Interview: The Importance of Branding For Small Businesses Guest Author Dorie Clark is the author of Stand Out and Reinventing You, and is an adjunct professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. We had a chance to speak with Dorie about branding, content creation, and reinventing businesses (and people). Tell us a bit about your background. Why are you so passionate about branding? I started my marketing strategy consulting business 10 years ago, and I quickly realized that if I were going to be successful, I’d need to differentiate myself in the marketplace. That’s increasingly becoming a challenge as the number of social channels proliferates and we’re all inundated with information. In learning how to build my brand and set myself apart, I realized this was a common challenge many entrepreneurs and executives face these days. I believe it’s important for the best ideas to be heard, so I want to help talented professionals get recognized for their true talents. If someone were to say to you, “Branding is important for large companies; but since I’m a small business owner, I don’t need to worry about it very much,” how would you respond? We live in an increasingly competitive marketplace. People aren’t just choosing their graphic designer or marketing consultant from down the street; they’re often doing business with people around the world. You have to provide your customers with a compelling reason to choose to do business with you specifically. Otherwise, it’s a race to the bottom and your business likely won’t last. Since change can be scary for some people, do you have any advice for someone working in a traditional occupation who is thinking about reinventing himself/herself as a small business owner or solopreneur? Don’t feel like you have to leap suddenly and quit your job. In fact, that’s usually a bad idea. As I describe in my book Reinventing You, it’s possible to work to develop your new project or side business for months or even years while you’re working your full-time job. This allows you to be strategic, develop the skills and connections you need, and feel confident you can replace your income once you decide to pursue your new venture full time. For someone who is trying to reinvent himself/herself, can you name one effective marketing tactic or technique that you feel is significantly underutilized? I’m very bullish on content marketing – i.e., establishing your expertise by creating content such as writing blogs or launching a podcast. Many people dabble in this, but few do it well and use it to its full potential. If you’re working to reinvent yourself, content creation serves two important purposes. First, it shows people you’re serious about your new field and demonstrates your knowledge of it. Second, if you interview people you’d like to meet or connect with, it can serve as an important networking tool. If a company or small business is looking to reinvent itself, what are some of the initial steps that it should take? I’m a big fan of doing small tests, evaluating the results, and then iterating. You may not have the vision of where you want to go entirely right at the beginning, and that’s OK. Instead, try a small, low-risk pilot and see how your customers respond. If they like it, double down; and if not, try something else. This methodology is discussed to great effect in The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, Little Bets by Peter Sims, and Getting to Plan B by Randy Komisar and John Mullins. Since your book Stand Out touches on the importance of becoming a “thought leader,” could you offer any suggestions on how to become a thought leader in a particular field or area? Becoming a thought leader involves three key activities. The first, as I mentioned before, is content creation, because you can’t be recognized for your ideas if no one knows what they are. The second is developing social proof (i.e., associations that give you credibility, such as being the head of your professional association or writing for high profile publications) so people will trust what you say. And the third is building a strong network, so you have a group of people who can help you refine and improve your ideas and who will be able to serve as ambassadors to help spread them when the time is right. For a small business, is there value in obtaining an automated marketing or sales platform in order to allocate more time and energy toward branding? Investing in an automated sales or marketing platform may be a good idea for your business. But I’d caution business owners to learn how the process works manually first (in other words, do it yourself initially). It’s easy to invest in software and assume it will solve all your problems, but you need to understand the mechanism at a deep level first so you’ll be able to evaluate its effectiveness and make intelligent decisions about how to deploy it. What do you foresee for the future of branding, especially for small businesses and solopreneurs? There’s no turning back from information overload; it will likely only continue to get worse. But high-quality content will always have a place. If you can create amazing content that others truly want, that will differentiate you and your company from everyone else that is just adding to the “noise” out there. Also, it’s never too early to focus on building your email list, which remains the most important and direct way to communicate with your customers.