Branding is a complex process that involves a number of people and trial and error.  However if you are a small business start up you likely do not have funds to hire professional branding firms or to undertake extensive market research.

So how do you establish an identity for your business that will stand out in the crowd?  First check out the competition.  See what is working for other companies similar to yours.  Do not copy them, but make notes on things they have in common.  Color is a great place to start, for instance, blue is a highly used color in many logos and websites.  Blue conveys trust and dependability and so is used to create a bond between customer and business.  Black equates with value and sophistication and thus the rise of black websites and business cards.

Use tools like Kuler from Adobe to create and select complimentary colors for logos, text and website graphics.  The site allows you to upload a photo you like and create a color palette as well as creating color mixes on the fly.  Having a firm color choice can make the web design process faster and cheaper.  Colors create the tone and can suggest a theme for your company communications.

Instead of using expensive market research, try out your brand with a small run of business cards, Facebook cover, Twitter background and mailers.  Enlist friends and family as test audience.  As you collect customers, ask for honest feedback on your marketing materials.  Ask what made them come to you or what caught their eye.  Also ask what they feel doesn’t work as this is the critical part that needs changing.

Choose a graphic designer who is comfortable creating a logo and graphics that will evolve over time and will include this in the pricing.  Don’t expect your designer to make changes for free.  Know that designers charge based on time, talent and creativity.  The combination is what causes variation between designers.  If your budget is really low, you need to consider using an intern with the expectation that the project will take longer and quality may be less.

Finally, look at your brand carefully to make sure it feels right for you and your business.  The whole point of your brand is to convey your uniqueness, if this doesn’t come through the brand fails.