Managing

10 Tips to Help You Build and Grow a Stand-Out Small Business Brand

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: July 29, 2013 Updated: March 4, 2015

The United States loves small businesses – it’s official! That’s according to a survey by the Pew Foundation (reported here on SmallBizTrends) which found that 71 percent of Americans view small business more favorably than any other institutions, including religious organizations.

Why is this? Well, small businesses are seen as a positive influence “on the way things are going in this country.” But it’s more than that.

Small businesses are in a unique position to create valuable customer experiences. Their products and services are often niche; the target customer is very defined; and business operations are agile and unconstrained by corporate rules and processes. Small businesses are also trusted for their integrity, community engagement and customer service. When was the last time you called a small business and got put through to an automated call center? These seemingly small things come together to create a hugely competitive value proposition – and are the lynchpin of your brand.

But what can you do to leverage these experiences and grow the appeal of your brand – without breaking the bank? Here are 10 tips that can help:

  1. What is Your Brand?

First, it’s important to understand that your brand is much more than your logo, merchandising or products. As I mentioned above, it is about the sum total of the experiences customers have with your business. This includes the visual elements of your business, but it also includes what you do, how you do it, what your customer interactions are like, the type of information you share in your marketing and on social media. All these elements help establish the trust and credibility of your business.

  1. Stand Out

Standing out means being different. If your brand is going to be strong, you need to be able to pinpoint what it is that makes what you do unique. What differentiates you from others in your industry? Read 5 Tips for Using Competitive Differentiators to Build Your Business Brand. Don’t forget to weave your differentiators into your company’s messaging and marketing. Here are some tips for doing that: 7 Tips for Getting your Marketing Message Right.

  1. Have Great Products and Services

Word of mouth is often a small businesses greatest lead generator, so having great products and services that people talk about is a critical part of your brand and why you are in business.  Even the most outgoing and charming small business owner is not going to succeed in bringing customers back, unless the product or service they provide delivers and exceeds expectations. Don’t lose sight of your product – keep refining it, testing new offerings, and making sure you always put product first, not the money it brings in.

  1. Make Sure Your Customers Know the Face Behind the Product

One of the biggest reasons that small businesses fail is because of the persistent absence of the business owner. You only need to look at a few episodes of business makeover TV shows like Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares and Tabatha Takes Over to witness what can go wrong if a business is left to run itself. Without an actively engaged owner, employees lose motivation and structure, which can quickly lead to sloppy service, a poor product and customer churn. Yes, your business needs to be able to function without your constant presence, but it’s important to strike a balance – find ways to make sure your customers know you and connect with the face behind the business. Businesses really thrive when the energy of the owner is there.

  1. Get Your Name and Logo Right

This is essential to brand recognition and it’s important to get it right the first time (changing your name and logo can be costly down the road). Your logo and name should be easily recognizable and reflect the nature and tone of your business as well as appeal to your target market. I’m a dog owner, and two of my absolute favorite small businesses cater to pet owners – Woofies (my local provider of dog walking services) and Doggone Natural (a healthy pet food store). The names and logos of both these businesses reflect the personality of their brands, what they stand for, the products they offer, their market (people and their pets) and the overall tone of their businesses. When I see their logos, it makes me feel good; I feel an affinity with them – and that’s what you need to shoot for.

  1. Have a Distinct Voice

A great way to ensure your distinct brand message is delivered consistently across your business is to focus on how you and your employees interact and communicate with customers – in-person, on the phone and on social media. Not sure what your “voice” should be? Look to other brands. What do they do that you’d like to emulate? How do they greet and interact with you? What is it that they do that makes you feel good about doing business with them?

  1. Build Community Around What you Do

A successful brand is one that is trusted and respected by customers – building a strong community online and off can help you achieve this.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to do this. In fact, many successful brands concentrate almost exclusively in online and offline community building as opposed to traditional advertising. Facebook and Twitter are great outlets for this, as is your blog. Offline participation in community activities such as local events, fundraisers, charities, as well as hosting your own events such as workshops or loyal customer events, can all help you build community and extend the trust you’ve earned to your brand.

  1. Be an Advocate for Your Business – Not Just a Salesman

You don't have to be the greatest salesman to succeed in business. Selling takes many forms – and being a brand advocate gels them all together. For example, many small business owners strive to be the number one salesman, the number one cheerleader, and the number one fan of their own business (you’ve got to be excited about it if you want others to be excited too). If you are passionate about your business, be an advocate for it. Use many of the tips in this blog to make sure people understand what you do, the story behind your products, what your products have done for people, your methods and mission, and all that good stuff. Invite people in!

