July 10, 2014
Introducing Something New To Open Source
Open source software is the future of our world. The power of the community has been clearly demonstrated and the opportunity to provide equality to businesses of all sizes has been shown. I’d like to share my latest endeavors with you and encourage you to join me.
Too often businesses are forced in to situations which limits their opportunity and their ability to succeed. Small businesses account for over 65% of all new jobs and more than 22.7 million small businesses existed (several years previous). Strikingly though of this dominant portion of the economy 80% average less than $50,000 in receipts. Small business is a struggle. More small businesses close than open each month and yet the struggle continues.
Small Business Confession
I’m part of a small business. I know firsthand the struggles faced and the challenges which exist in the day to day. One of the greatest concerns and frustrations I meet is the lack of strong software tools available for small businesses. This weighs on me heavily and I am deeply passionate about changing this perceived standard.
“All that is valuable in human society depends upon the opportunity for development accorded the individual.”
– Albert Einstein
What I Fight For
I’ve spent my entire professional life seeking ways to combat these issues and help other small businesses just like myself to succeed and find the resources they need to achieve their goals. Too many vertical markets exist where the only providers are large, closed corporations intent on maximizing their profits and focused solely on serving other businesses of their same size. The Fortune 500 helping the Fortune 500. No one is looking out for the little guy. The underdog. The up-and-comer.
Other Open Source Projects
Through the years I’ve been privileged to be a part of several open source projects and to create several open source tools aimed at providing an equal playing field for small businesses to compete at the same level as these large businesses. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned the importance of good support, the value in a community, and the opportunity for growth through conflicts.
Initiatives I’ve been fortunate to be involved in have released amazing Content Management software, Customer Relationship Management software, Project Management software, Live Chat Management software and others. Each of these software tools has been with the same goal. The empowering of small businesses. We’ve sought to reduce the ridiculous over-priced expense which previously had prohibited small businesses. But there’s still more to do. There are still more challenges to conquer and more ways to empower small businesses. Rest assured I will continue to be an active supporter and vocal contributor to each these open source projects.
Continuing To Grow
I am incredibly excited to share with you the next open source project I’ll be involved in. Myself along with several other close friends have identified a vertical market completely out-of-reach for many small businesses due to the exorbitant monthly costs. Monthly fees exceeding the entire gross revenue of approximately 75% of all U.S. small businesses. And yet a powerful piece of software which incredibly helps those businesses which can afford the service. This tool is revolutionary not just in the powerful, cutting-edge framework upon which its built but also in the disruption it brings to a previously closed market.
I look forward to sharing much more with you through my blog as we go about preparing tools. I’ll share the pain-points, the highs and the lows of beginning a new open source project and we’ll grow together as we begin to form a community. As we go if you have questions, ideas, or just general comments I welcome them. You can contact me directly through my email. The excitement is growing and the buzz is definitely starting to increase. I hope as things progress and I share different behind-the-scenes peeks you’ll start to feel the same enthusiasm that’s driving me!
Beginning a Community
Yes, I know I’m leaving things a bit in the dark at the moment but I promise more will come. I’ll share screenshots, ask for feedback, and just in general do everything I can to get you involved. I’m only one of the people involved in this very exciting effort. If you own, run, or work in a small business I hope you will become more and more involved as we go through this process. It’s never too early to become a part of this new open source community.
I believe in small businesses, equality, and community. I believe in open source.
June 13, 2014
How Committed Are You
Plymouth Rock holds a very important place in the history of the United States. This was the first place in the New World the pilgrims traveling from Great Britain came ashore. This represented the end of an incredible 3 month journey across the Atlantic ocean and the start of a new life. These early travelers were incredibly committed to accomplishing their goals.
So, clearly these early settlers were committed to their cause but how does this relate to us today and how can their commitment be related to small business? Let’s look at four ways their commitment to their goals affected their decisions.
They Believed In Their Cause
This small group of courageous individuals were absolutely committed to their goals. They believed in their cause to such an extent they were willing to accept great trials. Regardless of your opinion of their beliefs and their choices, it is undeniable they were willing to do whatever the they needed to because they believed in the reason.
