The Devil in the Details: Why Strong Branding Works

From Brand to Bustle: A New Course in Maeva’s Community Business Series

I’m thrilled to be compiling my tips and tricks on business branding into a new Community Business Series Course premiering Aug. 21st at Maeva’s Coffee. From Brand to Bustle: Building a Business People Want was inspired by the frequent questions asked in my Business Plan Basics course. This course addresses the biggest area of neglect I have seen while helping dozens of small businesses clients succeed. If you’re ready to hone your business’ identity and craft a dynamic marketing plan to find your best customers, join us! $27 Pre-registration ends this Monday, Aug. 1st, at midnight, $45 before Aug. 19th.

During a recent meeting, my copy editor made the observation on how all Chinese take out businesses- small town, metropolitan, west coast to east coast- look the same. From the chop stick wrappers, the collection of decorations, signage...even down to the 90’s clip art on the menu. We had a good laugh about there being a mythical warehouse somewhere through which you could order “One Complete Chinese Restaurant” but really, doesn’t every industry have its share of cliche?

For example, how many coffee shop logos have a coffee cup in them? It’s easy for new business owners to rely on long-standing industry standards or to copy someone else when it comes to creating a brand. A business’ brand sends a message to its market, setting expectations on the sort of quality, price, and service they are likely to receive by stepping through its doors. Plugging your name into a Vistaprint template and ordering up 5,000 cheap cards is really the entrepreneur’s version of another cheap Chinese takeout restaurant. Lazy branding tells potential clients to expect average quality at a cheap price point.


On the opposite end of the spectrum, St. Louis’ most respected independent coffee shops- Sump, Blueprint, and Rise to name a few-  all have resisted the temptation to include some version of a little steaming clipart cup in their logo. None of these shops have a name that features the word “coffee” or makes use of cute coffee-related word play. By the name and logo alone, we are setup to expect something original.


With everything demanding your attention as you start or run a business, you may be tempted to put your brand on the backburner. When it comes to reducing risk of failure, your brand is the most important aspect of your business. Here’s why:



Targeted Brands Attract the Best Customers

Choosing to depart from industry norms attracts a different type of customer: one who is willing to pay you what you’re worth (or more) because they anticipate your product or service will match the attention you’ve given to your brand overall. These are customers who don’t lowball you, who aren’t attracted by BOGO sales, and who crave the type of service or product that will inspire them to create loyal relationships with your business.


Honest Brands Build Relationships

With strong branding, growth becomes less about selling and more about building a relationship. Weaker brands have to shout, beg, and undersell themselves to attract attention. Businesses with weak brands attract customers are only interested in what sort of deal they can find.


By creating a brand that draws quality clients, you rely less on “Now 25% OFF!” Facebook Adverts and more on natural, honest relationships. Strong brands know their client base and organically grow a deeper connection with their market. As an entrepreneur with a honest brand, you have freedom to focus on your business without having to run sales that cut into your profit, spend money on wasteful advertising, or beg for attention.


Timeless Brands Create Longevity and Lower Upkeep Costs

Every time another pallet wood bar is installed in the St. Louis area, I die a little inside. If you think that’s harsh, check out this article on Industrial Chic design from NPR.

You cannot build a lasting brand on an existing trend.

It’s ok to be inspired by other amazing brands- but directly copying core elements from industry or current design trends makes your business dull and dated. Fresh or timeless branding interests dedicated clients for the long term and naturally attracts enough attention provide steady growth over several decades. Dropping thousands of dollars to rebrand and remodel every ten years is only something large corporations can afford. As a small business owner, you will find that a brand woven with original fibers will have superior longevity and cost far less to maintain.


A Business You Inspire Inspires You

Building a targeted, honest brand unique to your business will play a critical role in your personal success as a small business owner. Creating a brand you love will motivate you to own it, share it, and to be enthusiastic about your business even during the rough days you’ll face.

Maeva’s Coffee does not embody every element of my own style or personality, but there is an immense pride and happiness from having co-created such a beautiful place. After 2+ years of operation, I still find myself falling in love with her just as I had at the start. That feeling is one that stays with me through unexpected equipment repairs, staff changes, and the hectic pace of a high volume shop. Without that connection to the brand, I would’ve quit many 80 hour-work-weeks ago and would not have made it to the point where she is successful and strong without my constant attention.


If you are starting a business and want to see it making money, or your current business now has become stagnant, you need to take a closer look at the strength of your brand.