  1. Be Reliable

Letting your customers down by failing to live up to your own promises and brand standards can be particularly harmful for small businesses that depend heavily on referrals. The foundation of brand loyalty lies in great service – a happy customer is a loyal customer. So make sure you aren’t making promises that you can’t keep – whether you run a pizza business and pledge to deliver within 30 minutes, or are a painting contractor who promises to start a job on a Monday at 9:00 AM sharp. Stand by your promises.  

  1. Have a Value Proposition

Value, not to be mistaken with price, can help define your brand and differentiate you from the competition. This goes back to my second point about standing out. What niche do you serve? What do you do well in that niche that makes you different from everyone else? What are the emotional benefits of what you do? The answers to these questions will help define what your value is to your customers – it could be your great customer service, product quality, innovation, or any combination of these.

About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

Employer Actions after DOMA Dies

By BarbaraWeltman, Guest Blogger
Published: July 25, 2013

The federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman, has been declared by the U.S. Supreme Court to be unconstitutional. What does that mean for your business? Plenty, if you have employees. Here are some actions you should be considering now.

Basics

In light of the Court’s action, all married employees and their spouses are entitled to the same rights and privileges, regardless of gender. Who is married? This question is not easily answered. Is marriage determined by where the union took place (place of celebration) or where the couple now resides (place of residence)? Currently, thirteen states and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriages.

Tax rules usually are based on the place of residence. In contrast, immigration rules are usually based on the place of celebration. More clarification on how to determine whether employees are married is needed for employers, and is currently being developed by the IRS and other federal agencies.

Wage withholding

Same-sex married employees who have been treated for payroll withholding as single now have withholding allowances for married persons; they can no longer be treated as single. They may need to complete a new Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate to indicate their withholding allowances, which may differ from the number of allowances claimed when they were treated as single.

It is unclear at this time whether there is any retroactive impact on an employer’s payroll obligations. IRS guidance yet to come will provide some light on this point.

Complication: Depending on how marriage is defined (place of celebration or place of residence), it may be possible for an employee to be married for federal income tax withholding, yet single for state income tax withholding.

Retirement plan benefits

Spouses have certain rights in employees’ retirement benefits, including:

  • A joint and survivor spousal annuity (QJSA) unless the spouse waives this right. There’s a similar right for a spouse if the employee dies before reaching retirement age.
  • The need for consent to the employee naming anyone other than the spouse as the beneficiary of a 401(k) or other plan.
  • The need to consent to a loan by the employee from the plan.
  • Rights in plan benefits upon divorce.

Meet with your benefits advisor to determine which plan documents, if any, must be revised and other actions you’ll need to take to avoid any claims of discrimination. You may not have to take any action if your documents say “spouse” and you now apply the provisions to all spouses.

Other fringe benefits

Retirement plans aren’t the only fringe benefit that will have to be reviewed to ensure all spouses are given equal access. Plan documents and election forms may need to be revised. Other fringe benefits include:

  • Health coverage. If you offer health coverage to employees’ spouses, you must now extend this benefit to same-sex spouses. Marriage is viewed as a “change in status” that allows employers to add spouses to health plans during the year, rather than waiting until the start of the next enrollment period. However, if the marriage isn’t recognized in your state and the place of residence determines marital status, health coverage to such spouse could still be taxable to the employee (as it has been up to now). If you are subject to COBRA because you offer health coverage and have more than 20 employees, continuation coverage is available to all spouses.
  • FSAs. Unreimbursed medical costs of spouses can be covered through employees’ flexible spending accounts (FSAs).

Employment-related laws

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which permits up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave time for employees because of the illness of a spouse or dependent, must be applied with respect to all spouses.

Conclusion

Following the Court’s decision, the U.S. attorney general was directed to review the definition of marriage. The IRS is also expected to issue guidance soon.

 

About the Author:

BarbaraWeltman
Barbara Weltman

Guest Blogger

Barbara Weltman is an attorney, prolific author with such titles as J.K. Lasser's Small Business Taxes, J.K. Lasser's Guide to Self-Employment, and Smooth Failing as well as a trusted professional advocate for small businesses and entrepreneurs. She is also the publisher of Idea of the Day® and monthly e-newsletter Big Ideas for Small Business® and host of Build Your Business Radio. She has been included in the List of 100 Small Business Influencers for three years in a row. Follow her on Twitter: @BigIdeas4SB or at www.BigIdeasforSmallBusiness.com

Five Easy Ways to Safeguard Your Small Business Before Disaster Strikes

By Carol Chastang, SBA Official
Published: July 24, 2013 Updated: September 19, 2016

Eastern seaboard businesses continue their struggle to rebuild after Hurricane Sandy.  In terms of economic losses, the October 29, 2012 storm will be remembered as one of the largest natural disasters in U.S. history.

