I reluctantly began learning Graphic Design partly by accident and partly out of necessity when I started my greetings card business in 2011. Given my artistic background (I studied Illustration at Uni) you might be forgiven for assuming I would have had the design aspect of my business all sewn up. Alas, I have made many ‘design mistakes’ in the years since I started my business (mostly centering on using too many ‘pretty’ fonts and not sticking to my business brand colours!). However, for all the teething problems I’ve had, I’ve seen many more ‘design crimes’ and glaring errors committed on the websites, business cards and social media pages of my fellow small business owners. I completely understand why this happens. As a small business owner, you wear many different employee ‘hats’ on a daily basis, from administrator to accountant to customer service support; so worrying about the colour or type face you use or how you decide to layout your business card can seem unimportant and you could be inclined to think you’re wasting your efforts on something that is not earning you any extra income. And yet, it is crucial that you make the right first impression with your customers. People will often make snap decisions on your trustworthiness or worth as a business based on the designs, font, colour, even the images you use on your marketing material. So it pays to get it right!
Much to the chagrin of artists and designers everywhere, small business owners often lack the funds in the early stages of business to be able to employ or hire a designer for their needs. And yet, virtually no business exists today that doesn’t require well designed marketing materials from the very early days of start-up. From business cards to headed paper, social media images, web images, flyers and leaflets, the list can run on and on. But don’t worry, help is at hand for the novice if you know where to look, and you don’t even have to buy expensive design software or have a super high powered PC to be able to keep up with the competition. Forget the days of MS Paint and cringe worthy clip art! You are now able, with the most basic of skills to make a competent effort of your marketing materials for free. That’s right, FREE, the preferred price of all small business owners!
Let me take you on a brief tour of the sites that have made my life so much easier over the past 6-7 years, resources that I, and many others, have found invaluable in helping create professional marketing materials and graphic elements for all aspects of business:
Canva.com “Amazingly simple graphic design software”
Canva is a huge time-saver for designers and non-designers alike! It’s a free graphic-design tool website that has an easy to use drag-and-drop interface and provides access to over a million photographs, graphics, and fonts. Some of these images and fonts will cost you a nominal fee to download, however you can make many good graphics purely from the free stuff! Canva allows you to create graphics for a multitude of platforms from social media page headers to online ads, letterheads, CVs, posters, flyers and much more. The people at Canva also provide the user with free tutorials through their design school that teach the basics of good design in short, bite-size sessions. A must for any small business owner who wants to keep costs low!
Pexels.com and Pixabay.com
Can’t afford stock photography? Don’t worry! Most start-ups can’t either! Those in the know head on over to Pexels or Pixabay, two stock photo website that license all their images under the Creative Commons Zero (CCO) License. This license means that the pictures are completely free to be used for any legal purpose. For full information about Creative Commons Zero visit: https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/ . “But surely I can just take images I find on the internet for my own use?” I hear you say. Actually you can’t. Although many people assume that any image they come across in the ‘public domain’ is free to use and not copyrighted, this is not the case at all. Content published online is still protected by copyright law and you are infringing the copyright of the owner of that image if you choose to use it without their express permission. Sticking to the free stock image websites will ensure you don’t incur any unwanted lawsuits, and above all, remain a professional member of the business community! For other free stock image sites check out this blog post (but be sure to read the small print, as some of the images require you to give attribution to the photographer): http://bit.ly/2oo7HU9
The desire for a well-designed business card is when most businesses realise that they need a designer. Once again, things have come a long way since those machines that used to just print out 100 cards while-u-wait! Whatever happened to those machines?! Although a lot of people choose the cheapest cards they can find (a quick search for ‘cheap business cards’ brings up the main culprit for the ugliest designed business cards you’re ever likely to find) this is not always advisable, definitely not so from a design perspective. But if your head is blank when it comes to business card design, then the following websites will have you spoilt for choice from a range of contemporary, quirky and downright impressive card design that will see you stand out (or at least not slink away in embarrassment) at the next networking event you attend.
Although Moo is certainly not the cheapest business card printer, their quality is first class. As well as standard business cards, Moo also produces letterpress business cards and offers all manner of other luxury options. See their ever expanding list of sector specific business card templates here: http://bit.ly/2o09gUN 200 standard business cards work out at about 24p a card.
250 standard business cards work out at 11p a card at Printed.com. This company is a stalwart of the online printing community and at time of writing has a no-quibble refund or reprint on any order you are not 100% happy with. See Printed.com’s business card templates here: http://bit.ly/2oUW5ti
Hopefully these insights have provided you with a design-friendly introduction into designing marketing materials and stationery items for your business on a shoestring. Just remember: once you have the money, give us designers a chance! Our experience and expertise are often well worth the investment!
Claire Senior | Illustrator, designer, shop owner