Retailers and restaurateurs alike realize the power of a good sign. Some companies rely on drive-by or walk-by traffic for customers, and if that's the case with your company, your sign may be the most important element of your entire corporate identity.
A good sign must do more than just attract attention; it also has to be readable from a good distance. That's why your original logo is so important-one that looks great on a tiny business card may not transfer well to a huge sign above your store. Clearly, going to a professional in the first stages of developing your image is essential. If you find out your great logo can't be reproduced on a sign, you'll have to go back to square one and rethink your logo, which will end up costing you more in the long run.
In recent years, a whole host of new signage materials has emerged to provide more variety and individuality. This also means it's harder to choose among all the possibilities, which include neon, plastic, metal, wood and more. Do some investigating before making your final decision; there is a wide discrepancy in prices for various materials. Depending on your location, sign placement can make a big difference, too. Options include a free-standing sign, a wall sign, a projecting sign or a roof sign.
Since you probably don't have the know-how or the equipment necessary to make a sign yourself, you'll have to go to an outside manufacturer. Don't expect manufacturers to offer suggestions or point out any problems with your design if you've come up with one on your own. That's not their job. Before you head to the manufacturer with your design specifications, check your local zoning laws. You may find that the design you've come up with for your fried chicken restaurant-a 30-foot neon number in the shape of a chicken-isn't allowed in your area. If you are planning to move into a shopping center, the developer may have additional regulations governing signage that can be used in the facility.
Most entrepreneurs need professional assistance with signage since they don't have experience in this area. You probably won't know how big the letters should be to be visible from down the block, and you may not know which materials fare best in inclement weather. For this reason, you should visit a professional-either a designer or a sign fabricator.
A good designer knows when fabricators are cutting corners and not using the material requested or doing a shoddy job. A designer will also be present at the installation to make sure the sign is put in place properly. The cost of a sign varies greatly depending on the materials and type of sign. Buying directly from a fabricator can cost as little as $500, but you run the risk of not meeting zoning requirements. If you hire a designer, you'll pay a design fee in addition to fabrication costs, but you have a better guarantee that the finished product will work for you.
Excerpted from Start Your Own Business: The Only Start-Up Book You'll Ever Need, by Rieva Lesonsky and the Staff of Entrepreneur Magazine, © 1998 Entrepreneur Press