Before you can get into the nitty gritty of how to present your business to the world visually, you’ve got to nail down what exactly your brand is. If you remember from my Brand & Brand Identity post, your brand is who exactly your are, what you stand for, what’s different about you and your business, and what people can expect when they interact with your business. Check out the full post for more information and branding term definitions.
STEP 1 | THE YOU OF YOUR BUSINESS
Whether you call yourself a creative entrepreneur, a small business owner, a blogger or a freelancer and whether you’re offering photography, wellness/life/fitness coaching, social media marketing expertise, copywriting skills, or virtual assistance to other business owners, there’s one thing that is for certain: who YOU are is an integral part of your business’ brand. Your own character and style can’t help but influence the personality of your business, right?
I, for instance, am a pretty down-to-earth straight-forward and structured kind of person, so it makes sense that when clients interact with my graphic design business, they usually get clean, honest, unfussy graphic design through an organized and methodical process. Were I a more flamboyant, stream of conscious kind of gal, the end product and the experience would be completely different for my clients.
It follows then that the very first step in the branding process is to take a look at yourself and identify who exactly YOU are. Describe your personality in a few sentences. List what your strengths are and what comes to you naturally. What brings you the most joy? How do you like to interact with other people? How do you like to work? And play?
Now, how do these personal traits of yours come to play in your business? Why did you start your business? What are your goals for your business? What is your business culture like? Can you describe your business in one word, and if so, why did you choose that word?
STEP 2 | DEFINING YOUR BRAND
So, now that you know who you are and how your business reflects that, let’s talk about how you can define your brand more clearly by defining your vision, mission and values. These three things are really the foundation of your brand and will allow you to build your brand voice and visuals in a way that makes sense and reflects who you are accurately.
Your vision is why your business exists (besides to make money) and will inform your mission and goals. Did you start your business to help other people overcome something you've overcome? Did you start it because you want to share a product you've created that will make people's lives easier, more fun, more fulfilling, more whatever? Are you a nutritionist who wants to help people have more energy and feel better by eating better? My Vision, for instance, is to use my design skills to help other small business owners achieve their entrepreneurial dreams.
Your Mission Statement is what you’re going to do to achieve your vision. Are you going to coach people in one-on-one relationships or are you going to create online courses that will reach loads of people at once? Are you going to sell your products online or in stores? Or are you going to write cookboooks? To use myself as an example again, my Mission Statement is to design logos, brand identities, and Squarespace sites that capture and communicate my clients’ brands in a way that is appropriate, compelling and attractive to their target audiences.
Your Values encompass your belief system and guide how you conduct your business. If you value seeing the humor in everything, you might try to keep your interactions with clients light and not too serious. If you value in-person contact, you likely meet with clients face-to-face as much as possible. Do you believe in providing value to your customers over absolute perfection? If so, your prices probably reflect this. Or do you value honesty and open communication? All of these things will drive how you create the products or services you sell and how you interact with your customers and vendors and are an important part of your business' brand.
STEP 3 | TARGET AUDIENCE
You can’t brand and market your business if you don’t know who you’re trying to reach, so this is another huge piece of building your brand. Defining your ideal client as clearly as you’ve defined who you are is imperative to making branding decisions. If your current clients are your ideal clients, you can work from the people you’ve served so far. If you’re trying to move away from that market, you’ll need to really think about who those folks are and what they might want and need. Why will they hire you? What are they looking for? How will they find you? Do they own businesses? If so, what kind of businesses do they own and at what stage of the business cycle are they? Are they just starting out, or have they been at it for a few years? Where do they spend their time physically and online?
Once you’ve started sorting out what your brand is exactly and what it stands for, you can move on to developing things like your voice, visuals and story, but it’s a good idea to spend some quality time building a really strong understanding of the essence of your brand. I’d even recommend letting it sit for a bit and then coming back to it a couple of times to see if it feels genuine and accurate to you. The last thing you want to do is to start developing your brand look only to find halfway through that your brand isn’t quite what you thought it was after all.