So you’ve started your own company. Good on you for that big step—and you’d best believe it’s a big one. Bet you’ve thought of everything, right down to the brand guidelines. You know your business and how it will look, feel and function, down to the last detail. Oh wait—you don’t? Oh man, you’d better get on that then.

At first, this might seem like an impossible task, particularly if you don’t have any design experience. But don’t worry—it’s not that hard if you just take some time to think things through.

There are four things that you should keep in mind: simplicity, cost, organization and planning for the future.

Keep it simple

An Apple store
Apple stores convey a clear message about the brand. Via Boy Genius Report.
The Apple logo
The Apple logo is simple, sleek, and iconic.

Your brand and design go hand-in-hand. And if you’re new to the world of branding, just think about the big names you already know and how they operate. For example, when you think of The Gap, it’s that iconic blue block, a wordmark logo and clean stores with lots of white walls. Apple has the gray pictorial mark logo and spacious showrooms outfitted in shades of aluminum and pale wood. McDonald’s is all about red and yellow, and no matter where you are in the world, you always know what kind of playful experience you’re going to have when you walk through their doors.

Your company is no different — minus the millions of dollars that these companies had to build their brands. So instead, keep it simple. You don’t have to shell out big bucks to create a consistent branding experience for your customers. Pick one or two important elements and focus on those. It could be your colors, your customer service, your social media presence, or anything else that most of your customers are likely to interact with. Don’t try to take on too much right at the outset at the risk of stalling out or delaying your growth. If you choose to focus on color, make sure the colors you use in your physical goods match or complement the ones on your digital presence. If your online presence is a high priority, make sure your website, social media and email templates all work in harmony. If you own a brick-and-mortar retail business, make sure that the customer experience is consistent across your entire brand, both on and offline.

Not sure what to focus on first? Think about the way a customer will interact with your brand from the moment they walk through your door—or meet your product online for the first time. What kind of experience do you want them to have? Prioritize the elements that will have the biggest impact on that experience. As you grow and your brand evolves, you’ll be able to build on and tweak things along the way, without feeling like you wasted precious time getting started.

Make smart choices on what you DIY

Free email templates for branding
There are free email templates you can use to get started, like these from 99designs. Via 99designs.

If your new business is funded by you and you alone (and let’s be honest, it probably is), then you need to keep your expenses to a minimum. For now, the best way to accomplish that is to learn how to do-it-yourself. Of course, there are times when hiring an expert is not only necessary but more cost-effective in the long run (because as they say, time is money), but for the tasks that fall within your area of expertise, it’s a good idea to hone your skills and get good at getting things done. Lucky for you, there are tons of online resources to help you learn new skills, from pivot tables to presenting. With a little practice, you’ll be a well-oiled machine in no time.

As far as your branding is concerned, you can also rely on templates for things like email and website as long as you have the basics of your brand identity in place.

Organize, organize, organize

It’s easy to get excited about your new business and where it’s going, but soon ideas about colors, logo designs and all that will start getting jumbled together, leaving you with a mess that you have to sort out. Was it Pastel Orange or Sunset Orange for the main hue? Is the concept “Rustic Modern” or “Rustic Traditional?” You won’t be able to reproduce your favorite look without getting organized first.

Branding ideas being written in a notebook
Gather inspiration and put your ideas to paper. Via Skillshare.com.

The easiest way to do this is to take a bit of time to put your ideas down on paper. Put together a spreadsheet with all of your sources of inspiration, including brands you like and your competitors, to keep your thoughts centralized. Then, once you think you have everything down, go through that spreadsheet and start putting more shape around what you want for your own brand. This should include acceptable fonts, colors, and a description of your brand’s ‘personality’ at a minimum. This is also a great foundation for passing duties over to hired freelancers or other design help. Eventually you’ll want a solidified brand kit outlining all your set-in-stone guidelines to ensure consistency as you grow.

What the future may bring

So far, we’ve discussed where you are and what your immediate plans are for your burgeoning company. But what about two years from now? Five? Ten? Will your branding stand the test of time?

As your company grows and evolves, your branding will need to evolve too. You may even find that your product and target customer look very different than when you first started, which means it might be time to update your packaging, upgrade to a custom website from your squarespace template, or redesign your logo. If you went the DIY design route the first time around, it might be time to consider getting some outside help. Depending on your needs and budget, there a few approaches you can take to getting your branding redone professionally: You can hire a freelance designer, run a design contest, or hire an agency. Take the time to think about your options before making a decision, and if you decide to go the freelancer or agency route, be sure to evaluate portfolios carefully beforehand.

You can do it!

Is branding easy? No. Even if you live and breath design, it can be tough to brand your own project because you’re just too close to it. But if you put in a little bit of sweat equity, it’s totally doable. Just take your time and always think through your company narrative along each and every brand decision.

This article comes from the Skillshare content team, Skillshare is focused on telling the unique stories of accomplished freelancers and entrepreneurs.

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