When you’re starting your business, it is very important to start with the brand process. Ignoring your brand at the beginning can make it much harder for you in the future once your business is all set up. I know it’s tempting to start your brand with the logo colours and fonts but that is the last thing you should be doing. Literally, those come last.
Unfortunately, it’s usually the first thing a lot of us do. And yes, I am including myself in this because I did start my business without a brand process. Now, while I’m saying that it’s harder to start with your visuals, I’m not saying that you are in the wrong for having a logo and no strategy. Let’s be honest here, a lot of entrepreneurs don’t really know that they’re going to be entrepreneurs when they first start their business.
While that is not always the case, there are some people that know right off the bat that they’re going to have their own business, it’s a lot more common to not know. Usually, we all start off as freelancers or contractors, dipping a toe to test the waters and see if we can create a product or service that others are going to buy.
And then one person buys. And then another. And another. And soon, we’re leaving our nine to five jobs because we’re making the same or even more money for something we actually love to do. And it’s at that point that we realize, ok, everybody else has a logo maybe I should have one too.
Oh, everybody else uses a specific colour palette, maybe I should find my own as well. And this leads to creating an entire visual identity based off of what everybody else is doing, your own likes, and clients that you already have.
So yes, starting your brand process with your strategy is important in it’s definitely much easier for you in the future, but very few of us rarely start there. If you’ve already started your visual identity, as in you have a logo, colours, and fonts that you’re using regularly, then it may feel like your brand is complete. But the truth of it is, that very few of us actually stay with the same visuals that we started with.
How about you? How many times have you changed your visuals?
Well, here’s how to start on getting your brand process in place.
The first part of your brand process, you want to figure out what you currently have. You can do a brand audit, assessment, or go through a checklist. But the most important thing here is to be open to accepting criticism, including your own. Even if all you have is a logo, colours, and fonts, if you have created any content that can be seen by others (anything, social media posts, website, newspaper ad, contracts, etc.) then you have already started your brand with your language, voice, personality, and maybe even some values and a mission is visible. There’s a lot that can be revealed about your brand through only one piece of content.
There’s a lot of different services available to do this assessment, but I always recommend to first do it on your own and then ask somebody else for help. And this isn’t an either/or situation, it is a both situation. When you do your own assessment, whether it’s using a checklist or advice from social media, or a book, you want to be digging in deep into all the parts of your brand process, including the ones that your clients may never see. Doing it on your own first as well opens you up to accepting expert advice on the topic. It can be really hard sometimes, especially if you don’t know the person, to take any advice to heart.
Once you are looking for somebody else to do your assessment, focus on strangers. Now, you can do market research if you want to, but honestly, I’ve found it to be unreliable and take way too long to get realistic and unbiased results. After all, your friends are much more likely to do any survey than potential clients.
And this is the trick, ask somebody who doesn’t know you to do this for you. Don’t ask friends and family, nor your business coach or other women in the same FB groups as you that you’ve interacted with on a regular basis. Look for strangers! Ideally, look for your ideal clients.
You can find answers for this in different ways, one of which is to look at all conversations you’ve had with potential clients. Consider, firstly, if all the people that have reached out to you (not you to them) are your ideal client or not. If not, who are they and can you find any commonalities?
Especially focus on any questions they’ve asked you because that means that the information they are seeking was not readily available to them. Why? Is it something you hide (like your prices) or something you forgot to say (like your name)? Only after you’ve done all of this research I would say reach out to an expert.
Even if that expert isn’t your ideal client, anybody that works with brands on a regular basis will be able to tell you what they see in your brand.
NEXT STEPS FOR YOUR BRAND PROCESS
Based on the discrepancies you find in your brand assessment, now is the time to figure out how you want to go about making your brand process work. I want you to consider what you want to keep and what you want to change. And this is for two sections, your visual identity and your brand strategy. Do you want to keep one and change the other to match, keep both, or change both?
Let’s say you’ve finished your brand assessment with an expert, and everything aligns to what you had in mind. That’s awesome! Very rare, but awesome if you can do it! The next step would be to make sure your brand process continues in the same direction as it’s already been going.
At this point, I want you to consider the future of your business (not brand) and where you want to go. Do you want to grow and hire a team or stay as a solopreneur forever? There is no wrong answer here, by the way, but consider that even solopreneurs hire others to help them out.
