What are brand guidelines?
Brand guidelines are a quick reference tool that organizes all of the key visual elements of your brand in one place. Everything from your logo, to fonts, colors, patterns, and more can be included in your brand guidelines, and it can be a one-page cheatsheet or a multi-page in-depth guide. The details and structure of it are ultimately up to you!
Basically, this is a guide that takes the guesswork out and keeps your look consistent across all platforms.
Why should my business have brand guidelines?
The main purpose of a brand guidelines document is to bring consistency and order to the visual aspects of your business. Whether you’re a solo entrepreneur or running a large team, it’s a good idea to put into writing what fonts, what color palette, and what overall look your brand is going for.
If you’re a one-woman show, brand guidelines can help make your design processes so much faster and easier. You’ll never have to click through a mile-long list of fonts again looking for the perfect one because you’ll have the list of fonts your brand uses right in front of you! No more guessing what will look right, or what will feel “on brand” – you already know.
From a team perspective, having clear and accessible brand guidelines is even more important in order to keep everyone on the same page. When hiring designers, or even having an assistant create a quick Pinterest pin for you, you can just send them your brand guidelines to show them exactly the style you’re going for.
How to make brand guidelines for your business
1. Create a free Canva account
Create a free Canva account. (This is an affiliate link, meaning if you make a purchase, I’ll receive some form of payment. I only promote things I genuinely love and use myself.)
I love Canva so much. It’s a free design platform that has everything you could possibly need for all your small business & personal marketing/social media needs. You can create presentations, social media graphics, greeting cards, and so much more, all in one place. I would strongly suggest considering the Canva Pro option as well. I’ve been using the Pro version in my business for years and fully believe it is worth the investment!
2. Download your free template
Download your free brand guidelines template. I built one just for you so you don’t have to start from scratch!
You can drag & drop images into the document from the Canva library or upload them directly from your computer. Edit text by clicking on the words you want to change then typing in your content. Changes are automatically saved (Woo!) The next steps will help you gather everything you need to complete your own gorgeous brand guidelines.
3. Make a mood board
Make a mood board on Pinterest. If you don’t have an account you can create one for free! Once you have your account set up, create a board and label it “Brand Inspiration” or simply “Brand Mood Board.” Then start pinning to that board! Pin anything & everything you feel directly inspires you for your brand.
You will begin to see a trend, i.e. there are a lot of warm colors, abstract shapes, quotes, a consistent font type, or lots of greenery.
Be sure to Pick what YOU like! Don’t stress too much, trust your own style and watch it all come together.
Once you feel your board is complete (5 images? 50 images? It’s up to you), select about 3 of your favorite photos and download them to your computer!
4. Colors & Fonts
Colors: Head over to the Canva Color Generator tool. The page will load a pre-populated image and color palette, which you can totally use; but what’s really cool about this tool is that you can upload your own images and Canva will generate a custom pallete for you! Upload your favorite images from your Pinterest board one at a time and see what colors stand out to you.
Click on any color you like to see the color code (it’ll start with a # sign). I’m gonna plug Canva Pro one more time, because with the Pro version you can save custom color palettes to your account and have them accessible right on the screen whenever you design anything in Canva. If you do stick with the free version, just copy each color code into the color palette spaces on your brand guidelines template; if you’re debating between multiple colors, copy and paste the codes onto a separate page until you decide!
Fonts: Go back to Pinterest and search “font pairings” and just see what comes up or stands out. Not every font will be available in Canva, but this will give you ideas of what looks good together and what you like. One more reason for Canva Pro – If there’s a font you want but can’t find it on Canva, go to FontSquirrel.com and search there. You can download fonts for free and upload them into your Canva Pro dashboard, where you can use them just like any other Canva font!
Pro tip: Keep the different fonts to a minimum; I recommend 2-4 at the most, and only one that is super cutesy/cursive/artsy. When you start piling on too many wildly different fonts, things can look chaotic and your messaging becomes hard for potential customers to absorb. One cute font with two clear fonts is a great, eye-catching but readable mix!
A logo is something deeply personal that will be used across all of your branding on all of your platforms, which sounds pretty daunting, but hear me when I say: YOU CAN CHANGE YOUR LOGO! Logo design is not marriage 👰🏼♀️ even though the pressure we put on making the perfect logo can make it feel that way. If you’re just starting out in your business, the most important thing here is to get something up, and remember it’s not forever.
Websites like Fiverr and Upwork are loaded with designers who will help you create a custom logo at a reasonable cost. I recommend this option if you are willing to spend a little money ($20-150) to save you a lot of time and potential frustration. And if you’re willing to spend a little more ($200-700) you can get something truly custom and badass! Whatever your budget, there is someone on Upwork willing to design for you. You can even share your mood board & Canva brand guidelines with them (it’s already working!)
Alternatively, just go back into Canva and create your own logo. I made every one of my early logos completely on my own in Canva, and you can absolutely do it this way if you want to.
When you have your logo ready to go, add it to your brand guidelines document.
Pro tip: Whether you’re outsourcing or DIYing, be sure to come up with one full size (text + image, or text only) logo, and one square (typically image/icon only) logo. Check out the above example to see what I mean. Both logos will have different uses in your branding, and both are a good idea to have on hand.
Using and sharing your brand guidelines
When all of the elements are filled in on your template, share your brand guidelines by exporting as a PDF file (Download > PDF) or sending the link via email (Share > Email Link). Save a copy for yourself, send out to your team, or share your new branding with your clients!
Remember how important it is to let your guidelines flex and grow with you. This is a living, breathing document that will evolve over time as you and your brand change. Come back to your mood board and guidelines annually and make sure they are still in line with your vision for your brand!