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How to Build a Brand On Any Budget

 

The Four Building Blocks of a Great Brand for the Budget Start-up and the Brand Ready for Serious Growth

 

I often get asked by clients, friends, and those within the Copy Uncorked community what the best way to build a brand is.

Until now, I haven’t had a central place to refer people to, and I wanted to create a go-to resource you could refer to at different stages of your brand’s growth.

Building a brand also entails knowing which parts of the process come first – including the oh-so-often debated chicken or the egg question:

Does copy or design come first?

I’m here to help set the record straight on all of this, by also providing a detailed outline for two different budgets. So whether you feel like you need a miracle to get things going, or have a healthy savings to invest, this post is for you!

Here’s where it all begins…

 

Brand Naming

Plenty of babies are named after they’re born.

Huh? What does that have to do with building a brand? 

I’m simply saying, most brands start with a great idea, a big vision, maybe even an entire concept, but no name…yet.

That’s okay because a brand is, of course, more than just a ‘name’.

Yet, you can’t really do much in terms of branding & marketing without one.

You could certainly work on creating your minimum-viable-product (MVP) but at some point, it’s going to need a brand name.

Just like how the nurses won’t let you leave the hospital without a name to put on that birth certificate!

On the other hand, some brands start with a killer name and create an entire company from it!

If you’re in the first camp, here’s where you need to begin…

 

Domain, Social Media Handles & Legal Naming Process

SECURING THE DOMAIN

Nothing is worse than falling in love with a brand name and creating content around it, only to later realize it – and every flippin’ variation of it – is taken.

Do yourself a favor and start here! Just because you own an LLC name, doesn’t mean you’ll get the domain or the social media handles! 

Ideally, your domain name should be less than $15, although if you think of a million-dollar idea and it happens to be available, it’s likely much more. {facepalm…I know.}

I usually buy my domains on Google Domains or GoDaddy. If you know you later want to use Gmail/GSuite, buy it from Google Domains and save yourself the trouble of later having to do a domain transfer or add MX records.

I’m all about eliminating an extra step when possible!

Those two sites are also where I search for available domain names. I’m team “.com” for the extension but a “.co” doesn’t mean brand doom.

Just don’t get crazy with the extensions – people aren’t likely to remember it and there’s just something legit and intuitive about .com domain names.

I worked on a brand naming project for a client this past week, and we ended up taking a word she loved (but was totally unavailable) and adding a descriptive verb in front of it that created a sort of short-phrase and conveyed her brand’s values.

This is a quick tip for how you can get creative with naming even if at first, all you’re seeing are ‘no’ signs!

 

CLAIMING THE SOCIAL MEDIA HANDLES

Once you’ve found an available domain you love, check and see what’s available on the social media channels you plan to show up on.

If they’re a match you’re all set! Purchase, set-up, and proceed!

If the social media handle isn’t available on, say Instagram, try getting creative with a few variations. If nothing seems to be working, you *may* want to keep playing with the domain name.

 

LEGAL NAMING PROCESS

Once you’re set with domain and social, begin the legal naming process. I’m not going to advise on what type of business formation you should do, as I’m not an attorney. However, this is a crucial next step and the smartest way to confidently continue creating a brand with staying power!

I’m not saying you necessarily need to trademark it or anything quite yet, but at least get it legally registered!

 

CREATE A BASE BUSINESS PLAN & KNOW YOUR MARKET DIFFERENTIATION

Phew, with all of that out of the way, it’s time to outline what you do, who you do it for, how you plan to do it, how much you need to make to be profitable, and why you feel this needs to exist in the world.

You may have a totally innovative concept, or it may be something that already exists in abundance! Either way, you need to know what you bring to the table.

Why would someone pay you money?

Why would they give you their money instead of another company?

What do you see within your industry you’d like to change or do differently?

(It’s okay if your biggest differentiator is just Y-O-U and the POV you share!)

Think about these things and get it on paper. No skipping this step!

How to Build a Brand on Any Budget - copyuncorked.com

CLEAR MESSAGING

Okay, we’ll talk about this one a bit more below and you can also get more of the ‘101’ on brand messaging in this post.

But basically, you need to start going beyond your black & white business plan and thinking about how you’ll articulate your value to your clients / customers. 

