Growing your brand in a crowded market place is hard. If you aren’t up on the latest marketing trends and aren’t super tech-savvy, it may seem impossible to compete. Many small businesses don’t have much of a budget to invest. So, they Google, “How to market your business cheap.”
The businesses that are standing out in a crowded market place are those that believe in the power of marketing and believe that you get what you pay for.
How many times have you visited a website and were like, “Ew. This site is so drab, boring, dated, or unprofessional?” Probably every other small business’ website. Right?
And think about how many times you receive a cheap business card that looks like it was pulled right out of the box and a business logo just slapped onto it, in addition to be very flemsy and cheap? Again… probably every other small business.
If you want to stand out above the crowd (*queue Goofy Movie theme song here*), you need to invest in marketing. That means hiring a professional graphic designer… not going to Fiverr and having someone overseas make a $5 logo that has ZERO idea who your target audience is and what your brand is about. This also means that you need to go to a professional web developer instead of creating an “out-of-the-box” Squarespace or Wix site. This also means that you need to invest in quality promotional materials… this includes business cards, letterhead, flyers, social media, email campaigns, brochures, etc. Again, use a “professional creative person.” I’ll tell you why… (Beware: 16 minute read)
Fake it Until You Make It
This is essentially the theme of every great marketer’s journey. In order to become a great marketer, you have to have clients with proven track records of successful marketing in which you’ve implemented. In order to get clients though, you either have to have a proven track record and methods, or, you have to sell them on YOU and your knowledge. That’s what I call, “faking it until you make it.” Most marketers start out with general theory… things that they’ve read that SHOULD work. However, what eventually makes those marketers great is proving that when things don’t work the way they should, they are clever enough to tweak the marketing campaign and boost it towards success.
The same theory applied to a small business. I started my first small business in 2011 as a Junior in college. I needed to make a little extra cash because my internship didn’t really pay a whole lot. I knew how to design a logo, a website, and how to use social media… so I decided to start Blu Mountain Expressions, a creative marketing company.
I built my website using WordPress, hosted it myself (well, with the help of Dreamhost), and developed a social media page and strategy. Within the first year, I picked up 15 clients. Not bad for a college student just trying to make it, right?
Turns out, because my website looked just as good as the other design agencies (like legit design agencies) in town and I was a little more affordable (because I was just trying to fund Ramon Noodles… not a mortgage like those other guys), I got the business of quite a few small businesses in the area. And because I was able to talk the talk, I was given the opportunity to walk the walk. I’ll admit, the first few client projects could have been better… but I was still learning the ropes. And, for what the client was paying, the design work was still better than they would have gotten off the internet… so it was a win win for both parties. With each and every project though, I got better and better. Mistakes I had made on a previous project, I learned from and didn’t make the same mistake twice. And eventually, I had a pretty legit portfolio… which helped me land my first full-time job only a few months out of college (which apparently is pretty hard these days). The point of me telling you all of that though is… because I had a well designed website, a nice looking logo, and a great social media presence, businesses trusted my brand and gave me a chance. I looked the part, so I got the business.
Another examples is my mother’s law firm, Angela Stewart DeLorme, P.C., Attorney at Law. This is the example that most of you will be able to relate to. She didn’t have to fake it until she made it. She’s super legit. However, her website wasn’t. She had a VERY basic website (for close to 10 years). Most of her business was typically referred to her by friends, family, and colleagues in the community. At the time, SEO hadn’t become a major marketing strategy for small businesses just yet. But in Blue Ridge, GA, a town that was booming with tourist and real estate starting to really take off, SEO could really benefit a small business. Due to the influx of tourist from Florida and Atlanta buying mountain homes, I saw an opportunity for me to help take my mom’s business to the next level. This is where the “fake it until you make it” comes in.
