Most consumers discover products and services on the internet, and this has leveled the playing field for all kinds of vendors. A two-person startup with an eye-grabbing web presence can attract customers just as well as a big corporation.
But there’s a catch: With so many options available, the target audience is going to size up a company in an instant. The first impression a company makes will determine whether a potential customer passes or gives it a closer look. And design is largely responsible for that first impression.
But let’s face it: Design is subjective. As with fashion, people tend to be pretty complimentary of their own design tastes. If they think something looks good to them, it must look good to everybody, right? And because a lot of entrepreneurs think a logo treatment on the bottom end of the price scale “looks good,” they can be tempted to go cheap when hiring creative talent.
When we were starting our company, we were in the opposite position of many entrepreneurs: We had a wealth of design and branding experience but hardly any business know-how. So we decided to bet on what we knew and made good design the foundation of our startup. Now, six years later, we’re a successful, sustainable company.
Basically, we’re living proof that professional, experienced creative work can be a difference maker for startups. That’s especially true for businesses that are competing online, where design holds tremendous value. But how do entrepreneurs know where to draw the line? Just how much does one have to spend to get creative work that’s good enough? The answers aren’t always clear.
I can sympathize with business owners operating on a limited budget. I’ve been there myself. Hiring an entire branding firm such as Pentagram or Collins is simply impossible for a small company, but using a site that promises $50 logos can be disastrous.
Ultimately, a good logo should have staying power that allows it to resonate with the company and its customers for the long term, and cheap design will almost never deliver a logo that people are going to love for the next 25 years.
In many cases, cheap creative sites pull stock logos based on current design trends and tweak them just enough to pass them off as unique. These logos go out of style quickly, and needing to rebrand every few years will end up being way more expensive than investing the money to get it right on the first try.
However, evaluating design work can get tricky. Because a lot of cheaper designs are just slight variations on a common design theme, they feel familiar, and many entrepreneurs confuse familiarity with quality. So unless an entrepreneur has experience in design and branding, she should be wary of her instincts.
In fact, it’s a good sign if she doesn’t immediately have a positive reaction to a design. Truly effective creative work should make her a little nervous because she hasn’t seen anything like it before — that’s how to know it’s the one.
Even if it’s a little pricier, good branding will equip entrepreneurs with the foundation necessary to build their brand. However, every business has different needs, and the value calculation should take into account three factors: quality, turnaround time, and price.
If a company needs something good and fast, the logo will be pricey. If a company really needs something cheap and fast, it should be prepared for a lower-quality design. If there is ample time, a company might be able to hire a high-quality designer who can work on the project in bits and pieces over the course of several weeks. It all depends on what the business needs.
When entrepreneurs are deciding how much they should invest in creative work, they should start by asking these questions:
For example, if a company is a business-to-business provider of heart stents in the medical field, surgeons probably aren’t following the company on Instagram. But if it’s a consumer-facing company with lots of existing competition, creating a strong, unique brand is critical.
Entrepreneurs must do their research! It’s shocking how many companies launch their websites and construct their brand identities without looking at the rest of the industry. At the beginning of this process, they should determine what sets them apart from the rest of the field. And they should use that differentiation to guide decisions about identity and branding.
Most Fortune 500 companies have been through multiple rebrands as they have matured and changed. That being said, in the early stages of a business, it’s important to cultivate an initial identity that will serve as a strong foundation. The investment can be hefty, but a company needs to have a truly timeless brand if it’s planning for rapid growth.
Many great companies are created by business majors or industry veterans with limited knowledge of creative elements. By asking the questions above, entrepreneurs will be better equipped to determine their own need for creative investment, and they’ll gain a better understanding of the value behind design.
Adam Tompkins co-founded Working Not Working in 2012 with Justin Gignac when they realized creatives and the companies they work for needed a better way to find each other. They launched Working Not Working as the first real-time network that broadcasts the availability of the best creatives to companies looking to hire them. To date, the network has more than 30,000 creatives on its roster, and thousands of the most innovative companies in the world use the network to manage their creative talent. Working Not Working has received four Webby Awards and was named one of Entrepreneur's 100 Brilliant Companies in 2013. Justin and Adam were also named among Advertising Age's Creativity 50 2015: The Most Creative People of the Year.