Marketlend Academy: Does your SME need a branding consultant?

Branding, where does it fit? Determining which job functions to prioritise in an SME is one of the most critical resource decisions you’ll make as a founder. The need to focus foremost on services and product development is obvious, but business experts often debate the merits of investing in strong branding.


It’s not necessarily a key factor in whether an investor may choose to fund your business, but it’s important to make a good impression. So how much money should you actually spend and who should you work with to build a reasonable branding plan? Consider some of the following factors to help you decide what’s best for your business.


What is your branding IQ?


If your idea of branding means paying a random designer $10 on Fiverr to create your logo, you might be underestimating some things. (That’s not to say this approach doesn’t magically work out well sometimes! Best of luck to you.)  Get real with yourself about how much of a priority branding needs to be in your business. Plan to invest some time. In fact, let’s pause for a moment. Complete outsourcing is not really possible when it comes to branding. This business is your passion and even the best consultant will need you to set aside a few hours a week to collaborate and extract authentic representations of your work from you. The absolute worst thing you could do is throw money at someone and expect a brand to materialize without nurturing on your end.  


How much can you expect out of your branding consultant?


At a bare minimum, a decent branding plan should involve 10-15 hours of work with a trusted professional who will create a roadmap for success. Advanced branding should be an integrated component of your overall marketing strategy. In the social media era, this usually includes a supplemental content strategy for which you would create assets like written blog content, graphics, photos, podcasts or videos. You’d also want to create a system for deploying this branded content to firmly-defined key audiences. A top-notch branding consultant should be able to help you conceptualize your aesthetic, your content and deployment strategy, and connect these efforts back to your sales funnel.   


Where can you find them?


As you begin your search, consider the merits of working with an agency versus a freelance individual. Intangibles, such as personal compatibility and working styles, are also important. Agencies offer more brain power and hands on deck; the access to a broader infrastructure can lead to increased operational smoothness and responsiveness.They are also more expensive than individuals, who often leave agencies to enjoy the benefits of self-employment. Be open-minded. Branding consultants are usually creatives who embrace flexibility.  Just be wary of anyone who presents themselves as a one-stop shop of expertise. Ask an individual who else they plan to work with on design and production, and find out if there are hidden or unanticipated costs for ancillary things like social media advertising budget on top of their fees.


The best bet is to ask colleagues for recommendations. You can also try LinkedIn searches. Sites like CloudPeeps, Dribbble, Carbonmade, and Thumbtack can also be a good bet. You may also want to research private Facebook groups for freelance creative professionals and see if you can post your job description.


How much should you invest?


Your budget will be a major factor in how things go with your branding consultant.

There are awesome, enterprising young people who are building up their portfolios willing to work for as low as $25-50/hour. A mid-career professional can run about $75/hour. Heavy-hitters will ask for $150+ hourly rates. Any of these folks might be willing to negotiate a flat rate deal with you as well. Agencies typically charge a monthly retainer from $2,500 to $10,000. Be willing to suggest a startup discount, services trade, or payment installment plan if it would allow you to work with someone you’re excited about. They might say yes!


How long should you work together?


The duration of your agreement is heavily dependent on your initial goals. A top-level evaluation from a major strategist could take a week. A first iteration and basic roadmap could be completed in 4-6 weeks. A more advanced engagement could last 3-6 months. Whatever you decide in coordination with your branding consultant, be sure to build a mid-point check in to ensure you’re on track to hit your agreed upon deliverables.