How to Turn Freelancing into a Profitable Business

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Freelancing is a grind because freelancers trade dollars for hours and don't approach their freelancing as a business. The first step to getting out of that grind is to raise your prices. (click to tweet)

But that's where the excuses show up. People cite lots of reasons for failing to raise their prices:

  • “No one will pay that in my space, in my geographic location, in my industry…”

  • “Everyone else charges less, so I can’t charge more”

  • “My service or brand isn’t as respected, experienced, impressive, credentialed, famous”

  • “No one has heard of me or my business”

  • “If I charge what I’m worth, people will look at me like I have ten heads”

  • “I know I’m worth more, but others can’t see it”

  • “I won’t get any business if I charge more than I already do”

  • “I can’t afford to lose a client because my prices are too high”

  • “They don’t get why I’m worth what I think I’m worth”

Chances are, if you struggle with pricing and your excuse is on this list, you haven’t made a serious or sustained attempt at increasing your price long enough to see if it is possible. Or you immediately negotiate against yourself once you think the client might be interested. Or you have given it a try but believe they say no because of your new higher price.

I’m going to let you in on the well-known “secret” to raising your prices and charging what you and your service are really worth....

THE GUTS TO TAKE THE DRIVER’S SEAT.

If you think any of the above excuses apply to you, then you are a passenger in your business—along for the ride but frustrated, sitting in traffic when the next exit could take you to a wide-open road. You might be secretly scared to seize the wheel because if you take steps to increase your value and your prices, you know you’re going to encounter that moment of truth when the potential client grimaces and tells you it’s too much. This is when you’re going to see what you’re really made of and find out how much you really believe in yourself.

Take the driver’s seat and accept that these excuses might be true right now, but that you are going to take steps to change the situation.

You think no one’s heard of you or your business and that’s why you can’t charge more? Start marketing so people have heard of you.

Nobody in your geographic location has money? Get creative and take your business online, or figure out how to travel.

You know you’re worth more but others don’t seem to get it? Build your brand into a Badass Brand so they do see it. (And if you don’t know how to do this, take the free Crash Course on branding a business that stands out.)

Other people are taking these exact steps and seeing success, so why aren’t you? There is no reason they are succeeding and you aren’t—except your own unwillingness to step up.

Sounds easy, so why isn’t everyone doing it? Because taking these steps takes serious GUTS. These moves are easy to talk about, but very hard to do because they require action and work.  It’s easier to blame your inability to charge more on the environment or your current financial situation than to think that it’s your unwillingness to try. And when you do try, it takes even more guts to deal with the inevitable results of stepping up to the plate and putting yourself out there. It doesn’t work immediately, and you’ll have to keep trying.

  • It means possibly saying no to the next interested potential client you meet, and thus turning down potential money when you need it badly

  • It means passing on a project when they offer you just below your new high price (more than you used to charge but less than your listed price) to reinforce your value in your mind and in the market, and demonstrate that your value is not up for negotiation

  • It means possibly going into some debt and viewing it as an investment into charging higher prices in the future, instead of lost money

  • It means being mentally prepared for a possible lull in business as you focus all your energy on doing what’s necessary to justify your new price by investing in increasing your perceived, or actual, value

  • It means possibly looking at yourself and your brand in the mirror and asking some hard questions about how your business represents itself and how others perceive it

All this has to do with asking yourself: Do I have the guts to bet on myself?

I started betting on myself years before we started Worstofall Design. When I was 23 I tried my hand at real estate, renting luxury apartments in NYC when I knew nothing about real estate or, really, about sales. Oh yeah, and it was 2008! Clearly I did not know what I did not know because I flung myself into this market at the worst possible time. I worked seven days a week, determined to make it work, with the mantra “stupider people have done it” ringing in my ears.

I thought: If others could make money doing this, why not me?

I didn’t start with any money, so I financed this endeavor by living very cheaply on an introductory interest-free credit card. When I made my first deal six months months later (seriously: I didn’t make ONE PENNY for six months), all the money I made went to chipping away at the debt. But that was all I needed to know: I did it! It was possible! And now that I knew I could do it, it was just a matter of holding on until it worked even more.

I left real estate two years later debt free and with a small savings without ever paying a dollar in interest fees. But the lessons I gained through the grit needed to sell NYC real estate during a recession—with no experience—have served me for a lifetime.

Fast-forward to owning my own business.

The first time I took a big bet on us was when I said no to a client who was ready to pay us $13,000 for a project that I had pitched at $16,000. We desperately needed the work, and I wanted to cry when I got off the phone. It was a lucky situation because the client called back a few days later and agreed to the full amount, which probably made it easier for me to say no to hagglers in the future. Since then I have also said no to hagglers many times where the client didn’t come back, but I don’t even remember those instances anymore because they register as “not a good fit,” not as lost income.

Betting on yourself, and being willing to push through the results even when they are scary, is a muscle that you build over time. And if you haven’t used this muscle yet, it’s time to begin. You have to start somewhere. You will not get there unless you turn your excuses into fuel to take the steps to make your business worth more and communicate that it’s worth more. You can use my mantra from my real estate days: Stupider people have done it, so why not you?

Guts are another thing we want to all believe we have, just like we want to believe our service is valuable. (click to tweet) But having guts means doing things most people don’t do to get results that may seem impossible today. I assure you that whatever you are insisting is “impossible” is just something you haven’t approached with the guts it takes to try it out—or to stick with it long enough for it to work.

You can fail at something only when you give up. As long as you keep trying, you are always on the winding path toward success. So no matter what is holding you back from charging more, it’s time to get into the driver’s seat and start planning what you’re going to do to change that reality.

Here’s an unfortunate truth:  You’re not worth more than you’re getting paid right now. But you can change that by identifying why you aren’t charging more, and taking steps to do something about it.

The question is, do you have the guts to do it?

What is a Brand? What is a BADASS Brand?

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The idea of branding is so elusive no matter how many articles and books there are out there, I find most people still don’t really get what branding is.

Definitions of "Brand"

Some people think it’s your logo and the colors you use on your website and business cards. These are an important piece of your brand, but they only make up your visual brand.

Other people define branding as “the emotional connection that people have with your business.” Yes I agree, as Simon Sinek has aptly stated, it isn’t about the what but the why. An example of this is action is that McDonald’s isn’t selling hamburgers, silly, they are selling happiness! However, most people don’t know what the heck that means in practice, and end up resting on this idea to the detriment of their business. (You’re selling transformation are you? You and everyone else!)

I particularly like Jeff Bezos’ definition that a brand is what people say about your business when you’re not in the room. It’s spot on because though that definition isn’t tactical and easy to apply, at least it holds up to the test quite well.

For example, I’ll never forget this demonstration of what a brand is that someone once said to me: even if you’ve never been in a Mercedes, when you hear the word “Mercedes” you can imagine what it would feel like to slip into buttery leather seats and go seamlessly from 0 to 60 in a matter of seconds. Let’s be honest, a Mercedes is a freakin’ car like any other car with some bells and whistles, but man does it feel different when someone tells you to imagine getting into a Mercedes, as opposed to a Kia.

