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Do you first build the business or your brand?

By Eve Mosongo | February 24th 2021

Things become a tad bit confusing when one begins to talk about a brand and a business, as most people think that they are one and the same. However, that’s not the case. Even though the two are joined at the hip – they complement each other – they are as different as night and day. So, let’s break it down for you. 

What is your foundation?  Without your business, you do not have a brand to grow. Grace Kariuki of Sheeimage Africa is a corporate trainer whose main focus is personal and corporate branding.  She says that developing the product is the first step. “Your business cannot survive without products or services. Otherwise, what else are you offering your clients? First, develop a product or services.  “In the early days of running your company as a solopreneur, you will work one on one with your clients. Once you begin to grow, you can start subcontracting some of the work and focus on other models that can bring you more income. As you grow, and by delegating, you will realise that your business does not need you to do most of the heavy lifting. Then you can begin to start thinking about your brand.

As you build your foundation, expect that your business model will change, with time. As an entrepreneur, you will learn what aspects of the business at which you excel, what is making money and where you want to put your focus. There are instances that, even after having done due diligence, you find that a source of revenue that you thought would rake in money isn’t. Embrace experimentation. It will open you up to more opportunities. Learn how to make money before you start tackling the brand.

Your brand is what sets you apart from your competitors who are offering the same products and services. “First, you have to look at the competitors and what they are offering in the market, then you will know what makes you different. What are the strengths, uniqueness of your business? When you want to grow your brand, ask yourself what you have to offer that other people don’t. One way to know what you’re good at - take random people… your friends or your bosses, and ask them. Those people will give you feedback. And from that, analyse yourself and say, ‘okay, because of this, this is what I build on, this is what I work on,” Kariuki adds. Your brand is what you stand for. It makes you visible. It carries the message you want to share with your clients.

Your products and services may be maize and beans but your brand is the avocado that brings the meal together, turning it into a tasty delight. Magic happens when your business and brand marry. But, at times, confusion sets in because… your business will make more money through your brand. American entrepreneur and best-selling author, Mark Manson, however, clarifies that “Branding is a leverage point. It’s something that, the more you work on and perfect, the more it will have a multiplier effect on everything else. Sales will come easier, traffic will stick better, people will talk about you and spread your content more efficiently.”

Over time, your brand, just like business, will morph. What you are in the business will change if you decide that you want to do something entirely different – for a different audience. American artist Rihanna had to rethink her strategy when she launched Fenty Beauty, her cosmetic line.  Before she was in the business of selling music (which she put on pause) but her products and services changed when she launched Fenty Beauty. With time, her brand has morphed. And your business will call for rebranding, on occasion. Manson’s business grew – website traffic jumped five-fold and income three-fold in six months – when he rebranded. Since then, the authors (who initially self-published) books have been picked up by international publishing houses such as HarperOne, and they are now sold in over 100 countries.   

 When in doubt, just keep these three things in mind:

1. Before you approach a branding agency, figure out your business. You have to be clear on what you are offering. The branding agency comes in to help you determine your revenue forecast, strategy and model. Other agencies will work with you on positioning your brand with ideas, images and words.

2. Know what you are working towards – the end game. You can decide to make the business all about you, but you can also build it up and sell it off. Think about whether you want to brand your business under your name, like Donald Trump’s real estate business where all his buildings carry his name, or Jeff Bezos with Amazon. “Corporates prefer setting up a business that has its own legal rights, which will operate entirely free from their founder, or even the person who began the business. That gives the business a good end game because it will no longer rely on them,” Kariuki reveals.

3.  Know which comes first. This is the case of the chicken and egg where you have to know which of the two needs to precede the other. Do not jump the gun. You will lose money and waste a lot of time and energy if you do not put the right pieces in place first. According to Kariuki, “Grow your business first. The services or the products that you are offering should come first.”

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