Logo_body.jpgby Iris Dorbian.

When New Jersey native Jessica Hausner launched her picture framing business Artisan Gallery Framers two and a half years ago, she did so with a hastily put together logo she was less than enamored with.

"I felt like it didn't represent my business very well," she recalls. "It felt a little stiff, almost like a logo for a college or a corporation."

Frustrated, Hausner began scouring other sites to check out their logos.

"I knew what I wanted my logo to say about my business which was sophisticated, but not uptight," she explains. "I also wanted it to reflect my artistic side, considering I'm first and foremost an artist and am in an art business. But I didn't necessarily know what I wanted [the logo] to look like, so looking at what others created was a big help."

Then inspiration struck when Hausner saw a logo from another business, this one in the health and wellness space. Although not in the same industry as her own business, Hausner says the logo's “fun, bright and whimsical” qualities resonated with her.

Through a referral from the business owner, a former classmate, Hausner subsequently got in contact with the graphic designer. After discussing myriad concepts via e-mail, the designer presented Hausner with a logo that was perfectly aligned with the image she wished to convey of her business.

Having worked on logos for a number of small businesses, Jon Feagain, an art director at the Houston-based Adhere Creative, a branding and marketing firm, says Hausner's sentiment is exactly what every small business owner should feel about his or her company logo. “It's an extension of your business," he says. "Often your logo is your first interaction with a client. Potential clients will look up your company online before they ever interact with you. So your perceived view of who you are is often based on your logo and your website."

Here are several best practices for small business owners needing guidance on how to find or develop the ideal logo:

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Consider your audience
Before you sit down with a designer and start hashing out concepts, ask yourself the following question: who is your target market or who do you wish your target market to be? Then frame your vision around those demographics.

Feagain says this takeaway is imperative for any small business thinking about creating a logo.

“A logo is the face of your company and therefore it needs to match your mission statement,” he explains.

To prove his point, he recounts an example involving a local client Relative Home Systems, which specializes in home theater design and installation.

“When they came to us, they had a logo based on an entirely different audience than who their target market was,” he relates.

According to Feagain, the company's logo looked “corporate and stale,” which clashed with the idea of the business being “digital and edgy.” Also, the logo's look was at odds with the target market Relative Home Systems was going after—the affluent homeowner.

After conducting focus group sessions with this demographic, Adhere Creative presented various concepts to Relative Home Systems. Eventually, a design was chosen by the client that reflected both the client's perception of the business and its target audience.

Always choose a professional to create your logo
It might be tempting for some financially pinched small business owners to avoid paying a professional by attempting to craft a logo from a generic software program. The experts say it’s best to avoid this route.

“There is a level of refinement in developing a logo that can only be achieved using professional design software,” says Palm Beach, Florida-based advertising veteran Gil Lavelanet. As president of Intermatch Marketing, he feels small business owners should seek out professional services within their budget. “Even a less experienced designer is better than someone with no design experience,” he says.

Just as Artisan Gallery Framers' Hausner did, Lavelanet urges small business owners to solicit recommendations from fellow business owners about designers they've used. See if their fees are within your budget.

“Typically, the more experienced the designer, the higher the cost,” notes Lavelanet.

However, if money is a sticking point, Hausner advises business owners to check out crowd-sourced marketplaces, such as 99designs, in which designers submit competing designs in response to a customer's request. The business owner can set a cap on the price he or she is willing to pay for the design. For small business owners on a tight budget, this could be an attractive alternative to the traditional, but far more costly, route of using a design firm or a seasoned professional. 

Keep logo simple and uncluttered
If you need better proof of this maxim, consider Apple's fabled logo—a silhouette of an apple with a bite taken out of it. The image has become so universally identified with the tech heavyweight that it has caused the public to forge a deep and visceral bond with the brand as a result. Similarly, Google's classic homepage, with its stark and unabashed simplicity, is another example.

Even if you have no ambition about becoming the next Silicon Valley giant, it is important to steer clear of fanciful designs or elaborate fonts.

Lavelanet strongly agrees, citing not only the lessons learned by Apple but in general “any large company in the last 20 to 50 years.”

He also warns against incorporating photos in logos. If you must, do it “only if it's absolutely essential to your branding,” he says. (And, of course, use only high resolution images that will not pixilate if reduced or enlarged.) Lavalanet recalls a medical startup that pulled Leonardo DaVinci's “Vitriuvian Man” drawing from the Web “because it was interesting and free in the public domain” and used it in their logo.

Although the idea might have worked in theory, it didn't in practice.  
 


“The rough and blurry lines of that image consistently posed many problems when printing, especially when being reduced onto a T-Shirt or hat,” continues Lavalanet.

Whether your company is a small retail storefront or a multinational healthcare corporation, a logo is the face of your business and the cornerstone of your branding. Treat it with the gravitas it deserves and it may lead you to the audience you desire.