But I still don’t find even that definition particularly helpful when it comes to building your brand, which is why to this day I still find so many business owners scratching their heads to understand what a brand is.

The Definition of a "BADASS Brand"

Which is why we decided to define branding, specifically Badass Branding, a little differently. We developed a definition in a similar way to Bezos; it’s defined by what it does as opposed to what it is because we find this gives business owners a clear way to evaluate whether or not they have a Badass Brand. So here goes:

Badass Brands have two fundamental characteristics. First, they magnetically attract ideal clients, and are OK with repelling everyone else. And second, Badass Brands are able to charge more than their competitors and still win the business.

Simple enough, right? Simple in theory, tough in practice.

You see in order to achieve these two characteristics you have to be a Badass (hence the name Badass Branding.) You have to have the stomach to go out on a limb and say what you really think, without cowering in fear that some people might not like it, disagree with it, be confused by it. You have to have enough self confidence that you can stand up to criticism of your words, or lose clients because of your price, and know that it simply means they just aren’t your ideal clients. (click to tweet)

Badass Your... Dating Life?

I like to equate this to dating. My philosophy on dating was always this: the most important characteristic in a partner should be that they think you are fucking awesome. Anything short of that is not an ideal mate. They can be great on paper, but if they don’t think you are the bee’s knees then they are out. Later. See ya. Sayonara.

And while this should be obvious, the only reason I even came up with this is because I was surrounded by friends who were going after people who clearly didn’t think that. Remember Sex in the City Miranda’s famous like “he’s just not that into you”? I found myself saying that a lot, and in a positive way. He’s just not that into you, now you know he’s not a great fit! If he were a great fit, he would be into you! Problem solved!

I know, easier said than done.

But that is, again, why it’s called Badass Branding (and perhaps we shall coin the phrase Badass Dating as well?)

Badass Branding Requires A Reframe

Basically, you have to reframe the very definition of your ideal clients. (click to tweet) The number one characteristic they must have is thinking you are the cat's pajamas. Which means if a client doesn’t close, they’re not the one that got away. They just clearly weren’t enthralled enough with you to close, so they weren’t a good fit.

OK OK let’s back up for a second, I know what you’re thinking: they were a good fit they just didn’t know it because they didn’t know me enough yet. Point well taken. This is where your branding comes in in the first place.

In order for them to know enough about you so that this works, you have to have said enough to them so that they do have a pretty good picture of you. No, not in a sales call, I mean online. On your website, on your social media, in your materials, and in whatever assets they are going to encounter. That first snapshot should tell them a lot about you and why you’re a badass so that they have something to judge you on.

Because judge you they will, whether you like it or not. And if you don’t have your Badass Brand out there, they’ll judge you in the worst way possible: they’ll forget you and move on to the next.

So the question is: do you have the guts to have a Badass Brand?

Does your business pass the Badass Brand test? Do people hire you even though you’re the more expensive option? Do people find you and email/call you and tell you they LOVE what they’ve seen so far and must work with you? If you know you need help with this, take my free crash course in Badassery and get cracking on Badassing Your Brand!

The Badass Brand Formula

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The biggest challenge in small business is figuring out how to differentiate yourself from the competition and explain why you are different, and better, than all the rest.

After years of doing this work and helping hundreds of businesses find their unique “thing” in the world, we’re pretty confident in saying we've cracked the code on how to find your brand.

And it was quite a code to crack. I find the internet and branding books aren’t usually much help in this department. Everything out there is overly general, non-specific, and hard to follow. Even if you’re able follow some of this advice, it's tough to know if you've done it “right.” There are no definitive signposts, no markers that point to success.

That’s why I’m officially declaring war on all that ho-hum advice and giving you something you can actually use.

Below I share the formulaThe Four Angles, as I call them in my book—come from the real work I do with real clients. They’re proven and they’re tangible, so you won’t have to guess anymore. Birds Eye view, the four angles are:

  1. Target Market
  2. Brand Personality
  3. Lead Product
  4. Bullseye Product

Make sure you read this in its entirety because my definitions for the angles above are not the same as other branders and if you think they are, you might do this wrong (and I see that a lot.)

And here's the trick—there are 4 total angles but you luckily don't need to have all four. In fact not everyone has the kind of business that can incorporate all four elements. So what if you can’t either? No biggie.

But you’ll need at least two angles to make your brand work (because one can’t do the job by itself), you just have to come up with the combination that makes the most sense for you. Forget big, sweeping brand ideas or overly simplistic ideas about niching. Let’s bring all of this branding talk down to Earth.

Angle #1: Pinpointing Your Target Market

When it comes to identifying your target market, you simply need to think about your favorite clients or projects (click to tweet). Then, identify patterns among them. These common threads are your potential target market.

For example, if all your clients were from the same industry, great, target market. If all of them were a similar size of company, boom, target market. If you really enjoy working with the head of marketing at large companies, bazinga, target market. (See how easy this is?)

Finding your target market is more about the working relationship and the kind of work you’re doing than a particular industry (as traditional wisdom tells you).

I once had a client who was doing professional organizing for companies large and small and individuals. When she went through this exercise, she realized her favorite clients were actually small businesses. She changed her entire branding efforts to focus on this new market, and things quickly took off.

There’s no science to this but it needs to be pretty specific to "count" as one of your minimum two angles. The more specific you can be, the better.

You'll know it's specific enough that when someone in that market hears it they think, “That’s exactly me! She’s speaking to me.” Or they immediately think of a specific friend of relative the fits the bill. Don’t say your target market is “women.” If I saw something for women, I wouldn’t react to that. Half the country is women! Instead, say “women, 25-40, who do yoga during their lunch hour.”

But demographics like gender and age are just one potential area of focus. Industry, size of business, motivations, and life experiences also work.

Financial advisers often say, “If you’re having a baby, buying a house, or getting married, you’re a good client for me.” But that’s not specific enough because virtually everyone in that industry says that. What if they also identified people by certain incomes? And/or certain neighborhoods? Imagine if you’re specific about all those things, AND you say their children attend elementary school. Now, that’s specific!

It feels limiting at first, but all of a sudden your marketing efforts open up. You know where to put your marketing dollars to get the best return. You gear everything toward people with elementary school aged kids. You invest and sponsor kids soccer games. You entrench yourself in elementary school activities around town. How would that change the way people respond to you? How would that change how you talk about yourself?

You can’t make any of these decisions until you’ve had some experiences, though. If you’re just starting out, there’s no easy way around it; you just have to try some things first. I’m not going to sugarcoat that. Or, if you’re such a generalist that you’ve worked with one of every type of client, that’s okay too. You’re still going to look at your favorite clients when you decide what target market to marrow in on.

The point is, you should have an answer to the question of “who’s your favorite client and project?” Chances are, they’re also your target market.

Can this be one of your angles? No? That's ok; you've got three chances left! Let’s move on...

Angle #2: Brand Personality

Everyone’s got a personality, whether you work at it or not. Your brand is no different. If you do nothing to identify your brand personality and it’s lame, generic and boring by default, then that’s your brand’s personality: lame. But if you consciously identify your brand personality and lean into it, well that’s a different story…

Now let's talk about building a BADASS personality. In order for angle two to count towards your two angles it needs to be Badass, which means it's somehow contrary to the prevailing personality in your industry.

