Low-budget branding for small businesses

Over the years, we’ve written quite a few articles about branding. Branding is about getting people to relate to your company and products. It’s also about trying to make your brand synonymous with a certain product or service. This can be a lengthy and hard project. It can potentially cost you all of your revenue. It’s no wonder that branding is often associated with investing lots of money in marketing and promotion. However, for a lot of small business owners, the investment in branding will have to be made with a relatively small budget — especially during a crisis. 

You might be a local bakery with 10 employees, or a local industrial company employing up to 500 people. These all can be qualified as ‘small business’. All have the same main goal when they start: the need to establish a name in their field of expertise. There are multiple ways to do this, without a huge budget. In this post, I’ll share my thoughts on how to go about your own low-budget branding.

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Define and communicate brand values

Branding with a limited budget starts with defining your company’s and your brand’s values. You need to think about what you, as a brand, want to communicate to the world. Doing this yourself won’t cost you, provided you are capable of doing this yourself. In fact, it’s a pretty hard task, when you think of it. It’s about your mission, the things that make your brand into your brand. Brand values relate to Cialdini’s seventh principle, Unity.

My favorite example illustrating unity: outdoor brands like Patagonia and The North Face, which make you feel included in their business ‘family’. “We are all alike, share the same values.” By being able to relate to these brands and their values, we are more enticed to buy their products. It’s a brand for us, outdoor people.

Take some time to define your brand values. That way, you’re able to communicate your main message in a clear and consistent way. It makes your marketing all the easier. You’ll be able to create brand ambassadors, even on a budget.

Come up with a proper tagline

Once you have defined your brand values, it’s time to summarize them all into one single tagline. For example, WordPress’ mission is to “democratize publishing“. In your tagline, you formulate your values and make sure your added value for the customer, user or visitor is also reflected. Again, be consistent. If you set a tagline, your actions and products should relate to that tagline, actually, even be based upon it. It summarizes your business.

Rethink your logo

Having a great logo is essential. When designing that logo, you’ll have to keep in mind that it’s probably something you’ll have for years. It’s the main thing – besides yourself – that will trigger (brand) recognition. It’s not that you can never change your logo, but don’t ‘just’ add a logo. Think about how it stands out from other logos, for instance on a local sponsor board.

Design that logo, print it, stick it on your fridge for a week or so, and see if there’s anything about it that starts to annoy you. If so, it’s back to the drawing board. Feel like you don’t relate to it in terms of business values or even personality? Back to the drawing board. When talking about low-budget branding, designing a great logo is probably your most expensive task.

Online low-budget branding

The online world is a great place to work on your low-budget branding. You need to establish a name in your field of expertise, and the surplus of social media can facilitate that by giving you a free platform.

Social media

I do a lot of local networking, because I really like the city we live in, and the huge variety of entrepreneurs that work in our hometown Wijchen. During network meetings, one of the phrases I often hear is: “Social media just takes me too much time”. To be honest, it might be wise to change your mindset about the costs and start seeing the revenue social media can bring you. It really is the easiest and probably one of the cheapest ways to promote your brand. Basically, the only cost is time investment (depending on how aggressively you want to use the medium). It may take a while before you find a strategy and/or platform that works, so give it some time and don’t just throw in the towel!

Read more: Social media for small business owners »

Share your expertise

You can use Twitter to stay in touch with like-minded business owners. Discover the huge number of Facebook groups in your area, and/or in your field of expertise. Bond with people that share the same values. Feel free to answer questions in your field of business and do this with confidence. Position yourself as the go-to company for these questions. Help people that way and create brand ambassadors. You really have to put some effort into establishing your position. It won’t happen overnight.

A bit of an extreme example: before Yoast became a business, Joost was already sharing content/expertise and our open source software. He engaged actively in forum and social media discussions about WordPress and SEO. Commenting on other people’s blogs. Time before revenue: 8 years. I’m not saying you need to wait eight years before making money with your passion. But I do think that you should be able to write, comment and take a stand in topics that matter to you from the start.

Make yourself visible

Eventually, it all comes back to business values. Everything you communicate should reflect these values. It’ll give you guidelines and will make sure your message is delivered in the same way, always. Low-budget branding is about just that: making yourself visible, in a consistent way.

