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 an Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program 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 currently in the making 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 from products available for shipment. 

Businesses that typically have at-location customers (and now have an overflow of convenience products) are offering a free roll of toilet paper with their take-out product. 

Gyms are offering virtual classes.

Real estate agents are offering virtual tours (created by the homeowner).

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

Invitation businesses are designing postponement announcements.

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 (which are able to stay open as an “essential” business) are providing instructions for DIY projects around the house – since most people are homebound with some extra time.

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.

Is Brand a Scam . . . or the Real Deal?

Before a business owner invests the time, energy, and resources to systematically build a brand, some skeptics need to be persuaded that all this talk about branding is not a scam on the part of ad agencies and other marketers out to make money.

For starters, no less an authority of the business world than renown entrepreneur Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway fame was recently quoted as saying about the power of brands:  “Give me a $10 billion budget and ask me to bring out another Coca-Cola that makes a dent in Coca-Cola and I can’t do it.”  By inference, this statement seems to suggest that the branding of Coca Cola has a value of at least $10 billion (perhaps more).

Frankly, branding has a longer history than most people realize.

Do an Internet search for the term “history of branding,” and you get an extremely wide variety of responses.  Some talk about the cattle branding done in the 19th century wild west. An organization called Skyward traces the origins back further, saying, “The term derives from the Old Norse word brandr or ‘to burn,’ and refers to the practice of branding livestock, which dates back more than 4,000 years to the Indus Valley.”

Most sources seem to agree that some form of the concept can be attributed to the Egyptians (and ancient B.C. times) with some credit being given to the Chinese, the Greeks, the Romans, and more due to the marks put on items such as pottery to provide information about the creator and creations.  (For a good historical overview, read Skyward’s essay, “What Is Branding? A Brief History” found at https://www.skyword.com/contentstandard/branding-brief-history/.)

Obviously, the term branding has assumed a much different and more complex identity during the second half of the 20th century.  As Taylor Holland notes in the Skyward essay, “The meaning of the word has evolved so much over the centuries that even people who do it for a living have never made the connection between modern marketing and livestock.”

Contemporary branding is a 20th century phenomenon.  The advertising industry is generally credited with broadening the definition to include establishment of a corporate identity and promotion of sales.  During the “Golden Age of Advertising” in the 1950’s and 60’s, the concept started to encompass the creation of a unique personality for products – giving them qualities that often elicited an emotional response that helped foster brand loyalty.

More recently, we have seen the concept expand even further to focus on something called “the brand experience” with customer service and ease of use playing increasingly prominent roles in effective branding.  (For a quick overview of this process of evolution, see “20 milestones in the history of branding” – https://www.creativebloq.com/branding/milestones-history-branding-91516855.)

So . . . What Conclusions Can Be Drawn?

If the act of branding is, indeed, an elaborate scam, the charade is one that dates back thousands of years, has hoodwinked one of the 20th century’s most astute businessmen, and has evolved to reflect the needs of a changing world.  While the act of branding has certainly become more complicated (as has the modern world), the process still involves quick identification of a product through visual symbols such as a logo and the association of those symbols with positive attributes.  These characteristics will, in turn, always be useful to companies that must continually reprove themselves to their existing customers . . . while constantly being on the lookout for new ones.

Not Convinced?

Perhaps you are one of those people who need some numbers before you can believe.  For instance:
“Consistent branding across all channels increases revenue by 23%.”
From 80+ Branding Statistics You Should Know For 2020
– Ryan McCready, June 19, 2019.

If you are one of them, check out these 80 facts and many others found in articles made available by searching “data proving the importance of branding.”

Social Media: One More Reason to Bother! (Betting on the Long Shot)

Recently, my blogging partner published an article about getting started on Facebook, and she also set up a page for our blog – Brand Building for Small Business.  If you followed our lead and did similarly (creating your own site), you’ve probably posted several messages by now . . . and seen little tangible reason for continuing this exercise.

Well . . . the entire message of this article is “Stay the Course!”; you never know who might be paying attention and the kind of impact that person might have on your ultimate success.

Who knows? One day, you just might get kind words from the Oracle of Omaha or some other noteworthy individual that you’d like to pass along!!  Keep posting to get your social media platform ready.

My best real-world example that offers proof of the wisdom of this advice happened just a few short years ago.  I was working for GUARD (my employer at the time and an affiliate of Berkshire Hathaway).  We were just getting started with social media (an intentional delay on the part of our company), and we were experiencing slow growth in the numerical results usually used to measure success – likes, followers, visitors, shares, etc.

