Somehow you’ve found yourself at this juncture. The crossroads between Working For The Man and Working For Your Awesome Self. Congratulations. You have so much to learn and no real road map, where do you turn….where do you go now? Here. You come here.
I’m not going to say I’m the expert in this (of course not, I’m a Microsoft Certified Word Expert, not a Small Business Start-up Expert….there’s no certification from Microsoft for that.) But along with being a start-up myself, I’ve watched a lot of clients and friends go through the process. And now you, Dear Reader, get to have the benefit of that experience. Aren’t you lucky? Please keep in mind, none of this is written in stone, and it’s ok to change things after you start. But this is about putting your best foot forward, so let’s begin.
First of all, I come across people all the time who don’t realize how much work it is to run a business on your own. That’s why so many people who have great ideas don’t get off the ground and why others just stop being in business after a short time. It’s tough, no lie. You are the marketing department, the accounting department, the content creator, the designer, the public relations and the human resources director. And you have yet to do the work you were planning on doing – yikes!
Let’s take a look at this beast.
Naming The Biz
Let’s just start here, shall we? You’re going to need a name for your business. It should be unique and easily remembered, not hard to spell, and say what business you’re in (or close to it). You’re at the beginning of branding your company, and you don’t want to be lost in the morass of other business like yours because you couldn’t decide on a name. Dan the Plumber is a good name for your business if you’re Dan and you do plumbing. But what if what you do isn’t so cut & dry?
Well, you Google businesses like yours and see what they’ve done. Get a feel for what is acceptable and what is wacky. This can take a bit of time, so maybe enlist a friend and a bottle of wine. Let’s say you are a Jack of All Trades and have a number of services you can offer clients so one vocation (like plumber or accountant or dog groomer) doesn’t work for you. Add ‘services’ or ‘consulting’ to your name. But please please please, make your name have something to do with what you do. You’re not quite at the stage where you can call yourself a single name and have everyone know who you are and what you do (Beyonce, Nike, Hilton, D&G). That’s what branding is for…to make you well known enough people will know you and your company’s reputation just by hearing your company name. You may want to stay small – that’s just fine, but branding still applies. If you’re one of two bakeries in town and your competition has a cohesive look & feel and presents themselves well, you might get lost in the shuffle because you’re not as easy to remember, even if your cupcakes bring all the boys to the yard.
A word about branding»
Branding is all about what people say about your company when you’re not in the room. Branding is your logo, your tag line, your company name, your font choice, your colour choice (FYI there’s serious psychology around colours), your voice when you answer the phone or when you type up a blog post. If you think you don’t need to know about branding, you’re incorrect. It’s happening whether you’re an active participant in it or not. If everything you do is hodge-podge thrown together then that’s your message to your clients about your business, and that’s what they say about you when you’re not within earshot.
Oh, and here’s something to steer clear of – being cutesy. Ugh. Instead – be clever. Be innovative. Be funny. But don’t be cutesy. Betty’s Curlz for a hairdresser is asking for trouble with people typing in her name on a Google search. Kewl Kruellers is just messed up (and not cool at all!) Doggie Style is just…awful. I mean seriously. I’ve seen this name on a few grooming businesses and I’m not sure if they think they’re being original or tongue-in-cheek or what, but it’s just in bad taste and you’ve ruled out a number of people who will never go to your company because of it.
Which brings me to another point. Being exclusionary with your name. Of course Dan’s Plumbing won’t bring someone to you who is looking for window replacement, and that’s a good thing. But a nail spa & massage therapist teaming up to create Mommy’s Time Out seems like a good idea until you realize not everyone who wants a nail treatment and a massage is a mom. Not all women are moms, and the men out there that feel like they’re the mom are still not “mommy”, but still might like a massage and their nails looked after. Hell, some single guy who doesn’t have kids still might want his nails done – who knows? So you’ve effectively killed off a number of clients before you opened your doors. Not the way to go.
And another thing – look at the various meanings of your name choice. The Anchor sounds like a great name for a company near a body of water but when the business works on computers, it’s not the best choice. (Who wants their computer to become a boat anchor? Not me.) You can’t just assume the way you view a name is how everyone will view it. Maybe your last name is Lemon, but you wouldn’t name your used car business Lemon’s, now would you?
Let’s get back to the naming of this beast, shall we? Not cutesy with odd spelling? Not exclusionary? Tells people what you do or encompasses a range of possibilities (consulting, services, associates, etc.) Good. Now think of three variations of that name. Because if you’re registering that name with the government, you’ll need to do a NUANS search to make sure it’ available, and then register it to lock it down for your use only. If you get set on one name and that name is taken, you’ll be bummed out and under pressure to come up with a new one on the spot at the Registry office. If you have three ready to go, you’ll walk out of there with a great name and your first receipt of many for your accounting files.
Okay, so now we’re named. But what do you really do, better than all the others who do what you do? What is the essence of your service that makes it stand out from all the other businesses like yours? That, my friend, is your tag line.
