We’ve all been there.
You have a great product. You are active on social. You have built a small but loyal community around your product and sales are happening. You are ready to announce to the world your product is there.
Or maybe you are in a larger organization and budgets are limited but this one asset would really help you sell more.
Branding, design and marketing services are costly, reaching tens of thousands of euro. So what do you do?
You try and DIY it.
Not every budding business has the ability to immediately invest in professional branding services running in the tens of thousands of Euro. Building a successful brand is a step by step process, and while starting with a strong base is a good idea and usually recommended, its not always possible. This is especially true for solopreneurs and start-ups, but might even be true for in-house marketing teams trying to optimize cost.
The truth is, as an entrepreneur or small business in your first months you will be producing marketing and art assets yourself. You will be creating websites, doing SEO and running ad campaigns completely unsupervised by specialists. You will be learning by doing.
Unfortunately mistakes will happen and there is a risk of damaging your brand with bad design or losing precious resources on ineffective marketing moves.
So what can you do to minimize the risk?
Luckily, while the skill-ceiling for design has always been high and is moving further up every year, the entry point (the skill-floor) has been steadily dropping due to available technology and automation.
Here are a few low-cost resources for small businesses, entrepreneurs and start-ups that can help you up your design game.
There’s nothing more expensive for a small business, besides maybe video production, than purchasing imagery. A professional photographer costs thousands of Euro and images may even require costly licensing. Even stock photography can be excessively expensive, with services like Gettyimages charging 500+ Euro per image. Yet marketing assets with images have better response rates and generate more and better engagement than ones without.
Here are some alternatives to help you start out:
Unsplash provides free photography for personal and commercial usage. The service is run by volunteers that upload and curate images. The selection is quite good, however it does not cover some of the more specialized fields like industry or technology. It is also a young service, which means the amount of images available is limited. The images also are provided as is, already processed by the photographer, and in compressed JPEG format, with no possibility to get the RAW image. This might be problematic for certain assets, especially for printing.
Pexels, like Unsplash, provides CC0 images that are completely free to use for personal or commercial projects. Out of the two, Pexels seems to have the smaller library but about the same quality as Unsplash. It is generally of benefit to check both libraries for overlap, they are both free after all.
Compared to more premium services like Gettyimages, Storyblocks places itself on the lower end of the spectrum. With 100 USD a month and access to hundreds of thousands of images, video clips and music it is positively a steal. Storyblocks hasn’t been around for long, however its selection is curated heavily, which means that most of the library is largely usable for contemporary design.
ADOBE STOCK (30€/month/3 assets)
Slightly more expensive unless you opt-in for a yearly subscription Adobe Stock provides another curated library of images. The library is quite extensive and features a very good selection for all topics and industries. The killer feature of Adobe Stock is its bundling with the premium tier Adobe Cloud yearly subscription, which moves around 72 Euro a month/user (pricing is highly dependent on country). This subscription features access to all Adobe apps (Photoshop, Illustrator, Premiere etc) and includes the basic Adobe Stock subscription of 10 assets per month. If you have the budget and if you can make use of the software, its clearly the best bang for your buck.
YOUR SMARTPHONE (FREE*)
With just a little bit of training, anyone with a flagship smartphone can be a photographer. If you already have a good piece of kit like the Huawei P20, iPhone X or Samsung S9 you hold in your hand a device that is more than capable to take images that are of high enough technical quality to use in your assets. *But be careful, intellectual property rights are no laughing matter and can cost you dearly if you do not receive permission from your subjects. This is also true for locations, especially on private property or in stores and restaurants. Always have a release form ready for a location or person to cede rights to you for any specific case. Ultimately this might cost you some money unless you can convince your subjects to just go along with it.
Just as with photography, video might be one of the most expensive assets to produce. Recording good video requires expertise and expensive equipment, as well as a good grasp on intellectual property rights.
