When I ask start-up founders or small business owners about their branding, they usually answer in one of two ways. T18hey either say  “I have a logo” or “I need a logo”. Most entrepreneurs have no idea what branding really means or why it is especially important for them as a company.

Your company brand acts as the platform for the development of all other communication from logos and colors to tone to advertising channels and communication tools. You have to put thought into your brand and determine what it is BEFORE you put pen to paper on designing the rest of your identity.

Building up your brand, as a start-up or small business, doesn’t have to be difficult. I have broken it down into a four step process. If you follow it, you will end up with an excellent brief to pass off to your creative designer.

Step 1: Elevator Pitch and Vision Statement

Building a brand identity starts by determining who you are today (i.e. your elevator pitch) and who you want to be in the future (i.e. your vision statement). Your elevator pitch should be no more than three sentences long (or 30 seconds when read aloud) and must explain what service or product your company provides. Your vision statement can be much longer and should provide a roadmap of how you intend to grow your business.

Step 2: Describe Your Brand Characteristics

What adjectives would you use to describe your company? Write them down and then set them off to the side. Now make a new list of the adjectives that your customers would use to describe your company. Are they the same? They need to be! Use the two lists to create one list with the words you want others to use when talking about your business. These need to be more than just wishful thinking. Think about how you would to deliver on the promise these adjectives imply.

Take “knowledgeable” as an example. You could choose this adjective if you want to become known as a trusted advisor for your customers. To do this properly, you should pick one area and become an “expert” in it and then show your expertise by speaking at conferences, meetings, posting on a company blog, on Facebook, LinkedIn and other appropriate social media channels. You could write articles for trade publications, host webinars and guest blog. Each word you select brings a lot of work along with it, so choose well!

Step 3: The Brand Identity

You are finally ready to think about the creative assets associated with your brand. The brand characteristics you have selected help you to determine the brand identity: logo, font, colors and tone & style. It is worth spending a little money in this area to hire a professional graphic designer to develop your branding guidelines. This will help you avoid pitfalls like matching a “fresh” logo with a very traditional font and colors that only you like. Ultimately it is not about your personal tastes. It is about selecting the best combination of components to communicate the message you want your customers to receive.

Step 4: The Branding Tools

Once you have full described the brand and created the identity, you need to look at your portfolio of communication tools and determine the role and goal for each one. What materials do you need to support your business? Some items are no-brainers, like business cards, envelopes and stationary. Others that are less obvious at this stage are website, newsletters, social media accounts and corporate literature. Write down which items you need and how you are going to use them.

Congratulations! You are now ready to create your new brand. Put all of the above information into a single document and send it over to the designer. Next, start thinking about what changes you need to make on your side to turn your planned identity into a reality.