When you’re a really small business or are just starting out, how much should you think about branding? I’ll be honest, this is a question I am pondering at the moment for myself. Even though my current business is over two years old, I haven’t put much thought into developing a brand – until recently. But then again, I kind of stumbled into my business in that I wasn’t planning for it. It started with helping out a friend of a friend and then it was another person, then the next thing I knew I had several clients. So a brand was the last thing on my mind.
My very first (non-direct sales) business started a little differently. I came up with an idea, name, tagline and called up an old college friend to create a little logo for me. That’s all that I thought I needed. I created all my own marketing materials and it never occurred to me to establish a consistent look and feel. My branding included slapping my logo on anything I made.
As my business started to grow, it began to change and evolve into something different (but related) and I needed to redo everything, including the name of my business as it no longer fit what we were becoming. Really, I had no idea what I was doing. To me, branding included a name, logo, and tagline. That was it. When I made changes, I did the branding myself. The fonts were different, I was changing the layout constantly, and then I did ANOTHER major rebrand two years later. It didn’t end well.
BRANDING STRATEGY WAS “OVER MY HEAD”
Ironically, my lack of understanding and foresight into the importance of a complete branding strategy was one reason I struggled so much in my first business. Honestly, if someone had come up to me and said, “you need a branding strategy”, it would have gone right over my head. In fact, several years into my business someone did approach me to help with branding but for some reason, it wasn’t clicking. As they were talking, all I could hear in my mind was, “this is going to cost you loads of money and time you don’t have.”
So her words went in one ear and out the other. Branding seemed like a topic that my mind couldn’t wrap around so I dismissed it as something best left for larger businesses.
Fast forward several years and I have since closed my first business. As I mentioned before, my current business happened somewhat by accident and now I find myself in a position where I don’t want to make the same mistake twice. My very part-time business with a few friends has now opened the door to a bigger opportunity. Honestly, three months ago I couldn’t have even imagined the direction I am now taking. Not anywhere CLOSE on my radar – but now that I’m on this path, I see it is a natural and fitting direction. Finally, I have some definition in my business structure and it is gaining some momentum.
As a result, I quickly realized that I had better get on the ball regarding creating a brand and a strategy – not just a logo or tagline, but a proper strategy and branding image.
Now that I’ve given branding some serious attention, it is not as intimidating as I had imagined. Perfectionism can make us feel like we need all the answers before starting down a path, but I’ve found the opposite to be true.
>>The best plans always change. Always.<<
Plans are good, but even if you don’t know the next step, sometimes you have to take the first one in order to know what the second step will be. I can look back from today and see that my branding journey actually started at the beginning. I just didn’t realize it. If I had tried to establish a brand at day one, I would have completely missed it and had to redo it – several times.
5 TIPS FROM MY BRANDING EXPERIENCE SO FAR
I suspect there are many of you out there like me – you have a microbusiness or are a solopreneur and haven’t put much thought into your image or branding strategy. No worries, it’s not the end of the world, but at least start thinking about it.
Below are 5 quick tips on what I’ve learned so far. Keep in mind I am NOT a branding expert, but if you’re like me…I like to learn from other’s actual experiences:
- Branding may sound complicated but don’t let it intimidate you. In a nutshell, it’s understanding how everything about the look and feel of your business communicates a specific message. If it doesn’t all work together, then you send confusing, mixed messages. I made this mistake in the past because I didn’t even want to think about a branding strategy as it sounded complicated. As a result, it had a profound, negative impact on my company. However, if you can get every aspect of your business: the colors, fonts, look, feel, and emotions your service or product evokes to all sing the same song, so to speak, then like a beautiful symphony you establish a look and sound all your own.
- Take your time. Coming up with names, creating business cards and websites is so much fun BUT doing these things before you are REALLY clear on your direction and your branding strategy is almost always a waste of time and money. For me, it was my source of procrastination. Spending all my time working on making a business card or banner look good ate up valuable effort and resources away from making money. For really small businesses, I wouldn’t spend too much effort on branding strategy until you’ve had a little social proof. In other words, have you had a few clients or sold some products? Basically, prove your concept first. Even ask your first few clients or customers for feedback, then start working on a strategy. ( Laura’s Tip: You should SELL a product or service a few times before even THINKING about printing a business card or paying for a logo.)
- Hire a professional. I confess I’m a DIY-addict. Bootstrapping is second-nature to me so when it comes to anything new, I always look to see how I can do it myself to save money. The truth? There are simply some things that really should be done by someone else – even if I think I can do it. Creating a logo or branding strategy is one of those things. Luckily, there are many freelancers out there who do a tremendous job at affordable rates. Depending on your needs, you can expect to spend $150 – $500. (At the end of this post are a few links if you need help with branding.)
- Branding is more than just a logo, name, and tagline. It’s the whole shebang. I mentioned this before, but it’s worth repeating. There’s a visual message and an emotional one. Connect the dots from the look of your website to how you answer the phone, to even how you dress. To create a proper strategy make sure you have a CLEAR understanding of what your customer wants and likes. Consider what you want them to think and feel when they hear your name or see your product. Honestly, there are dozens of companies out there selling bottled water. WATER! That’s like selling sand on a seashore. But each one has a different feel and message. A unique branding strategy with very different target markets. Seriously, HOW do you create a niche market for water of all things?! But it is being done VERY successfully. If anything, go buy a bottle of water from every company you can find and study them. Ask yourself who they are talking to and what you think their branding strategy is. I learn best from example, you probably will also.
- Be OK with making adjustments to your brand and strategy. Part of life is growth. Our businesses grow, we make adjustments, sometimes we get it wrong (raising my hand here), so be okay with changes. HOWEVER, changing too much, too drastically, or too often can have a negative impact on your business. Trust me, I learned the hard way with my last business.
What is your experience with branding? Sound off in the comments or on my Facebook page!