6 min read
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Like all of us, a friend of mine found herself stuck in quarantine. A chat window popped open and she tells me that right now, the best to do is to focus on her project.

The conversation that developed turned out to be a good kick starter for getting a brand off the ground and onto a digital presence.

Keep in mind, what follows is meant for someone who has already designed the business side of a project, and is working with little or no budget. For building a Small Business, when there is at least some possibility to invest, the suggested route would be very different.

Can you recommend a good and professional system?

If all you have is time and motivation, you won’t be able to get a professional system of any sort.

The options come from services like Wordpress, Wix, Squarespace and a few others.

Let’s break it down. You are not going to use Wix. Here is what their support page says about exporting your content to another service:

Your Wix site and all of its content is hosted exclusively on Wix’s servers, and cannot be exported elsewhere.

Specifically, it is not possible to export or embed files, pages or sites, created using the Wix Editor or ADI, to another external destination or host. If you embed a site into an external location, Wix is no longer in control of the way that your site appears or functions, and therefore, cannot provide support. In addition, Google Analytics and search engine crawlers are not able to work properly with an embedded site.

This puts you on a dead end in case you need a different set of features that Wix does not offer.

Wordpress and Squarespace allow you to control your content, and offer interesting options to upgrade.

Wordpress even offers an open source version so that you can use any hosting service and customize it the way you see fit. Its strength is also its weakness. Being so versatile means that it isn’t easy for someone to customize or add features without resorting to third party plugins that don’t always offer the best quality. (You can’t argue with free…)

For an online store you may want to try Shopify, and if you want to take advantage of existing marketplaces, it would be wise to research services like Etsy for your particular market.

For logo and design, would you do it yourself or hire a designer?

This should actually be the starting point and not something you get started after picking a website service.

If you can, do hire a designer and be suspicious of low hourly rates.

Most likely the website will be meant to attract sales, donations or other forms of investment. So the point of hiring a designer is to produce signs of credibility. You want the work of the designer to be a reflection of your professionalism.

If you hire a freelancer or a small studio is up to you and the budget you have. Just keep in mind that the price points are different and unless the freelancer is in fact very good, his rate will be higher than the average.

Before picking a freelancer, be sure to ask to see a portfolio. Pick a few examples of work and ask “What problem were you trying to solve with this? What method or process did you use to reach this solution?”

A good designer will be able to contextualize the problem and describe a work method that goes above inspiration. It should include research, experiments, a few failed examples.

There are several online marketplaces for freelancers, like fiverr. The downside of these marketplaces is that they are crowded and it can be hard to split the good from the bad.

Build a briefing

Anyone working with you will need to know more about your business and what you are trying to do. There are two shortcuts you can use to produce this document.

The first is the business model canvas. It will help you understand where you need to spend and where you need to invest, but most of all, at this stage it will help you pin point who your stakeholders are.

The second tool is the Difference Map. Think of it as a way to structure your research and your ideas about what you want the brand to be.

This map can serve as a briefing for the designer, for a copywriter or any other communication professional that you may need to hire.

Deliverables

What you want from the designer is not just a set of images, you will need a brand book that includes:

  • Fonts to use
  • Color palette
  • Logo and the ways it should be applied
  • Original source files used to create the design assets

The brand book can be expanded to include more, but this would be the essential items to include.

Mood board

The use of photos is also important when you are building a brand and a website. It should not be a matter of taste.

The mood board is a collection of photos that show the sort of photos that you want associated with your brand. It can also include a series of photos that you don’t want in your brand.

The point is to serve as a guiding light to pick the best photos to keep a coherent look and feel in the website and social media channels like Facebook or Twitter.

Values

With the mood board, the difference map, and all the research you have done so far, it should be easy to write up a small list of what your Values.

What does your brand stand for?

What are the qualities you want it to have?

If your brand changed the world, how would the world be?

Answering these questions will help you build and idea of what personality your brand has.

It’s a model that we see in some corporate websites:

  • What is your Vision? (What world do you imagine)
  • What is your Mission? (How are you going to build that world)
  • What are your Values? (What will guide your decision making process, and your strategy)

Simon Sinek suggests that you start with the “Why” of your brand.

Tone of voice

This is probably one of the hardest parts to get right. With the mood board you can use google images and other stock photo sites to build examples from what you come across.

The way your brand speaks starts with a blank page.

The Difference Map can be very useful with this step. And there are other tools that can make the job a bit easier.

Nicole Fenton has shared her Tiny Content Framework on github. There are also some notes I took of her presentation at UXLX (User Experience Lisbon) that you can read to get some fresh ideas.

Is this it?

Each point of this blog post could be extended and your business or product may require that you diverge a bit from this path. This is meant as a bare minimum so that the task of building a brand doesn’t feel overwhelming.

Do you feel something is missing? Drop a line in the comments below and I will be happy to respond.


Bruno Amaral

I am a urban cyclist who loves to mix technology, Creativity, and Storytelling.

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