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The 3 biggest (and most costly) mistakes starting your first business: a guide

Updated: May 13

How to start gaining authority in your business from day one.

In part one of this mini-series, we already covered the building blocks needed to start a business from the group up and…

How to build your brand from the ground up
  • How to define who you’re trying to attract (and why it’s so important for early business growth)

  • The behind-the-scenes biz foundations you need before you start creating an online presence

  • A checklist for your brand aesthetics, to ensure your brand is adaptable to different platforms

…which you can catch up on here.

Now, it’s time to dive into part two.

The name of the game here is to create a business that looks pro from day one.

So many small businesses start out and look a little amateur. In the early days, small businesses often look tentative, and unsure of themselves... So they aren’t immediately seen as an authority, or someone to trust.

Of course, it’s totally natural to be nervous in the first year of your business.

You aren’t sure if your business idea is going to work. You wonder whether people will be interested. There’s that little voice in the back of our head that makes you question each decision you make. So we might not feel confident in ourselves or position ourselves as an authority until we’ve been in the trenches for 12, maybe even 18 months. That was the case for me, anyway.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can own your space from the get-go. You can be trusted from the outset. It is possible to present yourself as an authority right out the starting gates. Isn’t that exciting?!

In my business-building journey, the moment I felt professional, the moment I looked and sounded like an authority, it was the day that my proud, beaming smile grew — it was the day that I got that glimmer of excitement that I’d found my own little piece of land to stick my flag on and hold my ground. Like I’d properly arrived in the business world. And I deserved the title of ‘business owner’.

Keep scrolling to uncover the 3 greatest mistakes I’ve seen that have stopped small, creative businesses from looking pro from day 1.

Together, we are going to walk through:

  • How carrying out competitor research can interfere with the growth of your business

  • Why it’s not a good idea to use a brand aesthetic (or any business designs) that you’re totally in love with

  • When creating a website stops you from attracting more customers

Shall we get going, friends?

The 3 biggest (and most costly) mistakes starting your first business: a guide

A huge player that contributes to these mistakes is timing. So read on to find the most efficient order to place your business building blocks, for long-term success. And also what happens when you don’t get your building blocks in the right order…

1. How carrying out competitor research can interfere with the growth of your business

This is where most start-up small-biz owners trip up in their first year.

As we mentioned in part one of this mini-blog series, it is important to be aware of your competitors (which you can jump to here). But you only want to compare yourself to your peers so that you can determine how you’re different - what ways can you stand out from the crowd and offer something unique to your audience.

The trap that so many fall into is that you see other similar businesses going well. And you want to emulate their success. So you borrow their style, attributing their success to their aesthetic. But don’t you want to do better than them? Don’t you want to be seen as unique?

Let's take my wonderful client, Becca Williams, as an example.

Before we worked together, Becca felt that her branding and website no longer reflected the work she was doing.

Becca had been running her business successfully for several years. However, she was now at a stage where she wanted to be more selective about the types of commissions she worked with. She wanted to start attracting people who would put their trust in her to design something unique and creative - instead of creating items that were inspired by other pieces.

She was hoping to achieve a more personal, modern appearance and feel that reflected how her business had evolved. In order to achieve this Becca got in touch with Octarine Design to discuss a rebrand.

In our initial strategy session, we really zoomed in on her target audience. We got much more specific with the types of buyers she wanted to gain work from. And we also highlighted the types of people she no longer wanted to attract. A brand strategy session is also a great place for us to dive into my clients' personality. Becca has so much passion for her work and for the jewellery making industry. She is constantly inspired by the organic textures and qualities of her home in Cornwall and all of this shines through in the beautiful pieces she creates.

However, when we took a look at her current branding and website - it wasn't showing us any of that passion and personality. After conducting some competitor research it became clear that Becca's branding and website was very similar to a lot of her competitors. Whilst this may have seemed like a safe route to go down, there is a risk of blending into the crowd.

When I started to build the new aesthetic and designs for her brand, I knew she had to stand out. We wanted to infuse her branding and website with all of her passion and personality so that it would attract the type of people shared Becca's values; admired her work and wanted her expertise to create something truly unique and special. No longer did Becca’s jewellery business blend into the sea of her competitors. If you want to have a peek at the final results, you can view it here :)

Since launching her rebrand, Becca has had a very busy year and is now feeling 'more connected to my practice than ever' .

Comparison is the thief of joy...

Another pit-fall that comes with concentrating on your competitors too closely is comparison: a slippery slope that can stunt your confidence.

What we forget is that these ‘seemingly more successful’ competitors of yours might have already been in business for 5 years. Or 25 years. Or they might have a team behind them, creating posts, doing out reach, PR, the whole shebang.

Your business journey is yours. No one else’s. We can’t compare our year one to a competitor’s year 5. That’s like comparing a reception student’s reading ability to a child about to join secondary school. It’s unfair. But, inevitably, you will get there one day.

