What are the most important graphic design investments to make when you’re just starting out?

DT-blog-investments-01.jpg
“The life of a designer is a life of fight. Fight against the ugliness. Just like a doctor fights against disease. For us, the visual disease is what we have around, and what we try to do is cure it somehow with design.”
- Massimo Vignelli

If you're just hoping into the Design Transparency Series, check out the intro post here! My goal with this blog post series is to equip, empower and add a little more transparency to the mystery of working with a designer by answering popular questions that you have about the design process and hiring and working with a designer.


This was such a great question that I received when I prompted my audience for any questions that they had about design. There have been some great questions already, and there are some great ones to come! If you haven't seen a question that you've been asking yourself about why you need design, a designer, or how to work with one, comment below! I'd love to add a few more to the list. 

Today, we are talking about the most important graphic design investments to make when you're just starting out, and possibly strapped for cash. My recommendations are in order from importance, to having a little extra wiggle room in the budget.

Last week we talked about "Why you shouldn't buy a $10 template logo online and call it good"? (read about that here). So when we say investment, we mean investment. It's your business. What you put into it is what you get out and that's the same case with design. What you spend on your design is likely what you're going to get back. 

 

#1: Building the foundation for your business

The more I go through the branding process with my clients, the more I see how helpful strategy and going through the branding questionnaire to build the foundation of their brand is.

So to answer this questions my #1 most important investment would be to find a designer that has a little bit of strategy in their process. If you’re starting a business, you’re in it 24/7, brainstorming, researching what other people in your industry are doing, making lists, planning, etc. Sometimes it’s hard to take a step outside of that and build guidelines for your business that will guide your decisions going forward.

With my process, we go through the mission statement, decide on style words, nail down the target market and how to reach them, and really create a story around your why. This is such an important investment of time and money, because it will make the tough decisions that you will face down the road easier, and it will keep you in your lane when it’s really easy to get distracted by what someone else is doing.   

This could even look like getting a coach before jumping into the process with a designer, but thankfully for those strapped for cash, some designers lump everything into their process, because it helps with the creative process.

 

#2: A logo or brand you can start building recognition around

If you are building a business a logo is an essential piece. It should be first on the list after figuring out the backend for your business - what you’re going to do, what you’ll offer, why you want to do it, what it will be called, etc. A logo should fall seamlessly into the next stage of starting a business.

You want to start out with a mark or style that is easily recognizable, that you can start building an audience around. I’m not saying this mark has to be thousands of dollars worth, but you do need something, and something that ties back to your name, why, mission statement, values and target market, so that you can start building recognition and a brand that your customers love. 

If you think that you can skimp on this piece, please go read my latest post about online template logos. If you go to a designer for just one piece on this list, make it your logo. The rest (besides #1) can be done cheaply and changed later, but if you start out with a bad logo, you run the risk of not making it as a business due to confusion, being irrelevant, or having to change it a lot quicker than expected. 
 

#3: An Online Presence

This is an instagram, facebook page, website, blog, pinterest, youtube channel, etc. It needs to be strategic though. You need to have an online presence where your target market is. So if your audience isn’t on pinterest, don’t start out with a pinterest page. The same thing with facebook, instagram and a youtube channel. Find where your target market is and start there.

You don’t necessarily even have to start with a designer if you don’t have the cash. With all the templates you can buy out there, companies like squarespace, wordpress, and shopify have made it so easy to build your own site and make it look halfway good. But you may eventually want to work with a designer down the road to help with consistency, readability, overall layout and create a custom look for your business with your website, blog graphics, social media graphics/profile and cover photos, etc.

 

#4: One Printed Marketing Piece

I always suggest at least one printed marketing piece to my clients. This can be business cards, a letterhead, envelopes, postcards/leave behind cards, flyers, thank you cards, etc - something that you can pull out and give to someone when they meet you to create an experience and a first impression. And if you’re going to have something printed to give people, you want it to make a good first impression.

This also depends on your industry and your target market. If you’re going to frequent tradeshows and in-person networking events, the first thing that people ask for is a business card or something with more information. If you’re a purely digital company, then having a printed marketing piece may not make sense. If you’re a product based company, having a great client experience is about adding little surprises along the way, so having some nicely designed thank you cards when sending your product off would be a great investment.

We’ll talk more about printed pieces in a few weeks, but just know that if you’re going to go with a printed piece, spend the extra cents on a nice thick paper and high-quality printing, and you’ll already be a step above the rest.
 

#5: Good Digital Marketing

If you can’t afford the printed piece, then set your sights on good digital marketing. This looks like welcome packets, digital pdfs, price sheets, email newsletters, digital invitations or announcements, etc. You need to come across as a professional business that at least semi-knows what they are doing. You can do that by having consistency throughout. Using the same 2-3 fonts throughout all platforms and digital pdfs, having a color palette that you stick with, and having your logo on each piece.

When I go through a logo design with each client, they get each of these pieces so that they are equipped to spread their brand throughout all of their already made pieces and can keep a consistent look. Because if you brand isn’t consistent, confusion starts, and that is a bad thing for business.

Many designers offer digital templates for a fraction of the cost of designing a custom-made digital marketing piece. So look into or ask about designed templates for these pieces. 

 

If you have questions about any of these pieces, I would love to answer them in the comments below. In the next few weeks, we'll start to open up what the investment really looks like and when it may be time to save up to hire a graphic designer for your business.