5 Questions to Ask a Branding Specialist
I am surprised by how often people reach out to ask for my pricing but they don’t ask any other questions. When shopping around for a branding specialist or logo designer, you will likely find a wide range of pricing. This is because not all graphic designers are created equal. Make sure you ask the following questions to ensure that you know EXACTLY what you will be getting for your investment BEFORE signing a contract or putting down a deposit.
1. What is your process?
It always shocks me when I hear horror stories about the graphic designer who takes someone’s deposit and then starts sketching up logo concepts without first doing their research and asking a ton of questions. Run for the hills! For real. The branding process should be COLLABORATIVE. What do I mean by that? Well, let’s get specific.
My process works like this:
First I send the client access to their client portal, which is a hidden link on my website, specific to each client. In the portal, the client can access all the links, forms and files they will need throughout the branding design process. (The purpose of the portal is to keep the project very organized and to eliminate so many emails back and forth.) In the portal, the client fills out a lengthy branding questionnaire, which covers their business plans and goals, target demographic, and aesthetic questions.
The next step is a collaborative Pinterest board, which I set up for the client and myself to share. I recommend each client pins at least 20 pins, which will serve as inspiration for the overall tone and style of the brand. The pins can be photos, color palettes, logos, patterns, textures, illustrations… anything that conveys the tone or aesthetic that the client wants to convey through their new brand.
Once I have each client’s questionnaire answers and their 20 pins, I go over everything with a fine tooth comb to see if I have any questions about what they have sent. Then I use those materials to create a mood board for the brand, which typically includes 9 images laid out on a grid. Then I ask the client to approve the mood board. It is not until the mood board has been approved by the client that I finally sit down and start sketching up logo concepts.
PRO TIP: Ask the designer you’re considering hiring if they will be comfortable giving you honest feedback, even if they think your ideas are taking the project down a wrong path. I believe it’s half of my job as a branding specialist to be straight forward with my clients, especially when I am concerned that their feedback or suggestions are negatively affecting the project.
2. How many initial logo concepts will I get? Do you provide unlimited rounds of revisions?
This question is so important and let me explain why. There are a lot of graphic designers out there who will price logo design way too low, but typically their package includes something along the lines of “3 initial concepts and 2 rounds of revisions.” Let me tell you coming from someone who has spent the last six years helping entrepreneurs turn their businesses into brands through logo design, THAT IS NOT ENOUGH.
Despite my thorough pre-design process described above, the chances of a client choosing a logo from the first, second, or even third round of revisions is EXTREMELY RARE. Maybe it has happened 3 times out of a hundred. The reality is, most people don’t know exactly what they want or like until they see it. I truly believe in order to do my job thoroughly, I need to explore and show my clients a great number of the options so they can be 100% sure that the final logo is perfect for their needs. The last thing I want is someone walking away from our experience together wondering what else could have been if we had just done a few more rounds. Also remember, your logo is the ONE element of your brand that you really do not want to change over time, if possible. My Brand Identity Package includes 6 initial logo concepts and unlimited rounds of revisions.
3. What is included in your brand package?
I can’t tell you how many times I have met someone who hired a “professional designer” to create a “brand” for them, but ended up with only a low-res JPEG, which literally can’t be used for anything. I don’t mean to sound like a snob but PLEASE do your research! A true brand package from an experienced, legitimate designer or brand stylist will include the following:
A timeless logo that reflects you and your business, and will appeal to your target market. As a general rule of thumb with logos, less is more. Don’t get too crazy with details, you will have opportunities for that elsewhere within your brand. Your logo must work in black and white as well as in color. Stay away from designs that are too trendy, because what’s trending right now will feel very outdated in a few short years. I can’t reiterate enough that you can’t go wrong with something classic and simple. Also, if you choose a script or calligraphy style logo, make sure it is easy to read. You don’t people to be unable to decipher what your business name is.
A color palette that you can use both in your online presence as well as your physical space (if you have one.) I recommend staying away from what everyone else in your industry is doing with color because being different will make you stand out. Also, keep in mind that your favorite color might not be the best color for your brand. Remember, you want your brand identity to reflect you, but you also want it to attract your target clients. If your target audience is mostly men, don’t use baby pink. Ya know?
