Recently, a client asked me, “I’ve heard the best thing a small business can do during a recession is strengthen their brand. Does this mean I should send a postcard to everyone in Tahoe? What if I don’t have the money for a big marketing campaign like that right now?”
His question got me thinking, how can small business owners build their brand with little to no extra money in the marketing budget? And the answer struck me – “Start building your personal brand.”
Like branding, which is not about short-term marketing and advertising efforts, personal branding is not simply about self-promotion. Personal branding is the basis upon which you build your self-promotion, identity, and marketing program. It is about understanding and projecting your core values, and by doing so, building trust and loyalty. Take email for example. Anyone can send you an email, but how do you decide which ones to open and read and which ones to delete? The answer: personal branding. You will open and respond to messages from people you trust – people you know offer a promise of value.
Why is a personal brand important to a small business owner? In addition to creating trust and loyalty, a strong personal brand will help clearly differentiate you from your competitors in the minds of your potential clients. It’s not enough to be known for what you do – you must be known for what you do differently.
So how do you develop your personal brand? Just as you would a corporate brand.
First, develop your brand. This is the soul-searching step in which you ask yourself the hard questions, such as “What are my values? What am I most proud of? What do I want to be known for? Why do I do the work that I do?” By answering these questions it will become clear to yourself and others who you are and what you stand for.
Next, package your brand. It’s no secret that companies spend millions on their product packaging because people make decisions based on appearance and perception; thus, it makes sense that you invest in your own identity package. As a small business owner, you should already have the obvious items, like a logo and a business card, but also take time to evaluate tangible things like your office space (does it reflect who you are?) and your website (does it tell your story?). This also includes intangible items like how you answer the phone, how you respond to emails, and even your personal style.
Finally, communicate your brand. Now that you’ve developed your personal brand, get out there and convey it to the world. The key to marketing yourself is through “word-of-mouth” promotion, and every personal interaction you have is a chance to brand yourself. Position yourself as an expert in your field. Give presentations, write articles, lead discussions about your industry. Meet people, go to mixers, volunteer in the community. All of these interactions will build trust in you as a person, which will go far in building trust in your company and the services or goods you offer.
In the words of Dale Carnegie, “There are four ways, and only four ways, in which we have contact with the world. We are evaluated and classified by these four contacts: what we do, how we look, what we say, and how we say it.” You are a brand. Put “You” to work for your business success.