Many self-employed service providers are one-man (or woman) shows with the principle doing everything from booking appointments, farming leads and emptying the wastebasket.
In some cases the business has grown to the point where the owner has hired an assistant and a couple of experts in a particular field. In either case, we’re talking small business – a business in which the owner is the brand.
Michael Harrison, Business Strategist is a brand. Lois Beckett, Personal Fitness Coach is a brand. Many small business owners fail to recognise this and, as a result they not only under-promote their status, they under utilise it in daily activities.
So, when you’re the star attraction, how do you go about branding yourself?
Here are some dos and don’ts to help you build a branding campaign.
Establish your expertise.
An insurance adviser started a weekly column on business success stories. Within weeks he noticed an increase in business as soon as the column began running. Within six months, the business had increased significantly. However, this was only the beginning.
The adviser spoke at any engagement available. He spoke to Rotary Clubs at their monthly meetings, and other community service organisations, and with each speaking engagement, he garnered a few new prospects.
After collating a scrapbook of weekly columns he was invited to sit in on a television discussion. In less than two years, had established expertise and authority when it came to managing personal financial matters.
There are other ways to build credibility. Teach a class at the local adult education program on your area of expertise. Write a book, build a website, blog or forum that allows visitors to submit questions that you answer. Post to topic-specific blogs on-line.
Manage your hard won reputation.
Business owners often misunderstand reputation management. It’s much more than being honest with clients. That’s an expectation for any prospective client. It’s like saying “And this house even has a roof.” You don’t score extra points for meeting client expectations.
You win points for exceeding client expectations. That means different things to different clients but certainly includes:
- utilising your expertise to deliver value and benefits to the client
- truthfulness and transparency
- personal attention and client empathy
- professionalism in all client transactions
The importance of these business or professional attributes simply can’t be overstated. When you over-deliver, your reputation grows by word of mouth. There is no better salesperson for the small business than a happy client.
When you’re the brand, you set the standards of quality for your business. Set the bar high and over-deliver. Exceed client expectations and your referrals grow with each new client.
Back to my friend, the insurance man. His name and picture appeared weekly in the newspaper. He was on TV offering his opinions. He spoke at least once a fortnight and he blogged his way to on-line recognition.
Then he repurposed his content by uploading clips to YouTube, his own web site and other digital media like Facebook. People come to recognize him, his name and his area of expertise.
Use a photo on everything
He added his picture whenever he could. Spend the money and pay to have a professional head shot done. It’s amazing what a good photographer can do.
Hold a local seminar. Joint venture it with another business. Your out-of-pocket expenses are limited to emails, promotion, the rent for the venue and the cost of a large pot of coffee and some muffins. It’s a great way to get some face time with prospects.
The basis of any business is trust. Without it, you may as well close up shop. Trust develops over time based on honest, ethical, transparent interactions and word of mouth. Here are some trust-building steps that demonstrate your commitment to quality service.
- Join the local chamber of commerce and attend meetings. It’s great for networking new prospects and it’s a trust builder for prospects who come to your office and see the Chamber plaque on the wall.
- Join professional groups and associations, and display certifications and licenses where they’ll be seen by all prospects.
- If you have won an award or two, line the walls of your office with them and other proof of success. Nothing builds prospect trust than awards and recognition from your peers.
Branding yourself happens quickly in this age of high speed, information velocity. Join LinkedIn and start answering questions with authority. Offer a free review, analysis, examination or inspection – something of value to your potential clients.
Never walk away from an unhappy client.
This falls under the heading of reputation management but deserves its own headline because of its importance.
An unhappy client may not say anything to you. The job is paid for, the client got something – but s/he’s not doing handsprings. That client needs some shoring up. Additional services. A redo at your expense. A refund of payment for services rendered. Whatever it takes, even if it hurts in the pocketbook.
An unhappy client is a lost opportunity. However, if you can turn that unhappy client into a happy client, well there’s no one more fervent than a convert. Make it right. Make it good. And keep the client satisfied at all costs.
These recovered clients become your number one sales resource and branding tool. Your company’s reputation for integrity and client care skyrockets through word of mouth.
So advertise, establish authority and trust, promote your face and personalise your company image, use the web and local resources to build your brand. And remember, the customer is usually right.