We had established a regular schedule (at first weekly; then twice a week shortly thereafter) for posting new content.  At that time, my employer was in the middle of a five+ year stretch of 25% per year growth and had new infrastructure needs to accommodate hiring.  As part of that process, the company had applied to the state for a significant economic development grant.  While that request seemed to have a decent chance of success because many new jobs would be created, lots of viable projects were competing for the same dollars.

Fortunately, we had just closed the books on a very good year. In fact, our run of success had been good enough that the Chairman of our ultimate parent company (Berkshire Hathaway) had elected to give us a “shout out” by name during the heavily publicized and well-attended Annual Meeting of the Shareholders in Omaha, Nebraska.  Turns out that when that gentleman, an individual by the name of Warren Buffett, chooses to praise you, people stop and take notice.

Recognizing an opportunity, we transcribed the sound bite and posted a social media mention of the message, quoting Mr. Buffett’s generous remarks.  While this content generally got more attention than our low norm at that time, the first person to “like” our message was the individual who would be responsible for evaluating our worthiness for the grant we were seeking!

Did our social media posting make a difference?  While we will probably never really know, I can’t help but believe some good was done that more than justified the entirety of the time and effort we had devoted to date to social media.

So . . . the moral of the story (especially during the early stages) is this:  you don’t have to produce eye-popping numbers for your effort to be worthwhile and totally justify the invested time and energy.  You just have to keep using the platform you’ve created to communicate your message (. . . AND YOUR BRAND!) in a number of new ways . . . and hope that somewhere along the line the right set of eyes will read your words.  (Rem:  Strong preparation creates opportunity.) 

Frankly, I’m an optimist . . . so I’m always imagining all sorts of interesting people reading my words on the other end.  Every once in a while, the imagined even becomes reality (and that IS fun)!! 

I hope you have a happy and successful New Year in 2020.   My partner and I would love to hear from you and explore suggested ways in which we might be of help.

How to Set Up Simple Print-and-Cut Business Cards in Microsoft Word

You want simple, nice, and professional looking business cards.  Easy, Peasy, right?  Unfortunately, creating business cards from scratch can be a little intimidating for even a tech-savvy person.  Thankfully, Microsoft Word actually makes a decent amount of business card templates available to you.  While the focus is clearly quantity versus quality, their templates do save you a number of groundwork steps, so they are a good place to start.  You can go from a blank Word document to print-ready business cards in only ten steps. . . . 

(For a personalize-and-print option for $6, skip to the end.)

1.  From within Microsoft Word, go to File > New and type “business cards” into the search box. 

Scroll down through the search results to the vertical “flower personal business cards”.

Press Create.

2. Right click the cross within a square at the upper left and choose Table Properties.

Select Table > Borders and Shading > Border and set the Setting to All, the Style to dashed, the Color to light gray, and the Width to ¼ pt; press OK.

Then go to Cell and set the Vertical Alignment to Centered and press OK once again.  You now have business cards that are horizontally and vertically centered with very faint visual guides for cutting.

3. Delete all the content from the first card, insert your logo, and size to your liking, keeping in mind you will need space for your contact information.

4. Press enter to advance to the next line and set the font to Calibri, the font size to 11, and the font color to black.  Press Ctrl + D for advanced font and character options.  Click the Advanced tab and set the Character Spacing to Expanded By 3 pt.  Press OK and turn your Caps Lock on.  Type your name.

5. Press return to advance to the next line.  Change the font to Calibri Light and the font size to 10.  Click Ctrl + D, change the character spacing to .5 pt, and press OK; then, type your title.

6. Press return to advance to the next line and change the font size to 7.5.  Then include your contact information, limiting yourself to three lines. 

7. Place your cursor after your logo, right click, and go to Line Spacing Options.

Within Indents and Spacing, set the Spacing After to 6pt, and press OK.

Set the cursor after your title and repeat.

8. Once you’re happy with your layout, select the entire contents of that card, and copy by pressing Ctrl + C.  Then, select the contents of another card, press Delete, and Ctrl + V to paste your new design.

Repeat the process for the rest of the page.

9. Save your file and print; be sure to set your printer Print Quality to the best available option. (When choosing your paper, I recommend a quality cardstock in between 80 and 100 lb — any thinner, and your business card will be too flimsy; any thicker, and you risk problems using the paper in a conventional home printer. A matte versus glossy finish is really a personal preference, but you do avoid any potential for fingerprints on a matte stock.)