Financial firm (and Worstofall client) Stash Wealth is edgy and sassy. They’ve got a fun, young, agency vibe. It works for them because it's different from other financial firms. Were they an ad agency in the agency world, they’d just be another agency; it wouldn’t be different enough from most of the competitors to be Badass, and they would blend in. But because they’ve owned this Badass voice in a typically stodgy industry, they are crushing it. That’s how you create a meaningful, contrary brand personality.

And by the way when we built this brand for them, we didn’t dream this voice up out of nowhere. That’s who they were authentically. We just convinced them to own it.

People have a hard time implementing this idea because saying something contrary to the status quo can be scary. You might worry you’ll turn off business (to which I say, great!). You might be worried you’ll say something to upset someone (again, amazing!). If you aren't turning off someone you likely have a generalized, same-same brand. Those are the people who are struggling.

One thing is certain: While being different is a great way to get attention, being a contrarian for the sake of being different will never work. Despite what I’ve said, you should NEVER do something JUST to be different. It’s superficial and will be poorly executed, costing you business.

When we started using the word "Badass" oh so many years ago, it was felt almost inappropriate, but it was so authentic to us we let it fly. Now I see this word everywhere in all sorts of contexts and often it's just being used as a cheap tool, the user isn't actually doing anything else to back it up. Their brand is same-same with the word Badass stuck in. It doesn't work.

Therefore I’m definitely not telling you to come up with a contrarian personality and try to become that person. It has to be real for you. Don’t force yourself into something that’s not natural for you. This will certainly spell disaster. You’ve seen it. Overuse of the F-word. The cool guy with pictures of his fancy car despite just starting out. The reason these feel inauthentic is that they are. They’re trying too hard. It didn’t originate from a real place and it’s not who they actually are.

Take my earlier example of a financial advisor. Maybe you have elementary school aged children too. The decision to talk to people who also have elementary aged children could be perfect for you because it makes sense in the context of who you are. But if you’re a 28-year-old single guy, it makes zero sense to lean into that personality. It will be too forced. And slightly creepy.

Angle #3: Developing Your Lead Product

Most small business owners do a big tap dance to make a sale. Usually, this dance takes the form of lengthy phone conversations, free strategy sessions, long, thought-out proposals, or free discovery sessions. Sometimes you get the business; sometimes you don’t. Either way you slice it, you’re giving away a lot of valuable information for free.

As the first step in your sales process, offering a defined Lead Productwhich I explain in more detail in my book—is the easiest way to engage potential clients without getting into the full scale of your offerings.

Clients need to trust you before they’re willing to pay you for your full value. A Lead Product takes care of that. Actually, it fulfills two needs:

  1. It creates a low barrier of entry, reducing the financial risk up front, and
  2. It allows you to demonstrate your expertise, building greater value and trust.

Rather than giving away your knowledge in hope of winning a client, a Lead Product lets you take time to figure out what their real problems are, hash out a plan to solve them, and present it all for a nominal, upfront fee. Getting people to part with their first dollar is the hardest sale you’ll make. A Lead Product makes it easier for them (and you) to make that happen.

I strongly believe your Lead Product must be a deliverable. Don’t worry, it’s not as hard as you think it is. Just take what has previously been your free strategy or consulting session—where you’re spending 30 minutes to an hour with people on the phone to to provide significant breakthroughs—and write it up. Then present it to the client as a tangible result. Make it look nice. Put your logo at the top. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it can’t be boring either and it must be valuable. (Remember when I said, “execution matters”?)

This builds a ton of trust up front, and you get paid for it. If the client, at that point, decides to walk away, no harm, no foul.

There’s a catch though. A Lead Product cannot be discovery or an audit. These only uncover problems and tell buyers what they already know. No one’s saying, “I need a discovery session.” They’re saying things like, “I’m looking for a marketing person to handle my social media.” Give them something valuable by solving problems, not pointing them out.

As a social media marketing expert, it’s your job to say, “Let’s do an assessment so I can give you an action plan.” This allows your buyer to acquire a deeper understand what they’re shopping for. If you can give them answers to their problems, you’ve provided a ton value. You won’t even have to “make a sale” at that point because they’ve crossed a buying threshold in their mind.

A Lead Product positions you as an expert and differentiates you from others in your industry. Not sure how this will work for you? Try this (or something similar) next time: “I hear you saying you want a new website, but let’s start with the problems you’re having. What is the ultimate goal? What problems do you think having a new website will solve?”

Angle #4: Your Distinct OfferingThe Bullseye Product

Have you ever worked on a project where you did everything the client asked for? It never works out, does it?  Because while you’re saying, “Yes, I can do that,” you’re really thinking, “But it would be better if we did it this way.”

Experts don’t do what their told. They lead (click to tweet).

Every time you bend to a customer’s demands or customize proposals or project details, you fracture your focus. Customization, while it sounds good in theory, really means you’re always learning new things, compounding your inefficiencies.

As an expert, your responsibility is to get the best results for your clients, not to agree with them. A Bullseye Product is built around a repeatable process, allowing you to become a highly skilled expert in a short amount of time. It builds on itself too. Because it’s linear, every new client adds value to your business by making the execution faster.

To begin thinking about potential Bullseye Products, identify your favorite past clients or projects, then, reflect on how you delivered the most value to them.

If you’re a graphic designer, you’d rather design an entire brand and all the materials that go with it than create new business cards. That’s because most graphic designers (the ones I know, anyway) want to see the whole project come together. Knowing this is key to understanding what your Bullseye Product should be. If you can say, “Yes, I’d do this service all day, every day,” then you’ve nailed it. That’s where you start.

Once you’ve figured out your Bullseye Product and the repeatable processes around it, charge a flat fee. This is probably deserving of it’s own article at some point, but flat fees are great (as opposed to hourly billing) because you only have to play with two numbers to increase profits. You either charge more, get more efficient, or both.

Putting the Four Angles Together

A Lead Product and Bullseye Product are easy ways to double down on your integrity and the desire to get better results for your clients.

I only do work I know I’m an expert in. That’s what it takes to run a profitable business (click to tweet). People ask us all the time to do graphic design without branding or strategy and I tell them no. In the end, I know I can’t solve real problems with a nicer website. And agreeing to do so sets the client, and us, up for failure.  I won’t compromise the integrity of what I do just to give people what they think they want. And you shouldn’t either.

Incorporating the Four Angles into your brand allows people to hire you for your process and expertise, rather than as someone who will do their bidding. The more you can solve business problems—without a client needing to steer the ship—the better the relationship is for both of you, the smoother your processes will become, and the more your profits will grow.

Now that you have all Four Angles at your disposal, what are you waiting for? It’s time to take your businesses to new heights! And if you need help figuring out what to focus on in your 4 angles, take this Badass Your Brand Crash Course which will help you figure out what makes you different, special, BADASS:

3 Part Formula That Will Make Anyone An Expert

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As an expert, you deserve to charge premium prices for your expertise. But are you really an expert? (click to tweet) And if so, are you seen as one by your client base? If not, customers will see your premium prices and wonder, “Who the %&$*  do they think they are, and what gives them the right ?” Before you can charge premium prices for your expertise, you must answer those questions before they’re asked, and be able to provide real expert value.

