Lydia Nicoll Aug 22, 2017 - Last updated Sep 15, 2021 11 min read

Why startups absolutely need to document guidelines and strategies

Why startups absolutely need to document guidelines and strategiesWhen a great idea is coming to fruition and startups are being born and developed at lightning speed, an important step in building the foundation of a business can be missed. A common problem many startups face is a lack of consistent identity or a fully developed business and marketing strategy.

Why is this? When it’s all systems go, and you’re building your website, or platform, or product, taking time to think about and document strategies seems less important. That’s a mistake. And here’s why:


They help you keep focused and consistent

Startups who overlook documentation and strategy development from the get-go often face inconsistencies and a general confusion about identity. Some founders feel that their business is simply an extension of their own values and personality, and while that may be true, those values and personality traits still need to be articulated and documented for the future.

Think about how you would describe yourself. Is that how you also describe your business? It could be, but writing it down and having an actual guideline document for your business can help you to streamline your ideals, keep focused on the important values, and be consistent in your business plan and marketing materials.

Do this: Write down the mission your startup has. The values you want to emulate and practice in your business. The personality traits you exemplify and/or feelings you want people to have about you. Now take a look at everything you’ve produced for your business. Is it all aligned?

Does everything fit into these values and traits? If not, scrap what you have and start again. If there’s any confusion about what your business stands for and who you are as a company, it can be very difficult to attract and persuade new customers or investors. Remember that consistency is key and anything that falls outside of a consistent brand identity or business model will only hurt you in the long run.


They make future onboarding and training a breeze

Say you’re in a growth phase. You’re ready to hire your first employee, or maybe grow the team from just those who were there since the beginning. What are your processes for onboarding? How do you articulate your business model and brand identity to your new hires?

Do you and your other founders or staff articulate it in the same way? Let’s keep this simple: If you don’t have a documented guideline or strategy for your business and brand, then it is not possible for it to be articulated the same way by everyone. This is a problem.

New hires should get on board with the business mentality and values as quickly as possible. When you don’t thoroughly explain the fundamentals for your startup, you leave those new hires to develop their own interpretation of what your business stands for. This takes up valuable time, and it eventually produces a company where each employee feels a different way about the same business.

How can you move forward together consistently and efficiently if everyone has different ideas about what you do and why you do it? Documentation ensures each new person that comes to your team has no questions about your business model and what your strategies are.


They make you remember where you came from

Disclaimer: you know how we just talked about new hires being brought into the fold and having a clear idea of your business from start? There is actually some leeway here. One of the best parts about startups is that in growing, you can mature and develop your business plan and ideals as you bring in more brilliant people.

When we talk about documentation as a way to get everyone on the same page, it’s important to acknowledge that you won’t get it exactly right from the start, and you should be open to change.

That being said, if you don’t have a documented strategy from the beginning, and strategies or ideals change, how do you get everyone on your team to follow in the new direction? Strategy documentation can be an excellent tool in change management.

When a business has a shakeup, or decides to try something new, a deliberate and well communicated change to your business documentation sends a clear statement (instruction) to your staff that leaves little room for confusion. It may take some time for staff to adjust to changes, but you won’t have to worry that they are lost about what the changes actually are.

Most importantly, if you find your business is running a bit off the rails, and you have made so many changes you can’t see your initial idea anymore, you can always return to your original strategy document. Even if your business explodes and you see more success than you could ever imagine, strategy documents from the beginning will help you see where you came from, help you stay grounded, and make you always think about why you started the business in the first place.


They help you speak to your audiences

And now for a little tip on attraction: A lot of founders with great ideas can think that their product or service is so brilliant or innovative that it will simply sell itself. Unless you are a true disruptor in a specific industry (think Uber, Airbnb, Snapchat, or Tesla) then this just won’t happen. At some point, we all need to do marketing. The easiest way to formulate your marketing materials, sales pitch, or talking points is by using your branding and business guidelines.

In 2015, market research company GFK found that 63% of consumers surveyed said they shopped based on beliefs and values. Two years after that survey, you can venture to guess that percentage is even higher. When you document your brand guidelines, including your values, you can more easily show and tell potential customers how your values align with theirs.

When you have a strategy in place that outlines who you are as a company, you are better positioned to identify the correct potential audiences, the correct channels to use to reach them, and the correct tonality and personality of the materials you produce to speak to those audiences.

Don’t fall into the common pit that startups face; inconsistency will be the death of your brand. Get on the right track and create the foundation from which you build your business by documenting all your strategies and branding guidelines. Once you’ve done this, you can feel more confident that you have a focused and consistent company, where your future employees can onboard quickly, and your marketing materials may almost write themselves.


Talk to us about strategy documentation and how creating guidelines can kickstart your growth.

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Image: Adobe Stock © elena_loginova


Lydia Nicoll

Lydia is a digital marketer, but first of all a word nerd. She's the founder of the Content Marketing Agency Natively.