In New York State, 99% of the businesses are small. That’s under 500 employees, which can seem like big business to the solopreneur or, what is being classified as micro-business (under 20 employees). Still, merely recognizing that small companies contribute to the economic landscape is a huge shift from the corporate mentality that governed decisions less than twenty years ago. Similar trends are occurring across the U.S. and around the world.
When the White House Conference on Small business convened (these events were held in 1995, 1986 and 1980), getting anyone to admit issues facing small business mattered was a significant accomplishment. Prior to that, small business owners were laughed at when they suggested policy decisions should include someone besides corporate giants at the table. Even consumers would scoff if you seemed small – forget about working from a home office.
Today, small businesses are accounting for all net new jobs year after year. Many of these statistics don’t even count one-person businesses. Who’s laughing now?
It’s no longer the behemoths driving the economy – or their strategic marketing spurring commerce. It’s us – the quick, agile, adaptive, relationship-focused and astute small business owner.
Small has a different playground
Even if you wanted to implement a mass-market, general appeal, traditional advertising strategy that sets a success target at 1% for conversions, you couldn’t. Small businesses don’t have the monstrous budgets needed to achieve reach. Why would you want to? Just ask Kodak how that’s working for them. Or General Motors. Or any other corporate giant who thought market share could protect them as they failed to bother keeping pace with consumer needs.
It doesn’t take a million dollar research budget to see consumers are looking to build better relationships with the businesses they buy from. Customer service, honesty, focusing on niche audiences, effective outreach, being real and offering a product or service that provides an answer to an unmet need is all you need to know to answer the question,’ how to sell’?
Branding is becoming more about who you are than how you present. Sure, it makes a difference if you take the time (or invest the money) to develop great materials that look good and express your message in compelling ways, but even ugly sites with horrible writing are gaining traction if the ideas are solid, the business owner is open and clients offer gripping testimonials. Consumers want to connect with people who are real.
It’s actually refreshing to see new trends in advertising where models are no longer photo-shopped gorgeous, pencil thin, and/or five-hour-a-day gym regimen buff. Personally, I still enjoy seeing those chiseled male physiques, but it doesn’t compel me to buy. Some of the giants are getting it. Most aren’t.
In branding today, one of the most important questions you can ask yourself is what you stand for. Forget about market trends, SEO terms, comparable company results and acclaimed branding techniques for a moment and consider what really gives you your charge. If you’re not truly passionate about your personal selling platform, it shows. Conversely, if you believe in what you’re offering and see how what you have can help others (help first, sell later), it’s likely you’ll succeed with determination and hard work. Word-of-mouth is the selling tool today. Impress enough people with how you deliver and you’ll be amazed at how many referrals come your way.
Your brand is you
It amazes me how many small business owners fail to put their name on their website. When people go to your about page, (or the author blog bio) they want to know who’s talking to them.
Times have changed. Today, people seek out businesses offering a face and a name accountable for product or service satisfaction. Focusing on fluff, image, secondary market research (primary’s good) and the latest (usually yesterday’s) fads for quick returns rarely works. Being insightful about what’s missing in the market (don’t ask your friends for feedback – go to your prospects), real, honest, trustworthy, flexible, responsive and a visible as a force willing to step in to ensure a good experience for prospects and clients is a better approach for prosperity.
I’ve built a number of companies over the years with professionally designed logos (I still recommend this), carefully and painfully crafted brand names and positioning statements with solid media and other strategic marketing outreach plans. Frankly, it hasn’t worked very well because clients and contacts refer to me, not the company.
So, why have I started using the Fulcrum Communications logo on posts? I could say it’s because it’s a strong image that visually imparts the leveraging concept we’ve carried through the firm branding over the past 23 years. The truth is, though, logging through hundreds of imagines with the added concern of potential copyright infringement isn’t worth the time and stress. People come to this blog for the words, not the pictures.
Of course, for other businesses, pictures can replace the words. If you’re selling an interesting product or you can tell your story best visually, take the time to capture your own images that showcase your work instead of going online for someone else’s.
The old ‘show don’t tell’ mantra is more pertinent today than ever. Consumers want to buy from people and companies they like. Putting yourself in the forefront begins the connection. Delivering beyond expectations starts the buzz. Crafting a brand that’s all about excellence through actions is the clincher. It matters less what you say. Today’s consumers talk about what you do.