Marketing on a budget: how to find useful and stylish creative resources for small businesses


Whether it’s in a newspaper or in your Facebook feed, we’ve all experienced the power of the right image and the right words used at the right time. A nicely curated content strategy will strengthen your brand and allow you to tell meaningful stories.

If you run a growing small business, investing in your brand is one of the best things you can do. But it’s not always easy – especially if a robust marketing budget is not exactly your reality.

As a marketing specialist and designer working primarily with small businesses and not-for-profits, I know that in the beginning of the business journey there are some calculated compromises every entrepreneur needs to make.

However, compromising doesn’t have to mean giving up your style and standing for a less-than-professional look and feel.

There are many awesome creative resources available on the web for free, and with my inside tips and a bit of time, you can find those life-saving solutions that will help you strengthen your brand and keep you on budget.

So, for the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing with you some of my favourite free creative resources I’ve discovered over the years, which I hope you will enjoy exploring as much as I have.

Let’s start with photography

(keep reading for a list of my favourite free image galleries!)

The images you choose to represent your brand tell your clients (and potential clients) a lot about who you are and what you value as a business. When it comes to authentically representing your brand, no stock photo can replace your own professional and original photos. However, if you spend some time finding and curating the right stock images, they can do a great job communicating your message effectively.

Stock galleries are notoriously cheesy (here are a few classics to give you a laugh), and traditional stock photos can send a message that is out of touch with contemporary social values (try searching for ‘business woman’ or ‘working mother’ and be prepared for an avalanche of cringeworthy stereotypes).

Recently, however, with the increasing number of creative entrepreneurs starting their own businesses, and the growth and availability of open access content, the quality and affordability of images has dramatically improved.

So forget Google Images and read my 5 tips for how you can start building your brand’s image gallery for free.

Move away from the cliches

When searching for stock photos, it’s best to go for a more abstract and unexpected shot than to pick a too obvious representation of your topic. For example, if you need an image that represents healthy eating, instead of using the photo of a boring salad, try searching for less obvious keywords, such as fresh organic produce.


Avoid the clinical look

Every image conveys some type of emotion. If an image looks cold, that is the emotion your audience will feel, consciously or not. Look closely at all elements of an image, from its composition (how the elements in an image are arranged) to the lighting. Also, choose images that have a slightly more rustic and spontaneous look, as these send a more approachable and warm message to your audience.

Make sure your images are high quality

Nothing says amatuer more than pixelated images on your website or marketing collateral. When selecting your brand’s imagery, make sure to check the specs, such as a the size and resolution of an image, and ensure they’re appropriate for the platform you intend to use them on. For example, for print materials such as flyers and brochures, your image should be no less than 2MB and 300 dpi, whereas for digital, you should keep your image sizes small (72 dpi) so they load quicker on the web.

Aim for visual cohesion

One of the most important rules in branding is: be consistent! When it comes to photos, it’s important to be selective and choose images that have a similar style to your brand. For example, a dominant colour palette, harmonious lighting and mood, and if you’re editing the photos yourself, try to stick to the same filters and features.


Bookmark your favourites and subscribe to their newsletters

One of the best things you can do to improve your luck when looking for quality open source images is to follow your favourite sites, and when you find an image you love, save it. You can never have too many quality images.

To help you on your way, here are a few of my favourite image galleries to follow.

Most these sites offer high quality and stylish photos that you can commercially use for free, which is the perfect way to make your marketing budget dollars go further.

  • Pexels has great free stock photos gathered from around the web in one place.
  • Death to the Stock Photo features beautiful new images every month for free, or for US$15 per month you can get access to their exclusive image packs.
  • Pixabay is home to a large gallery of image, and while not everything looks great, it is definitely worth a search, so be creative with your keywords.
  • Getrefe stars nice abstract and artistic images which are great for backgrounds.
  • Stocksy unfortunately doesn’t offer images for free, but for as little as US$5 (depending on image size) you can buy beautiful, more contemporary shots; it’s perfect for start-ups.

Happy exploring and don't forget to subscribe to the newsletter for more useful inside tips!

Carolina x