Building brands for small businesses

4 min read
Jordanna Yap
  •  Sep 8, 2015
Link copied to clipboard

With experience at several well-known tech companies in support, administration, design, and development roles, I started looking at ways to employ what I’ve learned within my local community.

Tech-savvy startups don’t have a problem embracing intentional design thinking to help improve their business stature and identity, but local businesses aren’t always aware of how important that is. And even if they are, they might not know where to begin.

I started Anthem Craft & Designs to help local businesses, especially newly formed non-profit organizations, embrace their new brand identities with tools, workflow, and design thinking. What I’d anticipated to be short-term design projects helped me to become a facilitator for clients navigating important decisions and tasks around marketing and product creation.

If you’re a volunteer, part-time, or full-time designer building brands for local businesses, these tips will help you communicate better with clientsTwitter Logo, build a seamless workflow to show off your craft, and become the designer your clients will rave about to their peers.

Getting started

Projects like a new logo or brand are a great way to help your client teams gel together and learn fundamental design principles.

To jumpstart a new logo or branding design project, I invite clients to a relaxed setting, usually a coffee shop close to their home or business.

“Help put clients at ease by speaking in plain language—no design speak.”

Twitter Logo

For many of my clients, it’s their first time working closely with a design professional. To help put these folks at ease, I speak in plain language and try not to sound too elitist with design speak and explain exactly how the process will work and what information I need from them to proceed.

As you discuss preliminary topics like taglines, vision, mission statement and some basic design preferences like color and typeface, be willing to share simple design tips and principles clients can use immediately to improve their approach to design in general. Don’t just deliver a great logo—build contextTwitter Logo and extend their vision beyond icons to a broad consideration of how all their design can work to their advantage.

“Don’t just deliver a great logo—build context and extend your client’s vision.”

Twitter Logo

To ensure clear communication throughout the design process, here are a few things to consider:

  • Work with the right people.Twitter Logo These individuals should be responsible for approving the final design, and they should have the time to offer valuable feedback during the drafting stages.
  • Be patient. For new groups or teams, this is the first true test of the resilience of their mission statement. The logo and brand will eventually reflect their values and goals, so help them see themselves in the design by incorporating their comments, thoughts, and ideas during the process and in the final product.


If you’re tackling this project solo, here are some ways you can make the design process seamless and enjoyable for you and your clients (and maybe even save your sanity).

Context and clarity

During your kickoff meeting, get to the clearest, simplest understanding of your client’s business goals. Ask questions like “What made you start this organization?” or “What problem are you going to solve?” This gets the ball rolling, as it will likely be a frequently asked question from future supporters and audiences.

“At your kickoff meeting, get to the clearest understanding of your client’s goals.”

Twitter Logo

Don’t be afraid to ask a client to repeat or explain something in a different wayTwitter Logo. Get perfect clarity on words that might especially have various meanings or connotations. Showing this level of attention will build your client’s trust in you and your ability to represent them.

Craft: setup

I keep client projects organized in an Adobe Creative Cloud folder that automatically makes backups in the cloud. I can easily share designs using the Creative Cloud mobile app even when I’m away from my computer.

Set up a new Illustrator project (or use Sketch, Photoshop, or another graphics editor) with an artboard of at least 1280×800 pixels and get to work.

Get a head start on brainstorming ideas by snapping a photo of a pencil-sketched design (preferably on plain white, non-lined paper), and share it to your workstation.

Import the file into Illustrator and play around with image trace and graphic tricks for new ideas.

Craft: options

Next, create as many varieties and explore multiple options early on to narrow down options. Logos come to life when they’re posted, printed, Instagrammed, shared, tattooed—you name it. Wherever they’ll exist, share mockups of the logo on various surfaces (business cards, t-shirts, website mockups, mobile app mockups) to get your client not only excited about the design but how great it’ll look when applied.

“Share logo mockups on various surfaces to get your client excited.”

Twitter Logo
From our sketched example earlier, applying our logo to a context image or interface mockup brings it to life.
Multiple interfaces/surfaces mocked up for client to fully visualize various layouts and options.

Craft: feedback process

Be intentional about acquiring feedback from your clients at the right momentsTwitter Logo. Instead of overloading your client with too many options too quickly, organize a handful of options to gain a sense of their preference for color, text, style, and layout.

I post design drafts as a new InVision project where clients can easily view design drafts, make comments, and request changes to any particular design.

Similarly, you can use Dropbox. Its image previewer allows clients to comment, but not highlight specific areas.

If none of these work, plain email works just as great, too.

“The key to getting great feedback: know the design question you want the client to answer.”

Twitter Logo

The key to getting great feedback is to know the design question you want the client to answer. Do they like classical or modern styles and samples? Do they like decorative or simple fonts? Do they prefer monochromatic tones or crazy colors? Use feedback to focus design options and provide a final product they will love.

Craft: style and character

Throughout the feedback process, update typography, icon, and graphic styles that complement the client’s personality and character.

Craft: the “surprise” ending

Donald Miller, one of my favorite authors and the creator of the Storyline brand that teaches people how to live meaningful stories in real life, has a great saying: “Do everything as if for the second time.Twitter Logo

Imagine seeing your logo design 2 or 3 years later, plastered on a poster or to the awning of a building. What might you have done differently?

Now make your improved version a reality. Don’t underestimate the power of process, time, sleeping on ideas, and remaking some designs from scratch. Make it pixel perfect, aligned, clean, and crisp. Surprise yourself with how much you’ve learned by using a new technique or incorporating an unconventional graphic element.

“Don’t underestimate the power of process, time, sleeping on ideas, and remaking some designs from scratch.”

The more you design or iterate, the more resilient your design process can be for the next project.

Example: PostScript Outreach’s hummingbird

While developing PostScript’s new logo, I was allowed to create a derivative of an original illustrated hummingbird by a peer volunteer designer. After exploring various blends and gradient styles in Illustrator, I “mistakenly” created a mask on the original bird and filled its silhouette with a mesh gradient using its original colors. By simply taking the final design a step further, I ended up surprising myself and my client with a beautiful and unique icon.

Sharing final output

Package your final design artifacts in editable PDF formatTwitter Logo. This is especially helpful if you or your client plan to work with original files and create additional designs. Give your clients ready-to-use documents like a Square profile image, Facebook profile banner, and a couple of logo variations for dark, light, and color background photo overlays. Convert text and other graphics into outlines for easy resizing and printing. The neighborhood printing agencies will love you for it.

Store the final files on a shared drive for your client to access. Employ a backup policy and clearly communicate how long the file will be available online as well as offsite (if you choose).

I have a backup drive with every client I’ve worked with just in case a server crashes, a computer loses all the images, or something else unexpected happens. And when your clients ask you to do more design work in the future, you can just grab the asset files and get right to work.

Project wrap-up

Communicate an appropriate period where you allow any design changes. Capstone the project with a simple thank you note or email showing the conclusion of work and how they can contact you for future work.

“As designers, we can help foster better practices in communication.”

Twitter Logo

Being hired for a logo design is a privilege that allows both my clients and me to learn a ton about each other’s expertise in a very short time and possibly create opportunities for future projects down the road. As designers, our jobs become more than just creative and artistic—we bridge a gap, solving not only graphic design problems, but also fostering better practices in communication and creating exponential possibilities to work creatively with burgeoning local businesses and organizations.

Collaborate in real time on a digital whiteboard