7 steps to building a solid brand strategy
How to get started with branding your service-based business
The general concept behind this work may not be what you think it is.
It’s generally pretty simple. It doesn’t require technical skill or a lot of money to do this work. Just a willingness to do a little digging, exploring, researching, and listening.
But it’s not always easy to translate the essence of who we are into our website, sale page copy, or any of the ways we show up on line and communicate with our audience.
You don’t need a degree or special talents. You will need to do some research and reflection, as well as take the time to really get clear on your values, message, ideal client, story, and voice. (I’ll show you the first steps in a moment)
Yet this is the thing that so many entrepreneurs either skim over or skip altogether, because it doesn’t seem as “important” as day to day activities or the “heavy, real” stuff like building websites and setting up email campaigns.
The other reason that people tend to blow off this work is because it’s hard to step back and get a clear perspective on our own businesses. I, too, have struggled with this and put it on my “low priority” list, only to discover that there was a misalignment with my own niche, ideal client, and message, and those I thought I wanted to work with.
To be fair, my industry and the world in general has changed a lot in the past few years, and I’ve also grown, gained more experience, and refined my preferences, but still, I wasn’t really doing the work.
This resulted in actual lost income, having to go back to do this work, rebuilding my email list and parts of my website, and re-connect with new people that were a better match for my brand.
Because the main goal in marketing isn’t selling, but to help others find the perfect match for them, and make it easy to buy.
By not doing this work, or skimping on it, , there’s a lack of clarity. People get confused about what we do, and they don’t buy. Think of it like dating and matchmaking. If nobody is authentic and candid, how can anyone expect to find the love of their life? Every single candidate will seem like a big “meh.”
All of us marketing nerds are screaming this from the rooftops in the same way wellness clinicians keep repeating their message over and over.. because it’s true!
The truth is that this work needs to come before ANY marketing. I won’t even build a website without a planning stage in which I take a client through this entire process, because this is where content literally comes from.
Here are the basic foundational steps to get you started in building a solid brand, so that you can work with more of your ideal clients:
Step 1: Your Niche
What is the intersection between what you do best, what you love, what the world needs, and what will pay your bills and provide you with the lifestyle you want?
This is your NICHE.
Your niche is about offering something relevant to your ideal client, which will pay the bills.
It’s about your unique way of doing what you do. A solid niche is designed to fill in the “gaps” in the market, which can also include your unique way of delivering your product or service.
My niche: I’m a marketing strategist who who helps service-based entrepreneurs build a sustainable, profitable, and freedom-based business via evergreen courses, memberships, and other innovative packages.
I help people who may be tired of relying ONLY on 1:1 client work transition into a more creative and flexible business model that doesn’t require their 24/7 presence to deliver their expertise. In other words, something that can be made once and sold repeatedly. (Evergreen)
This also makes it easier for them to choose which 1:1 clients they prefer to work with, to have a greater range of pricing options, and provide more choices and even better results for their own ideal clients.
Branding is part of the entire holistic process.
The gap: a complete solution to get from point A (overwhelm, where do I start) to point B: The launch of a new product or package, and beyond.
It took me a while to effectively articulate this niche, and honestly, I’m still refining it. Actually, if you are reading this, you can help me by telling me if the above makes sense.
Let’s look at other niches, because it’s easy to get stuck “in the box” when it comes to our own business. It’s good to think like an entrepreneur in general, and to get inspired on a daily basis.
So here’s another example: my mother is 85 years old and depends on regular deliveries to her home. She has to keep learning new apps, and often gets “nickeled and dimed.”
I can see a need for an easier way for seniors to order in, whether it’s groceries or takeout, easier technology, more choices, and more transparent prices.
There could be a way to do this that feels good and is profitable and sustainable for a delivery service focusing on a demographic/ideal customer that does have money to spend on easy food delivery.
Side note: I think part of the problem is an overabundance of apps and the tipping culture in the US, which isn’t based on transparency, which makes shopping stressful, especially from my new European perspective.
Another gap is for high quality clothing for middle-aged women. Too many clothing chains have discontinued favorite lines, focused on marketing towards GenZ, and make finding clothes that fit well and are flattering a hassle.
