Donna Maria Coles Johnson
Donna Maria Coles Johnson

This week, I’m continuing my 12 Steps to Transitioning From Employee to Entrepreneur series. Our steps so far:

Step 1: Decide what you want your life to look like
Step 2: Research your industry options
Step 3: Consult your family
Step 4: Pave the way for a smooth departure
Step 5: Get Your Finances In Order
Step 6: Nail Your Target Customer

Step 7 is all about creating a brand that has staying power.

In order to do this, you first have to create the brand, then you must protect it, and then you must take disciplined steps to sustain it for the long haul.

Create the brand

It takes years to do this, but you can get started right away by choosing your brand name and creating a logo to represent the message you want your brand to stand for. There are no shortcuts here, as a brand is built from the ground up over a series of years, one customer interaction at a time.

Begin by using your own branded website, branded social media outlets, a branded mailing list, and other forms of branded marketing that spread your message to your target market. Use the same logo and color palette everywhere so people can quickly identify you as the source of the everything bearing your brand. As people use and share your brand with their friends, over time, the meaning of your brand will become more and more clear. It will become a part of the fabric of the life of your customers. The brand is thus originally created by you, but it is sharpened and clarified by the world around you.

Protect the brand

You must be vigilant in this area, to make sure that your brand remains strong and that you own it completely. In a world where anyone can set up a new website for free and start competing with you in about 5 minutes, there is no way you can prevent people from copying your business idea. You can, however, prevent them from legally copying your brand and other intellectual property, and the first step to dong this is to obtain federal (and perhaps worldwide) protection for your brand.

Image of trademark symbol icon
Image of trademark symbol icon

Visit the United States Patent & Trademark Office to learn about the federal trademark registration process. You can file your own trademark application at this link, but you may wish to use the services of a trademark attorney. Check your local chamber of commerce and your entrepreneurial colleagues for recommendations.

Once your trademark is registered with the US Patent & Trademark Office, you are empowered to bring a federal lawsuit against anyone who uses your trademark without your permission, to brand products that are similar to yours. The registration process takes about nine months, but can take longer depending on the particular mark you seek to register. You can file an application for as little as $225.

You can even file to register a trademark before you actually use it. This process costs a little more, but it can be useful to protect your mark between the time you select it and the time you actually start using it.

Watch this video presentation from the Trademark Office right now to learn more about how the process works.

Sustain the brand

A lot of activity here involves staying in constant touch with your customers and other stakeholders (vendors, collaborators, competitors) who will reflect your brand back to you. For example, your competitors will tell you when your brand is weak because they will begin to outshine you in the market place. Your customers will let you know when your brand is stale or boring because sales will wane — or they’ll just come right out and tell you when you ask them for feedback.

Stay in the loop on what the public says about and does with your brand. If they are not engaged and excited, you may need to spice things up for them.

Always be adding new tweaks to make your brand stronger and more interesting. Add new products and retire old ones. Collaborate with like-minded entrepreneurs and colleagues to create some fun public service and/or money-making opportunities. Improve your website as often as you can so your brand continues to take advantage of new technologies and remains fresh and cutting edge.

Follow this space for the next several weeks to continue your journey from employee to entrepreneur!

Next Installment: Step 8: Create a Solid Business Model

I’ll be back with Step 8 shortly, as we continue your quest to transition from employee to entrepreneur. Meanwhile, post your comments, questions and feedback below. I promise to come back and answer you!

Donna Maria is the founder and CEO of the Indie Business Network, a nationwide trade organization offering classes, training resources, and product liability insurance to small business owners. Click...