Signs and your business

Signs are a key part of branding your business. They let customers know who you are and invite them in from the street. A sign can be the first impression someone has of your business. It is therefore important to make sure that you are projecting a consistent and appealing image to customers.

Table of Contents

    What is a sign?

    A commercial sign is any kind of physical display containing text or images that you use to communicate the brand of your business to your customers. Signs come in many shapes and sizes — from countertop displays to highway billboards — and generally feature your business name and/or logo. They are often used outside of buildings to direct people in from the street. Inside your place of business, signs help customers navigate, and let them know more about your offerings.

    What can signs do for your business?

    Signs perform a number of communication functions:

    • Build and reinforce your brand
    • Attract new customers
    • Create impulse sales
    • Provide directions

    Signs establish your brand

    Your sign lets people know what goods or services you are selling. Its design and placement should be part of your branding and marketing strategy. A sign helps people remember your business name and what you have to offer. With a variety of signs or designs, you can target different groups of potential customers, and reinforce your brand with repeat customers.

    Signs attract new customers

    In order to grow your business and increase profits, you must continually attract new customers. It is important that your sign gives a good sense of what your business is selling. You can include things like your telephone number or website address so that people who do not have time to stop can still contact you. You may also want to add current promotions, events, or contests to signs that are easily changed or updated.

    The information you choose to include on your sign will (in part) dictate its format and size. Decisions should therefore be made before you begin the design.

    Signs generate impulse sales

    Customers who are busy don't always plan to visit your location; however, they might notice your sign, realize that your offerings meet a need they have, and will stop and come inside. Maybe you're a restaurant and a hungry family is looking for a good meal; maybe you're a hair salon and a shopper decides they want a bit of pampering on a day off. People often look for what's convenient first. If your sign is the one that stands out, you will be the one who gets their business first.

    Signs provide directions

    Signs are especially helpful if your business is not in a high-traffic area. For example, if you're located inside a building with multiple tenants, you will need a sign outside the building to draw people in. If your business is on a quiet street or is difficult to get to, you can place a sign at a busier location nearby to direct people your way. Signs can also be used inside your business to let people know where they can find the things they're looking for, and alert them to specials, events, etc.

    Designing your business sign

    Before you choose a sign for your business, there are several things you need to consider. A business that specializes in designing commercial signs can help you create what you need.

    Who are your customers?

    In terms of your physical location, potential customers for your business are people who live in your trade area, or are seasonal tourists. These are the people who will see your sign and want to visit your establishment.

    How will your sign draw customers in?

    To convey a message effectively, a sign must be noticeable and readable. It should be large enough to be seen at a distance, whether you are attracting pedestrian or vehicle traffic. A reputable sign maker will be able to help you calculate the appropriate size and placement.

    You may want to include other items on your sign, like a clock or temperature display, or moving parts to attract attention. These things provide a public service and can help generate interest.

    What will your sign look like?

    Your sign is made up of many elements: size, structure, materials and design. A sign should match its surroundings, but still stand out enough to get noticed. You'll need to balance costs and benefits when it comes to the appearance and durability of your sign.

    Think about the readability of your sign, and when it will be viewed. What kind of lighting conditions are there in the area? Is your business open at night? Are you competing with others in the area? Think about the lettering type (font), size, elevation, and anything else that might affect how people see your sign.

    How much will it cost?

    A sign is an investment. Generally, you want it to last at least a few years, and be relatively low-maintenance. The upkeep of your sign will depend on its design, the quality of the materials used, its exposure to the elements, and of course any changes to the information you include on the sign.

    • Maintenance costs — You must maintain your sign because it affects the image people have of you and your business, and in some cases, the health and safety of those in the area. Some types of signs are virtually maintenance-free, while others need more attention. You may need to repaint or revarnish your sign, or replace burnt-out bulbs or tubes. You may have one of your employees preparing and installing electronic messages that change from time to time.
    • Energy consumption — You can buy energy-efficient lights that help protect the environment and save you money in the long run, without sacrificing effect.
    • Owning or leasing — You can often lease a sign for a given period of time from a business who will maintain it for you. Leasing a sign when you are starting out may help you save some of the capital you will need for operating expenses.
    • Custom or standard — Mass-produced standard signs usually cost less than those that are custom-made. Many standard units are designed to allow for creativity and individuality. Some standard signs use high-quality materials and are relatively maintenance-free.
      Be sensitive to the effect your sign and its message has on others who share the same space. After all, they are potential customers too!


    Most cities have by-laws governing the placement and installation of retail signs, particularly in areas that have vehicle or pedestrian traffic. Be sure you know what permits you need before you start, and that you get the necessary approvals. Reputable sign companies will likely be aware of the regulations in your area and can guide you in choosing, designing and erecting a sign that follows regulations. There may also be provincial or territorial laws governing the size and placement of a billboard near a highway.

    You can find out if there are any sign permits required in your municipality by using our permits and licences search:

    • Permits and licences
      Find the federal, provincial/territorial and municipal permits and licences that you may need to start or manage your business.
    Date modified: