How to Start & Grow a Brand When You Have NO Idea If It’ll Work or Not

Do you know how to start a brand from nothing?

Can you start a brand without knowing for sure whether it will work?

…Just kidding. Those were trick questions. 😅

Because…

There IS a roadmap to starting a brand, no matter your niche or industry. You don’t have to start from zero.

You NEVER have to guess what you should do, first.

If you have the seed of a brand idea, there are steps to take to validate what you’ll do, who you’ll serve, and how/when you’ll make money.

(After that, you can go all-in on building your brand image, solidifying it and making it real.)

So, if that’s you – you have a business idea, but no clear notion of whether it will work – it’s time to go from clueLESS to clued IN.

This is the strategy you need. ⬇

Table of Contents:

Video: How to Start a Brand When You’re Not Sure It Will Work

How to Start a Brand: Ask These 3 Questions, First

  1. Does Your Business Come from a Core Passion AND Talent?
  2. Is There a Way to Directly Make Profits and Scale the Income?
  3. Will the Potential for Income Be POSITIVE in Six Months to One Year?

Next Steps: Get Practical When Starting Your Brand from Scratch

  1. Write Down Your Brand Mission and Vision
  2. Pinpoint Your Target Audience & Persona
  3. Hone Your Brand Voice & Messaging
  4. Consider Branding
  5. Record Your Brand Strategy, Refer to It Often

how to start a brandHow to Start a Brand When You’re Unsure Whether It Will Work (Video)

Most guides that explain how to start a brand begin with whether your biz idea is targeted for the right audience/market.

Stop. ✋ Back up.

Don’t make this mistake.

Before you go an inch closer to market research or audience discovery, you need to pinpoint a few other details, first. These ensure your brand has staying power, not just market interest.

Why do you need to make sure the staying power is there? Because 70% of all businesses fail before their 10th year. 50% will fail by year five. 😞

I started a brand at age 19 with no idea if it would pan out. Guess what? I led that brand through 10 years, 40,000+ projects, and over $5 million in sales before I sold it successfully.

To get similar achievements in business, you need the right combination of ingredients to not only start your brand on the right footing, but ensure it has longevity baked into its DNA.

Check out this video where I explain the keys to starting a brand when you have NO idea where to begin (hint: right here!).

How to Start a Brand: Ask (& Answer!) These 3 Questions, First

To figure out whether your brand will work, you need to vet it before you start building it.

Ask these questions, first, and then move forward with other brand-building aspects that will help you grow (such as persona creation, branding, and messaging – more on those later).

serious business owner

1. Does Your Business Come from a Core Passion AND Talent?

Do you love doing the thing you’re trying to turn into a business?

Are you good at it? Can you become good at it through skill-building?

If you can’t answer “yes” to both of those questions, stop and reconsider your business idea.

Now, passion and talent won’t make or break your brand in terms of sales or customer interest. You don’t need passion OR talent at the core of your business to sell something to people, whether it’s products or a service.

Plenty of people start their brands with zero passion for what they’re doing/selling, and zero talent for it within themselves, relying on outside talent instead. (The one thing they do have? A passion for making money. 🤑)

Surprisingly, this simple factor (having vs. not having passion + talent) is often what differentiates the lasting brands from the brands that fizzle out in a few years.

You DO need both if you want your brand to survive longer than a blip.

Why? The passion + talent equation is what will give you the burning drive to keep going when the going gets tough – sans burnout!

just keep swimming

And it will be tough – make no mistake.

In those instances when your income nosedives for any number of reasons, when your brand is stagnating, when your success dips for a bit, when the economy stalls thanks to a pandemic…

Your passion + talent will see you through.

Think of it as the engine at the heart of your brand. Your business won’t survive the long haul without your personal love and skill guiding its trajectory and keeping it alive.

If you have the passion and the talent for your business idea (or if you have the passion and you’re currently working on building expertise), don’t stop there. Keep moving and answer the next vital question. 👉

2. Is There a Way to Directly Make Profits and Scale the Income?

You love what you do. You’re good at it.

So what?

That’s fantastic, but you’re still not ready to start your brand with these two things alone. You need them, absolutely, but you can’t depend on them, because…

It’s not a business unless you can make profits from it and scale.

Storytime.

My husband and I wanted to start a small business selling fresh, homegrown produce from our hydroponic garden. 🥗 (Gardening is a hobby my husband truly enjoys, and he’s good at it!)

The passion and skill were there. Check. ✅

But then we crunched the numbers to figure out what kind of income we could see from building this brand.