10.  Then, cut!  For the cleanest and straightest edges, use a paper cutter.   

A Note About Fonts and Colors:
While the instructions described above will achieve the simple and modern design pictured, you can (and should) customize the look for your business. If you’ve been brand building from the start, you already have a Style Guide in place, and everything you create for your business should reflect the guidelines you’ve set for your logo usage, fonts, and colors. If you’re new to branding, be sure to review our story on The Role of a Brand Style Guide.

Personalize-and-Print Template

If you would prefer to forgo the instructions above and purchase a preformatted template, the file is available for $6. In this version, you need only enter your information into one of the cards, and the rest will populate automatically. Simply type your info, print, and cut!

$6.00

Small Business Saturday and Much More . . .

When looking at the above headline, what do you see?

OPPORTUNITIES NO WHERE

Or

OPPORTUNITIES NOW HERE

If you see the latter, you are probably a good candidate to recognize and utilize every available chance to brand your product.

Remember . . .

While branding is certainly a reflection of decisions you make about logo, color, font, byline, etc., branding is more importantly your way of telling the world just who you are, which encompasses all aspects of your daily operations and customer service.

What prompted me to write this article today was a recent great branding opportunity
. . . and my curiosity about the percentage of you that did (and did not) take advantage of . . .

SMALL BUSINESS SATURDAY

“What is this event,” you might ask, “and why do I care?”

“First observed in the United States on November 27, 2010, it is a counterpart to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, which feature big box retail and e-commerce stores respectively. By contrast, Small Business Saturday encourages holiday shoppers to patronize brick and mortar businesses that are small and local. Small Business Saturday is a registered trademark of American Express.” (nicely summarized by Wikipedia)

In other words, Small Business Saturday is a national event accompanied by a considerable amount of publicity and fanfare that you can use as a springboard for your own initiative (taking advantage of ad exposure without having to pay!), which is always an ideal circumstance.  Furthermore, you will be associating your business and your brand with the positive small business characteristics being extolled.

So . . . what can you do to capitalize on Small Business Saturday?

  • Add a reference to the event on your web site.
  • Plan a blitz of social media postings.
  • Have a sale.
  • Write a press release or op-ed article supporting the cause.

American Express, which helped create this nationally recognized day, continues to promote the occasion and makes lots of information and tools available from their web site. (Be sure to check out the section labeled “How to Participate.”)

About now, you are probably pretty annoyed at me for getting you all fired up to participate in Small Business Saturday just a few days AFTER the celebration has passed.

Sorry?

Not really!

Cuz now is the ideal time for you to start thinking about the ways in which you might take advantage of:

National Small Business Week

 (May 3rd – 9th, 2020)

According to the Small Business Association (SBA):

“For more than 50 years, the President of the United States has issued a proclamation announcing National Small Business Week, which recognizes the critical contributions of America’s entrepreneurs and small business owners.  More than half of Americans either own or work for a small business, and they create about two out of every three new jobs in the U.S. each year.  As part of National Small Business Week, the U.S. Small Business Administration takes the opportunity to highlight the impact of outstanding entrepreneurs, small business owners, and others from all 50 states and U.S. territories. Every day, they’re working to grow small businesses, create 21st century jobs, drive innovation, and increase America’s global competitiveness.”

Visit the National Small Business Week page for the latest news and events.

https://www.sba.gov/national-small-business-week

Again, you have an event garnering national and local attention and publicity.   Make your current customers aware and ask them to spread the word further.  Perhaps you’ll want to use this week as an opportunity to request reviews and testimonials from your existing customers.  You might want to recognize your employees and call attention to the local, personalized service you provide on a daily basis – nice qualities to associate with your brand.

Simply stated, countless opportunities exist to promote your brand in a very visible way without necessarily incurring significant expense and very often enabling you to generate new customers and sales.  When no event exists, try to find a creative way to make one, which is, of course, the way in which Small Business Saturday began.

Good luck . . . and don’t forget that holiday cards and gifts represent great branding opportunities, too!!

The Simplest Social Media Strategy

JUST DO IT . . .

