When I first came up with the idea for my business in 2009 I was a senior at Hawaii Pacific University majoring in advertising. I had just finished an 11 year stint as an Air Force Medic in late 2008 and just as soon as I hung up my battle dress uniform I quickly submerged myself into the world of business and labeled myself an entrepreneur.
The entrepreneurial bug had bit me early on in my military career, I remember being mesmerized by people like Zig Ziglar, Tony Robbins, David Ogilvy, Napoleon Hill, John Maxwell and Robert Kiyosaki. I read every sales, marketing and self help book I could get my hands on. I took on a part time job selling point of sale and digital surveillance systems to restaurants and strip clubs. I became a night club promoter and designed my own flyers. In Hawaii I landed my own radio show where I learned how to script and produce radio spots. I was so determined to become a businessman that I dressed like one every chance I got, so when I wasn’t wearing my military uniform I was wearing slacks, dress shirts and ties.
The entrepreneurial mindset I had been developing throughout my military career is what made the transition from medicine to business so easy. I was ready to become a full fledged entrepreneur and become a millionaire- or so I thought. While the self help, sales and marketing books offered some sound advice, none of them prepared me for the countless mistakes I would make in the years to come as an aspiring entrepreneur.
If you’re on the verge of launching your own business, if the entrepreneurial bug has you in its death grip and you can’t see yourself going through life working for someone else, then it’s safe to assume that you’ve read some, or all, of the same books I have. It’s also safe to assume that the probabilities for you to make some, or all, of the same mistakes I’ve made in my six years as an entrepreneur, exist. Because of this I’d like to offer you some real-world advice, starting with the following 4 tips to help kickstart your brand prior to launching your first, or next, business venture.
Tip #1 – Choose Your Business Name Carefully
This isn’t a revelation all in itself, I’m sure you’ve heard this before and it almost seems like common sense but common sense often eludes the sanest and brightest of minds. This is one of the biggest mistakes I made early on when naming my business and it’s one I’ll never forget. In an effort to be “different” and unique I started brainstorming in order to come up with a really cool business name- something that would make people praise me for being a creative genius. I came up with “Yoonek Dzines” and quickly put together a logo and had my first set of business cards printed up.
Why yoonek? I had looked up the definition of “unique” and was immediately drawn to the phonetic spelling: yo͞oˈnēk. I took the phonetic spelling and got creative with the word “designs” which ended up as “dzines.” I really should have consulted with friends, family, my college professors and even strangers on the street. During the naming phase of your business, feedback is crucial in order to get a feel for how others will pronounce and perceive your potential brand. One of the first signs that I had gotten a bit too creative with my business name was trying to spell my email address over the phone: A-B-E-L-@-Y-O-O-N-E-K-D-Z-I-N-E-S.COM. Talk about a mouth full.
After six months I decided to change the name to Yoonek Concepts to make the spelling easier. I still hadn’t learned my lesson, however, and it wasn’t until I actually started doing business in 2012 that I came to the harsh realization that the rest of the world didn’t have the same creative outlook I did. To me “yoonek” was pronounced “unique” but others were pronouncing “yoonek” as “eunuch.” When you look up eunuch in the dictionary, the phonetic spelling is almost the same: yo͞o′nək. My business name however, is the version with the long “e” (that’s the “e” with a line over it which sounds like the “ea” in “tea” or “pea”). It gets worse, the definition of “eunuch” is “a castrated or powerless, ineffectual man”.
Keep it simple, don’t get too crazy with the spelling or pronunciation. Be sure to get plenty of feedback from friends, family, acquaintances and even strangers to ensure your business name is coming across the way you intend to. This could mean the difference between having a memorable and “unique” name or one that invokes a smirk at the thought of a “castrated, powerless man”.
Tip #2 – Use CMYK or Pantone Colors in Your Logo
Another mistake I made when I first started my business was failing to understand the importance, and difference, between the following color models: RGB, CMYK and Pantone. While it isn’t necessary for you to know every detail of these color systems, you should at least be aware of the fact that most home, consumer and industrial printers use the CMYK color model. Allow me to explain.
