It’s Not All About You: 5 Ways to Make Your Brand Fit Your Situation

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When it comes to small businesses, I’ve found that it gets hard to separate the owner from the company. If you own a small business,  that business is more than just your job – sometimes it feels like it’s who you really are!

Your business is also there to service the needs of the people around you, whether it’s your customers or the other businesses you work with. After asking some small businesses owners in my area, I’ve learned some tips that can help your small business succeed by zeroing on what your customers want to buy, not what you want to sell.

1. Play Off of Your Competitor

The first thing that I think every business owner should figure out is what you can offer your customers that other companies can’t. If there’s room for your brand in your particular field, there’s got to be something you’ve got that nobody else does, something you can guarantee you won’t find anywhere else. Before you start forging your own brand, it can’t hurt to take a look at the ones your customers already know.

  • Always think about quality vs. convenience. If the other guy offers quality goods at high prices, your community might need someone who can offer them that product in a quicker, simpler way.
  • If there are already established brands in your area, show your customers what they’re missing! You’ve got to offer the kind of care and service that the big companies won’t give if you want to stay competitive.
  • Your company should be unique. You shouldn’t try to foster a brand that you can’t live up to, or one that doesn’t fit your business, but it never hurts to carve yourself out a niche in your market.

2. Don’t Be Afraid to be Dangerous

Depending on what you’re selling, appealing to the widest possible audience isn’t always the best strategy. If you’re competing with local names that everybody recognizes, you might want to think about the customers that aren’t loyal to anyone in particular yet. It might be the people looking for somebody to lead them out of the pack.

And leaders don’t follow the big dogs: they blaze their own trail and let their loyal customer feel like they’re doing the same. Here are some ways I’ve discovered that being dangerous can pay off big time!

  • Being dangerous means selling something that isn’t for everyone. While this means you won’t get the biggest group of customers, it means you’ll get a dedicated following, which is exactly what you want as a small business.
  • As a dangerous brand, you get to thumb your nose a little at the big guys. While it seems like the people who use that company would get offended, these campaigns often convince those customers to find their own individuality through your company.
  • This produces strong brand loyalty. When customers define themselves through your product, you can bet they’ll keep coming back for a long time afterwards.

3. Control your Image

Getting your company’s image out there requires cooperation and, sometimes, compromise. But the last thing you should have to compromise is your brand – I believe that this is your company’s strongest weapon in the fight for customers, and that it’s up to you to keep it consistent with your vision.

Although running a business, gaining customers, and managing to turn a profit might seem like too much to handle at times, I’ve discovered a few things that might help you achieve your branding goals without spreading you funds too thin:

  • Remember your brand: if it’s all about quality service, skimp on quickness or convenience without compromising what your company is known for.
  • If you run a small business in a small community, your advertising should rely on word of mouth more than anything else. Quality service might draw more customers than an expensive ad campaign in small settings like yours.
  • Nobody’s perfect, and everyone knows running a business means making some sacrifices. Just be sure you don’t sacrifice the things that make your customers loyal to you, or they’ll be heading elsewhere.

4. Know When to Change your Campaign

You know that feeling everyone gets when a joke’s gotten old, but somebody keeps repeating it? Doesn’t that feeling sound a lot like the one that customers get when they’re seeing a brand strategy that just isn’t working anymore?

After a while, being stuck too long in one brand strategy not only doesn’t help: it might start to rub your customers the wrong way! It sounds like it’s tough to know when a strategy is helping and when it’s hurting, but I’ve learned some things that are helpful to keep in mind when you’re thinking about going in a new direction:

  • Changing up your whole strategy can be intimidating, so it can’t hurt to start small. Show some customer in your community new leaflets you were thinking about distributing so you can gauge their reaction before you take out a big ad in the paper.
  • Know your customers; if they’re younger and more hip, for instance, keeping your brand fresh might be more effective than sticking with what works.
  • Changing your strategy doesn’t have to mean changing your brand. As anyone will tell you, consistency is the name of the game in branding, but the way you communicate that brand should be flexible!

5. Be Consistent

As important as it may be to stay flexible, you can never stray too far from your brand message. Effective branding is giving your customer base a good, solid image of what your company is all about. If you come out with a campaign that’s selling the total opposite company of the one you’ve been selling in the past, potential customers won’t be excited – they’ll be confused.