Keep reading: The ultimate guide to small business SEO »

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15 Responses to Low-budget branding for small businesses

  1. Zola
    Zola  • 1 week ago

    I am currently working on branding my own website and I’ve seen it takes a lot of work, but I know it will pay off in the long run. I’ve been building my online presence for the last 2 years, organically, certainly has been a discovery path, but I’m trying to stay consistent. As well, I see that SEO has helped my blog stand out in search results on Google. Thanks for putting out all these strategies to help our business be more visible.

    • Edwin Toonen
      Edwin Toonen  • 6 days ago

      Awesome, Zola. Good luck on your endeavours!

  2. Melissa Gerke
    Melissa Gerke  • 1 week ago

    As a freelance SEO copywriter, I find branding can be a bit personal, because really, I’m the brand in my business.
    How do you suggest to separate yourself from your brand when it’s just you?

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 1 week ago

      Hi Melissa! Thanks for your question. Considering the work you do, I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing that your branding feels personal. In your case, this can be a unique selling point as your customers will know who they’re dealing with and who is writing their copy. It can give you a one up on your competition as your business will feel very personal and approachable. Don’t underestimate the power of a personal approach :)

      If you want to make serious work of your branding, you can find our articles on branding here: https://yoast.com/tag/branding/

      Good luck!

  3. carolyanmiller11
    carolyanmiller11  • 1 week ago

    Seo has huge impact on website traffic. especially off page seo is key to rank web site so we have to improve our on page and off page seo to be in rank.

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 1 week ago

      Hi there, and thanks for your comment! We totally agree that SEO has a huge impact on your traffic. It’s important to spend time on both on-page and off-page SEO. Off-page SEO helps you bring in visitors by create exposure, trust and brand-awareness. And on-page SEO helps you make your site awesome by creating great content, having a solid site structure and fast mobile site. We believe both are important pieces of the puzzle :)

  4. jonathan chartrand
    jonathan chartrand  • 2 weeks ago

    I usually don’t find articles by Yoast that are very well written and explain everything really well in the least amount of words, but this article is excellent.
    I will look for articles by Michiel in the future.

  5. Josh Kemp
    Josh Kemp  • 2 weeks ago

    We’ve been using Yoast SEO Premium on our site metalkards.com for a couple years and it’s helped us rank well. These are some great tips, keep em coming!

    • Willemien Hallebeek
      Willemien Hallebeek  • 2 weeks ago

      Thanks, Josh, we will! Thank you for using Premium and so glad to hear you’re happy with it.

  6. Stefan Drew
    Stefan Drew  • 2 weeks ago

    I spent years running a very successful marketing consultancy, until I semi retired a few years ago when I started doing pro bono work for charities etc. I have to agree that marketing and branding can be very low cost … or even free (except for your time).

    My rules with branding are however slightly different. Certainly having a logo etc is useful when running a larger business but I’m not convinced it’s at all necessary for many smaller businesses. Eg my dentist, plumber, builder, local garage and small local retailers don’t have have logos but still run very successful businesses.

    They don’t understand terms such as brand values and mission. They are successful because they offer good customer care, value etc.

    Smiling, saying please and thank you, and being on time may not appear in many books on branding. But I believe they are key to building a brand.

    Let me finish defining what a brand is for me. It’s what people say about you when you aren’t there.

    • Willemien Hallebeek
      Willemien Hallebeek  • 2 weeks ago

      Hi Stefan, great addition! Surely one of the most important things of branding is how you run your business and how you treat your clients or customers. Agreed that those basics should be covered first as they’re essential for word-of-mouth marketing. The tips on this post mostly focus on the things you can do in addition to that, so people recognize your brand :-)

    • Hutch
      Hutch  • 2 weeks ago

      Your comments around being polite and respectful are what keep me returning to our local Mexican restaurant and our local garage.

  7. Marjo Toska
    Marjo Toska  • 2 weeks ago

    I certainly agree that most small new businesses can become successful without breaking the bank.

    That’s how I built an online presence of Emerald Dental Clinic, which has around 1,000 followers on Instagram and 300 likes on Facebook. All it takes is posting regularly, and what’s most important, posting quality content.

    • Edwin Toonen
      Edwin Toonen  • 2 weeks ago

      That’s good to hear, Marjo. Great work!