In either case, that means involving other people into your business and process. What this means is that you will have to teach someone else how to use your brand appropriately. For example, if you hire a VA to talk to all of your clients and sell for you, that VA should know how to talk to them and what you offer as well as you.
So, create specific rules and guidelines for your brand process depending on what you want to retain. In the case that you never want to work with or hire anybody to work for you ever (again, not wrong and I’m not judging), create those guidelines for yourself because you, as a person will grow and be affected and change.
Are you ready? Write down everything you know about your brand in one place and continue adding to it every time something new pops up. Once you have everything you can think of down, organize it and find the missing pieces or the parts that aren’t always the same and change throughout your business, and why. Only then, start researching or hire a brand strategist to help you out.
If your brand assessment showed too many discrepancies, you may be tempted to change only your strategy to make it work. In other cases, you may want to start with a completely blank slate. In either case, I want you to focus on your strategy first. Even if you want to keep your identity, focus on strategy and get that nailed down to something you love. Only once it’s done do I want you to focus on your visual identity. Because, even if you love it, there’s a huge chance that the two won’t work together anymore.
Remember the saying of don’t judge a book by its cover. Well, that’s what the cover is for. Your visual identity is the cover for your strategy. If your visual identity attracts a certain audience, make sure that the content you provide is meant for that audience.
The last thing you want to do is attract people and then turn them away because you don’t want to work with them, you don’t offer what they want, or they decide you can’t offer them what they want. For example, if your identity attracts low budget clients and then you offer them premium services, you won’t get those sales and you won’t be attracting premium clients.
Are you ready? Start from the basics. You can still work on your business on the side and you’re probably already familiar with having a side-hustle, so you don’t have to stop working completely. Focus on creating a strong brand and foundation on the side while you’re still working with your clients and making money.
I do suggest working with a brand expert at this point, someone who can guide you through the process and get you off the ground correctly.
This version is, honestly, the hardest part. If you love your visual identity and want to keep it no matter what discrepancies there are, then you will be changing your brand strategy to match your identity. This means that your identity will influence all of your research and final choices.
For example, if your visual identity is attractive to a specific crowd, then turn that crowd into your ideal audience. If you don’t like them, don’t try and force your visuals on others, change the people and then change your identity to match them!
But if you can do it, if your brand’s values, personality, goals, audience, if your strategy is a secondary thing to you, change it to match your visual identity. It will be harder and you will probably have to change a lot of things within your processes and workflows, but at least it’ll all be connected.
I highly recommend not doing this as it will feel forced, especially if you have to change things like your brand’s personality, voice, and language. If you’re used to creating content in a specific way, changing your strategy means changing how you do that.
Are you ready? Make sure you are absolutely in love with your identity and research everything behind it. You want to know what aspects of your visual identity attract who, where, when, how, and why. Everything! Only once you have done your base research (yes, because all of that research is only the starting point) hire a brand strategist to help out.
Make sure you hire someone who is familiar with visual identity designs, so they can help you further analyze your visuals.
If you already have a strategy in place, no matter how small or incomplete it feels, but you like the direction it’s going in, then focus on building it up. Find all the missing pieces and fill them out so your strategy feels nice and complete. You will want to know everything about your brand at the drop of a hat and have it come naturally to you, so you want to build upon everything you already have.
As I mentioned, we usually start with the visuals but a brand starts showing the moment you create any content for any audience. As such, your strategy may be really incomplete and missing a lot of pieces. Find them all.
The important thing to keep in mind here is to keep true to yourself and to your brand. If you like what you already have in place, it’s there for a reason. Now, it’s time to analyze why it’s not working. Sometimes, it’s not only because your visuals don’t work. This may seem like you’re changing both your brand strategy and your visual identity, but it’s not because you don’t have a strategy in place.
So, create specific rules and guidelines for your brand depending on what you want to retain and how you want your brand to grow. Figuring out your purpose and vision is a very important step in putting all of your completed aspects together.
Are you ready? Commit to your style and what you already have. Research (again) on what you want to say, how, to who, where, when, and why. Once you have all of this in place, I highly recommend hiring a brand creator to help you flesh it out and make sure everything in your strategy is consistent.
You will want to have a strong foundation based around the assessments that work, not the ones that done. Only when done, start working on a new visual identity.