We discovered we could expect, at most, to make $700/month from selling produce at farmers markets. That’s not even enough to cover an average mortgage. ❌

The profits simply wouldn’t be there, so we abandoned the idea.

Back to your business idea. If you find you CAN be profitable with this brand you want to build, next figure out if you can successfully scale. Is the potential for growth present? Can you build your income month after month?

If growth is possible, the next question to ask yourself is where you’ll end up in six months to one year.

3. Will the Potential for Income Be POSITIVE in Six Months to One Year?

Time for some serious number crunching.

If your brand can turn a profit within a year, you’re set to continue building that brand. With passion, skill, profitability, and growth potential, you’ve got the green light, my friend. 🚦

But how do you figure out whether your brand will be profitable in the future?

Look at your profit margins, current and projected (this is also essential to do when you’re building out your business team).

  1. Expenses: Look at how much it will cost to run your business. Look at your business expenses month-to-month as well as anticipated expenses. These might include:
    • Mortgage or rent payments for your workspace or office
    • Office equipment and supplies
    • Your marketing budget
    • Insurance
    • Payroll, if you hire employees/contractors
    • Travel expenses
    • Education expenses (if you take courses, webinars, conferences, workshops, etc.)
    • Utilities
    • Internet and phone service
    • Bank fees
    • Taxes
  2. Revenue & projected revenue: Look at how much income you can expect to take in monthly if you start your biz tomorrow AND if it runs for a full year.
    • For projected revenue, don’t forget to figure in your growth potential. For instance, as time goes on, will you add customers? Slowly increase prices as you become known? Add new services/products?
  3. Revenue – Expenses = Net Profit. Take your revenue and subtract your expenses to find your net profit. This is a true picture of your business income. If the number is negative, that means you’re losing money. If it’s 0, you’re breaking even. If the number is above zero, you’re turning a profit!
    • Complete the equation for both present and projected revenue. Will you make money in at least six months to one year? GO – you’re ready to dig into brand building.

Whether you’re sure your brand idea will work or not, whether you’re scaling a ship that has set sail or launching a new one, my FREE video training will give you the knowledge you need to make it successful. Watch now: How to Build Your Self-Sustaining Business in 90 Days.

Next Steps: Get Practical When Starting Your Brand from Scratch

How do you build a brand online once you’ve vetted your idea against the three questions we discussed above?

I recommend staying brand-focused before going out to get customers. That means clarifying your mission and vision, nailing down your logo and colors, building the first draft of your website, figuring out your brand voice and messaging, and creating/documenting your content strategy.

In other words, get practical and erect your brand from the ground up. Invest in your online presence so you’ll have something concrete to market to customers, something you’re proud to show off and spread the word about. ✨

Start with these basic steps:

1. Write Down Your Brand Mission and Vision

What does your brand stand for?

Why do you exist?

What values do you hold dear as an entity?

What differentiates you from your competition?

The answers you give to these basic questions should be the driving force behind everything you do. Before you can start building out your image, you need to know WHY you’re doing it all in the first place.

Here are some definitions and examples to help you formulate your own mission and vision statements.

  • Brand vision statement
    • Encompasses the impact you hope to have on the world.
    • It’s not about money or what you can achieve; it’s about the potentially life-changing value you can provide to others through what you do.
    • Example: Content Hacker’s vision is to “place REAL wealth-building business strategy into the hands of 1M entrepreneurs.”
  • Brand mission statement
    • Tells the world how you’ll reach your vision and why it matters.
    • It’s a clear directive on what you plan to do to create your intended impact.
    • Example: LinkedIn’s mission statement is to “connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful.”

how to start a brand

2. Pinpoint Your Target Audience & Persona

After you iterate the deeper purpose behind your brand, it’s time to discover WHO that purpose will be impacting.

You can’t be all things to all people, and you shouldn’t want to be, either. By targeting a specific niche, you’ll reach exactly who needs your brand, letting the people who will never engage fall by the wayside. 🎯

How do you find these unicorns? Do some digging.

Target Audience Research

Research is a huge part of target audience discovery – especially if you have no established audience and no clear idea of who needs your brand.

To get your wheels spinning on who your ideal audience is, first ask some general questions:

  • Who needs the solution(s) I’m providing through my brand?
  • Who specifically will benefit the most from my product(s)/service(s)?
  • Who has a pain point I can solve immediately and dramatically?

your audience needs you

Finding your target audience means finding the people who need your brand this much.

Next, write down all of your assumptions about these people – age, gender, demographics, occupation, income, family size, etc.

