small business branding

Find Your Sound: 3 Tips for Building a Loyal Customer Following

Find Your Sound: 3 Tips for Building a Loyal Customer Following

How does an Icelandic rock band (who once released an album sung entirely in gibberish) win multiple awards and go on to be one of the most consistent, successful bands in alternative music worldwide? It sounds improbable. In fact, it sounds downright strange. But that’s kind of their secret…

To Go Big: Go Small

To Go Big: Go Small

You may have noticed something different at your local grocery store recently. You've probably also seen it in the restaurants in your city or even the local liquor store. It's something downright radical: Local Alternatives...

Affordable Online Graphic Design Tools For Small Business Owners

Investing in a talented, professional graphic designer is a must for a small business owner. Good design can take your business to the next level and truly affects consumer attitude toward your brand. However, keeping a graphic designer on speed dial can be pricey and Adobe Photoshop even pricier, so learning a few design basics and taking advantage of the Internet's array of free (and affordable) tools can help trim your costs. With just a little elbow grease, you can learn to use the versatile branding package created by your graphic designer to its full potential. You can conserve your design dollars for hiring out large projects and avoid dipping into that budget every time you just want to throw a logo overlay on top of one of your inventory photos or put together a simple discount card.

We've rounded up several of our favorite tutorials, tricks and tools for DIY graphic design.

skillshare poster

Free Online Design Tools:

Canva: This Australian company offers our favorite free design tools out there. It's very new, so it's not perfect—but it's close. You can do almost anything with Canva, but their editable templates are where they shine. They have seemingly endless templates for everything from social media icons to presentation slides, and countless shapes, text boxes and illustrations to add. They also have a library full of stock images that you can use for just $1 each (that charge is stored for 24 hours, so you can use that image in unlimited designs for that time period). Canva saves your designs in progress and keeps them in your account library, so you don't have to worry about losing your work. We've created everything from polished invitations to funky blog images with this site—it's an incredibly powerful site.

PicMonkey: PicMonkey is nice because it has a little bit of everything—photo editing, collages, creating simple designs, etc. Compared to Canva, PicMonkey is lacking in a couple areas, but it does come out on top if you are starting with a photo. You can add text and image overlays (like your logo) and you don't even have to have an account to use the site. Most important features are available for free, but you gain access to premium fonts and more through their paid Royale account, which is only $33 each year.

Design Tutorials & Other Affordable Resources:

Skillshare: Skillshare offers affordable online classes taught by industry leaders for all sorts of design topics like calligraphy and hand lettering (great for shop signage!), general branding and Adobe software tutorials. For small business owners, they also have a whole department of Entrepreneurship classes as well, including "Succeeding on Kickstarter," "Intro to Web Design: Friendly Design for Startups and Small Business" and Seth Godin's class, "The New Business Toolbox: Help Your New Business Do It Right The First Time." If you plan on taking multiple classes, consider their $9.95/month membership.

Lynda: We haven't tried Lynda out quite yet, but we are very impressed with the course catalog. They have hundreds of e-learning programs that are focused around design, animation, video, etc. They offer monthly memberships for $25/month, with new courses available weekly (though we imagine the extensive course list will keep you busy for a while!).

Do you use different online graphic design tools? Let us know which one in the comments!

Visual Merchandising: How Does Color Affect A Customer?

We talk a lot about inventory management in our blog, but we also love to delve into ways to help you actually sell that inventory. In the world of business owners looking to market their products, color is one of the pillars of visual merchandising. For some businesses, color is one of the most powerful tools that can attract customers and subtly encourage them to buy. Why is visual merchandising with color so important?

store window

Color effects mood.

A person's mood can have a huge effect on buying decisions, so choosing the right color scheme for your shop, branding and product displays can really ensure that your store looks extra attractive to customers and sets the tone for their experience.  Not only can strong contrasting colors (like those in the image above) can draw attention quickly, but they can inspire different feelings. Emotionally, cool colors like green and blue provoke calmness and feelings of trust (there's a reason why spas rely on these colors like there's no tomorrow) while warm colors are associated with happiness, action and excitement. Black can be kind of a downer sometimes, but it's also the color of the classic and chic. 

visual merchandising

Color can make a person hungry.

Color's effects are not limited to retail. In a 2012 Cornell University study, researchers found that people ate 22% more when eating from plates that matched their food, so if your food truck is hosting an all-you-can-eat lobster boil, make sure those plates are anything but red! And have you ever wondered why nearly every fast food joint in the world uses yellow and red as their primary colors? Well, yellow grabs people's attention in a joyful sort of way and red correlates to speed, subliminally driving people to eat and leave more quickly and feel confident they will get their food in a speedy manner. In a study of color in marketing by the University of Winnipeg, researchers found that blue is used often by more formal restaurants to create a serene environment, but too much blue can actually be an appetite suppressant (obviously not the intention of a restaurant who wants to sell more food). On a personal level, if you want to trick your kids (or yourself) into eating 22% more veggies, try a green plate.


