Design For Small Business: Print Material And Ads

This is article 1 of a 3-part series contributed to Fast Media Magazine by James Leal-Valias, Creative Director  at iStockphoto

In the first article of this 3-part series we discussed brand identity and deciding if a redesign is necessary for your business.  In this article we will explore options for designing print material.

Whether you are considering a major brand/identity overhaul or just need to promote your business in the local paper, the first decision to be made during the design planning process is whether to do it yourself or bring in outside help. Both choices are equally valid; however, the size of your business, your personal abilities and responsibilities, project budget and numerous other factors can become powerful arguments in favour of choosing the DIY approach over a design firm—or the reverse.

The good news is, whichever way you go, your experience as a photographer (particularly if you have good skills with Photoshop or Creative Suite) can be leveraged to save you time and money.

DIY Options

Just as technology has completely changed the world of photography, it has also changed the world of printing and publishing. These days it’s easier than ever to pull together professional looking brochures, posters, business cards or even customized giveaways with little or no outside assistance.

You might already be familiar with stock image companies like iStockphoto as a place to go for photos – and there’s even a good chance that stock is part of your business. What you might not know is that it’s also a great place to go for illustrations, including files that can be used as backgrounds, borders or design components of printed materials.

Spend a few minutes looking at the variety of illustrations available and chances are you’ll find the inspiration and files you need to create something pretty slick. Manipulating backgrounds, images and text is a fairly similar process to manipulating photos so you might already have the tools you need to bring all the elements of a print piece or ad together yourself.

Even if you don’t, chances are you can find a local print shop that can pull them together for you with relative ease – and sometimes at little or no extra cost. If you’re running an ad somewhere, chances are also good the ad department can give you a hand for a very small upcharge.

If you’re going for something simple but professional or you just don’t have budget to outsource, the DIY approach is a viable option.


The same tools and technologies that allow novices to create very good print materials and ads allow professionals to raise the bar to a whole new level of excellence. In the same way a photography hobbyist can sometimes capture a commercially usable photo, the reality is that someone who does this sort of thing for a living is much more likely to come up with something truly incredible with far greater ease. If you’re looking for something particularly compelling and novel, outsourcing is still the way to go.

When outsourcing, there’s still a lot you can do to help control costs and/or ensure that your designer does the best possible job by taking the time to bring them up to speed.

This can be done in a variety of ways including:

  • Providing them with a thorough briefing on your business and your industry
  • Having examples of what you like and what you don’t like at the ready (again, a lot of good inspiration can come from stock sites)
  • Gathering any necessary imagery, fonts, color specifications and logos in advance
  • Brief them on concepts you’d like them to consider

Another important step you can take is to figure out an approval process in advance. Let them know whom you want involved in each step of the decision-making process and ensure your team understands how feedback and approval of materials needs to be handled. Minimize the amount of time materials need to be edited and re-edited where possible.

Most creative bill for their time, so if you use it wisely and efficiently, your costs go down. Just as importantly, clients who are easy and pleasant to work with often get better treatment and results.

And remember, since your expertise and theirs are so closely aligned, there might be an opportunity to exchange some photography work for some design work and/or the possibility of a nice referral relationship.

Coming up next:  Design for Small Business: Online Marketing.

Marco | Editor

Editor at large and founder of a bunch of stockphoto businesses