“Only big companies do branding.”
“Branding is expensive – I can’t afford that”
First of all, every business should do branding – sadly, some choose to neglect it. It is however crucial in influencing what your customers think about a certain business.
Second of all – branding can be done with a very limited budget! In this article, I am going to show you how to do this!
Actually, the strategies, I am going to describe in this article can be executed with no cost at all! Obviously, such DIY approach will be much more time consuming than simply hiring a professional to do all of this for you. But then again, who has the money for that?
A website is a must
A website is your online blueprint. It makes you searchable (especially in Google!) and gives you a space to present your business to the customers.
The importance of a website to small business branding on a budget is invaluable. Apart from obvious things like your offer or contact information, you can describe the story of your company as well as your vision, values, and mission. You can say what’s important to you and what do you want to achieve.
Website is likely the first contact point between you and your potential customers. Most people look up businesses online before deciding whether to become a customer. Without a website, you will be out of the game and much harder to find.
If you have an online-based business, which is, a business with no physical office, having no website will basically deem it almost impossible for you to find customers! To put it simply, everything moves to the Internet and so should your business! Keep in mind that, by remaining in the same spot, you are actually moving backwards, while your competition races forward
Enough talk, time to show you what you can do to create a great website on a budget!
Come up with a great domain name
The domain is what will be displayed in the URL section of a browser.
It needs to be original and memorable – try your best to name it after your business or related keywords.
Build your website with affordable tools
WordPress, Wix or Squarespace are great tools for creating a website for your business on your own. These are easy to use, with affordable pricing plans (sometimes they’re even free!) and templates. They are obviously not the only ones on the market, but I found them reliable and budget-friendly!
Make your website Google-friendly
That means, taking care of your SEO! This includes several main factors.
First of all, research your keywords. They are the basic thing that will allow people to find you online. To make sure your website contains a lot of keywords, start running a blog! That will help you drive organic traffic to your website.
Secondly, optimize your website. That includes making sure the loading times are not too long, your articles are not unnaturally packed with keywords and all your photos are optimized. These things will mostly affect the user experience, which is one of the most important factors Google takes into account when ranking websites. What is more, having a mobile version of your website will be a major advantage, as more and more people use smartphones.
If you want more details on how to build a website, check out my step-by-step guide to creating a perfect small business website!
Design is vital for small business branding
By design, I mean the things that are instantly visible to the visitors of your website. Namely, what colors do you use, the logo, the name and the graphics. All these can tell a lot about your business, its character and what can customers expect from it. A local law firm will stick to a more toned color palette as well as graphics, and a logo and name expressing their professionality and sophistication. Hip restaurants will do great using bright colors and witty graphics. Their name and logo can also express this not-taking-ourselves-seriously attitude.
To obtain strong small business branding, all these elements need to interact with each other.
Come up with a catchy name that’s related to your business
Easier said than done! Picking a right name for your business might actually be one of the toughest decision you will have to make. Once you stick to it, it will be tough to change the name without losing some of your recognition.
The name of your business is how your customers will refer to it. Sounds obvious, right? But that means you are responsible for picking a name that will resonate with people, will be easy to remember and related to your business.
When picking a name, ask yourself these questions:
- Is it unique?
- Is it easy to remember and type (avoid unusual spellings)?
- Does it give a hint of what your business is about?
- Did I ask my friends and relatives for feedback?
A great way of coming up with a name for your business is to list 30-40 keywords related to your company, its story and your field of operation. Once you do that, keep crossing out the words that are the least important until you end up with around three. These might give you a great clue on what your name should be like.
Design a suitable logo
Logo and name form an entity. Although one can go without the other, when combined, they immediately outline the strengths of your business. It’s a bit like a business card of your website (and, in fact, your entire online presence).
A great logo can be anything – a name of your business written with some fancy font, an object related to your field, a nice eye-catching graphic – the only limit is your imagination and design capabilities! But your goal should be to keep it simple and make it fit your business. In that way, people will be able to easily recognize it and pair it with your business. Keep in mind that your logo might be printed on all types of things, from promotional gizmos to massive banners.
