I'm a small business - why do I need a brand?

If you are a small firm or a sole trader, you could be forgiven for thinking that branding is not for you. "Big names spend money on branding, small companies just get on with the job" is a typical response when small businesses are asked about their brand activities. But this perception is wrong, as Rachel Miller writes

Even if you do "believe in branding", it may come low on your to-do list after vital day-to-day tasks that keep your customers happy and keep revenue coming in. That's understandable.

Why do small firms need a brand?

So how can I convince you that branding matters - whether you are a window cleaner, a solicitor or run a restaurant?

Perhaps the first thing to do is to tackle the wording. If you were to replace the word "branding" with "reputation" I might get your attention. You care about your reputation, right?

Well branding is all about the impression you make. If you want to succeed, that impression should do two jobs - it should convey what is special about your business and it should show you in a positive light.

Of course, many small businesses make a good impression most of the time without ever giving a thought to their brand. But think how much more successful you would be if you gave a good impression all of the time.

What I am advocating is that you think about the impression you want to make - your brand - and actively take steps to manage it.

There are two parts to this process. Firstly, you have to decide what you stand for - what your USPs are, who you are aiming at and how you want to position yourself. Then you need to make sure that all aspects of your business are in line with this.

It's about applying your values to everything you do, clearly and consistently.

There are many small firms that have seen real financial benefits as a result of improving their brand. Fiona Humberstone, managing director of Flourish Studios, has worked with many one-man-bands and small businesses. "For instance, we worked with a plumber on his logo," reveals Fiona. "He used it on some new business cards which he distributed in his area and immediately got three new jobs. We've also helped a management consultant with her branding. We redesigned her proposal document as well as providing a new logo and website. As a result, every proposal that she has made that year was accepted - a 100% success rate."

Mark McCulloch, founder of Spectacular Marketing says, "You have a brand whether you like it or not. It's best to embrace that and find the best way to connect your brand with your target audience."

Mark worked with a company called Exhilaration some years ago that sold experience days out and was run by a husband and wife team that loved sky-diving. The business came to a crossroads when it had to develop its online presence.

"It was a tiny company with a tiny marketing spend," says Mark. "The name was good - Exhilaration summed up what they did - but their communications were very dry and didn't convey the excitement of what they were selling at all."

Mark transformed the company's literature and their website and injected the excitement that was missing. "Personality was everything, so we gave all the communications a new tone of voice," he says. Not only did customers respond but suppliers and investors also sat up and took notice. The result? "Their turnover rose from £1 million to £3.5 million and they became second in the market," Mark reveals. Exhilaration went on to be bought by Lastminute.com.

Creating the right impression

But if you don't think branding is for you, you are not alone.

"Many small business owners I meet think that brands are something that only large companies need or can afford," says Bryony Thomas of Watertight Marketing. "But your company name, the way you answer the phone, what your customers say when they're asked about you - these things all build to create an impression of your company and what it's like to do business with you - and that is your brand. So, you can either just let whatever impression you give happen haphazardly, or you can take control and manage it to your advantage."

One small firm that has benefited by developing its brand is Gradwell, the Bath-based small business ISP. "I tended to pick marketing up on the rainy days, and then drop it again. I'd never really given it much focus," reveals managing director, Peter Gradwell. "We had grown organically among tech enthusiasts, but knew that for major growth we'd need to appeal much more widely."

Bryony undertook market research and discovered that Gradwell's existing image was off-putting to less tech-savvy small business owners. A new brand identity addressed this.

"It was a really tough decision to spend money on something that wouldn't directly generate leads.  It was about building the foundations," says Peter. "But, I'm absolutely sure that it was the right thing to do. It has had huge benefits across everything we do. To give a tangible example, we were approached by Hewlett-Packard to appear as a pretty high profile case study, and I'm sure they wouldn't have shared a stage with us if we hadn't looked as polished as we now do."

It goes to show that your brand may be just as important to your relationships with partners and suppliers as it is to your customers. Take Best Years, a supplier of knitted toys to independent and high street retailers. " Brand is extremely important to us," says commercial director, Gaynor Humphrey. "We have worked hard to put a distance between ourselves and our price-driven competitors. A strong brand boosts traffic to our website. And if our brand values chime with the values of retailers they are more inclined to buy from us. Our foot is halfway through the door before they have even met us!"

Dee Blick, author of Powerful Marketing on a Shoestring Budget for Small Businesses, has worked with many small businesses on their branding. "Branding doesn't take shed-loads of money. It takes passion and time and thought," she says. But you neglect your brand at your peril, she warns. "Businesses don't own their own brand, they are custodians of it. Perceptions can alter quickly. Brands are constantly evolving and they need a lot of tending."

The message is clear. If you've got a business, then you've got a brand. What you do with it is up to you.


