Factors to Include When Planning to Launch a Business

In a recent 7 day span, I was invited to judge two pitch contests for entrepreneurs who had successfully completed a 13-week business plan writing workshop presented by a woman-centric business incubator and business development center that has operated in New England for 25 years (and is also an SBA affiliate). The entrepreneurs were either in start-up or scaling (i.e., expansion) mode.

I was excited to be a judge and privileged to meet nearly two dozen forward-thinking, focused, resourceful and determined women who expect nothing less than success and are taking decisive steps to bring it about. Based on the business concept pitches I heard, I encourage those who are evaluating whether to launch a business venture to include the following information:

  • Name and describe your product or service and the problem(s) it will solve
  • Identify your best customer groups and explain why those customers will pay for your product or service
  • Identify your primary competitors, list the competitive advantages that your product/ service possesses and explain why customers will prefer your offerings
  • Create a business model that outlines how you’ll acquire customers, where and how the product/service will be delivered and how the business will make money
  • Explain why you are qualified to make the proposed business successful
  • Develop a business strategy and marketing plan that includes:
    • sales and distribution strategy
    • pricing strategy
    • product positioning strategy
    • branding strategy
    • content marketing strategy strategies
    • social media strategy
    • PR and advertising strategy
  • Detail the business pre-launch and launch (start-up) costs
  • If investors or borrowing will sought, present a (realistic) break-even analysis and 24 month revenue projections (P & L and cash-flow)
  • Detail the potential investor return and the loan payback schedule

 

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Launch of the Hubble Space Telescope April 24, 1990

Figuring Out Your Brand

Recently, I presented a branding workshop for an SBA-affiliated business development organization that primarily assists women entrepreneurs to launch and build companies (of any size) that are groomed to succeed.  Identifying and communicating a company’s brand, that is reputation, is of critical importance because that is how customers current and potential connect with the company and its products and services.

But really, how do company founders figure out the brand? How much is determined by the company founder and how much by the customers? Consider the case of Timberland.

Timberland is the originator of those ubiquitous mustard pyellow boots that have been worn by men in the construction industry since about 1970.  But 20 years later, New York City hip-hop style icons became obsessed with the boots.

Well known rap music stars regularly appeared on stage and in videos  wearing a pair of humble, utilitarian Timberlands. The boots are the antithesis of chic and so they became chic.  A hip-hop performer named himself “Timbaland” and became one of the biggest names of the art form. Timberland boots now symbolized authentic urban cool.  Its brand identity changed forever.  The company recently launched a “Brooklyn Collection.”

I am writing this post just a week after the branding workshop that I presented and I regret that I didn’t have access to the information I share with you today.  Stephen Greyser, Professor Emeritus at the Harvard Business School and Matts Urde, Associate Professor at Lund University School of Economics and Management in Sweden, created what they named a Corporate Brand Identity Matrix, shown here, to help us identify and communicate our brand:

VALUE PROPOSITION
What are our key offerings, and how do we want them to appeal to customers and other stakeholders?
RELATIONSHIPS
What should be the nature of our relationships with key customers and other stakeholders?
POSITION
What is our intended position in the market and in the hearts and minds of key customers and other stakeholders?
EXPRESSION
What is distinctive about the way we communicate and express ourselves and makes it possible to recognize us at a distance?
BRAND CORE
What do we promise, and what are the core values that sum up what our brand stands for?
PERSONALITY
What combination of human characteristics or qualities forms our corporate character?
MISSION AND VISION
What engages us (mission)? What is our direction and inspiration (vision)?
CULTURE
What are our attitudes, and how do we work and behave?
COMPETENCES
What are we particularly good at, and what makes us better than the competition?

In addition, Greyser and Urde recommend five (5) guidelines as you conduct your brand identity process:

  1. Be concise

Use short phrases in your answers that can become headings, where you will later write more detailed descriptions that flesh out your brand identity and narrative.

2.  Be straightforward

Keep your answers clear and uncomplicated. Avoid jargon and industry-speak. Adopt a down-to-earth style that tells the story in just a few simple, well-chosen, words.

3.  Seek what is representative or characteristic

Use language or concepts that say “this is us.” Describe the essence of you, your products/ services, your company.

4.  Stay authentic

Be honest in your ownership and expression of the aspects of your company, products and/or services that are already firmly rooted in the minds of your customers and community in which your company operates.  In other words, if the company has always been known for traditional values and a conservative approach, don’t try to appear cutting edge.

5.  Seek what is timeless

Brand identity should be long-lasting. Despite validation by the hip-hop crowd, Timberland boots are still humble, practical footwear that can be worn in any weather.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Hip-hop legend Biggie Smalls (1972 – 1997) circa 1995

Building Credibility: A Brand Advancement Ad Campaign

Freelancers know that silence = death and visibility promotes business viability.  To that end,  we craft an expert elevator pitch to serve as our verbal package and take that on the road,  hoping it will open doors for us.  We position ourselves as experts by speaking,  teaching,  attending conferences and writing a newsletter or blog.  We attend selected networking events and business association meetings so that we can connect with prospective clients and colleagues.

The next step in this process is to upgrade visibility to credibility,  for that is the way to convert prospects into clients.  As you brainstorm strategies that might advance your  brand and build credibility,  examine the benefits that a print media campaign can deliver. 