It takes a little patience. And a lot of learning, but you will reach those heights one day, trust me.

2. Why it’s not a good idea to use a brand aesthetic (or any business designs) that you’re totally in love with

The strategy you need to use to save time later down the line.

The aesthetic of your brand — the logo, the colours, the fonts, and so on — are things you’re going to see every. Single. Day. And this new business you’re about to put your heart and soul into feels like an extension of your personality.

So I made sure that I loved my logo and all those other design elements.

This was a trap I fell into myself, way back in 2019 when I started designing my own brand. A few Pinterest boards and scrapbook pages later, and I had a vision for what I wanted my brand to look like. It was combining all my favourite colours and textures.

It was kind of like when you’ve got a million and one ideas for your new living room: it’s super hard to refine all the bits of inspo you’ve gathered. Then trends change. Your own tastes change. Something else pops up on Pinterest you like that’s wildly different from your current living room, and you get the itch to buy a new shade of paint, get cushions in a different material, go for a more minimalist (or maximalist!) approach.

The exact same thing happened with my branding. I spent hours tinkering with shades of blue. Umming and ahhing whether to use a cursive, serif or sans serif fonts. And tweaking the placement of letters on my new logo by a couple of millimetres each time. I actually changed my branding 3 times in the space of 18 months.

What results did I see from changing my branding? Zilch.

There was no tangible impact on the number of enquiries I was getting. Or the new Insta-followers I was gaining. It was a complete waste of time… because I hadn’t had the business foundations at the heart of each of what my brand looked like. It was purely based on what I liked. Nothing more.

And what was the impact? It was jarring for my audience. Changing my branding so frequently kept disrupting the trust-building process with my followers and prospects.

My recommended take-away from this?

  • There needs to be some distance between you and your branding. Just because you’re bored of it, probably means that others are only just starting to recognise you. And with quicker recognition, trust starts to grow…

  • Always implement strategy and intention into your design decisions. Every element of your branding should be chosen to capture the uniqueness of your business and to appeal solely to the people you’re trying to attract.

  • And resist the itch to keep changing your branding. You want people to recognise you within a matter of seconds. Change your branding too frequently and people will be confused as to who you are. You become a new (and not-yet trusted) business all over again.

Do the work once (and do it well). And you won’t have to keep redoing it. Which means cash and time are saved in the long-run.

3. When creating a website stops you from attracting more customers

How to avoid business-tumble-weed (even if you’re working more than you were in your 9-to-5).

Creating a website (or creating an Instagram account) is the exciting bit. You’re creating something that people are going to see. You’re no longer sitting on this business idea of yours: you’re turning it into something tangible. And that is exciting!! It gives you that warm fuzzy feeling of “I’m doing it! I’m actually making this business a real thing!” The satisfaction and excitement of being out there in the world means you can start speaking to the people you want to help.

Why start with the behind-the-scenes stuff first, when you’re eager to start conversations with future, prospective customers?... Starting with the non-customer-facing stuff makes it feel like you’re not moving anywhere. And it definitely doesn’t mean you’re immediately gaining any visibility.

Yes, a website is mega important. But it does not come first. Just like the front door is important in the build of a house. But it can’t be put in place before foundations are lain and the walls go up.

Just as brand strategy always comes before building your website, if you want to build a business that’s going to last you many happy years of self-employedness.

Let's take my lovely client Becca as an example again. Before starting to redesign Becca's website, we had already put in alllll the strategy work beforehand. We knew exactly the type of people Becca was looking to attract and how to curate the website in order to appeal to those exact people. The results of applying brand strategy to Becca's website design speak for themselves...

Not only has Becca received multiple enquiries through her new site - they have been 'strong contacts'. The exact type of people Becca wants to work with.

A strategy acts as the blueprint for your business. A strategy acts as the foundation for creating a visual identity that will tie your business together.

If you haven’t clarified the impact your business is going to bring for others — and the feelings you want to evoke in your audience — how do you know what colours are going to reinforce that message? Or which designs or photographs to use, appealing to that one, specific group of people?

A strategy is the fundamental first step to determining what you’re going to say on your website too. If you don’t know who you’re talking to, how are you going to write impactful words that appeal to that one, specific group of people?

So let’s lay the foundations for your new business idea, together. You'll thank yourself in the long-run.

Save time and cash by getting these business-building-steps in the right order

I want hold your hand through the tricky bits of business, the exciting bits, the ups and downs, the wobbly bits too.

Twice a month you’ll receive a little peek through the window into my business journey and mum-come-brand-designer juggling act… so you can fast-track your own pathway to a wonderfully fulfilling business.

And a little extra bonus for you… get yourself on my mailing list AND you’ll get sent your own copy of ‘Introduction to Brand Strategy: A guide to help you gain clarity, understanding and direction for your business' where I will walk you step-by-step through laying the foundations for your new business (missing the pit-falls and stepping forwards with grace and confidence).

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