Branding basics for entrepreneurs
In the very early days of building a startup, the single most important task – and probably the only one on your radar – is building out your product or service. Everything else, like human resource policies, patents or social media marketing can and should come later, when you grow your team and can focus on other priorities.
While it makes sense that all of the other moving pieces will eventually be assigned to a team, department, or contracted out for your growing business, there are some basic steps you can take early on to mitigate any long term issues you may have when the time comes to grow your company and raise awareness of the work you’re doing.
Investing a few hours into your company’s branding basics while you’re still early on in the process will save you a costly marketing rebrand down the road, potential customer confusion and of course, the valuable time you could be spending on other integral parts of the business development process.
We’ve compiled a list of branding must-haves for every business that’s just starting out, so that you can get back to product development and rest easy, knowing your marketing efforts are starting out on the right foot.
A deep-dive into your company’s name
You may have that ‘Ah-ha’ moment when you’re in the midst of developing your product, when you think of a cool and seemingly unique name for your business. That’s great! Naming your business can be a tough decision, and it’s one that you should be one hundred per cent confident making. So there’s a bit of work to do to ensure that ‘Ah-ha’ feeling is well-deserved.
Your business name should sound catchy and be reflective of what it is you want to build. It should also be easy to pronounce and spell; you want customers to be able to easily find you on the web. But, before you settle on a name, you must do your research and confirm that no other companies share it. If another company does share your name, in most cases, you cannot legally use it.
You also don’t want any confusion about what it is you do – and knowing early on that no one else has your company name will save you from a potentially expensive marketing rebrand (or even a lawsuit) down the road. If you don’t start with this step, everything with your company’s name on it will need to be replaced – that’s a big list to get through and a cumbersome hurdle you don’t want to face when you’re ready to roll out.
Start with a basic Internet search to see if you can find companies that share your proposed name or a similar one in your market, your country and anywhere you wish to scale. While it isn’t the worst thing if a company has a similar name, it is important to note that it can cause a lot of confusion around what it is you do versus what they do, and has the potential to create unnecessary challenges down the road should you decide on it, even if they aren’t in the same industry.
It might feel like a lot of leg work with everything else that’s on the go, but trust us, it will be worth it to be able to confidently tell someone your company name, knowing it’s clear what you do and you won’t have to rebrand later. Just be sure to register your name as soon as you settle on one that’s conflict free!
A short and punchy one-liner
In a few short sentences, you should be able to clearly describe what it is your company does and how your product or service will resolve pain points for your target customer. With brief descriptions – or one-liners – be sure to keep the language jargon-free. A good rule of thumb is to write your description and all respective information about your company as if a Grade 10 student is reading it. Save the technical language or requirements for your development team job postings, not the general public! The more people can understand it, the more likely it is that you will attract new audiences/customers.
It may seem silly at first to spend time writing out what it is your early-stage startup plans to do, but you will be surprised at how useful it is for short and long-term planning. Being able to reference or copy and paste your one-liner will help with consistency, clarity and save you from creating variations of the same text over and over again for funding applications, social media biographies, your company tagline, mission and vision statement, and more.
Plus, having a clear and concise explanation of what it is your company will accomplish in your back pocket, will save you from stumbling through what could be an important elevator conversation or pitch, early discussions with potential investors (you don’t always know who’s in the room or the connections they may have), and help shape your pitch deck down the road.
In the long term, when you’re growing or considering pivoting, revisiting your one-liner can be an invaluable way to stay grounded, or, on the flip side, reassess if it is time to pivot. Just remember to update your descriptions if you do go in another direction.
Have a searchable, basic website
Now that you’ve secured your business name and decided on a clear description of your company, you should have a basic website in place to drive traffic, inform potential customers what it is you’re building, share updates and direct any enquiries. This can make a huge difference when you’re building your brand’s story.
Basic content should include how to contact you, what it is you’re building (your mission), and it should speak to the customer or industry you’re aiming to help with your product or service. Be careful not to give too much away in case you do need to pivot.
