Stop! As a start-up, you might not need branding

Think you’ve got a great business on your hands? Resist the urge to hire a branding company. This won’t help - at least not right away.

More pressing worries include salaries, overheads and general operational expenses.

Of course, you believe in the product - why else would you pledge so much time to it?

But hiring a branding firm, as you know, can be costly. And you’re wary of an agency that sells you the world after a five-minute consultation; promising a beautiful website, brochures, logos, introductions to their “friends” and a clever marketing campaign. In the end, this money will only be taken away from the product you’re creating, the service you’re offering or the business you’re running.

So you put it on the backburner.

But a catch 22 situation arises. You have a great business yet you’re the only who knows about how great it is. Your presentations are selling you short. Your vision isn’t quite making it to the page. You can describe what you do, but you can’t make a client commit. All this time spent talking, cajoling, convincing - and no one’s listening. New clients aren’t forthcoming and the time you’re spending isn’t equalling money.

So you start looking for a young, talented freelancer who is inexpensive and can design. And yes, your presentations start to look marginally better. But you’re spending a lot of time guiding this person. They’re executing what you ask, but not really thinking about why they’re doing it. And so there are inevitably gaps where the two of you don’t meet. So you hire another one. And another one. And spend yet more time and money without wowing clients.

Sound familiar?

How do you translate branding into cash flow? Who is going to answer this question? A branding company should. And this should be the first question you ask.

Good branding starts with strategy. Thinking. Asking questions. Interrogating why. A young freelancer may not have the experience to question you. And a lot of branding companies doesn’t have the time - you’re not a privileged client yet.

So, forget the guys who want to sell you solutions without knowing your problems - you’ll get an end product but it’ll never really speak to people. Good brand builders are consultants. They eye up your offering. They ask: who is your desired customer, and how are you going to reach them? They care about getting to know you before selling you a solution. And they have the guts to tell you where you’re going wrong.

Many start-ups try to be everything at once. But complexity is one of the great killers of potential. It’s a turnoff to customers, and it confuses staff. A simple brand message is a sign of confidence. No one should hide behind their words, because you only have one chance to make an impression in the market.

Finally, you’re making headway. You’ve cut through the clutter to the heart of the sell and clients are listening. Remember: this is before you’ve even thought about wireframes and logos and new websites and new brochures and other… stuff. You’ve stepped back and done the basics right first.

In summary, whenever you choose a branding company, look out for:

  • A team that spends time to clearly understand your message.

  • A team that will work with you until your message is clear, and all parties are satisfied

  • Be suspicious of those who agree to everything you say

  • Be suspicious of those who give you ideas without research

  • Don’t accept strategies that appear to take no time to create (this research should take several days/weeks for any business niche)

  • Avoid complex design solutions. Make business simple.

  • Ask for tools, like a brand book, that can be used by staff or external partners. (This keeps communication - both verbal and visual - consistent).

  • Don’t be shy to ask questions about money and how their work is going to translate into cash flow.

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