Every day I meet a freelancer or independent professional who tells me “I just spent $5,000 on a website, and I don’t think it’s doing anything to help my business. Will you have a look and tell me what you think?”
As they analyze potential culprits, these individuals tend to focus their attention on the site’s font, its color palette, or maybe a photo or an image.
Unfortunately, that’s the wrong approach to take, because it puts tactics before strategy. And it’s precisely this type of backward analysis that continually puts freelancers and small-business owners out of business.
Your Brand Strategy
When I talk about tactics, I’m referring to your website, your blog, your business cards, your ads and so on. In other words, the stuff you create to promote and market your business.
The biggest mistake that freelancers and solopreneurs are making when it comes to their marketing is focusing time and energy on these tactics before they have strategies in place.
If this sounds like you, don’t feel bad. I’ve spent 25 years building global brands and have seen the same problems in large, multinational organizations. Many of them spend way too much time and resources on tactical marketing before they identify their brand strategy.
What’s a brand strategy — and why is it important? For a freelancer or solopreneur, a brand strategy is a written document (it could be as simple as one page) that details the following information about your business:
- Your vision
- Your ideal audience
- Your competition and how you stand out from them
- Your unique difference
- The personality of your business
- The values of your business
- The kind of imagery that would accurately represent your business
This brand strategy document is your guide to absolutely everything you do in your business. It ensures that you are marketing to the right audience and moving in the right direction.
Why It’s Important
If you don’t have absolute clarity about all these key elements, you risk sending the wrong message to the wrong audience. The message itself may be clear, but it may not be resonating with the audience you’re speaking to. Worse yet, it may be attracting clients who don’t have the budget to pay you what you’re worth.
This year I worked with a caterer who did 18 weddings last summer, was feeling exhausted and made no profit. She explained to me that her expenses where too high because she needed a lot of staff. I then asked why she wasn’t charging more. Her response: “My clients won’t pay any more than what I’m charging.”
So then I asked whether she was marketing to the right audience, and she admitted that she probably wasn’t — which surprised me, because she offers some very unique services. So then I posed the question “Does your audience understand how you’re different from the competition?” Her response was the same.
If she were to keep going in this direction her business wouldn’t survive.
This is why your brand strategy is the foundation of your business. Skipping this critical exercise is the equivalent of building a house by starting the work on the second floor. You may be working really hard, but without a solid foundation in place your business will crumble.
So if you’re having difficulty attracting the right kinds of clients, developing a clear brand strategy may very well be your missing link.
How Do You Build a Brand Strategy?
Here’s the process to go through in order to determine your brand strategy. I call it the six steps to brand clarity, and it’s important to consider each step carefully.
- Get clear on your vision so you know where you’re going. Not having a clear vision is like going on a road trip without a map. Spend some quiet time with a journal and write out your vision for your business. Ask yourself: Three years from today, what does my ideal business look like? Who would I most like as clients? How has my business changed and evolved?
- Get clear on your ideal audience. It’s hard to be profitable without doing this. Who is your best client now? Do you want more clients like this one? Spend some time pondering this and see what connections you can make.
- Get clear on your competition so you stand out. See if you’re saying the same things as everyone else. You can’t stand out if you look and sound the same.
- Get insights from your clients as to why you’re special and different (your differentiation). Interview your key clients and find out what they like most about you. Why are they working with you? How do they think you’re different from other professionals in your field? Why are these unique attributes valuable to them?
- Develop your unique message. When you’ve completed steps one through four, you should have enough information to create your new message — a message you’ll use in everything you do (your website, your marketing materials, in conversations with prospects and clients, at networking events and so on).
- Bring your brand to life. Here’s where the tactics come in. Now is when you get to hire a web designer!
Rhonda Page has had a 25 year career helping global brands stand out for companies like Kraft and Coca Cola and she’s now teaching small businesses how to stand out authentically and communicate their message so they can be the obvious choice for their clients.
She began her career studying graphic design at Parsons School of Design in New York and Paris and won internships at the world’s top branding firms. She’s been mentored by the best, including Don Watt, the creator of the Home Depot brand and Don Chisholm, creator of Mike’s Hard Lemonade, one of the most successful brand launches in history.
Early on clients remarked on her ability to give clarity and solve problems quickly. The Birkman Method personality test later confirmed that her problem solving skills are “off the chart.” When the economic downturn began in late 2009, friends with small businesses began to reach out to her for help. She observed them struggling with ineffective marketing and realized that if they understood how to build a brand, they could thrive in any economy. Her workbook (Know Your Difference, No Limit Publishing, 2011) and unique programs combine business strategy with the important mindset piece to business success.