Most good businesses start with a business plan. In this document, they outline the vision and goals, services, financial projections and startup costs. And yes, businesses starting up can have a lot of startup costs, including everything from registering a domain and getting a business license, to leasing space, purchasing equipment and payroll. In the middle of all this planning, a business might stop to wonder: when should I think about branding?
The answer is: FROM DAY ONE.
I often sit down with potential clients and ask them about their business - I want to know about their current brand and what activities they are doing to gain visibility with their audience. Through these conversations, I might learn that a client is working on their social media, or is having a video produced, or is working with an agency to improve their SEO. In the middle of all of these plans, they begin to think about branding. I understand that when you are starting a business, it can be easy to get overwhelmed with noise: ie. your peers may be telling you you need to be on social media right away, or you might meet a videographer who convinces you why a video is the first thing you need to do. And while I fully agree with integrating different marketing efforts and content to support your brand, the biggest mistake a new business can make is not thinking about their brand first.
your brand is the heart of your business.
Whether you are starting an accounting firm or opening a boutique or a fitness studio, it is vital to know your brand from the very beginning. After you come up with your initial idea and start putting together your business plan, start to define your brand. Why? Because it's very likely that you are not the first business in your industry in your local area. Particularly in a large city or to compete on an international level, there are so many companies out there dominating every field. As a small or startup business, your path to success will largely be defined by your brand. By this, we don't mean just your logo. The brand of your business should in essence be its persona. Imagine your brand as a character with a personality:
- What does it look like?
- How does it sound and communicate with people?
- What does it stand for?
- What does it promise?
This persona is what will set you apart from any other business competing in your sector. Perhaps you'll have some similar characteristics as another business, but the combination of all the different factors that creates the "formula" of your brand will be 100% unique. Your brand should inform everything you do, including how your logo appears, how you engage on social media, what kind of content you produce and how your website is structured. Branding even influences how you decorate your space and how and where you advertise. Without knowing "who" your business is, it doesn't make sense to invest in all the other pieces yet! Companies who do this backwards, ie. design a generic website or put out an ad before establishing a brand, may discover two drawbacks:
- What they have already put out to represent their company is not in line with the brand they create later on, so print materials, online content and advertising dollars may have gone to waste. Raise your hand if you've had to throw out 1000 brochures because they were outdated and no longer represented the business properly.
- A look and feel for the company already exists and is what clients know, whether it is the best representation of the brand or not. This means companies often have to adhere to what they have already put out (colours, fonts, symbols) and this ends up influencing the brand, rather than the brand being developed organically, ie. a blank canvas!
The bottom line is that businesses see the most success when they think about their brand from Day 1 and have all their guidelines in place before the public even knows about the business. If you establish your brand from the get go, all of your brand assets, content, physical touchpoints and advertising will follow a consistent look and feel, ensuring that you build brand equity from the beginning. Your clients will understand your concept and offering right at launch and have brand recognition as your business grows. It may be a big investment up front, but trust me in the long run you won't regret that you started off on the right foot.