When I launched my first business, I had nothing but a Shopify website and a few jewelry prototypes I had made. I had taken my own photography of my pieces and thought a few nice product photos and an Instagram account would be enough.
Fast forward to a year or so of major learnings and that’s when I had a sprinkling of CEO epiphanies:
- I was in an over-saturated market. It seemed like everyone had a jewelry line with the same kinds of photos, saying the same thing. I knew I needed to stand out from the moment people laid eyes on my brand.
- I had to create really good content. In order to make a lifestyle brand come to life, I needed to show my customers why they needed my product and what kind of value they would get from my brand. Not just tell them.
- I had to stop creating everything ad-hoc. Sometimes I would plan ahead and schedule things out, other times I wouldn’t. My brand had become inconsistent in more ways than one and it was starting to do more harm than good.
Bottom line: I needed reliable systems in place.
For many people, that’s what templates are: a reliable system that helps them streamline their design process. With them, they’re able to churn out valuable content at a faster rate and avoid recreating the wheel every single time.
Designers use templates. Non-designers use templates.
However, it’s non-designers that oftentimes second-guess the quality of the templates they use. And with good reason.
Thanks to the internet, there are templates galore readily available and accessible to anyone. Does that mean all templates are created equal? Definitely not.
Let’s dive into what separates great templates from the not-so-great and whether or not they should have a place in your visual brand strategy.
How Design Templates Can Help Your Business
The use of templates sometimes gets a bad rep. There are people out there who will argue that they stifle (or even deplete) any original thought and creativity.
…but no one gets a medal for building a business without the use of templates. Truth is, without them you might even be doing a disservice to how you’re running your business. From contracts to auto-responder emails to invoicing…businesses thrive on using templated tools. And when it comes to building a brand, most customers can’t decipher mega differences between visual marketing made from really good design templates and custom design. It’s all relative.
Here’s the deal —
Templates are some of the most effective tools in your entrepreneurial toolkit. Here’s why:
Templates work with your systems.
If you’ve been following along for a while, you know how big I am on systems. They are so critical to running powerful and profitable businesses. Because, as entrepreneurs, we wear many hats: CEO, head of marketing, finance and accounting, HR, biz dev, editorial — you name it. So when you’re doing all the things (because you undoubtedly have a million things on your plate), you need to streamline your processes and workflow to make sure everything gets done and doesn’t fall through the cracks or dip in quality.
Design templates can work with your business systems and save you the energy it takes to recreate the same collateral every single time. It’s like giving you a shortcut so you only have to spend time filling in the critical details. And they also can be refined and improved regularly to meet evolving needs (both internal ones and those of your clients).
Templates maintain brand consistency.
When you define a visual identity and brand guidelines for your business, you can create design templates for all major visual, written, and print components. That way, regardless of who is working or creating on behalf of your brand, you can have confidence that the deliverable will always align with your overall branding across your channels and projects. This helps strengthen brand trust and legitimacy with your audience (leading ultimately to more sales).
Design templates are optimized.
You’ve probably heard the saying, “Bad design hurts SEO.” When people visit your site and can’t easily find something or navigate a certain web page, they’re likely to bounce from your site to find another. When this happens, it tells search engines that your website isn’t a good answer to search queries.
Good designers know this. But if you don’t have the budget to hire for custom work, design templates can still help you avoid this by providing great design and user experience. These two things, combined with great content, will help keep your visitors on your site for longer. That way, you won’t get dinged by search engines and left in the dust when it comes to being outranked.
Bottom line: Throw out everything you know about templates and DIY branding.
Templates can be valuable tools in helping you to build a profitable visual brand. But instead of trying to squeeze your vibrant and unique business or creative idea into a cookie cutter template, successful visual brands know to “un-template” the template.
In other words, instead of mindlessly replacing the template’s placeholder copy and imagery with your own, remember that the template you are using is meant to be a foundational tool to craft a unique customer journey for your ideal audience that aligns with your business goals. Be mindful of the kinds of updates you are making and ask yourself, “is this helping to bring my brand experience to life?”
Now that we got those mindset shifts out of the way, let’s talk about the best places to source design templates from.
The Truth About Design Templates From Canva and Creative Market
“Can I use Canva’s free templates to build a profitable visual brand?”
“Are the design templates from Creative Market better than making my own?”
We get asked this a lot at Uno Dos Trae.
I personally love Canva and Creative Market. Both platforms have become great resources for many entrepreneurs building businesses today, bootstrapped or not.
