a branding checklist of 10 items

Congratulations! You’ve made the exciting decision to start your own business. You’ll want to add this branding checklist to your list of things to get done before you launch your brand.

Building your business and creating the brand that represents your business can sometimes feel like a chicken-and-egg scenario. What comes first? We’ve put together a branding checklist of 10 must-haves for new businesses. You should address these items as early as possible in the process of building your business.

Don’t worry about adding to your running list of things you must get done before your big launch. Establishing a basic brand is critical to new businesses, and may even help you make other business decisions along the way, so you can start crossing things off your list faster.

Why you need a branding checklist to start your business

How do you start branding your business?

You may be tempted to start your branding efforts with paying someone on Fiverr to create a logo for as cheaply as possible. But there are many steps you need to take before you get to a place where you’re thinking about a logo.

Another approach may be to think that you need to invest thousands of dollars in developing a brand and designing a complex website. And because you likely don’t have that kind of budget when you’re first starting out, you may think that branding and a website is something you’ll address when your business starts to make a profit.

Both approaches are faulty. When most people think of branding, their mind immediately jumps to a logo, but branding is so much more. Branding includes the visual identity of your brand, as well as how you communicate with your audience.

But that doesn’t mean that creating a solid brand foundation or a functional website needs to cost thousands. In fact, most of the items on our branding checklist only require your time, and thoughtfulness.

Branding is something you should start thinking about now, because your brand is the impression your clients have of your business. And first impressions matter.

A branding checklist will give you a roadmap for what brand fundamentals you need to have in place as a new business. Instead of wasting time and money on the wrong things, or putting it off until later, you’ll know exactly what you need to get started. Then, as your business grows, you’ll be able to easily build on the foundation that you put in place with your branding checklist.

Branding checklist for new businesses: 10 things you need to get started

Use this branding checklist to guide you through your initial branding efforts. These are the minimum things you’ll need to nail down before you launch your business. It may seem like a lot of work, but these essentials will save you hours of time later, and give you a solid foundation for growth.

We’ve included expert branding tips in each item straight from Emily Brackett, founder of Branding Compass and branding agency Visible Logic. Emily has over 20 years of experience branding new and established companies.

1. Figure out your business name

Determining the name of your company or product is a critical first step because many of the following steps can’t happen until this is sorted out.

An ideal name is:

  • Short
  • Easy to spell and pronounce
  • Brings to mind what you do
  • Is suggestive of your core brand traits (has the same feeling you want for your brand)
  • Has a related domain name available
  • Won’t be confused with competitors or other companies

Choosing your name should be on the top of your branding checklist as a new business, because so much of your brand development can’t be completed without it. But don’t rush the process! Having the right brand name makes everything more manageable with your branding and marketing, and a poor brand name can hold you back.

Branding expert tip! Should you use your personal name for the name of your business? For some industries, like lifestyle brands or accounting firms, it makes sense. If you’re considering using your business name as your business name, check out this blog.

2. Register your domain name

Even if you’re not ready to create your website yet, you should register your domain name as soon as you’ve decided on a business name. This will be much easier if you’ve researched available domains when you decided on your business name. It can be hard to find a good domain name, and you may have to choose a different suffix than ‘.com’ if you want to match your trade name.

Branding expert tip! If you’re having trouble finding a domain name, consider adding your location or type of business to the domain. For example, let’s say you’ve named your salon business “Strong Roots”, but you can’t find that name in a .com domain. Try “Strong Roots Hair”.

3. Secure all your ‘handles’ on social media

Like website domain names, social media account names or handles can be hard to secure. The first step should be to decide whether you’re using your personal name or business name on social media.

If social media will play an essential role in your marketing strategy, you should have already checked availability on the platforms you plan to use. Even if you’re not sure about a media channel, secure your relevant account name for now.

Branding expert tip! Having a hard time finding the right handle? Try adding a period or underscore between words in your brand name. Using the example above, @strongrootshair might not be available, but maybe @strong.roots.hair is.

4. Consider trademarking your name

Getting a trademark on your name gives you some legal protection through the US Patent and Trade office. You can complete this process yourself or work with an attorney to research and file the paperwork.

Even if you don’t plan to trademark your name, it’s a good idea to know if you could be infringing on someone else’s trademark. If you choose a name trademarked by a large corporation, you will likely be hearing from them, and you may have to change your name.

5. Check out your competition

Take time to review your competition in detail. Depending on the type of business you are creating, you may have many competitors or hardly any.

Understand how you are different:

  • Is there a specific feature that’s different?
  • Are you in a different geographic location?
  • Is your pricing model or service model different?

Reviewing your competition in this way will help you decide how your brand is different. If may even lead you to make some critical decisions about your products and services.

