We’re Hitting the PAUSE Button!

We are writing to let you know that we will be putting Brand Building for Small Business on Hiatus while we spend time developing a new project.

A short pause while we explore a new project!

We published our first article (“Build vs. Buy”) on August 28, 2019 . . . and have added 131 pieces over the past three years.   We have appreciated the opportunity to interact with a growing audience, and we sincerely hope that both new and existing subscribers will continue to explore and use the content we have already made available. 

When we defined our brand, we determined that our focus would be providing a useful tool to smaller businesses – the kind of largely under-appreciated entrepreneurs who form such a large portion of the American business landscape.    Having worked many years for a company that targeted this same audience (a company that was – in fact – a small, underdog start-up at the time I was hired), Carole and I felt we brought some meaningful knowledge and expertise to the table.  Hopefully (three years later), you agree.  In establishing our brand, we also decided that we wanted to have a DIY (Do-It-Yourself) focus – believing that many small business owners would of necessity be taking on the challenges of building their own brands.  Consequently, we have tried to offer a blend of the conceptual framework needed to build a successful brand as well as practical tips and instruction. 

We promise to keep checking the site on an ongoing basis and will respond to any comments or special requests for new specific topics.  You can use the Comment boxes below each article to get a message to us, or you are welcome to send us a private e-mail at brandbuildingforsmallbusiness@gmail.com.  We promise to consider your input carefully.

While we are developing our new brainchild, you can expect us to occasionally post a new Quick Tip or two and will keep you posted about our activity.  Meanwhile, good luck with your branding efforts . . . and keep checking out our content at www.brandbuildingforsmallbusiness.com.

See you later . . . !!

Side-by-Side Comparisons Can Be Helpful

Branding is not a once-and-done activity.  Rather, branding is a process that is constantly enhanced, refined, monitored, and adjusted.   Previously, we provided an article entitled:  Perform an Annual 5-Step Brand Wellness Checkup.   We suggested making this activity a New Year’s Resolution . . . and we still believe such ongoing monitoring is useful.  That said, we are now suggesting a second fairly simple activity that can help keep you on-track.

Side-by-side comparisons can be very useful in identifying strengths and weaknesses.

Specifically, we have found periodic side-by-side comparisons to your nearest/greatest competitor to be very useful in identifying your strengths for future branding efforts and self-promotion while simultaneously enabling you to spot weaknesses for necessary remedial attention.

For instance, we suggest that you, several members of your staff, and perhaps even a few key influencers from your local audience complete a simple 14-point checklist.

Obviously, honesty and objectivity are essential in conducting a meaningful exercise.  Once done, count up the number of “x’s” in the Your column compared to those in the Competitor column to see how well you fared.  Frankly, a properly conducted exercise should go a long way in telling you the reason you landed in the #1 vs. the #2 position.

Then, use the categories in which you excelled to build your list of strengths and plan to feature those qualities in future promotional efforts.  Similarly, use the categories in which your competition defeated you to identify items requiring attention and develop strategies aimed at improvement.

We think you will find this Branding Self-Check exercise helpful in keeping your efforts on target.

However, we do want to add a cautionary note.  After completing such an exercise, you might be tempted to build advertising and promotional material that does a direct comparison between you and your named competition.  We strongly advise AGAINST giving into the temptation.  (As Christopher Columbus was once warned before sailing to the edge of the map – Here be dragons!!)  The potential risks of this ad strategy far outweigh the potential rewards.  In addition to encountering the possibility of being sued, numerous laws exist that govern the handling of such comparisons.   Furthermore, these ads can easily create an unfavorable impression of the party offering the advice unless handled properly.   Doing such a task well (i.e., getting your point across without appearing to complain or protesteth too much) is extremely tricky and requires expert market research as part of the process.  That said, perhaps we will dedicate a future article to this very subject.  Until then, we hope you find this current suggested activity to be useful.  If so, use the comment section below to let us know.

Free Template:  Want to access a copy of our checklist template to customize to your needs?  Click this link.

May 1 – 7:  Celebrate National Small Business Week

A few weeks ago, we told you about National Small Business Week in 2022.  (See Today’s Tip: Bridge Building and National Small Business Week 2022 – Brand Building for Small Business.)  Today, we’re just reminding you that the time is NOW!

The statistics supporting the importance of small businesses are always compelling.  For instance, smallbizgenius.net (using a variety of recognized sources) notes:

  • There are 32.5 million small businesses in the US.
  • 48.9% of small businesses survive five years or more.
  • 77% of small business owners say they feel optimistic about the future of their companies.
  • 50% of all small businesses are operated from home.
  • 82% of businesses that fail do so because of cash flow problems.
  • Small businesses account for 44% of US economic activity.

See 40+ Small Business Statistics: The Ultimate 2022 List (smallbizgenius.net) for more.