The course I will be teaching in late August covers the how-tos of all of the above, plus the logistics of putting it into practice by creating a targeted low-to-no cost marketing plan. It is specifically designed for small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs, with a class size is limited to 10. Because I adore helping small businesses in my hometown, I always stick around for as long as you want after to discuss the specifics of your situation.  Check out the details here!


Neighborhood Wealth Beyond Capital

Alton Main Street recently hosted a networking event for creative entrepreneurs in the area. The event providing an exhilarating look into the hearts and minds of our community on the topics of growth and revitalization in our area. While connecting with local entrepreneurs, self-employed artisans, and part-time small business warriors the theme of financial hurdles was prevalent throughout the evening. Growth, it was stated, was often slowed or stalled due to lack of capital.  While banks, crowd funding, and donor/investor support were offered as solutions, even if those solutions are able to be obtained often they take a large investment of time before funds become available. This post will show you the basics of how you can build your business and add to your brand using low or no-capital wealth you already have.

Our definition of ‘wealth’ often misleads us into believing we only deal in numbers relating to monetary gains and losses. However, when we start to think of ‘wealth’ as any soluble resource, you will find that your wealth and the wealth of your venture is more than the sum of your debts and assets in the bank. Your wealth includes your skills, your knowledge, your goods, your time, and your character. Our personal economies are rich in raw material- and the moment we set out to use these materials, turning them into financial capital or other goods, services, or skills- we become entrepreneurs with deep roots in our community economy.

You- as an artist or small business owner- have at your disposal, right now, a dynamic “account” of non-capital based wealth you can use to augment your business. With a little ingenuity, you may find yourself using your raw resources well enough that your business will grow organically without the capital fertilization of that bank loan.


Step One: What do you want?

Think beyond financial capital to your actual end-goal. Typically, you’d be using extra cash to accentuate your business in some way. This could be hiring a designer to create a solid branding image, creating or revamping a website, upgrading your equipment, making a change to your product packaging, or hiring a someone to help lighten your workload.  

After making a list of the areas you’d like to expand or improve upon in your business, you’ll have a direction to work towards in your exchange of wealth.


Step Two: What do you have?

Non-financial assets. Do you own or rent a space? If that space isn’t used 24/7, a little out-of-the-box thinking might reveal opportunities to exchange your non-use times to other entrepreneurs and artisans. Space might include not just the inside of your establishment but your parking lot, lawn, or patio. Do you provide a service? That service can be exchanged for other services you might not otherwise be able to afford. Make a list that includes physical assets (space, waste supplies, materials), intellectual assets (industry know-how, event or cross branding ideas), and skills (physical labor or your services). Now you have a clear vision of what you can offer.


Step Three: Create Wealth.

Having a list on paper or in the back of your head will make it easier to find opportunities in your day-to-day business transactions to create wealth. Remember that your clients or customers are just as valuable in the creation of the community economy as other artisans or small business owners. When ‘wealth’ is exchanged locally, every avenue creates a stronger community microeconomy.




Here is an illustration of a multi-level wealth exchange that has been taking place at The Milton Schoolhouse in the last few months***:


As for our involvement, you can see that we’ve exchanged space (in the form of the community garden facilitated by our awesome neighbor Clifford Clark and student Dana Wynn) and about 10-20 gallons of waste coffee grounds from Maeva’s. In the short term, neither of these will produce any capital for either The Milton Schoolhouse or Maeva’s but neither of these resources are costing us any capital either. By trading coffee grounds to Senior Services Plus, we’re investing in the production of worms and compost our neighbors will need for the community garden in our back lot. The better the community garden is, the more produce it will be able to provide for our neighborhood and for Maeva’s Coffee to sell, fresh and delicious, in the form of our seasonally crafted quiche. Working with Senior Services Plus and our neighbors on the community garden strengthens the bond between us and the folks they are able to reach; thus allowing us to introduce more potential coffee lovers to our little schoolhouse coffee shop.


Raw non-capital wealth, when exchanged, creates trust and support among existing neighborhood businesses, artisans, and residents. Strong community bonds encourage the creation of new ventures and the expansion of current participants, growing our community’s micro-economy without financial debt.



Momentum is building in Alton for the creation of good venues of exchange- Farmer’s Markets, Garage Sales, the Holiday Bazaar at the local high school… Challenge yourself to think beyond “shopping local” and into “exchanging local”. Money may be a part of creating wealth, but it doesn't have to 100% of the transaction. Goods, space, skills, and services can all be turned into financial capital as well as other goods, skills, etc. that will enrich your venture.

