When you are setting up a business for the first time, you can spend weeks or even months agonising over the design of a logo and your business cards. Choosing the right way to capture your particular style in just the right colours and with the right graphic design is a bit of a nightmare. And it seems the more opinions you ask for, the more confusing it all gets.
Creating a powerful brand is more than just your shiny new logo. For me, creating a business identity is more about finding out who you are, how you come across and how other people see you. If you are a successful ‘brand’, every point of contact with you should reinforce my good opinion of you, whether that point of contact is a face-to-face meeting, a ‘phone conversation, your website, blog, Facebook, a letter or an email.
I first became interested in the subject of ‘identity’ through clothes. After fifteen years in marketing & PR in global organisations, I started my own business twelve years ago as an image coach. I realised very quickly that my clients usually came for a consultation at time of change – such as a divorce, new career, coming up to a big birthday, or following bereavement. It was as if they needed to mark a new phase in their lives with a visible, external signal to the world that they had changed in some way on the inside.
Now a business psychologist, speaker and writer, my interest in personal identity has led me to explore the question of identity in business – how to differentiate yourself from your competitors? How do you make yourself memorable in the minds of the people you meet (for all the right reasons!)? How do you attract the kind of clients you want to work with? With new business owners, I focus not only on what makes you unique, but also on how you communicate that information in a rapid way to your potential clients.
As a small business owner, you are the product. Creating a great business identity is almost like wearing a badge that acts as the shorthand way to tell people what you do and how you deliver your product or service. (It won’t convey all that you do, but the message should act as an arrow towards other capabilities.) The most important factor is consistency. If you ‘walk your talk’, then you set an expectation in people’s minds about what they will get when dealing with you. A great reputation is worth a great deal, and you won’t build it overnight. However, if you use every opportunity to strengthen your message, you will begin to attract customers who recognise and share your values.
In practical terms, you can begin to build a powerful brand through every contact you have with potential customers. Let me suggest five key steps to building a memorable brand:
Develop a consistent style in written communications using the same font, colours, similar layout and your logo. When a letter or an email arrives from you, I should know instantly that it comes from your company.
Answer your ‘phone professionally with your company name in a clear voice that sounds like you are speaking from an office (even if you are still in your dressing gown eating cornflakes). Your answerphone message should be clear and preferably offer an alternative number for people to reach you. Listen back to your message – does it sound like you are gargling underwater? If so, invest in a new answering machine.
Develop a personal style that is appropriate for the industry you’re in. If you are meeting corporate clients, go suited and booted. If you are talking to advertising agency creatives, be less formal and more stylish.
Deliver a great service. Respond to emails, ‘phone calls and letters promptly and efficiently. If you can’t provide a service, be honest and direct a client to someone reputable if you possibly can.
Network, network, network – not as a business card collecting exercise, but as a way to keep up-to-date, socialise and create long-term professional relationships. A recommendation by word of mouth is a great way to build your new client base.