The Benefits of Investing in Your Brand
It's Website Week in B-school right now, which means a lot of people are rethinking the look and feel of their websites. Yay websites, right? Turns out it's a bit more complicated: there seems to be a huge rise in recommendations for sites like 99designs, odesk, elance, and fiverr- crowdsourcing, low-budget, or spec work sites that present quick and dirty solutions to business owners on the cheap. There's something to be said for having accessible design, especially for people just starting out in their businesses. However, investing in your brand by hiring a true branding/design professional is ultimately a hugely important step for any business that really wants to succeed. The biggest stumbling block for so many brands seems to be their resistance to spending thousands of dollars on a professional designer, which I understand completely. It's a huge investment in your business. Here are 5 reasons why investing in a designer whom you've thoroughly researched (look at their portfolio, their own social media branding, etc.) and had a consultation with (make sure you can get along and communicate okay, and that you feel comfortable being honest with them and trusting them!) is absolutely KEY to succeeding in business.
Ever wonder why doctors don't treat themselves? Or why coaches have their own coaches? Therapists have their own therapists? Because being your own client is AWFUL. I've done my own sites and branding, and I'm probably my least favorite client. Why? Doing your own branding and website -- which by nature require you to go in-depth and get totally intimate with your business -- means that you are way too close to your project to look at things objectively. In hiring a professional designer, you bring someone in who is a step removed from the process and can help you get out of your own brain to see the forest for the trees, as it were!
There's no doubt that there are plenty of gorgeous website themes that look great out of the box. Unfortunately, they're available to everyone-- so you might end up with a site that looks JUST LIKE your competitor's. Plus, there are design choices to be made in picking out a theme too: will the demographic you're targeting respond well to that layout? Will they understand how to navigate your site? Is the theme too modern for your shabby chic product? And as much as I hate to say it, DIY web design and brand design generally looks like it's DIY. There's nothing wrong with learning about design and code. But just as having Photoshop and a camera doesn't make you a photographer, having Photoshop and a web theme doesn't make you a designer... and the quality of work that you'll get from a true professional is simply higher. They have years of practice, keep up with current trends, and will help you get that polished, comprehensive brand... all of which will help you show your potential clients that you're serious and a professional in your industry.
3. Brain Power & Expert Advice
Speaking of years of practice and professional development, good designers know things. About color -- like what colors make people happy, or relaxed, and what putting a particular color next to a picture can do. About layout -- how can a website best be structured for the optimum user experience? Do opt-ins go before your post? After? What size should the call to action buttons be? About typography: choosing typography for a particular project is so much more than just picking a "pretty font"-- what's the font's history? Does it speak to a more elegant brand, or a more fun and funky one? And once the font is chosen, a good designer will adjust things like leading, kerning, and tracking (elements of spacing) to make your logo and designs look professional and solidly designed. Did you know that your eye is drawn automatically to white space between letters when the tracking is too wide? A designer will do this for you-- you don't need to worry about that!
4. Form AND Function
A good brand can stand alone: logo, website, collateral (printed and digital). However, Ozwald Boateng said that "You can't have style if you don't have substance." What the hell does that mean? It means that your branding elements have to WORK, too. They should make people feel a certain way, solve a particular problem, cause a particular action (like opting into a list or buying a product.) A great website is both well-designed, with a solid brand and visual elements. It also works to guide the user experience, both emotionally and their actions. A professional designer will know this and guide all of your design -- from your logo to your website-- in the right direction.
5. Saves You Time (And Money!)
This is by FAR the biggest reason. I know, it seems crazy for me to say that hiring a pro designer will save you money when you're going to be spending $5k plus on their work. Hear me out, though. First off, it will save you the time and HASSLE of having to try to learn, and google, and spend hours "unbreaking" your site/designs. Instead of spending all of those hours working on your business and spending time on what you love and excel at, you're stuck fighting with unfamiliar programs, codes, and concepts. It's enough to drive anyone to insanity. And you know that time=money, so really, you're losing money while you struggle to DIY on a budget. Secondly, you're almost inevitably going to end up spending more money (and time!) in the long run if you end up going through a budget site or DIY'ing. Between the theme, stock images, etc. that you'll need on your own, or the money that you spend on a "budget designer," you're going to lay out a chunk of change and a lot of time (remember, time=money). The problem with going this route is that you're going to end up having to redesign and rebrand over and over if you keep DIY'ing or using cheap designers. Yes, you'll still be making tweaks and updates to your site if you hire a kickass pro designer. Even us kickass pro designers are always updating our brands. HOWEVER, and this is the biggest "but" here, a well-designed and seriously thought out brand identity will last you YEARS. And will save you so much time and grief because a great designer will take care of the nitty gritty junk for you! Trust me, you're not getting that on fiverr.
Moral of the story? There's a place and time for sites like fiverr, odesk, and elance. 99designs is spec work and I can't ever support a model like that (read more about the major downsides to spec work here). The others, though, aren't necessarily a terrible idea if you're just needing to slap up a page or get a little help tweaking colors on a theme. If you're looking for a solid brand, though, that represents your personality, the benefits of your brand and your brand persona, and design that will last, help you convert potential clients/buyers, AND look amazing? You've got to get with a pro.