Branding and The Home-Based Business

Every business has a brand, or image or identity, by which it is known to its customers. The brand is the combination of all of the big and little things that sets a business apart and that conjures up an image of the business in the mind of anyone coming in contact with it. When I think of the retail chain Target, the brand I see is not the red target logo, but a pleasant shopping experience in brightly lit stores with well-displayed merchandise and fast checkout lines. The brand image compels me to shop at Target rather than at some of its competitors.

A brand can include how merchandise is displayed, logos, signage, cleanliness and conditions of company vehicles, how the phone is answered, how neatly dressed employees are, and much more. Everything a customer sees, smells, hears, and touches, about the business contributes to a positive or negative perception of the business.

As a single-person home-based business, what is your brand? Sloppy personal appearance, a messy car, cheap-looking business cards and plain-paper brochures present a low-quality image that may make potential customers apprehensive of doing business with you. If you’re smartly dressed, armed with high-quality material, and project a positive attitude you create an upbeat image, as someone with whom people will want to deal. You might even be perceived as representing a much larger and more successful business than you actually have!

I attended a party hosted by the managing partner of a start-up company in which she unveiled her new enterprise to Cleveland. The party was held in the fabulous new and high-tech central Cleveland visitor center where everyone felt welcome and the food and wine were wonderful. High quality brochures and business cards were on tables everywhere. She gave a warm welcome and demonstrated her newly released website. It was hard to imagine from the branding at this event that hers was just a fledgling company with no employees!

Personal brand
What is your personal brand? Each of us forms an image of ourselves with what we say, how we say it, what we do, how we dress, and how we present ourselves to everyone with whom we come in contact. As small business owners our personal brand may be indistinguishable from our company brand. If we spent thousands of dollars on a logo, had the best graphic artist in town design our website, and have a unique product, none of that will matter if personally we come across as unkempt, or if we do not communicate well.

So, how do you improve your personal brand? You start by looking in the mirror to try to see yourself as others see you, or better, as you want others to see you. Do you exercise and eat well to keep in the best of health? Is your hair neatly trimmed? Are your clothes well pressed? Do you exercise good personal hygiene? Are your shoes polished? Is your cologne or perfume not too strong? Do you look others in the eye when you speak with them? Do you really listen to what others are saying or are you too intent on what you are saying to others? Do you write personal notes? Do you keep your word? Do you follow-up? Is your car washed and polished and clear of trash? All of these, and more, work toward making a positive personal brand.

I heard of a consultant trying to land a contract. While he was in the client’s washroom, the owner went out to look at his car – which was full of hamburger wrappers and other trash. The result? No job.
Often a personal brand can be greatly enhanced by just a small invest-ment in a professional photograph for publicity, or a wardrobe addition, or a good shoe polishing!

Voice mail
How do people perceive you by the message and tone on your voice mail? Is your voice mail consistent with the professional image you are striving to portray?

A typical message such as “This is Bob Jones. I’m sorry I could not take your call. Please leave a brief message and I will get back to you as soon as possible,” prompts a response. But it does not instill in a stranger or a prospect any sense about who you are or build any anticipation about hearing back from you.
A voice mail message such as: “This is John Adams of Adams Photography where we make everyone look great. I really would like to talk with you, so leave a message and I will return your call before the end of day” conveys who you are and leaves the caller with a sense of excitement. The caller also knows that the call will be returned in a timely manner. (Of course, John needs to make sure he calls back by the end of day).

You may want to have several voice-mail messages scripted, each of which will tell something different about you while projecting the image that you want. Have associates and friends critique, so that once the mes-sage is on your voice mail you will be assured of always “being in brand.”

Dress code
I heard a talk by a very successful businessman whose business started in his home basement and has expanded to three warehouses. He explained that when he was working at home his family teased him because he dressed each morning in a suit and tie before heading to his basement office. He explained that first, he felt like he was really going to work when he dressed up, and second, that he never knew when he might get a call and would need to head out to visit a customer.