I knew that if I could re-brand my mom’s business and make her look like an “Atlanta attorney,” the tourists who Googled “Blue Ridge Real Estate Attorneys” would pick my mom over her competition time and time again… because she would look the part and they would trust her more quickly. So, lucky for her (I mean, she did give me life… so I guess that’s the least I could do), I offered to redesign my mom’s company website and help her build a new brand and marketing strategy.
After a few weeks, my mom had a brand new logo, a new website that was clean, modern, and responsive, as well as a Facebook account with a new marketing strategy in tact. A few months later, we got our first confirmation that the revamped website and marketing approach is working… we got our first, “We found your website on Google and decided to use you.” Now, her website shows up on the first page of Google, and out performs any other attorney’s website in the area. Furthermore, she’s consistently posting on Facebook and getting an average reach of about 350 people and an engagement (post clicks/likes/shares/comments) rate of about 40. For a small town attorney, that’s pretty dang good if you ask me.
So, as you can see, being conscious of how you’re perceived by your target audience can be a game changer for your business. This is another reason why it’s important to invest in your marketing. Even if you have the skills, if you don’t look credible, you won’t get the business (more times than not).
As mentioned, it’s hard to compete in a crowded market place and being memorable is getting harder and harder. However one of the easiest ways to be memorable is to have a great designed logo that resonates with your audience, a catchy slogan, or even a really cool business card. Sounds farfetched, but it’s true.
I get business cards all the time, but the only ones I hold onto are the ones that stand out. For instance, I once received a business card that was metal. Legit… metal. It was thin metal and just had the company’s logo, web address, and phone number on it, but it was the most impactful business card I’ve ever touched. …and because it was so cool, I will always remember that business. Sure, the business card probably cost $2 a pop, but if that $2 turns into a $2,000 client, I would say that’s a pretty great ROI. Wouldn’t you?
I also have a client who is a roofer who uses the tagline “#SexyRoof.” Believe it or not, he gets a TON of business because people remember him as the Sexy Roof guy. His roofs aren’t anything out of the ordinary either. I mean, yes, they are well-built roofs, but lots of people can build good roofs. However, his catchy tagline is memorable. So, he gets the business when people are referring a roofer. (Go ahead, Google the hashtag… you’ll see.)
It doesn’t take a lot to be memorable. You just have to invest in yourself and outshine your competition. …which brings me to my next point.
Invest in Yourself
DANG IT! INVEST IN YOURSELF! If you are a small business owner, you obviously started a business because you believed enough in your skills and knowledge to make a living at it. Right? Why not invest in yourself marketing wise to? Do you really want the face of your company (your logo) to be a Microsoft Word designed logo using clipart? Or worth only $5? Do you really want your website to be a page that just has your contact information on it and a few bullet points listing your service? …or would you rather have a website that immediately represents the value of your services, displays the quality of your brand, and conveys the message of what your business is TRULY about?
Dropping roughly $5,000 on marketing your first year in business may seem like a lot of money at the time, but when you are still in business two years later, have a thick client book, a booming social media presence, are on the first page of Google, and have a beautiful brand, wouldn’t it be worth it?
If you aren’t ready to invest in yourself with your pocketbook, you aren’t ready to own a business. Period. The guys at the UGA Small Business Development Center will tell you the same thing.
Good Design in Marketing Matters
Marketing doesn’t have to be hard. It also doesn’t have to be expensive. You just need to know what you’re looking for, a reasonable price point, and how to take what you have and use it effectively. Here are a few tips to help you navigate the whole creative marketing process more effectively and save a few dollars (in the right areas) at the same time:
You know what they say, “You only have once to make a first impression.” That’s why you want the face of your business to be professionally designed and a lot of thought and effort put into the meticulous representation of your brand. A good logo should effectively convey what your brand is about. Many elements of a logo contribute to the message your logo conveys. Whether it’s the images, color, text, style, etc., it all matters… believe it or not.
