Optimizing Brand Growth Through Interrogation
Just like with many things in life people tend to fall into patterns. Levels of comfort that lead to stagnation and inevitably prevent us from succeeding. This scenario rings true very often when we are an entrepreneur. When we begin our business venture we are filled with optimism and a “take on the world” attitude. Depending on our personality type the inherent challenges that come along with any venture either make us push harder or leads us into self-doubt and strips us of the spark that created the fire.
Starting your own business is not easy. It is a gamble that takes a certain kind of person to succeed. Leaving behind the security of working for someone else to follow your passion and personal vision requires strength, tenacity, and intuition. Many times people achieve a comfortable level of success and feel it is good enough. Or they have fallen into a sort of psychological or intellectual rut in regards to their business. These questions are designed to make you think, to help you see where you are compared to where you want to be. They are to help you find your location and course correct if need be.
1. What were your goals when you began?
Revisit your initial goals and aspirations for your business. Try to go back and recapture that excitement and all those great ideas you had. Think about the timeframes you had created for it. Then match that to where you are now. This is not a reason to feel like you failed, this is a time to praise yourself for where you have succeeded. Ok, enough praise, now it is time to think about how you can up your game. Has your industry shifted since then? How many of these goals are still relevant, and which are even more relevant? Bring back the spirit of the fresh-faced entrepreneur, integrate that with the entrepreneur that has learned and has toughened up. Make a bucket list for your brand and start towards completion.
2. What is your Brand Identity?
What image does your brand identity convey? Is it dated or is it timeless? For customers to love your business, you have to have an image that captures their affection. Take a deep and critical look at your brand assets. Your logo, web presence, business cards, brochures all the way down to your storefront layout and uniforms. Colors, shape, and mood are crucial. All of these things mean something and convey something to customers. Does your branding appeal to your target consumer? If you created these things when you first started, think about who you had in mind as your target market. Now analyze and see whether you were incorrect in any way. Reinvention is a powerful asset. It is like a person getting a new hairstyle or buying a new wardrobe. Does your brand need an elevation?
3. What markets exist that you can tap into and grow?
When talking about falling into comfort zones, this can easily be a place where that happens. Successful businesses are never happy even if they are dominating one market. They are always looking to grow and tap into new markets. Mind you, you must keep within your industry to some extent. But there is no harm in experimenting with reaching out. If you are a restaurant that makes its bread and butter with dine-in. Try expanding your take-out strategy with a strong campaign and a mobile app for digital ordering. Or maybe start bottling and selling that special sauce that everyone raves about. There are many ways to branch out and monetize aspects of your business. Never stay stagnant. Brainstorm, experiment then analyze if it is working. If not, go back to the drawing board.
4. What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses?
Listen, none of us likes to admit to our weaknesses. Ego and pride aside it is important to regularly give an honest evaluation of your business strengths and weaknesses. This allows us to realize and reaffirm our strengths, and to take steps to negate the effect our weaknesses have on our business growth. Is one of your strengths having a great staff? Show them appreciation and reward. Maybe it is your better than average selection. Well then keep on the pulse to make sure you stay there. When it comes to weaknesses, the first step is realization. There is no shame in having faults. Every business, like every person, has them. To evolve we must see them clearly and work to improve. Do you have poor online reviews? Answer them when you can, kindly and compassionately. Offer them a free shot to come again. Are you not great at financial management? Hire someone to help take care of it and to get you on course. Knowing your limitations and appreciating your talents is important. For both business and for life.
5. How can you create better customer loyalty?
I have stated it in posts of the past, but it bears repeating. In the current and future business climate, anything but loyal happy customers will not suffice. It does not take much to impress and win over a loyal customer. And the long-term benefit far outweighs the time and expense of keeping people happy. 100 years ago when there was only one shoemaker in town and a customer couldn’t go online and order shoes from Zappos you didn’t have to worry much about customer loyalty. Loyalty was somewhat assured based on location and lack of options. Today there are thousands of options for any given marketplace. Now more than ever sales are driven by happy customers, reviews, and word of mouth. So many millennials check out reviews online, talk to their friends, and look at what people are saying on social media platforms to inform them as to your brand credibility. Think of ways to improve customer happiness while staying true to your brand image.
6. What are the parts of your business that you love?
An important aspect of staying passionate about your business is focusing on the parts that really resonate with you. Do you prefer the sales factor or the actual work? If you love the work and hate the sales, then find someone to handle the sales for you and focus on the part you love. If you are the chef of your restaurant and love cooking but don’t love the book-keeping and product ordering, find a manager to handle these. While it may increase your overhead, the trade-off is doing what you love and this will translate into more success. Allowing you the time to create better opportunities to think creatively and grow your business. I ask this of every client. What is it you love about your business? Then I help them find ways to increase the joy factor.
7. What sets you apart from your competition?
If you have a hard time answering this, well then you may be in trouble. The difference does not have to be in the product or service, it can easily be in the image or execution. What separates A from B. A good example was Borders Bookstore versus Barnes and Noble. I, personally, preferred Borders. Not for any difference in Brand Identity, because there really wasn’t much, but for the sections, I frequent they had a wider selection. On a fundamental level, they were too similar in nature and product. So eventually one of them won, and it was Barnes & Noble. If they had differentiated themselves more, they would probably still be around minus the destruction they faced from businesses like Amazon. If you do not know what sets you apart, figure out what you want to set you apart, and bring it to fruition. Edgier, classier better staff. These are all things that can make someone choose one over another. Look for any gaps in your industry and take full advantage before someone else does.
8. What were your biggest challenges, how did you learn from them?
Learning from your mistakes is a fundamental element in human growth. From my point of view, it is only a mistake the second time you make it. The first time it happens it is a valuable lesson. Make a list of your challenges and what you learned. These treasures should be at the forefront of your mind at all times. When I first started this business I started mentally counting on sales before I had a signed contract. Then when a client didn’t follow through, I learned my lesson. I used to start brainstorming on web design and research before I received the check. A client ran into personal financial difficulties and this was postponed. Lesson learned. Then I counted a project once the check came in when my first check bounced I learned again. Nothing is counted until it has cleared. Simple lessons but nonetheless these are mistakes I will never make again. So often people and businesses make the same decision and expect different outcomes. We need to keep in mind that the human condition is for growth and our intelligence and success are based on us adapting and learning.
Once you answer these questions and do some serious brainstorming you should be able to find a renewed passion for your business and a roadmap to success. My secret to growing and organizing is compulsive list-making. I make lists daily and they encompass many aspects of my business. We can’t remember everything. There is a great feeling of accomplishment when looking at a past list and seeing how much has been done. I wish you luck on the journey ahead!