Best 5 tips for branding: Part 5 – “It’s not a tattoo”

5 best branding tips - it's not a tattoo


“It’s not a tattoo.”

This has to be my favouritest ever quote about branding, from one of my favourite people – Karen Gunton. Your brand is not something that’s cemented onto you permanently, so don’t stress about choosing colours and fonts and then feeling anxious because you’re stuck with it. Or even failing to choose anything at all. 

You’re not stuck. As much as you should be deliberate about choosing your branding (and you absolutely must take your time, choose carefully and deliberately), as much as you should be consistent with it, and as much as you should live with it and give it time, take the pressure off yourself.

Choose it, use it. Love it, live it. Tweak it. 

And change it when you’re absolutely certain it’s no longer a good fit.  Like I said last week, you’ll know when that is.


(Update: You can find all 5 of my best tips for branding here)

Julie x

Best 5 tips for branding: Part 4 – Give yourself time


5 best branding tips1- time


OK! You’re excited! You’re busting to go! You’ve got those fonts sorted! You’ve got your colours too! You’ve found the most awesome-est collection of public domain/creative commons images EVA, and you’ve been to the photographer and got some super hot shots for your profile pics. Let’s do it! YAY!


But here’s the thing: your brand will not, in all likelihood, come together at once. How on earth do you put those graphic design elements together in a meaningful and consistent way? How big should each element be? Where should everything go?Layout/composition is yet another piece of the branding puzzle. You need to consider it for every graphic you put out into the world. What goes on your business card and where? Your website design? Flyers? SM graphics? Packaging? And what about those fancy watercolour overlays you want to include? Or those colour blocks? Where do you use them? And how much do you use? How much is too much?


It seems there are endless decisions to make (and perhaps there are). But the important thing is to start. Keep your brand style guide close by, and keep one eye on it every time you make yourself a new graphic. At the same time, keep the other eye on your ideal customer and ask them, do they like it? Is it balanced/edgy/real/beautiful/wild/romantic/whatever enough for them? And does it feel right for you and your brand?

Once you’ve settled on your style guide, stick to it (for a good while at least). Tweak it, don’t change it. You’ll grow into it, and it’ll become more and more comfortable, like your favourite pair of jeans. And like your favourite pair of jeans, you’ll get to know what accessories look good – use your style guide frequently and you’ll know how to mix and match your elements so that they look right every time. Keep practising, keep going, and get inventive with what you have.


And yes of course, in all likelihood there’ll come a time when those jeans don’t feel right any more – they’re old and daggy and it’s time for a complete change.  You’ll know when that is.


(ps. Update: This is Tip 4 of my 5 best tips. You can find all 5  tips for branding here.)

(pps. I know this particular tip was short and to the point – but I stand by it; it’s absolutely my top tip.

Of course, there’s a whole lot more to branding than 5 simple pointers. If you seriously want to knuckle down and sort out your branding AND be thrilled with your results, go grab a copy of my 92-page e-book, “VIZ BIZ: Branding for Small Business ” hereIt’s my 20+years of experience in design and teaching all bundled into a neat package. Because you don’t have 20 years to figure it all out – do you?)

Julie x

Best 5 tips for branding: Part 3 – Build your atmosphere

5 best branding tips - build your atmosphere (photo credit: Uzair Nazeer)
(photo credit: Uzair Nazeer)
Build your atmosphere

“Strike a pose” said Madonna. She did, and she mesmerised millions.

That’s what you need to do to build your brand – you need to project a distinctive idea. You’ve got to put something particular out there – anything less than distinctive is … well, ordinary. Boring. And there’s a squillion “ordinary”s out there, and you’ll disappear into a sea of nothingness.

But as cool and sexy as Madonna’s pose is, branding is not about one moment of glamour, it’s not a single, elegant flex of the body (or mind), it’s not a short burst of doing your thang on the dance floor (although it can totally incorporate those moments, and should).

What branding is, is a complete and consistent story built around those moments; but it’s something more than those moments besides. Your brand is a mood, a vibe; your brand is like a world enveloped in an atmosphere that you’ve created.

Just like in real life friendships, people are attracted to you because of your approach to life; your personality. Because you’re consistently YOU, and no one else (think: how did people react when you last did something completely out of character?).  Same is true of branding – consistency is paramount. And branding exists at every touchpoint you have with your audience – the visuals, the words you use, how you treat your customers. Consistently using the same colours, the same fonts, the same imagery style (and using the same kind of language when you talk about what you do) = the same feeling.


A blank canvas is death

What happens if you aren’t consistent? If you don’t set yourself parameters? Well, I learnt in art school a long time ago that a blank canvas will result in one of two things:

(a) You’ll play it small and safe and conservative, stick to what you know, and end up with something that just looks same-same.
(How your audience perceives this:         { …yawn…  next please}     )

(b) You’ll end up with some kind of random, unstructured, disorganised mess (although this might give you the spark of an idea for something else and that’s great, it’s extremely rare that this approach will result in a useful, finished piece on its own).
(How your audience perceives this:         { …ewww…  next please}     )

When you DO have parameters, it makes those creative juices start sparking up, you become more inventive, you start to think of ways you can push the boundaries, all the while staying within your boundaries.
(How your audience perceives this:         { …oooh…  stylish! hmmm… interesting… }     )

So, get yourself a guide and a game plan.