This is why using a company like Fiverr should be a “no-no” for a business. Nothing about the logo you receive from Fiverr (or similar companies) is unique. How are you supposed to dominate your industry if the business next door (who also shopped at Fiverr) is using a logo that looks JUST like yours? Your logo to stand out… be unique… and to be distinctive enough to be immediately recognizable to potential customers.
For instance, recently, I developed a Branding & Identity package for a company called Motli. From the name, you probably have no idea what the company is about. However, a lot of thought went into the emotion the logo evokes with potential customers. Motli’s goal is to take the stress of out fundraising and help raise funds for causes that we care about to help create a better tomorrow for the communities in which we live.
The first step of the design process was to understand what the company was about and how they want to be perceived by their target audience. Once we determined that the logo needed to resonate with the Greater Atlanta community, my team and I developed a logo that not only represented Motli, but also the upscale atmosphere of Alpharetta, Milton, East Cobb, and Roswell.
We then research color schemes that represented peace, nature, serenity, community, and luxury. After providing the client with a few different color scheme options, having a neutral grey, luxurious navy, and calming blue scheme was determined to be the winner.
The final logo also contained both a vertical and horizontal version, in addition to a full color, all black, and all white version to ensure the logo could work on a variety of mediums and seizes.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, you do not get with companies like Fiverr.
I know, I know… you’re probably thinking, “That’s great and all, but Fiverr is $5.” For a small business, you should be able to find a professional graphic designer to create a well-thought out logo for roughly $350-$800. That may seem like a lot of money for a silly little logo, but isn’t it worth investing a little more in to have a true representation of your brand. After all… it is the face of your business. And that’s just a rough estimate, depending on the complexity of the logo, a project could be quoted for as much as $2K.
Before turning to Fiverr to create a templated logo for your business, consider reaching out to a few graphic designers first. Ask the designers to give you a project quote, and ask them a few questions to determine if they’re true designers:
- How many logo options will I get? (A common answer would be: A full color, and a reverse version.)
- Which formats will you provide? (A common answer would be: .EPS/.AI, .JPG, and .PNG)
- What is your process? (Although this answer will vary from designer to designer, a great designer will include research in their process. A rough draft, font selection, logo variations, color choice, etc. should also be included in the process.)
- What is your workload like? (You want to make sure that your designer doesn’t have too many projects on their plate. Otherwise, they will neglect your project and your logo won’t be as well thought out as it should be.)
- Do you have a portfolio I can review? (You want to make sure a designers previous work aligns with the overall design aesthetic you envision for your project. If the designer’s portfolio is full of edgy, hand-illustrated black-and-white cartoon characters, they might not be the best fit to work with a mature brand that wants to appear authoritative.)
Regardless of whether we’re talking about print or digital marketing, this is often times the first introduction of your brand to a potential client. This could be anywhere from a brochure, business card, flyer, to digital ad.
Over the years, I’ve used quite a few online companies to help promote my brand. There have been some really good ones and some really bad ones. I’ve also used a few “brick and mortar” print shops as well. And although I am a fan of brick and mortar print shops due to having the ability to go in and look at the products, feel the paper, and see the ink… often times they are a little more expensive than online companies. Again though, we are talking about quality, not quantity. So, with that being said, here are a few of my favorite online companies to use that have enough custom options to really make your designs look good. Or, you can always walk into a local print shop and have them assist you in the printing process, too (for brochures, this is often times the best option).
…but before I get into that, let me be clear… custom designs by a graphic designer who can ensure that each touchpoint of your marketing is consistent from piece to piece is the best way to boost your brand. Using pre-made or out-of-the-box designs is a great way to stay average.
For both business cards, letterhead, flyers, and even postcards, I’ve used Moo (click the link for 20% off your first order) pretty frequently. They have a variety of options for finishes to take your printed promotional material to the next level. For instance, with business cards, you can invest in the luxe business card, which gives your card a nice thick luxury look on matte paper sandwiched with a pop of color in the middle. This is definitely a card that will be memorable to potential clients. However, these can also get a little pricey. There’s also the option to get soft-touch cards, rounded corners, square cards, etc. All of these options help your business card be memorable.