That’s part of what we do. We brand small businesses so they can charge those premium prices, and we dress them up nicely with sexy, consistent design—but all our strategies, tips, and design can’t make up for actual expertise. Customers are smart—they know if they’re getting the real deal or not.

There’s a common misconception about what determines expertise, especially as it relates to how you are seen by your customers. Real expertise comes down to a formula that we’ll break down here, step by step.  

#1 - Expertise is… Knowledge

The simple definition of expertise is just knowing a lot about a particular field.  Obviously, if you want to be viewed as an expert, knowledge about your particular field is critical. You better know something; otherwise, how can you be expected to sell your knowledge, especially  for a premium price?

That seems straightforward, but is knowledge enough to be perceived as an expert, and more importantly for entrepreneurs, charge like one?

No, it’s not. Think about it -- there are hundreds of thousands of people who know a lot about a topic or industry, but are still struggling to profit from it.  I’m surrounded by experts, who if I paid only for their knowledge, they’d be making the big bucks. Instead, they’re having a hard time getting paid at all, let alone what they believe their expert knowledge is worth.

This is because knowledge alone doesn’t equal expertise. There are two other factors in this equation.

#2 - Expertise is… Experience

Well, sort of. Of course, experience can be incredibly valuable, but it isn’t always… and certainly not worth premium prices in and of itself.

Experience and expertise are definitely not the same things, and we should take care not to confuse them. Experience simply works as a time-marker: How long did you do X-Y-Z? It just tells us that you did X-Y-Z, but it doesn’t tell us how well, or badly, you did it.

This faux pas reveals itself over and over again in ads and websites. I have seen way too many brands begin their homepage with “For the past 30 years, we have….” suggesting that longevity equals expertise. But just because they’ve existed for three decades doesn’t mean they’re good at what they do, and savvy buyers know that.

What’s more, this “experience” could even be viewed as a black mark against the company.

Potential buyers or clients may wonder if the business owners use an antiquated approach and if a newer company, (who increases efficiency and value because they embrace technology) may be better.  They may think: Perhaps the company with “30 years experience” hasn’t changed in those 30 years? What if they charge me more -- not because they’re experts -- but because they waste time on things that could be automated? Would a newer company have more relevant expertise?

In this case, a newer company who lacks the “30 years experience” may work more efficiently and intelligently by utilizing technology and tools, suggesting that decades of experience doesn’t necessarily help the former company’s expert status.

Which brings us to the final factor of the formula:  Offering real value as an expert requires more than just knowledge and experience.

#3 - Expertise is… Process

I’m sure you saw this coming with my nod to utilizing the latest technology.  As we’ve seen, knowledge plus experience doesn’t always equal expertise. In fact, they can leave much to be desired in how “expert” one’s company is, and it also calls into question their “premium” prices.

However, add in an effective process, and you have a formula for real expertise that is seen as such and can command the price that accompanies that.

Process can be a tremendous help to both the business and the client.  If a business tightens its process, it will perform more efficiently, and business owners can stop wasting time on low-value activities like administrative tasks, inefficient emails, and unfocused meetings. Instead, they can dedicate their time to value-added activities like actually providing their knowledge and expertise.

Honing in on a process can allow a company to be exponentially efficient. Business owners can replicate the way they work with clients again and again, increasing the effectiveness of their process, thereby increasing the value of their service.

On the client side, process communicates trust. If I want a certain outcome, I will more readily trust a company who has a proven process and successful track record for producing said outcome, than I will a company who knows a lot about the topic but is asking to get paid by the hour because they don’t know how long it will take.

I know this personally because we’ve used this method with our Brandup process, and we increased our prices fivefold within two years.  We repeated our process with each client, improving upon it each subsequent time, which allowed us to add more and more value to the clients while making our side of things more and more efficient.

All the while, we increased our prices to keep up with our increasing value.

So, let’s look at our optimized formula.  Your level of expertise in the market can be defined as:

Knowledge + (Process x Experience) = Your Value as An Expert

Why The Expert Formula Works

Most small business owners are only trying to sell their knowledge and/or experience. And while they might possess a wealth of each, if they’re missing the process, they will never be a true expert in the market. (click to tweet)

For example, someone who has worked for a company for 20 years and helped build sales teams may have a ton of knowledge about building sales teams, but the reason they’re not just popping open their own business with a line of clients waiting at the door is because their experience is only within the structure of a larger company. If they want to take that knowledge and expertise and strike off on their own as a solo high-end consultant, they need to develop a process that they can confidently tout and utilize. And the more they deploy that process, the higher their expert status will rise.

What this formula shows is that while knowledge is a given, it’s the relationship between your experience and your process that can increase your value in the market.

The more thoughtfully you hone your process with each new client, the faster your experience gains value. Similarly, you could deploy a process and never upgrade it, in which case all the experience in the world won’t do you much good. Ultimately, it’s how much effort you put into increasing these three things that will determine your level of expertise.

A brand that communicates their expertise through messaging, voice, and visuals will cut through the sea of humdrum and gain eager and trusting clients. But it’s that brand’s level of expertise that will allow them to build a premium reputation and charge more and more over time.

When Posting on Facebook is Bad for Business

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Posting on social- the cheapest and easiest way to get seen by potential clients, right?

Wrong! For most solopreneurs and small businesses, social media is a huge waste of time.

To find out why, follow me on Twitter.

Kidding.

But really, the purpose of marketing is to be seen by, and connect with, your target market with the hope to eventually turn them into customers. It’s important to remember that there are many ways to market your business and social media is only one of them. And it’s not even the most important one.

Your time and money are finite resources: allocate accordingly. Rather than believe you have to post on Facebook, instead review all your options, evaluate where your efforts will have the greatest return, and double down there instead (click to tweet).

For most small business it’s not social media. Not because it isn’t an effective mode of advertising, but because most business owners are doing it wrong, which not only makes it a waste of time, but can actually hurt your brand and your business. We didn't start posting on social media until after we built a successful business; there were just too many other, better marketing options. Once we were ready to use social media for a clear purpose, it finally made sense to allocate time and money to it.

What it looks like to do social media “wrong”:

A Puppy Was Just Rescued from A Well: Posting things unrelated to your area of expertise

Your business’ social media profiles are there to strengthen your position as an expert. To communicate and connect with fans and potential followers, it should be used to showcase your value. It is not a place to post about your new puppy or grandma’s 90th birthday (unless you are in the pet or elderly-care industries).

If you post about unrelated topics, you weaken your brand’s message. An effective brand is highly targeted in its messaging. Off topic posts water down your efforts.

Deciding which topics you do and don’t post is part of building a social media strategy.If you are a nutritional health coach and you regularly post healthy recipes, customers will start to check repeatedly to see your latest post. This engagement only strengthens overtime if you keep it up.

Be a reliable source of relevant, valuable information to elevate yourself to expert status. This long term strategy requires dedication and diligence, but promises exponential results over time.

