First Steps for Small Business Start-Ups

Don’t make these costly small business errors.
Every other month or so I have a client come to my office ready to throw down a credit card and start the logo design process and launch their business idea. They are big-eyed and full of motivation, ready to leave the gate at full force. They have “researched” the availability of their new small business name via the Law Firm of Google and Google and think they are all set and ready for the design process….But Eerkkk….these entities need to stop right there.

Unfortunately, it’s not enough to verify name availability through a preliminary search via online or social media. The first step in the small business start up process is to verify with the state, that you have the legal authority to use the business name. Under section 5.053 of the BOC, an entity or small business cannot have a name that is the same as or deceptively similar to an entity previously filed with the secretary of state. Filing your name not only clear you of your rights to use the name, but also puts others on notice that it’s in use and protects your entity. In addition, if the name is slightly similar, a filing business cannot have a name that is similar to an existing name on file with the secretary of state unless the existing entity or business, consents in writing to the use of the similar name.

We actually ran into that same issue when filing our name, “Austin Logo Designs” years ago. I was using my last name, of Spanish origin originally and it was just too confusing and didn’t clearly portray what we did as an entity. I fell in love with the name “Austin Logo Designs” and after originally filing with the state ran into a snag because there was a small church community with the name, “Austin Logos Church”. I would have only been granted the authority if the other business church owner signed off. It was a pretty stressful week until he so graciously signed off and we were on our way. I never would have known this, had I not gone through that legal process first.

We dodged a bullet in that regard, but unfortunately I’ve had a few clients that weren’t so lucky and lost thousands of dollars. About 4 or 5 years ago here in Austin; 2 passionate partners starting up a killer business with athletes in mind, providing training tips, large screens for performance evaluations. It was going to be very interactive and original in terms of fitness and technology. I had assumed that they were clear to use the name they chose. We created a stainless steel, metal and red logo design that we were all in love with. Cards were made, website was up and running with stunning photos, captivating copy, and a brick and mortar storefront was leased. The wheels were in motion. Then, we found out they received a cease and assist letter from a major athletics apparel company, which may or may not rhyme with “wonder farmer”. The name was too similar to theirs and they threatened to sue. They probably had 20 lawyers and it was a “David and Goliath (minus the slingshot) type scenario”, so my client had to back down and drop its name and close shop because their name was not originally cleared for legal use. All of the time and energy and funds spent on the logo design, shirts, branding, site, cards, etc were a loss.

Also of note, it is extremely important to decide your business classification, LLC, DBA? Most entrepreneurs form an LLC because it has all the benefits of a Corporation without the disadvantages like double taxation. However if you’re trying to take your company public or raise substantial outside capital, you should probably form a Corporation. It’s best to determine which is best for your business via a trademark attorney. (I prefer the ones you can meet for lunch vs. online sites.)

Once your brand is registered as a legal entity, you can then get familiar with your state tax codes and develop a business plan, even if its a rough one, and open a business account.

Next step, I’d advise it so make sure you purchase the domain name that clearly reflects your business name. Back in the 90’s, plenty of domains were readily available, but now, its rare to be able to find a domain that has your perfect name available, with a “.com” attached. Make sure you snatch it up via godaddy.com or another site. I also advise using a webmail address with your domain name attached so it looks more professional on cards.

Once you have cleared the legal portion of your business name and classification, then proceed with meeting with a local, graphic designer in person, and go over your ideas and conquer the world. Good luck!

Choosing a Logo Designer for Your Small Business

#golocal #texaslogo
Opt for a local logo designer, not online sites

So you’re starting a small business and finally have all your legal ducks in a row. Your company name is approved, and you’re financially set to move forward developing your brand, your true passion. Now its time to pick either a cheap, internet-based graphic design company, an image or clip art from a stock site or meet with a local graphic designer in town. The first two options appear to be a quick, easy fix…but at what cost?

I want to warn small business owners of some possible legal conflicts that can arise if you don’t choose a local graphic designer for your long-term logo design branding. Many of the online design sites, use overseas designers with U.S. companies, but oftentimes, the laws of the country in which the graphic designer lives differ from the U.S. trademark law, thus leaving YOU susceptible to lawsuits. They are also usually not subject to refraining from copying other company’s logo designs. We have had numerous online sites steal our original logo designs trying to repurpose our original work for another company, and its a little heartbreaking to witness.

I’ve also had clients walk in telling us stories of providing online designers with images to reference, only to have proofs sent to them with simply the competitor’s company name replaced by theirs, an obvious trademark infringement. I’ve also had new clients come to us having tried online design sites, only to be frustrated that they felt they could not communicate well with them, perhaps due to a language barrier on the designer’s end.

In addition, most stock photo or clip art companies often have terms and conditions that stop their images being used as trademarks, unless you’re willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars up front. Always read the fine print. Also, know that if you select an image from a stock site, there is a likelihood that another company may have that same logo design or trademark, but with a different name. I’ve seen multiple companies use business card design sites as well for the same company, and it can get confusing to the consumer, as the fonts, colors and graphics are repeated for different companies, sometimes in the same field.

It’s always best to utilize a graphic designer that you can meet in person, text directly and possibly establish a relationship with, hopefully longterm. Local logo designers that are immersed in your community are a huge branding asset. This shows accountability on their part and also delivers personal service and more open lines of communication. They are connected to local vendors, printers, investors, advisors, small business events and more.

Another big benefit in choosing a local, logo designer is they maintain an awareness for your brand and how it would fit within the community. They are already familiar with the rival coffee shops brand you may be competing with or the latest shuttle company’s brand that may be your competition, and how to help you establish your own killer look and feel, without infringing on others.

Always approach your brand’s logo design, as an investment, not just an expense. The logo design is the one thing you should hopefully never have to change, its the first chance to make a strong first impression. It’s like a secure foundation to your house, allowing all other assets to accumulate securely thereafter. It’s the launchpad your web designer uses for your online web presence feel, the color palette, the tone.

Consider all these factors when making your selection. In this new era of entrepreneurship, online graphic design is now less expensive, but establishing and maintaining a relationship with a personalized graphic designer in your community is priceless.