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5 Online Branding Mistakes That Can Kill Your Start-Up

online branding mistakesOnline branding is an abstract concept that is easily misunderstood.

It’s often mistaken for your logo, your products, or service. But branding is much more than that. It’s entwined with every aspect of your business, whether you realize it or not.

Even if you’re not consciously working on your brand image, you still have one. It’s your customers and potential customers perception of you, whether good or bad.

If you aren’t actively promoting your brand or your image, it’s important that you also don’t make a mistake that can ruin your business. And if you are actively working on how your potential customers perceive you, you absolutely must pay attention to mistakes that could torpedo your efforts!

Branding is Essential – Because You Are Your Brand

Unfortunately, many small start-ups assume branding is just a big business issue. Big brand names like McDonalds, Marlboro, Levi’s and Nike all conjure an image in your head. Global brands have huge management teams that oversee every aspect of their brands image. They want you to connect their brand name with something positive so you’ll buy their product.

For smaller start-ups, brand management may seem like something you’ll do someday, which is a vague date in the future after you’ve established your business. But the biggest online branding mistake you can make is not realizing that branding starts on day one. And if you’re an entrepreneur, you essentially are your brand. Everything you do and say, plus every piece of content you publish, is a representation of your brand.

Brand management is not just for businesses, but all entrepreneurs. Chris Guillebeau, Pat Flynn, Jeff Goins, and Jenny Blake have all grown their personal brands into thriving businesses. These are great examples of “you are your brand”. They know their brand image is their bread and butter. They leverage their reputation to grow their business, and they understand they must project a certain image to increase the success of their brand.

Branding mistakes can kill your new business, or certainly damage it if you don’t understand the important role branding plays.  To build a professional brand for your start-up, avoid theses common online branding mistakes.

Mistake #1: Clipart Logo

One of the biggest misconceptions is thinking that your brand is the same thing as your logo. Branding isn’t your logo – it’s the perception behind your logo. It should be professional, not a common stock image.

Many small start-ups can’t afford to hire a graphic designer. So they simply use a random clipart picture for their logo. Never use a common clipart pic to visually represent your brand. It’s not special if everyone can use it. Instead, use your business name in simple letters until you can afford the real thing.

Mistake #2: No Website

In this day and age, there is no excuse for not having a website. Google receives over 2 million queries per minute! Customers expect businesses to have a website. Without a website, your business simply seems like a hobby or side job.

Some new businesses turn to Facebook or Twitter as a cheap alternative to a website. But this isn’t enough to showcase your business. Thankfully, there are free and affordable options to build a strong web presence. For example, you can create free websites at Wix and Yola. These simple platforms can give you a professional brand image, without investing a lot of money.

You can also create free ecommerce stores with Selz and Square. If you have a product or service to sell, these sites allow you to create a professional looking website for free. They simply charge a small percentage of the sale. These sites are easy to use and you don’t need any special technical skills. It’s a great way to showcase your brands image while increasing online sales.

Mistake #3: Inconsistent Messaging

Your brand’s message is any post, tweet, status update, advertisement, business card or press release. It’s every piece of content you publish about your business.Your brand message should represent the core values of your business. For example, hardworking, dedicated, professional, or expertise – whatever message you want to convey the most.

This doesn’t mean that you simply copy the same message into every piece of content. Rather, it means the intent of every message should be aligned. If your brand’s core value is sustainability and social responsibility, then every new message should reflect these ideals. Lush and The Body Shop are two great examples of consistent messaging across all platforms.

Mistake #4: Controversial Social Media Use

Love it or hate it, social media is here to stay. It can be a great way to showcase a brand, or it can be a nightmare. Many major brands have fallen prey to inappropriate social media use, including recent blunders by Royal Dutch Airlines and Home Depot.

For new start-ups, the lesson is clear – it’s okay to use social media as long as it sticks with your brand’s core values. These are probably not the same as your personal values. Controversial issues spread like wildfire on the Internet, including same-sex marriage, medical marijuana, or supporting a specific political party. These are all polarizing issues that can have a direct impact on your brand’s image.

Before proclaiming your personal views on social media, be aware that you could damage your brand’s image. You are connected directly to your brand’s image. Before you hit send, be sure it’s an issue you’re willing to lose customers over.

Mistake #5: Unprofessional Business Practices

Everyone has run into unprofessional business practices: not returning phone calls, showing up late to meetings, or ignoring problems. It can be annoying and frustrating, and can make customers run to your closest competitor.

All businesses are different. But there is always some type of transaction between the business and customer. Every step, from the first inquiry to any follow-up services, should be professional. Return emails and phone calls in a timely manner. Promptly address any problems or mistakes. Take responsibility and try to correct any adverse situation to the best of your ability.

This last point is especially important when you’re just starting out. You’re going to make mistakes – everyone does. The difference is in how you acknowledge and address them. You want your start-up to be perceived as valuable and credible. Not as a brand that is synonymous with unprofessional, time-wasting, or egomaniacal.

Manage Your Brand From Day One!

Having a strong, professional business brand is essential to the success of your new start-up. You could leave it up to chance, and let your brand image grow by itself. But that’s a crapshoot.

Instead, start managing your brand image from day one. Consciously create the brand you want to project. Don’t fall prey to common online branding mistakes, but make choices every day that help grow your business into the brand you want to become.