With small businesses forming such an integral part of the economy in the United States, we should all take time to celebrate the importance of our local business community.  

What Local Business Owners Can Still Do Now

While National Small Business Week will be underway shortly, a small business owner still has a number of ways to participate.

  • Write a press release about the celebration and your business, announcing upcoming events, sales, celebrations, etc. (See our article about writing our own in 2020.)
  • Send customers and staff a thank you note, letting them know that you appreciate their importance to your success and reminding them that their support also helps keep the national economy strong.  (Check out our “How To” piece on creating your own thank you cards.)
  • Use your social media to call attention to National Small Business Week and share some of the many resources available.
  • Participate in and support other National Small Business activities in your region.  To help you identify relevant events, go to the SBA web site, which provides an easy-to-use tool.  All you need to do is provide a zip code, and you will get a list of functions in an area up to a 200 mile radius. [See National Small Business Week (sba.gov).]  You just may find a quick and easy way to support this cause. 
  • And . . . while you are at this site, check out all of the many very useful tools the Small Business Administration (SBA) makes available, including a virtual summit May 2 – 5.

With the week’s observance about to get underway for 2022, you have no time to waste.  However, you can also consider any time spent now a great long-term investment in your early planning for National Small Business Week 2023!

Pays to Be “Best of”

Recently, my local newspaper conducted an annual “Best of” campaign/competition among area businesses.  The idea is to have subscribers vote for the best examples of local businesses across numerous categories.   The process spans several months and ends with an award ceremony at an area restaurant during which the winning platinum, gold, and silver winners receive their plaques and 15 minutes of fame.  The winners are announced and/or spotlighted in a special edition of the newspaper (which, coincidentally, seems to be a popular venue for winning businesses to take out ads congratulating their employees and constituents).

While some cynics might pay the greatest amount of attention to the potential for ad revenue generated by this process for the paper, I happen to believe a great service is being offered to local businesses – providing an opportunity to earn publicity and bragging rights by being identified as a customer favorite by the customers themselves.

Awards can be a great way of calling attention to your brand.  Very often, these local contests have so many very specific categories, your chance of finding the right one (and ultimately winning!) are good.

If you are wondering just how common these contests are, I suggest you do an Internet search of the term “best of” business awards or some other similar variation, and I believe you will be surprised by the large number of specialized local, regional, and national activities of this kind that exist.  If you do not find one that seems likely to be suitable for your business, I would very frankly be quite surprised.

If, on the other hand, you question whether participation in such an exercise really provides much benefit to the business, “According to a research study by Hendricks & Singhal of the University of Western Ontario and Georgia Institute of Technology, it was revealed that more than 600 quality corporate award winners had 37 percent more sales growth and 44 percent higher stock price return than their peers.” (Source: Business.com)

Also, I suggest you talk to the many candidates who wage extensive campaigns to encourage voters to nominate and vote for their operations. 

Speaking from Experience . . .

You see, I also have some personal experience with “Best of” successes of this kind and found lots of value in linking the building of our brand to recognition.  Any label that identifies you as one of the best of pretty much anything is helpful.

The specific example I’m remembering dates back many years.  My employer was a fairly small local firm in the process of becoming a regional operation with national aspirations.   As you are no doubt aware, getting an audience that knows you one way to begin seeing you a bit differently can be very challenging (which is also the reason rebranding takes time and effort).  Although we probably had no right to believe we stood a chance of winning, we entered a contest that was naming the Best Large Place to Work in Pennsylvania.  (Best “small” company was a separate category . . . and the one we’d have preferred to use as our niche because we thought we’d compete more successfully; however, we had just a few too many employees.)

Needless to say, a considerable amount of time, energy, and resources were devoted to this process and assembling the extensive materials used to make our case.  This particular contest also involved a survey of all our existing employees, a task that required some fairly extensive coordination and choreography to collect sufficient data and to do so in a timely manner.

Much to our surprise at the time, we were named the 2nd Best Large Place to Work in Pennsylvania.  Having your brand recognized in this new way by a credible, independent, third-party source provided some immediate momentum to our efforts to convince our audience and constituents that we had, indeed, become a regional player . . .  while also giving them grounds to believe us when we said we’d someday perform on a national stage!

Upon winning, we immediately prepared a press release (in addition to that of the contest sponsor) to promote our victory.  We then disseminated this information as widely as possible and encouraged our readers to check the contest background material provided by the contest organizers.   Needless to say, we immediately adopted the recognition as part of our brand and brand iconography . . . and we began including the information on all sales literature, as part of our company boilerplate description, in various locations across our web site, and in all appropriate corporate correspondence.   Furthermore, we were able to use this designation as part of our self-promotion for many years because recognition of this “Best of” kind tends to have a pretty good shelf life – all of which made our original investment in time and resources very worthwhile and a bargain for the return we received.