This coming Tuesday, Maeva’s Coffee will be hosting Market! Market!, an experimental community market. This event will be an uncurated exchange of wealth. If you’re an artist, crafter, lover of antiques, gardener, stuff seller, vintage lover, or have a service to exchange, you are welcome to join us on Tuesday 17th. For $10, we will set out a table and give you our space and wifi to sell your art, wares, produce, services, or stuff. Or, simply join us by walking around and exchanging your money, skills, or services with your friends and neighbors.

For more information and to reserve a table at Market! Market! click here



***Please remember that most barter is taxable and should be reported in your financials. Make sure you check the state and city laws in your area to determine whether the exchanges you make in your business practices are subject to taxation. Plus, in bartering with nonprofits, your exchange can often be written off as a donation to offset profit- bonus! Talk to your accountant or legal advisor for more information regarding your specific arrangements.








Working Yourself Out of Your Business

When we dream of beginning our own business, we envision the freedom of having creative control over our lives. We imagine working on our terms, spending days doing what we love and working for our dream rather than someone else’s. We get excited about the beginning and look forward to its success, imagining the years ahead in which we will be happily making a living doing something we love.

Thinking about retirement or selling a business at the start sounds terribly unromantic. However, when we plan for the eventual transition of ownership a business will undergo from the beginning, we create a business with a strong investment value and a structure that will live beyond its creator. This article is not about crafting an exit strategy, but implementing a framework that will allow a business to become a legacy.

Unlike most coffee house owners, it has never been my ambition to own a coffee shop. Our patrons often ask why we have built Maeva’s and I know they are looking for that beautiful story in which a life-long dream has blossomed into success. The reality is I knew nothing about coffee when we decided to undertake this venture. My passions do not lie in owning or operating food service businesses like the grand restaurateurs that dazzle me in every city I visit. We built Maeva’s because it was a sound investment; because The Milton Schoolhouse needed a business with heavy foot traffic to support our other start ups and our neighborhood needed a gathering place to grow.

As Maeva’s continues to blossom, I already look forward to new ventures beyond this beautiful shop. From the beginning, my business partner and I have had a plan to transition Maeva’s to a new owner (or to a full time operations manager) within five years- allowing us the time to dedicate to new ventures in our community. Whether you are hoping to start and sell your business quickly or wish to be involved for decades, one of the greatest things you can do to ensure the longevity of your work is to make your operation attractive to its next owner and do everything you can to enable their success.




This is an essential part of creating a seamless transition to an Operations Manager or new owner. When someone buys a franchise, they are given months of training and hundreds of pages of information outlining everything from sales techniques to pricing strategies to safety processes. If you’ve built your business from scratch, you know the ins and outs of how you make decisions for your company- but does anyone else? The pieces listed below are essential for not only selling your business but peace of mind if you were ever to face a crisis in which you were required to be on hiatus from its operation:


Employee Handbook:

This is a personal manual outlining the expectations and general rules of conduct for staff. Each staff member should be briefed on this manual and sign a written statement of their understanding. This manual should cover your company’s sexual harassment policy, dress code, any employee benefits, job expectations, and other general conduct policy. Keep signed records of any modifications you make to your manual to show that staff have been briefed on evolving policies. Don’t forget a signed release of name/voice/and likeness if you intend on using photos that include your staff for promotional purposes. If any financials, recipes, trade secrets, etc. are available to your staff, a signed statement of confidentiality should also be included.

While there is no law regulating the requirement of an employee handbook, having a clear handbook of policies can provide some legal protection in unemployment and workman’s comp cases.

Most corporate handbooks are available online. Instead of starting from scratch, find handbooks from companies in similar industries to your own and use them as a template for your business’ handbook.


Process Manual:

This manual should be essential information available to staff and managers. It’s exactly what the name implies; a detailed outline for every possible thing someone may have to do in the general care and maintenance of the shop. The Maeva’s Coffee Process Manual includes stated methods for sanitizing the ice bin, how often food is ordered and in what quantity, technical manuals for trouble shooting our equipment, maps for emergency water/electrical shut offs, and basic shop troubleshooting. Include MSDS sheets for any chemicals used in your operation and the appropriate response for potential accidents. Check this link if you are unsure whether or not your chemicals require MSDS sheets to be made readily available to your staff.


