How We Doin’ So Far?

Our blog – Brand Building for Small Business – has now existed for two years . . . so the time seemed right to stop and perform some self-examination AND (even more importantly) ask for some feedback.

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 an important portion of the American business landscape.  (Also – in retrospect – a group that has been hit particularly hard by the recent pandemic of 2020-21 and in need of every possible competitive advantage that can be made available.)  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 (two years later), you – our audience – agrees.

In establishing our brand, we also decided that we wanted to have a DYI (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.  Specifically, we offer thoughts on:

  • Identifying your audience
  • Establishing (and communicating) the philosophy that guides your development of products and services
  • Embodying a strong customer service orientation
  • Creating mission and vision statements to serve as a reminder of your brand and your short- and long-term goals as an organization
  • Building the visual elements of your brand (such as your logo, letterhead, envelopes, business cards, etc.)

Note:  Learn more about these brand “building blocks.”

In fact, we have focused on providing concrete tips and instruction (and sometimes even templates) to assist the budding entrepreneur in being successful in creating a brand without having to break an already tight budget.  Basically, we’re trying to share some of the knowledge that we acquired the hard way through trial and – all too often – error!  To enable you to avoid some of our missteps, we’ve tried to help you define your brand and create the tools needed to have a unique visual identity. We have tried to emphasize and demonstrate the importance of creating an attitude toward customers that gives real life and substance to your brand and shows that you both “walk the walk” and “talk the talk.”

In addition, we have sought to help you recognize the importance of seizing every opportunity to promote your brand to the public.  Toward that end, we discuss some of the many chances an entrepreneur has while still maintaining a DYI focus.  For instance, we offer instruction on creating and inexpensively disseminating press releases as well as creating sales collateral, web sites, direct mail materials, ads, thank you cards, editorial calendars, and more.  In particular, we have sought to impress upon you the importance of using such platforms to highlight your brand . . . while simultaneously using your branding experience to enhance the effectiveness and results of such opportunities.

About a year ago, we started supplementing our longer, more in-depth, instructional materials with some Quick Tips and Monday Motivational messages to serve as fast, easily absorbed reminders that might help keep the subject of branding at the forefront of your minds and consciousness.

While we have been gratified to watch our audience grow, we are always hoping to reach even more of you even faster . . . and are particularly appreciative when we recognize a regular, repeat reader.  You’d might be surprised to know that some of you who have consistently “Liked” our content have actually become quite important to us and are even part of the way in which we measure the success of a specific article.  When we have NOT seen you “Like” a post or comment upon our content in a while, we miss you and feel like we have left you down!

All that said, we do plan to keep keeping on . . . but would love to receive some more feedback about how you think we are doin’ so far . . . as well as some requests about where you would want to see us head in the future.  Such interaction would be extremely helpful and would better enable us to help you even more.  You can use the Comment box below 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.

Meanwhile, good luck with your branding efforts . . . and keep checking out AND SHARING our newest content at www.brandbuildingforsmallbusiness.com.

Role of Branding in Business Plans

As a small business entrepreneur, you’ve probably had one or more of the following needs to prepare a business plan.  To:

  • Help start up a new business.
  • Get capital for an existing business to fund growth.
  • Recruit investors.
  • Obtain a grant.
  • Develop strategic alliances with potential partners.
  • Sell a company.
  • Expand into a new area of operation.
  • Attract employees.
  • Plan for the future.
  • Etc.

If so, you already know that most templates and discussions about appropriate content seem to contain similar advice. 

Being a bit different can help you stand out from the crowd.

For example, Indeed.com offers the following:

10 essential components of a business plan

Effective business plans must contain several key components that cover various aspects of a company’s goals. The most important parts of a business plan include:

  1. Executive summary
  2. Business description
  3. Market analysis and strategy
  4. Marketing and sales plan
  5. Competitive analysis
  6. Management and organization description
  7. Products and services description
  8. Operating plan
  9. Financial projection and needs
  10. Exhibits and appendices”

(See https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/parts-to-a-business-plan#  for more information.)

If you go to Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Business_plan), you will find a very similar general outline, though with a few variations such as a separate subsection for the company Mission Statement.  However, I personally have not found that many of these discussions and templates have chosen to overtly incorporate a discussion about branding.

Frankly, mine have, and yours should!

Specifically, consider including a section labeled “Branding” that incorporates a discussion of the current status (showing any research done) as well as plans and expectations for the future.  These days, brand has a very real and monetary value.   I’m sure all of us have heard of someone buying another company “for the name” because the reputation associated with that entity has value in the marketplace.  These days, I believe you should think of brand similarly.

