From your website to your business cards, your logo to your packaging, your brand's image often provides the first impression of your business. Creating the right image for a small business is both an art and a science. You need a keen design eye, certainly, but you also need to take a strategic approach to building a brand that reflects your messaging, tone, and position in the marketplace, all while keeping your target audience in mind. Let's take a look at best practices and consider when and how to partner with a design professional.

1.  Get Reflective

Your brand image includes your logo, typefaces, colors, graphic style, and really any visual representation of your brand, both online and off. It is not about what you like or don't like, it is about what you are trying to say, and what will resonate with your customers.

"When you begin crafting your brand image, you have to cultivate the experience you want your clients and customers to have--experience is everything," advises Courtney Herda, CEO of Smarter Searches, a digital marketing agency in Knoxville, Tennessee. Consider answering the following questions to help you better understand your brand:

  • What does your business do? What is its core value proposition?
  • What is your business like? Describe its brand persona with three to five key adjectives. Consider company culture, too. What is it like to work at your company?
  • What do you want people to think and feel when they see your branding? What do you want people to think and feel when they do business with you?
  • How does your business compare to others in the marketplace? What makes it different? How is it alike?

Herda explains that the answers to questions like these should influence "color choices, taglines, and even website layouts, because those all craft the feeling people get from a brand."

2.  Stay Consistent

Every aspect of your business must work together to create a cohesive image that reflects your core messaging and tone. No detail is too small. "Social channels should not feel different from your traditional print marketing materials. Your website should not create a different experience from your in-person experience. Brand identity pervades every interaction with your brand, so make sure the experience is unquestionably consistent across all channels," cautions Herda.

Betsy Miller, founder of 2B Organized, a professional organizing firm, thinks consistency is particularly important for small businesses like hers that are focused on growth. She grew her business into a franchise with six locations, and she says increasing brand recognition was crucial to her expansion plans. "You must weave your brand image throughout every part of your business. This creates a more memorable and recognizable experience for your customers. That is particularly important if you are competing with bigger businesses that have more to spend on marketing," she says.

To keep your organization on the same page, Herda suggests building a library that contains your preferred images, photography, color preferences, company fonts, etc. You can do this fairly simply by adding material to Google Drive or Dropbox.

3.  Find the right partner

If you don't have the in-house design and strategy expertise or the time to invest in branding, you need to find a partner.

Miller says choosing a branding partner is all about fit. She has worked with The UPS Store for more than 10 years and uses many of its small business offerings. In addition to printing and shipping services, her local The UPS Store offers extensive graphic design support. Miller values this, as well as the store's homey feel and the team's keen attention to detail. For her, outsourcing was a no-brainer. "We all have different strengths and talents. I always tell my clients there is no shame in asking me for help organizing their lives. It is the same with partnering with The UPS Store. It would take me hours, maybe days, to figure out how to put a marketing flyer together, and I'd end up with a not-so-great product. Why wouldn't I partner with someone who knows what they are doing to make me and my business look better?" she explains.

When assessing vendors, don't be afraid to ask questions. Herda says you really can't ask too many! Consider things like:

  • What experience do they have in similar industries?
  • Do they have case studies, referrals, or portfolio examples for you to examine?
  • What does turnaround time typically look like?
  • What are their capabilities? What additional services do they offer that could be relevant?
  • Are they able to handle increased workloads if your requirements increase as your business grows?

Your brand image is your first impression and plays a crucial role in building a relationship with your customers. It is just too important to skimp on! Take the time to understand your business and to choose the right design partner, so you can build a brand image that does your company justice.