Branding is perception and reputation. Start with listing what values are most important to you.  Create a set of unbreakable rules that guide your business. And never forget that you are your brand image.

Make sure it’s an image that will help grow your start-up, not damage it.

Have you made any online branding mistakes? Or, have you experienced any from a customer perspective? Let me know in the comments section.

About Liesha Petrovich

Liesha Petrovich is the creator of Micro Business Essentials, a blog dedicated to helping women balance their business and their crazy life. In her free time, she's working on a Doctorate in Entrepreneurship. Grab a copy of "10 Easy Ways to Increase Profits Without Losing Your Mind!" and follow her on Twitter.


  1. d_callegari says:

    Good article .
    Branding is something that you have to get right from day 1 . People buy from people and brands that they like so make sure you make your brand likeable and you have a point of difference that you constantly promote on social media and when people ask you about your brand . Decide what your brand is going to be known for and then develop your company’s culture around the brand image .

    1. Robyn Smith says:

      d_callegari, your comment is great insight. As a start-up trying to determine my identity, I appreciate all your points, but especially your last line – “Decide what your brand is going to be known for and then develop … around [that] image.” This is great thinking fodder for me and just the perspective I’ve been looking for. Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

  2. Hi Liesha,

    Using Clipart Logo is a big no-no, but as opposed to all the other mistakes you mentioned in this blog post, I don’t see any solutions proposed.

    I’ve heard a tool called Canva mentioned a lot recently. I gave it a try and found it really easy to learn. It’s free-ish, and the results look very professional.

  3. Fabienne Raphael ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Hi Liesha,

    Thanks for this great article to remind us how branding should be taken very seriously!

    I agree with you when you say not to use a Clipart Logo. We have to invest into something that will represent us and our brand and that says a lot about the business. A clipart logo will definitely give the wrong perception about your business and kill your chances of looking professional, even if you are professional!

    I will add to your list to be careful about the way you present yourself at events where you can potentially meet future clients. Lots of people make the mistake of dressing up too casual or not taking care of themselves: they wear shorts and t-shirts, even running shoes. When you do that, again, you decrease your chances of looking professional! People still judge from the way you look…

    1. Liesha says:

      Great addition Fabienne! Right or wrong, people do judge based on appearance. If you want to project a professional brand, you have to dress the part.

  4. Daryl says:

    Personally, if someone can’t even invest $100 in a decent self hosted website, you have to wonder how serious they are with their business. A free website with Wix may be fine if your site is just a hobby site or one that you run in your spare time, but I personally think that if you want to seriously market your business online you MUST have a website.

    So quick question – do Selz and Square work for non-US/Canada/UK businesses?

    1. GEOFF says:

      Hi Daryl, thanks for asking about which countries can use Selz. My name is Geoff, I’m from Selz. Selz is available in most countries with the exception of Vietnam, Indonesia, Nigeria, India, Pakistan as well as countries not supported by PayPal. We pay sellers into PayPal accounts or a bank account for US and Australia based sellers. You can sell your products in the following currencies: Australian Dollar, Canadian Dollar, US Dollar, Euro, UK Pound Sterling, Hong Kong Dollar, Singapore Dollar, New Zealand Dollar. You can find more information about using Selz on our website I hope this answers your question, but if you do have any more, please email us at help @ We’re be happy to help Geoff

  5. Robyn Smith says:

    This article clarifies branding in all aspects better than any I’ve read before. Thank you! A recent assignment in a Marketing class correlates with your info enough to share. The teacher required each of us to Google ourselves – a very insightful exercise in revealing how the rest of the world is seeing you!

  6. Marcie says:

    Liesha, I cannot believe that people do not have websites in 2014. I know it’s a reality but I still can’t believe it! I think that’s one of my biggest WTH reactions with business owners.

    And I feel you about the inconsistent business practices. If you cannot call people, at least e-mail or text them to let them know your status. That burns me.

    1. Liesha says:


      I agree. Not communicating with a business contact is just bad business. It’s easy to let someone know that you’ll be in touch. Really, it’s just common courtesy.


  7. Razwana ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Couldn’t agree with this more, Liesha. Branding for a business, big or small, is in every word and image. Even things like the titles and of pages , email signature text and Twitter profiles – they all count. Attention to detail sets you apart.

  8. patmweber says:

    What a most clarifying post. Thanks Liesha.

    It seems in your list, I am making at least one branding mistake. I’m sure I can correct it, just not sure it will be either in time or enough. Still, in the big picture, I’m not sure it isn’t helpful either. It has to do with your mistake #4. I suppose what I am thinking is that if the position I take on something attracts more people like that, and repels people of the opposite view or belief, what is the real harm to me as a business entrepreneur? I can assume less sales, but in the end, if it is more sales from the people on my same “wavelength” is it really more harmful? ChicFilA ‘s controversial stand comes to mind. I haven’t researched it as of late but did their position hurt or help them?

    Valuable take-aways so thanks again.

    1. Liesha says:

      Thanks for the comment. And I agree that if you support one view, you’ll attract others with that view. Let’s say you support gay marriage. Then others that also support this view may be drawn to your business. It’s a volatile issue, so you may repel those who oppose your view. The point is to be aware of the consequences. If you’re okay with potentially losing customers, then be open with your views.

      I don’t publicly support all issues, but there are some that I feel strongly about and will support. It’s a conscious choice.

      Good luck,


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