As a small business owner, founder, it is also absolutely essential that before you can see your business become successful you need to believe in what you’re doing. It may seem simple and rather obvious but consider the reason why you’re doing what you do. Do you believe in the cause of your business? Or have you lost your focus and now simply do what you think needs to be done to be successful? You must believe in the product, if now then you are not truly committed. (Not to mention you’ll find very little personal satisfaction in your work).
Your work must be fun. You must enjoy what you do and you must believe in what you are doing. A popular quote which most of you will know is applicable here:
Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.
But it’s much more than just believing in your cause. It’s taking the next step and being willing to give up everything to accomplish your cause.
They Sacrificed Everything
The Pilgrims were willing and ready to sacrifice everything to accomplish their goal. This is easy to see as an extreme level of commitment however, often times, this is overlooked when thinking about the Pilgrims and their journey to the colonies (soon to be the United States). The conditions they were leaving in England and the conditions they were accepting when moving to the colonies were exact opposites. And yet, due to their beliefs and their level of commitment they were ready and willing to sacrifice everything they had. They sacrificed lifestyle, friends, personal health, prosperity, and even loved ones for their cause.
Small business founders face difficulties and trials that others may never see. If you’re a small business owner then you understand the feeling of a bank account with a zero (negative) balance and the uncertainty of how to pay employees (definitely no payment for yourself). And yet you must continue. If you are committed to the success of your business you must be willing to sacrifice everything.
“The entrepreneurial life is one of challenge, work, dedication, perseverance, exhilaration, agony, accomplishment, failure, sacrifice, control, powerlessness… but ultimately, extraordinary satisfaction.”
– David S. Rose
They Expected Hardships
It would have been foolish for these brave individuals to assume everything would go smoothly. They went ahead with their plans to travel across the entire Atlantic ocean full-knowing they would experience loss, they would be forced to sacrifice their old lives, friendships, and even family. The both knew and accepted these hardships as part of their commitment to achieving their goals. This is important. Many places and historical records document the exact conditions they would encounter during their journey and upon their arrival. These travelers were fully aware of exactly what they could expect. No surprises.
Small business owners especially must be cautious of this point. Plan for success, but always, always, understand and be aware of any associated risks. If you know the hardships you can expect to face you can prepare yourself better to handle them. There is nothing wrong with looking at the potential pitfalls and preparing a way to navigate through them. This isn’t a sign of unbelief or pessimism in your business’ success, but rather a very clear display of your commitment.
“Never sacrifice planning for failure in order to appear optimistic, this will only leave you looking foolish and unprepared.”
They Followed Their Dreams
One last important correlation we’ll draw between the pilgrims and small business is quite possibly the easiest to see and the most pleasant to discuss. The pilgrims believed in their cause but even deeper than a belief in a cause, they took action and followed their dreams. It seems almost poetic but it is a very real situation. Rather than sitting back and talking about change, bemoaning their current state, and dreaming lofty wishful perfect outcomes, they boldly committed to following their dreams. They made plans (with calculated risks), understood the sacrifices, and the hardships to come and they still chased their idyllic utopian society.
Small business owners dream big. We all believe in an endless vast open space where anything is possible and with a little hard work our dreams can become a reality. Dreaming up ideas to change the world is something done on a daily basis. The part which comes next (which the first travelers to the new world actively did) the difficult task of planning and executing on their dreams and actively pursuing the dream is the hard part. This is the part small business owners can learn and grow from. As you dream (dream big) be sure to make plans, calculate risks, understand the sacrifices, and expect the hardships to come (believe me, they will come).
“I think if you’re an entrepreneur, you’ve got to dream big
and then dream bigger.”
– Howard Shultz
Life wasn’t easy for the early settlers and life certainly isn’t easy for small business owners. But we should continue to chase after our dreams. Because at the end of the day, it’s really the same dream of the pilgrims we’re still chasing today. The American Dream.
A Final Thought
I encourage you to examine the lives of these people and the above aspects. Explore what they endured, what they believed and begin to understand the commitment they demonstrated. Ask yourself, as a small business owner, how many of these same areas apply to your life. Answer those questions and you’ll see just how committed you are as well.
