The importance of building your brand in small business

If you’ve made the decision to start a small business, or even if you’ve been in business for a couple of years, making a conscious decision about your brand is essential to your long-term success.

Branding is more than the name you choose. It’s more than the logo. It’s more than the tagline.  All three of those put together are just a small part of what your brand is.

Branding is how people describe your business to other people. And that means you don’t own your brand. Your customers do.

Winning the hearts and minds of consumers can take years, and big money. Think about how much power brands like Apple, McDonalds and Nike spend on branding. Design, public relations, advertising, websites, agencies, firms, media, graphics… brands spend literally millions on branding. To a business owner, it can be daunting.

Now, throw all that out the window. You don’t have to spend anything to create your brand. Not a penny in ad space, direct mail or website. You don’t even have to have a logo.

Great branding in small business starts with great customer service. Every interaction with a customer builds your brand. Gather a community of people through social media who trust your opinion. Position yourself as an expert, and then give them something for nothing. Your experience is valuable to your customers. They’ll keep coming back. Brands create value in the mind of the consumer. Be what your customer wants you to be.

Building your small business brand takes work, but pays dividends in the long run. We make it easier to grow your business by helping you during all phases, from incorporation to building websites to protecting your trademarks. If you’re a small business owner and need help in any area, please give us a call!

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Dissolving your business partnership

In the beginning phases of any business, there are many things to consider that take up much of your time. Marketing, production, finances, personnel… these are all-consuming in the start-up phases of business.

Entrepreneurs are usually aware of the toll starting a business has on personal relationships. But they sometimes are unaware that the relationship with your business partner can suffer also.

If your business relationship has deteriorated to the point that continuing to work together is detrimental to the company, it’s time to dissolve the partnership. Preparing for this contingency is essential to ensure that the business suffers as little as possible.  The important thing to consider is whether you or your partner will forge ahead with the business.

For the sake of the company, and the partner who remains, a separation agreement is necessary. This is not unlike a divorce, and attorneys almost always have a role in these proceedings. This is no different. You should seek legal counsel to protect yourself, your partner and your business. Attorneys provide an objective point of view in what could be an emotional and trying situation.

We make it our mission to make it easier to start your business, from incorporation to trademark protection. If you’re thinking about starting a business, please give us a call!

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What’s in a name? The art and science of naming a business

Perhaps the most vital step when you’re starting a business, maybe even more important than writing the business plan, is naming the business.

There are companies whose sole purpose is naming businesses. They charge up to $80,000 to perform that service. Volumes have been written.  In fact, if you Google “naming the business” you can see almost 72 million results; while “writing a business plan” has about 38 million.

Generally speaking, you can choose one of four ways to name your business. All have their pros and cons.

  • Geographic – tells potential customers where you are and what you do, but is somewhat limiting – Northtowne Muffler Service
  • Fanciful – easiest to protect, but difficult to position in the mind of the consumer – Xerox
  • Descriptive – says something about what you do and how you do it – Speedy Printing
  • Generic – doesn’t say much about the company, but can lend itself well to branding – Apple

The most important thing to remember about naming the business is it has to be protected through copyright or trademark. Including a search of existing companies in the early stages of incorporating your business is essential. If your business hits it big, it would be a shame if an obscure company in another state with a similar name sues you for infringement.

Naming a business is just one area of concern when you start a business. We make it our mission to help you in every possible way, from incorporation to trademark protection.  If you’re in the planning stages of incorporating your business, we’re here to help!

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Updating your website

When you own a small business, performing regular maintenance on your website is an absolute necessity. I saw an article recently outlining seven steps for updating your website.

The article makes several good points about updating your site. For instance, if your site was designed a few years ago, the look and feel may be outdated. Cleaner layouts that use space effectively have taken the place of sites that shoehorn in pictures and content.

Another piece of good advice involves broken links, which are a telltale sign of neglect.  Make it a point to check the links on your site. (By the way, many experts agree that broken links adversely affect Google page rank.)

The one that hit home most for me concerned outdated information. I recently came across a site that had “New Arrivals – September 2010” on its home page. That doesn’t really entice me to go to its ecommerce page.

Also of utmost importance is the blog. The article discussed the liability having “a dusty, dated blog” will have on prospects. Quite simply, a majority of potential customers will go elsewhere if they see that your blog hasn’t had an entry in a few months. The article suggests once a week for a blog, which is about right for most businesses.

