Why Your Startup Doesn't Need Merch
Updated: Aug 24, 2019
We’ve all been there. You and mom are sitting on the living room futon playing Soviet Union Monopoly when, all of a sudden, you have an idea for a business!
You’re probably thinking something along the lines of Uber organ delivery or quadruple stuffed Oreos. Of course, you’ll change the name, give it your own twist. But now you know you’ve found the business venture that’s going to catapult you into a captain’s seat right next to Mark Cuban on Shark Tank
So, what’s the first thing you do? Get business cards.
Business cards are the gateway drug to branded collapsible dog bowls. You know why? Because the moment you see that oh-so-professional, so beautiful-to-you logo slapped on the face of your very own calling card, you’re going to want more.
Don’t get me wrong; it’s not like you can’t convert people into customers with the well-placed business card. I’m just saying that maybe one of the reasons most businesses fail is that the business owner has an absolute lack of priorities.
Yes, merchandise can play a part in a cohesive brand development. But the reality is that the majority of business card orders flying off the printing presses at Vistaprint are destined to live in the back of an old underwear drawer.
Why do these flat paper torch bearers rarely see the light of day? Because most entrepreneurs haven’t even figured out their elevator pitch by the time they have their cargo short bulging with branded merch.
You might be at the point in your business endeavor where a set of company mugs is acceptable, but generally, the budding business creator has nothing but a logo. Unfortunately, you need more than that.
So before you start setting fire to your collection of branded tote bags, let’s look at the things you need to do before placing an order for company t-shirts.
1. Write a mission statement
There are few aspects of creating a business as essential as coming up with a mission statement. It’s simple; what’s your company trying to accomplish overall. “Quadruple Stuffed Incorporated seeks to provide our savvy consumer base with an alternative to Oreos that is at least twice as creamy and delicious.”
Now, I know something about what you’re doing, what you want, and what kind of people you’re selling to. A mission statement is simple, which is why you don’t have an excuse not to make one.
2. Craft your elevator pitch
There are thousands of articles about elevator pitches on the web, and most of them say pretty much the same thing. Creating an elevator pitch is figuring out how to tell someone what your company does, what it plans on doing, and who it plans on doing it for, all within thirty seconds.
What separates an elevator pitch from a mission statement is the tone. You can't just recite your mission statement to a stranger; you'll not only sound like a robot, you'll convince them that you don't really care. Your elevator pitch tells the person listening much more than just strict information; it conveys your passion for your project. Your elevator pitch is supposed to sell your idea. The reality is, your product or service is probably not good enough to sell without a little bit of finesse, so practice that finesse bit.
3. Establish your web presence
This is an absolute must for several reasons. The main reason for this step is that there’s a strong chance you might change your branding strategy when you see it implemented. You have no idea how many times I’ve started creating a site and decided to revamp every aspect of the design completely. I was so sure I was in love with the look, the font, the color scheme, but when it was out in front of me, I knew something was wrong. These are the times where you know there's a better alternative. You don't want to paint yourself into a corner by ordering tons of branded merch just to make it obsolete. You have to be absolutely sure you've settled on your branding strategy before taking the plunge into bumper stickers.
The other pragmatic reason for having your web presence locked down is that you need somewhere for your merch to send your wanna-be customers! The whole idea of t-shirts and beer koozies is that they’ll hopefully make someone look up your company!
If your merchandise isn’t a billboard for what you do, then you’re wrong.
4. Make a sell
The cold hard truth of this whole entrepreneur thing is that it’s most likely not going to work out. Another hard truth is that there’s something worse than the shame of your burgeoning business crumbling between your fingers. You could find yourself sitting in an apartment surrounded by your failed company’s swag.
The vast majority of dead businesses were really just half-baked ideas with a neat logo plastered over the top. The only way to know you can sell your product or service is by doing it. It is a must in virtually every business to sprint to that first sale. You can only run on the momentum of your private-jet aspirations for so long. Eventually, you realize entrepreneurship is actually about working eighty-hour weeks for as long as you can go without jumping off a bridge.
All this to say, if you’ve earned it, get those Quadruple Stuffed Incorporated mouse pads printed! Shell out for the picnic blankets if you’ve got your ducks in a row! My main point is that you need to know when branded merchandise is a useful tool, and when it's just a distraction.
Your startup doesn’t need merchandise; it just needs a plan, and the people ready and willing to execute it.