 Although I do believe brand can be appropriately included as a separate named section, you can also build your content into several of the sections traditionally included in most Business Plans.

For instance:

Business Description – Since your brand encompasses both your product and the services used to deliver that product, any Business Description will benefit by including a discussion of this kind.  Also, the process of defining your brand identifies your audience which, in turn, clearly suggests the needed distribution channels.

Market Analysis and Sales Plan – Your chosen niche within the marketplace is defined by the way in which you identify and communicate your brand.  By discussing your market in this way, your analysis will be more precise and your strategy will be more persuasive.

Competitive Analysis – A well-formed brand communicates the way in which you’ve chosen to differentiate yourself from others and highlight the sales advantages you’ve carved out for your operation.   If you try to write this section without incorporating your brand (i.e., who you are), a clear description of your competitors (those who share some of the same products and services) will not be possible.

Products and Services – This section generally includes additional details about the products and services provided by your company, so highlighting the qualities that distinguish them (i.e., their branding) is both appropriate and useful.  Also, a discussion of your brand can illustrate some of the “spin offs” that can evolve to take advantage of the existing audience of your brand.  Furthermore, part of the brand of your company is your underlying service philosophy and the standard of excellence you establish.  Such qualities are the ones that help create a corporate culture associated with your brand in the eyes of both your customers and your staff.

Operating Plan – In discussing the day-to-day operations of your company, including how you go about delivering your products and services to consumers (number of employees, equipment required, etc.), be sure to highlight the ways in which a strong, branded corporate culture supports those activities as well as describing any visual clues you might be using to help define yourself.  For example, will uniforms be required?  What kind of signage will support operations?  What form of communication will be put into place to set customer expectations and ensure smooth trouble-free operations?  If a separate section for Risk Factors is not included, that content might become part of this section, and the success and failures of your branding play a huge part.

Exhibits and Appendices – Among the typical exhibits you might find in the appendices are brief bios of key staff, organization charts, flow charts, etc.  Similarly, you should consider including any research done to support the success of your branding.  For example, results of a survey that suggest a high degree of name recognition within the community would be very useful as well as commentary from focus groups that suggest your brand has positive connotations.  I would also consider adding a page about your Brand Style Guide or perhaps a copy.  (See https://brandbuildingforsmallbusiness.com/2019/09/17/brand-basics-part-3-the-role-of-a-brand-style-guide/.)  Finally, your Brand Plan should be addressed similarly.  (An upcoming article will be devoted to the creation of this separate document.)

As these examples suggest, a company’s branding can play a part in virtually every section of your business plan.  When drafting a section, you just need to continuously remind yourself to consider whether some thoughts about the role of branding should play a part.  Nine times out of ten, the answer will be “yes,” though the references can range from the incidental to the extensive.

Weathering the Storm

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As a small business owner, this virus will hit hard.  When sales stop, so, too, does our income.  In most cases, bills will continue to flow in. 

Yes, I will consider myself extremely lucky if all my friends and family survive this pandemic. 

Financial health would be some lovely icing.

The Small Business Association has a lot of great resources for this situation . . . from Coronavirus funding option to local assistance:  https://www.sba.gov/page/coronavirus-covid-19-small-business-guidance-loan-resources 

A lot of other wonderful and necessary business accommodations, information, and tools are available as well, but the focus of this blog will be about creativity.  As the saying goes, “When one door closes, another opens.”  The lesser known continuation of the quote is “. . . we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”  In this terrible situation, I challenge you to look for another door through which you can temporarily rebrand your business.

Some business alterations are more obvious in this new climate.  Restaurants are open for takeout and offering free “contactless” delivery.  Retail stores are encouraging “retail therapy” from home and also offering free delivery. 

Some business have had to get a little more creative.  A few examples to help inspire your creative thinking include . . .

Craft stores are offering instructions on how to DIY face masks and hand sanitizers. 

Gyms are offering virtual classes.

Real estate agents are offering virtual tours.

Some entrepreneurs are investing a portion of their reserves in the stock market, betting on the long game.

Stationery businesses are designing invitations for virtual celebrations.

Charities are hosting virtual auctions.

Some business that simply cannot function now are offering their customers discounts for booking their product/service in advance. 

Home improvement stores are providing instructions for DIY projects around the house – since most people are spending more time at home these days.

A blog that strives to help entrepreneurs create and develop their corporate identity is now focusing on crisis communications and rebranding opportunities.  (Ya, that one’s us.)

I hope offering a handful of business Coronavirus coping strategies sparked your inner innovator.

Remember . . . “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” (Charles Darwin)

Good luck.  Stay safe.