Don’t Just Post Whenever…You…Can: Inconsistent posting

If you post to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn on an ad hoc basis, you’re telling the world that you don’t have it together. When a potential customer goes to your page to see that your last post was over a month ago, they may question whether or not you’re even still in business! Needless to say that is a horrible perception for your brand.

If you’re going to build a strategy for social media, it’s crucial to get on a schedule.

I’m Great. This is Great: Talking about yourself and what you sell

A crazy concept to remember is that social media is social. If you use it simply to pitch your services, you will end up pissing people off, ergo, it’s bad.

The best social media for your brand is to provide value for your ideal customers. Your job is to serve by creating content that will entice your clients and community to explore and engage. To build your brand’s authority you need to share authority-building information. Each post helps to achieve this and adds another layer to your brand’s perception.

Even when you share about you and your story, the post should still ultimately be about the customer. Even Kim Kardashian’s social media feed provides value: though it may seem to be simply about her, people watch because they value entertainment and aspiration.

You are obviously allowed to sell on social media, but you should only do so about 10-20% of the time. If you sell more than that, you’ll be viewed as spam and then nobody will want to follow you.

Follow Me. Like Me. Please: Posting to get sales

Like you, social media companies are there to make money. In recent years, these platforms have updated their algorithms to selectively show content to users based upon their interactions. This means that you might have thousands of followers and no likes on a post because nobody sees it!

Essentially, unless you are willing to work with a professional to develop a strategy and put money into advertising to get your posts seen, there are other, better ways to spend your time and money. The stories of “videos gone viral” should not encourage you to post aimlessly with your fingers crossed. Marketing is a marathon, not a sprint.

If you are ready to do social media right, I highly suggest working with a strategist to figure out the best way to approach it. They will help to clarify what it is you’re trying to accomplish. Once you’re ready to pay for advertising it can be a huge money maker (I will share my trials and tribulations about that later).

In sum, if you don’t have a clear goal to build your brand and business through social media, you certainly won’t achieve it (click to tweet). And because there are so many other options for marketing, my advice is to be thoughtful and focus your efforts. And please, don’t just post on social media because you think you have to (you don’t!)

How We Went From a "Me Too" Brand to BADASS

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"Is it just me or are failure and debt a prerequisite to being a successful small business owner?"

In 2011...

I started a company with my graphic design husband with little knowledge of the industry: he was the creative, and I, “the business.”

In retrospect our fearlessness was largely out of ignorance but I’d always had an entrepreneurial spirit. So we took the leap without a backup plan.

We experienced the typical roller-coaster of startup successes and failures. But regardless of the countless late nights and busting our butts 24/7, three years into our business we hit rock bottom and ended up in $40,000 credit card debt.

Here’s the thing about rock bottom: it sucks.

But rock bottom also has a knack for providing an entirely new perspective. Forced to reevaluate our business and situation, we were forced to make some big changes. We took some dramatic steps virtually overnight to differentiate our company as a last ditch effort to stop the bleeding and dig ourselves out of the hole. We scaled back, oddly, in order to grow. We wielded our most valuable asset for ourselves for once, turning to strategies we had been using successfully with our clients, and ended up doubling down on our brand voice and building a completely unique business model for ourselves. Essentially, we took our own medicine and it completely turned our company around (click to tweet).

We made $500,000 in the next 12 months selling just our services and without paying for advertising. I stopped working seven days a week and began to work normal business hours.

Lastly, I no longer networked, which until then, was the main way I had been advertising to potential clients. 

In short, we stopped copying the agency model and stopped looking for large clients completely (click to tweet), which until then felt completely counterintuitive to someone who wanted to keep growing a successful and profitable business. Instead, like David against Goliath we focused on what we knew best: small service businesses.

And we developed a unique branding process for our clients that also played to our strengths and preferences: in one-to-three-day intensives we build entire brands, including everything from the strategy and positioning, to the logo design, website layout and copy. We have no ongoing clients (in other words: freedom), and have already achieved more than we had hoped for when we set out.

‘BRANDING’ vs. ‘Branding for Small Businesses’

I have to make a confession: I HATE the branding industry. While branding is critical to the success of any business, the word has been bastardized; it has lost a lot of its meaning. The way it’s casually thrown around, and the prevalence of poorly executed brands, has caused many to become disillusioned with the whole concept. That's why I meet so many people that, despite their interest in building a brand, all the videos they've watched and articles and books they have read, they still seem to have no clear idea of what branding really is.

And while I’m at it, I’m not a huge fan of all this “storytelling,” “brand pyramids,” and finding the “why” jargon, either.

Sure, branding is a story, and stories are an engaging way to disseminate information. You probably have a great story to share, and likely more than one. But which story do you share? Your home life? Your previous work experience? Your love of dogs? That thing you did in college? No, not that thing. Your credentials? Your family?

Do you even know how to tell stories well? Remember this isn’t camp or the dinner table, without an understanding of how to tell the right story in a proper way, entrepreneurs do more harm than good.

Over the years, I’ve honed my skills specifically helping one- to three-person service businesses build their brands.

The most common challenges for this group are not surprising: they don’t know how to get clients; and they are not paid enough.

Like a boring story with a predictable ending, I find most entrepreneurs face the same reoccurring issues when they try to use “BRANDING” to help.

"BRANDING" Problems:

  1. Entrepreneurs often believe that the “right” logo and/or website will solve their problems. (It won’t)
  2. Entrepreneurs stress the fundamental imperative of “telling their story.” (Important, but not in the way you think)
  3. Entrepreneurs faced with branding their company don’t know how to begin, what to do next and generally, feel completely overwhelmed with the entire process. (Been there, done that!)

These issues are the results of a gap between big ideas and tactical steps. When you own a business, or even if you share responsibilities with a partner, you are answerable for all aspects of the company: from branding your business, to getting invoices paid, to making sure there are staples in the damn stapler.

With so many things to keep track of it’s easy to see why big-branding concepts are often too abstract to be useful.

Branding is Not 'One-Size-Fits-All'

Think of branding like a buffet. It tries to encompass too much for too many. The word branding is meant to work for every size business, in every industry, with every kind of goal. Before you know it, you are leaving the buffet with shrimp, a slice of toast, two tomatoes, some random slices of cheese, and part of a Jell-O mold. And in the end, it all tastes like wet Styrofoam anyway.

Since national big-box branding is very different from face-to-face sales, the strategies are different too. There are underlying commonalities, but tactically they are night and day. When you’re a consultant looking for a handful of high-yield clients, your brand and marketing strategy is going to look very different from Coca Cola’s, whose goal is to slice off a little more market share. The former needs to resonate quickly in each interaction, while the later can gain traction over time by blanketing their logo for hundreds of millions of dollars.

It can be invigorating to discuss grandiose concepts…if we were in a corner office and had hours to spare. But I’m not talking to those people. I am talking to the micro-business owners, the solopreneurs at the individual branding and sales level. I use my personal experience in this market to create actionable steps that have tangible results and don’t just look nice or sound good. I focus on what actually needs to get done, and not the high-level branding philosophies from Creative Directors and CEOs.

What I really mean by “Brand Strategist”

I’ve never worked at a large agency. I never clawed my way up the corporate ladder one generic rung after another. I have no idea what it takes to sell brown fizzy water to billions of people. And when I started my own company, I didn’t know the first thing about branding.

