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How to Build a Better Brand on a Budget

What is a brand? According to BusinessDictionary.com, brand means a “unique design, sign, symbol, words, or a combination of these, employed in creating an image that identifies a product and differentiates it from its competitors. Over time, this image becomes associated with a level of credibility, quality, and satisfaction in the consumer’s mind. Thus brands help harried consumers in [a] crowded and complex marketplace, by standing for certain benefits and value.”

My definition is a bit simpler and a lot broader: A brand is everything. It’s your logo, your website, your images, your content, your print materials, your customer service, your viewpoint, the way you dress, the way you explain what you do—and so much more.

If you plan to start a business or you already have one, to be successful you must have a brand. In this article, I share my top tips for building a strong brand on a shoestring budget.

What’s in a Brand?

When you think of Apple, your thoughts might go to Steve Jobs, in his black turtleneck and glasses. Did you know that at one point he was fired from his own company? You might remember how he was known for holding incredibly short meetings and dismissing the least necessary person in the room. And how he believed that a business should create a product that its customers don’t even know they want yet.

Steve Jobs was part of the Apple brand. And after his death, he still is.

So how do you infuse yourself into your brand, so that when people think of your company they immediately know what you offer and what you stand for?

Be Your Brand

Fashion designer Michael Kors, author and speaker Deepak Chopra and television personality Jillian Michaels are all entrepreneurs with a large staff and a big revenue stream. Not only do their businesses carry their names, but they themselves are front and center of their companies. Whether they’re assisting behind the scenes at a fashion show or sharing the results of working with a client, these entrepreneurs know that our culture is voyeuristic. We like to see people create, and we like to see a struggle, followed by accomplishment. Kors, Chopra and Michaels have built businesses that thrive on this concept.

So how do you become your brand? First, know who your target audience is. Second, know what you want to project to them. Third, and most important, know how you can solve their problems and why you’re the right person for the job.

Once you have all that figured out, ask yourself if it makes more sense to use your name for your business (e.g., Tory Burch) or to use a fictitious name (e.g., 24 Hour Fitness®). It doesn’t matter how many services or products you have, or how many employees are working for you. What matters is the message you want associated with your business.

Your business should be easily recognizable on every platform you use. This means your social media handles should all be the same, and your profiles should explain what you do in an effective, simple and brief manner.

For example, if your business name is Jane Smith, your Twitter and Instagram handles should be @janesmith or @jane.smith, not @workoutgirl77 or @sculptedarms88. These latter two examples don’t say “brand”; they say “young person who doesn’t have a business.” Similarly, your description shouldn’t be “I like to work out” or “I’m a daydreamer.” It should explain exactly what you do and whom you do it for.

Changing Your Brand

Do you have an established brand, and you worry that updating it might confuse your customers? First, don’t freak out. Second, keep it simple. Brands evolve, which means you don’t have to stay “married” to an idea or image that you created in your first year of business.

A great, recent example of how a company handled a brand change is video-streaming service Hulu’s decision to change the name of its paid subscription, Hulu Plus. Hulu is the name of the company, and Hulu Plus was the name of the paid service, which costs $8 per month and gives users access to Hulu’s entire content library. When Hulu decided to drop “Plus” from its name, I received the following email:


We’ve had a blast with our old friend Plus but it’s time to move on.

We just wanted to let you know that we are retiring the Hulu Plus name. From now on, we will just be known as Hulu. No “Plus.”

Though the name is changing, your subscription is not. You’ll still be a subscriber with all the benefits that come with that. You can keep on watching your favorite shows on all your devices—without having to change a thing. Same great stuff. Slightly different name.<br/ >

Thanks for watching!

Your Friends at Hulu

My guess is that Hulu has more customers and brings in more revenue than most of our businesses combined. Yet the company didn’t feel the need to make a big fuss over the name change. Instead, it opted for a simple message that contained all the pertinent information in anticipation of any questions that subscribers might have.

Other examples are as follows:

  • Fitness and social media expert Danny-J Johnson of The Sweaty Betties, who has almost half a million followers, changed her business name to Danny-J.com.
  • Famous chef and cookbook author Diane Sanfilippo, of Balanced Bites, is now using just her name.
  • Life coach and long-distance runner Nicole Antoinette, of A Life Less Bullshit, is now the host of Real Talk with Nicole Antoinette. She announced the change in two sentences at the end of a recent email.

Brand on a Budget

You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on logos, photography and print materials to have a good brand. But if you are going to stand out among your competitors, there are things you must do.

  • Make sure your website (if you don’t have one, get one now) template is clean, organized and easy to navigate. You have 4 seconds to get new customers’ attention, so don’t lose them with a small font and hard-to-find contact information. WordPress offers some amazing free and low-cost templates.
  • Personalize your website with photos of yourself (and your team if applicable). Check craigslist or network through Facebook to find a photographer who is just starting out; hire that person to do an inexpensive photo shoot.
  • Scroll through Twitter and Pinterest to find an up-and-coming graphic designer who can create an affordable logo. Note: Logos with images cost more than logos with a name only (e.g., Nike versus Nordstrom).
  • Front and center on the top half of your website, post the logos of media outlets that have given you press (e.g., www.ramonarussell.net). This gives you instant credibility and helps establish you as an expert in your field.
  • Include a testimonials page on your website—and don’t put just the best five. I believe in the Amazon way—show them all. Think about it: You’d likely be more blown away by a website with 20, 30 or more testimonials than a website with just a few. Note: If you are worried about spending money on a new vendor, go to the testimonials page on vendor websites and read what customers are saying. Still unsure? Track down a few of those customers and shoot them an email asking about their experience with the business you’re interested in hiring.
  • Use Microsoft Word and Apple Pages to make beautiful designs for brochures and marketing materials. Use a digital printer service to save on the price of printing.

Remember, a brand isn’t just a fancy, overpriced logo that you see on packaging and print materials. It’s you, it’s your company, it’s your product, it’s the message you project—and it’s what your customers are saying, thinking and telling others about your business. Be sure your brand accurately reflects who you are and what you do.

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