Editor's note: "The First 90 Days" is a series about how to make 2016 a year of breakout growth for your business. Let us know how you're making the first 90 days count by joining the conversation on social media with the hashtag #Inc90Days.
Now that your company is established and has some sales activity, you'll need to think about your brand. However, you should resist the temptation of making branding a DIY activity. Here's why:
1. You probably don't understand the concept.
Unless you've actually branded a company or product in the past, you probably think that brand consists of your name, logo, tag line, and the look and feel of your products.
In fact, your brand is the emotion that customers and potential customers feel when they experience your product or service. Those brand elements can only reflect that emotion.
If you miss that basic concept, you'll waste time, money, and mental energy on those brand elements rather than on the emotions you're attempting to elicit.
By contrast, a talented outside branding company will zero in immediately on the emotions and arrange the elements to fit them.
2. You can't see yourself from the outside.
Presumably you've worked hard to create a product that you believe to be exciting and interesting and, along the way, you've gained some self-awareness of your strengths and weaknesses.
However, the "vision" that made all that possible is a huge impediment to understanding what others might value in you and your products, and that makes effective branding next to impossible.
As the great Scottish poet Robert Burns famously wrote: "O, wad some Power the giftie gie us, to see oursels as ithers see us! It wad frae monie a blunder free us."
An outside branding company, by definition, has an outsider's viewpoint, and is thus less likely to get caught up in your inside-looking-out vision.
3. Talented brand managers simply aren't available.
Branding, like selling, can't really be taught in colleges or universities. It's an art, not a science, and it's the kind of art where every situation is unique.
Of course, MBA programs often feature branding case studies, but what worked for Coke, Sony, Apple, and Tesla isn't going to work for your startup.
Even previous experience branding for another company in the same industry isn't always that useful. In branding, what worked yesterday isn't likely to work today, much less tomorrow.
Individuals who have broad experience in branding at different levels are much more likely to be working for companies that specialize in branding than looking to work in your business.
4. You can focus on sales rather than marketing.
Like everyone else, you have a limited amount of energy to put into your business. Necessarily, much of that energy must focus on creating a great product or service.
When you're not actively working on that core, your time is probably best spent working with customers and potential customers, rather than branding.
With startups and early-stage companies, customers want to work directly with C-level executives. Therefore, your non-development time is best spent developing opportunities.
While this is happening, an outside branding company can help understand why your current customers are buying and identify the emotions that your branding campaign will seek to intensify.
5. You'll strengthen your exit strategy.
Unless you're planning to grow your company indefinitely, you've probably got an exit strategy: either an IPO or being acquired by another company.
Because brand is crucial to how your company is perceived, nothing says "likely to fail" than an amateurish or awkward brand.
Companies with a highly professional brand concept and brand elements that match are far more likely to seem attractive to investors, investment banks and acquiring companies.
A truly talented outside branding consultant can create the impression that your company and products are greater than the sum of their parts, thereby ensuring the best possible price.