In the six years since graduating from college, I've started more than seven businesses. I'm responsible for well-known brands, such as Nola Sidecars, BeGreenMan.com and RootSuit, which was featured on ABC's reality pitch show Shark Tank. With my latest venture, 52businesses, I plan to start a new business every week for the next year and document the journey via social media. The purpose is to showcase the accessibility of entrepreneurship.
I'm not saying it's easy or for everyone, but the point is to show that with the right tools and guidance, starting a business does not have to be as difficult or risky as people often think.
But first, you have to let others know that you exist. You have to get your name and what you stand for out there. For every one of my businesses, I've had experience doing this. 52businesses launched March 17, but we've already built up momentum for our business plan and what we stand for. Here are my best branding tips I learned along the way.
1. Do memorable things.
Showcase your creativity and competence by doing things differently and getting attention. People will only talk about things they remember. For 52businesses' first event during NOLATech Week in 2013, we roasted a whole pig to feed the crowd.
I am from Lafayette, La., and cooking a pig in a Cajun Microwave is something we actually do. It's also the cheapest way to buy meat. Doing things in a cheap and creative way, even if it is unusual to the start-up world, is central to the brand identity of 52businesses. This one thing, roasting a whole pig, stole the show.
2. Tell a story that people want to retell.
You need to spend a month crafting this story and identifying the parts that are most interesting. The idea is that you no longer get to buy people's time with ads. You tell a story and they either connect with you or they don't.
We wanted to tell people a story they wouldn't forget so we did this with Bob, the bus, which is where we work out of. In preparing for 52businesses' launch, we needed to cut expenses. Bob is not a publicity stunt. It's appropriate because it's a bit frenetic like us — unusual, cost effective and fun. Bob also recently made his TV debut.
3. Create value.
We aren't going to start 52 businesses and then leave them to rot after the week is over. The success of our businesses will be judged based on proof of concept and maybe even profitability.
All of our businesses will be able to continue after the seven days because they'll be automated or part of a joint venture. None of the businesses will be throwaways because we want to create value. At the end of the day, we launched the businesses to contribute to the greater economy. In all businesses, this is something you need to think about. What value are you creating and how are you giving back to the community that gave you a chance?
4. Create brand ambassadors.
Treat everyone you interact with — especially your customers — like you would treat an out-of-town guest. Make sure every part of their experience is comfortable and pleasant.
Surprise them and make them feel special. This starts with the user experience, continues to customer service and packaging and persists through their interactions with you and your product.
These people will become amazing brand ambassadors for you and your company. This is especially important if your company is new and different from the standard. Get out there, tell your story, share your mission and make sure people are on board. In the digital age, you need everyone to be on board with you.
5. Build a community.
Once you get people to care about what you do and spread the word, you need to build a strong community, both online and off. You can do this by staying active on social media. This is why we are going to document our journey every step of the way.
Once we're halfway through our initiative of starting a new business every week, we'll open applications to the public to join our team. We want to get people involved. We want to allow fellow entrepreneurs the opportunity to launch businesses. We're all a team and a community trying to build a stronger, more resilient economy.
Being a part of a community is important because people feel most loyal to brands they feel connected with. They are either a part of your community or they are outside of it, but it's better if they're a part of it.
6. Be willing to adapt.
Your business will change over time and your brand needs to adapt to this change. The best advice I can give here is to be timeless.
In the book Rework, the Basecamp founders explain that "fashion fades away. When you focus on permanent features, you're in bed with the things that never go out of style." For my other business BeGreenMan.com, we thought of many relevant ideas that were not adaptive. Instead, we decided to launch an umbrella brand that could house all of our party-related products and also adapt quickly if something changes in the scene. You need to think ahead of time about these changes and build a company that allows for those changes to happen quickly.
7. Get a recognizable logo and name.
When people see your logo, it should remind them of your story.
The logo should not be obnoxious, but noticeable and smart. I made this mistake once of not creating a logo and it cost me millions. In 2008, I was the first one to sell the green man suit. It blew up immediately which was great, but was short-lived because I waited well over a year before branding the suit and engaging with customers on social media.
By the time I'd heard of them, my main competitor had 300,000 Facebook fans. I know they've done around $30 million in sales since then.
The main difference between their suit and mine was that theirs had a huge logo on the back of it.
8. Be consistent.
Make sure all of your art and messaging is the same everywhere. Don't start abbreviating or otherwise cutting corners until it's actually a calculated strategic move (think Federal Express is FedEx). We type out 52businesses exactly like that even in internal emails. You don't want to confuse customers when they see a different version of your brand, your message and get confused as to who you are.
9. Be honest and authentic.
Early adopters can smell insincerity from a mile away. You can no longer control your customers' first impression of your business so you have to be authentic, live and breathe your branding. The idea here is that no matter when or which face your customers run across, you're always representing your brand and being honest about it.
This is exactly what we do at 52businesses. We explain why we're doing what we're doing and we're not trying to lie about who we are. Plus, it's much easier and more fulfilling to choose an honest brand image and be authentic than to live a lie.