Do-it-yourself design for small businesses when there is no budget

Most small businesses typically run on very limited resources, and while they all want a beautiful website, great logo, and compelling marketing materials – most are just not ready to pay professional rates to get them. Some search the web for “cheaper” options. Some have a zero budget and decide they need to go the route of do-it-yourself (diy) design. It’s not easy to do your own design work and it will take a bunch of time. It works in some cases, but be prepared to dedicate a lot of hours – and energy you could better spend on getting your business running . If you are good at figuring out how to do stuff, like to research, and are willing to do self-training – it can be done. You’ll need some creative skills, along with access to creative tools and resources (like stock media) and know how to handle production. Ok, I’ll stop trying to talk you out of doing-it-yourself and give you the help you’re looking for, after all, that’s why you’re here, right.

You have a bunch of good ideas and some creative skills, and you want to give it a shot. Here are tips to do-it-yourself design:

  • Write your copy as short and sweet as possible. It doesn’t have to be super creative, just tell your story in as few words as possible, and make it clear why the reader should do business with you.
  • Get your graphic elements elements in order, logo (if you have one), photos (royalty free stock images), and any other graphics you’ll need for the layout.
  • Pick your fonts if you don’t already have a set in your brand standards. Avoid choosing different fonts for each design, and stick to a couple families – this will allow to establish a consistent look for your brand.
  • Set your color palette (again refer to your brand standards if you already have), make sure not to choose to many, and normally start with colors in your logo and add a select few complimentary colors. Designers refer to logo colors as the primary colors, and compliment colors are secondary colors.
  • Create a grid – this provides visual layout and alignment for all elements, and it organizes your content for maximum impact – and also creates a visual flow.
  • You’ll need Adobe Creative Suite to do the job the way professionals do it. Illustrator is used for logos and vector graphics. Photoshop for image manipulation, and Indesign is layout/design application for documents.
  • Find a friend – if you know someone who has experience with this stuff – ask them if they can help, maybe buy them lunch or return the favor. They probably won’t do it all for you, but can help when you get stuck (which happens a lot when you’ve never done it before).

Basic skills needed to pull off designing stuff yourself:

  • Typography

    You’ll need to deal with text formatting and choose fonts that are part of your brand identity.

  • Color

    Choose colors that are part of your brand standards palette. Knowing how to control colors from HEX for web, RGB for video, and CMYK for print.

  • Imagery

    Finding and working with photos and graphics to create a look or tone for your brand using Photoshop and Illustrator.

  • Layout & Grids

    Arranging elements to communicate your messages takes more than just dropping copy into paragraphs. Sorry “Word” users, it takes Indesign to really do good design.

  • Eye for design

    More than anything, it takes a good eye for what looks good. Most of us take years developing really good design sense. Others never really do, they’re the ones that say “I’ll know it when I see it”.


Some Great Resources

Most professional designers don’t really start from scratch. Use inspiration as a kick-off starting point. There are also lots of good templates, themes, and vector art files that can save a lot of time and effort.

Envato Market has over 4.5 million digital products created by a global community of designers, developers, photographers, illustrators & producers.

Get inspired and look at what really good designer are doing. Sites like designspiration.net or Dribble are great showcases of top design ideas and projects. Logospire or LogoPond are great places to look for logo inspiration, or just Google logo inspiration and look at images.

Lynda.com – if you want to learn how to do stuff, I recommend you check them out. Take a look at some of the courses – you’ll see how the classes are laid out. There’s no risk to check out, watch some tutorial videos and get a sense of their effective teaching style. Lynda.com free 10-day trial