January 19, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

There is nothing easy about running a business. But if keeping going is akin to spinning grandma’s good china while juggling flaming knives as you tame a coterie of ill-tempered badgers with little more than a spork—while blindfolded—actually starting the business is doubly so. Ask me how I know, assuming I can manage to get the badgers tranquilized and carted back to Wisconsin.

One of the most difficult things about starting a business is acquiring money. And, if you’re thinking of striking out on your own after 15 years as a roofer, you’re probably not going to find an angel investor at the Colab Construction Incubator who wants to float you a year or two’s operating costs and a pallet of roofing nails. So, maybe you get a loan. Maybe your friends and family invest. Maybe you scrape along project-by-project trying to make the cash flow actually live up to its name. Regardless, you don’t have a fistful of dollars to drop on anything inessential. Which is why you absolutely must lessen your kung-fu grip and drop some bread on your brand.

Notice that I said “brand” and not “marketing.” While I do think you should start making a habit of spending actual money on marketing as soon as possible, I believe in putting first things first. And your brand is first. Because you shouldn’t market what you don’t yet have figured out.

Chances are, you didn’t set aside much (any?) startup money for brand development beyond promising your cousin with the mad Creative Suite skills a case of microbrew for doing your logo. I understand the desire/ necessity to be as frugal as possible. But while it is technically possible to fix your brand later, it’s neither strategically nor financially sound to go that route.

So, here are the things you should consider paying money for from professionals who know what they’re doing: Business name, brand platform, logo, color palette/design standards, tone-of-voice, and doughnuts. Even if you think you have a good name for your company, at least consult someone with no emotional attachment to it or an in-law relationship to you. If you don’t know what a brand platform is, that’s all the more reason to have one—it will keep you focused on doing the right things while targeting the right people. The logo, standards, and tone- of-voice are the embodiment of your brand in the marketplace—it’s easier to stand out when these are done well. The doughnuts speak for themselves.

Combined, these elements give you a foundation for your business that should last for years. And it is even possible to find really great people and agencies who can do them at a cost that won’t cause heart palpitations. Also, even though you can list these things as expenses on your tax return, it is best to consider them investments. Because that’s what they are. And you’ll never have to pay capital gains tax on the brand equity you start building today.

Jason Fox is a freelance creative director and writer. He can be found at jasonfox.net and adsavior.com.

This column was printed in the February/March 2018 edition of B2B.