Late in 2016 I met with Lara Rose, a Melbourne-based practitioner with extensive experience working with children and families, who wanted to establish her own practice focusing on energy therapy techniques. Lara is one of those people that it is impossible not to feel calm around. I knew within minutes of starting our conversation that I would really enjoy working with her, and I wasn’t wrong.
The need for micro, or small business, branding is growing phenomenally, as an increasing number of people choose to freelance in their area of speciality and/or take on contract work. I see this type of branding as the nexus between personal branding and small business branding, and it comes with some unique challenges. On one hand, the brand should reflect the professionalism and trust of a small business brand, whilst also reflecting the individual’s own unique personality and the skills and experience they possess. The two must be balanced perfectly, and Lara’s branding was no different.
A branding challenge (and subsequent opportunity) that presented itself was the quality of branding that most of her sector chose to take when promoting themselves, either as a brand, or through services and products. It wasn’t always very pretty. For some reason anything to do with psychology and alternative therapies tends to draw out some pretty out-there design practices. Herein lay our opportunity: to position Lara as an expert, a person to be trusted, through calming and professional branding that would help establish and build her practice.
The Beginning: Some Questions
I always begin my process by getting my clients to fill in a questionnaire which helps them to articulate what their business offers, why they are able to provide this (and do it well) and what they like, or dislike, about some of their competitor’s branding. I also use the questionnaire to clarify visual preferences.
After that, my clients pull together a 'mood board' of imagery that appeals to them. It won't necessarily translate directly into the look and feel of their brand, but it gives me an invaluable insight into the visual tone that will resonate with them, as well as a suggestion of colours and images that may work. I cannot stress how important this step is in my process. As well as being a valuable way to include my clients in the design process, it gives me insights into their personalities that I am never able to glean through conversation alone. I always learn something that I didn’t know about them during the process. All of my clients have reported back how fun the process is; another reason why it’s so vital to my process. It’s important to have fun.
Lara’s mood board was no different. What I loved about her imagery was the unexpected twists that she brought to what can be very standard subject matter: green fields, beaches, trees, sunlight. Nine times in ten, if someone provides me with an image of a beach it will be irresistibly inviting – warm sunshine, blue skies – and you can just imagine plonking a towel down and reading a book. Lara’s were different. Whilst beautiful in their own right, the images were almost all taken from cooler climates. The beaches were rugged and the trees wonderfully green. Cool blues and warm greens were the major colour tones that consistently appeared and I was so pleasantly surprised by these unexpected visual ‘finds’.
It immediately provided me with some colour palette options, one of which Lara pretty much signed off on immediately. It also provided me with some ‘rules’ around the type of imagery that we should use for her brand: calming images of nature that transcend the obvious, as well as convey an undeniable sense of optimism.
Here’s what we developed:
Applying the brand
With the visual building blocks firmly in place, it was time to design and develop her website. I used Squarespace to do this. I love Squarespace, and often recommend it to my clients, for a few reasons – 1. It looks great 2. Development is really easy to do, allowing me to consolidate much of the design and development process together (thus saving time and money) and most importantly 3. My clients can manage their own websites with the greatest of ease. I really mean this – I’m no stranger to Wordpress and Drupal, and still recommend these to some of my clients, but for micro businesses who are managing most of their affairs themselves, Squarespace offers a level of simplicity and peace of mind that just can’t be achieved with the others.
When you’ve taken the time to develop a cohesive brand strategy, the rest is simple. Decisions about fonts, colours and imagery have all been pretty much made for you and from there, it’s a simple matter of rolling this out. I think it took me about a day to build the majority of Lara’s site, with a few more hours between us making small tweaks and changes to text. Within a week, we were live!
In an era of digitised communications, business cards remain as important as ever, particularly for the small and micro business. When you work for yourself and love what you do, everyday interactions become marketing opportunities when we talk about what we do – the person you start chatting to on the plane, the stranger who becomes familiar during your morning coffee run – and business cards become a very useful tool that enable people to check out what you do.
I wanted Lara’s business cards to be simple and professional, whilst also being a useful tool for people to write their appointments on the back. I could also see Lara writing short, useful notes on the back for her clients to take away with them. I used the yellow from her colour palette to inject a bit of fun though through the use of small dots. They are being printed as we speak in an uncoated enviro-friendly stock by Moo.com.
I love it when my clients can execute their own brands without having to come back to me every time they want to do a piece of marketing. There’s always a time and place for more advanced branding and design skills, but for the most part, with a little careful planning most small and micro businesses can do their own marketing and branding themselves with flawless results.
Lara wanted to be able to create her own simple flyers to put up locally and help spread the word about her practice. To this end, I designed and built a simple template in Microsoft Word that used the logo, imagery, colours and fonts from her branding suite so that she could do this whenever she needed and remain true to the brand we had built together.
What a great project! I enjoyed every step of the process, and moreover, Lara is really happy with her brand and ready to launch.
Have you developed a new brand recently? How was the process for you? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below.