But don’t stop there. What you have so far are guesses. Now you need to go out and prove your assumptions are right. Dig around in these areas:

  1. Your competitors’ websites/social media. Google your niche and check out the top results. (For example, search for “content writing” if you want to build a content writing business.) Look at their content and comment sections. See who they’re targeting and who’s engaging with them. You can also check out their “about” page and sales pages to see who they’re talking to.
  2. Community forums and niche gathering spots. Look for places where your potential audience gathers to discuss your industry/niche. This could include hashtags on Instagram, Reddit pages and Subreddits, Facebook groups, and comment sections on blogs and YouTube videos.
    • In a lot of cases, people will include links to their social handles in their posts, which gives you an additional avenue to research who they are and what they care about.
  3. Live interviews. I cannot emphasize this enough – to truly understand who you should be targeting, you need to actually talk to real humans. Pick their brains, find out what makes them tick and exactly what their pain points look like.
    • Starting from square one? To find people to talk to, put out feelers on your existing social media accounts. Explain your brand/business idea, talk about your offer and the pain points you’ll solve, and then ask if interested people will DM you to set up a phone call!

Building a Brand Persona

A persona is a tool you will use in your marketing, as you build your website, and as you figure out your brand voice and how you want to be perceived as a living, breathing brand.

In short, the persona is a profile of your average ideal buyer. This fictional person represents a wide swathe of your audience, the people who will love your brand and need what you’re selling. (In my coaching program, The Content Transformation System, I call this persona tool your “Ideal Client Avatar,” or ICA.)

Your persona should include all the details and facts you dug up during your audience research sessions:

  • Age (or age range)
  • Gender
  • Location
  • Occupation
  • Education
  • Income

Along with these facts, you should have also uncovered some less tangible details about your ideal client, such as:

  • Dreams
  • Goals
  • Motivations
  • Fears
  • Likes & dislikes
  • Habits
  • Hobbies

All of these various facts and details should inform your persona and what that fictional ideal client avatar will look like.

persona checklist

Source: CleverTap

In a recent blog, I extensively cover how to build an accurate, powerful persona, as well as more details and tips on researching your audience. Check it out: How to Create an Accurate Business Persona.

3. Hone Your Brand Voice & Messaging

Next up in our brand-building journey: brand voice and messaging.

Brand Voice, Tone, and Style

Your brand voice is the overarching communication style and personality you adopt as a brand. Keep in mind – you won’t choose a brand voice randomly. Instead, you’ll rely on what you know about your audience and what will appeal to them most to hone your voice.

Building your brand voice includes consideration of two factors: tone and style.

  • Brand tone: Also known as tone of voice, this is how you sound/appear to your audience. It includes your word choices, the general vocabulary you use, the stories you tell, and how you relate to them across your messaging and communications (think emails, ads, blog content, your tagline, social media posts, and all other content).
    • Tone of voice is often defined by adjectives that describe your brand’s personality and emotion. For example, is your brand:
      • Formal and scientific?
      • Casual and funny?
      • Honest and quirky?
      • Sweet and happy?
    • In each of these instances, your brand tone will drastically change to get across the desired voice.
  • Brand style: Your style defines how you get across your tone of voice. It includes:
    • Punctuation and grammar rules you follow (or don’t follow) – for instance, do you use Oxford commas? Semicolons? Trailing periods? Sentence fragments? Slang?
    • Formatting (including bulleted and numbered lists, header formatting, how you use bold and italic text, etc.)
    • Perspective (whether you directly address your audience using “you,” or speak to them indirectly using “they” and “them”)

how to start a brand

Brand Messaging

Once your brand voice is nailed down, you’ll rely on it to build your brand messaging.

Consistency is key. This means you need to sound the same across all your communication platforms, giving customers a similar experience no matter where they encounter your brand presence.

Why is consistency so important? Because it’s a major trust builder. Specifically, brand consistency has been shown to increase revenue by as much as 20%.

And, since most consumers read 3-5 blogs before even thinking about talking to a salesperson, consistency in tone across those content pieces is vital.

Think about it. If your brand sounds slightly different from one day to the next, one content piece to the next – if your tone swings from formal and professorial to casual and snarky – what message does that send to customers?

  • They’ll think you’re unreliable and confusing.
  • They won’t be able to determine who you are or what you stand for.
  • You won’t have a defined personality, so you’ll ultimately be forgettable.

Instead, make sure you commit to a brand voice that speaks to your audience intimately and pulls them in. Create a style guide going over the do’s, don’ts, and rules for writing/creating content, communications, and messaging for your brand. Give it to every person who will have a hand in this pot.

