For many small businesses, especially home-based entrepreneurs, branding is a concept reserved for big businesses. They do not have the time nor resources to hire experts, consultants, and marketing agencies to develop and communicate the brand of their business.
Branding is one of those “fluffy” ideas that is at the bottom of a long to-do list (if it ever makes it to the list) after the small business owner takes care of running their business, going after non-paying customers, balancing their books, and marketing their business.
And herein lies the mistake of many small business owners. Branding does not mean spending millions in advertising to communicate what the business is all about. Branding is what the business stands for, what makes it stand out, and what makes it different from all the rest.
I interviewed Terri Zwierzynski, CEO of Solo-E.com http://www.Solo-E.com, a resource site for solo entrepreneurs, on how small and home-based entrepreneurs can leverage branding for their businesses. Terri is a marketing expert focusing on one-person businesses, and has previously written the highly informative article “Differentiation — Smart Marketing Strategies for the Solo Entrepreneur”.
Q: What is branding?
A: Branding is the image that the world has of you and your business. Notice I didn’t say it’s the image you create (or think you create!) — it all comes down to the perception of others. That perception will be made up of many aspects of your business, such as what products or services you offer, where you are located, how your marketing materials (business card, brochure, website, newsletter, etc.) look, feel, what they say, and how they are presented. For instance, do you use bold, bright colors or muted, soft tones? Is your business card printed on plain or glossy stock? Is your brochure printed on your home printer, or professionally printed on heavy stock and machine-folded? Is your website packed with information or elegant and spare? Your personal image also comes into play; do you always wear a suit or heels, or are you a jeans and t-shirt kind of person? None of these choices is right or wrong; for instance, jeans and t-shirts might be appropriate for someone specializing in mountain biking.
Q: How does differentiation contribute to the overall branding strategy?
A: Differentiation is how you present yourself and what you offer differently than someone else in a similar field. For each of the aspects of your brand mentioned above, there are choices that you make that result in a particular perception. If you are a take-charge, get-to-the-point person, your marketing materials should reflect that bold and definitive style; you will attract clients looking for that type of person. If you are more of a fuzzy-thinker with a soft voice, pastels and wavy lines work better. The key is to figure out who you really are, and then match your marketing image to promote your strengths. Another aspect of differentiation is how what you provide is different. If you are a great people person, customer service may be a strength for you…and that’s important to convey. If you run a bicycle shop and go mountain-biking every weekend, emphasizing your specialty in mountain bike styles can differentiate you. If you love being an early adopter of any new electronic technology out there, you can attract other folks that have that same interest and want to buy whatever new item you have available, too.
Q: Why should a home-based or solo entrepreneur utilize branding strategies?
A: Branding is particularly ticklish for the solo entrepreneur because, like it or not, you ARE your brand. Getting comfortable with that fact is the single most important aspect of your marketing! People will buy from you (or not) based on how much they like you — in many cases, how well they can relate to your interests, your personality, your story, and your philosophy. So it is important to convey as much about yourself, and why you offer your particular product/service, in your marketing materials as you can — not writing your whole life story, but distilling the important elements and getting them across in a way that is simple and clear.
Q: Is branding a domain solely of big businesses?
A: Absolutely not. You have a brand, whether you’ve created it deliberately or not. If you do nothing, no one will notice you — you’ll be like that character actor who shows up in all the TV shows but no one remembers their name or what part they played last. That will be your brand, and that’s not what you want! So spend time on your branding, choosing what you are selling, the visual aspects, the wording, the overall look and feel, because it’s as important to your business as Coke’s brand image is to them!
Q: What low-cost strategies could a home business owner do to differentiate his business and create a brand.
A: In and of itself, branding doesn’t need to cost you a penny! You need marketing materials, a website, a business card, just to be in business. Branding and differentiation determines what goes on those materials and how it looks. There are certainly excellent professionals who can help you uncover and craft your brand; this may be well worth the investment because you will be likely to have a crisper brand that stands out, and get it faster than one your own. However, there is no reason you can’t start building your brand on your own. It all comes down to making decisions: first, determining the essence of who you are and how that relates to your business; then, designing your marketing to fit that.
Q: How can a solo entrepreneur use social media for branding and differentiation strategies?
A: Social media is an excellent place to build your brand and differentiating yourself…simply by being yourself. Follow and be friends with people that interest you, for whatever reason. Strike up a conversation, or respond to something someone else says that is something you know and care about. Don’t worry about what is the correct thing to say…if you are being authentically you, that’s perfect. It’s that simple!
Q: Any other advice about branding strategies?
A: Don’t be phony by creating a brand image that isn’t authentically you. You’ll never be that, and folks will discover it and you’ll lose all credibility. Similarly, make sure your branding is consistent. A polished business card handed out by a t-shirt and jeans person sends a mixed message. Touting your customer service and then answering the phone brusquely will turn people off. If you are opinionated, don’t write politically-correct blog posts; go ahead and be opinionated. Your ideal clients will love to hear your opinions!
- Branding Basics for Small Business: How to Create an Irresistible Brand on Any Budget
- BrandSimple: How the Best Brands Keep it Simple and Succeed
- You Are The Logo: Get Visible And Attract Clients To Your Business
- From Business Cards to Business Relationships: Personal Branding and Profitable Networking Made Easy