5 Free Tools to Build a Compelling Online Brand (Even if You’re Design Challenged)
If you are rebranding, or just creating your brand, this article is for you! We’ll assume you have identified your ideal client or customer and zeroed in on what you want to be known for. If not, I’ll be telling you about a solution that will help you zero in your market and clarify and refine your message at the end of the guide; but first, let’s take a look at five easy-to-use, time-saving tools that will help you create your style, your graphics … your online brand.
1. Create Your Brand Board
Top brands don’t just rely on notes or digital files to record branding information like the CMYK or HEX values of colours: Their graphic designer or web designer usually creates them a physical, conceptual brand board, where everyone can see at a glance all the visual, repeating elements that go into the brand.
A brand board should also be a vision board. It should create more than just a design or colour or logo. It should create a mood or atmosphere. It should stir feelings in your visitor (the right feelings; the ones you want your right visitor to have).
The best brand boards tell a story and give a strong and correct impression of what your company and you are all about.
But it should also set your basic visual information.
- The company logo
- Web colours (codes as well as actual sample swatches of colour)
- Fonts for the website, sales pages, image quotes, et cetera (and examples of same)
- Cover photos
And remember to create your own customized graphic buttons and bars, like this one:
(It’s the fine detail stuff such as customized buttons with specific calls to action, and repetitive web colours and fonts that help create a polished, professional impression in the minds of your visitors.)
And here’s a bonus tool link I’ll give you right now: To create buttons such as the one in our example—customised with your fonts and colours—simply visit DaButtonFactory (https://dabuttonfactory.com/) and create a gorgeous, polished button on the spot.
You don’t have to go through hoops to sign up and it is absolutely free to use. In fact, you can embed the little app into your WordPress site to create custom buttons even more quickly.
Use this Worksheet at the end of this guide both as a branding checklist, and to record your choices.
Start by finding inspiration for your brand look by making your own brand inspiration board on Pinterest. Here you can assemble a collection of images that convey the look and feel you like. Include colours that speak to you, photos that make you feel a certain way (relaxed, happy, energised, etc), even signs and other graphics that capture your attention. Include all the elements you need, and also include inspirational photos and personal photos that reinforce your persona and brand.
You can keep your board Secret, by merely toggling the switch you will see; or make it public and let everyone see it if you want to include your board as part of your reach-growing strategies.
If you make your board public, your pins will be searchable whenever people Google your name + Pinterest. If you have a well-built board, people will see your images as well as text entries, when they search for you.
So, you can see why it’s important to always use your brand colours, fonts or elements, right?
Be sure to brand your profile on Pinterest as soon as you can. When creating your profile, if you’re not branding yourself as a public figure, use your brand name (so people can easily find you).
- Website URL
- Short bio
- Logo (as the profile picture)
As well as cover photos for each of your separate boards.
Don’t attempt to do this piecemeal. Adding the odd graphic whenever you feel like it will result in a non-cohesive presence. Create a batch of graphics up front, as part of this step-by-step process, to represent your brand.
Creating a batch of graphics all at once will save you time because you’ll have all your resources open and handy—there’ll be no hunting for files or looking up colours later. And creating your batch in one go will make it easy for you to compare them, to judge the overall feel of the batch; and whether or not any single graphic feels out of place. You can ask yourself questions like, “Do I need more of my signature blue or is this going to feel like overkill?”
You can also look at your whole batch before uploading them and decide how they make you feel. You might catch yourself saying things like, “You know what? I’m really not a purple person: I need to rethink this colour scheme”; or, “I know what the problem is: The orange I’m using should have fewer red-tones in it and more of the yellow.”
When your board graphics consistently reflect your board colour palette, fonts, styles and emotional “message”, you will stand out from the crowd. (Ironic, isn’t it? To stand out from the sea of other entrepreneurs, be rigidly consistent with some things. But it works!)
This happens because you’re using repetition. The average person is not going to be able to look at one of your image quotes and say, “My, she’s so brilliant for always using HEX #5AAFFF as her main blue colour”, she’s just going to look, subliminally recognise “your” colour and say, “Oh, that’s so-and-so”; or “Oh, that’s the Saturday Starlight Coach”; or whatever you’ve branded yourself as.
If you’d like to learn more about using Pinterest to create focused brand vision boards, there’s lots of information on the net.
If you haven’t been using Pinterest, start today. Use it for everything from your vision board, to your brand board, to sharing image quotes, infographics, tips and relevant personal images with your more visual-oriented visitors.
So, that’s our first important tool for branding your business:
TOOL #1 Pinterest. https://pinterest.com
2. Choose Your Brand Colours
The colours on your website, stationery, communications and cover photos can say a lot about you or your brand. They can give your ideal audience clues that you are playful, fun, focused, formal, and trustworthy or any one of several predominant interpretations of who you are.