Many residents and businesses, particularly in the hardest hit coastal areas of New Jersey and New York, were caught off guard by the late-season storm.  In addition to the property destruction caused by high winds and flooding, power outrages created big headaches and huge financial losses for many small businesses.

Weather experts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are predicting an “active” 2013 Atlantic hurricane season.  The six-month season, which began June 1, typically peaks between August and October. Now is a good time to put a disaster preparedness plan in place to protect your employees and your business.

The SBA and Agility Recovery recently hosted a free webinar giving tips on how to prepare for Hurricane season.  But it doesn’t matter if you’re in the Gulf Coast or the Upper Midwest—all kinds of risks exist, and small businesses are particularly vulnerable. 

Go to this link to download the slides from the recent “Protect Your Business This Hurricane Season” webinar.  You can also view the recorded webinar at any time. You will need Windows Media Player 9 or higher.

Meanwhile, there are a few things you can do, at no cost, to jump-start your business continuity plan:

  1. Determine your greatest risk potential.  It might come from wind damage or the inland flooding that typically follows the tropical storm’s heavy rains.  Meanwhile, your business could suffer financial losses due to road and bridge closings in the aftermath of a hurricane.  Power outages are a major threat, especially to businesses in the food and hospitality industries. What would happen if you had to shut down your business for several days?  Look at the building where you do business—inside and out—and assess the risks. If you do this early enough, you’ll have time to do structural upgrades—like impact resistant doors and windows—that can prevent possible future storm damage.
  2. Calculate the cost of business interruptions for one week, one month and six months.  Once you’ve done that, you’ll be able investigate insurance options or build a cash reserve that will allow your company to function during the post-disaster recovery phase. It’s also a good idea to develop professional relationships with alternative vendors, in case your primary contractor can’t service your needs.  Place occasional orders with them so they regard you as an active customer. 
  3. Review your insurance coverage.  Contact your agent to find out if your policy is adequate for your needs. Consult with a business insurance expert to advise you on the right coverage for your situation. When buying insurance, ask “How much can I afford to lose?”  It’s a good idea to know the value of your property.  You also may want to look into flood insurance.  According to the U.S. Geological Survey, floods are the leading cause of natural disaster losses. Most property insurance policies don’t cover basement flooding. 
  4. Build a crisis communications plan so you’ll be able to make sure your employees, customers, vendors, and contractors know what’s going on.  Establish an e-mail alert system.  Make sure you have primary and secondary e-mail addresses for your employees, and everyone you do business with.  Create a Facebook page, and use Twitter to let the community know you’re still in business, and in the process of recovering after the disaster.
  5. Consider a Telework Policy.  Prepare for the possibility that employees won’t be able to get to work by developing an emergency telework policy.

Each month SBA and Agility Recovery hosts a free webinar providing business continuity strategies. The August 13th webinar will focus on useful tips for building your own disaster preparedness plan.   Space is limited so register now.

Related Resources

 

About the Author:

Carol Chastang

SBA Official

True story: planning vs. black swan disasters

By Tim Berry, Guest Blogger
Published: July 23, 2013

Imagine yourself in charge of a 40-person company, selling small business software, during the sudden crash of 2008. Your sales had been lagging a bit all year, but as the financial news blackened in late summer and early fall, your sales plummeted. September sales fell to 25% below the previous year, 30% below your planned level. October sales fell again. Within one short 10-week period, you found yourself falling from slightly profitable to below breaking even.

What do you do? Of course you cut expenses; that’s obvious. How to you decide what to cut?

And in this situation – The unexpected, unforeseen sudden plunge – how does a business plan help? Are you glad you have it – or is a plan, and planning, entirely wasted because it didn’t predict the disaster?

Back to the story. In this case (and I’m skipping names and details on purpose, because I don’t want it to be promotional), although the business plan was suddenly obsolete, it served as a key management tool for managing the crisis situation.

The plan in question had been developed almost a year earlier, for a company that had a fiscal year closing in September. However, it had been reviewed and revised monthly, so it was kept up to date.

That plan managed not just a strategy summary, but also dates and deadlines and responsibilities. And its projections included not just sales, but also cost of sales; and expenses including salaries, other fixed expenses such as rent, utilities and so forth.

Although the numbers in the plan became instantly obsolete when sales dropped, the relationships didn’t. The management team was able to use the plan vs. actual results to gauge the impact of falling sales, and then look ahead to the planned flow of expenses to decide what to cut.

One important insight that came from the plan was that many of the expenses fell automatically because they were variable expenses tied directly to sales or cost of sales. For example, some channel marketing expenses were contractually tied to channel sales, so some expense cutting was automatic.