But now, as a partner at Worstofall Design, I know what I need to know and I know it well. And what I know about branding small businesses I learned firsthand on the front lines. I grew that knowledge through my work with hundreds of similar clients. My education in the small business world, untainted by the policies and procedures of traditional agency work, has enabled me to understand the many facets of branding and marketing a small business and explain them in layman’s terms. I find it resonates when the often-elusive idea of branding is articulated in simple language instead of agency jargon.

Badass Brands

As our medicine kicked in, so did our new philosophy. We learned how to successfully brand our company and in turn learned how to help other small businesses become noticeable, memorable and ultimately, successful brands of their own.

I’m going to explore and deconstruct the most valuable lessons, tips, tricks, and formulas I’ve learned. Along the way, I’ll give you the ingredients you need to make your own brand stand out from the competition.

I am also the first to admit that we don’t have “the answer,” but rather a potential set of answers that we have seen get results. That said, I know I’m going to piss a lot of people off, but I welcome the hecklers as much as the evangelists.

If you continue to follow me, I think you’ll understand why.

The Reason Your Marketing Isn't Working

Pia Silva Badass Your Brand Blog

Ever take a stab at Facebook ads, whether at $5/day or $100/day, and then shut them off when you start to realize they "don't work"?

How about sponsoring an event, or worse doing free work to get your logo on the banner, and then not getting any clients from it. That never seems to "work" either, right?

There’s a reason so many service-based businesses spend money on marketing, experience little to no success, and then believe that marketing “doesn’t work.”

The answer is probably right in front of you because you inadvertently skipped the most critical piece that all else relies upon.

Badass Branding (surprise!)

Thought I was going to say sales or something lame like that? 'Course not! As someone who builds Badass brands for others, (and invests heavily in my own brand and marketing), I’ve experienced first-hand the cause and effect of branding in marketing and I know how frustrating and ineffective marketing can be… without branding.

We actually started as a graphic design business and organically developed into a branding company out of our own experience needing to brand. Once we made the switch, it was like reversing the water flow from outreach to inbound. We learned this very important lesson through experience:

Branding isn’t just a nice-to-have when it comes to your marketing campaign; it determines its success. (click to tweet)

Any marketer worth their salt will insist on having clear branding before ever touching marketing. They know—whether they’ll admit it or not—that they can't do their job well without it.

When businesses focus on marketing before really figuring out what they are marketing and why anyone should care, they struggle to find new clients. On the surface, marketing early makes sense. I need business. Therefore, I need to do things that will get me in front of more potential clients.

But, without a clear brand to drive that message, marketing is like yelling in the middle of a forest and wondering why nobody hears you. (click to tweet)

Now, it's not that skipping the branding piece never works. In fact, there are plenty of people in Facebook ads (maybe you've seen them?) saying you can get clients and build a high-profit business without branding or content.

It’s quite an attractive idea. Curious myself, I’ve spent the time and money learning those strategies as well. You know what I learned? You know how they do it?

They become salespeople.

Not necessarily the sleazy, conman “Always-Be-Closing” kind, but the impressive, “take someone from cold prospect to close in one phone call” kind. If you can take someone from lead to close in one or two conversations with no branding, hats off to you, seriously. 

But, the vast majority of us aren’t like that. Or, don’t want to be. I know I don’t.

Great salespeople are incredibly skilled, thick-skinned and tenacious. It is not for everyone.

For the rest of us, branding is the key to closing clients without all that slick talk.

Badass Branding Is like Dating

If you want a brand that helps your business grow, you can start by thinking about who you want to attract...like when you're looking for a mate! If you’re going out to meet that special someone, I've always said you want someone who likes the you that you like best.

To do that, you have to communicate your personality in some subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Maybe you wear something that makes you feel great. Maybe you go to specific types of places. Maybe you engage in certain kinds of conversations. These are all cues that tell the other person who you are and what you’re all about.

If deep down, you hate what you’re wearing (OR don't believe in what you are saying, OR don't like the work you're selling), you’re going to attract people who literally like someone you’re not. They only like this false version of you that you’re projecting. This is how service providers who don’t put enough thought into their branding get themselves into trouble with “bad clients.”

This is powerful stuff.

If you hang out at a museum to meet someone “nice”—even though you hate museums—you're going to attract somebody who appreciates the arts. Or worse, no one at all because it’s not authentically you people can tell.

Then you’ll end up saying things like, “there are no good men/women out there anymore.” You’ll get frustrated and give up.

Too many of you are doing the equivalent of this in your business, projecting what you think your ideal clients want instead of who you truly are. And it’s not working well for anyone.

When you take the time to figure out who you are—and present yourself that way—you attract more of the “right” clients, the ones who are looking for someone exactly like you. These are the people who value what you do for them and pay handsomely for your specific expert service. This is the match made in heaven we all want!

But you can’t buy the right clothes (i.e., marketing) until you understand that. This is how you define your brand, and you can’t do that confidently until you fully grasp what the entire package looks like.

Consistent Touchpoints Build Trust

Your brand is the basis for consistency. When a potential client follows the breadcrumbs— all the tweets, Facebook posts, website copy, and other published content—back to you and has a consistent experience across all touchpoints, you build trust.

They’re seeing the same images, same design, same messaging, and getting the same feeling, no matter what they’re looking at. That trust is the key to getting them to buy your services. All of this comes from your branding, not your marketing!

“But Pia,” I hear you shouting right now "What about my logo, photography & design?”

To which I say, these things are important, but they’re your visual brand, just one small piece of your holistic brand. Starting with these things means you’re building a visual brand before you’ve even made a decision about the personality of your company. You're like a teenager still trying to figure out who you are, bouncing from the nerds to the freak hallway to the cheerleaders. We want to achieve that confident age where we know who we are, why we're badass so we attract the right people. While a logo can feel like low-hanging fruit, it’s the least of your worries right now.

First, answer, Who are you for? What are you offering? Why are you special? How are you different? Your design and logo are a visual representation of those core answers.

Say Something Meaningful Or Stay Home

Get the brand right, and it will give your marketing efforts POWER.

Take networking as an example. Too many people treat networking as its own thing, but it’s not. Networking is marketing. And because they think of it as some separate entity, they never stop wasting time at networking events.

You should never go to networking events if you don't have a brand first. If you meet twenty people and don’t know what you’re about, you’ll be forgettable. Don't waste your time.

I’m not saying networking doesn’t work at all. It can. For people who have their branding dialed in, that is. Networking can be a great way to get the word out quickly and start closing clients.

But it's also the most labor intensive, lowest ROI thing you can do for your business in the long term.

This is why so many people get stuck in the networking world for years; when you don’t have a brand or haven’t built one online, you are forced to network all the time to keep potential clients coming in the door.

Evolve Your Sales Process

To make a sale, potential clients must know you exist, that's obvious. Next, they have to build a relationship with you—learn to like and trust you. After that, they have to understand that you are the best person to solve a problem or challenge they know they have.. Lastly, they need to be able to buy it.

This process can happen over the course of one conversation, or over the course of years. But, one way or another, all these steps will all need to happen. Lacking a clear brand means you’ll spend time to experience all these steps every single time.