Print media are still very much with us and I would argue,  still effective,  despite significant inroads by the various (and sometimes free) online media.  Print ads can be costly,  but if you can find the budget,  this option can be worth your while.  Begin to assess your priorities:

1.  The objective.  Decide what you would like to accomplish.  Do you want to establish credibility among clients and B2B peer referral sources?  Are you announcing a new product or service?  Do you want to stimulate business within a new target market?

2.  The audience.  Who must you reach to accomplish your objectives? Which publications are read and respected by that audience?

3.  The budget.  Visit publication websites and peruse the rate cards.  See also the demographic data:  circulation,  distribution,  special issues that might benefit your  objectives,  etc.  What size ad can you afford to place for how many times during the year?

Additionally,  you may decide to mail a postcard to a professional group to which important clients belong—if you can obtain an address list.  Mailings are expensive,  although printing costs have dropped dramatically over the years.  It is possible to mail at bulk rate,  which is much slower but much cheaper.

Placement

If you belong to a chamber of commerce or similar business association,  consider advertising in its newsletter (whether print or online), which will be published at least quarterly.  Ad rates are typically reasonable and it’s usually read by members.

If your objective is to build your credibility among colleagues and therefore stimulate B2B referrals,  and/or to announce a new product or service,  this will be an excellent ad placement choice.  Newsletter advertisements are a great way to remind fellow members of who you are and what you do.  When you attend association events,  it is likely that colleagues will mention your ad and ask questions about your business.  Referrals could follow. 

It may also be possible to place ads in the newsletters of professional associations to which clients belong.  Whether your objective is to enter a new market,  announce new products /services or build credibility,  these publications likewise make excellent ad placement choices.

Depending upon your target market and budget,  neighborhood newspapers or the local business newspaper will also provide excellent ad placement options that will help you to achieve your brand advancement and credibility building objectives.

Message

Whatever your objective,  remember that there is power and elegance in simplicity.  Express your product and service features,  benefits and tagline (if you have one) using terminology that will grab your audience.  Use clear and compelling language that sells your core services and portrays you as a competent and reliable professional.  Use that refrain in all ad placements.

Design

Hire a professional (or a student) to devise a good visual concept,  even if your ad will be text-only and business card size.  Your ad must look sleek and professional—just like you!  The style of your business card will be the starting point for the development of a graphic style for your ad.  Use the colors,  logo (if you have one) and graphic look in all  ad placements.

Frequency

Consistency is key in advertising:  the message,  graphic style and frequency of the ad must be repeated again and again.  Studies have shown that ads don’t register with the target audience until they have been seen at least three times.  Budget your ad placements to appear several times throughout the year,  at least bi-monthly.  One time only ads are a waste of money.  It is better to appear in one publication 4-6 times a year than in two publications 2-3 times a year.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

  

 

Your Personal Brand Part II

Here we are, back to continue talking about how to increase your perceived value in the marketplace by building a strong brand identity.

Maybe you created a SWOT matrix and listed attributes that make clients hire you and also weak areas that may give some clients pause? Perhaps you’ve taken stock of some major challenges that you face, but have also uncovered some opportunities to pursue?

I hope you’ve made a serious examination of services your clients actually need or think they need (not necessarily the same thing, as you know). You must be able to address their objectives in the story– the brand narrative–you’ll create to establish yourself as the go-to guy or gal who is an expert, a trusted adviser who can get the job done.

PACKAGE and PRESENT

You provide an excellent product (I know you do. That’s why you read this blog!). You owe it to yourself to showcase your talents by packaging your value proposition with care and flair.  Communicate your unique competencies in ways that decision makers will perceive as conferring benefits to them.  Express your professional credentials to differentiate yourself from the competition in ways that clients value.

In other words, don’t tout the fact that yours is the only store that offers bubblegum flavored ice cream if no one really wants it.  Of course, if customers suddenly decide they love the stuff, then you’re golden!

When you’ve crafted a brand narrative that works for you, because it appropriately grabs the attention of your target audiences, spread the good news in a variety of ways that are consistent with your brand.

Showcase your accomplishments and get yourself some speaking engagements, get on a panel or two, propose and lead workshops. You are a well respected expert in your field and you must help the right people get to know and trust you.

Familiarity will work to build trust in your abilities. Trust in your abilities will bring requests for your expert advice and referrals.  Referrals are yours to convert into loyal customers.

Take pains to develop a strong and consistent brand narrative and communicate this message to whomever can help you further your business interests.

ON LINE BRAND  STRATEGY

Type your name and your company name into a couple of search engines.  Are you there? What information is listed? Does it present an accurate impression of you?

Make sure that your brand identity on line is in synch with how you verbally package yourself.  If there is a disconnect, work to fix it.  Create a visible and flattering on line presence.

Create good profiles in the 2.0 media that support your brand identity and strategy.  Be careful posting aspects of your personal life if using the more social media. You wouldn’t want anything to be misinterpreted by clients and prospects.

SYSTEM UPDATES

Finally, remember that your personal brand, like your life, will continue to evolve and will never be static (at least not if you’re doing it right!). Branding is an ongoing endeavor.

As your professional achievements expand and become more sophisticated or specialized and as changing business environments impact your clients’ needs, your brand narrative will change with the times.  Freelancer, I know you’ve got what it takes to roll with the punches!

More later,
Kim

Kim presented the workshop “Your Personal Brand” at the Center for Women & Enterprise in Boston on July 14, 2009  http://www.cweonline.org