... where visionaries, game changers, and challengers discuss business models
For anyone out there who has bought or wants to buy a suit, let me ask you two questions: What is the most important element in your buying decision; and, what is constantly in your mind as you are making your decision? Many of you will answer the style or look for one of those questions but if you are honest with yourself, the name of the company on the label will most certainly be the answer to the other question. In other words, the brand name of the product is constantly hovering around your buying decision. Yes, you want a good cut or a chic look but if that doesn't come with a good name, you start to doubt your decision. Brand and image are all part of the company's or individual's "position" in the market. How they want to be seen by their clients. Position is just as critical for my client who makes suits as it is for all other small businesses, solopreneurs and sub-contractors.
Positioning is part of an overall marketing strategy but I would argue that for solopreneurs and small businesses it is even more important than it is for large enterprises. Your image is your brand and your brand is your "position" in the market. I talked about this earlier in my post about branding and using your own name in the business. Many of us know the term "brand" from old western movies because that's how cattle ranchers differentiated themselves from their competitors - by burning their "brand" or "mark" on their cattle. Not great news for the cattle I assume but it did tell people whose cattle it was and who stood behind it. It tells people that you stand behind your product so much that you are willing to risk your own good name in doing so. In my own city of Toronto, "Honest Ed Mirvish" was both the owner of the business but also his best marketing tool. He was known as a guy who would sell decent products to "frugal" people. His position in the market was as a purveyor of solid products that weren't expensive but also weren't the best out there. You bought at the store knowing that. Nothing wrong with not being the most expensive or the highest quality. Instead, pick your place or position and be sure that people understand it and most importantly, receive exactly that when they give you their money.
The questions I ask my clients with respect to positioning when we are developing their business model are three-fold:
A good example of positioning and one that is a little closer to home is my brother's business: Mike the Mattress Guy. He is known as the guy who gives you a good bed, delivered to your door with a 100% guarantee. If you don't like it and/or it needs fixing in the future, he'll make it right. At the same time, delivery is free if you contribute some food to the food bank and he will deliver that food for you. That brand/image/position was developed over time and while I'm not sure it was always conscious (most great brands aren't) it has developed into a very solid position in the marketplace. An honest guy, delivering decent product who is active in helping out other people. Not a bad image to have and not unlike many of the older and more respected brands in the market. Very similar to a well regarded artisan.
So, as you make the decision on your brand/image and the position you want in the market, understand it is a critical piece of any solopreneur's business. It takes time to build and far less time to destroy. Those with better brands require less advertising because they already have lots of people out there advertising for them. This lowers their marketing costs and makes them even more attractive to their clients.
Can a brand and position in the market really be destroyed so fast and is the person's name and affiliation with that brand so important? Well, only a few years ago there used to be a saying in the consulting industry where I worked that "You could never be fired for hiring Arthur Andersen." What this meant was that for all of us competing in that industry (and my firm directly competed with Andersen on a number of bids), we had to be so much better and cheaper than Andersen because if we were hired and screwed up - the client rep could get fired. However, if they hired Andersen they always had the excuse that they had hired the best. Interestingly enough, the actual Arthur Andersen who founded the firm based his business approach and life on an old Scandinavian axiom - "Think Straight, Talk Straight". This approach continued after Andersen died until one day the firm just became too big and greedy and thought more about making quick money than their hard-earned reputation. The result was the end of Arthur Andersen - one of the largest accounting and consulting firms in the world. You don't hear that saying about never being fired for hiring Andersen in the industry anymore :-).