Small businesses are often not aware that each contact or engagement that carries their company's name is building a reputation. A business image is being created one encounter at a time.
To be successful in business, there is a lot you need to know. You have to be an expert in your field and also know best business practices in general. You have to know the right people and engage them often. You have to know where to be and where not to be. You have to know how to speak about your products and services effectively.
But you should know these four incredibly important things better than anything. I’d like to discuss specific points you need to keep in mind if you're trying to build and perfect that image.
1. Know Every Little Detail of the Image You are Trying to Create
An image will be blurry if your ideas of what it should be are blurry. We all rely too much gut feelings. You just feel you know what you know. That’s not good enough. You and your customers don’t share the same gut. They don’t know what you know.
Be sure to know the message you're trying to convey to your audience through your corporate image. What do you want them to see? I spoke recently with a business leader and his dilemma was this. In order to do business with large companies, he needs to present the image of a much larger organization. This gives his customers the feeling that his company is solid and will be there long into the future. That’s what he’s discovered is very important to his clients. Therefore, he acts accordingly and spends to ensure his company presents that solid image.
In order to control the conversation you need to know the message you’re trying to convey down to the very last detail. Take some time from putting out the fires and reflect on what you want that message to be. Look five years down the line. What do you want that to look like and why do you want to be there. Strategic planning is half of creating the perfect corporate image. You need to refine and rehearse every part of the conversation you want to have. It will pay immense dividends.
2. Know Yourself
There is a person driving your company's image and that person is you. In a small company owners, CEOs, and presidents often wear many hats. You’re the leader, you set the direction for you company and it will grow up to be what you want it to be.
Establish your strengths and weaknesses and what you're passionate about.
If you’re unsure how to position your strengths or if you want to find out what your strengths might be, I would like to recommend a book called Now, Discover Your Strengths, by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton. Their advice is that you should discover your strengths and work on perfecting those rather than focusing on and correcting your weaknesses. This is a great place to start getting in touch with how you can move your business forward. It will also help you discover where you need some outside help to accomplish your goals.
The public wants to see the person behind the image as well as the image itself. You’re the personification of your company’s image. Make sure that you accentuate your strengths and minimize the affects your weaknesses might have on the business. You owe that to your employees and to your customers.
3. Know Your Audience
And know them intimately. You’ll have to go beyond pie charts and vague demographics. Know what decisions your audience makes and what drives those decisions. Knowing why your clients or potential customers do the things they do is more important than the actual actions they make. Get down to the real drivers in their decision making. Racing to the lowest possible price is not how you want to do business - find out what drives the conversation other than price and focus on that.
Study what they’re saying and doing on social media. You can discover some great things by just being a good listener. Listen to what your best clients are saying on LinkedIn, Twitter, Quora and other places. What are they complaining about? What do they really need? You want more customers like your best customers. You need to know how to find them.
Not everybody can be your customer as much as you might like that (you really don’t). You want to attract people who fit a particular profile to do business with you. They need to be able to afford your product. They need to actually need your product as well. They need to be your kind of customer.
Dig for information like a bloodhound on their likes and dislikes as well as what motivates and inspires them. Incorporate those things into your image. Make the message about them and not always about you.
4. Know Who You Are Competing With
And finally, know that you're not the only one out there. I’ve been a judge for the Software Information Industry Awards for five years now. I get some of the most interesting answers when I ask presenters who they believe their competitors to be and why do they consider them competitors. The best answers rely on their product’s unique value proposition and the problems they solve for their customers.
I know you want to position your company as not having any competitors or peers. This is a bit disingenuous. There are thousands of products out their and if you don’t know the products you’re competing with you can bet your prospects do. You don’t want to be at a loss for words when potential customers asks that question. Know who your competitors are and know why you’re better.
Get to know your competitors and what they are saying and make sure you're not saying that. Better yet, find out who your existing customers think your competitors are. What do they get from the message your competitors are putting out there? It is often not what you think it might be.
Offer something different. Offer something with an edge.
Once you nail that corporate image, you’ll need to make your image known to that grand audience. Social media is a wonderful way to do that. Make sure others know who you are and present your stellar corporate image to them.
I am an artist, an analyst, a researcher, and an online development specialist serving the online information industry.