Graphic design is critical to any business, but especially for those just starting to build brand awareness, and make their first impressions with customers.

It’s important to present your business in the best possible light, and the first step to doing that is making sure your business has great graphic design.

Transform the look of your business to draw in the right audience, and help your business grow.

Figure out what you really need to design

Before you throw yourself into designing marketing materials for your company, think about what delivers the most payoff for your time and money. Consider researching what tools and channels similar businesses use.

If you don’t have any idea where to start, here’s a list of items that most small businesses need:


A well-designed website is one of the most influential ways you can build awareness of your brand, and earn trust from potential customers. 88% of customers do research on products before they buy, and that goes for both online and brick-and-mortar businesses.

Social media channels

Most social media platforms offer easy and free ways to connect with new and existing customers. A study on Canadian social media found that 63% more people interacted with brands on social media than with celebrities – but only 38% of businesses used their social media channels to sell products. While you might choose to sell on social media, you can also share photos of products, happy customers, or examples of your business interacting with your community. The possibilities are endless.

Business cards

Instantly leave an impression with potential customers, and give customers who may want to buy again later an easy way to contact you. These don’t have to be your typical white business card with an email and a phone number, either. Square cards offer a unique way to show off your products and get visibility for your new website.


If you’re selling physical goods, you should be aware of the phenomena of “unboxing.” Unboxing items has become a huge part of the customer experience, and companies such as Apple, Dollar Shave Club, or Birchbox have plenty of content for you to gather inspiration. Keep your packaging simple to start, such as creating a little tag to sew onto your handmade merchandise, use shrink wrap in your brand’s colors to wrap up your skincare products, or offer a branded shopping bag for your in-store customers to carry their purchases.

If your business is done solely online, your most important investment is a website. If you’re selling physical goods, you may consider branded packaging, inserts, or coupons that may be shipped with your products. If you’re selling a service such as fitness training or the use of a gym, you may want to offer merchandise with your company colors, logo, and tagline on it.

Some companies may need or want, to invest in all of the above, plus signs for trade shows, banners for marathons, or large-scale billboard advertising. Make sure to take the time to understand what really helps your business right now, and what could be a waste of money.

Develop an easy-to-follow design plan

Now that you know your goals, it’s important to figure out how to get there. Most small business owners should plan to spend 7-8% of their revenue on marketing. However, during the early years, this investment could be higher as you begin to build your business’ brand, so it’s crucial to develop a solid plan before you really start investing time or money into your marketing materials – the costs quickly add up.

Are you planning to make multiple image posts per week on your social media channels? Plan ahead how to keep up with this demand, and remember that sizing may change dramatically depending on which social channel you intend to use. If you’re planning to attend events at specific times throughout the year, figure out what types of materials you need to bring, such as signs, business cards, or one-sheet flyers.

When creating them, keep them as evergreen as possible so you can use the same designs throughout the year. For example, don’t theme your product insert around a specific holiday or season unless you’ll plan to redo them later (or unless it makes sense for your Halloween-oriented business). If you want to advertise your services and your business, research the most effective branded merchandise. Depending on your industry, that could be clothing, accessories, shopping bags, or even an app for your phone.

Once you find a plan that works for your company, it’s also possible to update and reuse your designs, which saves you a lot of money and time.

Be ready to scale up (or down) on the types of materials and assets you create. For example, if you find your print pieces faltering, but your social media is taking off, it may be  worth it to invest more time into your digital channels. If customers are complaining about how much packaging you use on your products, use their feedback to cut down on packaging, and save your business some money at the same time.

Keep your designs simple

Even if you’re just starting out and don’t know the best ways to use the latest design programs, you can still create beautiful, clean designs. Before you put a cent down, put pencil to paper and sketch out what you want to make. It doesn’t have to be perfect, and you don’t have to stick to it 100% – just create a design plan that gives you a concrete goal to work towards. Try to create and build a template that makes sense. This saves you a ton of time and energy later on.

