Are you tired of banging your head against the glass ceiling? Of waiting for your employer to send a few more crumbs from the corporate table your way, or at the very least acknowledge all the hard work, effort and endeavour that you bring to the table every day? It can be extremely frustrating for professionals when the recognition they receive at work (and the pay they take home every month) are disproportionate to their efforts in the workplace. Especially in this era of wage repression where the cost of living keeps on rising but our wages never rise to meet it. For parents, this is especially worrying. Everything from the cost of food to the price of school uniforms seems to rise every year and not only do you struggle to meet the costs of being a parent in 2020, you also find it harder and harder to make the time for your little ones.
For ambitious but frustrated parents, it’s easy to see how starting your own business can be the perfect antidote to all the inequities of the workplace. It allows you to make more money and create new opportunities on your own terms, using the skills you’ve spent your career developing to do something you love and enjoying better flexibility and work / life balance. And in the digital age, there are more opportunities to go into business for yourself than ever. You can even start your business up as a side hustle which you work on in your free time to reduce your financial risk. Still, if going into business for yourself were easy, everyone would be doing it. Running your own business can lead to great success. But to be successful you need a strong brand behind you.
What is your brand?
Most of us are pretty brand savvy. After all, we’ve had brands trying to market to us since we learned to walk and talk. We understand the shorthand of marketing and all the psychological triggers that brands use to get us to trust and believe in them. However, while some nascent business owners assume they’re “doing” branding by commissioning a graphic designer to make a fancy logo, designing a fancy website and establishing a presence on every social platform under the sun, branding is actually much more nuanced than that. Love him or hate him, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has a great definition of branding.
“Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room”.
Let’s take a look at some of the less-explored factors that influence your branding which you’ll need to master to achieve success with your small business…
Your brand is the materials you use to make your products
Of course your brand is your product. But if you make your own, whether you’re building houses or baking brownies, your products are only ever as good as the raw materials, components or ingredients from which they’re made. This means taking the time to find the best suppliers and maintaining good relationships with vendors so that you can maintain the same consistency of product.
If you start out looking for vendors solely on the basis of cost, you could wind up starting your business on the back foot. Many new business owners think that the best way to stand out from the competition is to be the cheapest game in town and undercut their competitors on price. But this low cost, low margin model only works if you’re trading in high volumes. Which, as a new and unproven business, you probably won’t be. Invest in suppliers who are as passionate about quality as you are.
At the same time, don’t assume that you have to pay over the odds for quality. Small construction firms and independent contractors, for instance, use Complete Construction Products because they’re able to offer both quality and affordability, with discounts on bulk purchases. This is important in construction because it’s an inherently low-margin industry, but one in which reputation is everything.
Simply put, you can’t build a compelling brand on inferior products, and you can’t build great products with inferior materials.
Your brand is how you respond when people are upset with you online
Most of today’s entrepreneurs are highly digitally savvy and understand the importance of a robust online presence. You’ll see them on social media shouting from the rooftops every time they get a great review or when someone has something positive to day about them on social media. What’s significantly more telling, however, is how they react when people complain about them online.
As such, it’s vital to know how to respond to complaints on social media. While nobody likes dealing with negativity, especially when their working days are already busy and stressful, there’s nothing you can do that’s more destructive to your brand than bury your head in the sand. The longer you leave online complaints unattended, the more damage they can do to your brand and your reputation.
Here’s how you deal with online complaints;
- Respond in a timely fashion
- Apologise and empathise
- Don’t try to argue or justify yourself
- Invite the customer to contact you privately to achieve a resolution
- Maintain a positive and optimistic tone. Show the world that you’re here to help
Believe it or not, online complaints are a gift to your brand and your business. They give you an opportunity to show legions of prospective customers out there how well you look after your customers, even if they’re less than thrilled with you. And that counts for a lot!
Your brand is how you treat your employees
Your employees are the ambassadors of your brand. It’s their everyday interactions with your customers that will define your brand and the expectations that new and repeat customers have of you. And if your employees are exhausted, stressed, visibly annoyed or overworked this is likely to reflect poorly on your brand.
Of course you need to be able to trust in your employees’ professionalism and work ethic, which is why the recruitment process is so important. However, it’s also up to you to ensure that you have an employee onboarding and training program that helps you to get the best out of your employees. Not only should you give them all the training, knowledge and tools that they need to do their job well, you should also make sure that they know what’s expected of them to create and perpetuate the kind of workplace culture you want for your business. And don’t make the mistake of assuming that training stops when your employees start working.
Training should be something that’s ongoing and tailored to your employees’ career goals. Empowered employees whose employers invest in them are happier, more productive and more likely to embody the kind of brand you want to build.
Look after your employees and building a strong brand becomes much easier.
If you’re a solopreneur (a business with just one member of staff-you), this still goes for you too. Make sure you’re looking after yourself, eating healthily, staying hydrated, exercising, making time for your family, loved ones and friends, and getting plenty of sleep (easier said than done- I know). Looking after yourself in mind and body will help you to remain calm in a crisis, prevent stress from getting the better of you and help you to avoid the very real threat of burnout.
Your brand is your relationship with your customers
As you’re probably already aware, it costs around 5 times more to acquire a new customer than it costs to retain someone who’s already made a leap of faith in your business. And how well you maintain that relationship with your customers says a great deal about your brand. Every time you’re too busy to call them back, every time you make them repeat themselves to numerous members of staff and every time you forget what “the usual” is, you erode their faith in your business.
Even if your business is very small, it’s a good idea to invest in a Customer Relationship Management platform (CRM) to track your relationship with prospects as they move through your sales pipeline. You can also get access to pertinent customer data in just a few clicks. So your customers can enjoy the same standard of service from you even if the member of your team whom they usually deal with is on holiday or off sick.
Your brand is the trust you earn
Finally, trust is a more important aspect of branding than your logo, your slogan or the colour scheme in your web design. People don’t flock to McDonalds because they sell the best burgers. It’s because they know exactly what to expect and trust that they’ll get the same experience every time they walk through the door.
Your customers should be able to trust you to deliver the same quality consistently. Invest in the infrastructure to provide it and you’ll retain your existing customers while also attracting new ones and charting a path for sustainable growth.
That means a successful business and more opportunities to take control of your life!