Developmental psychologist Erik Erikson identified eight stages of human development, pointing out that each stage builds upon the successful completion of earlier stages. The same will be true of your business.
To be viable, your business must distinguish itself from not only its competitors — but also from yourself. Here are eight simple steps you can take to give your business its own identity.
1. Name it. Your brand name is often your customers’ first impression of your business. Make it a good one! Choose a business name that is positive, memorable and both familiar and fresh. The big trick is finding a name that meets those criteria whose domain name is also available to register. Because virtually every word in the English language (and many other languages as well) is already registered, companies will often develop a name that is a combination of two words, foreign languages, mythology, etc. When narrowing down your name choices, check the domain name availability on a registrar like GoDaddy or NameCheap. As soon as you find the right option, purchase the domain registration. Tip: “.com” domains are still the gold standard, but other extensions like “.co” are becoming more acceptable, especially when the extension letters have some relationship to the business or industry.
2. Build it. Build a website quickly and inexpensively. (If you’re in the world of ecommerce, I might suggest Material!) Don’t belabor this. Your website does not have to be an architectural marvel — just a place on the web that your clients and customers can go to check out your business and maybe stay a while. Friendly functionality is more important than flash, and you can always upgrade your site as your business grows.
3. Distinguish it. Using your personal email account for business can get you into trouble. Get a business branded email address (firstname.lastname@example.org), and use it for effective, convenient communication with customers, client, and business contacts. The best way to do this is to use Google Apps for business — it’s quick, easy, and inexpensive!
4. Sing it. Email may be more efficient, but sometimes there is no substitute for the emotional connections and nuances of communication made possible by the human voice. As a result, your business needs a dedicated phone and fax. Present a professional image and get more business functionality with a cloud-based service provider like Nextiva.com, Phone.com, or RingCentral.com. Google Voice is one free way to get a separate phone number for your business, but it doesn’t provide business functionality like employee and department extensions, company voicemail, setting of business hours, auto attendant, etc. If your business is in an industry that still relies on faxing, several companies provide stand-alone online fax services that are inexpensive and flexible.
5. Sign, seal, and deliver it. For people who need a business mailing address in their city, I recommend using PakMail, a UPS Store, or a virtual office through Davinci. However, if the specific address isn't important and going paperless is a priority, I recommend using a virtual mail service like Traveling Mailbox or Earth Class Mail.
6. Legalize it. Forming a Limited Liability Corporation, or LLC, makes your business into a legal entity and helps protect your personal assets from liability. To form an LLC, hire a lawyer or use Legal Zoom to file the paperwork. Hardcore DIY types can do it themselves using the forms available on their secretary of state's website.
7. Identify it. Most businesses need an EIN, or Employer Identification Number. This is like a social security number for your business, and you can apply for it online at IRS.gov. You should have one if you plan to have employees or if your business is a partnership or corporation. An EIN can also make opening a business bank account or applying for a business credit card easier. And perhaps most importantly, using an EIN for business helps to protect you from identity theft and the possibility of a thief accessing your personal accounts.
8. Bank it. Separating your personal and business finances into different accounts should also be a priority. Get a bank account for your business as soon as possible after you have obtained its EIN. If you have formed an LLC, you will also need to bring the signed Certificate of Formation with you to the bank when you open your business bank account.
Completing the eight simple steps outlined above will give your business the firm foundation and sense of identity it needs to move to the next level. As Erikson pointed out:
“In the social jungle of human existence, there is no feeling of being alive without a sense of identity.”
Do you have any advice for forming a business identity? Let us know in the comments!
About the author
Leo Welder founded ChooseWhat.com, the entrepreneur’s startup guide, in 2007 in Austin, TX. Since that time, ChooseWhat and it’s sister websites have served over two million people seeking information on small business tools and tactics. Immediately preceding ChooseWhat, Leo worked as a search engine marketing consultant, helping grow that business from four to over thirty employees in under three years. Leo is a native Texan, an avid Texas Longhorn fan, and an Austinite of 20 years.