Four Steps to Small Business Success

“A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.”  -Seth Godin

Imaginuity’s Rick Baker recently joined forces with the SBA, the North Texas Small Business Development Center Network and The People Fund to provide much-needed guidance and direction to military veterans making the transition to civilian life. The event, created by Momentum Texas, is called the DFW Women’s Veterans Entrepreneurship Boot Camp, and is designed to help female veterans either start or expand their businesses.

I was fortunate enough to accompany Rick to the event and heard him speak on marketing for startups and newly-established corporations.

Rick began by thanking the women for their service and sharing that he grew up in a military family, describing himself as a “military brat.” Imaginuity echoes the sentiments he shared – we’re all thankful for what these women have done for our country and we’re happy to support them in their professional ventures.

The program talked about developing a strategy, building a brand and the importance of networking. Rick started off by stressing that the odds are against the entrepreneur. Eighty percent of all new businesses fail in the first 18 months (SBA.gov). So how do you beat the odds?

Step one: have a strong strategy. Regardless of whether a digital strategy agency like Imaginuity or someone else does this for you, you must have a plan.

“You don’t know what you don’t know,” Rick said. “That’s why you need a team around you to fill in the blanks and hold you accountable.”

Step two: use your strategy to understand and define:

  • Your business objectives

  • Your target audience

  • Your true competitors

  • All relevant marketing channels available to you (social media, print, television, etc.)

  • A detailed (and realistic!) budget

Step three: build your brand. Your brand is your “promise to the marketplace” and the way to set yourself apart from your competitors. It’s what makes your company unique. “Your brand influences a consumer’s decision to choose your product or service over another,” Rick said.

Your brand should transfer to the look and messaging of your website, your business and thank you cards, any ads you place, and even to your email signature. Just having a brand isn’t enough; it has to be professional.

Additionally, what you put online not only represents you, but who you are and what you do. If your logo or website is low quality, clients will associate low quality with your product or service. Take the time (and money) to develop these aspects of your brand and you will never regret the investment.

Step four: network. Rick couldn’t emphasize this step enough. One of the easiest things you can do is take a blank a piece of paper and draw a visual map of friends, family members and past co-workers who care about whether or not you succeed.  You may be surprised (and encouraged) by how many names you end up with.

Next, jump on LinkedIn (after you rock out your LinkedIn profile) and start making connections. In this way you start with a solid foundation, and LinkedIn will (almost) do the heavy lifting.  Each time you login in, LinkedIn puts new people in front of you to connect with and before you know it, you will have an army of connections to work with. Remember – with LinkedIn and other social media channels, it’s all about great content that connects with your target audience, so don’t just talk about your company and your products or services. Give your knowledge away and share information in the form of “unselfish content” and it will produce fruit. You will be surprised at how your new network helps you get the word out. Networking is a lot of work but it pays huge dividends over time. Failing to make and maintain new connections can stunt your company’s growth and minimize chance for success.

Starting a business takes real guts. Making your business succeed takes hard work, planning and a network of friends, family and experts to fill in the gaps. Thanks for sharing your expertise, Rick!

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