How much should I spend on branding?

That’s a question I get asked a lot from startup businesses.
Unfortunately, there is no one straightforward answer.

Some people think ‘branding’ is simply a logo. Others think it is a lot more than that.

A company or product name.
A visual identity system (logo, colour, typography, other visual elements).
An entire brand story including positioning, brand message and the emotions behind it all that the company want their customers to experience.
Additional brand materials (business cards, brochures, social media imagery, signage etc).

A typical startup branding package may contain any of the above and more besides.

After all, a well-positioned, beautifully crafted brand, with a compelling story behind it, can give any startup a massive advantage in their particular marketplace. However,  a branding exercise is both time and budget critical. Over-spending, too early and the startup runs the risk of draining the business of massively important financial resources it needs for its growth. Conversely, not investing enough and the business could easily underperform its true potential and vanish in a very crowded field!

For some businesses, it makes a lot of sense to bring an outside branding specialist onboard. After all, they have the experience the job requires to help your business stand out from the crowd. In other cases, it would make a lot more sense to save money and complete your project internally. You could even try combining both of these approaches.

When I’m approached by a startup, trying to work out if an outside investment in branding is the right approach for them, there are two questions I like to ask…

Question 1: How is your startup being funded?

New businesses come in all sorts of shape and size. Some are funded from personal savings and developed while working in a full-time job elsewhere (I will refer to these as ‘pre-seed funding startups’). Some are funded by friends and wealthy family members, angels etc (I will refer to these as ‘seed-funded startups’).

Once a business has gained significant traction, it may even be able to attract investment from late-stage angels, other companies or venture capitalists (I will refer to these as ‘venture-funded startups’).

Question 2: Is the startup currently generating revenue?

All businesses have to start somewhere. Believe it or not, there was a time prior to Google and Amazon making their first penny. So you should be really proud of wherever you currently are on your startup journey. However, you should use your current financial position and outlook to make a sensible and responsible decision on when, how and how much you want to spend on your branding.

PRE-SEED FUNDING STARTUP

If you are using your hard earned savings to develop your business, an excellent rule of thumb would be to spend NO MORE THAN 5-15% of your total startup funds on your branding project.

For example: If you are spending a total of £30,000 on the entire startup business, try to spend NO MORE THAN £1,500-£4,500 of that on your branding. If you are lucky enough to have a startup budget of £100,000, look at spending NO MORE THAN £5,000 – £15,000. If you have £0 to invest, 5-15% of £0 is £0. Don’t worry. There will always be time to make a bigger investment once you are generating revenue.

If your business is one where ‘brand is everything’ such as a new clothing/fashion company, you may want to spend more than the suggested 15%. we have heard of some startups spending up to 50% of their entire startup budget, but these should be very few and far between and should only happen in the rarest of situations. If you do decide to spend over the 15% suggested limit, PLEASE do so carefully. You do not want to spend a lot on branding only to find you don’t have enough left for other important parts of your business such as product development, infrastructure, sales, marketing etc.

If you only have £100 to spend in the early days, I would most definitely suggest buying books on the subject of branding. These can help educate yourself and your team in the branding process and why it is so very important to get it right from the start. It could make the difference between sinking into the mire or your little startup becoming the next Apple.

At this early stage of the game, most startups can get by with basic brand assets such as logo/name, basic visual identity, basic positioning/messaging and a good website and domain name.

By using readily available web building tools such as WordPress, you can save some money but still have a website that you will be proud to have represent you and your brand, and all for a very reasonable price.

Your logo and visual identity are a little harder to do inexpensively unless you know a designer or have basic design skills yourself. Some people may point you in the direction of sites such as 99designs.com, however, we really don’t like this sort of design competition. Sure you can get a logo designed for as little as £200-£300 but it also means a lot of people end up doing a lot of work that they don’t get paid for! We strongly believe a professional designer should be fairly compensated for the amount of work they put into a project, otherwise its not fair and certainly not efficient. Also, you would miss out on building a long-term relationship with a particular designer, which can yield unexpected and very valuable results.

And if you decide to create your own logo/brand, the only things we can say are: keep it simple, maybe just a text treatment and one or two basic colours. You can always expand from this base gradually over time.

SEED-FUNDED STARTUPS

Startups that have received over £100,000 in seed funding or are earning revenue in excess of £250,00 per year are ideal candidates for investing in outside help with branding. The same rules apply to seed-funded startups in that you should still not be spending more than 5-15% of your total startup budget on a branding exercise. But as the initial startup budget is a lot higher, the available budget for branding related projects should be robust enough that it makes a lot of sense to bring in branding specialists or even external freelancers.

VENTURE-FUNDED STARTUP

If your startup has been funded to the tune of £1,000,000 or more, and you haven’t yet made an outside investment in branding, you really should consider hiring a professional firm to help you. Look for a company that has significant experience in the branding field. Finding the right fit is key.

Yes, there will be many exceptions to the guidelines you see above. This post was simply intended to give you a very rough guide to the cost of typical branding projects.

Yes, you may happen to come across a branding Einstein who may be willing to do the work for a lot less… Lucky You!

Yes, you may fall in love with an in-demand agency who are willing to charge you two, three or four times the amounts I have outlined above. This post was designed to give you something to compare quotes you receive, and to help plan your budget.

Final Thought: There is a massive difference between using a global branding agency and a small independent company. Obviously, the price you are charged will vary greatly between the two. Just remember this… size does not matter (!) as much as skills and experience.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me (studio@dominicsinclair.co.uk). If I get any interesting questions, I may add them in a Q&A feature attached to this post, or, if the questions warrant it, I may write another post concentrating on your question.