Your Brand Style Guide

A Brand Style Guide is a very useful document that simply lays out all the elements you’ve chosen, so that you can refer to it any time you need to (print it out and stick it up next to your computer for easy reference). With your own style guide, you’ve always got a starting point if ever you need to make a new graphic for anything (blog post, ads for social media, newsletters, business cards, flyers, whatever…) all of which saves you a LOT of time.

Here’s a simplified one for tractorgirl. It includes my palette, the fonts I’ve chosen, and a bit about how I treat the typography in layouts.

revamp - tractorgirl colours and fonts


When you get to making your own, there’s lots of other things you might like to include in a style guide too; whatever suits your business. Here are some suggestions –

  • Your brand name
  • Your brand description/personality in words
  • Your logo and tagline if you have one
  • Brand colours (include a colour swatch and the hex code for each colour)
  • Brand fonts – writing the name of the font in that font is often easiest (include different weights, italics etc if you like)
  • Styling notes on product photography if you’re selling physical items
  • Notes on style and mood for any other imagery you use
  • Examples of any fancy elements you’re using – borders, background imagery or patterns etc.
  • Any other notes on when and where to use particular elements.


And get ready to dance – show off what you can do.



(Update: You can find all 5 of my best tips for branding here)

Julie x


Best 5 tips for branding: Part 1 – Graphic design essentials

5 best branding tips- graphic design essentials


YESSSSS a brand new series for you – and a short one so that you can get back to doing what you do best! Five posts on the five things I think are absolutely essential for branding your business, whether you’re selling a physical product or selling a service. Get these five things sorted, and you’ll be a very long way in front of your competitors. First one’s on Graphic Design Essentials.


Basic graphic design mistakes are something I see ALL. THE. FREAKING. TIME.  And it’s really the main reason that made me want to get started in branding (soooo many ugly Etsy shops!). Because before your customers even get to your lovingly crafted words and inspect your lovingly crafted goods, that mess just stops them in their tracks. They’re too spoilt for choice, and something prettier’s only a click away.

I KNOW technology’s made it easy for us to DIY everything (yes, Google’s my friend too). But in this age of DIY everything in five minutes, there is a huge amount of excellent knowledge that’s lost in translation, with inevitably poor results. And bad-looking websites with terrible layouts and awkward graphics make me sad.
(OK, getting off my ranty high horse now.)


Now that I’ve said that, I would also like to say that these simple fixes are super duper easy. You don’t have be a graphic design guru to get these things right; heck, you don’t have to have any kind of design training – anyone can do them, with even the most basic of image editing programs.



Please. Make sure things are lined up. A header on the left and a thumbnail pic in the middle and a quote that’s kinda halfway across the page and random assortment of different sized pics doesn’t convey “free-spirited and creative” – it conveys “disorganised, messy, and unprofessional”. Yes. You’ve seen those websites too. And you’ve cringed a little bit, haven’t you.

Especially in graphics, if things are supposed to be centred (like your name in your website header), make sure they’re actually centred. Don’t do it by eye; use whatever snap tool or guide functionality you have in your image editing software. (And I know PicMonkey doesn’t have a guide, so I’ve made this handy free downloadable grid overlay here.)

Make sure that when you use images in a straight line, that they’re all the same size (i.e. if they’re in a column, make sure they’re all the same width; if they’re running horizontally across the page in a row, make sure they’re the same height).

Text needs to be aligned properly too. If you’re writing a document and you want to put in sub-headings, make sure they’re all aligned with each other – whether that’s left or centred doesn’t matter so much, as long as you’re consistent through the whole document.

When you’re working with a space that is going to present only a small amount of information (such as a website header, a business card, or a social media graphic like an ad for Facebook or a pin for Pinterest, make sure it’s all aligned together.


alignment tip for FB




Make the important things stand out more. When it’s text, and you’ve created variety through size, colour, italics and bold, think about what your eye is drawn to the most, and use that for your most important headings. Newspapers are experts at creating hierarchy within text – check out how they arrange their articles for headline, subheading, author byline, and article text.


5 best branding tips1- graphic design-fonts


Also: “Show me where to click.” I love Seth Godin, and this little gem from him’s been stuck in my head for quite a while now. You can use contrast to create hierarchy too – if your brand colours are mostly black and white with a pop of red, DON’T fall for the next-to-useless ‘make your BUY buttons red’ rubbish; you need to make them contrast so that they stand out, so make those buttons bright blue or green or yellow, so they pop!




Don’t try and jam everything into the smallest amount of space possible. I won’t know where to look. Too much choice = confusion and as I said before, there’s bound to be something prettier that’s just a click away.

Let things breathe. Surround them with enough space so that it’s easy to look at, and easy to read. Your products, your images, and yes, this goes for text too.

When you’re photographing your products, make sure it’s obvious what it is that you’re selling, and don’t crowd your shot with props. When you’re placing images on your website, ensure they’ve got a bit of blank space around them so that they’re easy to focus on without distraction. And break up a big slab of text with headings, and/or important snippets – solid slabs of text are for academics, not for your sales page, or for your “About” page.


5 best branding tips1- graphic design-text1

A BIG slab of solid text.
Boring, right!? Did you even read past the first line?

Let’s try it again –

5 best branding tips1- graphic design-text2


Now doesn’t that look a whole heap better? Think about it. You scanned the second article, didn’t you? And then you got intrigued by the fabulous house, and read a bit more. Ha! The text is absolutely no different; it’s all to do with layout.


OK, go fix up your websites!! Go on, I’ll wait 🙂

(And come back here and tell me when you’re done, ‘k? I’d LOVE to have a look!)

See you next week with the next tip.
(Update: You can find all the tips here)


Julie x