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Is good design necessary for small business or startups?

Is good design necessary for small business or startups?

As a designer and marketer I’m a strong believer that good design and branding translates into better positioning in the market. While it’s not the absolute necessity for success, it is a higher priority then some give credit. Good design can offer a leg up on competition and help foster trust in a fledgling business or startup.

Design isn’t critical but it does help

There are many factors that contribute to the success of a business: A good product, excellent customer service, perseverance, and a little bit of luck. But in a crowded market – or when opening a new business – good design can certainly help. It helps to establish credibility and trustworthiness. Generally, it’s been my experience, in a heads up battle or when the choice is between two unknowns, the one that looks “best” will usually make the sale.

The adage “fake it until you make it” isn’t too far off.

There’s a reason appearing successful creates the illusion of success. People use visual clues to quickly form first impressions. So if you look successful they’ll assume you are. The same holds true for good design. A strong, well done brand will influence people’s initial opinions. And for a new business or startup, that can make all the difference.

Sure, I’m biased, but I’ve also worked on and witnessed the transformation good design can achieve. Struggling small businesses generally see an immediate improvement in sales. This is especially true when you’re competing in a crowded space where looking professional imbues trust in your small business or startup.

Should you spend substantially on design at the start?

This is the difficult part of the equation. What’s good enough? And if your startup capital is limited, how much time, effort, and money should you devote to branding? Under the reddit thread that inspired this blog the comments regarding this topic quickly grew divisive. As I stated at the beginning, I’m an ardent believer of good design playing an integral part in the success of a business.

But how much you need to spend on design is really determined by many factors. How much competition do you have in your market? What’s your positioning strategy? How important or influential will good design be on your target audience? And, of course, how much you can afford to invest in good design?

Would I advise someone starting out in a garage or their own kitchen spend heavily on design? Probably not at first. But I’d suggest they do it as soon as possible. Since the quicker they look “slick” the easier time they’ll have closing sales - whether that’s consumer or resellers.

So, if your startup budget is $50,000… should youI spend half of it on design? Of course not; that’s absurd. But would I recommend investing up to 10% or at least a few thousand into design and branding? Yes, I would. Because I know from experience good design will affect your sales positively. Simply prioritize what’s necessary and then do the rest as needed.

Generally this means you’ll need a logo, a business card, a website, possibly packaging for your product, and maybe a small brochure. In today’s world, these are all infinitely doable for $5,000 (10% of your startup budget) - and probably even less. Just make sure you’re hiring someone with experience – who can guide you through thinking and planning for the future – or you’ll be spending again to redesign things as you grow and realize your design is limiting your appeal and affecting your sales.

Of course, not everyone will agree. Many entrepreneurs will advise pushing out the product to gain sales first before spending on design. And if that’s your philosophy and you don’t think design is important, then my blog isn’t going to convince you otherwise. And I’ll still wish you luck… but let’s hope you’re not competing against a client of ours… because I predict design will matter and we’ll be winning.

Aug 08, 2015
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There are 1 comments for this entry. Leave a comment below »


I have worked for small businesses for about 25 years, and it has been my experience that a professional looking design immediately makes you look more credible. This is probably especially important for service businesses.

Kathy Quinn
Aug 26, 2015


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