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When Brands Talk, People Listen: Advice on Business Branding from Design Expert

Does your brand have your business tongue-tied? The visual brand of a business – including logos, the website, apps, and presentation decks - make the first impression with target audiences. If your brand doesn’t have people saying, “I want to buy,” “I want to invest,” or “I want to learn more,” it’s time for some straight talk with a professional like Rhaya Shilts, owner of design agency Jackson Sky. She’s an expert in creating visual brands that help businesses speak for themselves.

Shilts took a creative break to reflect on her own journey as a business owner and provide tips for other founders looking to create a strong visual brand.

What is Jackson Sky and why did you start the company?

Jackson Sky is a full-service design agency that focuses on building custom, strategic website solutions. I started Jackson Sky with the belief that design and functionality go hand in hand, and a successful result requires acute attention to both.

Shortly after college, I began dreaming of starting my own business, but knew that I needed to get experience working for others first. I worked as part of an in-house design department for four years and then at a small design agency for almost three years. I have a parent who started their own business and a brother who launched a successful startup, so it never seemed like a goal that was out of my reach.

You served as an executive mentor for The Startup Ladies on visual branding. Why is having a strong visual brand so important for a startup?

The visual brand is important because it’s often the first impression received by potential investors and clients. I encourage startups and small businesses to invest in having a logo and style guide designed by a professional, because it serves as the foundation of all visual elements to come.

The logo should be unique, versatile, scalable, and long-lasting. For a forward-facing website, it’s very possible to do it yourself or by hiring a freelancer. Most importantly, your visual brand needs to be consistent and cohesive across all your materials – whether it’s a pitch deck or pull-up banner.

Where do you see visual branding going in the coming years that entrepreneurs should be aware of and prepare for?

Statistics show that in 2018 over half of all website traffic worldwide was generated through mobile phones. Recognizing this goes beyond just website development and is starting to have a major impact on branding as a whole.

When it comes to branding, what are the pros and cons of a do-it-yourself approach?

You might be tempted to save on costs and design your own logo, but typically the cons of doing that outweigh the pros. However, there are some great DIY website options out there that can allow you to create simple, functional, aesthetically pleasing websites.

You will need to invest some time in learning the platform, but you will save on costs and get a fundamental understanding and control of how to update your design and content without needing to rely on someone else.

What key resources to help with design thinking and branding should founders know about?

There are an enormous amount of resources on how to build a brand, which encompasses more than what you see in your logo and on your website. However, when it comes to a visual brand, whomever you hire should be able to take your goals and vision and interpret that to create a successful design. Founders should be prepared to do their homework and discuss in detail their vision, mission and culture they want to create and how that relates to their design goals and aesthetic tastes.

What have you seen as the most common aha moment for the entrepreneurs you’ve worked with?

I think a big aha moment many entrepreneurs have is when they shift from thinking about the business from their point of view to the perspective of the people or audience they want to attract. When that lightbulb goes on, the magic starts to happen.

I think a big aha moment many entrepreneurs have is when they shift from thinking about the business from their point of view to the perspective of the people or audience they want to attract.

As a business owner, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?

Don’t spend time doing tasks that someone else can do better, especially when those tasks distract from bigger picture priorities. Reminding myself of this on a regular basis helps keep me focused on what I need to accomplish as a business owner.

You tell a story in one of your blog posts about an ill-prepared, failed pitch. What did you learn from that experience and how did you overcome any self-doubt to keep moving forward?

Ha! Just about everything that could have gone wrong with that pitch did! But honestly, that’s okay. You can’t nail them all, and if you are lucky, there’s a good story to go along with it. No matter how many pitches and presentations you do, ultimately every client is looking for something different, so (as hard as I try) you can’t win them all.

What’s next for you and Jackson Sky?

One thing that has evolved in our business over the past couple of years is the increased amount of strategizing we do with our clients before we get into our core services of design and development. I think this has elevated the finished product, which is always a good thing.

Over 90% of our business comes from client referrals. We may not have the company size and recognition of other agencies, but we work very hard on building relationships with our clients and providing solutions that fully meet their needs and timelines.

Why have you chosen to be a support services member and executive mentor with The Startup Ladies?

The variety of members, openness, and support among the group – this is what I love about The Startup Ladies. I am genuinely so happy when I see other women pursue their startup dreams and have a group of others rallying behind them.

What can other business leaders like yourself do to create and support more female entrepreneurs?

Supporting groups like The Startup Ladies is an easy step. Social media also is a great way to encourage, elevate and support female-led businesses. And let’s not forget about the future female leaders! Showing young women and girls that they can aspire to be whatever they want will continue to open doors that previous generations had to knock down.


Twitter: @jacksonsky


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