What is the clear value proposition your brand is offering?

What is the end result you’re promising?

What expressions, words, and phrases will sound uniquely you?

Start a “working” doc and keep adding to it as you have ideas and inspiration. 

People spend money on things that solve their problems, meet their needs, and fulfill their desires. And they like spending it with brands that make them feel seen, heard & understood.

How will you accomplish this?

 

IDENTIFY YOUR (RE)BRANDING BUDGET

Now we’re really getting somewhere! It’s time to put your money where your mouth is and bring this brand vision to life.

Before I go any further, it’s worth saying: Every brand is a work in progress. Don’t put pressure on yourself to approach the branding process as if everything is final and has to be indefinitely perfect.

Your brand will naturally grow and evolve, like a human being. It will adapt to your customer’s needs, as well as pivot according to your own intuition. That’s really what makes the most genuine and powerful brands anyway!

That being said, depending on where you’re at, you can go one of two routes:

 

(1) The Budget Start-up (you have more time than money – or you’re at least willing to invest whatever time you do have to DIY)

OR

(2) The Brand Ready for Serious Growth (you’re ready to invest and feel short on time / you’re ready to move beyond the DIY-stages)

 

Regardless of which path is right for you, you’ll need to cover these 4 brand building blocks…

 

The Four Building Blocks of a Great Brand

  1. Clear Messaging & Compelling Copywriting

  2. A Cohesive Visual Identity

  3. High-Quality Photography

  4. A Clean, Well-Organized Website

Let’s take a closer look at how these could play out for our 2 paths and continue the branding process.

 

The Budget Start-up

DIY Messaging & Copywriting

To achieve building block #1, you could go the DIY route or invest in a low-cost online course. (Copy Uncorked is coming out with this soon along with a template you can use to put your messaging together!)

You can also get some insight in this Brand Messaging 101 post, in the Copy Uncorked Master Checklist, and soak up as many of the Building a Storybrand resources you possibly can. (They’re our fave!)

After taking a stab at your first draft of messaging & copywriting, you could then invest in a lower-cost service like our Website Copy Review. This gives us a chance to work together 1×1 on a reasonable budget, and ensure what you’ve put together is as strong as possible. 

 

 

DIY Design Using Templates & Half-Custom Solutions

To create a cohesive visual identity without having thousands to put down for brand design, you can make use of design templates and semi-custom logo design. 

A lot of designers offer this service like Saffron Avenue and plenty of others on Etsy or Creative Market. The price and package will vary but you’ll want to have at least (1) main logo, ideally (1) submark, a color palette, and a list of ~3 fonts for the header, subheads, and body copy.

To be honest, I created most of my first logos in Canva using an ~$15 font I’d purchased on Creative Market and uploaded to my Canva Pro account.

At $12.95/month it’s an every day, user-friendly graphic design tool for the non-designer.

If you’re using Canva Pro, you can also create your own color palettes, decide on your fonts, and save everything in your “brand kit” so they’re easy to use each time you create something.

I think it works great to have one, fun accent font that you’ve purchased somewhere, otherwise, it makes web design nice and smooth if you’ve selected free ones from Google Fonts for the others. (They’re available and easy to customize out on most website providers.)

 

Do a Mini Session with a Photographer Friend

Your first brand photoshoot doesn’t have to be a huge cost. If you have a photographer friend or someone whose work you love on Instagram, ask what their rate is for a mini-session that’s most likely ~30 minutes.

Create a Pinterest board with images you like for headshots, backgrounds, outfits, colors, poses, etc.; bearing in mind your newly identified color palette. Then share everything with your photographer to get their input and determine location!

Think carefully about what the end-use will be for these photos so you can be intentional during the shooting time. Do you need a fun photo to support your launch on Instagram? A headshot for your About page? Images that demonstrate your products or services for the Services/Shop page?

You should walk away from this with handfuls of on-brand photos that will last you a fair bit of time until you’re ready to invest further into brand photography.

Another option, of course, is to break out your iPhone or Canon Rebel and get to work on snapping some photos! Spend a couple of hours with props, backdrops, and such that suit your brand so you can generate a base of content. Then you’ll be able to only use stock photos where you need to fill in or have something in a higher resolution.

