You know what your startup does but how do you now tell that story to the world? And how do you do it on a budget?

The answer: PRIORITIZE

As a startup, you will need to get to the public quickly, and likely, cheaply. By prioritizing your needs to get out the door, you can save money up front. Logo? Yes. Branded mugs? Maybe not totally necessary out of the gate. Necessity is king, so do what you can on your own and then start appropriating your budget to the priorities as needed. Most branding firms will work with you a step at a time, as you are able. Over time, you can build the brand of your dreams without having blown it all in the first 5 minutes of your business when you need funding the most.

Here are ways you can prioritize and maximize your budget:

Things you can do on your own for FREE! 

Primary messaging:  

  • What do you do in 1-2 sentences? 
  • What is your sell? 
  • Why are you different? 
  • What is your story? 
  • Answer these questions and you will have a solid start to answering the question you will be asked a million times out of the gate - "What do you do?"

Your name: 
After you explore names that represent both your product and your attitude, make sure you get some feedback from outside sources. They may notice something you didn't. Also, it’s a good idea to check out the urban dictionary to make sure you aren't saying something unexpected. .

Then, GOOGLE - so many problems can be avoided by at least checking that your immediate area does not have another business with a naming conflict.

Your URL: 
Now that you have a name, and have completed some basic searches, choose a URL that is short, simple (memorable) and either includes your name or your service within it (hint: skip the dashes and other easily forgettable modifications, no one will remember to add that dash if you verbally mention your URL).

So far, you have started shaping your brand without dropping any dough. Now, you start investing a bit more in items that will last the life of your business. Start out strong so that you don't have to change later. 

The investment

Visual identity/Logo:
Why invest in your logo?

Your logo goes EVERYWHERE:  

  • Social Media (FB, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest… should I go on?)
  • Press releases and proposals, invoices and business cards
  • Your Website, Marketing Collateral and Advertising
  • Signage, if you have a storefront, Merch if you have the need
  • and so many other places you can't even think of

The first perception is often the lasting one. In the example of Air B&B, they did not change their logo until 6 years after launch, when they were filthy rich and many aren't even sure it was the right move: And we all know that Apple uses basically the same logo 30 years later, with slight refreshes, so invest in quality and something long-lasting. You won't be sorry, and you can wear it proudly when shopping for investors.

Trademark that mark!

You've made an investment, now protect it!

To save a little money until you can afford a trademark attorney, you can start with a basic Legalzoom trademark: They will cover at least a basic search to confirm there are no conflicts with your new mark and wording. Or, you can try it FOR FREE here, but you have to figure out the Trademark Office's search first:

Marketing Collateral:

Again, we recommend investing in the quality of the presentation, since you do not have a reputation to stand on yet, but you may be able to save on the execution.

Printing: Go local once you are rolling, go online until you are. Smaller items like postcards and business cards can be printed on the cheap at places like & Once you take off, you can invest in the quality our local printers provide.

The exception to this depends on your delivery. Out of the gate, as a start-up 8 years ago, we invested heavily in our business cards. Why? Because we built our business on relationships. Before the dawn of social media, you actually had to talk to people (we still recommend this) and that business card made an impression with its silky paper, black on black foil stamp and metallic inks. It was money well spent and it was a priority for us. What are your priorities when going to market?

Social Media:

It's free, you can figure this out, you don't need to spend money to get rolling.

And finally, the Website:

While what we do at Watermark is completely custom, you can get off the ground with a pre-developed template. Keeping in mind that you will be working within the confines of something someone else developed, there are many nice-looking Wordpress templates out there in the world. First, only purchase a template from a well-known or reviewed company, as some templates don't work once purchased (there are millions out there, and many are free, but we suggest paying for something supported). Wordpress has a directory here: Also, you will need someone to do some basic work setting up your host, loading on Wordpress and then you can pretty easily add the theme. Depending on the support for the theme, it is likely that anyone starting a tech company can figure out how to configure it or knows someone who does.

Then, once your theme is up, you can invest a little bit of time with a designer to do a few custom sliders or graphics to make it your own until you are able to invest in a totally custom site.

There are so many future pieces to the brand as you grow, but the above should get your brand up and on its feet in a way that should bring in the money.

Darcey Ohlin Lacy
Founder of Watermark Designs and Creative Director