That said, we did not win every contest we ever entered . . .but had enough success to consider activities of this kind to be part of our overall branding strategy!

The Lesson to Be Learned

My above example is just one of many ways in which “Best of” successes can be used to shape your brand.  For instance, a small privately owned area drug store has used our local newspaper competition to build a reputation for having the “Best Sandwiches” in town.  Word has spread, so the sandwich shop was able to start experimenting with take-out dinner entrees as well.   While the paper’s publicity was essential to this expanded rebranding of the pharmacy, the fact that the subs they made really are terrific certainly helped!

Similarly, several companies have found sufficient value in these contests to buy paid advertising that asks people to vote for their businesses.  While I don’t necessarily advocate this later approach as necessary, I offer the information as further evidence of the need to seriously consider identifying and participating in “Best of” activities suitable to your needs.

However, the local pharmacy’s experience is instructive in yet another way because:

In the end, you can’t ever talk the talk without being able to walk the walk!!

Your participation in such contests is just a means of calling attention to qualities that might otherwise have gone unnoticed.  Then again, isn’t that part of the basic mission of branding.

Press Release Generator – Sample Press Release Announcing an Employee Promotion

In an earlier article, we discussed Press Releases as Another Opportunity for Branding.  Specifically, we addressed some of the basic criteria needed to produce a successful PR piece, including discussions about:  Topics, Voice, Audience, Outlets, Format, Quotes and Photos, and Post-Submission Follow-up.  In a second article, we wrote a Press Release to Introduce Ourselves as Part of National Small Business Week (in 2020).  In two other articles, we provided the following press release generators:  Identifying Your Content and Sample Press Release Announcing a New Hire.  As promised, we are now providing a similar template for publicizing a staff promotion.  (As before, we are hoping these tips will help keep you from getting stuck staring at a blank, crumpled page!)

In getting started, remember that the rule of the 5 W’s still applies, so we encourage you to review our earlier articles.  We also want to remind you that voice matters – you must write as though you were a totally objective journalist preparing the story.  Similarly, the content must be of interest to the audience of the intended publications.  

As previously noted, announcements of new employee hires and/or promotions are among the most common press releases and the easiest to place – assuming the publication has a section for including such pieces.  (Many do – particularly trade magazines and papers.)  However, be aware that some outlets might be willing to include all or most of the information you provide . . . but many will reduce your words to a skeletal, bare-minimum sentence or two.  If that is the standard practice, a quick glance at past issues will let you know whether new hires and promotions are featured and the kind of space devoted to each one.

Secondary Benefit

When preparing a press release on a promotion, be aware that you are also realizing a secondary benefit – by sending your current employees a message that you are an employer dedicated to giving existing staff a chance for advancement and that you have a track record for filling attractive positions from within the organization.  By making this quality part of your brand, you help yourself become an “employer of choice,” and you encourage your existing staff to be happy, contented employees, which in turn shows up in the quality of your company’s service and the satisfaction of your customers. 

Once again, you need to make sure your same press release works for most circumstances.  To do so, confirm that the essence of your PR article is in the opening sentences with all other less critical information following (realizing that much could be cut by certain targets).  Also, plan to include a head-and-shoulder photo of the featured employee.

Below is a fill-in-the-blanks-template:

PRESS RELEASE – For Immediate Release

CONTACT INFORMATION:

[Company Name]
[Contact Name]
[Phone Number]
[E-mail Address]

[Date]

[HEADLINE ex.  NAME (of the Employee) PROMOTED TO

(title of the position) by COMPANY NAME

[CITY, STATE, MONTH DATE][COMPANY] has announced the promotion of [EMPLOYEE FULL NAME] to the position of [TITLE].  In this new capacity, [EMPLOYEE LAST NAME ONLY] will be responsible for [BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF DUTIES].

Note:  Body paragraphs then follow this opening (i.e., background information, quotes, company description, etc.)

Since first joining [COMPANY] in [YEAR OF HIRE], [EMPLOYEE LAST NAME ONLY] has served as the [TITLE OF OLD JOB].  Specifically, [he/she] handled [MENTION DUTIES].   During that time, [EMPLOYEE LAST NAME ONLY] was credited with a variety of important accomplishments, including [BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF ACCOMPLISHMENTS/CONTRIBUTIONS].

Note:  Add the next paragraph when the past history of employee with the company includes multiple jobs worth highlighting.  Repeat as needed to encompass complete work history, incorporating the most relevant and recent positions.  You can also choose to insert any new education and/or licensing credentials that might have played a part in earning the promotion.

Prior to that position, [EMPLOYEE LAST NAME ONLY] served in other roles of increasing responsibility and authority.  [He/She] was [TITLE] from [DATE] to [DATE] and also accumulated several years of related experience with other companies.

