Why Branding is A Big Deal for Your Coaching Biz (and what it is in plain English)

branding-is-a-big-deal

Branding, branding and more branding! Do your eyes go a little crossed when you hear the word? Yea, me, too! 

Apparently, though, some of you fabulous folks aren't quite sure what branding is or why you should care about it. So, I'm going to try and shed some light on the topic again, but this time, I'm going to try (with "try" being the operative word, ok?) to explain it in a way that makes sense to a normal human being, as opposed to someone who's eyeball deep in this stuff 24/7. 

What is my BRAND?

So, to start, what the heck is my brand, anyway? To sum it up: your brand is who you are and how you show up in your biz and in life. It's what makes you different from everyone else and their sister. It's your reputation, bad or good. It's what you're known for.

One of my favorite branding quotes is from Jeff Bezos (sorry if you're  not a fan, but it's a really good quote!):

@@Branding is what other people say about you when you're not in the room. -Jeff Bezos@@

Target's a good example of how branding can make what could be a ho-hum mass-merchant a relatively-cool retailer. Target's marketing folks have clearly put a ton of time, money and energy into convincing us that their store is the place to go for hip, fun, relatively well-designed stuff at a low price point. People go to Target for everything from clothes to batteries, and they do it because they think most of the design-based items (clothes, shoes, housewares, stationery, etc.) are going to look good when they get them home. They might not last forever, but while they last, they're going to be fun and functional, and you didn't spend a ton on them, so ... Plus, you can get a mocha latte from the Starbucks that's on site, too! It all works together to send a very specific message about shopping being fun to people.

Walmart carries a lot of the same products as Target, right? But Walmart hasn't developed the same image that attracts people looking for cool and fun products. Instead, they've really focussed on the low price aspect, so they've got an entirely different customer base that cares more about value. They don't give a hoot whether they're having fun or not. 

In a nutshell, even though both Target and Walmart carry a lot of similar products, they have super different brands - or reputations in plain English.

For a one-person, online coaching biz, your brand is way more personal because your business, when it comes right down to it, is you. Sadly, you don't have loads of different departments doing all of the work. Instead, you're everything from customer service to marketing to bookkeeping and service provider. So, it makes sense then that how people see your business is all about you and your personality. And things like whether you're super structured or more loosey-goosey with your intake process, whether you keep it to the here and now or go more woo and intuitive with your clients, whether your hair is purple or not, whether you drop an f-bomb here and there - all of those kinds of things make up your identity (another good word for brand, right?).

Ok. So what's BRANDING then?

Branding is when you consciously work to get people to think about your business in a certain way or try to create a certain reputation for yourself. It might sound a bit sinister, and I suppose it can be with big businesses, but when it comes to all of you stellar solopreneurs out there, it's mostly a lot of being yourself and doing things the way you do them (unless your business isn't aligned with who you are, in which case you might need someone else's help).

There are lots of ways to go about developing your reputation. You're doing it when you write blog posts, speak in someone's Twitter chat, post to your social media profiles, send a potential client an email, bill an existing client, welcome a new client, and ... I can keep going if you want, but you probably know where I'm headed.

Truthfully, just about everything you do in your business is branding in some way, shape or form. It might not all be super strategic or conscious, but it all contributes to how people think about you and your business. In fact, we do a lot of it pretty unconsciously.

Finding out that your reputation's taken a nose dive or wanting to up your game are good reasons to start making more conscious decisions that will shape the way people see and think about your business.  

Visual branding is one way to do that.  

What's VISUAL BRANDING, then? 

Well, it's not plain English, that's for sure, so I'm using "look" in an effort to keep it a little more real for normal people. When you create your business look, you use design (shapes, images, type, colors, layout, etc.) to get a certain message across. That's visual branding. Ideally, whoever designs your business' look will do it pretty carefully and thoughtfully, knowing that every element needs to back up your end goal, which is to get across that you and your business are some fantastically positive quality that you . 

The "look" of your business includes any and all imagery, graphics, designs, fonts, etc used with your logo and on your website, biz card, social media profiles/posts, invoices, worksheets, etc. and how it all works together to get people to see you in a certain way. 

DO I REALLY HAVE TO THINK ABOUT THIS STUFF?

Yeah, you do, because, as they say, "A picture is worth a thousand words." And it's true. Humans are super visual. We absorb information way better through our eyes than through any of our other senses.