Promotion is just one area of concern when you own a small business. We make it our mission to help you in every possible way, from incorporation to trademark protection.  If your site needs an overhaul, or you need to build a website from scratch, we’re here to help!

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Using social media in business

Social media usage is on the rise, and it is important to understand the many different ways you can use it. Sure, you can use it for promotion, but it is really secondary to how businesses should be using social media.

I recently read about increasing customer retention using social media in a VentureBeat.com article. It lists 10 ways to help you keep current customers, but I thought it really boils down to three.

small business owners deal with unhappy customersCustomer Service
Any complaints customers may have should be handled quickly and transparently. If there is a problem, address it. If an apology is necessary, do it and move on. Offer an unsatisfied customer a way to resolve the issue. It is important not to delete any negative comments. Show you are addressing issues. If it is on a public review site, it is important to show that you are responding, and not in a negative way.

Research
By tracking social media, you have your finger on the pulse of what people are saying about your company and your product. Your customers can sometimes help you identify issues you may not have anticipated.

Engagement
Remember the old adage: “The best form of advertising is word of mouth”? Social media is the new word of mouth, with one distinct advantage: Savvy businesses can use it to steer the conversation about their product or service. While it’s not free, it’s cheap and, most importantly, readily available to consumers. Studies have shown that people trust testimonials from other customers more than they trust advertising.

Protecting your image is just one area of concern when you own a small business. We make it our mission to make business ownership as easy as possible.  From incorporation to building a website, if you need information on our small business services, we’re here to help!

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2012 resolution for small business owners: Find venture capital

Over the Holidays I found myself reading those ubiquitous “Best of 2011” and “Resolutions for 2012” articles. If your resolution is to find venture capital this year, here are a couple of articles that might help.venture capital for small business

 

“6 tips for raising capital in 2012” caught my eye, not because it was particularly ground-breaking, but because it drilled everything down to six simple steps. The last two, in particular, demand the attention of every small business owner seeking venture capital.

Don’t break the law.
Seriously, don’t do it. When you have a small business on the cusp of becoming something great, there could be some inclination to cut corners to raise funds as quickly as possible. If you’re unsure, speak to your attorney. Don’t risk your business by doing something illegal.

Start the process now.
It takes longer to raise capital than you think. Making contacts, getting paperwork in order and polishing your presentation… all are important. If you want to find venture capital in 2012, start now. It’s best to enter into that endeavor with some sense of urgency.

“Protecting your secret sauce” is a quick and dirty guide about protecting yourself when talking to VCs. The biggest takeaway from the article concerns non-disclosure agreements.

Put away the NDA.
Don’t bother presenting them with a non-disclosure agreement. They won’t sign them and they are ridiculously difficult to enforce. Venture capitalists and those who make it a business to invest see tons of pitches and executive summaries and hear about investment opportunities every day. Some will be similar and it would be impossible keep track of NDAs for all of them.

Financing your business is just one area of concern when you’re starting a business. We make it our mission to make it as easy as possible.  If you need information on incorporating your business, we’re here to help!

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Imitation is the sincerest form of trademark infringement

The importance of naming your business is a given; you don’t want competitor using a business name similar to yours to trade on your good name. But what about the identifying marks, logos, graphics and intellectual property?

A recent Business Insider article discusses Apple’s trademark infringement lawsuit against Samsung. It seems that Samsung’s Android phone uses icons eerily similar to Apple’s iPhone. Take a look at the icons and see if you agree with the author that Apple has a case against Samsung.

In many industries, competition is fierce. Protecting your business and intellectual property is of utmost importance. When you start a business, it is absolutely essential to do thorough trademark research.

It is just as important to protect those identifying icons and logos as the name of your business. They are what help customers and potential customers identify your business. They’re all part of the branding and they make your company unique. Make sure you protect those as vehemently as Apple does.

There are many issues you should look into before starting any business. We make it our mission to make it as easy as possible.  If you need information on protecting a trademark, we’re here to help!

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What should go on your contact us page?

Nearly every website has a “Contact Us” page. They’re ubiquitous, and they’re often a throw-away.

Name, address and phone number go without saying. A fax number can also be included, but is optional. Here are other things that should be included on the Contact Page:

Pictures
You should include a picture of the building, if for no other reason so people will recognize what they’re looking for after seeing your website. If you don’t want to put a picture of your building, at least put a picture of your sign.

