How to ensure your business looks its best online
The internet can sometimes feel like one long beauty pageant for businesses, where the way you look is just as important as the strength of your business. Accepting that, it's time to make sure this doesn't get in the way of your business success.
Time to build your visual identity – one that reflects you and your business perfectly. No one knows your business better than you, so you are best placed to make these choices.
Barclays Online Business Fortnight
Day 1 - Do you need a business website?
Day 2 - Which social platform is right for you?
Day 3 - Keep out of trouble online
Day 4 - Make the most of free online marketing
Day 5 - Get your finances organised with technology
Day 6 - How to ensure your business looks its best online
Day 7 - How to make a name for your business on social media
Day 9 - Is paying for marketing worth the money
Day 10 - Looking after your customers online
Lots more info - Designing your website dos and don'ts
Content supplied by Barclays
1. Identify your brand
Designing your brand is a big step and an exciting one. For a small business owner, presenting your brand identity — whether it's online or printed on your business cards — often feels like the first step to being a legitimate company, open for business.
We all know that we shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but it's hard not to get sucked in by something visually appealing — or turned off by something that's not to our taste. The way your company appears to potential customers is as important as the range of products you sell or services you offer.
Before you decide on a design, think about what makes your company unique:
- Why would someone come to you and not a rival?
- What is it you're offering that makes you so special?
If your experience is what sets you apart, perhaps you should go for something classic, or traditional; a design that makes you look grounded, well established. Perhaps it's your exceptional quality? Maybe a sophisticated font, or a luxurious colour palette of rich purples and reds. Perhaps you're cheaper than your rivals, or maybe you're using organic materials, or locally sourced ingredients. Whatever it is that makes your offering unique will help define the way your brand is represented.
Not sure what your special something is? Talk it over with friends and those who know your plans. How would they describe your business?
Think about every aspect of your business and the impression you'd like to make.
2. Identify your customers
As you think about what makes your company unique, take some time to think about your potential customers:
- What other brands appeal to them?
- What magazines do they read, where do they shop online?
Think about why they're using your products or services — are you a utility or a lifestyle brand? Will your customers have time to look at beautiful illustrations and photography, or are they likely to be in a rush? Spend some time identifying your target audience and find out what really appeals to them — not what you think appeals to them. Remember, your customers might have different tastes to your own.
3. Keep it simple
Running a small business is demanding — creative or not. Graphic design and visual identity is often seen as one of the fun jobs, something to be done 'when you have time'. When you have other tasks piling up, it's very easy to let standards slip.
Try to establish a 'kit of parts'. A logo, a simple colour palette (make sure you note down the colour values for both screen and print), a font for business stationery and a font for reading online.
The simpler your visual brand, the easier it is for you to implement, or to share that duty with others.
Establish a set of rules and stick to them. Note the colours and fonts down and stick them to your monitor to save time — and don't guess! The most successful brands in the world would never say 'it's roughly that shade of red', and nor should you.
All of this will help you with the next tip…
4. Be consistent
Your visual brand is the way people recognise you. It's the face of your company, and a mark of trust. Once you've created your simple — appropriate — brand, use it everywhere.
If you're paying for a fully-designed website, brand consistency should be easy to maintain, but most online stores and blogging platforms will offer some level of customisation too. Use your logo and your colour palette to full effect. If you're able to choose a font for the 'body copy' (the main text on the page) choose something that works well with the rest of the design, and if you have more than one site, use the same fonts between them where possible.
Set up templates for stationery, presentations — every customer touchpoint. Do this from the beginning and it'll be easy to ensure that your customers are always presented with a consistent view.
Not only will this make your brand easier to remember, but easier for your customers to describe to others. Word-of-mouth marketing can start here too.
5. The devil is in the detail
Make the most of the tools available to you, and get creative!
There are many online companies that offer interesting alternatives to a traditional approach. Can't afford printed, branded boxes? Buy off-the-shelf boxes and tie them with a ribbon to complement your colour palette. Want to add a little extra to a package? Get stickers or badges made with your logo — you can find some great deals online. Not sure if you'll use compliment slips? Postcards can serve a dual purpose — useful for marketing and easy to scribble a quick note should you need it.
With some creative thinking it's easy to surprise and delight your customers. It could be with ribbons and tissue paper for a lifestyle brand, or with an efficient, unfussy design for a more utilitarian business. (Remember, not everyone has hours to spend online, a company that can get you through the buying process as quickly as possible is one to be treasured when you're in a rush).
By defining your visual brand clearly, and sticking to some simple design rules, you'll be able to develop a strong graphic identity — a sign that people trust and remember.
If you haven't got your head round building your website, take a look at our experts' insight into putting together a site that really suits your business' needs. And dig a little deeper into making sure your website looks the part here.
Head to Barclays on Mumsnet for lots more:
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