ARRA design studio stationery design

How to Brand a Small Business – exclusive look behind the scenes

Always wanted to get a sneak peek at how a designer comes up with a brand identity for a small business? Or personal business? Here’s your chance!

If you’re on a low budget or want to give it a go and brand your own small business, this exclusive look behind the scenes will give you tips and advice.

The post is available in an abridged pdf format that includes a bonus checklist you can follow to brand your own small business. Or take it as a preparation guide before you reach out a designer to work on your small business brand identity.

The three key steps of branding

Branding is the process of gaining clarity and inspiration to create an intentional design.

It’s not about getting a pretty a logo. Or selecting nice colours and using them as a slave – sometimes all of them at the same time – everywhere your business is present:

  • your website,
  • social media platforms,
  • emails,
  • invoices,
  • printed brochures, to name a few.


Don’t get me wrong: you need to make use of your branding, but don’t do it haphazardly.

It has to have meaning and intention.

Emphasis is on intention.

To get there you need to be clear on your business purpose and you need to be inspired by what is possible and what you can achieve. It involves a good deal of thinking and self reflection. Something many of us like to neglect. Instead we jump right into deep waters with the confidence that we will somehow manage it.

1) Gain clarity

Any kind of branding or rebranding process needs to start with clarity.

It’s a process of self reflection. Knowingly and willingly stepping back and reevaluating the current situation. And then drawing up a visual map for the ideal future outcome.

The best is to spend a few days thinking this over and to note down anything that comes to mind that is related to your small business and its future aspirations.

Use leading questions like the below ones to keep the focus on the task at hand:

  • What do you currently do in your business?
  • What are you planning to do in the near future and in the next 1-2 years?
  • How is your business perceived by your clients now? (If you start branding your first business, think about how you want your soon-to-be clients to perceive your business.)
  • How would you like to change this perception with branding? How could you achieve that with branding?
  • What value do you add to your clients with your services or products?
  • Do you plan to introduce new services or products?
  • In what way would those impact how your clients see your business?
  • What do you want your clients and website visitors to feel and think about your business when they see the new branded version?
  • Also, what do you want your clients and website visitors not to see and feel?
  • What are you personally looking for in your new, refreshed brand identity?
  • What is working / not working in your current branding? Is there anything you want to keep or replace?


 

I’d recommend to take several days to get all the answers. Of course it doesn’t mean you need to spend the next two weeks full time working on this. But setting aside daily some focused hours when you don’t allow for distractions and sit down in a quiet corner with a journal our a notepad would bring you there.

I would also advise to revisit your answers a few times as you progress to see if your initial thoughts still do have merit, or upon reflection they might need to be revised.

2) Get inspired

The next phase is more relaxed and fun. It’s about looking around and getting inspired by literally everything:

  • flip through magazines,
  • look at design catalogues,
  • browse through Pinterest,
  • take photos as you walk around in the city.


When searching for that look and feel you want your clients to experience when getting in contact with your business, you want to search for

  • places,
  • rooms,
  • textures,
  • patterns,
  • smells,
  • objects, and
  • special words, that represent the unique combination of specific style and aesthetics your business stands for.


Once your clarity gaining exercise and inspiration gallery is completed, will you start to get the right feeling in what direction your branding’s to take.

mood board photo collage

3) Work on your brand design

This is the last step in the branding process, when you bring everything together and you start working on the brand design.

And it’s only here where colours come into the picture. And not simply your favourite colours. But colours that

  • represent your branded business’ values and
  • align with your brand’s personality and aesthetics.


 

Besides the theme colours, also all other branding elements like

  • logo(s),
  • typography choices,
  • brand patterns,
  • photographic style need to be linked to the brand’s core personality to build an intentional, well-balanced design.

Branding a small business: sneak peek behind the scenes

If you decide to do it on your own and brand your own business alone in a DIY fashion – be prepared that it will take way longer than you think.

First of all working with and for yourself is going to be much fun and excitement. And what you enjoy doing is hard to stop.

On the other hand quite often we are our own harshest critiques. That little devil’ll bug you and have you second guess your design decisions every now and then. Well, I myself went through several revision cycles until finding the design I was looking for my own business brand.

Create a Project brief

Even if you don’t work with a designer, create a project brief and use it as your guideline throughout the whole creative process. This is a simple document to

  • remind you what you want to achieve and to
  • keep you on track.

 

A creative project brief includes

  • what you want to achieve,
  • why, and
  • for whom,
  • the process steps you follow,
  • your overall timeline and
  • budget.

Simple creative project brief example

The scope of this creative project I’m walking you through in this example was to design the logo and overall branding for

  • a creative studio,
  • run by a single person,
  • offering easy-to-maintain WordPress websites with logo and brand identity designs for other small business owners.

 

I don’t leave you hanging: It was for my own creative small business.

I’ve already completed the official small business registration process with other business administration related activities. It was time to create my brand so that as next step I could work on my business website.

The process steps involved

  • gaining clarity around my business, and
  • designing a logo and brand identity that speaks to my target audience and reflects my business values.

 

I set myself a timeline to complete the whole process within maximum 2 months.

A few words about budget: Don’t kid yourself that if you DIY your brand and don’t hire a designer then you’ll have barely any costs.

