As you may have seen, Kyle and I offer small business coaching through WeddingIQ, and I also provide coaching services via my personally branded site. I've been really fortunate to work with a variety of coaching clients; they include planners, DJs, photographers, caterers, hair and makeup artists, and more. Some are experienced wedding business owners who just feel trapped: stuck in a brand that doesn't represent them, with clients they don't love, while bogged down by disorganized operations, and with their sense of purpose eroded. Others are newer entrepreneurs, full of fire, who need a little guidance on getting off on the right foot. I feel lucky to work with all of these people, as I believe in their businesses and am genuinely rooting for their success. In some respects, I feel that I've found my calling in helping other entrepreneurs build companies that support their dreams.
With that said, something that came up in a recent coaching session really got me thinking. Most of my coaching clients have thrown money at various products and services and have been let down again and again, because what they received didn't actually work for their business. Maybe it was a website or logo that didn't accurately reflect their brand; maybe it was an advertising opportunity that fell flat because it wasn't going to get them in front of their target audience. In all cases, working with a business coach from the early stages may have prevented some of the disappointment, because they would have had a road map to provide to all of their contractors along the way.
That part's obvious, though - everyone has 20/20 hindsight. We'd all do better if we had expert advice throughout our journey, but we don't always have the means or the forethought to make that happen. What's thought-provoking to me, though, is how so many business owners seem to attach their pride to their initial branding, often to their own detriment. Why is that?
People start businesses for all kinds of reasons, but I've found that in the wedding industry, entrepreneurs are usually people who are passionate about - and talented at - a particular craft. Whether it's photography, cooking, baking, deejaying, filmmaking, dressmaking, hairstyling, or something else, the person is some kind of artisan who wants to put their talent out into the world and reap the benefits.
The thing is, this has absolutely nothing to do with business acumen, particularly when it comes to brand development.
Having a great service or product is completely unrelated to the knowledge and skills involved in identifying a unique selling proposition, identifying a target clientele, assessing your place within the market, and defining a brand (and directing all the marketing efforts that follow).
So why is it that so many business owners feel obligated to rely solely on their own instincts when it comes to these things, which in my opinion, make up the very foundation of a business?
It's not money. Plenty of business owners, including every single one of my coaching clients, have happily invested in web developers, graphic designers, printing companies, and other contractors. Few of us have any qualms paying someone else to repair our equipment, consult on our search engine placement, do our taxes, or provide legal advice. In all of those cases, we're willing to pay the "experts" for skills we don't have, and we don't beat ourselves up over it - rather, it seems like a natural, and intelligent, business decision.
Somehow, though, brand identity has become such a personal thing that business owners feel some kind of responsibility to just figure it out on their own. It's almost as though they feel they don't deserve the credit for their success if their own instinct isn't the sole guiding factor in their branding. It makes absolutely no sense. There's no prize at the end of our career for having done everything ourselves - and if the outcome of bad branding decisions is less money and less recognition for our talent, well, we've pretty much received the polar opposite of a prize. Not exactly a fairytale ending for anyone's entrepreneurial journey.
Don't get me wrong - brands are absolutely personal, and every one of my coaching clients can vouch for my insistence that their brand incorporate more of their unique personality, talents, values and story.
But make no mistake, your brand is, or should be, a result of a conscious, purposeful decision born out of market analysis, personal reflection and a whole lot of critical thinking. And it has very little to do with the actual "thing" you're selling.
Getting your branding right from the very beginning is obviously ideal, but few of us (myself included) manage that. It's never too late to change course, though, and to evolve your brand into one that actually represents you and what you want to do. Involving someone with expertise, at least in an advisory role, can make all the difference not only in your business success, but also in your enjoyment of your business and your life.
If you're feeling stuck, I'd recommend you contact a business coach, whether it's me, Kyle, or someone else entirely. Even establishing an informal mentoring relationship with someone you trust and respect is better than going it alone, just for the sake of saying you did it yourself. The creation of a brand is absolutely a major endeavor, requiring very specific knowledge and skills, no different from any other service in which you'd willingly invest. In fact, it could just be the most important investment you'll make.