Branding Basics for Creative Entrepreneurs

For creative entrepreneurs trying to make their mark, it’s essential to have a clear idea as to what your brand should be in order to help potential customers find you. The key to any successful business is having an effective brand strategy that sets you apart from the rest of your competition, and right now, a lot of us are competing online where there are thousands of people trying to do the same.

In that scenario, what exactly does developing an effective brand strategy look like? And what does it mean to brand something? How exactly will branding make or break your particular creative business?

Branding basics for creative entrepreneurs from Chicago headshot photographer Katharine Hannah

What is branding?

As a definition, branding is a name, product, icon, idea, etc. that is representative of a company’s service. In other words, it’s what you have to offer your customers; it’s your company statement, your promise.

Your brand is the identity of your company—it’s what draws your consumers in, whether the connection be in a literal sense (as in, they recognize your weavings for their unique style and color) or in an emotional sense. For example, a business consulting brand might trigger an emotional response, some kind of confidence that you’re drawn to. It helps you remember the brand’s service. And it keeps you wanting more.

Branding is vital, because while companies “borrow” ideas from one another and develop products that can seem all too similar, the thing that sets company A apart from company B is the branding. It’s about style.

Let’s look at an example: photographers. Two photographers who both offer personal senior portrait photography might differentiate themselves by using a particular style that moves beyond the photos themselves and tells a story about who they are and what they represent. Portrait photographer A uses only recycled materials during the printing process, while portrait photographer B includes a thoughtful thank you gift with every order. These differences will make an impact on different audiences, and that important uniqueness is what will keep the right people coming back for more.

How do you develop a memorable brand?

If you’re starting out as a creative entrepreneur and you’re unfamiliar to the world of branding, there are quite a few things that you should be aware of. We’ll walk you through the basics here:

What is the identity of your business?

In many cases, you are offering a solution to a problem. You need to find a way to make your solution seem like it is The Solution. Communicate why you are valuable. And make sure it makes sense for your particular creative business. 

Why should I use your service? Why is it any different from anybody else in the market who does a similar job?

When people think of your brand, what are the first few traits that immediately come to mind? What are the traits that you want to come to mind?

Draft, revise, and edit until you have a brand that you are proud to call your own.

Branding is process that requires patience and editing. It’s a bit like writing a story. First drafts aren’t usually that great, and the first iteration of your brand might not be either. The development of an idea can take anywhere from minutes to years, so don’t be discouraged if ideas don’t immediately come flooding out.

If you’re a small-batch illustrator, it doesn’t really make sense to make your brand revolve around convenience and speed. That’s a bit like a Toyota Corolla trying to tell consumers it’s the next big thing in professional racing. No one’s going to buy that. Your value isn’t about speed, it’s about uniqueness and one of a kind, beautiful prints and illustrations. You don’t exist to produce hundreds at once: and that’s an asset, not a liability. Embrace it and be honest with your customers. Then, the right ones will find you and appreciate what you have to offer.

Here are some questions to consider while you’re brainstorming your brand:

1. What does your brand look like? What does it sound like?

2. What messages do you want to convey to your consumers? Make sure that these promises can easily be applied to any future developments that you make in your brand.

3. What does your brand wear? You need a logo.

This is how people recognize you. This is your calling card, your ID in the industry, so make sure it’s a fantastic one. When people look at your logo, they should be able to recognize that logo, recognize your products, and understand everything your brand stands for. Check out these other great logos throughout history for some inspiration.

4. What is your tagline?

Taglines are catchy statements that embody your entire brand. They’re concise and easily recognizable.

5. What is your brand voice?

A brand voice is just as important as a well-written tagline or a well-designed logo. The brand voice is the personality of your brand; it dictates what you write and how you write it. It is crucial to remember that your brand voice must be consistent at all times.

If you’re on social media, which for most brands should be the case, your brand voice should also be used on social. For example, if you’re going to be like Wendy’s and take on the role of Clapback Queen, make sure that’s consistent.

6. How do you want to engage with your consumers?

Advocate transparency between the consumers and the brand but decide which platforms you’re going to focus on. No solopreneur has time to blaze the trail on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest at the same time, and you don’t need to. Find the platform that best fits your business and your personality, and regularly initiate a dialogue that creates positive relationships. In a world where social media is the birth place of many social justice movements, conversation is important.

According to founder and CEO of digital marketing agency Good2bsocial, Guy Alvarez, “You can no longer control your brand. The best that you can do is to participate in the conversation so that you can guide how your brand is perceived.”

What are the benefits of having a brand?

Knowing (at minimum) the basics of your brand will let you know how to communicate your products and services to potential clients, make connections with the people you want to attract, and give you a direction for where to take your brand in the future. Having a fairly clear idea of what your answers are to the questions above is invaluable for growing the business of your dreams.

When I meet with clients to plan their branding sessions, I make it a point to have them know what their brand voice and message are before we start working together - because your brand is your road map and without it you're sure to make a few wrong turns along the way.

Katharine Hannah

Katharine’s work has graced the walls of institutions such as The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, The Harold Washington Library of Chicago, and local galleries such as Dreambox Gallery, Siragus Gallery and Blick Art Materials. She has also been featured on websites such as the Huffington Post, Phlearn, Fstoppers, Tigress Magazine for Girls, Bitchtopia, and Golden Boy Press.

In addition to photography, Katharine has been a mentor and educator in the arts since 2013. She has worked with students in various organizations and projects over the last two years, including Hive Chicago’s PROjectUS initiative and Digital Youth Network’s Digital Diva’s and Chicago City of Learning programs.