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The Design Process - for Small Businesses

I have lost count of the amount times new clients have come to me after having had a disappointing experience working with a previous designer. Keep reading and I promise you’ll be more successful next time around. Being a self-employed graphic designer provides the opportunity to regularly work with small business owners. I’ll be frank, this will not make me rich, but is simply very gratifying and regardless of my perception, the money a small business invests in my services is significant to them. So, a must-have when investing in design services, is value for money.

First lesson, as soon as you hire a designer, consider yourself a team. Whether you like it or not, you both have your parts to play and have to invest a certain amount of time and energy into achieving the best results. Then just follow these tips…

Have an open mind

I love enthusiastic clients, they are the best type! Passion from both sides can achieve amazing results. However, the majority of clients I encounter do not know what a creative brief is, let alone can write one. So it is my job to translate the needs of my client from what they convey to me.

For those who struggle to explain themselves a sketch they have prepared can be of value, however if you go guns blazing providing a designer with a drawing of precisely what you want, you risk them giving you exactly that. Which is not necessarily what you actually need. The honest truth, designers have to be careful when picking our battles with clients because time is money and if we aren’t getting paid by the hour (which is often the case when I work with small businesses) it’s a double-edged sword as to whether it is financially viable to debate with a strong-willed client. Above all, we want our clients to have the best solution for their business, so coming to us with an open-mind allows us to achieve that. There is no reason to assume we might not agree with your ideas, but there is a good chance we’ll have a few suggestions on how it can be enhanced and elevated to another level. That’s the added value of paying a professional.

A few years back I briefed two kitchen companies to present an offer for our new fitted kitchen. Company A gave me an offer for exactly what I asked for. The company B took the initiative to give me two offers, one for exactly what I asked for and then a second alternative concept. The designer behind the second offer had thought about the bigger picture and came up with a design that would save on labour costs and be more user-friendly. With both offers being almost identical in price, I went with company B, simply because the designer demonstrated the value he was adding and I respected his expertise and experience. His solution proved to be spot on, even though it was not strictly what I asked for.

You are paying a premium for a professional designer and what comes with that is expertise and a hell of a lot of experience. Not merely designing logos or brochures, but understanding the practicalities of implementing design in day-to-day business activities. How can it contribute to building your brand, saving you money, and then being practical and user friendly at the same time?

If a client asks for something very specific, whilst it sounds like a good idea to them, to us it can end up being problematic because they haven’t thought about their logo in context.

How will this logo appear on both printed and digital applications, and regardless of scale? Such as, on your website when viewed on a mobile device or as an icon for your social media profile? For me your visual identity not just your logo needs to work across everything. So, if you go to a designer with very fixed ideas and not an open mind, your premium for going to a professional is wasted. You are limiting their ability to produce branding that is also practical. If you are a small business owner this is vital as you do not have budget for design support on a regular basis.


Avoid a slap dash solution. You may want your logo to have been ready yesterday, but do you really need it that fast? If you want it done quickly be warned it could cost you more money later to change it. Let your designer guide you through the process and avoid skipping steps to get it done fast. Giving us a little bit more time to talk to you and translate that into well thought out ideas. It’s worth it. Also, appreciate that design solutions can also vary significantly. Producing high quality artwork can be very cumbersome and time consuming at times.

Consider that if you have invested in a new website or rebranding and it has taken 1 or 2 months to realise it – what is another week or 2, so you can triple check everything and actually create a roll-out plan to launch it. This is where team work comes into play. You should be ideally working on this whilst your designer is working. Do not be too hasty and share your new logo with the whole world before your website is actually live. Do this and you really miss an opportunity to build some suspense with your audience and go live with a bang, because you only get one chance to launch and make it big.

The difference between feedback and opinions

In the big leagues when a big brand is about to launch their new branding, they get feedback. They spend millions when launching a new brand and a lot is at stake, so they don’t take risks. This is no different for a small business owner. They may not be spending millions. but it is still a huge expense to them, and they may fear what the consequences might be on their business. The big brands will arrange focus groups, based on the demographics specifically relevant to their product and get purposeful feedback that will directly impact their profits. Small businesses, sure get feedback, but get it from your client base or at the very least friends or associates who understand your business plan as well as you, and your long-term vision for your business. You don’t want your friends to like your branding, you want it to appeal to your specific market who will spend their money on your product. That’s who you need to share it with. So give some real thought as to who you ask, be strategic. In addition, avoid at all costs posting your ‘draft’ logo ideas from your designer on social media and ask for feedback from anyone who sees it. I see this a lot. How will this help? Personal opinions are merely that. Unless of course everyone in that thread got the same brief as the designer and understands your business strategy and the application requirements of that logo. Asking uninformed people can risk taking your branding in the wrong direction. I have not had a client who has done this with one of my logo ideas, but I sympathise with the designers who have. So, a gentle reminder, you do not want people to think your logo is nice, you want it to appeal to the people who will spend money on your product, ensure that it will sit comfortably within your sector and stand out from your competitors. This comes from research and then targeted and informed feedback. Which comes to my next very important point.

Don’t be a copycat

I see this quite often with clients and I think it’s an important topic to address, before you start talking to a designer. Your individuality as a brand will always be your USP. So, strive to stand out.

When working with clients I tend to ask them to send me reference of brands that are their direct competitors, particularly if I am not so familiar with their business sector. In general, you do not want a brand style that looks like someone else who offers the same product as you. By doing this you are telling your potential clients and/or customers to compare you with the other brand. Why would you want to do that? You fear they will, but don’t hand it to them on a plate. You want to avoid the comparison and one of the easiest ways to do that is create a brand that is entirely different. It will then as a consequence say something distinct, have a fresh tone of voice and hopefully be the one they choose.

It’s not usual for designers to be faced with clients who from the get go want their website to look like an existing brand because they saw a site, think it’s cool and want it just like that! This actually happens more often than you may think. For sure it can steer us in the direction of your personal tastes and closer to something you may like, but to replicate styles or colours, specifically those of competitors is a sign of weakness and lack of confidence. Plus, your business may have practical requirements that will not be met with the look you want to replicate. If you feel your product is better, then say so through your brand identity, not theirs.

Communication & get stuck in!

Last but not least, communicate with your designer. There is a misconception that a designer who offers 10 logo ideas is giving you value for money. Think again. I find a lot of clients assume that a designer gives multiple ideas, expects you to pick one of them, and then the job is done. If you are working with a professional, you don’t need 10 ideas you just need to communicate better. Take one or two ideas and develop one of them together as a team. Do not be afraid to tell your designer you don’t like it, but think about constructive feedback that will steer them in the direction of something better. ‘I don’t like it’ is never a problem, but a reason for that feeling helps direct us to what you do like. Be specific.

Expect to give up some time for various rounds of changes as we want to ensure every detail is met with your approval, and as much as we like the freedom to come up with a creative solution, your feedback is priceless and matters. This is how our ideas and skills can transform into something that is a perfect fit for you and your business. So, expect to give up some of your time, not just your money.

I hope you have gained some tips on how to work with your designer in order to make amazing branding together. I have worked in Brand development and design for over 15 years. Now working as a consultant and designer and finding that balance between working for large enterprises and helping smaller businesses with their branding. If you are unsure about how to take the next step with your business branding, feel free to get in touch. I am always happy to chat and provide free and impartial feedback that can give you some direction and ideas on how you can grow and strengthen your branding in the future.

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Photo credit - Kevin Ku

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