Regardless of whether or not you write a formal business plan, the beginning stages of starting a business are a strategic planning process.
At its most basic, a strategy is a plan to achieve a specific desired outcome, and that’s a good place to start.
You need to have a specific end goal or set of goals for your venture.
Otherwise, you won’t know if you’re successful, and you’ll have no way of determining whether you’re making progress.
Now is the time to consider this carefully—what are you actually trying to achieve?
As I discussed in previous sections, just trying to make a lot of money is not a sufficient reason to devote your life to a venture.
You need specific goals and desired outcomes. Take some time at this stage to think this through.
Imagine your business at several discrete milestones:
- one year,
- two years,
- and five years.
Imagine that you’ve been wildly successful.
What exactly does “success” look like?
Be as specific as you possibly can and use as many metrics as you need.
These will become your goals.
You need to develop a specific plan to achieve them.
Your Goal Needs To Be Smart!
There is a well-known acronym in the strategic planning process regarding the nature of effective goal setting.
Effective goals are SMART—specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.
The meaning of each of these items is self-evident, so I won’t spend a lot of time defining them.
The important thing is to understand that your end goals have to be tangible things that you can actually achieve within a reasonable amount of time.
Some examples of SMART goals:
- Achieve 90 percent customer satisfaction as measured by post-sale surveys.
- Grow sales to existing customers by 10 percent in the next year.
- Hire three new salespeople this quarter.
Some examples of goals that aren’t so SMART:
- Be the next Google.
- Be the Uber of XX (pick an industry).
- Make a million dollars.
Before you can really get started delivering value to your customers, you need to make some key decisions about your company.
In this article we’ll examine the first steps that are critical for every business, along with some of the more creative stuff like websites, logos, and business cards.
What Do I Do First?
If you are not familiar with what it takes to legally start a company, the process can seem complicated, but it really isn’t.
In fact, you may be surprised at how easy it can be.
But this doesn’t mean that it’s a decision that should be made lightly.
When it comes to the process of actually starting your business, it is always a good idea to do so under the advisement of a business or corporate lawyer.
Let’s take a look at some of the preliminary steps required to get your new venture off the ground.
What’s Your Name?
What’s in a name?
After all, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, right?
While it is true that the problem you solve for your customers is more important than what you call your venture, that doesn’t mean you should pick your startup’s name out of a hat.
There is no book or article out there that can tell you what to call your company.
That being said, don’t fall into some common traps that afflict new ventures.
The longer you go on with a name you don’t like, the harder it becomes to make a change.
Pick a Sticky Name
A business name that is…
- stands out from the crowd,
- and stays fresh over time
…is as close as you can come to the perfect business name.
In the brand-building industry, this is called a “sticky” name.
Of course, coming up with a name that is perfectly sticky, totally encapsulates the problem you solve for your customers and has a timeless quality is a sticky endeavor in its own way.
No question—coming up with the perfectly sticky brand name is tough.
A truly sticky name can be a differentiator in its own right.
A name that zigs while all of your competitor’s zag might help your venture stand out from the crowd, but there is a point where what you call yourself is so different from what your customers expect that your other messaging has to backtrack and spend time explaining what it is you do.
- get inspiration,
- and (most importantly) get as much feedback as possible while attempting to come up with a name for your venture.
Put yourself in the shoes of your customer.
What first impressions do the name you are working on conjure up?
But Don’t Get Too Sticky
A name that is very long or has a very unusual spelling is memorable and unique, right?
You’re better off shooting for something shorter that is spelled in a way that your customers will expect.
Acronyms might seem like a healthy compromise, but for new ventures, they likely won’t mean anything to your customers.
Also keep in mind that your venture’s name will be transformed into a logo or wordmark, meaning it will be on packaging, sales materials, business cards, and your website (which will be seen on a variety of screen sizes and resolutions).
Your brand’s identity will ultimately be more than just your name, but the name will ultimately be a big part of what your customers associate with your brand—and rightly so.
Make Sure the Name Is Available
Before going too far down the rabbit hole, check to make sure that you aren’t duplicating a name that already exists in your industry.
In some cases, your name may be legally distinct, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be embarrassing or difficult to do business in that industry.
A name that is a clear—though distinct—a duplicate of an existing industry player can lead to a venture that is perceived as always playing second fiddle.
Not only that but how much can you really differentiate your offering from that of your competitors if customers are confused about who is who?
Now is also the time to ensure that the domain name for your desired company name is available (we’ll discuss websites later in the growing your business part).
If it’s not, you probably need to rethink your choice.
If customers can’t find you via an internet search, chances are you won’t be successful.
Don’t Name Yourself into a Corner
Picking a name that’s ultra-specific and doesn’t leave you with any room to grow can cause friction and growing pains down the road.
There is no need to be a clairvoyant but be on the lookout for business names that don’t allow you room to grow.
A good example of this principle is the tendency of small business owners to name their company after the geographic region where it was started.
This is perhaps less common in the digital age, but when Springfield Star Cleaners expands into nearby Shelbyville, it might wish it had chosen a different name.
Additionally, naming your business after a specific product offering or service can make branching out difficult; Smith’s Radiators are much more restrictive than Smith’s Auto Repair.
Focus on the solution you provide and not the product—products may come and go, but the solution you provide is (hopefully) going to stick around for a while.
To sum it up…
A word of caution regarding getting too cute with your name.
Your business name is a critical part of your brand, and you should consider it carefully.
Although you can always change it later, once you’ve invested in a website, logos, etc., and started acquiring customers, it gets harder and harder to do.
You want a name that is memorable and fun (i.e., “sticky”), but you also want to come across as a serious business.
A nonsense name worked well for Google, but it probably won’t work as well for you.
It’s tough to establish a brand with a name that doesn’t evoke anything to a potential customer.
Similarly, “funny” names may work okay for certain businesses, such as ones that cater to younger people, but you run the risk of the joke wearing thin over time.
And the less said about trendy names (I see you, “.ly companies”!), the better.
Picking a name for your venture is no easy task, but it is a crucial first step in
- forming the organization,
- getting the ball rolling,
- and getting off the ground.
It is also not a decision to take lightly.
As you will see, your logo, marketing materials, website, domain name, and social media presence will all be tied to your company name.
Changing it midstream can become very complex very quickly.