Another important insight was that it would be possible to cut enough discretionary expenses to preserve financial health without cutting payroll. In this case, the company decided that losing people wasn’t a good idea. They liked the team in place and didn’t want to cut jobs that they’d have to recruit again and then train again a few months later, if the sales turned back up.

So the plan, with its up-to-date monthly revisions, operated like a dashboard. Turn one dial one way, another the other way.

Without a plan, it would have been a lot harder to look at connections and relationships between sales, expenses, marketing goals, discretionary and non-discretionary expenses, and adjusting for the sudden crisis. With a plan, the options were visible, and the decisions were easy to make.

About the Author:

Tim Berry
Tim Berry

Guest Blogger

Founder and Chairman of Palo Alto Software and bplans.com, on twitter as Timberry, blogging at timberry.bplans.com. His collected posts are at blog.timberry.com. Stanford MBA. Married 46 years, father of 5. Author of business plan software Business Plan Pro and www.liveplan.com and books including his latest, 'Lean Business Planning,' 2015, Motivational Press. Contents of that book are available for web browsing free at leanplan.com .

7 Marketing Ideas That Can Help Boost Your Profits this Father’s Day

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: June 6, 2013 Updated: June 6, 2013

Father’s Day is right around the corner, providing another opportunity for small businesses to reach out to customers with an incentive to visit their stores, restaurants or websites and make a purchase.

Who’s your target market? Wives, moms, children and even grandparents are all about to start thinking about gift giving and doing something special for the fathers in their lives. And they spend big; according to a National Retail Federation survey, the average person will shell out $117 on a gift for Dad – that’s $12.7 billion in total spending.

What gifts can Dad expect? According to the survey, special outings, such as golfing, eating out or heading to a sporting event, are the most popular ways to celebrate. Electronic gift items and apparel are also big draws. Gift cards are another favorite, followed by sporting goods, books or music.

Let’s face it: choosing the right gift isn’t easy. Dads can be tricky to buy for. So what can you do to help them out and make their choices easy and the day special for fathers everywhere? Here are seven Father’s Day sales and marketing tips to help you boost your profits – regardless of your business.

Make it Easy for Buyers

Dad has it all, right? So think of ways to help make the gift-giving choice easy for your customers. If you run a store or website, a gift guide is a great way to do this. Offer suggestions by price and/or interest and use emails, social media and e-newsletters to group and highlight inventory along the same lines that appeals to Dad (and perhaps more importantly, women – who are often the buyers this holiday).

Offer complimentary gift-wrapping too (and don’t forget to promote it) – this is a big time saver for busy moms. Online stores can offer free shipping or offer free upgrades (regular to expedited shipping) as Father’s Day draws nearer.

Make Dad’s Life Easier

Could you offer a Father’s Day special that frees up Dad’s time so he can spend more of it with the family? This is an idea that works best for service businesses. Get creative. For example, a restaurant could do a promotional tie-in with a local car wash, so Dad can enjoy a Father’s Day brunch and the gift of a car wash bundled in.

Give Dad a Reason to Visit Your Business – Indulge and Pamper Him!

Think of ways to entice dads into your store or business over Father’s Day weekend. This is something that can work for all types of businesses – from health care practices to hair salons. Offer a demo or complimentary service. For example, if a chiropractor could offer a free spine or posture evaluation – we all want our dads to be healthy, after all! If you sell technology or home / DIY goods, hold an open house and give Dad a hands-on demo of popular products. Offer an incentive to make a purchase in the next seven days.

Target Kids (and Mom)!

Kids are part of the buying decision, so think of ways to entice children into your store or restaurant. Whether it’s a special offer for kids who actually make a purchase using their own pocket money, or a special event or offering that attracts kids (and their parents) to your business – such as “kids eat free on Father’s Day,” or free giveaways for kids when mom makes a purchase.

Alternatively, look for ways to help Mom make a purchase while her kids have a designated play area, or vice versa!

Offer Something That Dad Can Do With His Kids

We tend to think of Father’s Day gifts as a treat for Dad that he can enjoy away from home (golfing, fishing, etc.). Be unique – offer gifts that Dad and the kids can enjoy together. It could be a class that they could take together or a discount on a combo product that Dad can enjoy with his kid(s).

Generate Buzz

Even if you don’t have specific Father’s Day specials, don’t pass over the occasion. Recognize the day in other ways. Host a contest on Facebook – ask your fans to submit their silliest Dad pictures or host a Dad-themed contest or raffle in your store.

Honor Dads Across Demographics

No one dad is the same. Some are overseas serving their country; others may be dads for the first time. Think of ways to honor these fathers. Develop a theme and make sure it runs through all your marketing and promotions.

About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

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