Early stage company? How much should you invest in your branding?

When you’re just starting out, branding can be a huge expense amongst all of the other associated costs with starting a business. But it doesn’t have to be.

In the early stages of your brand journey, there is a whole lot of discovery and trial & error. So what you think your brand is going to look like at the very start, might not be what it ends up looking like.

Here's an example to illustrate: someone starting a vegan cake shop might initially think their target audience will relate to a lot of natural, organic looking visuals (a green, rustic look). But they find their audience actually respond more to an edgy and bright (confetti like) approach when it comes to their visuals.

This is where it is good to use an experimental, proof-of-concept type approach where you can invest a little, and be agile enough to change and adapt according to your real life findings.

Research and speculation can only get you so far, the real juice is in the actual interaction and feedback from the field.

Not all branding is equal

Branding isn’t just your logo, colours and how your brand looks. Your brand is made up of a lot of different aspects, that all come together into one.

The parts of your brand that we can see (your logo, colours and accompanying visuals: the visual identity), are the tangible assets. So it’s easy to equate this to the most important aspect of your brand, and allocate the bulk of the budget here. But investing in your visual identity should come later, when you've solidified your intangible branding.

It is nice to have an amazingly designed brand that really stands out, but in the early stages, what is more important are the intangible parts of your brand.

The intangible parts of your brand means the parts you can’t touch or really see. That is: what it stands for, its promise, how your customers feel when they interact with your brand... the whole experience.

Check out my iceberg post for more on tangible and intangible branding.

All of these things involve a lot of thinking and discovery - this is the brand strategy and positioning.

And the good thing about this part is that a lot of it has to be done by you and your team, without spending anything. Good brand designers can really help you with this process, but in the early stages, you can 100% DIY it.

There are a lot of resources out there to help you work out your brand’s position in the market, and to help you define what your brand means. The most important part is just being clear and consistent.

Keep it simple and don’t be tempted to over complicate your offering. Have one simple message and stick to it in everything you do.

The different levels of branding

1. Ideas stage (cost: your time)

Here you are just working out what your brand is and this just takes a lot of time and thinking. You need to understand who your brand is and who it is for.

Start by defining what makes your brand different from your competitors, work out who your audience is, why they love your brand over others, and where your brand is positioned in the market. Define your one simple message and know what you stand for.

These things might change as your brand grows and finds its unique place in the world.

2. Initial identity stage (cost $1,000 - $5,000)

Before you’ve even launched anything, you’ll probably want some kind of visuals to go along with what you’re going to be putting out. While it might be nice to get this nailed down perfectly before you launch, not all early stage businesses have the budget for a full strategy, positioning and branding exercise with a designer or agency.

Plus things can change as you make discoveries and grow, so it’s good to not invest a huge amount before you have proof of concept. 

At this stage, you probably only need a logo, basic visuals and maybe a simple website. 

3. Educated branding stage (cost: $5,000 - $50,000+)

You fully understand your brand’s position, have proven the market fit and have started a relationship with your audience. You have the confidence (and potentially investment money) now to spend on a professional designer or agency to really get into the visual design and strategy of your brand.


So, while you can spend a lot on branding, you don’t have to.

It makes much more sense to only invest what is appropriate to your stage in business. When you’re just getting started with your idea, your investment should be time, rather than money.

Spend time understanding what your brand stands for and where it fits in the market. Make sure you know your unique message, and test out the concept until you have the confidence and evidence to spend on your visual identity.

TLDR? Check out my wee video on this topic: