small business

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.