- Dan the Plumber… reliable 24 hour service
- Marge’s Carpentry …. nailing it since ’97
- Brown’s Accounting….current & concise advice
- Lorax Massage….for every body
It may seem odd to do this work now, but trust me, it makes things easier in the long run if you do this kind of work at the start of starting up your start-up.
Aaannnd here’s where that works starts to pay off.
- Plumber – most likely blue with some reference to water in the logo
- Carpenter – brown with a reference to wood or an easily recognizable tool
- Groomer – clean white with a cute dog
- Massage – relaxing blue or green with some zen-like emblem
Seems pretty simple doesn’t it? Only when you’ve done the thinking about your business and how you want it to be perceived can you pick out what you want your clients to focus on (the logo). And don’t make it complicated…because it’s going to get printed a lot, and at a variety of sizes. Sign on the side of your van? Better make sure you can read it from across the street, as your van goes driving by. Engraved on a cup? Better make sure the font isn’t too fussy. Embroidered on a jacket? Better make sure it’s distinguishable from the jacket material. And, as always, better make sure the outline of your logo doesn’t conjure up images you’re not wanting to project.
This is where a lot of things can go wrong. But with an eye towards simplicity of design and ease of recognition, you’ll get something you’ll be able to use for years.
You don’t need to pay for a site, but you do need an address on the web, even if it’s just a Facebook page. People have to be able to find you somehow! Your friends and family and clients have to have someplace to direct people. There’s nothing worse for a business than to have a potential client look for them online and not be found. You, as the business, have no idea how much business you’re losing this way. Minimum requirement: Facebook Page. Best case for a professional company: a dedicated domain. The website could be just one page – that’s fine. If you decide to get a full fledged website and have someone else do it all for you just know you’re looking at least $1k. Maybe look into free webpage designer programs online. Some domains and/or hosting sites have that as a package, and you get to do your website yourself and update it yourself.
This is such a can of worms. Do you embed yourself within Facebook, so you’re always associated with them? Do you get your own domain and have to find a host that has the accessibility with other sites that you’d like (such as Square or Etsy). And then there’s the issue of what the heck I’m talking about! If you have no idea what a domain or hosting is, you’ll do best with either someone doing it all for you (which can be costly) or looking at the free option, which is a totally legitimate way to start. Remember, just because you start where it’s all free and easy, doesn’t mean you won’t change to a full fledged website at some point. Personally, I like to get my hands into things and have control, so I’ve gone with a web hosting company that supports WordPress and I found the template there. While the design of everything has riffed off this template, I’m the one designing the layout of the site, creating the content on the site, updating information on the site. So while I’m not neck deep in programming, I’m also not handing off the look & feel of my site to a free hosting situation (like Facebook or Etsy).
This is where the time you spent thinking about your branding and your tag line comes in handy. When you’re faced with a zillion choices for website templates you can say “no” to the ones that aren’t in your plans for how you want to look. Just remember to make it easy to read on a computer and a mobile device. Black on white might be boring, but it works. Neon green might be your favourite colour, but it’s like acid on the retina. That curlicue font might be super pretty, but no one can read it properly.
I’ve chosen pink for my brand for a reason. Obama went with a certain font choice on his posters for a reason. People either stay on your site or pass it by for a reason. Make it a reason you’ve been conscious about.
Although it’s tempting because it’s easy, do not use your personal email. Bite the bullet and get a dedicated business email address. I’m suggesting Google’s Gmail because of all the advantages of having a Google account. And make it simple – YourBusinessName@gmail.com. If you decided to go with a full website and a dedicated domain, of course you’ll use that for your email, so disregard all my love for Google if that’s the case.
Let’s pause a moment for Google. They offer you so much space online, and you can access all your files where ever you have an internet connection. You can hook up your phone so if you take photos of before & after you can access them right away for adding to your Facebook page or your website. You can make a business page with your hours and address and hook everything up together with your contacts. I can’t say enough about Google and the free resources for start-ups. You just need to spend time to learn how to use the tools available.
Vistaprint is a great resource. If you don’t have someone to design a logo for you, they have options to help you out. And collections so you can get a variety of products you most likely won’t need. Get the cards. Get a sign. But what else might you need? I don’t know….what does your business need?
- Mail outs
- Thank you cards
Wow, eh? Didn’t realize there was so much to go along with a start-up, huh?
A lot of this can be dealt with easily with Vistaprint but if you have a bit of knowledge with Word and set up some templates, you’re away to the races. This is where that Google Drive comes in super handy for separating your business files from your personal files, and making sure they’re backed up and safe if your computer crashes.
Wrap It Up
You’re taking a big leap of faith in yourself when you initiate a start-up on your own. I applaud that. Give yourself a pat on the back for being so brave and daring. Now, get down to the hard work of making this work for you, long term. This article might seem a bit daunting right now, but if you follow through on the advice given, you’ll have a great foundation in place so you can get on with doing the awesome thing you do, and the humdrum boring day-to-day business of running a business can almost take care of itself. Well, except for accounting. That part will always suck.
And here’s the link to the song that’s been bugging you since you read the title of this blog. You’re welcome.