There’s a lot to think about when launching or rebranding a business, from logos and web design to figuring out the big picture stuff, like what your business stands for, who you’re trying to serve and what your content style is. With all this to consider, having someone to help guide you through brand identity and development can help your business grow immensely.
Lucy Gregory and Daphne Wong are the founders of Salt Design Co., a brand design agency in Vancouver, Canada. They’re also pros in all things branding! In this interview, Lucy and Daphne share how they met, how Salt Design Co. first came to be and the most important things every new brand or business should have. Whether you’re a new entrepreneur or have a well-established business, this post is for you!
What is Salt Design Co.?
Salt Design Co. is a brand design and development agency based in Vancouver, BC. We work alongside small business owners and their teams to flesh out their brand through brand strategy development and identity design, following that up with print, packaging or web design.
Our primary focus with Salt is to create designs that help a business grow and achieve their goals, but also that they can feel confident using and implementing themselves. This means that our process is very supportive and transparent, and we guide clients through the development of their brand (and sometimes business!) even after our work together is done. We truly care about our clients and treat them like friends.
How did you both meet?
We met in design school! It was 2014 and we were both looking to go back to school. Having completed prior higher education, we were both in similar stages of life and chose a career college for our return to education. But outside of that, we bonded over our love of fitness, cats and Game of Thrones!
Where and when did you first get the idea to open Salt Design Co.?
Lucy: Throughout school, we joked about starting a company with many of our friends. After graduating though, we were still talking about it. So when a friend of Daphne’s reached out about needing some items designed, Daphne asked if me if I wanted to team up. I said yes and then as usual, I took it far too seriously and said if we’re gonna do this, we’re gonna go for it and do it properly!
From there, Salt Design Co. was born with a clear mission to demystify design for our clients and bring flavour to small business design.
Did you both know early on that you wanted to be entrepreneurs?
Daphne: No. Like most large decisions in life, I just kinda stumbled upon the diploma program (and Lucy, by proxy) and hoped for the best. Now, a few years later, we have two companies under our belt and I’m slowly getting used to the idea of being self-employed.
Coming from a pretty rigid corporate background, I still get surprised on the daily about what it means to be an entrepreneur (hint: a lot more freedom but also A LOT of discipline).
Lucy: I did! Honestly I don’t know that I knew what an entrepreneur was, but I knew I wanted to work for myself or be a leader of some kind. Both my parents are self-employed and many of their friends are too.
I grew up in a small town where local, boutique businesses were the norm and I never worked for a large company. I started work at age 13 (which isn’t even legal now haha) and always had it in my mind that I wanted to be the boss one day.
It was about timing for me – I always wanted to team up with someone so I was waiting for the right person to go into business with before taking the leap.
What were the first few steps you took to get Salt Design Co. off the ground?
Lucy: The first thing we needed to do (after we had registered and launched our website) was find clients! As I was primarily working on the business, I traded design work for a desk in a new coworking space which helped me find a lot of our first clients. After that, I put myself out there – both at networking events and in Facebook groups. Being in those spaces really helped us to find our clients in that first year of business.
What were some of the roadblocks and obstacles you faced in the earlier days of the business and how did you overcome them?
Finding clients who could afford to hire us was one of our initial challenges – even though our packages were ¼ of the price they are now! In those early days we had to find clients who understood what our work involved and valued it, so we started our blog to help educate potential clients and give them insight into our process and the amount of thought and time that goes into a project.
Being transparent with our pricing (so anyone we got onto a consultation call with was already aware of our pricing) and our process was key for changing this and allowing us to charge more.
At what point did you realize the agency was doing well enough to support you both full time?
Lucy: Within 6-months of officially launching, I was working full time for the company. This was back in 2016 and I had been nannying and freelancing for a local agency. I slowly started to taper off those jobs, focusing only on Salt. I wasn’t making amazing money, but it was enough to match what I had been making previously and we were busy enough that I didn’t have time to focus on anything else.
Then, in 2018 we decided to hire someone part-time to fill some of our marketing and communications gaps. We had had an intern in 2017 so knew how awesome it would be to add someone else to our team.
We could have brought Daphne on at that point but it felt like a risk. We also had to work around some logistical issues at Daphne’s full-time job, which meant we ended up waiting about a year or more for her to be able to join us full-time.
Daphne: Last September, I made the switch to be full-time for the business. Prior to that I had been in very heavily part-time and hugely involved in everything we did, so in many ways it wasn’t a huge transition. But in other ways it really was, as every day was different and our roles and responsibilities evolved.
In terms of timeline, how long was that after your initial idea?
Lucy: From initial concept to me being full-time was about 8-months. We had the idea in…. November of 2015 (having graduated from VCAD in October), registered as a business in December and then launched our website in February. We completed our first client project in February also so then it was 6-months of work to gain clients, create a presence and make connections.
What advice do you have for someone starting out as an entrepreneur?
We get this question a lot these days, and our response is often the same. Just try it. Do it, test things, and adapt as needed. And when in doubt, Google!
Honestly though at a certain point you have to just try things. Get started, try lots of different things, treat it like an experiment and use other people’s blogs to see what they’ve done. Google questions, hunt around and figure out what works for you.
What are the most important things a new brand or businesses should have?
A clear idea of who you are as a business, who your people are (i.e your target demographic) and how you’re going to communicate with them.
Knowing your brand messages, values and personality helps you to communicate and use the right language. No amount of pretty design can replace knowing these things and once you know them, a brand identity will be able to smartly communicate these things too.
What are some branding mistakes you see most often and what are the solutions?
Oof there are a few, for sure. One of the most common ones we see is small businesses rushing into the branding process and/or wanting to get it done straight away and do it very cheaply.
While we totally understand that most businesses feel the pressure to have a logo of some kind at the very start of their business, it’s sometimes too early and we often actually recommend creating something VERY basic and cheap that you like the look of for the first few months while you get to know your business and your customers/clients.
Then, once you know who your people are, what your business stands for and is here to do, then you can invest in branding that will last you years and be worth the time and money. It doesn’t matter what stage of business you’re in though. Knowing those things is key to having a good brand identity that truly represents your business, so it’s only worth investing in good branding once you know them. What can be a mistake is paying someone for a basic logo or starter brand, only to need to update it a year later.
Websites like Etsy have a lot of past concepts from designers that are available to purchase for $50 or so and we do suggest those as a starting point if you need a logo but aren’t in the position to invest in a brand identity just yet. All you really need is to have your name typed out in a legible and good-looking font, so you could even do that in Canva very simply and export it as a PNG!
What’s next for your business? Do you have any exciting things coming up?
We have too many things! (face palm) At the end of last year we launched Design Build Grow, an online education platform for small business owners. Through that we now have a podcast, The Messy Middle and are hosting a 1-day mini-convention in September, Assembly.
We’re really excited to grow Design Build Grow and turn it and the associated events and social media into a collaborative, community education platform. It’s the fun side-business to our slightly more serious client work and it’s where we get to connect with people as entrepreneurs and have more fun. For Salt though, we’ll be continuing to work with our awesome clients on their awesome businesses!