According to the Small Business Administration, there are almost 28 million small businesses (less than 500 employees) in the U.S., and more than 22 million are self-employed with no additional payroll or employees.
For an enterprise of one, the concept of brand is often intuitive and represented as much by the person in the business as it is by the products or services provided. The brand and the person may be largely the same. “Bob” may run EarthCare Landscaping, for instance, and be known for being reliable and meticulous. As long as Bob is providing the labor, handling the sales calls and supplying the customer service, he is in complete control of his EarthCare brand and he likely doesn’t have to think about it much. (And he probably doesn’t have much time to, anyway.)
Many of these single-person companies/brands are likely quite content to remain that way, but what happens when Bob decides he wants to grow his business and his EarthCare brand? Of course, he will face many challenges to grow beyond a business of one, but managing his brand will be one of them and his ability to separate himself from the brand may determine his success as much as any other factor. Here are some suggestions for Bob to consider:
Evaluate what makes his brand successful—Bob should take an objective look at his current brand and determine whether that is scalable as he grows his business. Of his two brand elements—reliable and meticulous—one is to be expected for any larger landscaping firm, and one could form the basis for a growing brand. If Bob is being objective, he will likely see that being meticulous and detail-oriented is more differentiating than showing up on schedule. He may also realize that being meticulous is likely to help him target an upscale market that demands more than basic lawn care and occasional pruning.
Decide what needs to be changed or adjusted—Having made his determination to focus his brand on the value and quality of paying attention to details, Bob will have to make a new set of evaluations for the various components of his brand. First, does his brand’s logo and graphic identity reflect an upscale, quality-oriented brand? Should his website be upgraded for design, content, or functionality? Is his messaging clear and easily communicated? Should he buy new equipment or require uniforms for his new staff? He will undoubtedly need to create some kind of training program to teach his methods to his new crewmembers who will be serving his customers. He will likely want to think through how his customer service person should act and what he or she is authorized to do to resolve problems.
Begin actively managing the brand instead of just intuitively being the brand—As a one-man brand, Bob essentially delegated everything to himself in order to keep the business moving. He may have kept a to-do list, but he didn’t need policies and procedures or a weekly staff meeting. But now, Bob’s EarthCare brand depends not only on his personal embodiment of the brand, but also on how his employees deliver on it, as well. So he will have to shift to an active management of the evolving brand that is now focused on the quality landscaping as defined by meticulous detail. He will need a way to inspect the work of his team at the homes or businesses where he provides service and be ready to correct deficiencies. He will want to oversee how his customer service person handles calls and reflects the brand qualities he is looking for. He will likely want to begin a formal customer feedback process that evaluates how he is delivering on his brand over time, and, ideally, identifies problems before they become difficult to resolve.
In working through all of the imagined tasks above, Bob will be taking the first steps toward separating himself from the brand of his growing company. If the brand can grow beyond Bob, it will be proof of the strength of his brand concept, and not just Bob’s personal qualities. This is really only the beginning of the journey for the EarthCare brand, but it will be a critically important step if Bob ever wants to sell his business for more than the value of its equipment and client list.
As published in the Central Penn Business Journal and Lehigh Valley Business.