They can also subtly trigger a perception of specific emotions in people—mostly based on whether or not colours excite or calm the eye.
Cool colours are considered calming, though you do have to watch they don’t go too far in that direction. If you choose the wrong cool colours, they can feel depressing or dispassionate.
Warm colours are considered exciting: Which is great if your ideal visitor is an action-taker with a zest for getting on with things and having fun in the process … but if your website is intended to convey a sense of formality or focus on trustworthiness and calm, warm colours might not be the best choice.
When choosing a colour palette for your website, take into account:
- Background colour
- Text colours
- Logo colours
- Bar or sidebar colours
Less is always more. Two to four brand colours work best—but you can go as high as five, as long as no more than three are your main ones.
Let’s take a look at particularly well-branded sites:
The celebrity queen of social media (and Facebook in particular) almost needs no branding, since she outstrips everyone else in North America in reach and authority, but she still always seems to work her trademark blue, white and turquoise into her main graphics—note the shade of turquoise (or aqua, if you prefer) in her background and coffee mug and the blue dress. And there is her blue-and-white logo.
These cool shades are a good choice because trust it the main cornerstone of why people follow her, plus she tends to be left-brained and focus on platform facts. Her status is so immense, she now spices certain product covers and posts up and sometimes dresses in hot colours when she is presenting at large events, depending on her topic, the venue and the crowd; but when you are starting out with visibility, it is better to stick to your brand colours as much as possible.
This clean, vibrant palette by Mark Dearman perfectly combines warm accent colours with a clean blue background to make for a crisp and professional, but very welcoming palette. Try using colours that have a high contrast against each other for that clean effect. Red, orange and yellow promise a lively, action-centred website, all tied together with the contrasting green.
He makes use of contrast of extension. This happens when certain colours—like green and hot colours—are so advancing, a little of them goes a long way: Hence the large areas of green.
His colours are perfectly chosen for his strategy-and-implementation focused niche members.
- The Martin Agency
And then, this striking website design by The Martin Agency uses muted gold and off-white tones contrasted against sharper blacks and whites to create a stunning contrast. Simple, minimal, and elegant, this palette is perfect for any sophisticated design you may embark upon. This branding mirrors their business personality perfectly: Artistic, creative, playful, non-conformist and unique.
A quick note about colour palettes
CMYK colours are what is known in the graphic design industry as “print colours”, based on pure inks (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black), with “K” being the code for black, which absorbs all colours).
RGB colours are based on Red, Blue and Green. RGB is the default for many graphics software programs—though many of these also allow you to select a CMYK setting.
(If you’ve ever wondered why your Amazon book-cover colours look duller and different when you get a print proof of your book, this can not only be because your monitor is not perfectly calibrated, but because you or your designer used RGB colours instead of CMYK.)
Put careful thought into your brand colours. What do you want them to say about you? How do you want people to feel when they say your branding? What do you want them to think of? Those are the two main questions to ask yourself when selecting brand (or re-brand) colours.
Here’s another bonus tool: Use the W3schools.com free colour picker (https://www.w3schools.com/colors/colors_picker.asp) to instantly see how various standard text colours and styles will display against colours you’re considering.
And if you don’t remember art class and the colour wheel, Adobe has you covered. Just enter your starting colour and then play with the options for complimentary, contrasting, and other options, the Adobe interactive Colour Wheel ( https://color.adobe.com/create/color-wheel/ ), which you can use to automatically select various types of harmonious colour themes and schemes.
Simply select the type and number of colours you want in your brand in the left-hand sidebar to select the type of colour scheme. Then use the sliders inside the circle to achieve the right result.
Push any or all sliders toward the centre for softer tones. (You’ll see the suggested colour combination web codes in CMYK, RGB, HEX and other formats in the bar sections at the bottom of the screen.)
TOOL # 2—ADOBE COLOUR WHEEL: https://colour.adobe.com/create/colour-wheel/
3. Choose Your Online Brand Fonts
Typography is a critical part of your overall brand, and you can’t just throw two (or three or five) fonts together and call it good. There’s an art to great-and-memorable font pairings.
Just like colours, your fonts should reflect your brand.
Fonts can be playful. Fonts can suggest movement, stability, fun, informality, trustworthiness and more.
You can use serif fonts (fonts with the extra bits on each letter) or sans-serif—those without. But by far the two most important rules, when choosing fonts for your website, materials or logo:
- Never mix serif and sans-serif fonts
- Make sure whatever fonts you choose, they are nice and clear and easy to read.
(You need to think how things would look in all capital letters too when choosing fonts! There are times you will want to use all caps.)
Currently unpopular fonts—meaning you should avoid them because they are over-used and the first choice of design newbies—are Papyrus and Comic Sans MS.
Ones that are currently in vogue: Gill Sans MS, Calibri, Georgia and Maiandra.
