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How to build a brand when you can’t afford a designer

The other day I asked my Instagram followers to let me in on the kind of things they are struggling with when it comes to branding their business. One of the questions sounded something like 

“I’ve heard so many things, I don’t even know how to be branding”

And this is actually a question I’ve heard quite a bit recently. 

Add on the (financial) stress of a global pandemic, and stay home orders, forcing many creative entrepreneurs to DIY their brand for the time being. 

While I don’t think this advice will ever replace a professional brand designer, I do think what I’m about to share is exactly what you need to start building a solid brand foundation.

Think of it as a bandaid for your brand 😉 

In this blog post, I will let you in on some branding secrets to help you navigate the sea of branding advice out there. Whether you’re not quite ready to hire a designer just yet, or you just need some action steps you can take during this season of your business to build a more “on brand” business, you’re in the right place. 

And if you want to take your brand to the next level, be sure to tune in to The Hygge Hour Podcast where I share tips and tricks to help you build a thriving brand and business all while adding a little more hygge and a little less hustle to your life.

Your brand is like an iceberg

You’ve likely heard the iceberg analogy before, right? What is visible to the eye is only a tiny bit of what all is actually there. 

If we consider your brand in terms of the iceberg analogy, your logo, fonts, and colors are at the top above water. These things are easy to spot and are part of what the average client or customer will consider being your brand. 

If you’re in the wedding industry, think about photographers like Katelyn James and Hope Taylor. Their brands are so much more than the mint green and baby blue colors that represent it, yet, those are some of the most visible aspects to us as customers or clients!

Then, there are the hidden aspects of your brand. The stuff beneath the water of the iceberg. It’s composed of things like your tone, brand voice, choice of words, demeanor, frequency, delivery, and even the things that make up your client experience.

Your brand is like an iceberg illustration

As a brand strategist, part of my job is helping you understand how the stuff beneath the water, like your tone, brand voice, and overall brand messaging, ties into the stuff above it to create that visual representation of your brand that truly aligns. 

Think about Walmart and Nordstrom for a second. When you walk into these stores you likely have different expectations when it comes to price, selection, quality, and overall experience. These expectations aren’t just based on the logo or colors for these brands, but it’s about an overall impression that you have gained over time, and maybe even past experiences interacting with these brands. 

Your creative business is similar. The experience you create for your clients starts as early as their first interaction with you on Instagram. It’s not enough to roll out the red carpet in terms of how you show up on their wedding day, or the kind emails you send, each interaction with your brand has to fit into a larger picture. It should make sense to your clients that the Instagram posts and the emails they receive are all coming from the same business!

Time and time again I’ve seen creative entrepreneurs struggle with their brand because it doesn’t feel right. A lot of times this has to do with the full picture not seeming like it belongs together! 

So how do we fix this? 

It might seem like buying a new logo or changing your brand colors again might be the solution, but it likely goes deeper than that. We need to take a deep look at what’s beneath the surface, and luckily, these are things you can start doing today! 

DIY steps to brand audit

By answering some questions about your brand and your ideal client, you’ll be on your way to a better brand foundation today.

One of the easiest ways to confuse people with your brand is when there is a disconnect between the answers to the questions below. 

While these answers should make sense on their own, it’s also important that they make sense together!

Let’s have a look.

Oh, and if you’d like a little more detail and a place to fill it all in, don’t forget to grab the free Brand Audit workbook:

Step 1: Define your ideal client

The first step in this process is to take a step back and consider who your business is serving. 

While you likely set out on your business journey to fulfill some of your own goals and dreams, your clients are the ones who keep the light on, and they are the ones you should be catering to. 

Does that mean your business and brand can’t be something you love as well? Absolutely not. It just means that you need to find that sweet spot where your client feels understood and heard by your brand for your brand to have the ultimate impact. 

Who is your ideal client? I love to give this person a name and think up all the details that could help me market to this person. 

Where does she like to shop? What does she do for a living? What does she value? What are her fears? And most importantly, why?

The more detailed you can get on your ideal client, the easier the rest of this process will be! 

Step 2: Understand your brand voice

Next up, you need to understand your own brand voice. This part actually already exists out there, so the task here is to make sure you understand exactly what it is. 

In the post Your brand is more than your logo I discuss the consequences of not having a clearly defined brand. Basically, by not defining and controlling your brand, you’re letting the brand control itself (which can quickly get out of hand!)

Every single time you write something for your business, whether it be an email, Instagram caption, or even a blog post, you’re using your brand voice. 

This should sound pretty familiar across the board, and if it doesn’t, you know where you can start working! 

In this step of the process, you want to look back through some of the things you’ve communicated from your business. What kind of words do you tend to use? Do you write in really long or short sentences? Are there other things that stand out to you about the way you write or speak in your business? 

If you’re not sure where to start, Ashlyn Carter has a great post on How to Add Personality to your Copywriting!

Step 3: Identify keywords for your brand

Next up, let’s take a look at how you want your clients to feel when interacting with your brand. 

Do you want them to feel excited, at peace, calm, or energetic? 

You should also consider what kind of keywords you want associated with you and your brand. For some creatives, it makes sense for this part to also match the style of work that you produce. 

Think about keywords like dark and moody, light and airy, and even bright and colorful. These are all so popular in the wedding photography world. 

Which keywords do you associate with your brand and the work that you produce? If you want to include your audience on this one, feel free to post a little question on your Instagram stories to see what others are thinking. This is also a great opportunity for you to make sure you are coming across the way you intend to. 

Step 4: Pick one color and one or two fonts

Once you have the answers to the questions above, it’s time to make sure that those answers fit with the colors and fonts you use for your business. 

It’s amazing what consistency in color and fonts can do for the impression of your brand, so take a minute to consider this step. 

If you’re trying to attract clients who are all about intimate weddings, and your keywords are dark and moody, it doesn’t make sense for your main color to be bright pink. 

On the other hand, if your brand is bright and colorful, and you want to evoke feelings of energy and excitement, the bright pink might be a perfect fit! 

As you’re picking your fonts and colors, I recommend sticking to 1-2 fonts and 1-2 main colors for now. This will serve as a great base for your business until you’re ready to invest in a brand designer! 

Oh, and a little pro tip: make sure to write down the names and codes for your fonts and colors! That way you’re using the exact same ones each time. 

For more help on picking colors and fonts, be sure to download the free brand audit guide:

Step 5: Start with Consistency

So how do can you bring all this together? 

Great question! 

The biggest mistake I see entrepreneurs make when it comes to building a brand is a lack of consistency. 

A few colors and fonts used consistently over time will do more for your brand recognition than a professionally designed brand that you don’t use. 

Each time you show up online should be a reinforcement of the brand that you’ve outlined so far. Whether that be adding your main brand color to your Instagram story captions, using your brand voice to write your blog post, or changing the fonts on your website to match your new guidelines. The more you can remind your audience of your brand, the better your brand recognition get.

These kind of guidelines might seem restrictive, but it truly is the key to building a brand that people remember. 

Another bonus of this execersie is that you’ll feel more comfortable with the foundation of your brand when you do hire a professional designer!

Start thinking of a couple of places where you can incorporate these basics into your brand this week!

And don’t forget to grab the free brand audit workbook so you can start working through these brand questions today! If you’re ready to hire a professional designer, head on over to the services page to learn more about how we can bring your brand to life! And if you’d rather get a website that looks polished and professional without the pricetag, check out the Hygge Design Co Showit Template Shop!


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