How To Create A Style Guide That Takes Your Brand To The Next Level
If I could go back to the early days of setting up my website and creating my brand from scratch, there's one thing I would absolutely hands down do first.
I would create my style guide and mood board!
Seriously, if you're building your online business and you don't have a style guide yet, stop everything and do that right now.
You're probably wondering what the heck a style guide is and why you should bother taking the time to make one, right?
The long story is that you need to create a brand that is easily recognizable, that helps people relate to you and your work, and that weeds out any followers who aren't your ideal audience.
Your brand creates unity, strength, and power in your business. It keeps you aligned with your vibe and your business mission. Basically if you've read about business online even a little bit in the past year or so you've probably had the importance of branding hammered in by now.
The short story? Creating a style guide will save you SO. MUCH. TIME.
When I first started building my blog, I had no branding plan. I just wanted to create something that looked halfway decent and was fully functional.
It didn't occur to me until months later that I needed to come up with a solid style and brand that reflected who I am and what I care about.
By then I had “designed” my entire website, uploaded several dozen blog posts, created a pin template and tons of Pinterest pins, uploaded a ton of stock photos, and spent time creating logos that weren't a good fit.
I had put in around 500 hours getting my online presence set up, only to have to go back and redo it completely because the whole thing just didn't make sense.
Can you feel me tearing out my hair a little? Yeah, it was an awful realization.
And it's one that I don't want to happen to YOU!
So. Let's get that style guide done, shall we?
Elements To Include In Your Style Guide
Vibe & Mood
Your businesses vibe is super important, so don't overlook it! The mood and vibe are what attract people to your business in the first place, and keep your kind of people coming back again and again.
It's important to make sure that the vibe matches well with your true personality. It’s a pretty hard thing to fake, so I definitely recommend going with something that comes natural to you. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
- Straight shooting
- Down to earth
Tone is definitely a part of your vibe and mood, because it's the way you present your ideas in written form.
I'm going to be honest with you here. Unless you are an experienced writer, it will probably take a lot of practice writing before your tone really shines through. And that's okay! Don't procrastinate on writing or nitpick your work to death trying to get it right. Just keep writing and know that in time everything will click.
Want to know my secret for keeping a tone that is natural and unique to me in all of my writing?
That's right. I don't sit down at my computer and crank out written blog posts the traditional way anymore. I use the voice translation feature in the Google Docs app to “speak” all of my posts.
If you're not quite sure what your style is, try creating a mood board. It’s easy, and fun! You can get started by heading over to Pinterest and setting up a secret board for your eyes only.
Then, spend a couple of hours looking through home and office related pins, and pin anything that speaks to you to your secret board. This could be anything from pretty throw pillows to stationary to office supplies to pictures of nature that you love.
It could be anything really. If it looks beautiful and speaks to you, pin it!
Once your mood board is bursting at the seams with lots of pretty pictures, it's time to find your style in all of it.
Go through the board and try to see if there's a pattern to your pins. What elements keep coming up over and over that you love?
Once you have an idea of the style you want to keep, delete any pins that don't fit with that vibe. At the end you should be left with a concise moodboard that articulates your style well.
Here are some elements you'll want to include in your mood board.
Patterns And Textures
Every brand should have two to four patterns and textures that they can use over and over in their work. Often you'll see these patterns and textures used in images, around their site, on social media, and in backgrounds. These are subtle indicators that allow people to look at one of your images or pieces of work and know instantly that it belongs to you.
You'll need a hand full of fonts to use on your website, and once you've decided on them, it's important that you use those fonts on everything. Your blog, your social media, your print materials, your digital downloads, all of it should display the exact same fonts, colors, patterns and textures, etc.
There are a few types of fonts you should have:
- Text font very basic and easily readable
- Headline font bold and unique
- Script font for design
- Secondary base font for images and print materials
Humans are very visual, and we perceive a lot of different things based solely on colors. So it's important to choose the colors for your brand that really resemble who you are and the work you do.
They should also fit in well with your vibe and tone. If your vibe is soft and whimsical, you will probably do better with pastel colors than bright and bold colors.
I recommend choosing a palette of 3-6 colors that go well together and describe your style. There are plenty of color palettes on Pinterest to get you started. For my colors, I found an image on Pinterest that included a color palette and a collage of images that spoke to me. I use this image behind the scenes as a guide for every design I create in my business.
You'll want to include a couple examples of the photos you plan to use in your style guide. These will most likely be photos that you take yourself, but they could also be stock images that you purchased to use in your work.
You'll notice that I tend to use watercolors and cacti in my work to help build my style. These graphic elements are small but on point with my style guide.
Look back on your mood board and try to get a feel for a few graphic elements that you think would fit well in your business. You can find amazing graphic elements on Creative Market to use, or if you are artsy you can create them yourself!
I highly recommend having both a main logo for your homepage and a watermark sub logo for your images. The style of both should fit in well with your colors and mood and fonts. You can hire a graphic designer on Upwork or 99designs to create one for you.
Image Templates For Pinterest & Social Media
The next thing you should include in your style guide is your image templates for social media. Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram all have different size and shape requirements for appropriately-sized images on their platform.
I highly recommend creating a couple of different branded templates and saving them for all of your future images. I use PicMonkey’s Hub feature to create and store my templates. This has worked out really well for me, especially after I hired my virtual assistant to help me create my graphics.
The last graphic element to include in your style guide is a favicon! A favicon is that teeny tiny image you see next to someone's URL in the URL bar of your browser. Having a favicon is a super quick and subtle way to start associating a certain style with your name and business. If you look closely, you’ll see that my favicon is a tiny watercolor cactus which I feel sums up my overall brand and vibe pretty well.
Tips For Creating A Brand And Style Guide That Work
Be unique! Take the time to really think about what speaks to you and how you can incorporate your personal style into your business. Recreating someone else's look won't get you anywhere, and depending on the level of similarity it could border on copyright infringement.
Choose a style that feels like “you”. Trust me when I say that it will be pretty hard to fake a style that doesn't come naturally to you. And even more importantly, people want to get to know the real you! Your style in your work reflects who you are and helps people connect with you. Make sure it's something that you love.
Lastly, don't be afraid to branch out and do something that other people aren't doing. There's a lot of “me too” going on in the online world right now, and truly fresh ideas are few and far between. So give your ideas a shot. The worst that happens is the idea doesn't take, but the potential best outcome could make your business stand out in a big way.
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