Look at major brands or competitors for inspiration, and use that information to inspire your own designs. Great marketing materials get your message across in seconds, so remember to cut out the clutter to let your product or service stand on its own, whenever possible.

Once you have your sketches, you also need to:

Pick your colors

Many major brands, such as Facebook, Apple, and T-Mobile, only use a few colors. While it sounds limiting, using no more than 2-4 brand colors helps keep your marketing materials consistent.

Pick your fonts

One best practice that should never be ignored: you don’t need more than three fonts. Ever. Seriously. You might even get away with only two: one for headlines and one for body copy. Almost every font available comes with bold and italic variants, and some come with extra light or extra heavy styles – with just one or two fonts, you’ll always have a steady supply of possibilities.

Pick a photo style

Did you know that 93% of human communication is visual? That means the photo style you choose is extremely important, whether it be the way you photograph your products, the way you show off your customers, or the way you pick stock photography.

None of these plans are set in stone, unless you want them to be, so don’t feel like you must stick with something that’s no longer working. Businesses of every size constantly rebrand and adjust. The goal here is to build yourself a great brand kit that can be used on all your marketing materials, save you time, and make your business look great.

Invest in the right tools for your design needs

Now that you know what you need to create, you need to make some decisions about which graphic design tools to invest in for your business, whether your investment be time spent learning the program or up-front costs to access it. After doing a little bit of research, you’ll probably have found out about programs like Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, and other similarly notable (and expensive) products. While they are the industry standard, they’re not your only options.

When building a website for your business, the software you use will depend on the approach you want to take. If you’re looking to get in there and build your own site from the ground up, take a look into WordPress. Or, for those who may have the time, or need to build and show off your coding chops, get started with a hands-on coding education at Codecademy.

Once you get your website set up, it’s time to make it customer-ready. If you need a multi-purpose Adobe alternative, which you can use for product photos, customers, or almost anything else related to photo editing, try GIMP. GIMP is a totally free, open-source editor that works on most operating systems. GIMP also supports the creation of illustrations, brochures, and even t-shirts.

Some programs have a steep learning curve, so be sure to check out Youtube for lessons, tutorials, and tips for your chosen programs. If you’re looking for free or lower-priced alternatives to programs not mentioned here, check out for a complete list of resources.

You’re on your way to creating a great website and graphics to go with it, but you still might need to use stock imagery to fill in some gaps. If you have a budget for stock imagery, consider looking at iStock by Getty Images, or Shutterstock. If you don’t have a budget, find free stock from sites like UnSplash or Pixabay. If you need product photos, you can take your own studio-quality product photos using the smartphone you already own.

Lastly, don’t forget about physical tools. Graphic design doesn’t have to be just what you create on a computer. While many people have a great camera in their smartphones, if you find you need to upgrade, seek out used or reasonably priced equipment. That new Nikon camera looks amazing, but chances are that your small business doesn’t need that kind of investment – yet.

There are also some items that can improve the design of your products, such as fancy molds for your handmade soaps. If you’re advertising services, you might invest in laser-cut decals for customers to put on cars, or the equipment to make custom screen-printed shirts.

Keep your head above water

The single most important thing to remember as a member of a small marketing team is to not over-commit. You don’t have to do every single thing on this list, or even on the plan you originally created.

As your business ramps up, you might find that your schedule has less and less time to learn new programs or create new assets. That’s okay – in fact, that’s great! Now is a good time to re-evaluate your design and marketing plan to make sure you’re only spending time (or money) on what your business really needs. If you find that your needs are higher than what you can meet, but your business is doing well, it may also be time to consider hiring a second person for your marketing team, even if it’s only part-time.

You can design the right look for your business

As intimidating as it might sound, this is a chance to start designing the right look and feel for your business. This is an exciting time, and an opportunity to affect how new or existing customers think about your business.

As you learn and your business grows, what once took you a day to create will take you an hour (or less). Design is a never-ending process, so don’t be afraid to keep revisiting your ideas and projects. How you build your designs is just one more facet of the story of how your business began, and even the most talented designers were once beginners.