To shamelessly borrow Nike’s slogan, forward movement is the best route for small businessowners looking to broaden their marketing and branding efforts into social media.  If you’re a large company with a department or firm devoted to your marketing and branding, you likely have a person or staff of people responsible for social media, and they can analyze demographics, develop goals, create a content inventory, and schedule posts.  If that’s a feasible undertaking for your business, this web site probably isn’t for you.  Our target is the small businessowner, who is looking to embrace social media while simultaneously doing most everything else . . . which could include staffing, management, finances, strategic planning, daily operations, sales, and customer service as well as marketing and branding.  Dedicating a huge amount of time and financial investment to social media simply isn’t feasible and is frankly unnecessary in order to be successful. 

JUST DO WHAT?

So how do you move forward into this new corporate endeavor?  Focus on what you know.  For example, if you don’t have a personal twitter account and aren’t really sure what or why one would tweet, that’s probably not the best place for you to start.

We’ve recently decided now is the time to start promoting our blog content on social media.  Personally, I currently frequent Facebook and Pinterest.  Bob, the other voice of Brand Building for Small Business, frequents Facebook.  (Frequent is actually probably an overstatement, but he occasionally visits Facebook.)  Since we have real experience with these platforms, we have a pretty good idea of who else is using them without any research.  However, a quick glance at the following chart, and we can solidify our understanding of the demographics of the most popular social media platforms.

Facebook and Pinterest’s demographics sufficiently align with our target audience.  We also know from experience that our content would be an appropriate fit. . . .

“CONTENT IS KING”

What can you, on behalf of your business, contribute to social media (with the expectation that a meaningful contribution yields dividends for your business)?

At the risk of sounding repetitive . . . focus on what you know. You are likely an expert in your field.  You may have managed to generate an income selling your products or services.  You possibly generate revenue that supports a small staff of people.  Or maybe you just started out and are hopeful about the profits to come.  Regardless, you likely have a wealth of focused knowledge.

You also no doubt have a personality.  I’m sure you’ve got a pretty great one at that.  You may be clever, witty, cultured, or sarcastic.  You may be optimistic, dark, curious, or creative.  You have a voice.  Hopefully, that voice is reflected in your brand, and you can express yourself and your brand on social media, resonating authenticity with your audience.

A FEW GREAT EXAMPLES . . .

Pop-Tarts

The popular brand of toaster pastries Pop-Tarts has a Twitter account bursting with personality. . . .

Pop-Tarts’ parent company, Kellogg’s, has a more conservative brand and voice.  They have approximately 98,000 Twitter followers while Pop-Tarts has 205,000.  With a 280 character limit (up from 140 a couple years ago), a little bit of creativity goes a long way.

Wayfair

A provider of furniture and home goods, Wayfair utilizes the visual nature of their business on a platform optimal for visuals.  Wayfair has approximately 1.3 million followers on Instagram, and they most often post pictures of their products with simple captions that engage, entertain, or educate.  Many posts will lead you to the link in their bio, which ultimately leads you to shop the pictured items on their web site.

Mashable

Digital media website Mashable uses Pinterest as an outlet to reinforce brand awareness and drive traffic to their web site.  They have 58 boards, ranging in topic from “3D Printing Creations” to “WTF” . . .

Mashable has 10 million+ monthly viewers on Pinterest.

A JOURNEY WITHOUT A MAP

Let’s say you glean some inspiration from these social media giants, and you create accounts for your business on the platforms you frequent; you begin regularly posting content – at least once per week – that is optimal for that platform (based on your personal experience), your products or services, and your unique brand; you promote your social media presence as part of your brand on all advertisements, correspondence, etc.; and little by little customers AND potential customers start following you.  Fantastic!  What now?

According to Comm100, some commons social media goals are to:

  • Connect with Customers
  • Increase Brand Awareness
  • Drive Traffic to Your Website (directly from social media and indirectly by enhanced search engine results)
  • Generate Sales and Leads
  • Boost Brand Engagement
  • Increase In-Person Sales
  • Build a Community
  • Improve Customer Service

While one or two items on this list may be more important to you than others, all of the goals are worthwhile in some respect.  See what develops for you as time goes on.  You may find that your most useful outcome of social media is invaluable market intel that comes from the comments on your product posts that you originally hoped would generate sales.  Or perhaps people start leaving reviews for you on Facebook, which become an important tool in converting leads into sales.  Maybe you find that you get complaints via social media that provide an opportunity for you to offer outstanding customer service in a very public way.  Navigating without a roadmap means you need to pay attention to your journey.  Try to find an opportunity in the issues that arise.  Be open to suggestions.  Think of creative ways that you can utilize and expand upon the positives you encounter.  Grow and evolve.  And be patient.  Good luck!

P.S.  Read more as we begin our social media journey on Pinterest and Facebook.