June 10, 2014
Leading through Listening
Too many times we think the best way to market ourselves and our businesses is through talking (and talking) about our business, our services, or our products. We neglect one of the very most basic marketing methods. Listening to the customer.
We’re Listening, We Promise
Sure, we hear all the advertisers as they blare out their claims of “we’re listening to you.” How many people really believe these big corporate conglomerates are truly listening to their customers? Most doubt the sincerity and most believe the reality is quite different. Common thinking seems to be major shareholders, investors and other big business interests more frequently shape the direction of a company than the average consumer.
But how does a small business listen to their customers? How does the small business not fall into the trap of claiming to listen without really hearing? It’s easy to overlook and yet the ability to connect with people is one of the biggest advantages a small business can have.
The Long Shot
People relate to small businesses. I’ve shared statistics previously about the number of small businesses in America, and yet the sheer volume of revenues generated by small businesses. People love cheering for the underdog, the little guy, the long shot. Often the small business is considered the long-shot. The little guy willing to stand up and speak out for the average consumer against the Goliath in the market place, the big business.
The truth may be the big business offers better services, better products, and better support; but the small business has by its very nature an inherent advantage. And this has to be realized and nurtured. Successful small businesses realize this. Successful small businesses focus on the personal connection and the communication with their customers and their industry. Open transparency regarding company size and struggles can be intimidating and yet highly rewarding.
Listening and Speed
Size matters, but in this case smaller is better. Lacking the volume of business means each customer is important. The customer realizes this and appreciates the fact that their purchase and their presence is valued. When the customer feels they are truly appreciated they engage more. They offer their advice and their opinions. Small businesses absolutely must take advantage of this.
Success comes from listening to others, hearing the needs, and then implementing improvements.
Successful small business realize they can more quickly make changes to their business and their services then a bigger company. I often hear it compared to a speedboat versus an ocean liner. Big business has a much harder time implementing a shift in their business. This leads to a perceived lack of “listening”. Small businesses should capitalize on the ability to make changes quickly and implement improvements based on feedback.
Listening and Hearing
An interesting point arises when considering the act of leading by listening. Most would understand the concept of leading and what is involved with taking charge of a situation. But how does listening fit within that understanding? How does the act of listening make for a better leader? The answer is simple.
Listening is more than gathering feedback. Listening is the active process of collecting feedback and hearing the underlying need.
A good leader does not merely listen to people. A good leader takes what they hear and analyzes what is being said. The sub-context. The meaning for the response. Small businesses looking to be the leader must do this too. This takes effort, takes work, and takes humility.
Listening and Humility
Small businesses must realize that even though they listen and they implement changes based on the perceived underlying need they will not be right all the time. Everyone filters their communication through their own experiences and beliefs. As a result no one is perfectly in-sync with someone else and there will be times when the response is wrong.
Leading through listening means acknowledging those times when the art of listening has lead to the wrong solution. The true need was misinterpreted and the outcome provided the wrong one. Successful small businesses connect with their customers and openly communicate through the process of rebuilding and resolving problems. It’s hard to be genuinely humble in offering an apology.
Yet here is one more way a small business holds an advantage. Small businesses are people too. People are not perfect and people make mistakes. Humbly apologizing and demonstrating a desire to improve based on listening to feedback shows customers that the small business cares. The small businesses must relate to their customers and share their struggles and their desire to improve.
How do these concepts of listening apply to leadership? In particular, how do small businesses lead through the art of listening.
The best leader is humble in attitude, quick to take action and dedicated to hearing the need.
If a small business wants to be a leader they focus on their strengths. Find the ways in which they hold the advantage and capitalize on them. Listening is one of those advantages. Leaders don’t charge blindly forward. Leaders must listen. Small businesses must listen. When they do they become leaders. They become successful.
Small businesses often struggle with the concept of leading, they hold the mistaken belief that their size constrains them from being a leader. This notion of leading being available only to the big company is misguided and flawed. Industry leaders can come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Small businesses have equal opportunities to be leaders. Notice they are not the same opportunities, they are different but they are truly equal. The successful small business identifies and capitalizes on those opportunities.