Looking for inspirations? It’s always good to have a look at logos of big companies. Let’s start with the logo of Amazon, the world’s biggest online store. It’s simply the word “Amazon”. The key to understanding it is the arrow, which goes from “A” to “Z” – it implies that you can find anything in their store. How clever and simple is that?!
Another example is the Beats logo. At first, it looks like a letter “b” on a red background. But actually, when you look at it, it shows a person wearing a pair of their headphones!
As you can see, a great logo doesn’t require grand designs or elaborate graphics. Simplicity and a punchy message, which relates to your business, are the key to your small business branding!
Take care of the graphic side of your website
You don’t want a badly designed website – to be fair, having no website is better than having a bad one. Keep in mind that customers make decisions based on their senses – if your website looks unappealing, it is unlikely that you will get a lot of conversions. The phrase “people buy with their eyes” is so applicable here!
Use the right colors
Facebook is blue – it is the least distracting color and most comfortable for the eye. Snapchat is yellow – it’s flashy, loud and fast, just like its major audience of teens and young adults.
The function of colors in your business is to reflect its character.
Get some graphics up on your website
Your website cannot consist of links and copy only. You need images. Not only it will make your content pages more diversified, but also images can drive up your conversions!
You don’t need costly graphic design programs to make your small business branding happen! Check out canva.com! It offers great tools for creating amazing graphics and logos. It’s easy to use – you don’t need any design experience to start making graphics that look professional.
If you have a business that’s focused on the visual side, for example, a restaurant or a design studio, you might want to consider putting your own pictures on the website. If your budget is not suited for hiring a photographer, take pictures with your smartphone – you’d be surprised at how good the quality can be!
Create your own unique social media voice
A business without social media is a business that won’t survive long. Similarly to having a website, social media accounts leave an online blueprint of your business.
Setting up accounts on all services is free, yet they allow you to tap into massive audiences.
Social media can have a defining role in your small business branding. They give you a chance to create your own, unique voice.
How to come up with your own social media language
You decide what to share – you can turn your Facebook feed into a sort of business diary, letting your audience get a glimpse into your personal life. You can share weird memes creating a crazy and funny business persona. You can also stick to a strictly professional social media use and upload pictures from business meetings or share updates on new partnerships.
The language you use in your posts will have an utmost impact on how your followers will perceive your business. But how to choose the best communication style?
To do this, you need to determine what’s your customer base. If you’re a tech startup, then your audience will probably consist of other tech passionates, but also potential investors. News about innovations and updates on your work would be a good social media communication choice.
A cool cafe will most likely cater to a hip, young audience – they will appreciate informal language and all the little quirks that will make scrolling down your feed feel like checking up on an old pal.
The point is to make your social media language fit your business. You don’t want to sound fake. Keeping it natural and catering to your customers’ expectations is the way to go!
Use social media as a channel to communicate with your customers
Social media are a great way to instantly communicate with your customers, whether by replying to comments or private messages. It can help solve any issues much quicker than email. Quick responses lay at the heart of social media branding!
Know your networks
Facebook is for general communication, replying to comments and messages, and overall customer engagement.
Instagram is for showcasing the visual side of your business.
Twitter is for quick and short updates.
LinkedIn is for creating a professional B2B network and generation of leads from the world of professionals.
This is not to say that there’s not a lot of room for customization and personalization within each of these social networks. However, it is important to know how each of them operates. Twitter users don’t want lengthy posts. Instagram users want pictures – text is secondary. And you don’t go to LinkedIn to upload your entire holiday album – there’s Facebook for that!
How to manage social media when you don’t have time
Having a small business means having a lot of work. This is not your typical 9-5. There are times when it’s an around-the-clock type of thing. And then again, hiring a social media person might be costly. How to ensure that you provide a consistent voice on your social media channels?
Luckily there are tools like Buffer. For an individual client, it is either free or costs $10 per month. The free plan allows you to connect one account per platform and operates on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Google+, which is enough for small business branding needs.
Social media planning tools like Buffer allow you to schedule posts over the entire day or even a month. So, if you’ve got a spare hour or two, you can use it to plan your social media for an entire week!
