Small Business Branding: How to Get Branding Right

Marketing8 mins
Jan 25, 2019
designer creating brand colours

It’s a fact. People care more about their personal appearance than the logos or branding they use to get clients and make money in business.

“People happily spend hundreds of dollars getting their hair done but then they want a logo that costs $5 for their business,” says digital designer Zoe Tattersall. “It’s madness.”

Visual identity—particularly when it conveys something impressive about your business message—is one of the simplest ways to make customers pay attention.

“Logos need to strike that balance between explaining what your business is and encouraging people to learn more about you,” Tattersall says.

Design guidelines specifying how to use logos, colors and fonts are the basis of your business ‘look’ to competitors and clients.

“I reckon you leave dollars on the table if you get your branding wrong. It just confuses people and makes it hard to communicate a consistent offer,” says business coach Victoria Gibson.

“Also, it’s annoying when businesses send me an email using one logo and then use different colors on their social media and create ads that look different again—are you an amateur or professional?”

Small business and branding

The proliferation of content across small screens, social media, traditional media, billboards and printed material means businesses have an opportunity to create a unique visual identity to stand out from the crowd.

“I’m really fussy about how things look—I’m a photographer—so it was hard to hand over my visual identity for someone else to design,” says photographer Virginia Young, who used a professional designer to create her logo and website.

“I was so glad I did it, because there was no way I could do what the designer did. She gave me a selection of different logos to choose from, and I liked all of them. The problem was choosing only one – an experienced designer’s eye really adds value.”

Some people are lucky enough to know a designer who can take a brief and whip up the perfect logo for a small fee, others invest to engage a professional designer, ideally one that specialises in logo design or visual identity. But if you don’t have a lot of bucks, try minimum viable visual identity.

There is another way: minimal viable visual identity for small business
You’ve probably heard of minimal viable product, which is the Lean Startup art of creating the lowest cost product to test on real customers to iterate and improve upon.

Minimum viable visual identity is similar – it’s an easy way to get your small business visual identity needs to the starting blocks without outlaying a tonne of money.

Minimum viable visual identity includes:

Stage one

- A single or two-color logo (the simplest and most affordable will probably be a square logo with a single word underneath it).
- Selecting two colors, also called a color palette, to match your logo (make sure you know the hex codes, RGB, pantone or CMYK colour specifications). You want one main color (probably the same as your logo) and then an accent color for buttons or highlighted text.
- Selecting typography or fonts (if you’re cheap, like me, you’ll choose web fonts which won’t require you to buy fancy licences). One for headlines, one for text.
Getting to stage one minimum viable visual identity means you can start creating professional proposal and pitch documents, even if you don’t yet have a website. Qwilr offers a range of free web URL documentation templates where you can select your brand colors and fonts to pitch all manner of different services, from social media consultancy to making videos.

Stage two

When you have a bit more money, you can develop brand standards and more detailed messaging guidelines and brand story.

Stage three

Apply consistent visual standards across all elements of your business. Make sure any employees or freelancers are trained to understand them, too.

How to brief a designer to create affordable branding
Good creative work requires a good brief. Even if you have a limited budget and plan to outsource visual identity work to a cheap freelance site, you’ll need a written brief—ideally with some actual visual examples of branding you like.

To write a good visual identity design brief:

- Write out a single page describing your business vision (where you want to go), mission and values. Then describe your business or brand personality with adjectives.
- Define your target customer or audience: who is your business for.
- Find one or two tangible examples of branding, design, photography styles or graphics that you really like – these help a designer get an idea of the look and feel you’re after.

The simple guide to decoding graphic and brand design jargon

For those of us who are not visual experts, working with designers and their weird buzzwords can be confusing. Here’s a guide to some of the lingo, so you’ll know what’s what when it comes to visual identity and branding assets for small business.


This is the name of different file types used in visual identity. A logo is an asset. An email signature is an asset. Your headshot might also be considered an asset. Keep these assets in a shareable drive, so you can easily find them and use them again.


There are different formats for print and digital, but most colors have an equivalent ‘code’ or ‘descriptor’ across all four formats. You will want to memorize your logo colors and be able to program them on different documents, emails, web, social or print assets.

CMYK: This color mode refers to the four-color print process and stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key (which really means black, and shows how much this industry loves buzzwords that confuse outsiders).
Hex codes: Hexadecimal codes are one way to code colors with a 6 digit code that can generate more than 16 million different colors.
RGB: RGB codes are a series of 3 different numbers to program the color.
Pantone or PMS: Used mostly in print, these are Pantone’s proprietary colors that printers mix up and pay Pantone to licence.

Design buzz

Logo lock up: these are different ‘formats’ specifying how to use your logo in a portrait, landscape or other specialised way. It’s for logos that use type and iconography. Small size variants: Responsive web design sometimes means logos need to be super tiny, and these variants specify how a logo should be used in a smaller space than standard.


Head shots: Most business owners need at least one reasonable head shot to use on a website or social media. Good head shots are hard to come by! You might strike gold and find one that someone has taken of you, but make sure it’s professional and that you aren’t out in a bar drinking or relaxing at the beach if you want people to think of you in a business context.

Photography styles: Most of us think a photo is a photo, but is it shot in a studio or outdoors? Are there people in a photo - if so, it’s a portrait or lifestyle shot. Is it just a location shot? Does it evoke a mood like, clean and futuristic or urban and gritty? When you are selecting images to represent your brand, try to stick to one consistent style, rather than mixing it up.

File formats and sizes: Aspect ratio and image width are important size measurements to make sure images you upload for the web display correctly and don’t warp or blur. PIxels wide by pixels high is the usual spec size for digital photography.To find the size and dimensions of your images, right click on the image file and select “properties” for PC users or press “option” then “get info” while clicking on the image file on a Mac.

Cutting to the chase

A brand is what people believe in—the promise or the story of a product or service business. A brand is not a logo; a logo is just branding.

Just as a new haircut does not make you a new person, brand assets alone won’t create a successful small business.

Branding and visual identity have to match what you actually say and do in your business, otherwise your business is delivering a mismatch rather than a consistent message.