So what are your "must haves" when it comes to setting up your new business venture? Contrary to the advice of branding consultants, most companies have thrived despite (or even because of) their lack of a poster stating their corporate values, mission and vision.
Here are the top 10 branding tools you will need in a new small business.
A LinkedIn account
Forget Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and all the others. Social media is for social relationships, and you will be un-friended the second you try to sell to buddies. Although you will feel like you are marketing as you create all these cool accounts and post for an hour a day, in reality social media posts are a form of marketing procrastination. Get away from the computer and connect face-to-face.
That said, if you are a consultant LinkedIn is your friend. The right time to create a LinkedIn account and connect was last year when you had that fancy corporate job and people wanted your business. The second best time is today.
- First update your LinkedIn profile and include recent [work] photos and projects. Take it seriously.
- Then reconnect with all your past colleagues and clients. Recommend them, endorse them and perhaps they will return the favour. Don't sound desperate, and don't immediately talk about your new product or service.
- Write 3 blogs on topics that are of interest and use to your target market and industry and published them on LinkedIn. Use graphics. Show off your capabilities and knowledge.
- Regularly share and like other people's blogs on LinkedIn - people connect with nice people.
Naming a business should be taken as seriously as naming your children. You must spend the next decade convincing clients you are a solid, professional business, so don't make life difficult - make sure your name reflects your service and your client profile.
- Don't be cute or funny - unless you sell to teen girls
- Don't get too clever with spelling - people have to find you on search engines
- Don't be obscure - three letters + Consulting might sound cool but you will struggle to distinguish your services.
- Check that some version of your business name is available as a domain in co.za.
To extend your business name, add a tagline or slogan that outlines your service. Nike has Just Do It! Coke Adds Life. In a way, a tagline is your vision, mission and marketing strategy rolled into one practical sentence. If you struggle to come up with a short tagline, you might need to think more about your business.
A domain name with email
Nothing says "I work from my garage" like a gmail, yahoo or outlook.com email address! A matched business name, domain name and email will mean that your emails are less likely to be relegated to spam. The repetition of your name each time a prospect emails you will improve recognition. Once a client has your email address, he can check your website and find other contact information.
It is tempting to borrow a logo off a similar company in Asia or Canada, or search on the internet and use a cool graphic. If your business takes off, it will need to be redrawn so you can use it in higher quality and larger sizes. Don't use Word Art. Ever.
When you are just starting out, it is best that your logo incorporates your company name for improved memorability. Colours and fonts affect people on a subconscious level and help to create that all important first impression. Make sure they project the right personality for your business.
A Business Card
Your primary job in a new business is marketing. A business card should only be defined after all the above items have been decided (although often a logo defines the business cards, and a business card might refine logo choices). Nothing you do in your first month is as important as creating an attractive, professional business card that aligns with your business.
Good paper matters - look for stiff, blue-white card with a satin finish. Beware of high gloss unless it suits your industry. A new business needs to be adaptable - make sure your business card doesn't pigeonhole you. If any contact information on your business card is incorrect (such as change in phone number), immediately REPRINT. Nothing says amateur like a hand-written number. No-one believes "my new cards are at the printer".
An "elevator pitch"
There are a dozen situations every week where you get less than a minute with a potential prospect - except you don't know he's a prospect yet. He's the guy you meet in the lift, a person stuck in a queue with you or someone you sit next to at a business breakfast. Be ready to describe your business benefit in 60 words or less.
A corporate typeface
Decide on a basic font for ordinary documents like invoices, quotes and reports. Helvetica, Minion Pro or Verdana are clean and professional. Trebuchet is a little creative. Tahoma has a square look suitable for engineering and industry. Cambria is slightly old-fashioned but gives a sense of trust and it is very legible on long documents. Any new business that uses Arial or Comic Sans is doomed.
Your logo may identify a more decorative font for use in special circumstances. Don't use it in corporate documents if it isn't standard on computers. If you use a Mac, many of the cool fonts in documents will not display on Windows computers (which make up 95% of the corporate world).
Corporate stationery includes letterheads. A simple lay-out without clutter allows for brand awareness. Correct and full contact information is essential. Few things are as frustrating as having to search for a phone number or an email address. Letterheads are legal documents and require your full business name, domicilium and registration number.
A company website
A one-page WordPress website costs less than R5 000 and if it is well designed it will market your company 24/7. In a small business, your first orders will come through personal contacts, but after that it is difficult to close deals without a website. It provides credibility and background information about your company, and follows up on the good impression you created when you gave your prospective client that amazing business card.
A mailing list
Email is still the most effective marketing tool around. At some point you will want to email people your latest blog, some company news or industry gossip. Start building up a mailing list on Excel, with columns for the contact name, company, and category of contact. You will thank me later when you set up your MailChimp newsletter account.
What a new small business doesn't [usually] need
As soon as you are achieving a measure of business success, people will try to sell you all kinds of marketing tools. Don't get distracted with:
If you don't manufacture goods or have staff, work from home and visit people at their office or a local coffee shop. Don't invite people home unless you have a home that reflects your image. There is nothing like your child running in telling you the dog has poo'ed on the carpet, to ruin a client meeting. Most savvy business people know about Regus offices, and won't be impressed with your fancy address. They might wonder what you are trying to hide, and if they will be able to find you when things go wrong.
- Email signature.
URLs, multiple fonts, coloured text and images all signal "trouble" to spam filters. I find a text address more professional - especially when the image with all your information has been stripped out the email. Always include a telephone number and email address in text on the base of your email, so that people on forwarded emails can contact you.
One day your website will be a critical marketing tool. However when you start up, you are still evolving your brand and your offering. You don't have clients to boast about, and you might need to change direction if new opportunities arise. After 6-12 months, you will have built up content, perhaps a team of people and a few case studies. Leave your website until then.
- Social presence
Social media is usually free, which tells you about the type of companies who rely on it for marketing. If you have time on your hands, can it hurt? Well, yes. Your time would be better spent writing a blog on LinkedIn, or starting to write profiles and pages for your future website. Gather email addresses for your mailing list. Write standard templates for quotations and proposals so that when enquiries come in you make a great impression. Add your details to respected industry websites, or post solutions on forums for people struggling with services you offer. Or best of all attend industry events and join an association that brings you face-to-face with leaders in your client field - in these days of non-stop digital and online self-promotion, be real.
- Promotional items
If you have a place to hand out brochures or put up signage such as sponsored golf days or events, then these are useful. Remember they date and get dirty quickly. Some types of businesses are suited to corporate gifts, caps and t-shirts to create brand awareness. Don't waste money on gifts that are not valuable and attractive enough to be kept (e.g. cheap pens and cardboard calendars).
- Media and Banner Adverts
Before taking adverts in print publications, check that your target market still reads print publications. Before taking a paid advert on a website or directory, check it's popularity on Google Search. Once you purchase the advert, track how many visitors it brings to your website. Frankly, most "digitial publications" aren't worth the paper they are written on.
- Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Google Ads
Do you click on Google Ads? Neither does anyone else. The "sponsored" or paid content of searches is almost never a company you want to deal with. They are fly-by-nights who Google has recognised and thrown off the legitimate (or organic) search pages. Once you have a full website, focus on writing good content and building your page rank the right way. It's slow, but you won't get banned (Google hires the smartest people in the world and SEO cheaters will get caught after a few months!). Please note: one-page websites have low SEO rank and almost never appear on Google.