Ideas for Outdoor Business Signs

Mary Gormandy White
Insurance sign

Visibility is an important key to success for any bricks and mortar business. Outdoor signs are a great way to make your presence known to potential customers, and to direct those who already want to do business with your company directly to your door.

Tips for Effective Outdoor Signs

Purchasing an outdoor sign for your business is a significant investment. According to CostHelper.com, "an outdoor sign can easily run $1,000-$10,000 or more." Before placing an order for such an important - and costly - marketing tool for your business, it's important to understand what goes into creating an awesome outdoor business sign that will get people in your front door.

Wording Tips

  • Limited word count: Effective signs are those that clearly convey the name and image of the business in just a few words. According to Intuit, a business sign should have no more than seven words. It is fine - maybe even preferable - to have fewer than seven words, but you should not go beyond that number on an outdoor sign for the best results.
  • Lava Lanes sign
    Essential information only: It's hard to say everything you want to say about your business in seven words or less - but the good news is that all your sign needs to do is let potential customers know where your company is and bring them in the door. The few words on your sign should convey only what customers need to know before actually entering your business. According to McNamara Signs, examples of the types of information you may want to include are:
    • Company name (this is a must)
    • Phone number
    • Address
    • Website URL
    • Twitter handle
    • Slogan
    • Call to action
  • Write for a moving target: Don't lose sight of the fact that people will likely be reading your company's sign from a moving vehicle. As the U.S. Small Business Administration points out, signs should be easy to read even if someone is "whizzing by in a car going 45 miles an hour." This is an important reason why you should keep the information on your outdoor signage to a minimum. You wouldn't want to lose customers because they were so busy trying to read other information that they didn't see your company's name.

Design Tips

  • Staples storefront
    Brand consistency: Your outdoor signage should reinforce your company's brand identity. Forte, a newsletter for small businesses produced by InConcert Financial Group, states, "Where possible, link the look of your signs to all your other promotional and communications elements, including advertising." This includes maintaining consistency with your logo and other marketing materials.
  • Font considerations: The need for brand consistency suggest that you should use the same font in your logo in your signage, but this holds true only if the lettering style is a typeface that will be highly readable when used on a business sign. If this is not the case, choose a font that is close as possible to your logo that will also translate well in a larger format. According to BSCSigns.com, the best fonts for commercial signs include Helvetica, Futura, Grammond, Bodoni, and Frutiger. CommerceColor.com also advises to avoid using more than two fonts on a sign.
  • Capitalization: McNamara Signs indicates that signs done in all capital leaders are more difficult for people to read than those that include an appropriate mix of uppercase and lowercase letters. For this reason, use title case for the content of your sign.
  • Baptist church sign
    Color contrast: The colors you select should be consistent with your other branding efforts, but they must also be easy to read. The Sign Place recommends going for contrast, pointing out, for example, that "green on blue is not readable, as opposed to yellow on black which is greatly visible." Forte says that the combination that offers the greatest contrast with the highest visibility is black and white, though it doesn't matter if you go with black lettering on a white background or the opposite.
  • Special Effects: Not only do you want your sign to convey your company's brand, you also need it to stand out from other signs in the same geographic location and be more memorable than signs on competitive businesses. Going with a 3D effect can help you accomplish both of these goals. Letragraphic.com indicates that their clients who have 3D signs report a positive impact on bottom line, pointing out that this kind of signage can "provide a great deal of impact for the money."
  • Focal point: The Sign Place recommends establishing a focal point on your sign, placing the most significant information there in a manner that will capture and hold attention. People tend to read left to right and top to bottom, so the focal point should generally be placed toward the upper left of the sign.
  • Limit Graphics: According to Forte, it is best to avoid using multiple graphic elements on your outdoor signage. While it is generally advisable to include your company's logo, don't add additional graphics. Doing so would introduce clutter and could distract viewers.

Placement Tips

  • Consider zoning restrictions: Before investing in an outdoor sign for your business, make sure that you are fully aware of any zoning restrictions or permitting requirements that you need to comply with. Entrepreneur.com points out that quality signage companies can help you determine what restrictions apply if you need a permit, but you are ultimately responsible for ensuring that your sign is in compliance with any local ordinances. If you need to get pre-approval from a zoning commission, do that before you finalize the design.
  • Verify lease requirements: In addition to municipal restrictions, you also need to know what the owner of your building will allow you to do in terms of outdoor signage. There may be limitations specified in your lease, so check there first. If signage is not mentioned, don't assume that you can do anything you want. As Small Business Big Marketing points out, "You may not even be able to have the same sign location or size as the previous tenant. Check with your landlord before making an investment in a sign."

  • PetSmart storefront

    Avoid obstructions: Intuit emphasizes the importance of ensuring that customers have a clear line of sight to your sign. View any placement areas you are considering to verify that there is nothing that will keep customers from being able to see your sign, no matter which direction or angle they are coming from. Check for the presence of power lines, trees, other companies' signs - anything that might get in the way. Be mindful that trees will grow, so consider not only if there is a tree blocking the area today, but also if one may grow to be a problem in the future.

  • Lighting: While not technically a placement issue, the matter of whether or not your outdoor sign will be lit can have an impact on placement. As SpellBrite.com points out, lighting is essential for companies that are open at night. Even those not open after dark can benefit from lighting, as potential customers can drive by the location at any time of the day or night. If your sign will be lit, consider access to electricity when making up your mind about where to place it.

Finding a Business Sign Vendor

There are locally-based sign vendors in most markets, as well as some ecommerce sign companies that you may want to consider.

Local Vendors

If you prefer to work with a local company, the membership directory for the International Sign Association is a good starting point. You can search by specific geographic location, which will make it easy for you to find the best options within the closest proximity to your company.

Other options include:

  • Look for examples of the type of sign you are interested in and ask the business owner or manager what company they worked with to have the sign made.
  • Contact your local Chamber of Commerce and ask for referrals to members that produce business signs.

Ecommerce Options

When investigating online options, be sure to factor shipping costs and delivery time into your decision. Also be aware that you will be giving up the benefit of having a local vendor who is familiar with zoning regulations in your area.

A few ecommerce resources for outdoor business signs include:

  • EZSignsOnline.com: This online retailer offers an excellent selection of outdoor sign options. They offer several styles of free-standing signs, as well as ones designed to be mounted on building exteriors. They do not offer LED signs or ones with internal lighting. Their website features an image gallery with samples of each style of sign they carry. You can also get sign posts and installation hardware from this vendor. Free shipping is available on some smaller signs, and is calculated by weight and location for larger ones. Large signs are shipped curbside by freight carrier, which means that the delivery driver will only be take it as far as your company's driveway, or possibly the entrance to your building. It'll be up to you to transport it the rest of the way.
  • Outdoor Signs America: This sign company works with customers through the U.S. and in other countries as well. They have a broad selection of business signs, including those with LED or internal lighting. You can see visual examples of their work on the Signs by Type and Signs by Market pages on their website. On the Signs by Market page, you'll be able to view work samples by specific industry, such as signs for hotels, churches, stores, car washes, restaurants, schools and more. Smaller signs are shipped by UPS and larger ones by a freight carrier. Rates vary based on size and location. Delivery times are scheduled by the freight carrier, and the customer is responsible for off-loading and carrying the sign to where it needs to go.

Much to Consider

There is a great deal of information to consider when preparing to purchase an outdoor sign for your business. It's essential to consider all of the relevant factors when determining what your sign will look like and where it will be placed, as well as to locate a trusted vendor to bring your conceptualization to life.

Ideas for Outdoor Business Signs