This idea, the idea that our brand is a reflection of our earning potential, is not a new one. I'm not the first one to talk about it, believe in it or promote it, and I won't be the last.
The thing is, I really do believe it.
Strong brands make more money. Full STOP.
And you can call a brand anything you want. You can call it your photos, your design, your presence, your reputation. All of these things are elements of a brand, but the strength doesn't come from any one of these, and it doesn't really come from all of them put together.
I think this is one of those controversial ideas, that we don't "need" some of these things in order to be truly successful at running a business. And I mean that. There are probably thousands of businesses in the country that don't put their money into the outward appearance of their brand, even when the entire world is moving online, where your image is everything.
Those companies, the ones you never see in your newsfeed are building a brand in a more sustainable way. Through reputation.
Reputation is everything
Reputation is the true strength of your brand. Strip away the clever design, the curated feeds, the "persona" and what you get are people who either return your phone calls and do business the right way or people who talk shit about you when you're not in the room and smile at your face when they see you.
Think about it. When you think of the brands you love do you marvel at their ad copy? No. You Yelp their good service, you promote them to others, and you give them your business.
Now, that's not to say that adding those other visual elements isn't important (trust me… they are) but they mean absolutely nothing if you're doing your clients a disservice by practicing shoddy business practices.
So how do we cultivate a strong reputation for trustworthiness and loyalty?
Do the things you say you will do
I'll be the first to admit that this is one of those "adulting" principles that I still fail at from time to time. With family emergencies and the workload we put on ourselves, there will be times when we may miss the mark in this area.
The principle simply means, to the best of your ability, and with open and honest communication, you should be the kind of business that has follow-through.
Don't leave your clients hanging, don’t ghost your colleagues, don't flake on your commitments. Show up and make every effort to do what you agreed to.
Or… stop agreeing to so damn much. (me to me)
Communicate with vulnerability
The people we work with are human. Give them more credit for understanding and empathy and allow yourself to be as honest and forthright as you can. With kindness and respect being honest shouldn't be something to fear.
As someone who battles sometimes very extreme anxiety, I have found that being open about it has allowed me a lot of grace when I am imperfect. This vulnerability gives me the power to be easy on myself if I do have to cancel a meeting and it allows me to not give in to the urge to make excuses for myself, which in turn creates a reputation for accountability.
So that if you do miss a deadline, have to cancel a meeting, or back out of a project you can do it with integrity.
Provide the best quality of service and product that you can
As small business owners, there's always a possibility of having gaps in your workflow. You're only one person so there are going to be natural bottlenecks in your business until you get to a place where you can outsource them, streamline them or delete them altogether. But whenever and wherever possible you should be providing every level of customer service you have the capability to do.
Difficult client - 100% customer service Dream client - 100% customer service.
They may not love the work you did or the product you sold them, not everyone is a brand evangelist, but they will remember that in spite of that you treated them well, and gave them your best.
Invest in yourself Professionally
Never stop learning and working to expand your skill set. When you cultivate a thirst for more insight you gain a new perspective that allows you to problem solve in a more creative way.
This is the lifeblood of your business and brand strength. In order to stay relevant in changing markets and to master your craft, you must always come from a place of curiosity about what more you could learn from something.
That's not to say that you shouldn't allow yourself to own something you are already really good at, but that you should never allow yourself to think you've got no room for improvement. This is how we get trapped in self-criticism and doubt. We have become hyper-aware of our boundaries and haven't learned the key to taking it to the next level.
And finally, brand strength is built on consistency
Don't give up and change what you do every 5 minutes. Stop taking on so many side projects that don't feed into your core business, stop trying to be everything to everyone. Build a strong core brand and create loyalty and trust by nurturing it and continuing to put it out in the world.
I've had some ups and downs with my brand this past year. There's been a lot of evolution as I bring it more close to center, to the point that I've felt like I've fallen behind. (You know how we do) But I had to get really honest with myself and remind that inner critic that I've been doing this thing and I've not let it go. It may not look exactly the way it did in the beginning but it's still thriving and growing.
The strength of your brand is not the alignment of the brand identity to the brand messaging to the brand blah blah, it's the alignment of the values you live by and the courage to promote them.
Courage takes strength. Courage builds strong brands, and strong brands make more money.