A niche doesn’t always have to be about a struggle or a problem:
I have a friend that makes soap. She’s passionate about scent and the look and feel of her hand crafted soaps. Soap can be a commodity, but hers are not.
This goes beyond relevance, gaps, or even what makes a brand unique. It’s about deep values, credibility, and perspective.
What a niche is NOT: “Energy work for stressed people” or “Empowering women.” These are way too vague. They either describe a demographic (women) or pretty much all of humanity (stress) We need to get more specific.
I encourage you to think about this for more than 15 seconds. It’s easy to think “Yeah, I’ve got this” when we don’t know what we don’t know. And then we struggle because we have to work so much harder to attract the right clients. We end up with random people that may or may not be a great fit, and the result is having to resort to all the crappy sales techniques that most of us hate.
Step 2:Your Brand Point of View
This is an ongoing step. It’s about being confident and consistent about presenting your point of view, perspective, and expert opinion.
Using my friend with the soap business as an example: Why would I buy from her rather than LUSH? Or a big company? Or even another small business?
Not just because she’s a friend, but because we “vibe” and share the same values: A passion for how scent can evoke memories of a place or time, local sourcing, and community.
Even though I love the product, I love the brand, the vibe, and the story behind it. She really knows her shit. The energy she puts into crafting soap. (Her brand archetype is the “friend next door”) She also has a quick, dry, GenX brand of humor that I totally appreciate.
Something as simple as soap can be unique, not just because it’s an excellent product, but because of the brand point of view.
And if this is the case, so can a service (expertise)-based business. Not just in spite of new technological developments, but because of it. People CRAVE a brand with a real personality, perspective, point of view, and story behind it.
Let’s explore some of the other elements that go into the foundational work, or the first steps in creating a solid brand.
Step 3: Your big WHY
Part of the work is connecting (or re-connecting) to your own purpose for doing what you do. This isn’t about how you serve others (we’ll get to that in a moment) It’s about what makes you WANT to get out of bed each morning and do your work.
This is all about YOU.
An example: For me, it’s about time, location, and financial independence. I know that entrepreneurship is hard work, and that there are risks. But at least all the hard work is done on my terms, and ends up helping me build my OWN entity and assets that I can leverage to get me even more freedom, time, and money.
I’m not limited by an employer, or if I chose to cultivate other income streams, not even limited by being a freelancer selling my time. I’m also kind of a stubborn pain in the ass about not wanting to work for someone else.
Now its your turn: Ask yourself: “What is the reason I’m doing this in the first place?”
Again, using myself as an example: “So I can do the work I love and still work from any location I choose.”
Yours might be: “So I can enjoy spending more time with the people I love” or “So I have time to pursue my passion for making music.” or “So that I can retire, sell everything, and work from an RV and explore the country” or even “So I can hang out with my dog while I work.”
This may sound like a fluffy exercise but this is part of the energy or vibe that will fuel your business. It’s what you keep coming back to when you want to quit, because I’m willing to bet you’ll have days that will suck, as well as the days when you feel good.
Step 4: Your Mission
Now, what is the reason you do what you do for others?
This next step is about why you serve others. AKA: Your mission.
For example, my mission is to help service-based entrepreneurs achieve freedom, sustainability, and profitability through their own evergreen courses, memberships, and innovative packages. I also help them streamline their workflow and save TIME.
This mission statement doesn’t show up, literally, in every piece of content I write, but it’s reflected in my entire brand. It’s a common thread. Freedom and sustainability show up a lot, whether it’s via verbal, written, or audible forms of communication.
This may also seem like a fluffy exercise, but it will keep you on track. When you remember this as the message behind everything you write, your entire presence over time (your brand) will be more clear and cohesive.
Step 5: Your Brand Story
Next comes your brand story, or personal brand story. This is HUGE. Part of it is about our own personal journey: I often tell my story about how I ran my acupuncture practice using the principles I teach, and how I sold everything I owned, including my practice, and moved to Europe. I can speak directly to the idea of time and location independence, without all the hype and bullshit that some “lifestyle brands” deliver.
Part of this is also about your brand narrative, which centers around your ideal client, who is the hero of the story. We act as their guide, and shine the spotlight on THEM, not us.
