My friend Lana is what we might charitably call a serial entrepreneur. She’s sold candles, kitchen things, real estate and, most recently, holistic house staging services. So I went to visit her to see how things are going. Her family room, formerly a wall-to-wall battlefield of Fisher Price people and headless Lego characters with that characteristic odour or animal crackers trapped under couch cushions, is now her office.
It’s a lovely space with a bamboo floor, calming wall art, tatami mats and whale noises on the iPod. She greeted me wearing her company-logoed sarong and served compost-flavoured tea in pretty logoed mugs on branded coasters.
“Nice swag,” I said, helping myself to a fistful of branded pens. “Thanks, wait until you see my iPad app. It’ll be done next week,” she said. I made some comments about how well things must be going with her business and she confessed that she didn’t actually have any customers yet.
“I’ve got to get my blog, podcasts and SlideShare sites organized first,” she said, as if it was an obvious statement. “And I have to order new business cards. My company name needs an accent aigu.”
Well of course it does. I’ve been saving up for an aigu for years. Some of my more ambitious friends are on their second or third special characters.
Lana is making a pretty common mistake with her start-up, and that’s over-branding. Sure, a brand is important, but before you order the travel mugs with more umlauts than an Ikea catalogue, you need to do the grunt work:
These are the elements that build a brand, not logos or accents. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what you call your company, what your logo looks like, or how many people ‘Like’ your Facebook page if you don’t have any revenue. Plus, spending weeks fussing over corporate colours, branded merchandise and catchy taglines is a great way to chew up capital with no result.
But that’s the fun part, isn’t it? It’s way more fun than grinding out a business plan, building your prospect list, hustling business or remitting your HST. That said, there is a certain amount of this stuff you need early on, including:
And that’s it, folks. Your business plan should include an annual branding investment, which you may want to spend on having a professionally-designed logo or a better website or, as in Lana’s case, a feng shui truck wrap.
You’ll be pleased to know that Lana has finally started building her customer base and is having a garage sale to unload the aigu-free golf umbrellas. Which is good, because having an off-brand trinket can be trés yücké.
Elizabeth Williams is a Toronto-based marketing executive with a particular interest in business-to-business marketing. She rants regularly as Bizmarketer on http://www.bizmarketer.wordpress.com.