Create your own content
Whatever field your business operates in, a blog is always a good idea. It allows you to place yourself in a position of an expert in your niche. Writing problem-solving articles will also drive up your organic traffic. What is more – blogging is free! All you need to spend on content marketing is your time!
All CMS platforms like WordPress, Squarespace or Wix offer a possibility to post content on your website – it’s actually the core of their existence.
If you have a possibility or experience to do so, try your strengths in video marketing. The video is currently the content marketing buzz-word, and it’s definitely worth looking into!
Why should you avoid outsourcing all your content?
Well, basically, because you will strip yourself away from a possibility to establish your own online voice! Instead, you will give your competition additional exposure and, as a result, weaken your business.
There’s nothing wrong with sharing an article by somebody else. But reserve the busiest times in social media for your own content – it should always have the priority over anything else! Small business branding is all about establishing yourself as the best in the field – you don’t want to rely on other people’s content!
Okay, cool, but what kind of strategies are good for my small business branding?
Branding is all about what your customers think about you. Therefore, great small business branding strategies will involve influencing your image! To put it short and simple – make your business better!
I already covered things like social media or the importance of website design. Now, I am going to talk about things you can do to stand out from the crowd and create a loyal customer base.
Determine your brand identity
What do you think of when I say “Apple”. Juicy, red, round… wait, I’m not talking about the fruit! Think of the tech company renowned for its high-end devices with a beautifully minimalist design. Innovation, forward-thinking, originality, trendsetting – those are only some of the things that come to mind when thinking of Steve Jobs’s company. And this is exactly what their customers think of them. Having an iPhone means possessing a small rectangle filled with luxury and smart design that looks like it’s from the future.
What’s your company’s brand identity? How do people describe your business? What can you change about your business so that people change the way they think about you? Answering these questions will really improve your small business branding and put it on the right tracks!
Determine your brand drivers
What makes people choose you and not another company in the same field? Is it, like in Apple’s case, your great product? Or, like with McDonald’s, its availability?
Apple’s success was all about creating something that clearly stood out from the competition. They’ve created a different operating system, their design was different, their founder was dubbed an innovator and an inspirational persona. A great brand driver would, therefore, be a product or a service that is so different from what’s already available that it becomes instantly attractive. Think of all the food crazes – mac’n’cheese pizza, donut burgers or rainbow grilled cheese. What merges them is how unusual they are! Let the contrast drive your brand!
Another great way to create a brand driver by creating a new niche. That would mean, coming up with a product that’s completely new to the market, yet attractive to the customers. Have a look at what Dinara Kasko, a Ukrainian architect-turned-chef does with cakes! Don’t be afraid to go huge and implement grand ideas!
Take care of your customers
Customer service can make or break your business. You may have the best ideas, the greatest products and whatever else, but without customers, your company will sink like a stone.
A crucial part of small business branding is simply behaving in a way that will make your customers want to come back. Be polite, be understanding, be patient and most of all – try your best to solve any issue they might have!
If you have a shop or an office, customers may simply go and see you. However, it’s important that you clearly state all your contact information on your website and social media channels – your address, email and telephone number. Additionally, you might want to check out the possibility to live chat with your customers. Social networks are also a great place to talk to your customers – make sure you regularly check the messages!
I am hoping that after reading this article, you will no longer doubt whether or not you should do branding!
Let’s have a quick recap of the things you’ve learnt about branding from this article:
- Build a website – Use CMS like WordPress, Squarespace or Wix – they’ve got free or really affordable plans with beautiful templates. A website will enable potential customers to find you online.
- Design your website – Come up with a catchy and original name and logo. Use suitable colors. Get some graphics up – use canva (also free!) for that!
- Set up social media accounts – There’s no better way to communicate with your customer base than via social media! What is more, you can set up accounts on all major networks for free!
- Get some content on your website
- Change the way people think about your business – Determine your brand identity and your brand driver. Take care of your customer service – make the best effort to solve every problem your customers might have!
All these methods are amazing and effective – perfect for small business branding! They are also very cost-friendly – or even free!
Now, there’s no excuse to prevent you from starting your own small business branding campaign!