If you knew me in real life, you’d know that I am a designer above all. I own a design company and make websites, marketing materials, merchandise, social network profile pages…. You name it, I’ve probably designed it.
I’ve been in this industry for over a decade now (okay wow, that just makes me sound really old! I promise I started super young!) and have owned and operated multiple businesses from the age of 16 and on. My first “legit” business ever was a little clothing line that I started up called Sugardevil. I designed t-shirts and used my high school friends as catalog models.
I did everything from setting up wholesale accounts with blank t-shirt manufacturers to running back and forth to screen printing studios, to attempting to do my own taxes.
Sugardevil was where my love of design for product began. During that time, I applied for and was chosen to represent a brand new government youth program called Summer Company. Myself, along with two other young entrepreneurs were the very first prodigies to go through this program and got a nice start-up grant when we were through. Basically this program consisted of us meeting with adult business professionals once a week to learn the ropes of owning and operating a business. We had goals to complete along with seemingly never-ending written business plans and I definitely learned a lot!
I took this knowledge with me on my future journeys throughout the years and used my skills in dealing with people to form an online music magazine with some friends. We had a staff of about 30 people located around the world, from writers to photographers, and we took full advantage of every opportunity to interview bands and get free media passes to shows. Who doesn’t love skipping the lineups at concerts? I was in charge of the website and designing all of our promotional material, or course!
Fast forward a couple years and Sugardevil suddenly merged into something different… A band/artist promotions company which I operated with two other girls. It was my job to make our artists look good online and in marketing materials. I combined my design passion with my love of music and bands. See how those two previous businesses just sort of merged together? I am a true believer that past experiences lead you to future accomplishments. We eventually called it quits after having a fun run with it and I started doing websites full time.
Websites were my passion. I loved taking everything I had learned over the years in terms of design, marketing, management, and business and applying it to a website to make my client look their best.. which is probably the most important business task. Which brings me to the whole point of this post… the importance of branding.
When I was first starting out in this line of work, I thought it was obvious that anyone with a business knew that it was important to have a website and marketing materials. Turns out I was hugely wrong. I was actually shocked at the number of companies I came across that had no idea how to brand themselves. I would find myself writing them essays about why they needed a good looking website, and those ones I managed to convince have excelled before my very eyes.
Take, for example, one of the first of my clients. I found them online back in 2003 after a friend had referred me to their product. The moment I stepped inside their website I was a little weary. We’re talking about the most terrible of all terrible websites. The whole thing was text. Red and purple text on a green background with a link to purchase their product on eBay. “THIS is the website for that amazing product?” I thought. There was absolutely no branding… no product photos, no logo, nothing… Plus purchasing was limited to eBay. Their website made them look like a basement operation instead of a legitimate company. Normally when I come across a terrible looking website or blog I leave immediately. However, something about this one made me want to help. I knew their product was amazing and I couldn’t stand that they weren’t conveying this at all through their branding.
I wrote up an email to the owner and told him that I do websites and that I thought he could really benefit from a redesign and an actual online storefront separate from eBay. He wrote back with “convince me.” That’s it… “convince me“.
I really didn’t think that there was anything that needed convincing… I mean, here was his website, plain as day in all it’s ugliness and he wanted me to convince him that he needed a good looking one. Again, I was fairly new at this and didn’t really understand how people couldn’t see that their websites were horrific (not knowing then that I would be faced with years of the same dilemma). I took to my email anyways and wrote out what was probably the longest sales pitch ever.
I explained to him how his website is turning people away, (I used myself as an example), and how for many people it is their very first impression of his business. I told him how his website should properly convey the quality of his product. I told him how he looks super unprofessional. I was half expecting him to tell me to get bent, but he actually listened and took in what I was telling him. I promised him that once his website was up to professional standards, his orders would triple. He decided to hire me, and guess what? They did. He even managed to pay off the cost of the website build in the very first month of official operation.
After all of these years I’ve been watching his website grow daily. So much so, that it is now his main source of orders and he is proud to send people there.
Let me put it simply for those of you with businesses. Your identity is everything. Your website IS your business card. Your online storefront is your boardroom presentation, not a 5th grade glitter-covered, sloppy science fair project. People (potential customers) absolutely do judge you based on the overall appearance of your branding just as they would judge you for wearing ripped up jeans and muddy boots to a professional business meeting. It is SO important to have an image that conveys your identity and is pleasing for the potential customer/client.
Websites with an easy to remember domain name or URL are also super important for any business. No one reads the Yellow Pages anymore. In fact, I often wonder why they even still deliver that big yellow book to my house because it just goes straight into the recycling bin. The internet is your calling card. You NEED to be online and you need to look professional. Period. Your site needs to be easy to navigate, needs to have professional looking photos that all have the same feel, and needs to work properly on every browser. Your logo should be consistent on each piece of marketing material so that people can identify you. Nobody remembers a business if they have 10 different logos or use 10 different fonts as logos. You can have variations or a different positioning of the same logo, but they should all have the same feel and same font as if they are part of a package.
Your business cards should match your website and include your logo. Your branding should all be created using the same colours. Return address labels? Use your logo and the same colours. Flyers? Postcards? Same idea. You need your marketing materials to flow together.
Think of your branding as a package that you’re about to present to someone. When you package your materials together, do they vibe or do they conflict? If they conflict, you’re doing something wrong. Does your Etsy shop mesh well with your Facebook Page? What does your packaging material say about your business? Do you even take the time to make sure your items are packaged to reflect your business model? These are all things you should consider when developing a brand.
There are tools you can use online to help you create graphics, such as Picnik, or even the starter version of Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, if you’re feeling creative. If designing isn’t your thing, don’t be afraid to spend a little money on hiring a professional if you have no idea where to start. Sometimes you have to spend money to make money and something as important as branding should not be left untouched if you are serious about your venture. There is no excuse for poor design and branding because there are countless avenues all just waiting to help you out.
Even when I was designing t-shirts, even when I was working with bands, even when I was managing the other 2.5 businesses I didn’t mention here, I never stopped creating an ongoing identity for each one. To this very day I continue to work on my own branding and improve the flow of each material. Branding is, and always will be, one of the most important aspects of your business… so take it seriously and have fun with it… and most of all love your business!