Design Budget: where should a young business invest their money?

You can listen to the podcast episode here.

Young businesses need to invest smartly. When a business is young it’s likely to not have a lot of capital, money specifically designed for expenditure. So knowing where to smartly invest our finances matters greatly.

The most important thing to remember in the beginning is – your bills have to be paid. Spending £10,000 on a website design and development project is most likely not a smart business move to begin with. Not because it isn’t a worthwhile business investment in general, but because we each have different budgets and needs at different times.

A smart financial and time investment will look different for everyone’s business. A young company that sells products of some kind  is going to have to put resources into product development, possibly product testing, market analysis, and more before ever thinking about a design budget. Because any smart business owner knows there’s no point in spending money on marketing if you don’t have the brilliant product or service to back it up. Of course, it will fit into product development if say you’re a beauty business that has packaging wrapped around your serum. Everyone’s business is different, and so are you needs. And it’s likely that someone starting a business producing beauty products has a bigger budget for expenditure coming from savings, fundraising or loans.

Let’s compare that to an online business that’s focus is on taking clients for an excellent service. Many of these businesses start without a lot of resources, it’s often just one person working diligently at their desk or kitchen table. This clearly takes a lot less capital to run in the beginning.

Everyone also has their own life circumstances.  Their own finances they can invest into the business, the amount of time that they can put in, family members to help with childcare while they do this, the list goes on.

We have to bear all of that in mind when making decisions.  Now that we have –  let’s say you are a young business, with a set of goals and priorities, and you’re wondering where in the design you should invest.  

Here’s how to help you decide.

Take a look at your business Goals. You want to look out for goals that require a substantial financial investment in design to be completed. Please note that substantial, is reflective here of your budget and resources, £1000 is substantial for some and £10,000 for others. Know your budget and cashflow!

Some large goals you want to look out for:

  • You want to develop a visual brand identity, a logo, colours, the lot
  • You want to grow and establish your brand further
  • You want to increase more sales/book more clients on your website
  • You want to increase the amount of time people spend on your website engaging with you
  • You want to increase your prices and communicate the value of your work/product more clearly

I want to stress here that this should be a current, high-priority goal. As passionate creatives and people, many of us have a long list of goals. But I would only invest money if this is a current, prioritised goal for you. That means you are investing not only financially but with your time in this goal right now. I think most designers would agree that we don’t want to work with someone who isn’t truly ready to invest in the process, and also put in the work.

There are so many more goals you will have that are specific to your needs. A restaurant may need menu designs, florists may want a hand-painted sign to garner more attention from the street in their community, the list goes on. You need to look at your goals and ask yourself, will design play a large role in reaching my goal? Let’s look at the big examples I’ve listed above.

Where to invest for these goals:

  • You want to develop a visual brand identity, a logo, colours, the lot: You want to invest in a designer who specialises in brand identities, or really gets your brand visually. I personally would invest in a brand strategy first, or work with a designer who includes that as a part of their process.
  • You want to grow and establish your brand further: Do you have a brand strategy? If not, start there. Then find a designer who specialises in brands or the part of your brand you want to extend… from interiors to illustration.
  • You want to increase more sales/book more clients on your website: A web designer who understands User Experience, you want a web designer or design agency that understands how your users are going to use your website. Someone that can look at your data and website, find the problem and improve on it.
  • You want to increase the amount of time people spend on your website engaging with you.
  • You want to increase your prices and communicate the value of your work/product more clearly: This one is complicated. All of your design hugely impacts this. I think it’s best to start with your brand strategy. Is it clear? Are you communicating to the right people? Do you know who these people are? Get clear, then invest in the visuals.

And there you have it, now you should be clear on where you should be investing. So now is the time to set aside a sum of money for design to be used as a tool to help you reach your goal.

A note to the self-starters:

You may not have the financial capability to invest right now.

Many successful businesses have started from home grown diy approaches. I think if you’re in this stage, it’s best not to put money you don’t have into design at this point.

Instead look at  ways you can invest your time to do so.

You are going to need design to:

  • Launch a digital service
  • Launch a physical product
  • Launch a website

The list goes on. Do what you can.

Also, explore other young business owners you can swap skills with. Perhaps a young brand designer looking to cut their teeth may need your photography service. If a work swap works, or a friend does work for you for free/at a discounted rate, be grateful. Respect them and their time in the same way you would a  professional charging  £10,000. Skill sharing is still work, and it deserves to be treated in the same way. Give proper credits, don’t text them about the work at 10pm, and be courteous.

That being said, if you are a home grown business and do have the funds or feel like it’s the right thing to do, a design budget can help you hugely here. A well designed website or brand will instil trust, communicate effectively to your target audience and help you to reach your financial goals. But nothing is guaranteed, no matter how wonderful and smart it is, because not just one thing makes or breaks your business. That should be both good news and possibly bad news, if you’re hoping design will fix everything.

So in conclusion

Step One:  Look at your goals and the problem you need to solve.

Step Two:  Look at the list above, and ask yourself,  is design going to be a significant way that you solve this problem or reach this goal? If yes – this is where you should invest.

Set yourself a design budget for the month, quarter, year to work towards this goal and invest smartly.