Another company that I highly recommend for print is Vistaprint. However, I’ve only had success with business cards, letterhead, and flyers… and you have to really pay attention to the quality of paper and finishes that you choose. Otherwise, your materials could come out looking cheap… and that’s what we want to avoid.
- For business cards, be sure to get at least 16-pt. card stock to ensure quality. This is is “Original” with Moo and “Signature” setting with Vistaprint.
- Never select “budget” or “standard” when ordering a special event flyer. You want to keep your paper weight at at least 100 lb. (6 PT – 14 PT). Also use a glossy coating. This ensures that your flyer won’t smear and adds a little bit extra protection. If the event is a mass promoted event and you need more than like 50 flyers, downgrading to “standard” is ok, but never “budget.”
- For brochures, you never want to use thin paper. A brochure should exude quality. The best way to do this is to request 100-lb cover stock paper (9 PT). And, to ensure the highest level of quality, always opt for the glossy or coated option.
As mentioned above, a business often times has to “fake it until they make it.” The easiest way to do this is through digital marketing. However, this is also the easiest way to turn people off of your brand. The most effective digital marketing practices have a few things in common, but the most common element is consistency. As mentioned in my “UX in Marketing” post, “Customers want to know exactly what they’re going to get from your business each and every time.”
Each and every time you post to social media, you want to have a fairly consistent tone and appearance. You wouldn’t want to post a cartoony image one week, then post very professional photography the next. You also don’t want someone to visit your social media channels and have a different experience with each one. Whether someone is visiting your Facebook page, your Twitter account, your website, or receiving a company email, all of the colors, fonts, elements, graphics, etc. should be fairly consistent. This is also where the importance of branding and a professional graphic designer comes into play. You can find more information about why design matters online in my “How Poor Design Will Affect Your Business” post.
I don’t know how many times I’ve seen a company who has one style of a website, then another styled social media cover photo, then another style incorporated into their monthly newsletter/company emails. This is usually due to the business not wanting to invest in good design and trying to do everything themselves. This is also the quickest way to point out a company who isn’t investing in themselves.
Another red flag and easy way to spot a lazy company is one who uses a third-party service to post content to their social media channels or to send their monthly email. And no, I’m not talking about HootSuite or Buffer, but rather the companies that have no idea who your target audience is, their demographics, interest, what they’ve previously engaged with, or what times of day that are online. These companies simply put a ton of content into a queue and then link social media accounts without ever knowing/caring that the content is engaging. However, a professional social media marketer would. This is another area that I would not skimp on.
With social media and email marketing being two extremely large components of a business’ marketing strategy (at least it should be), it’s definitely investing in a hiring a full-time person to handle your social media channels that is familiar with your brand, knows your audience, and can help develop relevant, engaging content on a daily basis. Another alternative to this is to hire a social media company that assigns a single person to manage your account. However, make sure whoever you hire only has a handful of clients. Like with graphic designers, if they have too many clients to juggle, they aren’t going to be putting as much effort into your business, which results in a lower quality outcome. An ideal amount of clients for one to juggle (from personal experience) is three. You can also expect to pay at LEAST $200/month on social media management. This is the bare minimum for a few posts per week across multiple channels. A great social media marketer who is truly dedicated to your business will cost around $500-$2,000 per month… depending on what’s needed/included in their services. (Also, in case you are wondering, to get… and keep… a talented young social media marketer for your small business, you should offer $30,000-$40,000 salary in the state of Georgia. These individuals also would generally be expected to blog on your website and keep your website up to date… among other things.)
A great website doesn’t have to be hand-coded by a developer that requires a payment each and every time your website needs to be updated. What I recommend to all of my clients to save them money is to 1) host your website and domain name yourself, 2) hire a website developer to help match your business and brand with an appropriate WordPress theme, let them build out the theme and site for you, then provide you with login access to the website.