Take the Time
Do you take the time to listen? Remember, listening is more than just getting people to fill out a contact form or a survey. Listening is an art. Listening takes practice. Spend time learning how to listen better. Your business will benefit from the investment. You’ll find you gain trust, you gain support, and you gain customers. Be the leader in your industry. Embrace your company size, find your niche and lead through listening.
June 9, 2014
Small Business: Get It in Writing
Every small business owner likes to believe in the value of their word. Maybe because it hearkens back to the olden days when “spit and a handshake” were all that were needed to close a deal. Unfortunately some of the personal aspects of business have been lost in our global economy. Getting things in writing is increasingly important.
I’ve heard the stories and seen the movies where a massive deal is done and the only agreement is a handshake. This typically was used to demonstrate the value of the other person’s character and the level of trust established between the two individuals. There are several reasons though why this is not the best practice for today’s businesses.
Paperwork Provides Clarity
Working on a project with a prospective client it can be very easy when sitting around the table to begin throwing out ideas about what could be accomplished and what could be done during the project. One thing leads to another and suddenly there is a miscommunication between expectations and deliverables. If you talk about grand ideas with your potential clients and then agree to complete the work verbally without a clear, defined, and written scope of work you will find yourself in a bad situation.
Your client will believe everything discussed will be accomplished in the first iteration and at the cost originally provided. You’ll believe you have lined up successful follow-up work to be completed after the original project and both of you will be disappointed. Writing up specifically what will be accomplished, what timeframe each will take, and what the associated costs are will help to set proper expectations. No one will be surprised and everyone will feel more comfortable and confident in the arrangement. Taking the time to write things out will provide clarity and reassurance.
Paperwork Provides Accountability
Yes, there is something inherently motivating about the idea of a verbal agreement. A demonstration of mutual trust and respect in the other party. However, unfortunately if there is no agreement that is written and signed by both of you then you’ll be more prone to failure. The act of drawing up paperwork and both agreeing and signing this agreement is not a sign of distrust. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
A proper agreement demonstrates the desire to go beyond mere trust and shows commitment to the process. You are willing to hold yourself accountable by signing your name to an agreement you’ve helped to create.
This accountability shows you as the provider are confident in defining exactly what should be done and you agree with the clearly outlined tasks and objectives.
Paperwork Provides Opportunity
When drawing up a draft of what should be accomplished you can use this time to take things beyond just providing clarity and accountability. You can seize this opportunity to outline future steps as well as identify additional services you can provide. Again, remember if you are in a purely verbal situation there are many opportunities for miscommunication and misunderstanding about goals and included tasks. Once you have written them all down you can more easily see areas where you can provide additional value.
Opportunities exist for both sides. The prospective client has an opportunity to see how you work. This gives them insights into how you run your business. Do you focus on the details? Do you take the time to listen to them and then relate their needs to outcomes? This is an excellent opportunity for the client to get a real-life first-hand look into how you do business.
Paperwork Provides Legitimacy
The last point is perhaps the most practical. While some may argue the above points as areas which could be addressed in verbal agreement situations, this last one holds very tangible benefits. In most courts (at least in the United States) the signing of an agreement is considered a legal and binding document. As much as we would all believe there is never going to come a time when legal counsel needs to be involved unfortunately the reality is you should always be prepared.
The signed agreement helps in creating clarity, defining tasks, providing opportunity, and encouraging accountability; but ultimately it serves to protect both parties in a legal situation. Every business owner trusts it will never come to the point where the legal approach has to even be considered. But every business owner should be prepared in the case it becomes necessary.
Small business owners embark every day on a perilous journey of establishing their name, their credibility, their trustworthiness. Although the first thought may be that a verbal agreement demonstrates trust and commitment the reality (as outlined above) demonstrates that getting it in writing will improve business and help to establish them much much more. Use this opportunity to demonstrate excellence.