Keep all of the information on your website free from jargon, and written in such a way that engages your potential customer, while educating readers about why you are the right person or team to build this solution. This can take the form of an ‘About Us’ section, or be included in the founder’s biography. These pieces of your story that you tell early on will be part of your larger narrative down the road, so take the time to tell it right.
If you aren’t a copywriter, aren’t sure where to start or what to include, there are some affordable routes you can take to find the right tone and tell the right story. This doesn’t mean hiring your marketing team right away; it means finding a freelance or contract writer who understands your story and can clearly articulate your messaging.
Resources such as Upwork (formerly E-lance) or Fiverr can be an extremely affordable and ideal place to meet talented writers looking for contract work. But, before you hire someone, make sure you arrange a phone call or coffee meeting to give them a real sense of your tone and style. Other avenues include taking on a co-op student (if you have the time to work with them), or hiring a marketing, public relations or journalism student for a part-time contract to give them real world experience for a short time.
If you do have some cash flow, you can also connect with a local consultancy and have them create the necessary content you need. This is a much more expensive option, but it does come with a degree of quality and accountability that may be lacking from the less expensive options.
Also, don’t get long-winded about your URL; make it as simple as possible – including only your company name if possible. At this time, you should also incorporate a company-specific email, rather than use your personal one, because it lends a lot more credibility to yourself and the organization you’re hoping to build. Remember to use a naming convention or style that will be consistent with all hires.
Variations of your logo in a vector format is key!
There are so many reasons that your company will need a high-resolution version of your logo; for everything from letterheads and business cards to social media profile images or merchandise down the road, having a vector of your company logo is key.
Anything that is reflective of your brand from here on out will have a variation of your logo on it, so take the necessary time and get it right. With this logo, you’ll want a white, black and colour version of it so that whatever you do, you don’t compromise on your style and quality in order to put your brand on it.
Much like your company name, do your homework and ensure that no one has a logo that is similar to yours. This is a good time to hire a freelance graphic designer, who will be in the know about trends, spacing, existing logos, and, above all else, formatting.
Meet with the designer and give them a strong sense of what it is you’re looking for, such as colours you want to associate with the brand.
Most importantly, don’t be afraid to get picky. This will be everywhere, so you have to get it right.
When they’ve finished creating the logo for you, ask for all of the files related to it so that eventually, your in-house marketer or design team can use it accordingly. This means, if you’ve only received a PNG or JPG file, that won’t cut it! Ask the designer for both the AI (Adobe Illustrator) and EPS (Adobe Photoshop) format, where you can export it yourself as a JPEG, GIF, TIFF, PNG or any other that you require.
Social Media Handles
Now that you’ve confirmed that no one shares your company name, and you’ve got your go-to one-liner about your early stage startup crafted, it’s time to secure your social media handles – even though you may not actually use them right away.
There are a few social media channels that aren’t going anywhere any time soon; these include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram. Secure those handles, first, so that no one beats you to it. Note that not all platforms are an excellent fit for every brand, so even though you may create an account, you might find, down the road it isn’t the right fit for your company based on your target customers, use of imagery or video, or for some other reason.
It’s best to create the accounts simultaneously so that you can tweak the social media handles for consistency across each platform. This way, your Twitter and Instagram handle or account name are the same – which is helpful for future marketing purposes. That handle or name, ideally will also be the same as your Facebook and LinkedIn slug, so play around with it until you can find one fit for all.
If you can’t lock down the same handle for all platforms, that’s ok. Try including parts of your complete company name, like ‘Co.’ or ‘Inc.’
As for your profile image, don’t leave it empty, and don’t use your headshot either. For now, it’s best to use your company’s logo as a profile image; use your one-liner in the about section, and drive traffic to your basic website for the time being.
Of course, it’s not essential that you start drafting posts for social media platforms, but you can rest assured that no one else will have your business name on the web.
Keep in mind, though, that capturing your entrepreneurial journey through photos and videos can make for excellent content down the road.
While it may feel like you have a million other tasks to complete before focusing on your branding efforts, ensuring all of these processes and accounts are in place early on will make your life much easier when you’re ready to dive into the marketing world at a later date. Plus, the people you meet throughout your branding journey, like student marketers or freelance copywriters, may end up being an excellent fit for your marketing team when the time comes!