How to Choose the Perfect Sign for your Small Business

Make sure to answer these questions before 'hanging out your shingle.'
Marty Kotis
Marty Kotis explains why your business' signage is not the place to skimp on spending. (Photo: Marty Kotis)

You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and for your small business, that first impression is your sign.

What does your sign say about your business? Is it welcoming, and does it hint at what customers can expect inside? Marty Kotis, CEO of Kotis Holdings, Restaurant Investors and Outdoor Signage in Greensboro, North Carolina, said there are several factors when choosing your business signage.

Here are his five points to consider when planning and purchasing your sign:

How much should I spend?

Your store or business signage is not the place to save a few bucks. Spend what you need to get a high-­quality and appropriate sign.

Does it communicate what your business actually does?

A graphic designer can help you choose the best colors and materials for your sign so that it gives customers a good idea of the nature of your business. Your sign can be the first step to creating a total look for your business that encompasses your marketing image from business cards to your website.

Does it meet the government rules and standards of your location?

Most cities have ordinances that govern the size and placement of signs. Some communities limit the content of signs to the business name only. Other factors to consider are the terms of your lease, if you are renting retail space, and the rules of the shopping center, mall or neighborhood. For example, some shopping centers may specify the dimensions, colors or font styles that may be used.

Can it be read from the nearest road?

Be sure your sign can be read by people who are driving by. Choose a type and font that is legible, and keep the words to the minimum necessary to communicate your business name and what you do.

“A good sign is easy to read and understand, and it presents an impression of the quality of your business,” Kotis said.

Does it get noticed?

Kotis recommended driving by your business during daylight and night hours to help make decisions about color, size and lighting so that your sign gets noticed.

Another key factor to a successful sign is the materials you choose. The materials should be congruent or in keeping with the type of goods or services you provide. Some materials have a traditional association with a business type; for example, neon for bars or painted glass for lawyers.

The most common materials for business signs include:

Wood: Wood may be sandblasted, carved or painted. A key factor to consider when choosing wood is what type of weather the sign will endure. Wooden signs may require repainting or more maintenance than other materials.

Photo: Elliott Brown/Flickr

Wooden signs like this one may require Wooden signs may require maintenance such as repainting. (Photo: Elliott Brown/Flickr)

Glass or acrylic: Glass signs range from painted glass – which, depending on how elaborate your design, can be very affordable – to etched glass and neon. Acrylic signs offer much of the creativity of glass with more durability.

butcher shop sign

Painted glass signs can allow for an abundance of creativity when it comes to sign design. (Photo: New Bohemia Signs/Flickr)

Metal: Metal is a versatile and durable material for signage. Style options for metal signs include punched, formed letters or painted.

Metal Sign

Metal signs are extremely durable, which makes them suitable for outdoor signage. (Photo: Paul Sableman/Flickr)

Fabric: Printed banners are budget friendly and allow a multitude of options for color, graphics and photos. Fabric awnings may serve a dual purpose as business signage.

Cafe Du Monde Sign

Fabric business signs can double as awnings. (Photo: Charles Barilleaux/Flickr)

“By choosing the highest quality materials you can afford, you present your business in its best possible light,” Kotis said.

Other ideas for effective business signs include murals, different shaped signs, moving signs and unique colors.

“Signage is generally expensive, more so than most people think. Murals with lighting can be a neat alternative, but in the end the signage needs to tell people what you do so that someone driving by understands,” Kotis said.

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