According to [NAME OF NEW SUPERVISOR OR OTHER HIGHLY PLACED OFFICIAL WILLING TO BE QUOTED], “[COMPANY] is very pleased to be giving [EMPLOYEE FULL NAME] a chance to use [his/her] years of experience with our organization to better serve our customers.   We fully expect [EMPLOYEE LAST NAME ONLY] will be an asset in the years to come that allows us to provide our customers with the high-quality products and services they deserve while enabling us to achieve our goals for growth as a company.  As you may know, [COMPANY] has a long-standing policy of promoting from within whenever possible. That way, both our staff and customers benefit from the knowledge and skills acquired over time while ensuring the continued high quality of our brand.”

Note:  Optionally add contact information on the person being promoted.

“While [EMPLOYEE LAST NAME ONLY] will be reaching out to constituents soon, [he/she] can be contacted before then at [PHONE AND EXTENTION] or [E-MAIL].”

Note:  Your “boilerplate” company description that outlines the products, services, history, location, hours, etc. then gets added.  See our Style Guide for further information.

While the boilerplate language of different companies will be quite individual to reflect the specific history and characteristics of that particular business, a simple example might be: 

“Established in [YEAR], [COMPANY NAME] specializes in providing [PRODUCT/SERVICES] to customers located in [GEOGRAPHICAL OPERATING AREA].  Open [LIST HOURS/DAYS] or available 24/7 online by visiting [WEB SITE ADDRESS], [COMPANY NAME] [IS ENDORSED BY/IS KNOWN FOR] and encourages customers to learn more.  In recent years, [COMPANY NAME] has grown substantially and is looking to achieve similar increases during the upcoming months.”

As you can see, your boilerplate text provides you with a chance to briefly tell your story while giving potential customers a means of acting on their interest.  The above is just one very basic example.  Be sure to tailor yours to tell your story in the most effective possible way.

_________________

As always, we welcome any thoughts or feedback, and we encourage you to comment by using the space provided below.  We would be happy to receive special requests to provide other sample press releases in the future. 

Want a Word document of this example? Just click!

Good luck!

Always Have an F-You Business

My family and I took a little vacation to Florida last week, and we had the pleasure of free wifi (at least for Apple TV) on our flight.  I sampled The Morning Show at 35,000 feet and fell in love with it.  In case you’re unfamiliar, the show stars Jennifer Anniston and Steve Carrell as lead anchors of a national morning show.  Carrell’s character is fired in the first minutes of the show as a result of workplace sexual misconduct accusations, and the plot focuses on the aftermath of the scandal.  Needless to say, we now have an Apple TV subscription at home; I just finished the show’s first season.

One thing that struck me while watching was everyone’s desperation to keep their jobs.  Morals are heavily compromised, families are ruined, and stress over the looming changes are all consuming.  I thought, ‘Well, I guess if your job is that good, the idea of losing it could be unthinkable.’  Then I started to think back to the days when I had a traditional job.  At numerous points, the future of the company was unclear.  I watched a number of co-workers be asked to pack their bags.  Hell, I even needed to be a part of one or two such meetings in which the news was delivered.  The idea of getting “let go” is extremely stressful.  Sure, you can find a new job, but how quickly can you do so?  Which will come first . . . a new job or the depletion of your savings?  What happens when there’s not enough money to pay the mortgage?  You don’t have to be a nationally televised anchor woman to get a little desperate at the prospect of being forced into that situation.  I think most people in their careers have done things that go against their principles in some way and have felt forced to shrug it off because “it’s my job.”

JL Collins is the author of a very famous book in financial circles called The Simple Path to Wealth.  In it, he continually stresses the importance of “F-You Money,” a concept he first heard described in James Clavell’s Noble House.  In the original reference, the heroine of the story wants enough money ($10 million to be exact) to be able to live the entirety of her life however she chooses.  Collins has a somewhat different take.  Specifically, he says: 

For me, the pursuit of financial independence has never been about retirement.  I love working and I’ve enjoyed my career.  It’s been about having options.  It’s about being able to say “no.” It’s about having F-You Money and the freedom it provides.

I love this concept, and I’m not a saver by nature.  When my husband and I were first starting out in our early twenties, we decided we would each begin saving $50 per paycheck (which amounted to $200 total per month).  We fought so much that period was one of the lowest points of our marriage.  But we got the hang of it eventually.  And now, I think taking Collins’ concept a step further is even better.  Have an F-You Business.  If you work a traditional job, start a business on the side.  If you have a successful business, start another one on the side.  While investments can provide an income stream, a successful business provides a better one. 

I know our articles here are typically about Building Your Brand, which means most of our readers are already entrepreneurs by nature and probably fully embrace this concept.  Still, maybe this post is just a reminder that it’s time to start thinking about your next venture. . . .