Map/Directions
So many companies forget this, but including directions is vital. You can use the map provided by Google, Yahoo or Bing. The interactive map works best. Also, if your place of business is difficult to find or tricky in any way, include some directions written out to help customers get there.

Email address
Not everyone is willing to rush right out or even pick up the phone to call for more information. But they’re right there looking at your website, and they’re thinking about your product.  Tell them who their customer service agent is. Putting a name to your customer service agent is advisable and ensures clarity about who customers should talk to and that inquiries go to one specific person. If several people will share the responsibilities of handling customer service inquires, something like “customer.service@yourcompanyname.com” is acceptable. Just make sure those emails are answered in a timely manner.

Social media links
This is an opportunity for your customers and potential customers to discover how to communicate with you. In the era of social media, it is absolutely essential to let them know where they can get additional information about your product and company. In addition to LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, make sure to include your blog, if you have one.

Optional: Contact Form
Depending upon your business and industry, it might be advisable to include a contact form with a call to action. This allows you to collect email addresses for future campaigns and special offers.

There are many issues you should look into before starting any business. We make it our mission to make it as easy as possible.  If you need information on launching your website, we’re here to help!

 

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Direct Incorporation Customer Spotlight

incorporating a businessCompany Name: Mark E. Wilson Accounting & Payroll Services, PC
Location: Rockwall, TX
Years in Business: Start-Up
Number of employees: 1

Business Profile

Direct Incorporation recently partnered with Mark Wilson, an accountant in North Texas to help incorporate a new business. Well, actually, he’s more than an accountant. In the services he provides for his clients, Mark is equal parts consultant, accountant and operations manager.

More than anything, Mark focuses on building relationships with his clients. “I’m not a typical bean counter,” Mark is fond of saying. “I’m hands on. I learn the business inside and out before making any recommendations.”

Although he works with businesses in many industries, Mark’s background makes his advice particularly valuable to medical practices. He previously held a position as operations manager for one of the largest medical practices in Texas.

Because every medical practice is different, the advice Mark gives each client is unique based upon the goals of the practice. Through analysis and experience, Mark is able to counsel physicians about making their practices more efficient and profitable.

Mark is a Quickbooks Pro Advisor and provides accounting and payroll service in Dallas, north Texas and southern Oklahoma, but chose Rockwall as home for his business. The city more than doubled in size between 2000 and 2010 according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Because of its proximity, many consider it a Dallas suburb, but residents don’t think of their town that way. Attitude, much more than Lake Ray Hubbard, separates Rockwall from Dallas. Growth, quality of life and available services convinced Mark to open his business as an accountant in Rockwall.

How Direct Incorporation Helped

Mark chose the Venture Package because in addition to incorporation, he also needed domain registration, logo and website. “Working with Direct Incorporation was extraordinarily easy. They were very patient. Ed Stahlin really bent over backwards to help.” Mark said.

Mark added, “I would definitely recommend Direct Incorporation to any small business I’m working with. It is a one-stop shop to be able to do everything a small business needs.”

There are many issues you should look into before starting any business. We make it our mission to make it as easy as possible.  If you need information on incorporating your business, visit our website.

 

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Incorporating in Virginia.

virginia small businessesOur state incorporation series today focuses on The Old Dominion: Virginia. In the past few years, Virginia has established itself as one of the top states in the U.S. in which to do business.

Our website includes summary of our services, and what you’ll need to know to incorporate a business in Virginia.

 

Benefits of incorporating in Virginia

Virginia is one of the top states for business in several key areas, according to a study by Business Facilities.

  • #1 in Economic Growth Potential
  • #3 in Business Climate
  • #9 in Employment Leaders.

According to the Small Business Administration, small business in Virginia accounts for 98% of the state’s employers and 48% of its private-sector employment. The number of minority-owned businesses has increased 51% since 2002.

Time and cost to incorporate in Virginia

The ease and speed with which a business is incorporated in Virginia can vary based on the company name and category of business activity. When incorporating an ordinary corporation or LLC, the average processing time is 4-6 weeks. For an additional fee of $100, the state will expedite the process in a week. The state’s fee to incorporate an ordinary corporation is $79; an LLC is $104.

Direct Incorporation’s Virginia incorporation services

We offer three packages to assist you with incorporating in Virginia, with prices ranging from $149 to $773. For more information on our Virginia incorporation services, click on a link below.

  • Standard Package
  • Premier Package
  • Venture Package

Do you have questions about incorporating your business in Virginia? Please leave a comment below and I will try to answer them. Thanks!

 

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