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Business Observer Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2014 4 years ago

Branding your business on a budget

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Most startups don't have much money to spend on marketing. With these steps, you can start to promote yourself without spending much at all.
by: Cheryl O’Neill Staff Writer

When I started my business four years ago, I didn't have much money to spend on marketing, especially branding my company. But through research, I discovered you could come up with a campaign without spending much at all.

Create a standout logo
A good logo will go a long way. Unless you are able to create one on your own that looks professional, you'll need to hire an expert. I was fortunate enough to have a friend who could do this for me at no cost. You can find designers to help you create an image that lets people know what you and your company stand for instantly.

Don't create the logo totally by yourself. At first you need to brainstorm on your own to get some ideas, but once you have a few, gather some of your friends to help you decide on the best one.

What makes a good logo? There are a few key elements that make for a successful logo. Ask yourself, if that logo is:

Functional: Will it work on a letterhead, a business card as well as a large poster?
Aesthetically pleasing: No one likes an ugly image.
Original: If you use clip art, it will be obvious. Create an original piece.
Appropriate: A plumber might have pipes in his logo or a large wrench. A large diamond ring would not be a good choice.
Timeless: Pick a logo that will work into the next decade. For instance a picture of a stocky man doing the Gangnam Style dance probably won't mean much in five years (at least I hope it doesn't).

Take all of those ideas and any sketches to talk to whomever you get to help you create this final logo. Talk it all through with them. The more you tell them the better job they'll do.

Come up with a slogan
The word “slogan” comes from the Scottish Gaelic Sluagh-ghairm, which means army cry or battle cry. Don't confuse this with your elevator pitch or your mission statement. It needs to be short and sweet, something you can say in a single breath, or battle cry.

If you can capture the right catchphrase, people will spread your message far and wide. According to Charlie Cook from Marketing for Success, “A good slogan sticks like glue in people's minds, reminding them consciously and unconsciously of your product, over and over.”

With the right slogan, you can get free word-of-mouth advertising around the proverbial water cooler. People adore a good slogan. Just consider several from the last decades. None of these mention the company name, but I'll bet you can shout them out by their slogan alone:

Where's the beef?
When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight!
Breakfast of champions.
The ultimate driving machine.

Of course your slogan can also include your name, which can only help you brand your company. Here are a few that work well for the product:

Got milk?
Easy as Dell.
Subway. Eat Fresh.
M&Ms melt in your mouth, not in your hand.

You can create your slogan on your own or with a group of friends. People love to chip in ideas. Some entrepreneurs like to make a huge word list to identify phrases for their battle cry, but often a great slogan comes to one in a burst of inspiration.

For me, I was working with my friend to design my logo and was thinking about my slogan when suddenly I thought “what about combining the two?” So in my logo is the name of my company which represents what I do followed by a tag line “Helping businesses find alternative financing”.

Practice your pitch
You need to be able to sell yourself within a short pitch that can be easily delivered in the time it takes to climb a few floors in an elevator. You need to be able to answer the innocent question, “What do you do?” in such a way that the person wants to know more. Ask yourself a few questions and the answers to these will be a good start. These questions are:

What value do you provide?
How do you provide this value?
What is unique about your offer?
What is your target market?

Begin with an action phrase that is NOT a noun. (“I am a X” - but don't use a “label” in the blank. You don't want people to put you in a box). Add a one sentence statement about what you DO. (“I do Y” - What do you help people or businesses do?) Give a statement of the specific impact. (“People who utilize my process find Z.”) End with a call to action. (“I am looking to be introduced to A.”) Be specific! If you ask for something non-specific you are likely to get it. What good is that?

The first step will be to try out your pitch to yourself. Say it out loud, preferably in front of a mirror, or better yet, on video. You can record yourself on your phone and play it back. How does it sound? How would you respond to it? It should just come out naturally (which means if you keep getting tripped up on a certain phrase, change the phrase).

Next is the hard part for most people. You need to practice it on others. Prepare to get a little tongue-tied the first few times. Start with friends, people who are supportive of your goals. If you stumble, try again. Friends will understand. Do this until you can actually take it to the next level, delivering it to someone you don't know.

When you give your first elevator pitch to a complete stranger, take your time. Don't rush it. Speak clearly and look the person in the eye. If you mess up, chances are they won't notice. They've never heard the original and don't know that you skipped a line or added a word. If you're sincere, it will communicate.

Then it is a matter of practicing it with others until you aren't worried about your pitch at all and it just flows out easily. Trust me, it won't take long.

Cheryl O'Neill Gowen is president and CEO of Alternative Funding Options. She works with business owners seeking cash flow from non-traditional sources, drawing on more than 30 years' experience in banking, financing and staffing. Contact her at:{encode="[email protected]" title="[email protected]"}.

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