October is the new January. The leaves are changing, there's a chill in the air, and for those of us with kids in school, we're finding ourselves with a bit more time on our hands. It's no surprise this is the time of year many people start thinking about evolving a passion project or pursuit into a full-fledged business.

But when you're starting from scratch and resources are limited, what are the most critical steps to take first to get your business off the ground, or at the very least looking the part while you figure it out? I talked to 99designs Chief Marketing Officer Pamela Webber to find out, and these are the tips she shared:

1) Get a great name

While it can be overwhelming, Webber says it's critical to start with a strong company name and one that has the corresponding URL available. "If having a website is an integral part of your business (e.g., you are starting an ecommerce business), I'd suggest going to GoDaddy or 1to1 to see which relevant urls are available first - and if a website is less important to your business success, gather a group of trusted advisors for a brainstorm session," noted Webber. She suggests preparing participants by clarifying your mission, what you want to tell customers about your product/service, and what differentiates you from competitors.

Webber says once you have a few contenders for business names, narrow it down by asking some key questions about it:

- Does it stick? Your brand name should be easy to remember.

- Is it short enough? Try to stick to 2 syllables if you can.

- Is it easy to say? Everyone reading your name should know how to pronounce it.

- Is it straightforward? Don't expect anyone to think about it for more than a second.

My wife and I were very fortunate - we selected the name "Likeable" right before the Facebook "Like" button launched, and have been able to build both an agency and a software company off of a very strong original name.

2) Look the part

Once you have a name, you're ready to create a logo and brand collateral that helps you stand apart from the competition. Webber says before you enlist a logo designer, or a site like 99designs for help, remember that great brands adhere to these principles:

- Simplicity: Pare down and look for a design that delivers a simple visual message that aligns with your company's attributes.

- Originality: The last thing you want is to be mistaken for your competitor. Opt for distinctive colors, shapes and symbolism.

- Relevancy: Think about what's appropriate for your industry and audience. Will customers be attracted to a logo that emphasizes strength and speed? Friendliness and approachability?

- Timelessness: For a logo to do its job and provide long-term brand recognition, you need it to stick around as your business grows.

- Versatility: An effective logo is easily recognizable on any medium that bears your brand - whether it's a your business cards, website, Twitter avatar, or packaging. Make sure it works in both full color and black, at any size.

3) Get online

Depending on the type of business you're running, it may be wise to use a template website platform such as Squarespace, Wix or Weebly that will make it easy for you to manage on your own, and will also look professional. "I recommend shopping around to find the right functionality for your business, one that best fits your brand aesthetic, and an interface that feels most intuitive to you," said Webber.

4) Get Social

In addition to your website, one of the first places customer may go to determine your credibility are social channels such as Linkedin, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Creating profiles for your company and managing several social media channels can seem daunting, so start with just the one or two most relevant to your business. Or, use a software tool like Likeable Local to help manage multiple profiles for you.

Webber added, "If you do decide to pursue more than one, make sure you have consistent branding, and be sure to let people know how to reach you in the 'about' section of each one. You can also improve your credibility by updating your personal profiles with links to your new business." Don't forget to send an email to your network to let people know what you're doing, and link to your website and your company's social profiles in all of your correspondence to make it really easy for people to find and follow you. Last but not least, start building your following by following "friendlies" that might return the favor.

5) Beef up your "staff"

Chances are, you'll be wearing more than a few hats when you first start out, but your customers and prospects don't need to know that. Webber suggests creating a few email aliases to create the appearance of a larger team, such as 'customerservice@ yournewbiz.com' or 'pr@yournewbiz.com.' A virtual company phone number through Grasshopper or eVoice can also help with appearances. Webber says, "simple steps can really make the biggest difference, especially when you're just starting out."

How do YOU fake it til you make it? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the Comments section below. And here's to "going big", one way or the other! 

Published on: Oct 19, 2016