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Start a Business — When to Worry About Design.

Colored PencilsThis year we’ve written many times about the various parts of starting a business—finding an idea for your startup, figuring out if you can earn enough money with your idea, how to write a business plan, whether you need a business license, and much more.

If you’ve been through all that, you might be wondering, when do I need to think about design? Do I need to hire a designer? Will paying for design now payoff?

Those are all great questions. And, as with so many other questions entrepreneurs deal with when they start a business, the answers depend a lot on what you are doing. Below are our suggestions for when you need to pay attention to design.

When to Worry About Your Logo Design

Your startup is an online or work-from-home business.

If your new business is a consultancy, freelance designer, copywriter, or similar idea where you primarily work from home or a small office, but meet with your clients at their office or online, you probably shouldn’t worry too much about design. You can easily get away with a simple logo design, a nice business card, and a basic 3-5 page website.

While you could pay a freelance designer to help with all of these, easy-to-use tools on the web can do most of the work for you. Start with out do-it-yourself logo design software to create your logo. Choose from nearly 10,000 icons and add your business name. Save the design and download your files.

Next choose a business card maker. We recommend FreeLogoServices for business cards, but there are other online options you can choose, if you prefer. For your website, pick a template—we like Elegant Themes, but you can choose any template provider—just make sure to choose a clean design that looks professional. Setting up your template is easy—to learn how, click here.

That’s about it—a great logo, business cards and a website. If you want to go the extra mile you can add your logo to the footer of your email. But these items will cover 95% of your interactions with customers where you might need a design.

You are starting a business with a retail location.
If your startup idea includes a retail location (for example, a restaurant, cafe or a clothing store), you’ll need to give some additional thought to design. You might be able get away with a do-it-yourself logo and website, but you’ll be better served with a professional designer to help develop a color palette (for wall colors, menus and handouts, and other environmental design elements).

The design of your retail store is critical for your success. A great design will create a powerful brand image and the right ambiance for your customers. Whether you want an eclectic coffee shop look, a colorful cafe, or an edgy skate shop, the feeling your customers will have is almost entirely dependent on a great brand image and environmental graphics.

You likely also have packaging, bags, menus, price tags, posters, counter displays and other elements that will require design. Again, you could do some of these yourself, but trying to save a little money here is probably not worth the effort.

Your startup is venture funded.
While we would love to recommend a do-it-yourself solution to a venture-backed company, this just wouldn’t be good advice. Investors are expecting rocket-ship growth. They want to be sure that your design isn’t holding you back. So while hiring a designer is no guarantee of a great brand image, the type of business you’ve started it requires it.

Your logo designer should be able to help you create everything from a great logo to a brand standards that will help you use your logo, colors, and other attributes consistently across all the design you need. They’ll help you produce sales sheets, white papers, your website and just about anything else your startup requires to earn the trust and respect of the venture community.

Note: This isn’t to say that if you plan on getting venture funding some day, that you need to hire a designer immediately. If you don’t have money yet, or are just starting to build your product and need to prove your concept, then by all means consider a do-it-yourself logo design as a place holder. Once your product gains traction and starts to make enough money to justify it, you can go back and hire a designer for all the new design projects you’ll have.

Your startup idea is an app that will sell in the App Store.
While you may be working from home and not interfacing with customers, you need to pay attention to the design experience in your app. If resources are tight, you may be able to get away with a simple logo design, but for the design of your app’s interface and pages, you should hire a designer to help. Because you won’t be able to control the store or where you are place within it, your app’s icon needs to be eye-catching and appeal to potential users. A designer can help with that.

But you can likely save money on things like business cards and other small design projects (possibly even use a WordPress template for your website). Invest in design for those things which customers will see when they interact with you.

You are a business professional.
If you are a dentist, doctor, attorney or other business professional, you will probably be best served by a combination of do-it-yourself design work and hiring a professional. Your office space may not need the same kind of design attention that a retail store needs, unless you plan on being a “different kind of lawyer” or a “new kind of doctor”. And a basic business or appointment card may not require the help of a freelance designer. But if you plan to use advertising, one-sheets, or other sales materials, a designer will be a great help.

So do you need a designer, or can you do it yourself?
When it comes down to it, there are a lot of things you can do yourself—even much of your branding. But certain types of businesses have varying expectations for design. Using design wisely as you start and grow, can help you save money and project the kind of brand image your customers are looking for.

Amber Ooley
Amber Ooley
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