12-1210 brandWe’ve been hearing a lot about small business this campaign season, and that we might need a leg up through tax breaks and other incentives. That’d be nice! Politics aside, a cost-effective way for SMBs to give themselves a boost is a renewed, pro-active focus on their brand. The best part is, this can be done from the inside out—no legislation required.

For many, the concept of branding brings to mind billion dollar corporations like Coca-Cola, or a boutique powerbrand like Nike. Yet any company can have a sweet brand. Every small business can—and should—be thinking about their brand image as if they are Coca-Cola. Keeping an eye on your brand is as important as watching your cash flow, balance sheet, or P&L.

A brand isn’t just a Nike swoosh, and it doesn’t begin and end with marketing. It tells the story of your company through every point of interaction—from partner relationships to HR decisions to how to answer the telephone. The story should influence not only your web strategy, but the attitude of your staff, the dress code at the office, and regular maintenance of your fleet. Every time you tell the story, you reinforce the brand, making it come alive. Over time, it becomes an immeasurable asset to your company—accelerating marketing dollars, strengthening customer relationships and, most importantly, drawing in new customers.

When developed well and executed consistently, your brand creates efficient marketing over the long-term. An authentic brand is built upon the core values of a company. A brand grows out of the business culture and ethics, and it represents all the decisions made since launching the enterprise. The authenticity holds value for customers—they know what they can expect from you. An ad rooted in your brand gives potential customers a feel for the reality of your company. The connection is made, and they are drawn in. After all, people have relationships with people, not with companies. There needs to be a bridge, and that bridge is the brand.

So how is your brand doing? Try assessing the flow of a typical customer interaction: the initial phone call, estimate, service call, even the holiday card you send. Are the interactions tied together through your brand? Are they supported by what you say in your marketing and advertising? Can you actually describe your brand? Do you know how your customers perceive it? If your answers don’t add up, take a deep dive into your biz.

This is where you might want to call a branding professional for assistance. Before you pick up the phone, you need to examine the fundamentals of your business:

  • Review your mission statement. Are you clear on your mission? Does it reflect what you are doing now?
  • Review your vision statement. In what direction do you want the company to go? Does your vision statement reflect this?
  • Get clear on your short- and long-term goals. Where do you want the company to be in 1, 5, 10, 20 years?
  • Specify your offering. Have you written down exactly what services your company provides?
  • Understand your positioning. Where do you stand among your competitors? Among other similar businesses?
  • Marketing strategy. Where will you spend your marketing budget in the short term? What collateral or ads have you developed to support this strategy?
  • Understand your customer’s perspective. You may take for granted the very things your customers love most about you. Here’s where you begin to understand what makes your company’s services so precious to your best customers. A customer survey can help put words to those gems that set you apart from your competition. And you can do it for free at www.surveymonkey.com.

Don’t miss this opportunity to get honest and get real. You will benefit from amplifying and leveraging the unique qualities of your company, but first you need to discover what they are. Do your research to find them and make them part of your strategic plan. Before you know it, your business will be growing while staying true to your original values. In the end, it’s up to you to figure out what makes your biz so awesome and give yourself a leg up.

The original version of this blog post was written for Big Ideas by The Receivables Exchange on October 9, 2012