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How to Brand your Business when just Starting Out

By Patrick Sesko

Don’t spend a lot of money on branding when you’re first starting out.

That’s right. I said it. And I’m a branding designer who helps businesses make large, strategic investments in branding.

But it’s different when you’re just starting out. Your short-term goal should be to have a brand that will be a starting point—and it’s probably not the time to invest thousands of dollars because 1) you most likely don’t have the revenue to justify that kind of investment and 2) you don’t necessarily know enough about your business to create a brand/logo that is strategic instead of rushed.

My advice: Stay lean until you get some traction with your business.

With a smart approach to do-it-yourself branding, you can lay a solid foundation that you can evolve from. And today I’m going to tell you how. But first…

What is branding anyway?

Many think it’s just your logo. It’s not. Your logo is a visual representation of your brand. It works as part of a tool kit that reinforces your values, your messaging, and your positioning. It works in concert with the way you talk, the visuals you use, how you work with people. In a nutshell, branding is what other people—customers, prospects, and competition—think and feel about your business. It is the experience they have in all touchpoints with your business.

Manage expectations

Ready to embark on some DIY branding? Let’s set some realistic expectations first.

You are not Nike, and that’s okay. You won’t automatically be Nike, Apple or Coke. It has taken those brands many years and many millions of dollars to get where they are. But they started somewhere. And so will you. Fortunately you don’t need millions to set a solid foundation…just some guidance, baby steps and a little hard work. Eventually you will have more clients, money, expertise and clarity from which to refine your brand.

So where do you start? Tips to DIY your brand.

Branding is a long game and it can be overwhelming to say the least, especially if you are just starting out or your business is young. Here are a few things you should know before you put visuals to your brand:

  • Your story. People respond to stories. Do you have a story of how you came into business? Why you started? Your reason for going into business is compelling and unique to you, and you should share it. It will show a level of passion and love for what you do—and that has the ability to connect with people on an emotional level. I call this Emotional Currency.
  • Your people. Who do you most want to work with? It can be tempting to want to be all things to all people, but I advise you to resist this urge. Instead, know your ideal customer on an intimate level. Break down who they are: age, gender, profession, lifestyle—the more specific the better. Formal research isn’t necessary at this stage; just make educated guesses and use common sense. If you have an ideal client already, use them as a template to create your ideal customer profile.
  • Your message. What’s your message? This is where your story and your ideal customer overlap in a way that will appeal to their emotions. It’s about how you can passionately and expertly solve their pain points with your product or service. For example: If you’re a destination wedding photographer, your story could be that you had a destination wedding but ended up not having any good pictures because of X, Y, Z. Your people would be brides who are planning destination weddings and want spectacular photos. Your message could be that because your own wedding was a disaster, you don’t want anyone else’s to be…that’s why you specialize in capturing their special day with photos that will last a lifetime.

Next up, make a toolkit

Once you have your story, your ideal customers and your message defined, put this information somewhere in a document. These elements will be the foundation you refer to when you start to market your business and get your message out there. It doesn’t have to be a 300-page document. Just a few notes/guideline that you can refer back to as your brand presence and marketing efforts begin to grow.

Now, put visuals to your brand

This is the time to solidify your presence. Your brand visuals may not have strategy or concept behind it, and that’s okay for now—and long as your visuals are clean and consistent, and relevant to the problem you solve or service you provide. At this point, if you don’t have budget to hire a brand designer, create your branding yourself with these tips in mind:

  • Keep it clean. This is not the time to get complicated with details and nuances. Use a simple text logo and simple fonts. (When it comes to visual specifics, here are a few more DIY tips for better branding.)
  • Be consistent. Use the same logo. Use the same fonts. Use the same colors. If you use images, ensure they all consistent in style: perhaps they are all black and white. Or they’re all of people smiling. Or they’re all abstract graphics. Every component surrounding your brand should look and feel the same. You don’t want people to be confused. (Remember: If you are sick of your brand, then you are doing it right.)

Moving forward: Pay attention to the non-visual side of things too.

In the early stages of your business, you’ll be finding more clients and getting experience under your belt. While the visual branding is important, so is everything you’re learning during this phase. How do you work with your clients? What kind of experience do you provide them? Take a step back and understand HOW your clients go through the journey with you from first contact, to onboarding, to delivery to follow up. Since the goal of your branding is to provide and reinforce your values, messaging, and an overall positive experience, you must be clear on what that experience is. You learn the most in the early years of business—and that knowledge is essential in creating a brand that will resonate with clients.

Go forth and brand!

Yes, it’s important to invest in branding…But in the beginning of your business, I suggest you invest your time in creating something that’s clear, simple and consistent. Then, pay attention to all aspects of your business so that when you’re ready to hire a professional branding designer to help bring your business to the next level, you’ll have the knowledge necessary to make the most impact.

Can you help me?

I wrote this article because I often receive questions about DIY branding from people new to business or in their early stages. As a result, I am developing a workshop that will walk you through all of the aforementioned steps to establish a branding playbook for you to build your business from. I am doing some market research for this Brand Builder Workshop so if you’re a solopreneur or “micro” business owner who’s just starting out, or is in the early stages of business, please take this quick survey. Thank you.



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