This allows my clients to have complete ownership of their hosting/domain name without ever having to worry about their web developer stealing their domain name and holding it hostage (yes, that does happen more often than people realize). It also gives my clients the ability login to the website and make minor verbiage changes when they to need to over the years. A good rule of thumb is to update your website every three years or so. It doesn’t have to be a complete overhaul, but definitely update some of the verbiage and photos. Also, make sure everything is still true/accurate/up-to-date. If you don’t feel comfortable taking on this project yourself, you can reach back out to the web developer who originally built the site for you, or you can hire someone else. And if you were wondering, a reasonable price range for a GOOD website can go from as little as $750 to as much as $20,000. For a small business though, $1,000-$3,000 is typically the going rate.
To host your website and domain name yourself, I always recommend Dreamhost. For around $100/year, you get a shared server, unlimited 24/7 support, and a free domain name the first year. After the first year, the domain name renewal is $12 on average (the price decreases the more years in advance you pay for). Many people are surprised that I recommend Dreamhost over GoDaddy, but at the end of the day (as mentioned in previous posts), it comes down to User Experience. Dreamhost’s platform is more user friendly and comes with unlimited 24/7 support that is at no cost… whereas more times than not, with GoDaddy, you will be paying a hefty fee if you need a backup of your site or need help fixing something that is broke.
Some people have a love hate relationship with WordPress, but I love WordPress. I think it’s very sleek and easy to use for clients once the site is built. Plus, the way WordPress sites are coded, they are EXTREMELY search engine friendly. In fact, it’s mentioned in many articles that Google loves WordPress sites… especially those with a blog and frequent additions of content. However, I would not recommend building a website using the web version of WordPress. Download and installing WordPress on your own domain and hosting service is definitely the way to go and provides a lot more customization.
Squarespace is ok, but just doesn’t have the customization options that WordPress does. There are hundreds of thousands of WordPress themes and plugins available compared to probably only a few thousand for Squarespace. The odds of your site looking like someone else’s on Squarespace is a lot more likely than with WordPress. And let’s not even get into Wix. Wix is a very low-end, cheap website platform that is pretty pricey for domain names and hosting monthly. Although this generally looks to be very appealing to a business owner because it’s an “all-in-one” package, in the end, your SEO and design aesthetics will suffer.
Just like how a logo represents your entire brand, your website affects your entire internet presence. Having a well designed website both UX-wise and aesthetic-wise, and the more “best practices” your website follows, the better chance your site has to impress potential customers. Although it’s not overly difficult to put up a website these days, by doing it yourself (if you don’t know what you’re doing), you are risking a professional look and not conveying a clear brand message, which is dangerous as your website sets the tone for much of your company’s culture, brand, and value. Like I mentioned above, you have to “fake it until you make it.” If your website doesn’t look the part, it probably won’t see much action or conversions. Learn more here: How Poor Design Will Affect Your Business.
- If you want to stand out, you need to invest in marketing.
- Fake it until you make it. Even if you have the skills, if you don’t look credible, you won’t get the business.
- One of the easiest ways to be memorable is to have a well designed stuff.
- If you aren’t ready to invest in yourself with your pocketbook, you aren’t ready to own a business.
- Good design matters in marketing. It doesn’t have to be hard or expensive. You just need to know what you’re looking for, a reasonable price point, and how to take what you have and use it effectively.
- Using pre-made or out-of-the-box designs is a great way to stay average.
Now that you have all of the information you need to make an informative decision in regards to the importance of your company’s brand and identity, hopefully, you are ready to invest in QUALITY over quantity across all channels of your marketing.
If you are looking for someone to re-brand your company, manage your social media, build a website, or just give you some advice, I suggest reaching out to EM Creative, Blu Mountain Expressions, or the UGA Small Business Development Center (which will refer you to a local graphic designer who is trusted).