Color can be associated with certain industries.

Some colors have very strong connections to certain ideas or industries, so Entrepreneur stresses thinking about these associations when you brand or re-brand your business. Even shades within one color are subliminally linked to very different things. Take green, for example. Bright green is highly associated with nature and environmentally friendly industries, while a deep green is associated with wealth, prestige and outdoorsmen. While it's not a hard and fast rule that you should remain faithful to your industry's colors, it's an important thing to note when developing your brand.


For more visual merchandising inspiration beyond color alone, please check out our Pinterest board full of amazing store windows, displays and product styling.


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4 Powerful Tools for Small Business Branding

Branding is about the warm-fuzzies. It's about creating excuses for your company to always be associated on the positive end of a customer's emotional barometer. It's about story telling and giving other people the tools to tell stories on your behalf.And that's why it's not enough for a company to think that branding ends at just a logo.

Small businesses should consistently be giving "tools" which can help customers promote a company. Although there are many, we've narrowed it down to the 4 most powerful tools for small business branding.

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MailChimp + TinyLetter 

If you don't have an email newsletter, get on it! MailChimp recently acquired TinyLetter to serve the needs of small business owners when it comes to email marketing.

"Basically, TinyLetter is for people what MailChimp is for business; we help you have engaging converstations with your followers."

MailChimp is geared toward the business side of things. You can automate your newsletters, manage customer databases, track analytics/reports, and integrate with survey tools to see what your customers' opinions are. MailChimp possesses several other features, easily accessible to its users. As your customer base grows, you won't be hindered by email limits like some email providers; MailChimp will help you get the word out.

TinyLetter adds the personal touch customers need to keep coming back. Returning to the basics of letters and conversation, TinyLetter keeps things simple and sweet. If you want to engage with your audience, as time permits, you can make the bonds between business and customer stronger by paying direct attention to their questions and comments.

With a two-in-one package, you have the freedom to choose a more personal approach versus an all-encompassing one. 


When you promote to your customers through email, you want to avoid two things: making your promos  appear to be spam and making them absolutely dull. This is where Smore comes in.

Smore is a service that allows you to create beautiful online flyers easily and quickly. There are templates, designs, and color options to play with according to your promotional needs--Events, Promotions, Businesses, and more. When you start, the template guides you and offers suggestions for content placement. You can keep everything clean and simple, while visually appealing and informative. View their Featured Flyers section to spark your creativity and come up with your own for your business--and personal--needs.

While it's called Smore, it is (sadly) not edible. 

moocardsMOO Cards

No matter what, business cards will always be a valuable investment, especially quality cards. You never know who you meet, and MOO Cards can give you memorable cards to keep them coming back for more.

MOO Cards provides a few options for business owners small and large. In general, MOO Cards allows you to use your own artwork or photography in designing your cards. You can also use their free designs and add your logo. With the variety in design and card types they have, you'll feel like a kid in a candy--business card--shop.

Additionally, they have an option for business with more than 10 employees and typically order to scale, which is called MOO for Business. As your business grows, this could be a helpful option.

Another idea for your business is Printify. Printify is a feature that allows you to print different photos on multiple cards. You could put pictures of your most photogenic products on your business cards and become a walking catalogue. Share you business in conversation and let them take a piece to remember. 

buffappfeedlyBuffer App + Feedly 

Dabbling in social media takes so much time, and you need that time for your business. Buffer App solves this issue by consolidating your social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn) and sharing your content automatically.

Buffer App lets you to schedule your Tweets and Facebook posts easily; your posts stack and Buffer App sends them according to the times you set. Rather than huge URL links taking up characters in your Twitter posts, Buffer App shortens them so you can add relevant hashtags and comments. And, if you are having trouble keeping up with this on your own, you can add team members to join your social media brigade.

Recently, Buffer App partnered with Feedly. If you don't know what Feedly is, it's an app and browser extension that pulls current news and content of interest to one place. Visually, it's like a sleek online magazine. You can also customize what types of news you get by following particular websites--fresh articles your way.

But how does this help your social media presence as a business?

Buffer App has integrated with Feedly, so you can easily Buffer and share the articles you come across. By following websites that create content related to your business, you can share what you believe your followers will find helpful. Plus, if you're short on time and don't have blog posts churning out constantly, these articles act as useful filler.

The more you share, the more your customers feel an active presence on your end. Providing cool content keeps your customers awake to your business.

These are just four of many useful tools for small business branding. Building your brand online and offline has become imperative for businesses of all kinds. We hope these help save you time and serve your needs well.

Have any other suggestions for branding or want to share your small business story? Share in the comments or tweet us (@Shopventory)!