Additional brand elements or accents, such as patterns, textures, and icons. These elements will work hand in hand with the logo and color palette to further convey your brand’s personality. Check out Creative Market and filter by graphics or patterns to get ideas and inspiration. We always customize our patterns and textures so that they are uniquely our clients’. PRO TIP: Think about how you can tie your online brand identity to your brick and mortar business or physical space. They should feel like one and the same. Don’t forget about icons; they are great for Instagram story highlight covers.
Supplemental brand fonts, which should be different from your logo font(s). You will use them on all branded collateral to keep everything consistent. Brand consistency will make you look like a pro who knows what you’re doing. I typically include a font for headers, a font for body copy, and often a script or calligraphy style font to use sparingly for fun accents.
Business cards that include the following:
• Your first & last name
• Your job title
• Your business location or mailing address (unless you have an online-only business)
• Your contact info, including phone number & email address
• Your social media handle(s) and hashtag(s) so clients can follow and interact with you on Instagram and whatever other social platforms you are using to promote your business
4. What are your credentials?
I have a feeling I am going to get some backlash for this next part, so I want to preface it by saying I don’t think college is for everyone. Some of the most successful people I know did not go to college and I say, more power to them.
Having said that, here’s my advice. When you hire a branding specialist or logo designer, you should ask them about their credentials in terms of both education and work experience. You might feel uncomfortable asking this, but don’t be! It’s always important to know what sort of education and experience someone has before you hire them. Look at it this way. Would you go to a doctor without confirming they are an MD, or even get a facial from someone without an esthetician’s license? I know I wouldn’t. I also know I wouldn’t be as strong of a designer today if I hadn’t gone to college and gotten my bachelor’s degree in graphic design.
Here’s the thing. There is no degree required to become a graphic designer and there is no license required to operate as one. Which means anyone with a laptop and some design software can call themselves a professional designer. Unfortunately this means there are a lot of quacks out there who have no idea what they are doing and, although they will most likely be the cheaper option, there are a lot of risks you take when you hire someone who is self-taught. The biggest risk is that the design you end up with will look amateur and using it could ultimately tarnish your business and reputation. Remember you only have ONE CHANCE to make a first impression. You want it to be damn good. Another scary risk is that you could run into legal issues if they use fonts without the proper licensing or photography that they haven’t purchased the rights to. Then there are the technical risks, such as a designer using Photoshop to create logos instead of Illustrator. I won’t go into details on that but trust me, it’s bad.
I do want to point out that I know one self-taught graphic designer who is very talented. However, most of the time, that doesn’t seem to be the case. I can always tell the difference between work done by a designer with an art degree versus someone who is self-taught.
Education isn’t everything though. If someone didn’t go to school for graphic design, but they have years of agency experience working as a graphic designer, they are probably legitimate and you will be fine. This is why you have to ask questions.
I also recommend tacking on these two additional questions:
• What relevant projects have you done?
• Do you have other clients in my industry?
5. Do you have any testimonials I can read?
Knowing a designer’s education and experience is important, but you also want to know what it will actually be like if you hire them. That’s where testimonials come in handy. It’s extremely useful to hear first hand from other clients what their experience was like. Ask the designer if they have a Yelp page or a page with testimonials on their website.
I hope you find this blog post helpful when shopping for a branding/logo specialist like myself. If you would like to talk about the steps required to turn your business into a BRAND, I would love to share more of my knowledge with you. Feel free to send me an email. I am currently booking new clients for November, December and January. Happy shopping!
Hey! I’m Gretchen.
I'm a bi-coastal graphic designer turned branding specialist who lives in yoga pants and is fueled by pizza and red wine. I will use any excuse to travel and I LOVE teaching other female entrepreneurs everything I've learned about branding and digital marketing in the last four years of full-time self-employment. When I'm not in my design studio, you can find me cooking, sipping on red wine, listening to jazz, and spending quality time with family & friends.