Branding on a budget: a practical ‘how to’ guide

People prefer real images than polished stock photos, nobody wants to look at commercials.

Are you starting a business, project or blog? Here is how you can develop a professional brand identity for FREE or little money.

First, you need to come up with an original and compelling brand story, which articulates the problem you are solving and establishes a strong connection with your target customers.

Once you know how to tell your story with words, you will need a visual brand identity which reinforces it. So here are my 3 golden rules and 5 tactics for you to get it right.

3 golden rules

1. Less is more: you may only have a glimpse of your customer’s attention. So be original, quick and concise.

2. Consistency is king: if you want your brand to be recognizable, then you need to be consistent in communicating it.

3. Good can be cheap if you are smart about it: follow 5 tactics listed below.

5 tactics on how to look good without paying big money to a designer

1. Get a logo… and keep it simple

Oh how many times I witnessed a founder spending way too much time and money on a mediocre, messy, uninspired logo. So I warn you: don’t get stuck this early in the journey. It’s highly likely you’ll change it later when you become successful.

Simple criteria for a good logo:
1. Simple and readable. Choose a logo with way too many details and colours and printing it on any T-shirt will be an absolute pain in the ass. 
2. Easily memorizable. Can everyone memorize it in a few seconds? 
3. Fits nicely into a square. You will use it for all sorts of online avatars, so choose an optimal format for this. In addition it will look good on any event poster or brochure next to other logos (they will all be averaged by height, so don’t rip yourself off pixels).

Get versions in all possible formats right away:
1. Original .ai file (vector format) for any high-resolution printing.

2. Large, medium and small .png files of all color options:

  • Color version with transparent background.
  • Version in Black — to be used on light backgrounds.
  • Version in White — to be used on dark background.

FREE — $ option
A zero cost option
 — create a font logo. This is just your brand name typed with a certain font (e.g. Google, Pinterest, Vogue, Barbie). Search “best logo fonts”, download the one you like and create own logo. With basic illustrator skills you can do it yourself.

If these options are not available, find someone on Fiverr to do it for $5 or find someone on Upwork for a more high quality service. It will cost you $10–30.

$$ option

If you want a freelance graphic designer to make a graphic logo for you, create a kick-ass brief. It should give a clear idea what you need exactly. To do so, imagine that you won’t be able to provide feedback on your logo at all!

A hack: go through the process of creating a brief here: capture it offline and provide this to your designer together with the criteria I listed earlier.

Do not provide AirBnB, Nike, Apple, Uber or Tesla logos as examples! This doesn’t give much information rather than that you don’t do your homework. Provide other logos, all similar to each other, and explain what exactly attracts you in them.

Some options of where to find a freelance designer: Upwork or Behance.

$$$ option

The full monty option — launch a contest on 99 designs ($419 minimum) or its replicas in developing markets with lower rates (Examples: designcrown, logomachine, godesigner in Russia).

Tips for success and satisfaction:

  • Launch a “closed contest”, where designers can’t see each other’s work. Good designers don’t want to run the risk of having their work ripped off.
  • Provide a guarantee for a monetary reward for a winner. Good designers don’t waste their time.
  • Find logos you like on the marketplaces and approach the designers who created them and invite them to your contest. Explain why you liked their logo. People want to make quick money on 99 designs, so if you show they are close to it, you will get their interest.
  • Once you get the first submissions, provide feedback immediately. Your time is ticking.

My logo for Clubvivre was developed thanks to 99 designs but learn this lesson from me — managing the process was a full time job for 3 days! So if you think that the first option is a lot of work, trust me, it’s exact opposite. The more people you engage the more complicated the process is.

2. Fonts… best in a pair

You will need a pair of fonts: one for headers, and one for main text for any materials you create (online or offline).

If you have a Wordpress site with nice-looking theme (from here or here or here) check what are the 2 fonts used for headers and main text… and stick to ONLY these for your brand.

Otherwise choose 2 fonts from Fontpair. This site offers a great choice of well paired fonts (so you don’t have to learn what is Sans-Serif and Serif!)

You will spare yourself a lot of trouble in the future if your selected fonts are also Googlefonts.

3. Photos… a picture is worth a thousand words

You will likely need photos to communicate your brand. And though I will gladly provide you with a list of FREE stock photo banks, please keep in mind that a photo taken with a smartphone in good light is much better than a stock photo. People prefer real photos and real stories, as nobody wants to look at commercials.

Some mobile apps to edit your photos:

  • VSCO
  • Picart
  • Snapseed
  • Bazart
  • Moldiv

Also useful: create professional looking mockups (digital, apparel or print). instantly delete image backgrounds online.

Free stock photo banks:

4. Social media platforms… brand them all

Check the optimal size of an avatar and cover photo per social network.Create them effortlessly using Canva.

Don’t forget 3 golden rules, use your fonts and a few selected colors only.

5. Printing… transferring your brand from online to offline

Instead of spending way too much time painstakingly thinking about how to design an original business card, choose a nice paper in a printing shop and create a simple design using Canva featuring your logo and contact details without images.


What some sites offer for hundreds of dollars, you can get completely free! With 3 golden rules, 5 tactics a bit of work you can get a professional looking brand identity for free. Good luck on the bumpy road of starting something and going towards your dream!

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