It’s easier than ever to start a creative small business—yay!—but now branding is one of the most important facets of your business to set you apart from someone who does the same thing. Today we are talking about how to kick off your brand strategy process.
So if you’re just getting started getting paid for your creativity or working on building authority and doing a little brand refresh, you need to know these 9 tips to create an unforgettable, bingeable brand.
Tip 1: Define a very clear value proposition for your overall brand.
A guy named Rosser Reeves is the one who called this “unique selling proposition” back in the day, but basically, this means you need to figure out what makes you different.
So if you look at my business—or have been around—you’ve probably heard some very clear key messaging promises, or “value props.” You may have heard me say “I help creatives like you make more money with your words so you can work from a place of rest, not hustle.” If you’ve heard me talk about my signature program, you’ve heard me say “CfC teaches you how to master your message and write your site in 60 days.” That’s a product-specific value prop. Copywriters call this a big idea when you’re working on a specific product, but I’m zooming out here to talk about your brand in general.
How do you figure out what to say so you can double down on your unique value proposition?
My students know I call it your Onlyness Factor: because if you can’t tell me why you do what you do the way you do it differently or better than someone that seemingly does the same thing, we need to figure that out before we can do anything else.
So a really quick way that you can start to figure this out in your own business is by leaning into your own quirks, story, or personality, and matching that with your system, your process, or your product/service itself. Maybe the audience you serve makes you unique—which brings us to ….
Tip 2: Find your niche.
Now here’s the thing: what do you do when you have that big idea or value proposition developed? Once you have this figured out, you want to double down and find your niche: you want to put a stake in the ground and decide who you’re for (and who you’re not for.)
I shared a video and blog a few weeks ago where I talked at length specifically about niching vertically and horizontally—I made it for people who want to start their own writing businesses, but niching will help anyone starting any kind of business.
This is how you can start to dominate in a category—and also helps you get really specific in your copy and content marketing. Another bonus? Conferences were a lot easier to book, because when you’re the only one talking specifically about your niche, people find you faster.
If you find yourself serving a pool or clientele like you like, that can be your niche. And if you’re new in business and don’t have clients yet to look at, here’s the thing to do: Start looking at where your passions overlap with a gap in the market. “Cherchez le creneau” is a French term for the marketing concept of “find the hole”—it’s like I tell my students, find the YOU sized gap in the market and go fill it.
Tip 3: Figure out your go-to brand stories.
Now if all this—your onlyness factor and your niche— is interesting, but the story isn’t good, people aren’t interested, right? So tip number 3? Is figure out your 3 brand stories. This is one of the easiest things you can do to build a brand and create those captivating touchpoints. It’s just simply nailing 3 specific brand stories: your origin story, your a-ha moment, and your transformation story.
Done well, this humanizes your brand and gives your audience something to relate to.
Tip 4: Get visual with your brand.
As important as your brand message and copy are, if they’re not presented in a way that’s visually appealing, people really won’t want to read the message or figure out how to get the goods.
I’ve learned so, SO much from my clients on this, because I am NOT a designer or a photographer, but I know they both matter. One of my recent clients, Sandra Chau, says you don’t have an option—as the CEO of your small business, you are also the creative director. I love this!
Investing in solid photography or spending time learning your way around styling is key. Even if you don’t want to take the pictures, you need to be able to communicate the mood, style, and visual story of your brand.
I’ll never forget when I first started my business scheduling my first photoshoot with books and items in my brand new spare bedroom office to communicate that I was a calligrapher and copywriter. Then, I remember paying $79 for a stock image from SC Stockshop that I used over and over and over again—cropping it every which way I could—to elevate my brand and look more professional.
As I grew and had more money to invest back in my business, I was told once that you have to be willing to buy your own services. That is if you’re charging 4 figures or more for your service, be willing to invest 4 figures or more in the services you need to support your business. That’ll preach! I found the art director I wanted to work with and saved and saved (and saved some more) until I was able to hire her and invest in my own business with visuals that helped tell the story of my brand.
Tip 5: Spend some time on your website home.
When it comes to a website to visually house these messages and photos, I highly recommend DIYing until you’re able to invest. Chiefly because good website design isn’t cheap, and you need to have your product, service, and audience dialed in before you spend all that money.
In fact, I built my first website on Squarespace all by myself! But because I focused so much on tips 1-3 that I just told you, I was able to build a six-figure business without paying for a professionally designed website. But… then I decided it was time to look the part. (I’d also recommend springing for a template before you pay 4-figures for solid-but-spendy custom website design.)
Showit is an incredibly easy platform to use and pick up yourself. You can take the bones and step and repeat them for a more cohesive brand. Some of my very favorite businesses that have templates and actually really understand getting OUT of the way of the user and building clutter-free designs are Jeff and Jen at Tonic Site Shop, Davey & Krista Jones, Angela at Saffron Avenue, and then for WordPress, my client Kathie makes some beautiful things at Bluchic. These are GREAT resources to use as you visually brand your creative business.
Tip 6: Listen to what people say about you.
As Jeff Bezos said, Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room. That’s the perception you’re putting out there. You hear me talk about doing the research a LOT—this is key research.
So, ask people what they’d say to describe your brand or business, or if it’s built on you—YOU. Maybe it’s family, but maybe it’s your clients, customers, partners, business best friends, followers. Ask them, and pay attention to what they say.
Tip 7: Build your work to match your brand.
What I mean by this is: “Does your work support your brand and does your brand support your work.
I don’t care if you’re a calligrapher, a ceramic artist, or you’re launching a mastermind or brand photography—constantly remind your audience of the work you’re doing that you want to do more of. I’m preaching to myself here because I’m the worst at promoting my own stuff. But the minute I do share about it, I get more inquiries for it.
My friend and client, Abby, has done this so well. She is so wise to promote her brand photography, which she’s so good at, and the whole creative process behind it.
If you’re just doing the work and not showing the process of the work, you won’t book more of it as quickly as you would if you did share it.
Tip 8: Add in Mascot moments.
This is a little thing that can make a big difference and may come with time. Let me explain. I love Emily Ley’s products, but she has an understated icon that quietly rides along and is woven throughout her brand—pineapples, the icon of southern hospitality. Now, when I see them, I think of her.
I’ve always loved champagne, and specifically, the brand Veuve Clicquot, because I love the story behind Madame Clicquot becoming one of the first female entrepreneurs. A brand photographer wove it into my imagery one time (producing an orange and blue theme that I really loved as an Auburn fan) but it also enabled me to start using champagne as a metaphor for teaching about welcome sequences and launch funnels. Now? I get tagged in champagne stuff constantly from followers and friends all the time because people have begun to associate champagne and Ashlyn. (Don’t mind if I do.)
What is a kind of weird moment or a thing that your audience could see and think of you and your brand? These come best if they’re not forced. You want to ideally tune into moments that are in your life naturally. Like anything in your brand, you want to own this so well that if someone else were to try it, they’d look like a copycat. Be hard to mimic. Build a brand that’s hard to mimic—which leads me to my final tip…
Tip 9: Define a clear brand voice.
You have to experiment, try different things, and let this develop. Trust that it will refine over time. If you’re having a hard time figuring out where to start with getting your voice clear and distinct, I have a quiz that will help you get on the right track and figure out how your personality correlates with the type of words that you need to be using to market your business.
And, that’s that, folks. Now go work on applying those 9 tips in your biz … but first …
If you want to see a bit more about what building an unforgettable brand can do in terms of conversions, be sure to watch last week’s Youtube video where I take you behind the scenes of a funnel I wrote that brought in $5,200 in 9 weeks.