Be smart about how you conduct your business. Use the opportunity of writing up an agreement to demonstrate how well you’ve listened to the client’s needs, how focused you are on providing them the perfect solution, how well you understand the tasks to be completed, and how committed you are to not only the immediate solution but to a long-term relationship with them. This builds far more trust. This goes much further than a slimy, germ-covered handshake ever could.
June 6, 2014
Small Business Matters: Educate Yourself
As human beings we essentially never stop learning. From the moment we are born until the moment we die we are constantly gathering information, making judgements and forming opinions based on our life experiences. As small business owners we should never stop learning either. Educate yourself. Constantly.
When beginning a small business you set out on a path. A journey which will undoubtedly be filled with challenges, heartaches, and hopefully a few mountain top experiences. But along the way you will need to learn. You’ll need to grow, to adjust, and to modify your strategies. Just because something was successful when you began doesn’t mean it will always remain successful. Small business owners must be forever willing to listen to others and to educate themselves.
Running a small business is a bit like continuing education. Only the stakes are much higher and the course isn’t graded (other than by your business success). Just as in personal life, business life is a never slowing pace and decisions must be made daily. What ways can you educate yourself as a business owner to ensure you ace the course? You can educate yourself by learning from others, learning from history, and learning from the market.
Education from Others
The first way small business owners can continue to grow in their knowledge and understanding is through other’s experiences, stories, and successes. Small business owners should be always listening. This is the key to educating yourself from others. If you’re so wrapped up in your own ideals and your own focus then you’ll easily miss the nuggets of gold being shared by others around you. When you choose to listen to others you have a couple of options.
Learn from Competitors
Obviously, you can learn from your competition. This is possibly the easiest way to educate yourself from others. You’ll naturally tend to do this anyway as you establish your business, identify your target market and identify the competitors in the space. Once you’ve seen who you’re competing against you’ll see what they do and what they don’t do. You’ll learn by looking at their track record, their approach, and their marketing. Don’t just copy their tactics. Be smarter and learn from them. See what they do that is successful and more importantly what they do that is not successful. Then you can capitalize on that.
Learn from Customers
You can also educate yourself by learning from your customers. Those loyal and the one-offs alike. Follow up with them, reach out to them and listen to them. Ask them what they appreciated and also what they disliked. You’ll only be able to improve if you take the good and the bad. Remember, don’t fool yourself into thinking you don’t need to improve, change or grow. No business is perfect and the customer will always be quick to tell you what they don’t care for. Obviously you don’t blindly change your business model because a single angry customer thinks you should. But exercise discretion and educate yourself on how you can improve for the benefit of your customers and ultimately your business.
Learn from Culture
The last area we can look at when educating yourself from others is the culture. Be aware of the culture which surrounds your business. Are you a local shop targeting only local customers? What matters to the community? What are the social acceptable business practices for the culture? Educate yourself on how to market effectively and be culturally appropriate. You will gain the respect of the community if you are conscientious of those things which matter to them.
Education from History
History is an excellent teacher. As a small business owner there is an almost endless supply of knowledge which can be tapped in to held within the history of businesses and particularly your business. Take advantage of this knowledge and educate yourself about what has been successful for other businesses in history. It’s important also to learn from your mistakes. Acknowledge those times when you’ve failed to do what you anticipated, and learn from your own history.
Learn from Business History
You are very clearly not the first small business owner in the world. There have been many many more before you who have gone through the same struggles, the same hardships, and the situations you are now in the midst of. Solomon, a historically recognized thought leader once made the following statement which I think aptly fits here.
“What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.”
I have to admit, even in the overwhelming world of technology where new things are constantly appearing, this quote often comes to my mind. The underlying problem to be solved may be one which has existed and been solved in a variety of ways throughout the centuries. Take advantage of these historical records and learn from them. Apply them to your situation and your current problems and find ways in which you can educate yourself.
Learn from Your History
But sometimes even more importantly you should learn from your own history. When you make a mistake be thoughtful and retrospective. Write down the details so you don’t forget them. Share them with others. Find ways to help analyze what happened, what was the action taken and what led up to the outcome which you experienced. Learn not only from your mistakes but also from your success. Take the time to do more than blindly rush through business doing a million different things trying to find something successful. Instead be methodical in your approach (I hate that word, I personally mistakenly equate methodical with slow. That is absolutely an untrue assumption)
Be methodical and put thought into what has been successful, and what will continue to be successful in the future.