If you’re not familiar with either, here’s a quick rundown:
Canva is a web-based design tool with drag-and-drop editing features and a marketplace with pre-made templates and graphics. It’s been a game-changer for entrepreneurs these last few years, since previously the best available design tools were premium options like Photoshop and other Adobe programs. This proved to be a huge hurdle for people who wanted to DIY much of their branding and learned that quickly that these comprehensive design programs were not for them (both from a skill and pricing standpoint).
So Canva comes along and makes designing accessible for non- and new designers. If people like entrepreneurs were only using 3% of what Photoshop can actually do, Canva created an easy-to-use tool featuring those commonly used features. They also have a Free and Pro subscription giving you access to more premium features (like exporting graphics with transparent backgrounds, premium fonts and imagery, animation, resizing canvases to use on other platforms, and more).
Creative Market is the mecca of design templates. With a catalogue of over 3 million products designed by independent creatives from all over the world, you can shop for almost anything when it comes to designing for your brand: fonts, graphics, themes, photos, and templates…you name it. Creative Market is similar to Etsy (which also has a few digital products on there for building brands and businesses) in that it’s a marketplace where individual people and agencies set-up their own shops and sell their own products. So even if all you need is a chic-looking quote graphic for your Instagram account, buckle up because Creative Market likely has hundreds of thousands of options for you to choose from.
So what’s not to love, right?
The problem with relying on Canva’s free templates
Plug-and-play options with non-cheesy designs? Sign us up! But free also means there is no cap to downloads. In other words, these templates are available to EVERYONE. And since almost everyone uses Canva for their businesses, that means everyone is using the same free templates as you are. Unfortunately, this can dilute the impact of your brand strength, recognition, and perceived value.
The problem with relying on Creative Market’s marketplace
The templates available through Creative Market aren’t free, so you don’t have to worry as much about everybody and their moms using the same designs. The bigger issue is what we’ve heard straight from you guys—many of our subscribers told us that the templates they’ve purchased from Creative Market are too techy for business owners who don’t really consider themselves designers.
Also, Creative Market is a third-party vendor. That means they simply broker design downloads and aren’t the creators of the actual products. So in a marketplace with thousands upon thousands of independent designers, there is little consistency across product quality available in its catalogue. It’s kind of a crapshoot to know how easy it’s going to be to update the template you purchased for your brand.
Finally, buying a la carte or one-off brand visuals from places like Creative Market really adds up. Both in the amount of time you spend endlessly clicking through pages of products to find the right template, as well as money you spend on separate templates for IG stories, lead magnets, client welcome guides, pitch decks, etc. These really add up and can end up costing hundreds of dollars (and more if you’re sourcing templates and designs regularly for things like launches and other marketing campaigns). Not to mention, your purchase doesn’t even come with lessons or context for learning how to incorporate your final design into your business.
The problem with solely relying on either platform
For all of the design templates both platforms provide, neither provide any marketing support! When you create visual marketing or print collateral for your business, the work doesn’t end after you’re done updating the design. It’s what you do with the asset and how you use it in your marketing to improve your business that really matters.
You can make endless tweaks to your brand by updating a million templates if you want. But without any strategy to align with your business goals, your efforts will never be enough to move your bottom line.
So what’s the solution? How could design template platforms and marketplaces become the ultimate tools for entrepreneurs building stunning visual brands?
In an ideal world, they would provide gorgeous design templates while also providing context in how to actually use the assets in your marketing.
When entrepreneurs have both, that’s when the magic really starts to happen.
If you want to see what I mean, I’m launching a brand new membership in a few weeks and I’m so stoked to share with you what I’ve been up to. It’s a new kind of framework that I’ve been testing with my clients for the last few years and have been working super hard to make it available to even more people.
Each month, business owners will have access to deep-dive marketing roadmaps as well as a fresh stack of branding designs to help them implement. So not only will you have a step-by-step action plan that will guide you directly to results, but you will also have the collateral you need to establish a visual brand experience that is both stunning but (more importantly) contributes to the growth of your business. Again, this has been a few years in the making but it’s now officially launching in the next few weeks so make sure you’re on my mailing list for more details on that!
In the meantime, if you want to prep, make sure you sign up for my Big Brand Confidence training (pssst, it’s free!). It’s the most efficient way to identify where your brand is falling short and how to close those gaps and get rid of the disconnect that might be costing you business.
Are you an avid user of Canva’s free design templates or Creative Market? Would love to hear your thoughts, leave a comment below!