I recently read a couple of intriguing posts that got me thinking about small business branding, specifically how many “small” businesses are misidentifying and in turn misbranding themselves.
Before the rise of corporatism back in the late 19th century, our society was primarily built on the individual “small” business owner — the shop keeper, the blacksmith, the printer, etc. Do some fast forwarding and it’s not quite that simple anymore. In today’s landscape of small business types, there are several terms that represent all different kinds of small businesses. Terms like freelancer, entrepreneur, solopreneur, lifestyle entrepreneur, etc. There are more types of small businesses than ever before starting to popup and they’re not quite sure how to describe themselves. We are calling it a minor identity crisis.
With recent disastrous events in our economy and a multitude of other reasons, layoffs, downsizing, you name it, many people have been forced to look for alternate opportunities to their corporate careers. With the lack of longterm job options in the horizon, many started to look for ways to not only support themselves and their families but to simplify their lives and find meaning in what they do. Believe it or not, it is no longer enough to just make money. Many people realized they wanted to use their business to help make the world a better place. In fact, the B-Corp movement rose up from a desire of many small businesses to be a force for good in the world.
With so many individuals heading out on their own, it appears that we are heading back to a hybrid version of the pre-corporatism days of the individual “small” business owner. Which is mostly great. However, it does mean there is a little more work in identifying yourself. If you are one of those millions of people venturing out on your own, it is vital to understand where you fit in the modern landscape of small business types in order to tell your story and to shape your brand more effectively. Are you a small business or a micro business? Are you a startup entrepreneur or a solopreneur? Are you an independent or a freelancer?
Like many small business owners I wanted to reclaim my personality along with a bit of joy in what I do to spice it up. There was no way I was going to return to a large agency and become “just a number” again. For me, it started on my re-entry to the world of freelance. I soon realized that I no longer identified as a freelancer — I wanted to build my own client base. Not to mention there were far too many connotations connected to the term “freelancer” that I just did not relate to anymore. Most notably, my goal to grow my branding business into a 3-6 person shop, which most freelancers wouldn’t even consider.
This left me with a bit of a dilemma. How do I identify as a business? Am I an entrepreneur? A small business owner? A micro business? A startup? Do I refer to my business as a studio, a firm, or an agency? Is your head spinning yet? But wait, then there are the legal entities to consider as well! What is the best structure for my business? Sole proprietor? LLC? S-Corp? There is a lot to consider and it’s not just about semantics. How you setup your business could determine what types of customers or clients you attract and if it’s a good fit for both of you.
Although I had setup my business entity as an LLC, It took me several months to redefine and isolate the new direction of my brand strategy oriented services. But once I understood the structure of my business my vision became crystal clear. I started to connect more effortlessly with potential clients. Understanding who I am as a business helped me put together a roadmap to define, build and promote my brand — who I am, what I do, and why.
The challenge is that many new business owners automatically identify with being a small business even though they don’t fit the “official” description of a small business. In fact many small businesses are actually micro businesses with 0-2 employees and profits under a $100,000. In contrast many “small” businesses may have annual revenues well over 20 million dollars.
With so very much to look into and consider, truly knowing thyself becomes a top of the list priority. Understanding every aspect of who you are as a business and what you do is what connects your business to not only new customers but people who are aligned with who you are. You don’t want to cast the widest net possible and deal with everything you pull up. Instead take some time to look at the structure and goals of your business — this will help you narrow down on what kind of small business you are and want to become. It might take you a while to sort through it all — and that’s okay! Just don’t let it fall to the wayside because ultimately, it’s an important step in identifying your brand. From there you can build and promote your brand, directed at exactly who will respond best to it.