There is very little secret to how Denote Communications got its start. I had a couple months salary from my game designer job saved up, an opportunity for a contract, a suit that sort of fit, and I’ve written prior on how Denote got it’s name and logo and love talking about it. Basically, it was with one smartphone alternating between a thesaurus site and a whois look-up for available domains, some pints, and far too many chicken wings. The next day, Adobe Illustrator was fired up, I chose a cool font, threw an underline stroke in, then did a sort of drop shadow. There was the first iteration of the Denote Communications logo. It probably took about 15 minutes total and another 30 minutes to throw it up on a single HTML page along with my contact information. I now had a web site that allowed people to contact me.
The next several months of my life were dedicated to advertising sales, trying to get new clients, and managing end-to-end production of our magazine, Profile Halifax. The experience was grueling, exciting, eye-opening, tiring, stressful, rewarding, and an assortment of other adjectives spanning from the terrible to the best. The point is, clients were being acquired, sales were being made, and so was revenue. It wasn’t a lot and by no means was I dining on Fillet Mignon on a daily basis, but I was barely getting by. And I got by that first year alive.
I suppose the point I’m trying to emphasize is that for the advertising/marketing business I was in, what most people think mattered, the fun things like logo, credo, team profiles, web sites, etc, didn’t matter. What mattered was hitting the pavement, making calls, knocking on doors, and understanding that “no” means “not now.” Clients do not care about your credo, your logo design, the pillars of your beliefs, or the thickness of your business cards. They care about value, contact information, trust, and experience. All things you can get by with on some cheap business cards and a single page web site (though upgrade to include a portfolio when you can).
At Denote Communications, our web site was just a logo for the first two months before someone was nice enough to remind me how stupid it was to not even have my contact information up. For about 10 months following that, it was a logo, e-mail, phone, and fax. During this time, we set record advertising sales for several publications, built some solid relationships, and created enough value to convince me that Denote was onto something. The following year, we upgraded to a basic WordPress theme that at least listed the services we offered and a small portfolio. By year 3, the business had changed so much that we needed to change the strategy altogether…but by that point, I wouldn’t consider us in the ‘starting’ stage.
In the beginning, nothing matters more than growth and sales. Sales to survive and establish value, growth to expand your client list, credibility, relationships, and opportunities. Nothing else matters. In the beginning, you will likely not get business through your web site. Even to this day, business from our web site has only made up a small fraction of our clients. Once you are farther along and established, the web site, logo, and business cards will serve more as portfolio pieces than anything else. They will be great support articles to your attempts to get clients, but will not be what gets you the meeting or closes the sale.
When you are starting your business on a limited budget, you cannot afford to waste time or money. Focus less on the fun stuff, and more on sales. It may seem obvious, but people often get hung up on the glitz and glamour of ‘business ownership’ without considering the hard work of building the client base and revenue. Don’t make the same mistake most do.