Example: Intuit has an online style guide for every copywriter, designer, developer, etc., who works with one of their brands. An entire section is devoted to voice and tone!

content style guide example

Note their particular attention to adjectives that describe their brand’s personality:

content style guide example voice and tone

Your style guide doesn’t have to be this involved or complicated. Intuit is a giant company with multiple brands operating within it, so look at this mainly as inspiration.

In stark contrast, many of you are tiny companies of one looking for your first hire, so your style guide can be much simpler. (E.g., a shareable Google Doc with sections for voice & tone, grammar/punctuation rules, formatting rules, and even rules for using your colors and logo.)

4. Consider Branding: Colors, Logo, Style, Overarching Image

Branding – colors, design style, logo, etc. – is much easier to figure out once you know your audience and have built your brand personality, voice, and tone around appealing to them.

That’s why it’s one of the last steps I mention in this guide on how to start a brand.

Last, but certainly not least. Good branding can do a lot for your business, even if you’re small. A seemingly simple detail like cohesive colors can increase how well people recognize your brand by up to 80%!

However, if you’re not a graphic artist or designer, I recommend outsourcing logo design and branding to an expert. They’ll help you nail down your brand’s look and feel, color palette, logo, and more so you’ll achieve a cohesive, professional look across channels.

Thankfully, at this point, you should have a ton of resources to give your designer to help them create the perfect branding package for you. Your style guide is a great one to hand over as a reference, along with your ideal client persona.

Another perk of hiring an expert is they can create a detailed branding book, or brand style guide, for you to use as you design your website, lead magnets, or any other assets for marketing your brand.

Usually, a brand style guide will include rules and guidelines for:

  • Logo size, placement, and variations
  • Approved colors and your overarching brand color palette
  • Approved fonts and typography rules
  • Your desired image style (helpful for when sourcing stock images)

Take a look at this small business branding example from a coffee shop – it includes detailed rules for how the branding should look and feel for this company. This brand can turn around and hand this guide to any other web developer or designer they hire and achieve consistency.

branding style guide example

Finally, who should you turn to for branding help? A short and sweet list:

  • A creative agency that specializes in branding and brand image creation
  • A talented freelancer with experience designing logos

5. How to Start a Brand and Stay Consistent: Record Your Brand Strategy, Refer to It Often

The above steps are vital for brand-building, but they also serve another purpose.

They’re essential parts of your all-encompassing brand strategy.

For this reason, as you move through the steps, record everything.

Create a living document you can refer to and share as needed.

Don’t endlessly tweak and adjust – do your research, make firm decisions, document them, and stick to them.

Granted, if one piece isn’t working, go ahead and tinker with it.

But make sure along the way you’re also creating a solid foundation for your brand to rest upon. It should be strong and steady, consistent and stable.

Ultimately, it should become an entity your customers can trust and believe in.

This will take time, so don’t shoot yourself in the foot by flip-flopping every few weeks about what your brand should sound like, look like, and feel like.

As you continue to build your new brand, keep your documentation close. Refer to it when you start hiring, when you start planning your content marketing, when you dive into your social presence, and as you interact with customers and grow your offerings.

That’s the surefire route to success. 🛣

The Best Way to Start a Brand? Vet Your Idea First, Then Build and Document

You made it to the end. 😅

By now, you know you don’t have to go into starting a brand blindly.

There are concrete steps to follow to ensure your idea is not just doable, but will lead to a profitable business.

And, after that, you have the roadmap to building your brand up, brick by brick.

From there, you could go anywhere. As far and wide as you can dream.

It’s possible. So it’s time to go out and start building.

But if you need a bit more guidance on the road to starting a rock-solid, sustainable brand, I have THE solution.

It’s called the Content Transformation System, my 1:1 coaching program created especially for entrepreneurs like you.

If you’re struggling with ANY of the steps associated with brand-building, if you need clear directions on how to start, grow, or scale your biz, my team of expert coaches and I are HERE for you. 💗

We teach the realistic business skills, systems, and strategy you need to shift to 6 and 7-figures long-term in your online business.

Ready to get in the door? Apply today if you’re raring to start or scale your brand and create your own success.

About Julia McCoy

Julia McCoy is an entrepreneur, 6x author, and a leading strategist around creating exceptional content and brand presence that lasts online. At 19 years old, in 2011, she used her last $75 to build a 7-figure agency, Express Writers, which she grew to $5M and sold ten years later. In the 2020s, she's devoted to running The Content Hacker, where she teaches creative entrepreneurs the strategy, skills, and systems they need to build a self-sustaining business, so they are finally freed up to create lasting legacy and generational impact.