There’s more to this than a few sentences can provide, so here’s an introduction to using storytelling in your branding.
Step 6: Identify Your Ideal Client.
This is something I urge you to spend more than 10 minutes on. Yes, it will evolve, but we also don’t want to to “wing it” or base the person we are addressing each day on a whim. This is confusing for everyone.
1. Who do I want to work with? Which clients have I had in the past were a fantastic fit, and would be the client you want more of? Which ones were not a good fit? You may even want to do this several times a year!
2. What is the main thing they intensely WANT? Really give this some thought and do some research. Missing the mark on this may not seem like a big deal, but it is. As I mentioned above, I didn’t quite get this right.
And this cost me dearly. I had no new clients and had to adjust quickly!
For example, the kinds of products and services I offer to someone who is more TIME strapped is going to be different from someone who has more time but little income.
The same goes for those who are beginners at marketing or technology vs. more advanced, or who are hobbyists vs. more serious about their businesses as a way to earn a living, or even who have different values than I do. There is no “right or wrong” but rather, right or wrong matches or fits.
So I went back and did all the foundational work. That’s how important this all is!
This adjustment is about defining our niche, mission, and story, but it’s not a one-way conversation. We need to LISTEN as well. Directly. This is GOLD.
Yes, research is fine and good. Google, Amazon, and ChatGPT can be great research tools and speed up the process, but I don’t think we should depend on them alone.
For example, if I’m offering a course on how to scale a business, I need to keep listening to what my students want and never assume that I know what will help them. I always make sure to ASK.
I”ve learned a LOT about my clients this way!
The other thing I do is write down questions, suggestions, and complaints I see from my ideal clients. Now that I know what to look for, I see examples everwhere!
Which leads me to the next question:
Step 7: What can your brand DO for them?
This is about stepping away from a purely transactional mindset, and focusing on transformation.
Using my business as an example again:
What is the transformation I offer? Not just for my signature course, but for everything I have available? How can my ideal client get what they need, at any stage in this journey?
Think of a chocolate shop.
(My grandmother used to own one on the North Side of Chicago in the 40’s)
What draws you in and makes you more curious? (“window shopping”)
What is the next step? Walking in and savoring the scent? A free sample?
The next step might be a small purchase.. maybe a half a pound of the dark chocolate and coconut..
Would you be likely to buy a box of premium chocolates right away? Probably not, unless there’s an occasion to do so.
But now you know where to go to when you want to buy something special.
Because the entire experience of being in this shop is so damn GOOD, not because anyone had to “sell” you anything or be “pushy.”
That’s what I think a brand does.. Its not about selling ONE product or service, but how the entire brand can meet a need.
Remember this: Only about 3% of our ideal clients are ready to buy our big ticket items today. Most of them will need many more touch points before they buy. Much of the math is about TIMING, so it’s important to have something to offer for each stage in their journey.
I go into more depth with all of this inside the Future Proof Your Business Toolkit.
So are you ready to take just a few hours of your time for this important work? Cool!
If you are still not sure if it’s worth the effort, I’m in the process of writing my next blog, where I tell a story about what happens when we don’t do this work, or take shortcuts. (stay tuned!)
Step 8: Your Visual Brand
I have a graphic design background, and yet I still haven’t mentioned anything about colors, logos, images, and typography yet!
Why? Because none of it will make sense without doing the rest of the steps FIRST.
The brand archetype quiz is a great way to start thinking not just about aesthetics, but your entire branding journey. If you haven’t taken this free quiz yet.. this will help you get started!
There’s a lot to this, and I’ll be focusing more on this in another blog.
Now it’s time to grab a notebook or blank Google doc and start writing and reflecting. This is the kind of work that moves the needle in your business. Be that inner CEO!
Need help with your brand?
I like to have options available for no matter where you are at on your branding journey.
If you have not already taken the free brand archetype quiz, you can do that today, over your next cup of coffee.
If you need some personalized guidance, you can schedule a strategy session with me. It’s 2.5 hours (you’ll need a whole pot of coffee, tea, or beverage of choice) It’s a great investment for $297.
If you want a self-paced option, the Future Proof Your Business Toolkit will take you through all the foundational steps AND all the steps you need to take to create and promote your course, membership, or innovative package.