The thumbnail version:

  • “Branding” advice is a popular small business topic nowadays.
  • The problem with most of it is the gap between theory and reality.

The full version:

There’s no shortage of “experts” nowadays ready to advise you on how to “brand” your startup small business. And a lot of the time a lot of what they advocate is sound theory. But there’s the problem . . . the gap between theory and reality. And it’s quickly exposed with one question: “How much is it going to cost?”

The reality, as a lot of small startup entrepreneurs will tell you, is that cash for anything but the absolute day-to-day essentials is always in short supply. And I can tell you from experience that initially “absolute day-to-day essentials” does not include fees for branding consultants, marketing consultants, social media consultants, website developers, and every other “expert” that comes knocking. “Branding”, we’re told, is necessary to build recognition. But recognition is of no value at all unless it leads to sales and, of course, profits. As Robert Townsend wrote just over fifty years ago (about two decades before many of today’s branding “experts” were born): “If you’re not in business for fun or profit what the hell are you doing here?”

I want to make sure that prospective small business owners are not  discouraged by thinking that paying for expensive “branding” consultancy is the only and must-have solution for generating sales for their new business. It is not. Elements of what commonly falls under the overall “branding” umbrella are helpful, but initially they don’t have to be the expensive elements. By all means, once the business is established enough to generate the cash needed to pay for branding advice that can genuinely deliver growth, go for it. But until then, there are low-cost or even no-cost measures you can take to help establish and grow your business.

Consider these simple yet effective (essential) measures as the first and inexpensive steps to building your brand  . . .

  • People like doing business with people they like. Be likeable. It costs nothing.
  • Word of mouth is still a real thing. People talk. Make sure they can only say good things about your business.
  • Whatever your product or service, focus on providing quality. People value quality above price.
  • Arrange to have the phone answered as soon as it rings. People are impatient and therefore like quick attention from a real, live person.
  • Under-promise and over-deliver.
  • It’s not hard to find help to design a simple, readable logo to give your letterheads, business cards etc. a professional appearance. In a small business this is about the appearance of professionalism, not about “recognition.”
  • Signage should be about telling at a glance what your business does; think ” information” not “flamboyance.”
  • You should have a website. A simple, clean design with sharp images that promotes a professional impression while providing only essential information, is all you initially need. Nowadays this can be achieved very inexpensively.
  • Depending upon your type of business, consider including a blog or newsletter with your website. Providing useful information can promote your brand and help consolidate your customer base.
  • Before spending time and effort on social media platforms, remember that the only metric that counts is sales. Likes and followers mean nothing if they don’t generate sales. In many, many cases small businesses waste a lot of time pursuing the wrong metric.
  • Research inexpensive “guerilla” promotional and marketing ideas.

Get the basic and inexpensive start-up things right and then, when established enough to be able to afford it, consider “branding” help. But even then, only after careful consideration and after being convinced that it will actually generate sales and profit.