design Elements
If you're developing your own brand, don't worry about having some fancy emblem for your logo, instead choose a font or two to write your business name (and maybe tagline) in. Look at my logo at the top of this page. It's just my name in a handwritten script style that I downloaded for free online. Nothing fancy. Nothing complication. Just. Keep. It. Simple.
Overall, you'll want roughly 3-4 fonts including
Main header font (1)
Sub-header font (1-2)
Body text font (1)
I also occasionally use the same font from my logo to call out key words, like what you see in the images I create for these articles. It's up to you if you keep your logo font just for your logo or use it for other things, but just be sure all the fonts look good side-by-side.
I download most of my free fonts from DaFont. Then add them to your computer's font book (and possibly website builder) so you can use them all the time.
Look at your color palette inspiration on Pinterest and then head on over to HTML Color Codes. This cool and free online tool makes it easy to pick colors and play around with coordinating colors with their Color Picker Tool. You can also get all the RGB, CMYK, and HEX# codes for the colors you choose. If it’s important to you to understand the meaning behind the colors you choose, checkout this article.
I don't think there's really a "rule" for how many colors to choose. Here are some things I consider though:
Get inspired by one main color that you'll use as the main highlight and background color
Pick one or more coordinating colors that look good with it (I won't go into types of color coordination since that website gives all the deets you need)
Optional: Choose a unique dark neutral body font color to use instead of standard black
If you're struggling to think about how this comes to life, think of the interior design 60-30-10 rule. It represents how often you'll be seeing your chosen colors. In the context of your brand, this will mostly be the colors represented for the background, text, and design elements.
60% will be neutral colored (white/black)
30% will be your main brand color
10% will be one or more secondary coordinating colors
Once you've decided on your colors, export or write down the HEX# (for web) and rgb codes so you can find these custom colors whenever you create something.
Lastly, decide what kind of overall design style you want. The easiest way to think about this is to imagine what a flier or website would look like. It might have lots of whitespace, color blocking, shapes, lines, rounded or squared corners, photography, etc.
For a professionally designed brand like Platform 53, this can get really specific. I use red lines and a dashed blue line to create grids to organize information. I put photography in duotone red, and I use the plus sign in black all over.
You do not need to get this fancy, but you do want to get consistent.
For this business, I'm much simpler. I use rectangular color blocks, thick lines, icons from a free site called Noun Project, my headshots, and stock photography of office supplies and women.
For my pre-marital class, the only thing consistently used is the ring to put around photos and text.
Here's how it came to life for each of those three brands:
Bring it to Life
Tools to design when you're just getting started
While the functionality is more robust, there's no need to purchase and get trained in design software like Photoshop or InDesign when you're just getting started and doing basic stuff. For years I've used Keynote (the mac version of powerpoint) to create all of my designs (and still do to this day). I used to use Powerpoint before I converted to Mac. In my opinion, the functionality of Powerpoint and Google Slides are more cumbersome from a design perspective, though ultimately they can be used in the same way if you don't have a Mac. Word processing tools like Microsoft Word or Google Docs can be used to design things, but don't have the same drag-and-drop flexibility that the slide creation tools have.
Powerpoint has one advantage in that it can be used to create your logo image file. Once you've designed it, select all the elements of your logo at once and right click to save as an image. The background will be transparent, whereas in Keynote, you can only export the full slide as an image, and the background will not be transparent, it'll be the same color as the slide background (likely white). To get a properly digitized logo file with a transparent background if you don't have access to Powerpoint, you'll want to hire someone on Fiverr for $5-$10 to do it for you.
Designing additional graphics and materials in these slide creation tools do require some creativity, given that you're starting from scratch, but if you have a good eye, you don't need to be a designer to fill your basic needs. Just adjust the slide dimensions to the size document or image you're creating and when you're done designing, export it as a pdf or jpg.
Aren't really the creative type? You can also use online tools and apps such as Canva to create stunning designs. There are free and paid versions with different levels of functionality. Just be careful when using these templates that you don't get swept up into all the pretty designs. Instead stay on-brand, finding designs that fit your vision and customize them with your brand identity elements. This will also ensure that you don't end up choosing the same design that hundreds or thousands of others have chosen.
If you're building a website, companies like Squarespace make it easy to create a stunning website without any web development knowledge. There is a bit of a learning curve, but the money saved can be well worth the time spent if you're in boot-strapping mode (stay tuned for a post on all the things I wish I knew before building a Squarespace site).
So there you have it - a step-by-step on how to develop a brand yourself without hiring a graphic designer. When you're ready (and have the budget) you can always hire a designer to take your brand to the next level, but for those boot-strapping it like I did, this is a great way to get started.
Now go get started on developing your brand identity!
My #1 hack to simplify image creation for blogs + social media?
Have you ever created an awesome graphic for your blog (or anything else you might share a link for), then shared that link on social media only to realize later that your awesome graphic was horribly cropped in the link image preview? Maybe you've started creating several different sized graphics customized for each social media channel and have been uploading them individually when scheduling your social media posts. That's what I was doing. That was a big fat waste of time...
Then, I figured out a better way. I created a template that results in perfectly cropped images for (1) blog and gallery thumbnails, (2) Link image previews for Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and (3) Pinterest and Instagram feeds. Whaaaat?? Yep, that's right. A whopping ONE image that does all that.
Want my template? Download it for free below!
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I’m Stacy, an entrepreneur, strategist, and adventurer dedicated to helping you build a kick-ass business out of your skills & passions. Why? Because I think you should love your life and that’s kind of hard to do if you don’t love your work.
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