What can working for a start-up teach you? Plenty! Here's a list from a marketing director's top ten.
1. You’re in the inner circle.
A start-up is such a precious thing, it’s a new born in the arms of its grandparents for the first time; full of wonder, promise and the opportunity to fix old regrets. When an entrepreneur hands you their new born you are entering a club of trusted individuals. They’re nervous you’ll drop them on their head but they’re taking a chance on you — you’ve done it before and it turned out OK. This trust can never be underestimated. Taking on this type of responsibility requires careful and considered management.
2. There is no such thing as over communication.
Inevitably the client team you will be working with will be small, this means there is nowhere to hide on a busy day — you need to make sure that they can get hold of you whenever they need to. This means long conversations about strategy and ideas for the future that may have little to do with your immediate brief. But! You will find golden insights in these discussion that will directly fuel your brand work.
3. You’re starting with a clean slate.
Rarely do you get the opportunity to create a brand from scratch — to create the story that will carry the brand through its lifetime. Re-branding inevitably keeps something of its former self, but with a start-up you have the creative license to take it anywhere (that the customer is willing to go). For a creative strategist like me this is where I get to stretch my creative legs, flex my otherwise restrained creative muscles and let it rip! Yes it can take hours, days or even months of research to ensure the story you are creating will truly resonate, but it’s why we do what we do — we get to mix the left and right brain to create something strategically and emotionally exhilarating!
4. Get ready to change direction.
Things move quickly at a start-up, the whole direction of a company can change in a week if the investors say it needs to. You have to remain flexible and supportive during these times. State your opinion but always, always remain positive. Whatever is decided you can make it work.
5. Get ready to stop. And start. And stop again.
Not only is the creation of a brand a fast moving and a steep learning experience for all involved, it is unpredictable. Whether you are dealing directly with the founder and sole investor, or with an entire board of angels, the brakes can be put on often. You should always walk into a partnership with a start-up with this in mind and be prepared for a longer project life cycle if necessary.
6. Be gentle and know when to compromise.
Whilst this is true of all branding projects, it is especially evident in that of start-ups. ‘Selling in’ your ideas might not always be received with open arms and the clinking of artisan whiskey in crystal glasses. What you are creating is the face of the brand — the first touch point for anyone who might part with their hard earned cash and propel the company to the dizzy heights of success. Be patient and understand when too much is too much. Brands evolve, if you know it is the right place to go you can get them there gradually.
7. Be prepared to invest.
There are very few well-funded start-ups, the majority are broke or have very small budgets to put towards brand and marketing. You need to be prepared to invest for a longer-term relationship with the brand than perhaps earning what you typically would for this type of work. That’s not to say you should always quote less, but start-up branding is a labour of love, not a playground for the Strategist hoping to get rich.
8. Get educated!
While this is again true for all branding projects, having your ear close to the ground in this world is key, particularly in markets that are seeing a lot of new entrants. Differentiation at this stage of a brand’s life can mean the difference between success and disappearing into the dark despairs of a failed entrepreneur’s shot glass. Remaining connected in this world is also something you inadvertently take on long after your scope is finished. When you’re in, you’re in.
9. Success breeds success.
The world of start-ups is a relatively small one when you look at it locally. Entrepreneurial people attract other entrepreneurial people and you will find that you will soon pick up other clients who are at the same point in their journey.
10. It’s emotional.
There is no escaping the influence of emotion at a start-up, bringing us back full circle to #1 of this list. This is someone’s dream you are helping to bring to reality. They may have conjured it up in their garage a decade ago or have stumbled upon it just a few months previously, but either way, working with a start-up is not like working with a corporation or a large established brand. Emotions are what have got them to this point and will take them through the ups and downs of launch and redirection over the coming years. Expect these emotions and be prepared to deal with them, channelling this energy will only help you create something even more amazing for your client.