Having a professional designer in your team is great. A good designer is worth her weight in avocados and Peet’s Coffee — not to mention a healthy financial reward. Designers often specialize in an area like branding or user experience, and that makes their process and the outcome even more valuable. Expert designer knows how to create design systems that tie together your brand visuals, web experience, and marketing assets. They have deep understanding of color psychology, how human mind groups and connects visual objects together, and which layouts are more pleasing to the eye than others. Indeed, great design is worth every penny you can afford to invest.

But what happens when you can’t invest in design? What if you are a solopreneur, mommypreneur, or any other one person hustle? Not only are you cost-conscious with your business spending, you might be used to taking care of your business needs by yourself — and that’s the way you like it. Or maybe you’re just starting your business, and you need to get it off the ground and running without major costs. There is proven value in hiring a designer, but let’s be real: it’s not always possible or something you want to do.

Whatever your situation is, the audience today is expecting visual candy. Vast Marketing Solutions writes on their blog post The Importance of Visual Content in Social Media that “according to a study conducted by 3M, 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual and visuals are processed 60,000 times faster than text. 46% of people say a website’s design is the number one criterion for discerning the credibility of the company.”

So, what can you do when you need designed assets such as a logo, marketing materials, or web designs, but don’t have access to a designer? Well, actually, quite a bit. While it doesn’t replace having an expert in your team, there is still a lot you can do to improve what you have. Behind are the days of expensive and difficult to use expert tools for designers. Today, affordable and easy-to-use design software and online applications are available for anyone. With pre-made, customizable templates, these applications make creating pleasing designs effortless for non-designers and designers alike. And understanding few principles when it comes to branding and having few tricks up your sleeve will help you strategize around your design needs and save lots of money in the beginning of your business journey.

Favorite beginner tools

Canva: With Canva’s design templates you can easily create a variety of assets from logo designs to ebooks and social media posts, and more. The price is affordable $9.95-$12.95 per month for the Canva for Work. However, if you prepare and plan well, you might be able to create enough assets for your brand to last for a while during the free 30 day trial period. There’s also an option for a free plan, but some customizations and asset management isn’t available in the free plan. Downside: unless you customize your templates enough, you’ll easily end up with assets that many other small business owners use and will lack a unique edge. Though customization is easy to do, you will need some knowledge of basic design principles to ensure your designs look well thought out and professional.

Squarespace: Squarespace makes creating a simple marketing website for your business/brand effortless and quick. With well-designed templates, these sites don’t pale next to custom designed websites. If you only need a simple site with 1-5 pages with more or less static content such as About us, Services, Contact, Gallery, and so on, I would argue that you can’t much get a better deal than Squarespace. The learning curve is mellow and, like said before, the templates are fool-proof for pleasing UI. Squarespace templates are also mobile friendly out of the box and their 24/7 support team helps with any questions you might have. The best thing about Squarespace is how quickly you can get your beautiful site up and running: in mere hours. And the easy site management will save you hours every month. Downside: Squarespace is less customizable than say a WordPress site. And while you can buy a lot of plugins and premium themes to add up costs to your WordPress site, a simple blog still comes out more affordable on WordPress than on Squarespace.

Money (and time) saving principles

1. Your brand is not your logo

First thing to understand about your brand is that it is so much more than your logo. Yes, it is very likely that you need a logo. But no, you most likely don’t need to invest thousands in getting it designed with an expensive brand agency. Your logo alone won’t define your brand and your logo alone won’t bring you new business. Just like Jeff Bezos so nicely worded: “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” This means it is about reputation. What kind of reputation does your company have? How do you deal with your customers and what do they say about you after they bought your products/services?

Brand is also build by telling stories. What and how you communicate to your audience matters more than your logo. And of course where you tell these stories. Your audience wants to be able to relate with the company and its mission, so these stories will become significantly more important than a little graphic you attach to it. Part of how you tell your stories is visual. This means photos, illustrations, graphics, and color can play a big part of it. Being consistent and genuine is important.

If you are a service provides and solopreneur, your personal brand is likely going to be your business brand — even if you don’t realize it. You’re selling your expertise and unique way of doing things, whether it is massage or marital therapy. For most service based solopreneurs, clean text based logotype with some unique treatment is more than enough to get started. Especially, since you don’t need packaging for goods you’re selling. And Canva provides plenty of templates to get your creative juices going.

Caution: While amazing logo alone won’t bring you new business, a bad and unprofessional looking one may actually cost you business. Using graphics and adding logo marks adds to the challenge. That is why I recommend sticking to logo templates that are already designed to be professional looking, and with small adjustments you can make them yours.

If you are tempted to hire someone to make you a logo for a small amount of money (read: cheap), you might want to rethink. Creating a high quality, professional logo mark is usually expensive for a reason. If someone is selling this service cheap, I would proceed with caution. It is very likely that a nice looking logo template will do a better job — and this you can do yourself.

2. Design principles are timeless

There are a basic set of rules that can be applied to any design you need to create. These principles are timeless, and when you once learn those, you can forever follow the principles to help you create better designs. One well-known set of rules are the Gestalt Principles. These principles were created in the 1920s by a group of psychologists in Germany for a series of theories of visual perception. The principles are: similarity, continuation, closure, proximity (aka grouping), and figure and ground. Knowing how tp apply these rules, you can create hierarchy, balance, and professional feel to any design asset you need to create.

3. Take advantage of templates

One thing in common with the online design tools geared towards non.designers is that they typically have templated solutions available. Use them. The templates are designed by professionals and many of the design principles have already been thought out for you. With a little customization, like using your own photos or changing colors, you can add a bit of unique flare. When you become more comfortable with design principles, you can customize the templates more by rearranging and resizing objects, changing typefaces, and adding new elements or graphics.

And after you’ve found and customized your favorite, say, social media post template, to save even more time, that one template can be used over and over again by switching the imagery and texts to suit each post. And elements of that can be recycled for an email newsletter or an event flyer, etc.

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Most importantly, be brave and trust that as a non-designer you can learn to create better designs. Ability to design is not a magical quality reserved for those who graduate from art school, but something anyone can learn to a degree. Let me know in the comments what you have designed and how it went.

 

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