I can’t stress enough how important personal branding is for entrepreneurs. You may not realize it, but each one of us is a brand. Type your name into any search engine and the results will show you exactly what your online brand is. Did you make a conscious effort to create and promote your brand? Does it accurately represent you? Is it targeted towards a specific audience?
Although the words brand and branding are often used synonymously or confused with each other, they are separate and unique.
What exactly is a brand? A brand is your unique identifier, your market identity. It represents you in the marketplace – who you are, what you do, your reputation, trustworthiness, and the quality of your product or service. Your brand is how your customers perceive you and how they feel when they do business with you.
Sir Richard Branson is the perfect example of a personal brand. Although he’s the founder of the Virgin properties – Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Records among others, Sir Richard Branson’s personal brand is the most powerful of all. People want to do business with the Virgin properties because of Sir Richard Branson. The personal brand drives the corporate brand.
Personal branding has become increasingly important. People trust people, not corporations. They want to do business with people, not corporations. Your personal brand is your differentiator. It creates an emotional connection between you and your customer. Ultimately, it defines the value of your business. In order to stay competitive in today’s marketplace, you must have a strong personal brand.
Branding is the active process that shapes your brand. It requires a strategy and targets your core audience. Branding can include the name of your company, logo, other visual assets, website, communications and media.
Entrepreneurs who are more influential pay more attention to their brand rather than just their branding. As an entrepreneur, how can you build your brand? Ask yourself:
- Who are you? What do you stand for? What do you offer? How are you perceived by others? How do you want to be perceived by others? Be authentic. Your brand should be reflective of who you are.
- What do you do? What product or service do you offer? What is your value proposition? What differentiates you from your competition?
- Why does it matter? Define your purpose. This will give you great direction.
Evaluate your brand. Your brand should tell people who you are, what you offer and differentiate you from your competition. Is your brand reaching your target audience? Are they responding positively? Are you delivering on your brand promise? If not, it’s time to reassess and make changes.
Is your personal brand and branding effort working for you? Want more advice on brands and branding, or general advice from other business owners like you? Find out if a TAB Board is right for you!
Although I am not a marketer, as a business advisor I am often asked what are the most effective ways to market a company. Business owners tend to ask me what tactics they should use to gain the ‘best’ and ‘fastest’ results. My advice is the same for business management: before you execute on a business initiative, you need a plan. Before you implement a marketing tactic, make sure you invest the time and resources in having a professional strategic marketing plan.
As a business owner, you know what you know, and what you don’t. Marketing, as an aspect of a business, is no different. Hiring a strategic marketing agency to develop your strategic plan is just good business sense.
A big part of any strategy is understanding how your customers value what you do for them. Depending on what data you may already have, a strategic marketing agency will conduct in-depth research on your customers and competitors to understand what brought them to you, and also why they stay.
As a result of the research analysis and the agency’s experience, they will be able to create an area of difference for you – something unique that differentiates your business from others in your industry. This brand identity is rooted in what your customers value.
This strategic marketing plan will now act as your roadmap and provide direction for all aspects of your marketing efforts and determine what tactics will be most effective in targeting specific customers. This is similar to how the strategy in a game of chess is needed to determine the moves made on the board.
Once your strategy is complete and you know what tactics are required, you can make an informed decision as to who will implement them. You’ll need to look at your internal resources and skill sets and compare them to external ones. If you choose to take them on in-house, think about who will manage them from a marketing perspective. You may choose to outsource only a portion of your tactics while taking on the rest internally. When it comes to implementation, you have a few options. Taking the time to plan can save your business thousands of dollars in needless tactics.
LinkedIn is the world’s largest professional network, with over 300 million registered users in over 200 countries and territories, so it should come as no surprise that LinkedIn is one of the most powerful business development tools available today. Business owners and key sale leaders can leverage the power of LinkedIn for forging strong connections and finding new business.
LinkedIn has become the new “Rolodex”, the go-to place for finding colleagues, current clients, potential clients and vendors. With a professional profile, image and regular participation in groups, your network will increase, which in turn increases your reach and exposure and potential business opportunities. Many business owners would agree that LinkedIn has great potential, but are either concerned about the time commitment or are unsure how to go about getting started.
Here are a few simple steps to get you started in engaging in business development activities on LinkedIn:
- Step 1 – Look Professional: Just like a face-to-face introduction, your profile page is your first chance to make a good impression. Users with complete profiles are 40 times more likely to receive opportunities through LinkedIn. This means:
- Invest some time in writing a professional summary
- Add your skills
- Have a professional picture taken (do not take a selfie)
- Add volunteer experience and any awards you have won
They have recently added a recommendation feature on LinkedIn, which is like having an endorsement for your services. Try to have at least 4 recommendations on your profile page.
