Unsold Studio


How Small Business Owners Can Leverage Design For Growth


Last night, we spoke to a group of NEIdeas alumni as part of their 2019 Growth Series. We were invited to talk about why small business owners should invest in design to enhance growth. We shared the story of our client New Order Coffee Roasters, and how our design strategy is helping them grow from their first Brush Park location in Detroit, to their second location at 13 Mile and Woodward (opening soon), a pop-up kiosk in Ford HQ, their new office location in Troy, and other future plans.

The NEIdeas alumni are business owners we look up to, and it was an honor to talk to a group of committed entrepreneurs making our city a better place. They asked us some great questions after our presentation, and we wanted to share the three most important ones (with our answers!) on their minds related to design and business:

Question #1:

When I work with a designer, what should I bring to the first meeting or consultation?


Be prepared to discuss these things:

  1. What is the problem you are facing? Do you need to get more foot traffic into your business? Do you need to retain more clients? Do you need to promote a new service you offer? A common misconception is that you need to tell the designer exactly what you need, but in reality, all you need to do is tell the designer the challenge you’re facing. It’s then the designer’s job to figure out what the best solution is based on information like your day-to-day needs, your goals, your budget, your timeline, and your target audience.

  2. What are the goals related to your business? Where do you want to be a year from now, five years from now, ten years from now? A designer will be able to help you create a strategy with actionable tasks to help you get your business where you want it to go using design. They can help you break down seemingly big and arduous tasks into smaller, bite-size phases that are manageable for you and your team.

  3. Who’s your intended target audience? What type of people are you trying to serve in your business? For example, trying to attract young families to your business is going to be different than baby boomers. If you’re not sure who you’re after, consider your business’ personality. Ask yourself: If my business was a person walking into the bar, what is the scene like? If you describe your business as an everyday guy entering a dive bar ordering a PBR, that’s different than a woman wearing high heels and a cocktail dress entering a dimly lit jazz bar. By describing your own business persona, it should help you figure out the type of person your business might hang out with (i.e. your clients).

Question #2:

How does pricing work? Is there a cost for the first consultation?


Our best advice is to be upfront about your budget with the designer. By being transparent about what you’re willing and able to spend, the designer can help you maximize your budget and prioritize your needs. Think of it like buying a jacket: You can buy a winter coat that costs $50, but if you want the winter coat with a hood that might cost $100, and if you want the winter coat with the hood, the waterproof exterior, and the insulated down that might cost $350. A designer will help you “shop” within your budget and help you decide if you really need a premium feature right now.

Most designers and studios will do a free phone call or inquiry where they gather some standard information from you to put together a formal proposal. The proposal will typically include an estimate, a timeline, and a list of deliverables/services you’ll receive for the cost. A proposal is the beginning of the conversation, so don’t be afraid to ask questions at this time before signing off, handing over a deposit, and officially beginning the project.

Question #3:

I already have a logo and the beginning of a brand established for my business. What is something a designer might be able to do for me?


If you bring a designer onto a project after you’ve already been in business for a while, they can still help you! A good designer will evaluate what is working in your current design system, as well as what’s not, with suggestions for how to improve. The designer wants to ensure your business has a great design foundation, just like you wouldn’t build a house on top of a cracked foundation wall. You want to be sure the fundamentals, like logo and messaging, are on track before tackling anything new. We offer a service called a Brand Wellness Session that serves as an annual physical for your business. Email us if you’re interested in scheduling your design check-up.

Once you have a strong foundation, that’s when the designer will help expand your brand. Some ideas for what is appropriate to tackle at this time with your designer would be:

  • how to distinguish your business from its competitors more effectively.

  • ways to educate potential clients as a sales tool.

  • rolling-out a new service or product.

Our last piece of advice before signing off is to find a designer who is invested in your business and serves as a collaborator. A good designer wants to learn about what you do, and to help you do it better. They’ll ask you the tough questions that help you see your business from a new perspective. For example, we’ve been asking New Order Coffee: what makes a bean fresh? Since this is their area of expertise, they take it for granted most of us don’t know how to spot spoiled beans. When they explained the answer, we were able to distill the information into digestible language and playful imagery for their audience. By us asking New Order to think deeply about a simple word like “fresh”, we were able to leverage their knowledge to promote growth in their business. Work with a designer who is interested in learning about your business, asks you the hard questions, and serves as a partner you can trust.

Unsold Studio