You’ll need

  • drawing materials: pencils, sketching notepads or paper;
  • software: vector graphics software for your logo design;
  • computer or laptop;
  • internet.

 

Extra costs could occur if you

 

There are plenty of free fonts and courses available in the internet. Just bear in mind that the time you spend on learning all these new things costs you and your business.

Clarity and inspiration phase

My studio’s motto is: “where clarity and inspiration meets intentional design”, because I strongly believe that

  • without gaining clarity around the business,
  • its history, current state and future aspirations,
  • without knowing its core values, or
  • where the logo is primarily meant to be used, you cannot create a design that makes the business owner (you) satisfied and that appeals to the target audience.

 

ARRA design studio’s core values and beliefs are:

  1. Meaningful simplicity without making it boring. Less is always more.
  2. An honest, friendly, warm and supportive work environment.
  3. Listening to others’ needs carefully and making sure that they are met.
  4. Constant learning and development, the thrive to become more.
  5. Impact should be made where it really matters and without clutter.
  6. Family always comes first. Business and success is an added bonus. 


 

Based on the clarity gaining and inspiration gathering exercises I collected the following attributes for my small business that I wanted to express with my branding:

  • creative,
  • inspirational,
  • approachable,
  • lover of clarity, simplicity, and
  • advocate of constant learning. 


Logo and brand design phase

As my small business is a one-woman show I had to consider at the very beginning whether I wanted to build a personal brand under my own name as Petra Molnár. Or have it under a business name.

After some considerations I’ve decided not to use my own name. For me it would have come with some disadvantages. So ARRA design studio was born.

1) Brand colours

The colour tones of the brand are light, bright and clear. Linking back to the studio’s core belief and values.

For main colours I chose:
– Yellow – creative, happy, friendly;
– Green – fresh, abundant, balanced;
– Blue – trustworthy, clear, reflective;

For accent highlight:
– Sunset Orange – passionate, sociable.

For body text and backgrounds for printed materials:
– Gunmetal Gray;
– Timberwolf Gray/Eggshell.

ARRA design studio's brand colour palette containing: grey, yellow, blue, green, dark orange, and charcoal colours

2) Main logo

As I’m a new business wanting to get my name out there I’ve decided as the best type of logo for my studio a so called logotype or word mark logo design.

I started with black and white sketches playing around with various combinations and logo layouts. Then I moved over to Adobe Illustrator and experimented with various typeface options.

The final design features the business name itself in a serif typeface and with generous letter spacing making it more light and airy. This is in alignment with the direction that was paved by the images of the inspirational mood board.

The business name ARRA is

  • short,
  • easy to remember and
  • easy to pronounce.


 

With the mirrored R the logo remains simple, yet distinctive and memorable. Displaying three from the key principles of logo design.

We see a direct link to the defined brand characteristics, like:

  • creativity,
  • clarity,
  • simplicity.


 

Also the strategic introduction of the yellow main brand colour catches the attention immediately and directs the viewers’ eyes to the logo.

The next line introduces the strapline that identifies the business as a design studio. I used the same typeface as in the business name but this time in contrasting lower case.

The repeated generous letter spacing establishes a direct connection to the main element above it.

As I wanted to have a font-based logo I wasn’t going for any intricate illustrative details or icons. But I still wanted to add some illustrative touch to the final design.

So as design elements I added the asterisk and some delicate lines. Decorating, but not overcomplicating. They are in balance with the business name and the other elements of the logo.

The first iteration of the main logo:
ARRA design studio main logo on white background
Finalized version of the main logo:
ARRA design studio main logo

3) Alternate logos

The outlines of the main logo resemble a big rectangle shape. Also, it has a generous white space around it. In certain applications it would occupy too much space and wouldn’t allow the logo to show its best features.

This is where the alternate logos come into play. These are variations of the main logo. They ensure a versatile usage across platforms (digital or offline) where the main logo wouldn’t be suitable.

Alternate logos are essential parts of the branding process and not only keep the brand identity fresh, but they also ensure that it remains cohesive.

In my case the asterisk is a recurring element in the alternative logo versions as is the mirrored R and the yellow highlight.

The first version is still a rectangle shape but a more condensed version. About half the height of the original and it still shows both the business name and the strapline.

The second version is again half the height but only comprises of the business name. I can use this one where space constraints are at maximum, like on novelty pencils or pens.

The last version fits either into a rhombus shape or a circle. This logo alternative is best suited e.g.

  • on a business stamp or
  • as favicon on webpages or
  • as social media handle icon.

Finalized alternate logo designs
ARRA design studio's alternate logo showing the business name in a condensed rectangle form
ARRA design studio's alternate logo only showing the business name ARRA
ARRA design studio's alternate logo featuring only the business name ARRA with an asterisk in a stamp shape
Previous explorations for alternate logo designs
ARRA design studio secondary logo, logomark and brand design element
Brand asset application examples
arra-branding-colour-palette
arra-branded-stationery-business-card-design
ARRA design studio's logo stamped on a sheet of paper
arra-branded-journal-design
ARRA design studio's main logo and motto on a business brochure page
sample pages from the ebook How to prepare for a business branding

Download the pdf version of this case study for FREE. No sign-ups needed.
It also contains a bonus checklist with actionable steps if you decide to DIY your own brand.
Just hit the button.

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