If you’re tired of wasting money on marketing or slow sales processes, the answer is clear: It’s time to get your branding right! (click to tweet)

Self-Publish a Book to Build Your Authority, Just Don't Make These Mistakes

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I often hear business experts say things like, “The book is the new business card.” Or, “You need a book to gain authority in today’s noisy world.”

I agree with both, yet, as I look at a market saturated with crappy books doing the complete opposite, I think many people are ignoring a critical piece of the puzzle.

There’s no doubt a great book that supports you as an authority is an amazing way to communicate value quickly. As someone who teaches others how to build a healthy and profitable lifestyle business through authority, that much is obvious.

But because it's so easy to self-publish a book these days, too many people are focused on the fact they can publish one rather than wonder if they even should (click to tweet). And too many never stop to consider what it takes to make the book work for them. They put their blood, sweat and tears into a book, publish it on Amazon and then wonder why nobody is buying it. Or worse, they throw together a PDF with a few famous quotes, call it a “book,” and publish it. Again, nothing happens. But, hey, they have a book!

When there are so many ways to build authority, a book for book's sake without the follow through to make it successful is a total waste of time (click to tweet). Having the book, in and of itself, is not going to do the thing everyone is talking about. People waste a lot of time writing books without ever having a clear understanding of why they're writing it in the first place. Don’t make that mistake! If you’re considering writing, here are a few things you should consider.

Authority Lies Within Two Pillars

Without a doubt, a book is an amazing opportunity to solidify your brand in the market and own your unique positioning. But you also have to realize you’re not going to say anything completely new. It’s all been done before, so take that burden off your shoulders.

But you can find a way to talk about something old in a new way. There are two ways to do this (and they’re key to creating a good book).

The first is by taking core ideas and branding them in a way you can own. Give ideas unique, concrete phrases that fit with your brand and style. For example, I love The Big Leap, by Gay Hendricks. In it, he talks about the upper limit problem—these moments in your life where you have big trouble. You have a fight with your spouse after a big promotion. You get angry at your 40th birthday party. You become ill just before a big deadline.

Hendricks says all of these are manifestations of hitting your upper limit and that you have to break through them to get to a different level of success and greatness. Basically, we all have to deal with our stuff to grow. Now, there’s nothing particularly new here, but it’s an interesting way to describe a pretty abstract concept. He's positioning it and branding it in such a way that explains a universal idea in a new way. That’s what a great book does—takes a universal principle that already exists and communicates it in a way that changes your thinking forever.

The second is to share your stories. Stories help the reader connect with and remember your ideas, and nobody else has your stories but you, so these will always be unique. The more you can open yourself up to the true details of stories that exemplify your ideas, the more interesting they will be and the more people will relate to them. Readers internalize ideas more when they see them through story, and will feel like these ideas are tied to you and your brand. Have the clear intention of leveraging your book to help build your brand and connect with your reader. Anything less is a waste of time.

Writing is Nothing; Marketing Is Everything

Mike Michalowicz, author of Profit First (a book that does all of the above exceedingly well, I might add) gave me some great advice when I was publishing my first book: just accept the fact that from now on you're always selling books. Once you have a book, every effort should be made to get your book into the hands of more people. You're not trying to make money off of the book itself. You’re building authority. And authority leads to more customers.

Before you even get to the process of writing a book, you MUST commit to spending as much, if not more, time marketing your book once it’s published. After all, having a book without people seeing it won’t do you much good. (And by the way, even with a traditional publisher, you still have to market it yourself, something I’ll get into in a minute).

Three months before the launch of my book, I was telling people about it, and next time I’ll probably start earlier. By sharing it with a tight group of “inner circle” fans, I got plenty of pre-release advice, shares, and buzz. I basically gave it away so people could talk about it.  I knew reviews would be important to the credibility of the book so I told them, “If you feel inclined to buy a copy, awesome. If you feel inclined to write a review, even better. But please know you don't have to do either.” I also ran some Facebook ads, gave away a free chapter, and went on a podcast tour promoting it.

Then, I did a Kindle book giveaway over the holidays. Seventeen thousand people downloaded my book in three days. My intention—to get it into a bunch of hands—was clear. While it can be easy to calculate the “lost” money of not having sold those 17,000 books, I had my eye on the bigger picture. First, most of the people weren’t going to hear about it and buy it anytime soon and second, now 17,000 additional people know who I am, and see my face in their Kindle on a regular basis. There is no better marketing than that!

The Advantages of Self-Publishing

There's still an old-school group of people who think a self-published book is not respectable. They will tell you that you need a publisher to make the book worth something. But Amazon has leveled the playing field. You can self-publish there quickly, get reviews (somewhat) easily, and legitimize yourself, no publisher needed.

I didn't go after a publisher because I’m an Impatient Entrepreneur and I couldn’t waste time pitching and waiting; I had a book to get out there. I also didn't want to be told what to write or how my book cover should look. It would be counterintuitive to talk about Badass Brands, which are in part about owning what makes you you, and let someone else tell me what it should look and sound like.

On the one hand, don’t get me wrong a book advance from a publisher would have been nice. But once I learned that an advance is actually an "advance against royalties,” meaning the publisher won't start paying you royalties until they've recouped your advance, it made self-publishing even more attractive. In the end, you still need to sell books, and a lot of them, and if you’re relatively unknown the effort to sell those books is going to fall on you. If I was going to be doing all the work, I might as well get all the reward too!

Oh, and all that bookstore placement you think you’ll get with a publisher? Nope. Sure, self-publishing doesn’t get you into Barnes & Noble, but if you're nobody, they're not putting your book on the front table anyway. Maybe you get a copy on a shelf in your section, but that’s about it. When they sell it, you get a paltry percentage.

Another big reason I wrote the book in the first place was that I wanted to learn the process of self-publishing. I wanted to be able to have that knowledge and skill set to advise my clients. Once the objective was clear—attracting potential clients while making me a more informed advisor to them—I knew self-publishing was for me. See how much easier it is to make these decisions when you are clear on the goals from the beginning?

Don’t get me wrong, traditional publishing has great advantages to those who already have a name. I’m speaking to those of you who want to use a book to build your name.

Take Your Time

Just because you’re self-publishing doesn’t mean your book isn’t worth the royal treatment. Do not skimp on the editors. I read mine out loud to Steve, at least twice, to workshop it. I hired two different professional editors, and a third unofficial line editor (my most grammatically-anal friend) to do a final sweep.

Lastly, make sure the book visually communicates your authority. Luckily I have the best in-house design staff someone could hope for, so while it may have been self-published, it looks anything but. Publishing houses don’t have access to better designers; they just have high standards. You can have that too.

There are so many options available today. You can print on demand through Amazon. You can work with a publisher or not. You can hire professional editors and have an amazing designer create a great cover to match your brand. But whatever you decide to do, don't just throw something out there just because self-publishing is easier than it’s ever been. It takes substantially more effort to give your book the royal treatment but I’d argue the rewards are exponentially higher and will exist forever.

