For small-business owners, the idea of developing a brand can be a daunting experience. Especially for sole proprietors juggling day-to-day business operations with everything that life throws at you.

Whether you’re thinking of beginning your brand journey or you’re already into the thick of it, the roadmap below provides direction in reaching your brand goals.

Milestone 1: Start your brand journey

We live in a distracted world, and every business could be vying for your customer’s attention. A brand strategy will help build awareness and loyalty the more consistent you are. Consistency builds trust and recognition amongst your customers, fostering a strong relationship between you and your buyers. A former boss of mine used to say,  a prospect needs to ‘hear’ an advertiser’s message at least seven times before they’ll act to buy that product or service. While a brand isn’t the same as a marketing campaign, the underlying principle applies.

Now that I’ve convinced you, there are a couple of things that you should be aware of before beginning your brand journey.

Know your ‘Why’ and company mission

Both are critical in shaping your brand, especially when it comes to the customers’ experience and perception of your business. To learn more, be sure to check out Simon Sinek’s TED Talk, How Great Leaders Inspire Action.

Have an idea of who your customers/audience are

Does your business serve stay-at-home moms, gym jocks, or young, working professionals? While you might think your business appeals to a wide range of people, reaching too broadly will hinder you.

When I asked one of my clients who their targeted audience was, they stated the broader community. After compiling survey results sent out to their mailing list and social media, they were shocked to see that their audience were strictly artists and print enthusiasts. That knowledge gave them the freedom to use specific print terminology in their communication (brand voice) and focus their visuals on a broader range of printing techniques. In the end, their brand helped them foster a stronger relationship with a more loyal audience. The content and brand they presented were more relevant to their audience’s interest. Overall, if you try to appeal to everyone you appeal to no one.

Learn about your competitors

Do your competitors serve the same audience as you? How do they present themselves? Is there something about your company’s purpose (Why) that sets you apart from them? A great brand designer will most likely do this research as well, but it’s good to know in advance.

Your brand is more than a logo

This is a common misconception. The logo is just one small part of your brand. Things like a company’s purpose, mission, values, personality, and voice are the intangible aspects of your brand. They are what draws your customers to you rather than your competitor down the street. Your brand identity is how you use typography, imagery, colours, icons, and your logo to visually represent your brand image. A brand is also how your customer’s feel when experiencing these things.

Have a budget and timeline in mind, but be ready to adjust your numbers

Yes, some tools allow you to create a logo with one quick click of a button. However, if you are going out to hire an expert, then be prepared to pay for their expertise. Since a brand is more than a logo, if you attempt to take shortcuts, it may hurt you in the long run. I’ve had clients come to me after they had a terrible experience with companies like Fiverr. Their biggest complaint was that their logo looked too similar to other logos on the platform. Save your money and time and go with someone who knows the path and will give you something that is suited to your branding goals.

They are also willing to put in time to do research, which may lead to alternative solutions that you, the client, didn’t even think of. For example, if you are looking at increasing sales, your designer may suggest converting your physical flyers to a digital ad that you can post on Instagram where you have a largely untapped market.

Milestone 2: Meet your branding buddy

Once you’ve completed your first milestone, you’re ready to do some preliminary research on designers. Not sure what to look for when it comes to qualified designers? I’ve written a guide titled Hiring a Designer? Here’s what to look for to get you started.

I recommend having three candidates lined up for interviews. It not only gives you choices when one of the options doesn’t work out, but you can get an accurate idea of how much it’ll cost you, by averaging out the final amounts given by all three designers.

Keep in mind, that you’ll pay for a more experienced designer than a student and that should be taken into consideration when evaluating budgets and quotes.

Milestone 2

Milestone 3: Let's talk strategy

Strategy, some love it. Others not so much. Either way, it’s a step that will lay the foundation for the rest of your brand.

A brand strategy is a plan to achieve a series of long-term goals, which results in the identification and preference of your brand by customers.

A successful brand strategy consists of the brand’s mission, values, promise to its customers, and how they communicate with their audiences.

The answers that you came up with in Milestone one, will help save you and your designer time. That said, a great brand designer will not only be skilled in their craft, but they’ll be keen on learning everything there is about you, your business, and the industry. They’ll research to ensure that they’ve captured everything. This may include a more thorough investigation of your competitors, analyzing your target audience and assessing what channels of communication are best, etc…

Once a strategy has been developed, it’s time to move onto the fun part of branding, the logo, and the brand identity!

Milestone 4: Logos, logos, and more logos

The logo is a visual representation of your business through text and imagery. Often it is the first thing your customer will see. With today’s online users’ short attention spans (approximately eight seconds), your logo is the marker that identifies and differentiates you from competitors. Therefore, it’s only natural that a great designer will showcase a couple of options when it comes to your brand. Depending on the budget, the designer may present anywhere from three to five concepts. Like a restaurant where the menu has too many options, any more than five might make it difficult for you to land on a strong concept.

Some main things to consider when landing on a concept:

  • Is the logo memorable?
  • Does it express the same feeling you want to pass along to your customers?
  • Is it different from your competition?

A great logo can foster brand recognition, especially among loyal customers. One example, is the Nike symbol on all their apparel.

Milestone 5: Landing on a brand identity

The logo is a visual representation of your business through text and imagery. Often it is the first thing your customer will see. With today’s online users’ short attention spans (approximately eight seconds), your logo is the

What is a brand identity?

It is the visible elements of your brand, including:

  • Logo, logo variations, and usage
  • Typography
  • Colour swatches
  • Imagery, iconography and textures
  • Overall design and layout

All the research and discussion in milestone three come into fruition in the brand identity. Depending on your budget, your designer will present two to three options for each component.

An aside when it comes to imagery – small business owners may not have the budget to hire a photographer. However, there are a couple of stock photography sites that can provide owners with photos that are both professional and affordable including:

Milestone 6: Review, Comment, Edit, Repeat

This stage can be the most fun or most frustrating. At this point, you will be working closely with your designer on fine-tuning both your logo and everything else that falls within your brand identity.

Having worked as both the designer and the client, I can say that being specific and direct with your feedback is key, especially if you want to keep the number of revisions to the bare minimum. If you have any doubt about anything, have a conversation with your designer. You may have some pushback from them if they feel strongly about a concept/direction, but ultimately, it’s your brand.

That said, don’t be quick to dismiss them. I’ve had clients in the past, who after some friendly debate went to get impartial feedback from close business associates. An outside opinion can be the final vote that helps you gain better insight into how your customers may see your logo. The same thing goes for everything else that falls within your brand identity.

Milestone 7: Congratulations! You've reached your destination

This is the point in the project where you wrap things up with your designer. If you have any questions about implementing your brand across your communication channels, this would be the time to follow up with your designer. If not, you’re ready to showcase your services or product to the world and you’ll look great doing it.

One last note, referrals go a long way. Help your designer by taking some time to write a quick note about how you enjoyed working with them.