Imagine a ship without a rudder. There would be no direction, no way of tilting yourself towards your destination. Sure, you might get to where you need to go by chance if you let the sea whip you around for awhile, but it’s pretty much a random long-shot. More than likely, you’ll just float around in circles, never getting anywhere.
Without a rudder, there is no course. You might have the perfect plan, but it will fall through because your vehicle is all but useless. When it comes to your business, your brand is that rudder. You may have a business plan or a map of where you’re headed, and you may have a dedicated crew, but all of that will go to waste without a good brand that you can use to communicate to both yourself and the end-user what your company is all about.
A brand is a backbone. It is what instantly solidifies your product or service in the minds of your customers. Without it, they have no object on which to hang their impressions of your company, good or bad. This is why it’s so important to know your brand—and yet so many small businesses fail even at this basic step.
If you’re looking to launch your own startup, you should be asking yourself dozens of questions. Chief among them, however, are these:
- How would you describe your personal brand, if you even have one?
- If you had to list the four or five most important things in the world to you, what would they be? How do you incorporate these into your business?
- How would you define who you are, in a few simple words?
- What are your values?
- What will your new company stand for, and how does your brand communicate that? How would someone instantly know what your values are, personally and professionally, just by looking at your logo or your sales material?
- In the area of your life that you’re most focused on right now, what is your title / role / job description? Where do you pour the majority of your efforts? What is your mind on for most of the day?
- What distinctive features do you have? If I were meeting you for the first time, how would I find you in a crowded room? What do you do and say that makes you unique? What makes you different from everyone else?
- What’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said about you professionally? How about personally? What is the best compliment that you can give yourself?
- Why do you believe you were awarded your last promotion or your last job? Why did they pick you among all the candidates?
- In what area of your life do you receive the most recognition? Where do people seem to naturally value your contribution?
Once you answer these questions about yourself, then you can start to get a feel for what the brand of your business may be like. You might be asking yourself, “What does any of the above have to do with my company?” The truth is that you are the face of your business, and you will also be the one pouring your heart and soul into it—it is not enough for your business to just make money, it has to represent you and your unique traits. Otherwise, what’s the point? You may as well be working for someone else.
In the past, the status quo was for businesses to create brands solely based on what they thought would attract more customers—and, indeed, this is a major concern of branding—but in modern times, people expect more than just a sales pitch. They don’t want to be sold to, they want authenticity. Building a brand around who you are is truly authentic and people will be able to sense that in your business. If you try to use your brand instead as a shield or pretty facade to hide yourself behind, then people will sense that, too.
In small businesses especially, people want a personal connection. Why? Because they know that they can trust the real you, but grow suspicious when you’re hesitant to share your true self with them. Instead, show them that you have nothing to hide. Show them that you’re willing to make that personal, authentic connection. Your brand will have to provide this. Most importantly, it will need to have the following aspects:
- Your brand will have to communicate who you are in a split second. As soon as a prospect sees your business card, a promotional flyer, or even just your logo, there should be a lightening-fast impression that they form in their mind that will allow them a quick insight into who you are.
- Your brand will have to instill trust in people. It should not give off the impression that you’re only looking to make money or that you want to deliver less than what the customer expects.
- Your brand should be unique to you. You can’t borrow another company’s style any more than you can borrow the brain that built it!
Of course, now the bigger question is: What do you do if you don’t know who you are? Naturally, you can’t know your brand if you don’t even know yourself. If asking yourself the questions above doesn’t yield anything, then it’s time to think about your mission more at length. Ask yourself: Why did you start the business in the first place? What was missing from the world that made you realize that your business could serve a community of clients?
If you are coming up short, and your only answer is that you started your business “to make money,” and nothing more, then the root of the problem is deeper than branding. It’s not just that you’re missing a rudder—you’re missing your compass, too!
Take some time for yourself to look at your market and learn about what it truly needs. Sometimes you won’t be happy at first with what you learn; you might find that you’ll have to take a totally different approach to creating your business and your brand, but at least your startup will be many times more effective than the average small business with no direction.