Learn from your history, apply it to your present, and use it to shape your future.
If you take the time to learn from your mistakes you’re more likely to not repeat them in the future.
Education from the Market
This last point is an easy one. Especially if you are in the software or tech sector. You absolutely must be willing to educate yourself constantly to stay aware of changes in the market space. Things don’t stay stagnate for long and small business owners must always be aware of the current and changing trends in their market sector. It’s foolish to believe that what you did 10 years ago is still relevant today with no other influencing factors. Things change, people change, markets change. As a result, you must be willing to frequently visit and review the state of the economy, your sector, and your target audience.
Learning from the market involves staying aware of new competitors, new opportunities, and new perceptions by your target audience. Be willing to listen (as stated above) and be willing to change. Change can be scary but change can be good. If you educate yourself by reading blogs, news articles, press releases; by watching videos, interviews, trends; and by communicating with industry leaders, attending events, and getting to know your audience you will position yourself to achieve greater business success.
Small businesses are vitally important to economies around the world. Your small business is even more vitally important to you. Do everything you can to educate yourself to achieve great things.
Make the effort to keep learning, keep changing, keep improving. The reward is worth the investment.
May 29, 2014
Important Small Business Roles
Continuing our business series and highlighting small business matters I’d like to look at a few roles or positions necessary in a small business to be successful and to clearly structure a strong team.
I should preface by saying these are not requirements and not a full list either of small business roles. Again I’m speaking from personal experience and what I’ve seen exhibited by other successful companies. If you think of other roles which don’t fall under one of the following categories I’d love to hear what you’ve found to be successful.
This role is the easiest to fill in a small business. I say it’s the easiest because usually the small business is begun because of someone with an idea. The founder has identified a problem and envisioned a solution. The visionary does more than just provide the initial vision however. They must continue to stay current with the market and the trends and provide ongoing ideas and solutions. Idea generation is a primary focus of the visionary. They are allowed to dream and they are expected to provide ways to improve not merely the business and the product today, but in 10 years, 20 years to come.
Summary: The visionary provides ideas and a future set of big things to accomplish. They must also be an effective communicator and motivator to encourage others to not only see the vision but to be passionate to achieve it.
The planner is the perfect balance for the visionary. This person must be able to take the ideas and dreams of the visionary and place them on a roadmap for implementation. They must provide the gravity for the floating ethereal approach of the visionary. Plans should be detailed but not too overly detailed and the planner must take into account the available resources and project realistic deadlines and timelines. The planner asks questions and prioritizes things based on their understanding of the small business and their goals.
Summary: The planner provides realistic goals and plans for accomplishing the goals of the visionary. They must be an effective organizer and highly realistic to continue the vision but place it on an achievable timeline.
The creator is the person who generates proof of concepts and puts a real-life tangible implementation of the ideas and dreams. They must be able to both conceptualize the ideas and visions of the visionary and then apply them to a sample demonstration which can accurately represent these ideas. The creator works closely with the visionary and the planner to ensure things are prioritized correctly and the right ideas are put into action at the right time. There must be a strong ability to distill ideas down to their true essence and capture the idea with a minimal amount of effort.
Summary: The creator generates a real-life representation of the ideas of the visionary in accordance with the plans of the planner. They must be an effective analyzer and capable of summarizing the minimum viable product as defined by the vision.
This role is invaluable to the success of a small business. Perhaps I should begin by defining the role and the title I’ve used. The term is absolutely not a negative term. This individual is the person who is completely focused on the details “behind-the-scenes” to make sure everything works and is built on the right foundation. The squinter looks at the details, the nitty-gritty points which allow everyone else to do their job effectively. Quick example, the squinter ensures the business has been incorporated correctly, has structured the by-laws, directors, and other legal needs. They analyze the market and the numbers and the viability of the product and business.