Review their visual identity and tone of voice:

  • What is their name?
  • What does their logo look like?
  • What colors and fonts do they use?
  • What types of photography or other imagery do they feature?
  • What’s their tone of voice: casual, serious, formal, etc?

Reviewing your competition’s visual identity and tone of voice can give you an idea of what your target audience expects, and how you can carve out a visual identity and voice that differs from your competition.

Branding expert tip! Look for local competitors as well as national competitors. Don’t be discouraged if you feel like your competitors are doing a lot of the same things you are. The point isn’t to offer something drastically different. For example, maybe all CPAs offer the same services, but your CPA brand differs because your tone of voice is more informal and friendly.

6. Start practicing your UVP or elevator speech

Being able to tell the story of your business quickly will be critical to all of your marketing programs and for networking and sales.

People will be excited to hear about your new business, and you should learn to quickly explain what your business is about, who you help, and what you do. This can be written as a one-sentence Unique Value Proposition or a longer elevator speech.

Branding expert tip! This may take some time to develop. Don’t be discouraged if you feel stuck! Your competition review should give you some direction by making it clear how you differ from your competitors.

7. Start creating your visual look & feel

Your visual brand should start with a general approach to colors, fonts, and the feeling you want to portray.

Spend time looking at other brands for inspiration. These should be your competitors (see above) and other companies. Good places to look are at their websites or also packaged goods.

It’s not always easy to identify why you do or don’t like something. When you’re looking at inspiration, try categorizing your competitors into “do not like” and “inspiration” piles. It should start to become clearer what sort of visual look and feel you gravitate towards.

Branding expert tip! Leave room to expand your branding visuals. Building brand consistency is an important part of branding, which means that ideally your brand shouldn’t change too often. That being said, you’re bound to change things up as your business grows. Start off with deciding on only a few visual items. One primary color, one font. Then you can build off of those initial elements while still remaining consistent in your original branding elements.

As a new business owner, you’re likely very excited to get a logo for your company. A logo makes it all feel real! But you’ll notice that your logo is not the first thing you should be concerned about when you first build your brand.

Before you start on your logo, you should be clear about:

  • What makes your company unique. What are your key differentiators from the competition?
  • What type of feeling do you want people to experience with your brand?
  • A concept or idea for your logo
  • A general look and feel that you want to express visually

Branding expert tip! A logo is something that people will see every time they come across your brand, so a poorly designed logo will make a bad impression. If you don’t have the budget for a professionally designed logo, so you may want to consider a wordmark style logo. Wordmark logos also called type-only or word-only logos, feature the business’s name without a graphic symbol. They can be a good choice because they focus on increasing name recognition and are usually more economical to develop. Many successful companies—such as FedEx, Tiffany, and Google—use this type of logo.

9. Develop a tone of voice

How you talk or write becomes an integral part of your brand, and you should think consciously about your tone of voice. This is the voice that you use every time you communicate with your audience, whether it be in person or online. Like your visual identity, your tone of voice should be consistent.

If you work with customers in person, your customer service is critical to your brand experience. For an online business, the writing on your website will set the tone. And if social media will be an essential part of your marketing, then what you write about and the style of your writing matter.

Branding expert tip! Not sure what your tone of voice is? Competitor research can come in handy here as well. Look at your competitors and ask yourself if your tone of voice will be similar. Will you be more or less formal than your competitor? Do you want to come across as more helpful, or distant?

10. Create your website

Every business needs a website, but most new businesses don’t need an expensive or large website. It can start as a simple one-page website. But get it live with at least your contact information as soon as possible.

  • If you have a location-based business like a store or restaurant, list your location and hours.
  • For service based businesses include a bulleted list or paragraph explaining what you do and the services you offer.

Plan to continually update your website as your brand evolves and then gets finalized over the first year in business. You will likely add more content to your site and refine your messaging and visual style.

Branding pro tip! Attention spans are short, and the average person takes only a few seconds to decide if they’re going to stay on a website or click off. To grab people’s attention, try putting your Unique Value Proposition and an impactful image at the very top of your website.

Get started on your branding checklist faster with Branding Compass

Many business owners are building their brand as they build their business.

There may be other aspects of your business that demand more of your time, and it can be tempting to set branding aside. Other times, you may feel stuck on making some important decisions, like your tone of voice, or brand colors.

For a lot of businesses, completing this branding checklist can take months to complete.

Branding Compass can help you shorten that time frame by giving you a step-by-step approach to follow. In just an hour or two, you’ll have a clear direction for your brand visuals and tone of voice. Once you have those fundamentals done, creating your logo and website will take a lot less time.

Try Branding Compass today and make real progress in launching your brand new business!