Starting a Brand on a Ramen Noodle Budget

Whether you’re starting a small business, planning to launch an Etsy shop, or selling your services as a solopreneur, there's no excuse for having a brand that's not up to your own standards - even if your bank account has a 2-digit balance. Hey, we've all been there. Ramen noodle time and oh how delicious!

Nowadays there’s a level of service for every price range. When it comes to branding, every business is at a different stage and has different needs - the trick is to find your sweet spot. In other words, that local mom & pop shop down the street who hired a freelance branding expert for a couple thousand dollars didn't receive any less of a brand than the worldwide corporation who just went through a $100,000 rebranding. The reality is there are those who have established their brand for less than $1,000 and have achieved an enviable level of success. When it's time to solidify your brand, the price does not matter - what matters is a job well done.

If you think the entire marketing and design process is too overwhelming for you, the first step is to hire someone who is in your budget. Alas, we head to the Internet where there are graphic designers and branding agencies that are solely dedicated to helping small businesses. From $200 for a logo or $1,000 for a website, there are people with tremendous talent ready to help put your best foot forward. Many people wonder if sites like 99 Designs are worth it. The short answer is ABSOLUTELY NOT. To reach a quality logo you will end up paying more than $99. There is a reason why the company does not have the ‘$' sign before the 99! Plus, they’re not looking at the full picture and what is a brand but the full picture of who you are as a company. 

But, I get it, for many of us $200 still sounds like a high price to pay. In that case, dare to create your own brand. For starters, all you need is a computer and Internet access. Start looking at the competition - what are they doing that you like or don't like? What type of customer do they attract - is this the type of customer you want? Take note of what makes you and your business different from the competition. Then write a paragraph that describes what makes you unique, what is the core of your offering, and who is your ideal client. That paragraph - your positioning statement - will serve as your spirit guide when it comes time to choosing a website template or creating your presentation materials. Use the data you found in your research as a compass in every decision you make. Always ask yourself: 'is this decision showcasing what makes me unique and speaking directly to my ideal client?’ 

Also take time to think about what you want to sound like. Will you impart tough love and write a few fucks here and there to spice things up? Or will you want to stay sweet and proper and use more 'traditionally professional' language. How your brand sounds is unique to you and is also acutely targeted to those you want to attract. 

The next step is your logo. If you can’t afford a designer just yet, then you have to start somewhere in order to one day hire that designer. Your logo does not have to be an elaborate illustration created by a designer. Less is more - remember that. Avoid hiring your neighbor’s uncle’s cousin’s friend who is just starting college and wants to make a buck doing horrible logos. Simple can also be professional! Bad is just bad. A good tip is to use low-cost vendors like Moo Cards or Squarespace that offer an area to write the name of your company in a font pre-chosen by their professional designers. If you are given a couple fonts to choose from, pick one that matches the mood you want to convey with your brand. And as simple as that - your first logo can be typed out in a clean, legible way that doesn’t scream amateur. 

Moo Cards is also a great resource for pre-made and well-designed business card and flyer templates. Stick with a simple theme and your brand won’t suffer. Apps like Squarespace, Wix, and Weebly offer dozens of website designs for your upcoming website and the cost per month is less than $20. The most important thing is to stay consistent with a clean, minimalistic, and classic look to everything you create. So, if you are going to use royal blue on the cards, use it on the website, stickers, and invoice, too. Stick to only 1 or 2 fonts MAX and 1 or 2 colors MAX. Buy stock photography from sites like Stocksy and 123rf to enhance your website to make it look professional. Choose photography that has the same feeling or color tones that you feel best match your brand's look.

You can also checkout my RESOURCES page, which features great vendors to help you get started. There's always an affordable solution when it comes to keeping it professional.

Your brand is more important than you could ever imagine. Start with a good image and nurture it. You’ll see that in no-time you’ll get your first customers and will be able to hire a brand consultant who can take your brand to the next level. When the time comes to grow, hire a professional not only for branding, but also for marketing, SEO, web design, etc. But, for now, don’t use the lack of money as an excuse to not make a damn good first impression. And that’s my tough love for today.

- E. from W.

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