Consider how you dress. Is it appropriate for the type of business you are in or the types of customers you call on? It’s tempting in a home envi-ronment to go to work in pajamas and bunny slippers. This is fine, so long as you feel professional and efficiently get your work done. Many people feel better and are more productive if they dress for the part – even at home.

Company brand
When you are an entrepreneur your personal brand and business brand are nearly inseparable. Yet, your business brand needs to stand out to give potential customers reason to pay attention to you and select you over a competitor.

Company name/product name
What does the name you have selected for your company or product say? Is it memorable? Is it descriptive of your product or service? Is the name unique or is it apt to be confused with another brand? If the name is descriptive, is it too broad, or too narrow?

Be deliberate in selecting your business name. Make a list of all the names you can think of. Refine the list. Add to it and subtract from it until a word, name, or phrase pops out. Live with the name for a while. Try out the name with friends and family before actually deciding upon it. Often a made-up word can be a great name for your company or product and is often easier to trademark than an existing word.

You may want to contract with a graphic artist to design a logo for use on business cards, letterhead, and packaging. Make sure that you get the final logo as an electronic “jpeg” or “gif” file so you can apply it to documents you create on your computer.

Business card
One of the first impressions a person may have of you is your business card. You give it out at networking events, to prospects and other people you meet. Don’t overlook projecting your brand on your card. Consider that more people will see your business card than will see your brochures or possibly even visit your website.

Considering the immense impact your card can have, you must have it professionally produced. A graphic designer can help create a stunning card, and a printer can select quality paper and print both sides in color at a nominal cost.

Maximize the use of space on the card by using the back of the card for your mission statement or explaining what you do and why people should use your services. On the front print your logo, name and contact information, along with a short tagline highlighting your specialty.

Always carry cards with you and be ready to give them away. When handing out your card, treat it as an important object, holding it with both hands and giving it to the person with the back side of the card facing up (assuming you have had the back printed). The information on the back will often spark additional questions or comments. Ask if the recipient would like extra cards to give to friends or associates.

Other printed material
All printed material should reflect your brand and professionalism. If you need brochures or other printed items, have them designed by a creative marketing firm or graphic designer and printed in full color (known in the printing trade as four color). Brochures can be commercially printed at a reasonable per-unit cost for 500 or more pieces, but in smaller quantities color printing costs per unit can be quite high. For just a handful of brochures, consider printing with an ink-jet printer on thick high-quality stock such as HP glossy Brochure and Flyer paper or HP glossy Trifold Brochure paper. You’ll be amazed at how good they look. Don’t print on plain 20 lb. office paper, as you’ll be disappointed by the unprofessional appearance. If you plan to print your own brochures, do let your graphic designer know that you’ll be printing from your computer.

Have your designer create a letterhead word-processing template you can use for your correspondence. When printing letters and envelopes, use 24 lb. high-quality paper made with cotton content. Your designer can help you select a paper style and grade that will work well for you. Buy matching envelopes.

Your website may provide the first, and possibly only, impression of your business. The fantastic thing about websites is that they are great equalizers. If you have an interesting, professionally designed, well-executed website, you will be seen as competitive with any other company, no matter how large or small. Interview several web designers to find one who understands your vision, whose other websites you like, and who will provide work at a suitable budget. Work closely with your designer to assure that your site makes the impact and reflects the image you want to portray.

Avoid glitzy bells and whistles many web designers like to include, un-less they are really necessary in projecting who you and your business are, as they often detract from the message.

Business Environment
Aside from your dress and grooming, your home makes the strongest and most intimate statement about you and your image. If people visit your home for business purposes, make sure that what they see is consistent with your brand. The home must be in good repair with the lawn and landscaping well trimmed. Make sure the children don’t leave toys scattered around. Your office space should be well organized, nicely lit, and free of clutter. Prevent meeting interruptions from children or loud noises by advance planning with your family.