You can also use only one font throughout your whole website, varying it with size, heaviness or colour … but you should never use more than two actual fonts, in total.
Whatever font choices you make, however, ensure your fonts are easy to read and reflect your brand personality.
To shortcut the process and choose professional-looking fonts with assurance, first go to Canva’s Design School article for instant samples of Canva fonts.
After you’ve gained an idea of the types of fonts that work for you, visit our third tool, Canva Font Combinations. This font-combination web app makes font selection easy by putting together various well-designed font themes for you.
All you do is:
- Choose a font you like from the drop-down menu in the text-field box
- Look at the suggested font combinations and examples that pop up
Then make your decision!
TOOL # 3—CANVA FONT COMBINATIONS: https://www.canva.com/font-combinations/
4. Design Your Logo
It’s best to hire a graphic designer who specialises in logos if you want to create a brand that will stick with you for a long time.
If you want to design your own logo for free, there is a wonderful, inexpensive shortcut you can use that will be able to give you instant results.
First, however, get a feel for what logo design is … and isn’t.
- A logo is a simple graphic mark that instantly makes people think of the name of your online brand.
It can be all graphic, all typography … or a combination of the two.
It should “speak” to your specific ideal client.
It needs to be clear and easy to recognise in very small sizes.
It isn’t a complex illustration (these lose definition when reduced in size, and don’t convey your brand message at a glance.)
Any logo you create should also be branded by including your main brand colours.
For example, Pathfinder Advantage uses an arrow motif as its logo, incorporating its three main brand colours.
It also usually pairs this graphic emblem with its name and tagline (“#GetMoreClientsOnline”).
This deceptively simple logo combines striking colours that are active, bold and fun. The arrow indicates direction and growth, which echoes the tag-line message.
Study great logos. Look for simple, classic designs that tell a story and evoke a feeling or emotion. Be sure your logo will look good on light or dark backgrounds, and in large or small format. Consider creating multiple versions to fit every situation (e.g. a square or round version of your normally rectangular logo)
A great way to do all this in a matter of minutes—literally—is to visit FreeLogoServices ( https://www.freelogoservices.com/ ) and complete their simple, four-step process. (This will literally take you seconds.)
- Enter your text
- Select a design element (e.g. “Leaf”)
- Customise your logo
- Save your files
You will instantly be served up multiple variations. If you like one of these, simply license it for £29.95. That’s all there is to it!
TOOL # 4—FREE LOGO SERVICES: https://www.freelogoservices.com
5. Create Your Online Brand Elements
While you are working on your online brand refresh or set up, take care of all your basic brand elements too. This encompasses items such as your:
- Facebook page cover
- LinkedIn background
- Blog graphics
- Instagram images
- Twitter background
- Image quotes
And any other graphic or text element that contributes to the desired image of your business and what it means.
Again, there’s a great way to shortcut this creation process. Choose and re-use templates you can customize, again and again, to create brand consistency. Do this, and people will be able to instantly recognize, say, for example, your image quotes … without even reading your name, just from the look and the repetitive elements of your template.
You don’t even have to create your own templates: Just be sure make a note (or a screenshot) of which ones you choose. Make sure you also include your fonts and colours on your main brand Pinterest board or physical board.
You can do all this, even if you don’t have a creative bone in your body, with Canva ( https://www.canva.com/ ). This graphics creation web app gives you templates for almost any type of branding purpose:
- Photo collages
- Kindle covers
- Album covers
- Facebook posts
- Twitter posts
- Pinterest posts
And almost any other type of promotional or presentation graphic you can think up.
A free Canva account can serve all your branding design needs, but if you wish, you can also upgrade to a business account. It’s not expensive $12.95 per month—and doing so makes managing your online brand even easier, by allowing you:
- Access to 300,000 free photos and illustrations
- The ability to organize your designs and upload into unlimited folders
- Advanced team sharing (more than ten team members)
- Use Magic Resize to quickly adapt designs for differing social media platforms
- The ability to upload and save your own brand colours, logo and fonts
- Your own photo folders
Best of all, Canva is easy as pie to use.
Canva also provides wonderful resources. We’ve already talked about Canva font combinations (our Tool # 3) and Canva design school resources.
Not only can you check out a whole array of Design School tutorials ( https://designschool.canva.com/tutorials/ )…
…You can also with one simple click in your left-hand Canva vertical menu, ask Canva for design inspiration ( https://www.canva.com/design-stream ) too.
You’ll be able to scroll through literally hundreds of Canva design creations to find styles you like, colour combinations that would work for your online brand, formats for infographics, great font combinations and more. So that’s our final recommendation.
TOOL # 5—CANVA: https://canva.com
That’s only five tools, but all are incredibly easy to use. You need no design skills, no huge learning curve—and you can get all your branding elements done in one easy go, as well as decide on a powerful, professional look for your brand.