Stand Apart: Why All Small Businesses Need a Branding Strategy

September 22, 2016


Are you happy with your brand? Could your brand use an update? An overhaul? Do you need a primer in Branding Strategy?

Good news! We picked the brain of FreshBooks Creative Director Joshua Hansen to learn why a small business like yours could stand to be rebranded—and how to do it right.

What is a Brand?

First things first. If you’re a solopreneur trying to find your groove, do you have a brand—or is that just for big companies like McDonald’s and Nike?

According to Hansen, if you have a business, you have a brand. “Your brand is the expression of your company and your products and services in the marketplace. It’s anything you present to the world that helps distinguish your company from your competitors and creates an impression on the consumer.”

So whether you’re being intentional about it or not, you’re contributing to your brand every time you take out an advertisement, post about your business on Facebook, even answer the phone or send an invoice. You built a brand the minute you named your business!

“When we think of brand it’s a bucket term for things like a company name, wordmark, logo, design choices, a website experience, decals on a truck, business cards, names of services… whatever it is you offer that touches the public.”

Related: Easy to Use Logo Creator Tools for Freelancers & Small Business Owners

Why is a Branding Strategy Important?

If your brand helps customers differentiate you from your competitors, it’s an important tool to help you acquire and retain good-quality clients.

“Any business, particularly a small business, needs to stand out in the sea of their competitors. It’s important to communicate why you as a plumber, designer or house cleaner, for example, are different from the others,” says Hansen.

What’s the Basis of Your Brand?

Think about your brand as the outward manifestation of the vision and mission you have for your business. To help you nail down a logo, colors and other visual elements that represent your business, take time to consider why and how you do what you do.

“[The vision for your business] the impact that your business will have on the world (or market). That can sound abstract and vague, but it could be as simple as, ‘I’m in business to be a highly-skilled electrician who provides great customer service to all of my clients.’ It’s the difference you’re going to make for your customers,” said Hansen.

The mission is how you carry out your vision. You might bring your vision to life by specializing in particular types of work that others don’t do and/or creating a guaranteed response time of 12 hours—or your client gets 10% off their next job. Your mission will be as original as you are.

Ask yourself what you’re trying to accomplish. Who are you competing with? Who are your customers? What do they need? How do they want it? What are their pain points and how do you address them? Questions like these will help you drill down what makes you a unique solution.

How Do You Create a Brand?

Multinational companies spend multi-millions on creating and maintaining the perfect brand—or image—to the world. If you don’t have that kind of capital to invest in your brand, there are subtler ways to gradually build one.

One way to approach branding is to do it yourself: Name your business, put together a simple logo, build a website using your favorite colors using WordPress or other free software and, bam, you’ve got a brand!

If that takes you outside your comfort zone, consider hiring a graphic designer and/or writer to help you put together a polished look. Sometimes the act of describing your vision, mission and professional style helps generate ideas that will have an impact on how you present yourself to the world.

“The important thing is to be clear about who you are and why you’re different. Spend a bit of time thinking about what design elements represent that difference,” said Hansen.

It’s also helpful to look at how others in the marketplace are branding themselves and seeing what resonates with you and what doesn’t.

Related: Stand Out From the Crowd: 5 Ways to Create a Joyful Brand

Why Would a Business Want to Rebrand?

At the root of every decision to rebrand is change. You’ve changed, your business has changed, the marketplace has changed and you’re taking action to respond to any and all of those changes and are communicating it to the world.

“Maybe you’ve been in business for awhile but didn’t put a lot of thought into your brand at the outset. You didn’t make a conscious effort when making choices like selecting a logo or color, serving customers or doing advertising.

“Later, you might reach a point where you’re more focused on what sets you apart from your competitor and rebranding will help you direct your energy and signal to others that you’re clear on what you’re doing.”

Expanding the business, adding staff, distancing yourself from a problem and diversifying your services are other reasons that might be catalysts for rebranding. A new look—even a new name—is a tool to garner attention in the marketplace and create that coveted lasting impression. Another benefit of rebranding is that it’s an opportunity to reach out to a new audience of people as well as update former clients you might want to work with again.

“Small businesses often just do their thing when they get started. Rebranding is a chance to reintroduce yourself to the marketplace.”

Hansen cites an example of a wedding photographer who’s been in the market for a few years, but whose growth has plateaued. Perhaps the photographer has worked through referrals but her online portfolio looks like everyone else’s. Rebranding is a business strategy to help her present something different. She may decide to specialize in black and white photographs or weddings that include large families.

(Re)Branding Checklist

Whether you’re starting your brand from scratch or rebranding, Hansen says there are a few things you’ll need to consider:

  • Logo
  • Color
  • Font
  • Voice (tone of communications and personality of business “This includes how you answer your phone, write on your website and respond to emails. You might be tongue-in-cheek, formal or somewhere in between, but it’s important to be consistent.”
  • Office/workspace
  • Swag (e.g. t-shirts, pens, magnets, etc.)

“Brands are like people. They show us who the business is. It’s taking a non-human entity and giving it some familiar things to help people relate to it.”

Is Rebranding Always a Good Idea?

Not necessarily. If you’re leaning toward rebranding, be sure it’s worthwhile.
“You need to ask yourself why you have to move away from what you’ve been doing. There is a chance you’ll lose the equity you’ve built in your brand. If you’ve been serving customers a certain way for awhile, walking away from that to tap into a new market is a huge risk.”

“Familiarity will be lost if you make too radical a change.”

How Do You Communicate Your New Brand?

If you’re driven by repeat customers it’s a good idea to give them a heads up that you’ve got a new face but will be offering the same great service they’ve come to expect. Sending an email and posting on social media are great ways to communicate your new look.

“If you’re driven by net new customers most of the time, it’s probably not as important to make a point of letting everyone know you’ve got a new look.”

Hansen’s Top 6 Tips on Rebranding Your Business

  1.  Trust yourself. Trust what you like. If you’re a business communicating with customers, trust what you know. There are experts [to help you] but you are the expert of your business and having faith in that is important.
  2. When in doubt, always go back to the core identity of your business—what you do and what makes you different.
  3. Don’t be afraid to reach for outside help and don’t be quick to reject new ideas. Give yourself a bit of time to warm up to a different visual. Sometimes designs that are different look bad to you because they’re unfamiliar, not because they’re actually bad.
  4. But don’t be afraid to ask for another option if what you’re seeing isn’t working. Just because someone gives you a new logo doesn’t mean it’s the last thing you see.
  5. Ask questions. Poll the people you trust when choosing a new look for your business. They might have insights about you that you haven’t considered.
  6. Have fun. Rebranding can be a fun and interesting process. It’s a signal that you’ve reached a certain level in your business and this is a great way to celebrate that. Whether you’re rebranding for new opportunities or branding for the first time, it’s an exciting place to be.

Related: More Marketing Tips for Your Small Business

About Josh Hansen: Josh, the Creative Director at FreshBooks, is a guy who learned to do by doing. He grew up serving customers at the family business before immersing himself in the ideas of the contemporary art and fashion community in Milan. Informed by a unique world view he has explored the translation of ideas through print, advertisements and art. Most recently working in advertising in Toronto, Josh brings with him a sensitivity to a brand’s role within the larger community in which it operates.


about the author

Freelance Contributor Heather Hudson is an accomplished freelance writer and journalist based in Toronto. She writes for a number of publishing, corporate and agency clients who depend on her to deliver high-quality, on-brand content and journalism with a fresh perspective. Learn more about her work at heatherhudson.ca.