Summary: The squinter focuses on ensuring the business is built on the right foundation and is structured to be sustainable. They must be an effective thinker and detail-oriented to establish the business correctly and prepared for the future.
There’s one role which I have specifically not mentioned in the above positions I find necessary in a small business. You will notice I do not focus on The Doer. This is because I believe every role is a doer role. Without a team working together and everyone doing work to make the company successful the business will fail. I do not believe there should ever be a single person doing all the work. So I suggest the doer is actually a part of everyone’s role.
These small business roles are a few of the positions you’ll find in any successful business. There are certainly instances where multiple roles are filled by a single person, in fact if you read my previous post on the many hats worn by a founder, I think my point is clear. There are other positions and roles which would help and perhaps some of these could be tweaked or defined even further. Read this list and see how it applies to your business, find the areas you are weak and determine if you need to seek additional help. Remember you should always staff to your weaknesses. And of course…
Remember, we’re all in this together!
May 15, 2014
Building a Business Brand
Everyone is known for something. As much as you may wish that’s not the case at times. Similarly every business is known for something, be it a product, service, or character quality. What is your business brand and how does it affect what you’re known for?
According to Wikipedia, a brand is defined as follows:
Brand is the “name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s product distinct from those of other sellers.”
Does this truly define what a brand is when you look at a company? If we look at some open source companies lets see if we can identify what makes up their brand. Then we can see how this applies to building a business brand for your small business.
Does A Business Brand Matter?
First question, does it matter if you have a business brand? Do you have to define a brand for your business? I think this is a great starting point. Based on my first sentence in this article you already know I believe a brand is an inherent part of a business. Rather than a contrived, artificial creation by some marketing team I believe a business brand always exists. What matters is the definition of that brand and how the brand is represented by the marketing team and other business outreaches.
Open Source Branding
Open source organizations are no exception. If we look at some popular open source platforms we’ll still find the existence and identifying effects of a brand. One example, Drupal, an open source content management system has created a page just for the purpose of defining their brand. You’ll find they have defined brand slightly different from the dictionary definition above. Rather, Drupal believes “a brand incorporates the values, culture, mission, personality and image of an organization.” This is an interesting difference.
Open source places their brand identity in the intangible aspects of the people who make up their community. I think this is a fantastic application of the branding definition.
The people within a business define and represent the brand.
Learn from Open Source
When building a business brand you would do well to learn from the open source organizations. A small business has the opportunity to establish itself both in culture and in branding. Don’t try to be just like someone else. Find ways to differentiate yourself. That sometimes feels easier said than done. Especially in some fields where the barrier to entry is low and competition is strong. How do you differentiate your business when building a business brand?
Everyone is Unique
At first glance the question can seem to be a difficult one and uncertainty can leave you unsure where to begin when building a brand. But the truth is building a successful brand is simple. You don’t have to build a brand. You embody a brand. You are the brand. As we discussed earlier, every business has a brand already. Every person in your business represents and lives the brand. And the great news is everyone is unique. There is no one exactly like you on this planet. Because of this simple fact the business which you are a part of is also unique. Build your business around this principle.
You’re not building a brand in the creation sense. You’re sharing a brand that already exists and drives your business.
Take the open source example above. Merge that example with the concept that everyone leaves an impression. The result is where you focus your attentions and efforts. Rather than attempting to “build” a brand you should focus on sharing, nurturing, and growing your brand. Look at the people in your company. (Here’s another benefit to being a small business.) What are the core values, beliefs, principles, and values you and your fellow team members hold? This is what guides your business. This is what you will be known for.
At the end of the day, your business brand reflects the people which make up your business and ultimately the products, service, support, or whatever it might be you are selling. Don’t attempt to create a false brand under the assumption it will increase your sales. Be genuine in sharing your brand. Your brand is a reflection of your culture. Interested in how this relates to your company culture?
Small Business First
Small businesses have the greatest opportunity to share unique, creative, and fun brands. Your small business can share the culture, the community, the passion of your team members through a brand which matches you. Building a business brand is simple. Learn from others, Establish values, Be genuine, and share your passion with others.
Remember, we’re all in this together!