14 Tips to Building a Strong Business Identity for Your New Start-Up
Begin building your "business identity" from the day you start your business--it will become part of your "business dna" and that of your first employee and your next 100 employees. What is your "business identity"? In its narrowest sense it is your logo, the logo visual, your type style, letterhead, brochure, and business card layout. It is your tagline or as it is sometimes put, your "definition statement." It is a seven (plus or minus) word description about what you do and how you do it. Some marketing experts differentiate sharply between your business identity and your "brand." They suggest that your brand is what impression people have of you including your customers, competitors and others. It is the total of who you are as a business and it could be highly positive, highly negative or neutral. For the new, small business, we suggest keeping it simple and combining it all as your business identity and then taking at least 14 steps to make it the best that it can be in the eyes of your customers, prospects and, yes, your competitors.
14 Business Identity Tips
Here are 14 tips on building a strong, psoitive business identity.
- Start by creating a "Business Manual" for your business from Day 1 of the business, which ideally should contain all there is to know about your business. In its ideal form, your Business Manual should be so complete that if you were to be run over and killed in your prime by a hit and run driver, your spouse or significant other could take the manual themselves or turn it over to another smart person and they could pick up and run your business. If you feel that you are indispensable to your business, you should never be! Not if you have loved ones who will depend on this business if you are not here.
- Section 1 of the manual should be your business identity and everything about your business identity should be at your fingertips for efficiency sake. There should be a copy of your business logo, how it is positioned on a page, how it looks in ads, the PMS colors used, size, position on stationery, business cards, company colors, everything. There should be electronic copies of your logo and other key materials not only stored on company computers, but also preserved on a memory stick in a safety deposit box. That's how important this material is. Copies of your press releases and all other materials should be part of the "business identity" section of your manual.
- Choose your position in the marketplace (at least to start with). You have to figure out what about you is special and then emphasize that to your customers. It becomes part of your business identity. For example, are you the cheapest vitamin shop in town? Are you the high-end ski store that knows everything there is to know about the sport, the equipment, the best places to ski and repairs? Find something special and emphasize it. If you are small with lots of big competitors, carve out that niche for yourself. You don't always have to stay in that niche, but typically you will be able to dominate a small section of a big market. The big guys cannot compete with you in that niche. Neither can behemoths like Amazon because they cannot give shoppers expert advise.
- Create a mission statement. Don't groan! A lot of people spend a lot of time coming up with silly statements about their "mission." With yours, spend the time and come up with something serious, real and special. Your mission statement is not your tagline. They are different. When you come up with your mission statement, post it on the front of your "Business Manual" and put it on your website. Also print out a copy and put it somewhere in your office where you will see it daily and read it occasionally.
- Set the goals for your business, but don't be stupid and grandious about these goals thinking that you are a positive thinker. They should be real and you should be able to specify almost exactly how you will achieve them. This is important. Are you planning an internet business through which you will sell widgets? Don't set goals like you will reach a million dollar volume within two years with absolutely no basis in fact. If that is your goal, you need to specify how you will achieve that. How will you draw visitors to your website? Advertising on Google? Where will you get the money for that? How will your monitor that progress so that you know you are moving in the right direction? We love that old saying…plan your work and work your plan." But to us it means that your plan has to be so well defined that you continually move on to the next step and the next step as you make your way toward claiming your million dollar fortune in two years. Don't depend on a wing and a prayer. Depend on your well thought out plan. By the way, add that plan to your "Business Manual."
- Create your own positive business culture, even if you are a one-woman shop. Whatever your business is, it starts at the top and works its way down to the lowest hourly employee in the company. Are your customers ultimately a pain in the ass to you, especially when they complain about shoddy service and follow-up? They will be to all of your employees as well. Are your customers to be cherished and valued above all else? They will be by your employees too. But your business culture goes much further than this. For example, if you are opening a public relations business and tell your prospects that you are available 24/7/365, make sure you are. If you really do not want to be available on weekends, holidays, vacation time with the family, make sure you communicate that as well. People will respect it but you must be honest. You business culture is the way you do things. Do you claim to return calls and emails within two hours? Then make sure that you do it. Never expect your employees to do what you will not do. Don't create one set of rules for yourself and one set for your employees. It won't work; it never has. It all starts at the top and everyone will follow your example.
- Automate all reoccurring activities in your company, whether you are working alone at home or have employees in an office environment. It also means creating a "process" for everything, which should then be included in your "Business Manual." Never, never allow an employee, even you, the company's chief employee, to keep things in their heads and not on paper, like the process for responding to customer complaints, getting back returned product, etc. how you respond. There needs to be a five or 10-step process for every function in every job so that someone new can step into that job and do it. Otherwise, you could be at the mercy of employees who otherwise you might fire.
- Share everything about your business identity so that everyone is on the same page. That includes the set-up for advertising, creating a new e-book to download from your website, your blog content and structure, the approval process in the company for all functions and processes.
- When you have employees (and even if you are working alone), have an approval process for employee-created things like Powerpoint presentations. Have a procedure for emails and furnish everyone with a printed dictionary. We know the number of dictionaries available on the internet is trememdous. Furnish everyone in your company with a printed dictionary…it sends a good message.
- As you grow, watch what your competitors do with their business identity and whether or not they are copying you.
- Monitor what is said about your company on the web. This can be painful, but don't get defensive about it. Use what people say to improve your business. If someone complains about your non-response to a faulty product return, deal with it quickly and effectively. Maybe they will go back on that blog and create an "update" of how well you responded and how you gracefully handled the complaint. Find out how and why it happened to prevent it from happening again in the future.
- Look at your corporate identity frequently to make improvements to it. Don't let your logo and look of your products age. Keep everything up to date.
- Don't let your online business identity lag. Even if you do not personally care about posting on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and the like, for your business identity sake you must be on these social media sites because many of your clients and customers will be.
- Do everything in your power as owner to create a positive identity for your business.
Where To Start with Your Business Identity
The company identity begins with firmly establishing what your business is about and that begins by conceiving and refining your idea for a business and then testing it among potential customers through market search. Your ultimate goal of marketing research is to see if your idea, and thus your company, will fly or if it is a dud. It is vital for you to prove or disprove your idea. Proving that your idea works will put you on a path to potentially succeeding in the business—BUT IT DOES NOT GUARANTEE IT--because there are 100 other things that could torpedo you.
Disproving your concept is equally important because it will save you agonizing months or years stumbling along in a business that has low potential to succeed. Sometimes careful marketing research will neither prove nor disprove your concept but rather indicate that you need to refine and adjust your concept. Therefore, begin with your best idea and refine it until it shines. We suggest that you do not take a raw idea and try to market research it. Rather take the idea and refine it to the point where you feel you are ready to launch the business—except for the fact that you do not know if you have enough customers, and if you do, will they buy at the price you need to sell, etc., etc. Check out our page on undertaking market research for your new business idea.
Once you firmly establish your idea and come up with strongly positive marketing research analysis of the idea, you need to take care of the essentials of the business. You need to:
It is important to set up items like the business telephone number and post office box before you register your company so that you do not have to use your personal telephone number or address for company contact reasons. It is critical to firmly establish the separation of business and personal at the very beginning of the venture for business and tax reasons discussed elsewhere. (It is also a discussion you need to have with your accountant.)
Virtually everything about your business becomes part of your business identity in one way or another. Here are key items to include as part of your business identity.
Here are frequently asked questions about creating and refining your new company identity:
- name the business
- name your website
- opening a business checking account
- get a post office box
- obtain a federal and state tax ID numbers
- get an office telephone number
- get an office fax number
- set up a business email address.