There’s no shame in the stock game, it’s just hard to go all stock and truly have an identifiable brand!

Focus on natural lighting and edit your photos consistently whether you use VSCO, Lightroom, SnapSeed or other.

How to Build a Brand on Any Budget - copyuncorked.com

 

Use a Free Website Template and Keep it Clean & Simple

Lastly, with your content and brand in place, you’re ready for website design! This is where everything will really come together and serve as your brand’s online home.

For your first website, keep it clean & simple! You can always later add pages, additional content, swap out images, get further design help, etc.

Your goal is to get something up and running that you can have prospective clients / customers visit, and ideally, become clients/customers.

As far as which website platform you should be on, you could read hundreds of blog posts and get a slightly different opinion for each.

I’ll come right out and say it, Showit is by far my favorite. To include a WordPress blog, it’s a steeper annual investment at $288/year. There are some free templates, but also some stunning ones at a higher price point than most templates so it can add up.

Showit does integrate with eCommerce and digital product delivery solutions like Shopify Lite, SendOwl, Digital Product Delivery, etc. – but it’s not the best for eCommerce businesses with a lot of products.

So if you’re an ecommerce business, I’d look at Shopify or Squarespace.

WordPress is an amazing platform…but it can also be frustrating for users with little to no experience with it.

I will say, my first websites were on WordPress using templates around the $50-$100 mark and a monthly hosting plan of ~$5-8. There are drag and drop builders these days like Elementor that make working within WordPress (without coding knowledge) a lot easier.

Moral of the story: You know your budget and preferences here! It really comes down to a case-by-case basis.

I could keep going, but I won’t get too detailed here.

Drop your additional questions in the comments below and maybe I will write a fuller post on it!

Last thing I’ll mention: Make sure to include an email sign-up on your website so you can begin collecting subscribers from day 1! Mailchimp is free for up to 2,000 subscribers so if you’re looking for little to no cost, that’s the way to go at first!

I also love Flodesk and Convertkit.

If you fall into the start-up on a budget category, I hope that’s given you more direction and clarity in how you can begin building a brand without the scary upfront investment of thousands of dollars!

 

Estimated Cost:

  • Messaging & Copywriting – Free to $450 (for a 1×1 Review)
  • Brand Design – $30 (for Canva Pro + a font on Creative Market) to $500 (for semi-custom)
  • Brand Photography – Free (to DIY) to $250 (for a Mini-Session)
  • Website – Varies (Free template + ~6/mo hosting to $300+ template + ~$24/mo hosting)

 

TOTAL: From $30+ monthly website hosting to $1,500+ monthly website hosting)

 

IF you feel ready for a bit more professional assistance and less DIY, keep reading…

 

The Brand Ready for Serious Growth

Clear Brand Messaging & Copywriting

There’s no real way to talk about this without sounding biased, but hiring a copywriter to help you craft your brand’s messaging and use it to inform your website copy and all other communication will bring so much clarity to your audience and to yourself. 

However, I will say, not everyone is ready for a pro copywriter out of the gate. Some freelancers and business owners are still figuring out their core offerings, figuring out who they want to work with, and ultimately, what they want to be known for.

Although branding is a constant work in progress, you don’t want to make a hefty investment into something that could largely change within a matter of months. 

But if you’re confident with regard to the above, a copywriter can help you research your market further and craft compelling copy that helps to put more money back into your business.

Brand messaging and website copywriting can seriously range from the low $1,000s to $10,000+, so it’s a matter of finding someone whose work, style, and voice you love, with prices that feel like the right investment for you and your budget. 

 

Strong Visual Brand Identity

I feel like I can really speak to this one first hand after working with Kadie of Drop Cap Design when rebranding from kvh. Creative (a mostly DIY’d brand) to Copy Uncorked, where I invested in professional brand design. 

Not only did it bring the refinement to my brand that I was looking for, but I can see it reflected in the type choices, the perfectly cohesive color palette, and the brand illustrations that helped add flair and bring everything together on the website.

I was going through the branding process with Kadie while also working on my own messaging and our conversations really helped me to dig even deeper and ultimately produce that much stronger of a brand concept.

There are TONS of incredible designers out there. When deciding who to hire, I think it’s really important that the designer’s work and aesthetic matches your own goals and brand preferences.

