By Susan Amat
A friend of mine has a successful company that has been around for seven years. Instead of just getting customers, he focused on going after the A-list opportunities. It took longer to land the first deal than had he just looked for someone willing to pay, but his vision was to work only with the top brands, and it has paid off: His company’s current clients are almost exclusively Fortune 100 firms, and his brand is synonymous with quality and best-in-class services.
Keeping that goal in mind and being diligent about your brand is a key ingredient to success. You are a brand. Your ability to contact others and have your call or email returned is social currency. And you have to protect that brand, your name, your reputation, like it is a child. The same concept should apply to your business, and making choices from the first day of operations about how you want your employees, your customers, your competitors, the community and the industry to think of you.
To assess your brand image or do a refocusing, try this exercise that can be done at any stage.
* Why did you start this business? Get back to your roots, and think about the passion you have for offering this solution to the marketplace.
* What is your vision for the company? Use aspirational terms to explain the big picture.
* What are your personal values? How do you want people to describe you? What words explain your guiding principles?
* What are the company’s values? Describe your firm’s attributes that will attract ethical and passionate employees to join you on your journey. These should be consistent with your personal values.
* What words best describe your company’s brand? Pick three to five words that elicit emotions or concepts you could imagine others saying about your business. What would you want your customers to say when referring you? How would you want your employees to describe the company?
* How do you want your competitors to describe your brand? While these words won’t be completely consistent with your brand ideals, is it important that your competitors respect you and know you stand for quality? Your future hires may come from the competition.
* Ask your employees what words they use to describe the firm. You can do this anonymously or do it as a session to get everyone aligned with the company vision. If there are inconsistencies, then you have some work to do internally.
* Ask your customers what terms they would use to describe your company. Take some of your present and past customers out to lunch individually and ask them what they think. This may serve to reinforce brand loyalty with existing customers and potentially have past customers give you another shot.
Having your core values displayed prominently to remind your employees and customers what you stand for is a good way to keep your priorities straight. There are lots of brands out there that try to partner with everyone and surround themselves with companies all over the market. Striving for excellence is lonely sometimes; having to tell people you care about that you can’t sponsor an event or be involved in a deal because it isn’t consistent with your values or brand is challenging. If you focus on quality and world-class service, then your partners and employees must share that mindset as well.
Short-term revenue may seem very attractive, but in diligently striving for long-term sustainability and consistency of values in a way that includes your staff and other stakeholders, your brand will have a better chance at success. Know what you stand for, and stick to it!
Susan Amat is the founder of Venture Hive, an accelerator and incubator for technology startups in downtown Miami. Follow her on Twitter @susanamat