The RGB Color Model is Used for Digital Images
By combining Red, Green and Blue pixels, your computer monitor or LED television produces white, black and all the colors in between. When you create an image using the RGB model and you print it out using your home printer, which uses the CMYK model, you’ll notice that the printed version will vary from the digital version you see on your computer screen. Why does this happen and why can this be disastrous for your brand? Let’s talk about the CMYK model next.
The CMYK Color Model Has Become the Norm for Printing
CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key, or Black) is a subtractive model in which colors must be removed to achieve lighter colors. Industrial color offset presses, high end color laser printers, as well as the home printer used to print your family photos use the CMYK color model. Because the RGB and CMYK models have a different approach to producing colors, RGB won’t always translate properly into CMYK and vice versa. There is a way to convert RGB colors to CMYK but you must have the proper tools and know-how to accomplish this.
Imagine producing all of your marketing collateral in RGB and using different shades of green in your designs. You work hard to achieve the look you want and your work is picture perfect on your computer screen. You send your artwork off to the printers and spend hundreds, or thousands of dollars printing business cards, brochures, folders, etc., only to have it come back looking less than picture perfect and nothing like what you initially designed. Unless you converted your colors from RGB to CMYK prior to printing, your colors will either print darker or lighter than you planned- or worse, they’ll blend together into a big blob making it hard to distinguish the subtle contrasts or the text.
The Pantone Color Model
A Pantone color is a specific color that has its own ink well. It’s an industry-standard color system that when printed professionally should always look the same. If your logo uses Pantone 7725 U (a lovely emerald-grass green), it will print in that exact shade every time. Considering that most mediums used today are printed in full color (CMYK), it almost makes Pantone printing obsolete. But if you’re a stickler for color and want the exact shade, it’s the only way to go. If this is the case, you will need to choose your color from a special Pantone Color book. The Pantone colors you choose for your brand should be included in your brand manual.
Tip #3 – Keep Your Logo Simple and Memorable
Just like with a business name, you can easily over do it when it comes to your company logo, even if your logo is just your company name. A good rule of thumb for your logo is that it should be recognizable when printed in small sizes.
Other things to consider when designing your logo:
- Stay away from design trends (avoid swooshes, glows and bevels)
- Make sure your logo is designed as a vector so it won’t lose quality when scaling it to larger sizes
- Stay away from stock artwork
- Don’t use overly complex fonts
- Complex designs are hard to distinguish at a small scale or when embroidered
- Don’t rely on color for effect, your logo should be just as effective in black and white, or grey scale as it is in full color
- Use a max of two fonts
Tip #4 – Develop a Brand Manual
If you’re serious about the brand you’re about to build, you should, at all costs, avoid doing ALL of the following:
- Using someone else’s artwork, or a variation of it, for your logo (this includes grabbing images from the internet)
- Using someone else’s slogan, or a variation of it, as your own
- Using someone else’s marketing materials, or a variation of it, as your own
Your entire brand, from logo to slogans, should be original. You should take the time to legally protect your brand by registering and copyrighting your logo and all accompanying trademarks and symbols. Aside from this, you should also develop a corporate identity style guide, or a brand manual that provides guidelines for third parties to better understand how your image and taglines should and shouldn’t be used in promotional materials.
Your brand manual should include:
- A full brand description and what it stands for. Your brand’s description should run parallel with the values of your company
- A list of situations in which the brand and its symbols can and cannot be used
- Tone and use of words relating to the brand
- Specific colors, dimensions, lines, accents, inclusion of trademark, brand signature, image styles
- Typographical elements
- Reproduction guidelines (for advertising agencies and printers)
As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, I’ve made a ton of mistakes in my six years as an entrepreneur and the ones I’ve just covered are just the tip of the iceberg. Some mistakes were a result of simply ignoring the obvious and others because I just didn’t know better. While this particular post focuses on providing tips based solely off some of the branding mistakes I’ve made, there’s plenty more to discuss when it comes to business and marketing plan development, campaign development and execution, social media, customer service and hiring/training/firing your first batch of employees. I’ll cover the mistakes I’ve made in those areas as well as provide additional business tips in a series of upcoming blogs.