10 Q & A topics on branding your new startup

How many friends do you have who are starting up a business venture? Shark Tank is one of the most popular shows on cable these days, and it’s getting a lot of people interested in business, design, and branding.

While eager want-repreneurs dive into idea upon idea, too many seem to instantly turn the conversation to how their idea “looks”.

What is the logo going to look like?

How can I make my own logo or should I hire a designer?


As a designer, I love helping my friends and family think about the intersection of business, design, and psychology.

As I was speaking with my dear sister this week, she had a few questions for me on understanding various topics within the realm of brand development.

As most people are not designers, and have to be taught how to think on the following topics, we thought other people starting businesses could benefit from this Q/A style post as well.

If any of these topics stir questions of your own, please don’t hesitate to write me in the comments and I’ll do my best to address yours as well.

To give you some context, my sister Bethany is a photographer. She’s been practicing event, couples, and other lifestyle photography, building up a decent portfolio to put online. She’s ready to start turning her portfolio into a serious contender and wants to know how to step up her game and her brand. You can see what she has going right now at bethanylaurin.com


01 – What is branding?

If business is the strategy around making something of value that people want to buy, branding is the vessel for showing people what that idea looks, feels, sounds, smells, and tastes like. Your brand displays the idea of who you are as a business.

We can put in the work to influence how we want people to see us, but to a large degree, your brand becomes what other people say it is. This can be a strange concept for most, but at the end of the day we aren’t in business unless other people enjoy what we put into the world. We’re in this to solve problems for other people, not necessarily ourselves.

Think about Nike for a second. I’m a huge fan, and truly believe in a lot of their marketing, but in the 90’s people thought of them as a company who didn’t care about people with the rise and utilization of sweat shops across seas. Because they had a reputation for this, Nike quickly pivoted, and did a better job at figuring out how to convey that they did care about their worker’s conditions, and through a lot of hard work and change, are known to be one of the strictest environments with safety, people, and manufacturing standards. It didn’t matter what Nike was telling their audience back then, people made up their mind on their own…that’s why a brand has to be a living organism (yet consistent), and how it can drastically affect your success or failure in business.

Your brand is your vision and individual outlook, difference, and position within business.

Your brand is in part a collection of design elements that prove out, and help somebody align with who you say you are.

Your brand is the message you put forward to the world.

Everyone has their own personal brand…whether you want it or not.

Think of your brand a bit like your reputation.


02 – I’m just a small business, why should I care about branding?

For the above mentioned, conveying a clear, honest, and direct brand direction helps potential customers know who you are and what you stand for. You can have the best ideas in the world on how to make money with business, but if people can’t sum you up in a sentence, you might have an unclear message. That can seriously hurt you in the long run.

As a small business, you’re a small fish in a big pond. Nobody knows who you are. Honestly, nobody cares. Utilizing your brand to truly tap into how you connect with a niche of people is how you create word-of-mouth attention. You need something that is going to stand out, rather than blend in with everything else out there. You’re competing for attention, and positioning your brand strategy around something that taps into the minds of your customers is a really hard, yet a very core part of how you’ll gain success. Please don’t make the mistake of taking this lightly. Too many small businesses don’t realize the un-tapped potential of getting this right and becoming a top contender in their field.


03 – What’s the difference between branding and a logo?

A lot of people make the mistake of believing a company’s branding is their logo. This isn’t true.

If a brand is the holistic view of who you are as a company or individual, a brand system is the family of visual, aural, and design elements that help tell the customer your story.

Your logo is one of the most important pieces of your business, yet only one digital element of your overall brand. If your brand is mom, your logo is her son.


04 – How do you feel about pre-made “fill in the blank” logos? Why wouldn’t you recommend using them?

Let’s first start with why a logo is so important.

Your logo is a visual asset that immediately tells people who you are. People are complex creatures, and will form a thousand different opinions about you and your company in the first 5 seconds of looking at your logo.