Worse, your already loyal customers will feel betrayed. If your shift in tone is too sudden or not convincing, you’ll give your customers the feeling that your brand is getting “gimmicky.” Here are some handy tips for keeping your customers in the loop when it comes to branding:

  • Don’t move on from one strategy if your customers aren’t ready to. No company should have to be stuck, and everyone should keep their brand moving forward, but your customers should feel included in your transformation, not jolted by it.
  • Ask yourself, “are we updating our brand, or simply changing it?” If it’s the latter, think about how important your brand identity has been to your business. It might be time to reconsider.
  • If your strategy works, stick to it. There’s no sense in fixing something that isn’t broken, so don’t let your own desire to do something new get in the way of what your customers have come to rely on.

 

But like any good business strategy, these tips are just an outline for success – it’s up to you to put them together and start changing the way people see your business! Branding yourself as a small business without a slick PR team can be intimidating, so we’re here to help you orient your business to a quickly-changing economy.

In the end, only you can orient your business to your situation: as an entrepreneur, you should be able to see which tips would be most useful to you, just like you’re able to see what kinds of products and services would be most useful to the people in your community. When you’ve tried our ideas for yourself, come back and let us know how they worked!

 

Three lessons to learn from New York’s small businesses

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Did you know that over 543,000 businesses are started each month! That is a truly amazing number. As we are all starting up, I have found that we constantly face similar feats, but also the same struggles. Because of this, I believe we have a great opportunity to learn from one another.

If you have knowledge, let others light their candles at it.- Margaret Fuller

That is exactly why I recently took to the streets to visit many small local businesses in NYC. After speaking with them, I found some incredible and inspiring answers. I put together this list of Myth’s when starting a small business, so you can learn as much as I did!

Myth #1: I can create my brand’s identity after I started my company

When most companies think about their businesses, they often forget about creating a message for their brand. Too much time is spent thinking about how we’re going market our brand when more time needs to be focused on establishing our company’s identities. This is exactly what happened to a friend that I met on the train ride home the other day.

I met an entrepreneur named Michael, who happened to have started his own business about four years ago around a cooling system. Michael told me that his product never got to the place where wanted it to go,  and that he was currently only focusing a small amount of energy marketing the product. When I asked him what went wrong, he simply answered that the brand was not defined and it limited his product from ever taking off. He elaborated saying that hispartners couldn’t come to an agreement what the message behind the cooling system was. His partner wanted the cooling system to be just for everyday people, while he wanted it to reach out specifically for medical equipment. Thus, they had no clue who their audience was. Because of this, they never really were able to get to the next level in their business and his company is currently falling apart.

It’s really too bad because these guys seems like they had a great product but because they couldn’t establish their brand’s identity, the company didn’t make it.

Lesson to be learned: Establish your brand from the beginning

Myth#2 : I don’t have enough information, so I can’t get started

Many businesses don’t get started because they believe they don’t have the information & l resources to get started. Entrepreneurs want to have all the answers before they get started so if any problems come across, they’ll be prepared to solve them. While they would be nice, this would never be the case. This is exactly what happened to an accountant I met trying to start his own accountant firm.

Nick was working at a firm for 10 years, and was ready to start his own firm. Nick has been thinking about starting his business for over 6 months now. He has the financial resources to get his business started, so this was not why he has yet to take action. When I asked Nick what he was waiting for to start the business? He simply looked at me and said, “I don’t have the information to get started.”  I then asked how much information would he need to have to get started. Nick looked at me with a blank stare with no legitimate reason to why he has yet to start.

Many like Nick believe they need all the information in the world to get their business started, but that isn’t always true, as you often learn alot from experience.

Lesson to be learned: You don’t need to know it all before you get started. Learn by doing. Take your first action by going out talking to people who have been in your shoes, someone who is in the early stages of starting their own businesses. They will be a good resource to help you get started.

Myth #3: It’s bad to be the little guy

As I was walking around the East Village, I ran into a small pharmacy on  1st ave. Two doors from this pharmacy was a CVS and four doors next to it was a two floor Duane Reade. I happened to stumble into the small time pharmacy. When I asked where I could find band aids, and the pharmacists asked to look at the wound, so of course I showed him. The pharmacist got me a bandaid, and not only put bacteracin on my wound but he also personally placed it on my wound. Now talk about customer service!  He also gave me the band aid for free. Not only did I come back the next week to fill a prescription, but I also recommended my cousin who lived two blocks away from the pharmacy.

Lesson to be learned:  A way you can set yourself apart from the big brands is by forming personal relationships with customers. In turn these relationships will allow us to better understand our customers and ultimately solve their problems.

Hopefully by checking out others’ mistakes and achievements, it will give you a better understanding of what you should/ or shouldn’t be doing.The best thing you can do now is absorb the knowledge, then go out and do something with it!

Don’t let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do. ~John R. Wooden

*Photo attribution to Angela Raduleschu

By: Carrie Silver