Most Important Advice for Start-ups

I’ve been working with small business owners for over 5 years. During that time I have found that those starting a business fall within one of two camps:

  1. Those who believe money is their most limited resource. This camp is made up of hard-working, diy-enthusiasts who aren’t afraid to learn something new.
  2. Those who believe time is their most limited resource. These business owners will gladly hire experts to take tasks off of their plate.

The most important piece of advice I can share with someone starting a business, no matter which approach they take, is to invest (time or money) in brand guidelines.

What are brand guidelines?

Brand guidelines serve as a user manual for your brand. The contents can vary depending on the size of the company, the type of industry and how many people are involved in the advertising process. Most often brand guidelines list very detailed instructions on how to use the logo, fonts, color and other visual elements to encourage consistency. Brand guidelines can be delivered as a digital file and/or in the form of a printed document.

Does Everyone Need Brand Guidelines?

Yes, every brand requires a set of guidelines. For some businesses, these details can fit on a single sheet while others take on the form of a magazine. Work with a graphic designer or use the list at the end of this blog post to determine what is best for your business.

For the diy-er:

If you will be responsible for creating the majority of the marketing and advertising materials for your small business, it is crucial that you start with the most basic guidelines in place. Even as someone with years of experience and a degree in design, I still find brand guidelines essential to my business. Design skills do not negate the need for standards and restraints when it comes to the visual brand.

For the busy entrepreneur:

If you often delegate aspects of your marketing and advertising, it is crucial that each person that works with your branding assets knows the visual standards they need to follow. It is not uncommon to hire a company to create your signage, a graphic designer to make your brochures and perhaps a web developer to build your website. Because not all of these people have the ability to collaborate on your visuals – a set of standards will be indispensable.

Pro Tip: Local media outlets, such as newspapers and magazines, will often include free design with the purchase of advertising space. This is a great way to save money in your small business! If you are local to Pinehurst and Southern Pines, this is true with many of the magazines. Be sure to send your brand guidelines along with your logo to the person creating your ad.

Are Brand Guidelines Really Worth It?

Save Time

If you are diy-ing your design, it will be extremely helpful to have the basics predetermined. You won’t waste time finding a font, picking the perfect color palette or finding a background pattern because these things are already neatly packaged for you. It reduces the time-wasting method of trial and error design. You will have a guide right in front of you describing the best way to use your brand elements together. For those who like to delegate design and production tasks, brand guidelines will help you quickly convey all of the important information needed by each person who comes in contact with your brand visuals. No need to schedule time-consuming meetings or go through rounds of revisions with your signage company or tshirt printer. Be efficient and thorough by sending brand guidelines to every person (internal or external to your company) who uses your logo.

Communicate Effectively

All visuals related to your business should communicate a specific mood/feeling/thought/experience to your audience. All of your brand elements should be strategically chosen to work together with a particular strategy in mind. When brand guidelines are followed, you do not run the risk of communicating the wrong message to your audience or even attracting the wrong audience.

Make Your Advertising Dollars Worthwhile

As a new business, it is likely that you are taking extra measures to advertising. It is important that your audience knows you exist. When advertisements or marketing campaigns are not visually consistent, new businesses miss out on the recognizability factor. Now is not the time to get overly creative or cutesy with your visuals and confuse your potential customers. Every item your audience sees, from the outdoor signage to the social media graphics, should (very) obviously belong to your brand.

What Should be Included in My Guidelines?

There are 3 items I believe every brand needs to have detailed in their guidelines. I have listed several questions under each item to help those of you who are taking the DIY approach.

1. Logos and logo variations
  • Which logo is the primary logo?
  • How much of a margin should be left around the logo?
  • Are there variations of this logo? A version with and without a tagline?
  • How small can this logo be? Is there a submark?
  • How will the logo be used on dark backgrounds?
  • Is there a single color option of the logo for budget printing?
  • Are there ways the logo should not be used?

Pro tip: DO NOT work with a logo designer who does not provide you with the working or vector files of your logo. It is important that your logo can be used at any size without pixelation. Ask for files that end in .ai or .eps.

2. Color Palette
  • What colors make up the logo?
  • Are there other colors included in the brand?
  • What are the hex codes, CMYK and RGB numbers for all of these colors?
3. Typography
  • What font(s) should be used in the brand?
  • What weights are acceptable?
  • Is there a certain hierarchy that should be followed for headlines, subheadings, body copy, captions, etc.

Dependent on the business, it may be helpful to also cover these aspects of your brand as well:

4. Patterns/textures
  • What do the patterns/textures look like?
  • What is the recommended scale (or size) of the pattern/texture?
  • Are there color variations available for these elements?
5. Web elements
  • What do buttons look like?
  • Is there a specific visual style that should be applied to images (ie overlays)?
  • What should the icons look like?
  • What background colors are appropriate?
6. Photography
  • Should photos have primarily light or dark backgrounds?
  • Are there other stylistic or posing guidelines? (ie. subjects should look natural and unposed, photos should be uncluttered, etc)
  • What mood should the photos convey?
7. Copywriting
  • What specific terms or phrases that are to be used in the brand?
  • What terms/phrases should be avoided?
  • How could the brand’s voice/tone be described? What is it’s personality?
  • What format is the phone number/address/etc written in?
8. Templates
  • Are the specific layouts that increase the brand’s recognizability? Think of flyers, posters, emails, landing pages, publications, printed ads, digital ads, Powerpoint presentations, banners, booklets, displays, and apparel.
  • Include visual examples in this section and be sure to give exact dimensions when necessary.

Among the funding, business licenses, permits, zoning requirements and all of the other items that fill our to-do list during a business launch, I challenge you to make space for brand guidelines. It will save you so much time and money in the long run. You’ll begin to reap the benefits of a cohesive brand.

What if you already have a logo but no guidelines? It is never too late! While it is best for the style guide to be developed as early into your business as possible, you can still have one created to streamline your process and visual style as you move forward.

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Pine & Pixels is a branding and website design studio currently based in Florida and serving small businesses near and far. M-F, 9-5 CT

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