Starting your own business is a huge leap to take. But it’s one that more and more people are choosing to make.

Beginning from ground zero though can lead to an instant case of writer’s (or in this entrepreneur’s) block. So here are some handy startup design tips to get your company started:

1) Choose a great name for your startup

Though this can often feel like it should be lower down on your list of concerns, just think for a moment about the number of times and places you’re going to use your company name. Not only is it going to be on all of your branding and marketing, if you’re going to be trying to raise VC (Venture Capital) funding, you’re going to have to say your company name aloud every time you try and pitch your startup.

If you’re struggling with ideas, or are planning on having a placeholder name which you’ll then replace when you manage to come up with the cash or overcome your desire not to give those domain pirates any money and finally buy the name you actually want – don’t.

Likewise, choosing a lukewarm name that sounds “okay” will leave you looking like one of the faceless crowd. That’s from the point of view of both consumers and any investors you might be thinking about contacting.

To create a good company name you can try:

  1. Making a list of keywords – either by consulting lists of other startup names, listing the concepts involved in your business, or by using a good old thesaurus.
  2. Using tools to play with your keywords – there are many tools available online which will let you turn those words you like into domain possibilities to search for, or help you brand them into a company name.
  3. Checking out some domain portfolios – once you’ve gotten some keywords, use domain portfolios try and find some abstracted versions of them which are still relevant and, in most cases, much more exciting than your original ideas!
2) Create your vision and mission

In many cases, the best startup advice for entrepreneurs is simply “start trading.” Otherwise, all you have is a collection of good ideas. But it’s no good trading without a brand (we’ll get to that), and your vision and mission.

Your startup might well be designed to test out a new business model or marketing area. You might want to change your strategy on the fly and do so often. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have:

  1. A mission – the “what” and “why” of your business
  2. A vision – where you want to be

For starters, even if you haven’t consciously thought about these before, they likely formed part of your reasoning for starting the company in the first place. Secondly:

To those thinking that having principles like this is going to get in the way of your ability to adapt, nothing could be further from the truth. Think of it like a spinning arrow. That arrow can point in any direction it likes, but without a hub, it can go spinning off in random directions in a way that really isn’t helpful.

A bit of a folksy metaphor perhaps, but the meaning should be clear.

One of the dangers in creating your vision and mission statements (it’s important to remember here that, like your company name, these will exist before your company really exists in the “physical” world and give prospective clients and investors an idea of what your company will do for them) is that traditionally they either sound like painful clichés or are horribly contrived to the point of pointlessness.

They don’t have to be two distinct carefully written statements. They just need to be short ideas of what makes you and your team get up in the morning. There are plenty of guides for how to do this online, so get searching!

3) Plan your PR and marketing

You might have a tight budget or funding in the millions. But either way, sensibly planning and targeting your PR and marketing spend is key to not wasting that money.

You’ll need to choose the channels which are best for your particular type of company, services and products. And you’ll need to make sure that you have data supporting the fact that these are the best channels. Gut feelings and ideas of what “should” work aren’t going to cut it. Also, just because you personally dislike a certain channel – social media, for example – makes it all the more important that you don’t overlook it.

Consider:

  • PR and outreach to press
  • Social media
  • SEO and local search
  • Trade shows
  • Paid online advertising, such as Pay Per Click
4) Build your brand

This is one part of designing a startup that you really can’t afford to do without. In fact, it’s probably the key reason why some startups end up being a success and others end up falling by the wayside.

To design a real killer brand, you’ll need to:

  1. Choose your market – and then target it effectively. You need to constantly test and check and survey to make sure you’re doing this. As soon as you stop connecting, you stop selling. It’s that simple
  2. Have a story – it doesn’t have to be long. It doesn’t have to be a work worthy of Burns or Shakespeare, but it does need to quickly tell a customer who you are and what you’re about. As a startup, you won’t have the long history of an established company to does this for you.
  3. Don’t be boring – once you’ve got a brand, a mission and a vision you can start tying these together into an interesting and, above all, memorable story that makes you stand out from the crowd. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a cause-driven company, a fun startup or even an outright outlandish one. What matters is that everything fits together to create an image of you that people will remember.
5) If you’re seeking investment, make sure you’re heard

The jury’s largely still out on whether it’s best to seek investment when starting your company. On the one hand, if you can self-fund you’re beholden to no-one. On the other, if you’ve got nothing you might not be able to do anything.

If you are looking for investors as a startup, there’s one thing that’s more important than almost anything else:

You need to talk their language. And that language is the language of business.

In much the same way you’ll struggle to understand what your marketing team are talking about if you don’t know at least the basic terminology of SEO, for example, you’ll struggle to convince an investor you’re worth their time (and more crucially, their money) if you can’t understand what they’re talking about.

For some entrepreneurs this is easy – it’s the background you’re from, and nothing could be simpler. If you don’t know the difference between your VC and your angel investors, the function of your term sheet, or whether it’s post-money or pre-money valuation that you’re talking about though, it’s time to start learning.

6) Go international

It can be difficult to take this big step, but some indications that your startup will make more money as an international business could be:

  • You receive more emails and requests outside of your normal office hours (i.e. from different time zones)
  • That over half your business comes from outside your home country
  • That your highest value customers are from outside your home country

The next question, of course, is where to expand. This decision needs to be based on solid data such as:

  1. Your current traction and presence – in a given market
  2. Market opportunity and competition – is there a gap there waiting for you?
  3. Available talent – is there a pool of skilled candidates waiting to be hired?

One of the biggest challenges of going international is to stay true to your brand while adapting it to what can be the very different culture and values of your target market. You only need to make a quick Google search for global brand marketing fails to see how even the biggest companies fail to do this properly.

If you don’t have the specialist language expertise internally, you really do need to get access to it through a language services provider you trust. For example, if you’re not sure of the difference between translation and localisation, this is yet another occasion when it’s time to hit the books and get learning!

You can check out some of the basics in this article on localised marketing materials.

Advice for startups and entrepreneurs

Starting your own company can be a whole lot of hard work and, as we’ve seen, you need to be constantly learning and developing your own skills to make even the basics happen. But it can also be incredibly rewarding, both personally and professionally. So don’t let a blank page put you off – it’s time to get your startup started.

A huge number of online businesses are popping up all over the place these days. It’s because it hardly costs any money to get started if you’re careful. This might sound like a good thing, but it means people are paying less attention to business essentials than ever before.