- Step 2 – Make Connections: Having a long list of connections is essential for increasing exposure and the likelihood of others finding you, but make sure they are the “right” type of connections.
- Decide if there is an industry you want to target or a type of job title e.g. accountant – simply search for exactly what you are looking for
- Once you have a few potential connections, find out more about them by visiting their profiles, seeing if you have connections in common, where they are located, etc.
- Send them a connection request by introducing who you are and the reason for contacting them
- If they accept your invitation, be active and take the initiative by arranging a phone call or a face-to-face meeting
- Step 3 – Join Groups: Think of these as a local Chamber of Commerce. There are groups for every industry, and they function as a place to ask questions, perform research, make new connections, and get noticed.
- Search groups that you think your target audience will visit
- Join ONLY as many groups as you can manage. Groups tend to send notifications, which is good if you plan to keep up with them, but annoying if you don’t
- Participate in the groups on a regular basis if you can. Your audience needs to hear from you and see you being active and offering expert advice
- Comment on other people’s posts, “like” them, and most importantly see who the regular contributors are and see if there is opportunity to work together or connect in some way
- To connect with them, follow Step 2
In addition to using LinkedIn as a business development and marketing tool, the platform can also be used for recruitment. Whether it’s sharing a job posting on your company profile, or paying for a job posting or sponsored job ad, LI allows you to see in a click of a button a more complete look at your candidates.
As you can see, LinkedIn has a lot to offer but the biggest step is making the decision to give it the time it deserves to foster and manage potential leads. From personal experience, investing time in LI as a business development tool will yield results that far outweigh that time investment.
Do you use LI for business development now? How much time do you dedicate to it and are there other features of LI that you have found helpful for business development?
As a business advisor, when I meet with business owners we discuss a multitude of business-related issues, most of which fall into these four categories all of which have a direct impact on your bottom line: operations, finance, human resources and marketing. In this blog, I’m going to focus on the fourth category: marketing.
Marketing is about communication. Your business could conceive of the most innovative and useful product/service, but what good is all of that effort if nobody knows anything about your product/service or your brand? Having a good product/service is no longer enough to sustain a successful business. You need to communicate that you have a good product/service, what makes it a good product/service, the benefits that your product/service will provide potential customers, and what makes your product/service different from or better than what your competitors are offering.
Simply put, whether B2B or B2C, people are unlikely to just walk into your business and give you their hard-earned money if they don’t know who you are or what you’re selling in a marketplace defined by endless choice. Marketing is an absolute necessity for any business, small or large, because it answers the three most important questions that customers have about an unfamiliar brand: “Who are you? What do you do? How are you different?” When you make an effort to answer these questions effectively, your business will reap the benefits. Effective, value-added marketing heightens brand awareness and trust, allows you to reach your target audience and boost your customer base, and increases your bottom line.
Marketing is necessary, but I assure you that it isn’t easy. Too many inexperienced businesses make the mistake of treating marketing like medicine – only to be used when something goes wrong. Only when a product isn’t selling or revenue is dwindling do these businesses decide to consider marketing as a last-ditch effort.
Successful businesses treat marketing like food – regular, sustained, and practiced consistently. In other words, successful businesses never stop marketing. In doing so, these businesses ensure that they are always in communication with and attuned to the needs of their customers.
We have established that marketing is an essential business function, but what about the cost? Maintaining consistent communication with your audience certainly isn’t free. How much money should you invest in marketing in your business?
To make money, you need to spend money. There are a number of factors that influence how much your business should invest in marketing, such as the age and size of your business, and the level of competition in your market.
The most common strategy that businesses use to determine marketing budgets is by taking gross or projected revenue and allocating a certain percentage towards marketing. Though the exact percentages vary, newer, less established businesses benefit from an increased allocation of gross or projected revenue towards marketing (10%+). New and emerging brands need to invest a greater percentage of revenue in marketing early on in order to increase brand awareness and market share. On the other hand, established brands can generally allocate a lower percentage of revenue towards marketing (5%+).
Make sure you have a strong brand story, one that clearly differentiates your brand from your competition by clearly identifying who you are, and the value and benefit your services or products provide to your customers. Marketing gives your brand a “human touch”. Like a good friend, customers are more likely to connect and do business with a brand they feel they know and can trust. In this way, effective marketing has a direct impact on your bottom line.
Marketing has the potential to take your business to a level of success that cannot be achieved by idling and waiting for your prospective customers to find you.
How much importance is placed on marketing in your business? Are you spending the appropriate amount on your marketing efforts?