Operations Manual:

This manual is private information, reserved for an operations manager or owner. It should include account information for each of your suppliers, up to date material cost sheets, contacts for subcontractors or people you often work with in your local business network, hiring and termination guidelines, information on scheduling and payroll, as well as contracts and outstanding leases. This manual may also include trade secrets such as exclusive food and beverage recipes.


Brand Management Manual:

This manual may be reserved for an operations manager or released to the entire staff depending upon the openness of your business structure. It should be a brief description of your company’s history and influences, the core principles of what you represent, and guidelines for how that brand is kept fresh. Our brand management manual outlines how often and when seasonal specials are released, how often and what types of events are hosted in the shop, and information on how and what to post on our Facebook, Instagram, and Website.


You should also have your tax records, annual P&L and Balance Sheets, any past or current business plans, and staff files in order as well.


Having a Strong Internal Culture

Creating a culture of internal collaboration will keep your business from becoming stale. When you hire staff who work together and cultivate an environment that encourages communication, new ideas and better processes will become a constant in your business. Staff you are able to trust and who can facilitate projects without constant management are a valuable resource when a business undergoes a change of ownership. A strong culture can easy the rockiness of leadership change and prevent your company’s growth from stalling. Whether your business is six months or sixteen years old, vivacity, clarity, and strength in a business’ culture will make your business attractive to prospective buyers and increase the chance of its survival once you are gone.


Becoming Unnecessary

The start-up phase is thrilling. As an owner, you have your hands in everything. You and your first few staff wear a thousand hats, taking on responsibilities defined by necessity and circumstance, not necessarily skill. There will be a point in your company’s growth where and honest evaluation will show that you do not have the talent in your current team to grow further. It can be a difficult situation to face but at some point in your wild success you will no longer be able to wear all of the hats.

Accounting is my weakness. It’s taken me twenty months of operation to admit it, but as much as I want to be able to do everything for Maeva’s, the day to day numbers don’t come naturally to me. Accounting is stressful; it’s something I dread. I put it off and cripple my ability to calculate decisions when I can’t readily access current data. This year, I’m resolving to hire a local accountant to handle our books so that I can concentrate on strengthening our business in the ways for which I have a true talent. You can’t be an expert in everything; use your energy to be a better expert in areas in which you naturally excel and hire an expert to take care of your weaknesses.

This stage in your business’ growth may be just as difficult for staff. Bringing in outside help to evolve your business can create friction among veteran staff who may view it as intimidating or insulting to their efforts. Our first autumn of operation, Maeva’s was growing faster than our infrastructure could handle. Our lead barista was appointed as a stop-gap Operations Manager to help manage ordering, scheduling, and shop duties. The position was set out at the start as a temporary one and she disliked the responsibility overall. And yet, when it was time to hire an actual Operations Manager- her feelings were mixed. Going back to her position as lead barista sounded as much a relief as a demotion and our shop dynamic was never the same

Just as an owner should understand if not be able to perform all aspects of a business, there should be an outline, if not a staff member trained, to perform the vital processes the owner oversees. If you intend on selling your business through traditional avenues rather than coaching someone to operate it in your stead, make sure you not only have a process manual in place but have trained your staff in how to take care of each of your responsibilities.


Instilling a Vision Beyond Yourself

The first time a business changes hands it takes an incredible risk in failing due to loss of direction. Great companies are built by great leaders; you’ve worked to instill your passion in your work and your staff. Corporate examples abound- Apple’s struggle with the loss of Steve Jobs or Starbucks bringing back Howard Shultz after the company was on the verge of failure. Small companies face the same challenge.

Create a vision for your company and coach your staff to follow that vision- not you. The vision of your business should be a permanent, core reason for its existence, the foundational value supporting every decision made during its life. Maeva’s vision is to bring quality coffee and revolutionary community to our neighborhood. The strategy for achieving this beyond my time of leading her is highly entrepreneurial; I seek to create a culture of collaborative staff, teach them how to listen to the needs of our community, and give them the confidence and power to make decisions regarding those needs.



Like every small business, Maeva’s Coffee has been a deeply personal venture. More than just time and money, she is a product of the talents and personalities of its owners, staff, and the community she serves. It’s my responsibility and privilege to do everything possible to ensure whomever comes after me steps into a strong culture and every available resource to take her beyond my own abilities. This duty guides my current operating decisions but also insures her financial stability and success- ultimately allowing her to fund the creation of new ventures in our community.