How to create a DIY style guide

diy style guide for small businessEven small businesses need consistency with their branding and marketing. You need a style guide the minute you gain an employee so that your brand stays strong. You may even need it to keep yourself in check.

So how do you start off (or reign in) your branding efforts?

With my DIY style guide of course!

This easy to understand, point by point guide will get your content, marketing and branding happy and consistent in no time.

The DIY Style Guide

1) Choose your language style

  • Choose USA or UK spelling as standard- and stick to it.
  • Choose the types of terms you will and won’t use. You can usually come up with a decent inclusion and exclusion list for like terms. The key is consistency- and making sure you don’t sound like your competitors!

 2) Tone and personality

Set done some descriptors that will form the baseline of the tone and personality of your brand.

For example, my tone and personality would be:

  • Friendly, approachable
  • Position of authority within content, marketing and social media
  • Practical and solution orientated
  • Inspiring, positive, genuine
  • Quirky and whimsical
  • Customer-centric and pro-learning
  • Innovative and experimental
  • Pro-freelance community and small business

 3) Define your audience

Think about the kinds of customers you have. Write down some bullet point information about them.

Consider the kinds of media they may consume, and what sorts of content and marketing might inspire them to action. Think about the key characteristics of your customer’s personality, and do a rough trace on their demographics.

It doesn’t have to be a heavy weight of information, just enough to make you feel confident.

 4) Point of View

Most copywriting and advertising calls for the customer-centric style of approach. However, it is still good to define this in your DIY style guide as a reminder.

A great way to demonstrate point of view is via example.


X             Wollongong customers will get a great deal on our website copy during the month of November! 

X             Wollongong, you will get a great deal on our website copy during the month of November!

√           Are you a Wollongong business? You’ll get a great deal on my website copy rates during the month of November!


Note how the example above addresses both the old battle between first, second and third person as well as your use of contractions, and how conversational the offer is in terms of tone?

Contractions may not feel like a big deal when you first start out, but they can be quite powerful, copy wise. When you choose long hand over contraction, you are often choosing formal versus conversational language.

There is also a subtle difference between writing as a company and appealing to customers as a conversational “I’m on your level” freelance style. Small businesses really need to make a decision between the two and stick to it.


 5) What SEO keywords should you include

This is lower down in the DIY style guide creation for a very good reason- you should never let SEO dictate your brand!

While it’s very fashionable to have “Best SEO copywriter in Wollongong” as a tagline to give Google a big old smile, it doesn’t exactly sell imaginative writing, does it?

Once you’ve designed the written personality, then you can consider how your keywords fit into the wider equation.

Choose your SEO keywords with your customers and what they would use to find your product. Double check that against the rankings in the Google keyword tool. Aim for long tail (so 3 or more words per keyword phrase), and include these within your body copy, social media and as part of your overall content strategy.

Make sure your chosen SEO keywords also fit in with your offline activities to keep that consistency happening.

 6) Define your visual brand treatment

It’s time to break out the visual parameters of your DIY style guide!

Your brand treatment should include-

  • Your chosen fonts and font sizes
  • The Hexadecimal colours for font, ribbons and other parts of your brand. This comes in handy when you are dealing with a designer and/or a printing company where the colour needs to match
  • Some suggested “yes/no” examples for stock photos based on colour, filters, borders or content.
  • Any logos, vectors or illustrations that you use with your brand – and any version control you may have going with your files

Example of version control-

Logo.jpeg is not a good idea

<logo>-Company-Date-shape.jpeg is a lot better

Logo-UC-Nov14-Square.jpeg may look like a heck of a name, but it’s very handy when you are handing it over to someone else, or if you are madly diving around your hard-drive to find what you need.

 7) Community Guidelines

Every brand that has social media now needs a Community Guidelines as part of their DIY style guide.  It helps protect you against trolls, issues related to angry customers and generally keeps things (you guessed it!) consistent.

Your community guidelines should cover:

  • Identification of page administrators- do you have multiple people? Should they use their names or initials? Does your community need to know who posted what? Do you?
  • Language usage- is swearing OK? Does it need to be in English? What terms do you need to avoid and which ones should you use?
  • Tone of voice- are you serious? Funny? Speaking on behalf of the company as a royal we? This needs to be defined and kept to. Suddenly becoming comedic when people are used to the opposite does not make for a good community management experience.
  • Define your moderation policy- do you have a “3 strikes and you’re out” rule? Do you reserve the right to delete rude and abusive comments? What does it take to get a caution?
  • Write down your conduct charter and add them to your social media profile(s) and/or your website. It’s always better to have a visible policy to refer people to. Again, it doesn’t have to be very involved. Consider your overall goals with your community and chart a bunch of bullet points that outline the kinds of behaviour you will and won’t tolerate.
  • Create your guidelines with participation in mind -so not so much on the DO NOT and more on the “more of this please”.
  • Crisis management- always have a crisis policy in place. What do you do during a back-lash? Do you talk it through? Who should talk it through with the customers? What kinds of channels will you need to share your message, approach or apology on to ensure you minimise damage? Who releases any major statements? Where does the problem need to be escalated to in a real humdinger of a problem?

 8) Reporting

While most businesses don’t necessarily throw reporting in with the branding, I think adding it to your DIY style guide means it will get defined. Let’s face it- most of us hate reporting with a passion. So unless we make ourselves accountable, it probably won’t happen.

You need to report on:

  • Your website traffic via Google Analytics – monthly
  • Your social media via your scheduler or via the program itself- monthly
  • Ad-hoc marketing activities- as they happen
  • Regular marketing activities- monthly
  • Sales – weekly spread sheet is usually your best friend in stoking the fires of sales happiness

This is of course a very rough overview of what you need. However, it’s usually enough to keep most people honest.


The final word on DIY style guide creation

Considering it is your DIY style guide, it can be as involved or as bullet-point driven as you like. The main aims of any style guide should be to give a person who is new to your business enough information to do their job properly without feeling drowned in information. And it’s a continuing process. As you learn, add more. And just remember to update your DIY style guide when you change things like your company name, logo, visual presence or approach as you go.









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