Solopreneurs have a lot of responsibilities on their shoulders. Here are tips on how to make your marketing, branding, and graphic design tasks easier and more impactful.
The internet might be full of bad design, but your business doesn’t need to fall victim to it. We asked a handful of design professionals, creative studios, and thought leaders about some of the most common design mistakes they see among small business owners. Luckily, they’re all easy to avoid, with a little planning and organization. Here’s how.
Mistake #1: (Blindly) Following Trends
This was the most cited mistake among the experts we interviewed. “Following trends is very dangerous,” says Alex Ostroff, the Creative Director at Saint Urbain, a design and branding agency based out of New York and Los Angeles.
Instead of following trends, do what feels and looks right for your brand.
Create brand style guidelines that specify the kind of type, photography, illustration, or other media you use. Save some templates you love. Then, when creating new marketing materials, adhere to those guidelines.
Of course, don’t keep yourself from participating in the latest TikTok trend. Just give it a personal twist or do it in a way that fits your style.
“I see a lot of people making the mistake of following trends at the expense of being true to their actual brand identity,” Ostroff says.
Being authentic is what really makes a brand stand out, anyway.
Mistake #2: Assuming Branding is Just About Logos
Great brands often involve a very identifiable logo. Still, it is key to understand that a successful brand image goes far beyond that.
The Creative Director Alexis Rollet from A&Mcreative, a creative studio based in France, sees brands only focus on logos far too often. “Even in 2022, business owners can still have a tendency to think that branding is all about designing a good logo,” he says.
“Photography and illustration are key nowadays in successful branding, with the importance of social media and the need to be generating content on a much higher frequency. I believe branding should be a lasting collaboration, ensuring the consistency of your brand image on all applications and through time.”
If costs are an issue, you can browse ready-made design templates for social media. Creative Flow by Shutterstock, for instance, offers hundreds of templates.
Mistake #3: Changing Your Design Style Too Much
This tip is related to #1 on our list. It further underscores the importance of having a cohesive and identifiable brand aesthetic.
“Besides drop shadows on type, the biggest mistake I see is that brands don’t maintain a consistent voice,” says Alison Matheny, the Founder and Creative Director at BEST Creative Studio in New York. “I’m all for experimentation, but if you establish a brand look and feel, colors, and fonts, stick to those. This will build equity.”
Think of some of your favorite brands. Chances are, you’d be able to tell what images they produced, even if you covered up their names. They likely have a recognizable photography style, color scheme, and type of illustration.
Mistake #4: Choosing the Wrong Visuals
“I often notice an inconsistency between brand messaging and visual assets,” says Jeremy Mura, a Brand Identity Designer in Sydney. Some common issues are the use of different colors on different platforms or “all-over-the-place” marketing materials that don’t go together. These problems can cause disruption in the customer experience.
Ultimately, they cause a loss of trust, if the brand does not connect on all of their design-focused dots. For example, if a brand prides itself on being fun and casual, it doesn’t make sense to have pictures of super formal businessmen on their website. Similarly, if a beauty company promises authenticity and relatability, it would feel disingenuous for all their photos to be heavily retouched.
Mistake #5: Overcomplicating Messaging
When in doubt, keep it simple. “When you’re just starting out as a solopreneur, less is more,” says the branding team at Function Creative Co. in Toronto. “Don’t overthink it. Start with a nice text logo, instead of trying to whip up something under pressure or without a designer. Pick a couple of colors you can consistently use throughout your initial marketing, and just start building from there. Once your business takes off, it’s a lot easier to build from this type of foundation, than to have to go in and redo everything.”
While all sorts of visuals, from photography to illustrations, can play a pivotal role in your branding, it’s also easy to get overwhelmed by too many options. If you find yourself in that position, take a step back. Instead of using different platforms to source images, resize them, find fonts, and design your layouts, consider an all-in-one design tool that fits your needs, such as Shutterstock Creative Flow.
Mistake #6: Putting Design Before Function
“Avoid sacrificing usability for the sake of beauty or aesthetics,” says Designer and Creative Director Rachel Gogel. “Design doesn’t just make things beautiful. It makes them work. For me, it’s more about function over decoration.”
For example, if you’re using video and sound on your website, give the user control over whether or not they play. Similarly, if you have to choose between fast load times and elaborate visuals that take forever to show up, choose better load times.
Mistake #7: Doing Everything by Yourself
Even if you’re a one-person company, you don’t have to do every single thing on your own. Reach out to other solopreneurs for advice, and offer some tips of your own in return. If you aren’t a photographer, hire a local freelancer or spend some time searching for the perfect stock assets.
Finally, consider closely collaborating with a designer. You can share your mood board, brand guidelines, and ideas and work together to create content for your website, social channels, or product packaging.
“Generally, I really believe in setting a small budget aside early for digital design (and branding) needs,” Gogel tells us. “Most independent designers have rate cards for different clients. Seek out that talent to bring your vision to life. Rely on your network and community to get started if you feel stuck.”
License the cover image via Mark Rademaker, ultraprovincial, and Tanya Antusenok.