Do i really need a website? Here are 21 Reasons why

Why Do I Need a Website?

 

Reason #1 – Online brochure

Companies spend millions creating brochures and distributing them. By having a website you can skip that entirely. Your potential customers can find out about you and any of your products online. If you get most of your business through networking and personal connections, then they will want to check out your website.

Reason #2 – More customers

More than 2.4 billion people use the internet every day, and some 90% of those have purchased something, or contacted a company, online in the last 12 months. So by not having a website, you will be missing out on a big piece of the pie.

Reason #3 – Business value

Have you tried getting a business loan recently? It’s not easy, but if you try and the bank manager asks to see your website, you better have a pretty good one. It doesn’t just stop with the bank, the perceived value of your business will be lower in everyone’s eyes – especially your customers.

Reason #4 – Influence

By having a website potentially thousands of people are going to see it. You are able to influence people’s decisions and educate them.

Reason #5 – Time to show off

You know that great feeling you get when people recognize your work? Well, by having a website you can show off what you do and take pride in your work.

Reason #6 – Helps with business goals

That’s right! When it comes to writing the content for your website you are going to revisit things about your business that you haven’t in years. You will most likely reassess your business goals.

Reason #7 – Low barriers of entry

Ever wanted to start a business? Well, now you can do it with virtual space. In fact, by using this service and by clicking here, you can get decent rates on full branding, website and CMS for start up companies

Reason #8 – 24 hours per day

Your website runs 24/7 without any supervision or need to lock it up. You can always be there for your customers.

Reason #9 – Communication with customers

By having a blog or even just a feed on your website, you can update customers on your newest offers, products, promotions, events, photos, or any other content.

Reason #10 – Marketing

The internet has opened up a whole new world of marketing that didn’t exist before. Your website can attract new business by using a whole host of low cost marketing techniques.

Reason #11 – Customer support

You can greatly reduce the cost of customer support by have a ticketing system, or even just an FAQ on your website. I can think of about 5 companies off the top of my head that streamline your customer service straight from your website.

Reason #12 – [email protected]

I know there are other ways to do this, but by having a website you can have your own email [email protected] It is more professional and easier to remember. I know you love your [email protected] , but it doesn’t really resonate with customers.

Reason #13 – Press releases

I know that sounds a bit far out, but it is true. You can run really cheap press releases online about your business, but to do it you will require a website. In fact, I have had clients who were absolute nobodies get one million views on YouTube because of online press releases.

Reason #14 – Stick it to the man

The best answer to “Why do I need a website?” would be that you can stick it to the man. It is the easiest way to quit your job and earn a living.

Reason #15 – Any topic or hobby will do

Do you love sports? How about ballet, alternative dance, photography, holidays, Kit-Kats, cars, skateboards, science or animals? Well, then you have a business idea just waiting to happen. The internet has room for an unlimited number of niche blogs that can attract traffic and revenue. Just pick something you love and start writing about it.

Reason# 16 – Connect with fellow web masters

On a little side note, if you own a website you get to call yourself a ‘web master’. Pretty cool! But reason #16 for ‘why I need a website’ is that you can easily make new business and personal connections with other website owners. This can lead to extra streams of income for you!

Reason #17 – Gives you a voice

Have you ever been in an argument with someone and said “Well, I have written an article about that on my website, and actually, that isn’t the case.” It feels great! For some reason people don’t want to argue with you if you’ve written about something on your website. It also gives you a place where you can voice your opinion without judgment. If someone leaves you a comment you don’t like you can just drag it over to the spam folder.

Reason #18 – Do business your own way

You don’t need permission from your boss or company lawyer. Ash Ambridgedrops the ‘F-Bomb’ all the time because she can, and no else is asking her to stop. Now she has a world class business with thousands of customers.

Reason #19 – Beat the big guys

Have you ever wanted to get into business, but don’t know how to compete with all the big names out there? By creating an incredibly beautiful website with a solid strategy behind it you can smash the big guys to pieces. You have no chance of building bigger skyscrapers, but your website can break down the perceived wall between you and them.

Reason #20 – Instant credibility

Have you ever had difficulty making that sale? Or convincing someone that you are the real deal. By having a well structured website you can foster instant credibility with anyone. You can provide the ultimate proof that you are, in fact, the realest of all deals (couldn’t resist that phrase).

Reason #21 – Helps you to find a new job

I bet you didn’t see this one coming. I have been harping on about how a website can help your business, but it can help you personally too. Not only can a website host your resume or CV, but by owning and managing your website you have demonstrated tons of hard and soft skills. Having worked in HR once upon a time, I know it is valuable.

So… why do I need a website?

Can you think of a couple of reasons why you shouldn’t? It wouldn’t be a balanced argument if you don’t.