@@90% of information sent to the brain is visual, and your brain processes visuals 60,000 times faster than text. And people remember pictures better. Three days after hearing a nugget of info, you'll remember only 10% of what you heard. If an image that has something to do with said nugget was with the info, you'd remember 65% of it.@@ 

Seriously - that's huge for online businesses! When you try to tell someone who you are and what you do verbally (like in a video) or in writing on a website, it's going to take that someone longer to absorb what you've said. And since most folks these days make fairly quick judgements about pretty much everything - it only takes 50 milliseconds (.05 seconds) for people to decide whether they think your website is super duper or just so so, whether to stay or go, whether they're buying what you're selling, etc. -  time is of the essence!

And you can definitely record a video of yourself and post it wherever the heck you want, but you can't be everywhere every time a potential client is looking for what you've got.

So, what do you do? You get a logo and website that say something about who you are, so potential clients can see what you stand for without you actually standing there. Which is a good thing, right? Because if you had to be there 24/7 so people could get a sense of you, you'd never be able to actually do the work you love to do. You'd have to spend all of your time out networking and talking to people. It'd be exhausting! As an uber introvert, I'm exhausted just thinking about that. 

HIRE A DESIGNER OR DIY?

Honestly, whether you can get away with doing it yourself totally depends on where you are in the life of your business and where you're trying to go with it. Just starting out - sure! Hoping to make 6 figures - probably not. 

Loads and loads of people start out doing it themselves and are successful, and you probably can be, too. In fact, in a lot of ways, it's a good idea to wait until you've really nailed down what your business vision is before you invest in having someone design your visual identity for you. 

Some businesses are even wildly successful with lousy logos (which is not to say that YOUR diy logo is lousy). Google's a great example. Their logo is pretty bad, in my opinion. But clearly is isn't hurting their bottom line one bit! 

But Google was in the right place with the right thing at the right time. And if you've got something that's going to blow the world's socks off, you could very well be successful with a less than stellar logo and website, too

The unfortunate reality though is that even if you're a rockstar coach doing killer work, you're swimming in an ocean of other folks who do good work, too. And at some point, you might want to play on a bigger field, which will require getting people to realize you're out there and take notice of what you've got going on! And it's hard to do that without putting some serious thought and time into customizing the details of both your logo and website. If you don't, you might blend in with a lot of other folks or accidentally communicate the wrong message. It's not rocket science, but it's not finger painting either.

In addition to just trying to get noticed, you might also want to make sure the right people are noticing you. You might decide your client base isn't quite what you want it to be or that you want to move from life coaching to business coaching or you want to increase your prices significantly.

To get noticed by the right people and make sure they get the right message, your logo and website need to say something pretty specific about who you are, what's unique about you, and how you can help people.   

And to do that, you need to pay attention to and carefully craft most, if not all, of the details of your business' look. There are loads of decisions to make!

When I design for my clients, I noodle around with a ton of itty bitty aspects of each element. I question all sorts of things like:

  • Should the logo include just type or type and a mark? Or will it be more like a badge or crest?
  • If it's just type, should it be handwritten or typeset?
  • If it's handwritten, what style of handwriting will it be? (This alone can be a rabbit hole of decisions!)
  • If it's typeset, what type of font should I use? Fonts can communicate so many different things!
  • Will I need to adapt the selected font somehow?
  • If I'm using imagery, what imagery should I use?
  • Will the lines of any artwork be crisp and clean or more hand drawn?
  • What types of colors do I want to use? Bright and energizing colors or soothing and calm colors? More primary colors or slightly off colors that say something more edgy?
  • What fonts should I use to accompany the logo? A round and casual font? A condensed and tall font? Serif (like Garamond) or san-serif (like Ariel)?
  • What weights of the selected fonts do I want to use? 
  • All caps, sentence case or all lower case?
  • Will I center the copy for a more conservative feel or left justify everything to feel more progressive?
  • Do I want the copy to have lots of letterspacing for an airy and open feel or should I use the font's defaults for a more cozy feel?
  • Should I create a pattern to act as a background on the website, or do we want to keep it really spacious and clean feeling? 
  • If we use a pattern, what kind of pattern?
  • What kinds of imagery should we use? Mostly photos or illustrations, too? 

It goes on and on, and, truthfully, I love every minute of it! But I've been doing it for years, and it's what I get paid for, and I can figure out how best to say what my clients' want to say without pulling my hair out (just some).

But if you're a coach who gets paid to help people through one-on-one or group programs, dealing with all of those details might be maddening and ridiculously time consuming. And your time might be better spent improving your client experience or answering questions in Facebook groups or even creating your own Facebook group. 

So, yeah, at some point, you should probably hire a designer. Just be sure to hire a good one who's style you like and who knows what she's doing. Because this stuff really is important. 

If you're wondering if maybe it's time to up your game with a new look, I've got a handy little quiz that might help you figure it out.