What if growing your small business didn’t have to be a guessing game?

It was supposed to be fun in that financially-independent way. Only now, your small business has burned a hole in your pockets, credit cards and your self-esteem.

You feel far from independent.

In fact, you feel totally at the mercy of your next customer. Spinning your wheels on the latest marketing advice that you read online with no results to show for it.

Even when you have a sales spike, your customer retention rate is low. You’re just not able to keep the momentum going.

If you’re like most fledgling entrepreneurs, the issue may likely be that you lack clear direction. But that is what strategy is for.

There is a better way. Of course there is.

What if you knew exactly which opportunities to take advantage of to scale your business, or what advertising medium will work for you? Imagine if you knew exactly what new product or service to offer to your customers?

As a business owner you may have come across brand strategy but maybe was unsure of how to use it in your business. Or even if it was worth it.

We usually associate brand strategy with multinational corporations who sell their products and services by the millions. Yet it is applicable to small businesses too. Think of it as getting to the core of your enterprise from which the rest of your business emanates. Like a starburst or inclining spiral.

Influencing customer perceptions

If branding is about influencing customers’ perception of your business, tapping into the psychology of the consumer to form authentic relationships with them, then brand strategy is about designing it from the inside out.

Once you have defined your brand, it lends clarity to marketing and operational decisions. You’ll know where and how to reach your customers, what to offer them and how to get them coming back for more.

Steps to creating an effective brand strategy for small businesses:

  1. Define your brand identity by answering these questions:
    • Who are we?
    • What we hope to achieve – the impact our business will make on the lives of our consumer. It doesn’t have to be world-changing. It just needs to make a difference to the consumer, no matter how small.
    • What are our values? These are not traditional values like honesty, integrity etc. Think of what is important to you as the owner and why you started your business. Is it Freedom? Helping others? Improving customer service? It will be unique to you and your business.
  2. Who is your typical customer?
    • Imagine the type of person your business serves best. Write down everything from their age, likes, dislikes, job, family life and what problems they have. Bonus points for defining problems they have that your business solves for them.
  3. Define your brand position.
    • This is the perspective your customers will have of your brand. This is your chance to directly influence it.
    • The easiest way to do this is to write down all the things you want your customers to think of when they think of your brand. If you’re the proud owner of a restaurant, when customers think of your restaurant do you want them to think of fine-dining or family friendly? Affordable or atmospheric? There are no wrong answers here. It is all up to you. Make sure you dig deep.
  4. Put it all together in a strategy framework.
    • Write a paragraph for each of the following:
      • Your typical customer
      • What the main problems are that you can solve for them?
      • What does your competitors offer that doesn’t meet customer expectations?
      • How is your business different from the competition?
      • How will your typical customer feel once your business has solved their problem? This is not the actual product or service features. This will be the emotional benefit the customer will have once they have purchased from you.

This is a good starting point for small business owners in any industry, from authors to zookeepers, to think about brand strategy. Once you know your typical customer, you know where to find them and how best to market to them and serve their needs. And more importantly, you’ll know how to create an authentic relationship with them for the long term in a way that builds trust and that elusive customer-loyalty.

Post sponsored by Intelligrowth Consulting – my consulting business – I help purpose-driven entrepreneurs achieve strategic growth.

The Two Types of Motivational Pressure

Most people can set goals. Sometimes we go on to achieve them. Then there are times when we struggle with motivation and persevering through the obstacles that inevitably pop up.

When that happens we tend to blame ourselves and we either push through or fall through. If you manage to push through and keep the momentum going then, good for you!

But if you fall through with your plans to achieve a particular goal, the emotional aftermath can trigger a downward spiral. The shame and guilt knocks your confidence and the next time you pursue a goal it will take even more willpower and blind faith in yourself. And you’re not even sure you still have those.

If this happens once or twice, I’d say to just plough on through that resistance. If falling through with your goals tends to be a consistent result, then it may be time to pull back and get back to the drawing board. (Or vision board.)

Achieving goals is meant to be challenging.

It’s part of the growth process of shaping you and your reality. However, if you have less and less motivation surrounding a particular goal causing you to release the pressure on the gas pedal, maybe it isn’t entirely your fault. It may not be that you didn’t try hard enough or that you didn’t rise up to the challenge.

It all begins with our why.

Why set goals in the first place? Probably because we want to achieve something. But what if we were motivated by something other than what is true to us? What if the goals we set for ourselves were borne out of a need to fit in, or please others, or be accepted, or a desire to be loved? What if these goals didn’t originate from an authentic place within us?

Think of motivation as a natural consequence of either external pressure (like stress resulting from financial troubles that prompt you to work two jobs or launch a business) or internal expansion.

Internal expansion is what happens when you feel inspired, curious, creative, energetic.

It’s energy rising within you and then expanding outwards exerting pressure on everything else, prompting you to take action. It makes you want to do that little bit more. Dig deeper than before.

It isn’t as extreme as fleeting inspiration, that rush of adrenaline at the beginning of something new. Motivation arising from internally expanding energy is more balanced, never aiming to build Rome in one day.

Have you ever attempted something just out of interest and not out of pure ambition? You were not invested in a defined outcome but you were just ready to try something different? Maybe it was a cooking class, a gardening course or starting to workout at the gym.

You followed the program and got great results! Or maybe it didn’t go as expected. It didn’t discourage you though, because something kept you going back to do more. You wanted to try again. Improve just that tiny bit. Then you know what this internally expanding motivation feels like.

Needless to say, of the two types of motivational pressure I’d much prefer to go with the second. It puts me in charge of the direction I’m going. As much as possible, I’m going to want to harness this kind of motivation.

Internal expansion only comes from being true to yourself.

There’s no other way. We can fake being curious about something that bores us to be polite, but it won’t carry us for the long term. We can experiment with creativity, but we cannot keep the creative juices flowing long enough for something that doesn’t stimulate us.

Even when it gets tough and we’re ploughing through those challenges, what gets us through it, is reconnecting with why we’re doing it in the first place.

So if your goals are forever on the horizon and you lack the drive to persevere through the challenges, then make some coffee and re-examine your goals. Ask yourself if it is something you truly want for yourself.

A good acid test

If nobody ever knew of your achievement, and you never earned a dime for it (money problems aside) would you still feel driven to figure out the challenges as they come? And would the achievement still be worthwhile to you?