Here are a few alternatives to get you started easily:
Videvo is a site that has a decent library of free stock clips for both commercial and private use. The quality of video is generally pretty good, but the selection is limited and the site features a lot of Shutterstock ads, so it is easy to get confused by a video that’s actually paid. *Also be careful as VIDEVO has 3 types of licenses for its assets, and two of them have restrictions on how the video can be used (some require attribution).
PEXELS VIDEO (FREE)
Just like its photography counterpart, Pexels Video provides free CC0 clips for commercial and personal use. The downside is the clips come as-is, pre-compressed and processed by the videographer, so their usage might be limited. There is also no information about the resolution of the clip before downloading, so its a gamble if the technical quality is good enough for your purpose. The library is also very limited, so your mileage might vary.
ADOBE STOCK & STORYBLOCKS (As above)
Both Adobe Stock and Storyblocks subscriptions give the ability to use their video libraries, and the same limitations and benefits apply.
YOUR CELLPHONE (As above)
Just as with photography the same can be said about video, and the same limitations and dangers apply.
Graphic Design Elements
Videos and Photography are not enough to create a compelling marketing asset, you will need icons, fonts and other illustrative elements to highlight your messaging and communicate visually.
Below are some libraries you can leverage:
FDR (Free Design Resources) provides a library of Mock-ups, Fonts, Templates and Graphics (Icons, Illustrations, etc) compatible with industry standard software. The resources are provided free of charge and uploaded as “freebies”. Be careful though, some specific ones might have restricted usage to personal projects only. The library is quite extensive, and of good quality, however the style might not always fit the more niche of applications.
ENVATO MARKET (Priced per Item)
Envato Market provides a very large selection of design elements, from website templates, over code and plugins to graphics and 3D models. Pricing is handled per item and can range anywhere between 5-100$. Envato has been around since 2006 so their library is just massive, however this also means that some older and outdated designs exist which should be omitted. Always be mindful to curate your selection. The added benefit is the purchase on demand, without a subscription impacting your OPEX.
ADOBE STOCK & STORYBLOCKS (As above)
Both Adobe Stock and Storyblocks subscriptions give access to their graphics library, however neither of them is as extensive as Envato in their selection.
Type might be the next problem a small business or start-up might run into. There is only so much you can do with Arial and Times New Roman after all. Type licenses can be quite expensive, especially if we are talking about broad usage and web-fonts.
Here are some places that can help:
GOOGLE FONTS (FREE*)
Google Fonts is a library of fonts curated by Google. The selection is large but mostly specialized in web-usage and display fonts (fonts optimized for emissive digital displays). *Not all Fonts available on the service are free either, so you have to be careful in your selection. Good examples of quality and some of our favorite fonts are Raleway, Montserrat, Open Sans and Merriweather
ADOBE TYPEKIT (FREE+)
Adobe Typekit is a library of fonts curated by Adobe and included in the Adobe Cloud subscription. The paid subscription however is not necessary to use the service in its most basic form. Typekit has a decent selection of good fonts, however not all of them are available to all plans. The free plan for example excludes some commercial fonts like Futura. Some of the Typekit library also overlaps with Google Fonts. The deciding downside of working with Typekit is that fonts are not downloaded but “synced” from the cloud. This means that the proprietary Adobe Cloud application must be installed and running for the Fonts to be available. Additionally when you stop paying for your subscription, the fonts you synced and which are not available in the free plan, are no longer accessible to you. Use with caution.
The decision is as always dependent on your requirements and goals. If your budget for design resources is literally zero, then the free options here are your only choice. However if you have some cash to spend, the best bang for your buck is the premium Adobe Cloud subscription. At close to a hundred euro a month you will have all the resources and apps you might possibly need for your first steps.
Of course building an engaging asset still requires some knowledge, talent and skill. We will discuss in the next part how you can use these resources in combination with available tools and services to create engaging content for your business needs.
Naturally none of this will replace a specialist expert at the helm of professional software. Always remember you pay an opportunity cost when doing things yourself that you are not skilled in.
For now however, it will get the ball rolling until you are ready to grow out of your shell. This selection of curated, high-quality libraries should help you get started, and whenever you are ready to move forward you can always count on us to be there for you.
Also published on Medium.