The essential branded visuals that every online business needs.
There are a ton of things to think about, organise and create when building your online business, and branding is one of them.
It can be hard - especially for those of us who are perfectionists - to decide where to start. For me and my aesthetically inclined friends (maybe that’s you!), it can feel like the only conceivable option is to have a complete brand that looks beautiful right from the beginning, but that’s not always realistic.
We might not have the time or the budget to have everything taken care of right away. And sometimes, putting a ton of effort into getting everything looking perfect before you start selling can actually get in the way of you doing your best work and getting your business going.
That’s why I believe it’s important, especially in the beginning, to pick your battles and prioritise. I know the thought of not having everything be beautiful and perfect or skipping over certain areas until later can be daunting, but if your resources are limited, it’s so important to use them where they’ll make the most impact.
So which branded visuals are an absolute must for online businesses when you’re just getting started?
Honestly, the real answer is none. There are almost no branded visuals that are 100% essential to getting your business underway. I know a lot of people would ask, What about my logo? What about a website? What about templates for my Instagram stories?
And my answer is always the same - people start successful businesses all the time without any of those things. If you’ve got a product, service or skill and you can communicate the value of it to your audience, you can probably get going with no visuals at all.
But certain, strategically placed visuals can help you connect with audience faster, help you build a relationship with them on a deeper level, and attract a wider range of people overall.
So while no visuals are mandatory or 100% necessary, we go back to that idea of impact. Some visuals will have a big impact on the way you connect with your audience, which goes a long way when you’re just getting started.
So let’s rephrase. Which branded visuals make the most impact for online businesses?
Visuals can do a lot for you (here’s an article I’ve written about that), but at a very base level, impact means that your visuals:
Show people that you’re serious about what you do.
Some people might say that they should ‘look professional’, but I don’t want you to think that your website has to look corporate and sad. It should, however, be modern, clean and presentable. A daggy old website or a poorly presented one might make people think you don’t care enough to keep things looking nice and up to date, and therefore you’re not running a serious business.
Tell them a little bit about your personality + purpose.
You don’t have to get carried away, but using colours, imagery, or fonts that help create a vibe that fits in with what you’re about can help people get to know you and what to expect from you.
As for which visuals can do that for you, there’s no single right answer. Every online business is different, and therefore, the most impactful visuals for you might not be the same as for me, or the next person.
So I’ve put together a four step process to help you prioritise and uncover where you can start making an impact with your own online business.
Step One: Your Website is a Must.
I know it sounds a little bit crazy to list off such a big ticket, seemingly complicated item as the first step, but hear me out.
Unless you’re running a site from the 90’s, websites today are largely visual. Yes, they’ve got copy and writing and blog posts but we take those things in through the lens of what everything looks like together.
If you’re running an online business, the general rule is that all roads lead back to your website. All of your marketing is likely directing people back to your site, where they sign up for your email list (or buy something, or book you, but you get the idea).
Your website is effectively your business’s physical location, so it’s important to ensure that everyone who steps foot in your premises gets a good impression.
I’m not saying that you have to have a complicated, multi page, super detailed or perfect website. It’s totally fine if you have a single landing page with a quick note about what you do and an email signup form. It’s ok to have a one page site that tells people a little but about you and how you can work together.
For example, Beta & Beyond’s website home page is just their blog:
You’re My Type has a really simple home page with an example of her work as a banner, a few pieces she has for sale, and a call to action to listen to her podcast:
And despite having beautiful branded photos of herself, Liz White’s home page is very simple in structure:
As long as it gets your point across, and it follows the two basic rules for impact, you’re on the right track.
That’s all you really need to worry about when you’re just getting started, and it’s totally possible to do with a really simple site.
Step Two: Think about your product or service.
After your website, the next bits to consider are any of the visuals that tie in directly to the delivery of your product or service.
A lot of people place a lot of importance on visuals for marketing, but for me, that’s further down the list because I think it’s so important to take care of the customers or clients that you do have or will have soon before moving on to bringing new people in. You ever see those memes about people who ordered a dress online after seeing how beautiful it looked in the photo of the model and when they get it in the mail it looks like trash?
That’s kind of what focussing on marketing visuals first does for your business. If the actual product / service doesn’t live up to the slick marketing material, it can leave people feeling like they’ve been deceived, and none of us go into purpose based business to trick people.
So I want you to think about what products or services you’re offering (or planning to) in your business right now. What visual material is a part of them?
For example, if you’re a business coach and you take clients through a 6 month program, you might have:
Workbooks or worksheets
A client login or portal on your website or through a service like Dubsado
Video thumbnails or slide decks for any pre-recorded content
If you’re running an online course business, you might be using:
A course website or platform like Teachery / Teachable / Podia etc
Course worksheets or workbooks
Slide decks for recorded course videos
Graphics that help illustrate some of your written content
A facebook group where you use graphics for post prompts
Make a list of any items that could be customised to suit your brand. You could give your client or student a plain Google Doc as a worksheet, but it’ll surprise and delight them if you style it to match with your brand fonts and colours. You could use the default styling given to you by your client management system or course platform, but customising it to your brand ties everything together and elevates the value of your program.
Same word of warning as your own website - you don’t have to go crazy here. You don’t have to have everything perfect before you start, and you can make changes as you go. Stick to the impact rules and you’ll be fine.
Step Three: Choose your online marketing fighter.
Marketing is super important because it’s how you’re going to make connections with the people who are going to work with you or buy your product.
Marketing is also one of the biggest black holes you can get sucked into when you’re starting your business, because there’s a new fangled way of doing it almost every hour. It’s easy to want to try all the things, because we think that the more we throw at the wall, the higher the chances that something will stick. It feels like we’re multiplying our chances, but in reality, we’re splitting the impact of our message.
Instead of delivering one, strong message, you’re throwing hundreds of weak ones out there. So I would highly recommend starting out with one, or at most, two methods for marketing that you can dedicate all of your time and effort, and using those methods to determine what kind of visuals you’re going to need. Here are a few examples:
If your main marketing strategy is to drive traffic to your website using Pinterest, you’re likely to need graphics in a variety of shapes, colours and sizes that you can insert into your blog content + push through to Pinterest.
If you’ve chosen Instagram as the platform to build your audience and market your thing, you might need to consider graphics and photographs for your feed and for IG Stories.
If you want to deliver webinars on the regular as a part of your sales pitch, you might need a well designed slide deck template that you can re-use to create each presentation.
It’s not worth throwing time, energy or money into the areas you’re not working with until you’re ready to go there, so choose wisely and remember the impact rules.
Step Four: Everything else.
Only once you’ve got all of those pieces working would I recommend taking your brand visuals any further. This is where you might look into getting a logo done (your logo can totally just be your name in a nice font for the time being), move into patterns or custom touches like icons and illustrations, or diversifying your marketing methods to include more stuff.
A couple of important notes:
It’s totally ok to use templates or pre-made designs for all of this stuff when you’re just getting started. You don’t have to pay a million dollars having your stuff custom made, and you don’t have to spend years trying to put it together yourself. If you find something pre-made that a) looks decent and b) fits in with your vibe, awesome!
There’s no rule that says you have to stick with these designs forever. You can totally have a designer you love rebrand everything for you once you reach a stage where you can spare the resources. The point here is getting started, not crafting a masterpiece of a brand that will outlast the universe.
Have you figured out what visuals work for you yet?
Let me know in the comments with a 👋 if you’ve been guilty of trying to do all the things, and what your next, prioritised step is going to be.
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