Most entrepreneurs start their business with a vision – a clear idea of where they want to be, what they hope to stand for and how their brand will be represented in the public space. We fastidiously work on our logos, our website content and our corporate identities, trying to strike just the right balance in the hopes of standing out in the crowd.
And then the business kicks off, and all hopes of maintaining any kind of identity dissipate in amongst a flurry of deadlines and a nightmarish whirlwind of admin, with hours seemingly vanishing in micro-seconds as we do our best to cling to some sense of order and sanity.
And so the best laid plans start to unravel. We start neglecting our corporate blog – initially conceived as a platform for thought leadership, but now a digital wasteland frequented only by trolls and spam lords. Our Facebook page starts looking tired. Our Instagram account, which once housed a vibrant series of enticing images, lies dormant for lack of anything worth photographing.
Naturally, our inclination as business owners is to tend to the needs of our paying clients first – after all, they’re the ones keeping the lights on. And with so few hours in the day to work with, it’s important that they all be billable.
Yet to neglect our own brand in favour of those we service is an exercise in short-sightedness, and a move likely to compromise the business at a later stage, once the last-minute requests and referrals start drying up. Because let’s face it, we’re only young and fresh once, and we can only ride the ‘disruptor’ or ‘newbie’ wave for so long. And when that comes crashing to shore, best you have a back-up plan in place.
In the early days, business seems to have a life of its own, and as entrepreneurs, we simply trip and fall in line with its demands, bobbing and weaving in response to the day’s diverse asks. But what happens when we have to take a proactive stance? When we need to go out to market and seek out new business?
Suffice to say it’s not going to look good when you, as a specialist social media agency, have a fat load of nothing on your own pages. How confident are your clients going to feel about handing over their business to you when your owned properties reek of ineptitude?
Sure you can name drop and wave testimonials in their faces, but that only really gets you so far. Great, so you work for Brand A or B, but as far as prospective clients are concerned, that could have been achieved on anything but merit. You could have dirt on their director, or conveniently have family members on the board. Who knows? At the end of the day, what is it that YOU have to say for yourself?
For entrepreneurs, it’s important to remember to do unto others as you would unto yourself, and that means making your business your number one priority. Simply doing great work for your clients isn’t going to cut it – yes, it demonstrates your ability to play with the big boys, but it doesn’t help you to differentiate your offering, your thinking or your expertise.
So while it might feel like a tedious exercise in pro-bono work that you really can’t afford to take on, it’s more important than ever in this age of increased competition that you carve out a niche for your own operation that extends beyond the what you do and clearly reflects the how. Because times will get tough, and if you stack up poorly against those gunning equally hard for the same business, you’re going to find yourself in hot water.
Here are two important thoughts to bear in mind to ensure your business doesn’t fall off its own radar:
Treat yourself like a client: Sure you might not be a paying client per se, but you should be afforded an equal level of priority when it comes to workload (even if the dividends you reap are only somewhere in the future). So make sure to add your own business to your client list, and treat it with the same level of urgency, care and attention as you would those whose business you covet.
Market your insight, not your client list: For many businesses, the easiest way to keep themselves on the radar is to simply brag endlessly about their client work, dropping names like it’s some sort of competition. But while it doesn’t hurt to have a brag book, it also doesn’t say anything about who you are. Presumably every business has clients – but it’s your thinking and culture that makes you stand out.