Tela Andrews - Oct 08, 2019
Branding is important to your clients and prospects. It drives growth, creates customer loyalty, and helps them stand-out in competitive markets. It's also hard to do exceptionally well, and large branding agencies justify huge fees with the results that they deliver. However, branding is just as important for small and medium businesses as it is for big businesses. This is an opportunity for consultants and small agencies. This post is about using branding software to build a successful agency or consulting business.
There is a huge population of prospective clients out there that aren't engaging agencies because they don't have the budget, but would love to invest in their brand. Creative consultants are well-positioned to fill this gap, offering branding services to their existing clients and increasing their value. We’ll show you how creative freelancers and small agencies can add branding to their offering and increase revenue per client.
Branding work from traditional agencies can be very costly, starting at $30,000 or more and going into the millions of dollars. This investment can be worthwhile and drive great results for brands with the budget, but those fees are also not affordable for many small and medium businesses. In the past, this meant smaller companies had to hire someone to create a logo and color palette, and that’s not even sufficient for a basic ebranding. The market gap for branding services up to about $30,000 is your opportunity. Everyone wins.
Expanding into branding is a smart way to grow your business. You're already a trusted consultant. If you can provide similar quality of results to branding agencies, there's the potential to grow with four-figure or five-figure engagements that you can deliver successfully in a repeatable way.
Your objective is to become a trusted part of your client's team by providing an outside perspective. If you're already helping the client with a creative project, you've been exposed to their brand and have an initial sense for their strengths and opportunities.
The discovery phase includes research, defining the scope of work, and many other activities. The goal here is to pitch and agree on a scope you can deliver in a repeatable fashion.
For example, if brand strategy is new to you, you may not want to pitch this in the scope, even if it's something that you've identified your client is missing. You might start with a brand brief, and recommend a future strategy engagement. However, if brand strategy is in your wheelhouse and the client needs this work, I wouldn't hold back mentioning this early.
Brand work requires deep discovery. You'll need to understand their client's market, their unique value proposition, ideal customer, core values, and more. Creating a brand strategy is a deep topic that we may cover in a future post. Discovering whether the client has a brand strategy (most don't) and whether they're open to help is a good starting point.
A typical workflow for a creative execution project is Brief, Strategy, Concept and Design. If your business is focused on delivering branding assets, then Concept and Design is likely where you spend most of your time. You can use branding software to deliver repeatable services to clients. It lets you:
Focus on Strategy, which commands higher fees
Support more clients, which grows your total revenue
Deliver high-quality experiences, which increases your perceived value and justifies your fees
This is a model for transitioning from small design engagements into a full-service brand offering that you can deliver to multiple clients. It's a path to a successful design business.
How you deliver brand work can differ depending on the specifics of your engagement. If you're creating a new logo or one-off creative asset, you probably don't need specialized software. If you've done some branding work, you probably use the same tools you use for a logo design on the brand strategy, like Adobe Cloud Suite, Canva, Duotone, and others. That's what the big agencies do, too.
Using these tools to create a brand strategy is your opportunity.
A typical deliverable for branding engagements is a brand book (also called brand guidelines, brand bible, brand style guide, brand lookbook...you get the idea). In the past, you might've used Adobe Illustrator to create a beautiful PDF brand guideline deliverable to your client. They'd love it. They'd struggle to operationalize it. Moreover, they'd need your help to update it, and they’d never update the guideline. It would become quickly outdated.
Software can improve your deliverables by making it easy to keep your client’s brand guidelines updated. 1Brand's brand guideline software is one of the best solutions for keeping guidelines in an easily-editable web experience that delivers functionality not possible in a PDF. Automatic logo file translation, color model translation, and easy copying / downloads add so much billable value to your business.
One note: Look for software that supports your agency’s needs, such as white labeling, client permissions, and invoicing flexibility.
Since you'll likely have regular check-ins with retainer clients, you'll have a good sense of other projects that they're thinking about implementing. You probably don't need to have a software answer for every client problem in your toolkit, but addressing the opportunities you hear most often is a good starting place. However, I encourage you to choose a core strategy of being a software-powered agency or consultant. This unlocks opportunities to scale your business while creating satisfied clients in many ways.
Charging a fixed cost for an engagement was a riskier proposition when the majority of your time was spent on producing your client’s creative deliverable. A software-driven approach makes you more efficient. It makes it possible to offer a flat-rate pricing for engagements. You'll need to be disciplined and set clear client expectations, but this approach has a few benefits:
Price Certainty: The client knows what they'll pay, and what they'll receive at the end of the engagement. This leads to satisfied clients who renew retainers and think of you for new projects.
Income Predictability: Since you know your fixed costs (the software) and time to deliver projects in a repeatable way, you'll be able to predict your income more consistently.
If you want to grow your practice, having clients on retainer is a way for you to make your income more consistent, create a deeper relationship with your clients, and get larger projects. John Doherty from Credo covers how to pitch new clients on a retainer in a recent podcast.
An organization changes over time, and so does the market it serves. A typical retainer will have a monthly check-in, which is your opportunity to ask about changes. Have you opened a new location, added a new product, or changed leadership? How are your other marketing activities working, and have you launched any new campaigns? What's changed in your business since we last talked? Any of these may have brand implications.
If there is a new product, did they create a logo for it? If there's a new location, does this change the market that they're operating in? If there's new leadership, do they understand the brand strategy?
Asking these questions makes you a valuable member of your client’s extended team — a great place to be for any freelancer. If you're engaged at this level, you can update the brand guidelines with the client as-needed. This positions you for other work. You'll want to know which software you intend to use with the client when proposing a retainer amount, so the retainer covers the cost of the software. You can easily make a profit on the software investment. A good rule of thumb is to ensure the retainer pays twice the subscription cost (in addition to your time).
There are trade-offs when using a software-driven approach. Primarily, you have some reduction in flexibility, which can sometimes feel constraining. The compromise is that you get to help more clients, and your work gets increased exposure. You also grow into new creative areas and create a business that can more easily support your goals. A software-driven strategy may or may not be your primary strategy, but having a software toolkit to support your core practice is a smart business move.
Tela Andrews is the Founder and CEO of Permanence Labs, makers of 1Brand.