People are basic, jaded, cynical, and selfish to begin with. So if Cinderella shows up to the Ball in tattered rags, people are going to question her quality. They’re going to think she’s low-class. Is this true on looks alone? Not at all, but this is how people think. If you skimp on the quality of your logo, you can expect people to assume your business is low-quality as well. If your logo appears out-dated, or uses a gnarly font that renders un-readable, people won’t get a good vibe about you.

With that, it’s possible to use a “fill-in-the-blank” logo that could speak to your audience in the way you’d like it to, but in most cases it probably won’t. Rather it will most likely look like a million other companies doing the exact same thing you do. Remember, you want to stand out, proving yourself superior in craft and quality. How are you going to achieve that if you use some cookie-cutter logo from Fivver?? In most cases (not all), you can’t.


05 – My logo is a bit on the busy side? Thoughts? What are the benefits to having a simple logo?

There are a couple of things to keep in mind when crafting a logo. First, this mark is going to append itself to many different mediums. It will most likely go on your website, business card, printed invoices / letterheads, company apparel, and beyond.

In most cases, keeping your logo simple allows it to scale naturally across these formats. You have to keep in mind how your logo (mark) will appear when super large, as well is when it’s shrunk down by 100-1000%. Simplicity in most cases, is going to serve best. However, getting a minimal logo to speak to your style, is a very hard task. Again, don’t rely on someone touting they’ll “design” your logo for $5. They’re probably just going to make something they like. How does that help you?


06 – What file format should I request from my designer, or make myself, in order to get business cards printed?

Whether you’re designing your logo yourself or paying a designer to help you, make sure you have the source file (to make future changes), as well as a CMYK based PDF (color format for print vs RGB for digital screens) to give to your print shop.


07 – What programs do you recommend for designing my brand system?

A brand is not the visual system you create alone (copy, messaging, tone-of-voice are other parts), however keep in mind that whatever is, needs to be created in vector format. Vector is a format that allows your designs to scale up and down without losing quality.

Vector is based on computer math, where as a raster (photos / bitmaps) format has a set amount of pixels that it’s working within. Scaling a photo up and down will result in very blurry output and a loss in quality. With vector, this isn’t an issue, your assets are always perfectly crisp.

There are tons of amazing articles on this topic to study in depth with a quick Google search, but to learn a bit more, check out http://bit.ly/2t6tKRq.

The best software that utilizes vector format for print is Adobe Illustrator. However Sketch is a very close second, and I hear Affinity Designer is a great tool as well.


08 – As a designer, what key questions do you ask a client before starting the brand design phase? What do you use for inspiration?

This is not an exhaustive list, but can help to get the conversation started :

  • What do you want your new logo to accomplish?
  • What’s the age range of your target customer base?
  • What feeling or message do you want your logo to convey?
  • What logos appeal to you and why?

Designers work with colors that speak to different psychological patterns, so work towards getting a logo’s form right (greyscale), before iterating on a logo’s colors.

For inspiration, check out Dribbble or Behance.


09 – What are the most important pieces of branding to start with when working on a budget? (Business cards, website, etc?)

To start with, you want to have your business idea and strategy buttoned up before you even think about designing the visual elements to your brand.

If you’re at the stage where it’s time to dive into designing digital elements, it’s probably best to start with your logo.

You don’t want to create a logo and then think about how your business adapts to it, but how your logo speaks to your business.

When you have a logo, you can put it on various websites like Facebook, Twitter, and other social platforms to start a presence for your company.

Go for a business card next, followed by a full blown website. There are great platforms to get started on the cheap too.

I use Moo.com for printing business cards. They’re great on price, and everything is done online, and ships fast. You can also purchase great themes for a website via WordPress, Shopify, and SquareSpace.


10 – What is the best way to get my branding in front of people

Just remember, a brand is never done, as it’s a living system, but keep in mind that after creating your brand, now comes the hard work of marketing it and putting yourself out there with a social strategy.

Start various social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, and Medium), and get your voice out there by blogging often about your industry, and your perspective within it (what I’m doing right now).

Just as you are, people are bombarded by thousands of companies every week, so to stand out! You have to be on the offense and do your best to be somebody who creates valuable content. Do this, and people will naturally dive into learning about you, your brand, and possibly supporting you as a new company with their hard earned cash.


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