If you don’t see anything on their Instagram or Portfolio that reflects the style you’re looking for, they may not be the best fit.

Pro design can range from $1,500 to $6K+ depending on how extensive of a design package you’re looking for.

Adding additional pieces of collateral like social media graphics, business cards, postcards, letterheads, patterns, etc. can, of course, cause a quote to increase.

Be sure you’re at least getting:

  • Primary logo
  • Secondary logo / submark
  • Color palette
  • Fonts (heading, subhead, body copy, accent*)

 

Professional Brand Photography

This is another one that will feel like a solid chunk of change on the front end, but will ultimately be worth its weight in gold over a fairly long period of time.

Doing a more extensive shoot with a brand photographer (& even a stylist) will allow for more pre-planning, more shooting time, more outfit changes, potentially multiple locations, and a larger number of final image files.

It’s exciting to get back all of your photos and want to share them all right away, but I’d be strategic about mapping them to your website content and thinking about the best use for each image; knowing what you may be promoting in the future.

If you want them to last, you can ‘drip’ them throughout your social media feeds, intermixing graphics, some of your own content, and maybe a stock photo here or there. This will keep your feed looking interesting and on-brand for months at a time.

You could of course, just choose to invest in brand shoots more frequently and use them throughout your marketing less sparingly. More power to you!

When you start feeling light on content or know there are specific images you need to promote a new product, course, service, etc. –  it’s time to contact your photographer again!

I loved working with Drewe & Kate – a brand photography and styling duo – as that added bit of planning and styling help was such a weight off of my shoulders!

Pro shoots can vary on a lot of factors but can range from $500-$3,000K+.

How to Build a Brand on Any Budget - copyuncorked.com

 

Stand-Out Website

With 3 of the 4 brand building blocks covered, it’s time for the big one – a stand-out website that brings it all together.

When you truly want something unique and designer-quality, that involves 0 DIY-ing, custom design is the way to go.

However, I will say, even most custom website designers start with a template (that will look nothing like a template in the end) and custom can be a much more expensive route to go.

When often, the semi-custom template route can create such a bang for your buck.

Fully custom can be somewhat unavoidable if your site has a lot of special requirements that go beyond your standard service-based or eCommerce website.

Without getting into a deep website-platform debate, I’m just going to say (again) that for service-based business owners (and even template shops or course creators), I’m Showit all the way.

This platform gives you total design freedom, a connected WordPress blog, plenty of integrations, and a team of customer support that actually gets back to you pronto. What more could you want?!

Showit also has stunning design templates like those of Tonic Site Shop that will absolutely give your site a custom feel once customized.

We have a whole list of Design Pairings from brand design to website templates, so if you need help believing in the powers of a template, just reach out and we’ll show you more of our favorites, plus some real before & afters!

These Showit templates can range from free to $1,200. Showit with a blog is $288/year for the platform and hosting, and then you can either DIY the customization or hire someone to install and adapt it to your brand for you.

This is an a la carte service we offer for our website copywriting clients!

This can run another $750-$1500 – but you’ll still come in way under the price of a fully custom site. 

Again, if you want something that – guaranteed – no one else has, go custom! This will most likely range from $5K to $20k+, depending on platform and a host of other factors.

 

Estimated Cost:

  • Messaging & Copywriting – $1K to $10K+
  • Brand Design – $1,500 to $6K+
  • Brand Photography – $500 to $3K+
  • Website – Varies from $1K to $20K+ – *To give some context, most of our clients end up paying about $2,500 (plus website hosting) for a top-shelf TONIC template, or other, and design assistance.

 

TOTAL: From $4K to $40K

 

As you can see, there’s a huge swing from a DIY brand to a brand ready for serious growth, and then even when you do go the more professional route, there’s still some crazy variance.

Every brand is different and only you know what’s most important to you and what areas you want to splurge, and where you may be able to save in other areas.

It’s kind of like planning a wedding and trying to make it all work. 😉

I really hope this helps provide a frame of reference and some ideas for bringing your own brand to life. 

If you have any specific questions about what the best-case-scenario might be for you, get in touch! We also offer Brand Strategy Deep Dive consultations where we can provide our best insight and help you lay out a path forward.

 

 

How to Build a Brand on Any Budget - copyuncorked.com

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