A book can be so valuable when done right. Rich Dad, Poor Dad was originally self-published in 1997 and spawned a multimillion dollar business for its author Robert Kiyosaki. While that is, of course, an anomaly, if you succeed at a tiny fraction of that and you’ll have a very successful business. So take the time to make sure it’s unique to your brand and tells your stories. Then, put some effort into making it as good as you can. Just because you don’t have some big publisher behind you, doesn’t mean the quality should be any less and that you can’t achieve your goals.

How Much Should You Spend On Branding?

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Choosing a branding firm can be a nightmare.

From free crowdsourced logo design, to $5-20 logos on Fiverr, to Craiglist designers who might do a logo and/or a website for a few hundred dollars all the way up to branding agencies who might quote you anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000 and up, it's hard for people who can't quite tell the difference in the value of the work to determine why you might spend more money on one than the other.

And unfortunately, just spending more money definitely does not guarantee a successful branding project. (click to tweet)

So how do you decide? How much help do you really need? How do these various service providers differ in their offerings and how will that affect the outcome?

How much should you spend on your brand?

It all comes down to what different freelancers and agencies mean by “branding,” and what your ultimate business goal is with the branding project.

At Worstofall Design we believe branding encompasses 4 critical elements.

1: Your Brand Positioning

Who are you in the marketplace as you relate to the competition. Are you the sassy one? The expensive one? The luxury one? Straight and narrow? Buttoned up and professional? Do you focus on one demographic or psychographic? How do people know WHO you are for and why?

2:  Your Brand Messaging and Voice

Then there is the messaging that communicates what you do and why you’re different, which includes all of the copy and messaging on your website and in your materials, including when you speak about your company. This should reflect your brand positioning. 

3: Your Business Model & Structure

At Worstofall Design (unlike most branding companies) we are just as concerned with understanding how you deliver your service and on your brand promise as we are about how we're going to communicate it. This is because we can build the most badass brand in the world for you, but if the delivery doesn't match up with the promise, your business is going to tank. While we aren't necessarily hired to consult on your business, if we have to we will in order to make sure your brand is in line with your offerings and also to understand why you're the best in order to properly build a brand message that is accurate and bBadass.

4:  Your Visual Brand

I know, visual brand is the last item on the list surprisingly! That's because it's wildly important but should also come after you've figured out all of the above first. Your visual brand aesthetically represents what you’re all about: the design of your logo, website, and materials, and should be a visual representation of your positioning, messaging and value. How can you design a brand if you don't know what those are?!

Now you can see that when a freelancer or firm offers “branding,” it may be referring to only one or two aspects above. To decide which one your business needs, you must take into account where you are in the evolution of your business, assess your current challenges and goals, and determine the best partner to address them. Even if the branding firm you hire doesn't actively consult on all of the above, if they aren't even asking about them to understand the whole picture and the goals, you can be sure you're hiring what we call "the hands" to make something look nice without making those decisions based on the goals of the business.

This is how a lot of people end up with brands that look nice but ultimately don't make them any money. (click to tweet)

Visual Brand Designers

When a designer says they’ll design your brand, they usually mean your logo, website, and identity materials. It would be more accurate to say they are designing your visual brand. They often will want you to provide your own messaging and copy, and they will completely rely on you in terms of positioning and strategy.

So if you are going to hire a designer for a logo, you want to be confident that you know what you're talking about in terms of what makes your brand so badass and why, OR you'll want to have a brand strategist who knows what questions to ask on your team to manage the project. Otherwise, you'll be making brand design decisions based on person taste which might have the opposite affect on your business (just because you love violet doesn't mean it's the right color for your logo!)

But I recognize that when you are just starting out, you don’t have a lot to invest and might not even have enough information to give a brand strategist if you were to hire them. And since you need something to get your business out there, to start selling and testing your services in the market, just having something clean and professional is all you need at first. (Incedentally, in this case we actually think you can get away with doing it yourself, especially with steps to follow to get clarity on elements 1-3. Take our upcoming free training to learn more.)

Once you’ve had some experience with clients, a more strategic branding firm can craft that information into something that will take you to the next level. We don't work with startups at Worstofall Design because we know that until you've had some experience in the market with clients, it's not worth the investment to hire a professional to build a brand based on hypothesis alone.

You can find people who will do your entire brand on Craigslist/UpWork/Fiverr for $500 to $3,000, and it’s even possible to catch a great designer for even less if you get them at the right moment—like right out of school. But these are unicorns, not the norm, and you will always end up paying more in other ways. When my partner and designer, Steve, first left school, his management skills were nonexistent. Those that hired him got amazing work, but they were also working with a creative who was only interested in making nice looking design. It takes experience working with clients for a highly creative designer to manage all the other factors that must be taken into account. Without that experience and business savvy, you'll pay less cash for great design work but you'll likely pay more in terms of your time.

Also, don't forget that pure artistic designers are generally not thinking about messaging and business strategy. They may make something that looks great, even brilliant, but if your messaging is generic and your business strategy is weak, a gorgeous visual brand is not going to help you much in the long run, so make sure you come to these Badass designers with clarity on your Badass Brand first so you can fully take advantage of their talents.

Brand Message & Design

Luckily, plenty of agencies integrate design with messaging. You tell them what you your business is about and what you want to communicate, and they put it into words, and design an identity to match. If you’ve got a solid business strategy, a brand agency that does the messaging and the design is a great match.

This is the agency you hire if you have a clear business model, own a solid positioning in the market (for example, if you are the go-to interior designer for boutique hotels), and are already profitable and looking to take your company to the next level. If you have a great foundation, a branding agency that has marketing savvy can enhance your brand’s existing positioning in the market.

A small agency that does both can cost anywhere from $15,000 to $50,000 and up. I know, I know: this is quite a range. So what’s the difference? It’s not an exact science, and if there was a definitive way to slice up these numbers I would share it with you. Price doesn’t always equal value, but unicorns are rare. Usually the price is determined by the size of the agency, the experience of the principals, and the business savvy of the owners. The best thing to do is find an agency that you vibe with and that seems to have enthusiasm for your company and its work.

Business Strategy X's Messaging + Design

Finally, there are agencies that do all 3.

This is the agency you hire when you have a lot of revenue—and therefore a budget—but not a lot of profit. This agency can help you strategize how to better position your business in the market to increase profit, and then build a brand message and design based on that positioning to catapult your business to market domination.

Fewer of these agencies exist because they need to understand business strategy, marketing and communications strategy, design strategy, and how to integrate it all together.

Given that it takes different experience and knowledge to grow a tech/e-commerce business, a mid-size consulting firm, a small service business, or a thought leader brand, it’s best to look for a branding agency that has a focused clientele. They may focus by industry, by business size, by the clients’ target market, or by a variety of factors, but if they have a focus, they are able to learn nuances of their clients’ businesses and consult on the business itself.

I think it's ironic that many branding firms fail to focus their niche of target clients, which means they often aren’t able to offer this service. It’s a rare agency that is adept at developing strategy for businesses of all kinds.

Another reason branding agencies don’t touch business strategy is that strategists are often the bearers of bad news, and many agencies don’t want to take on that responsibility. Essentially, you may think your strategy is solid, but if your business is not profitable and is just breaking even (meaning everyone is getting paid but the owners are not taking home an additional profit share every quarter on top of their salary), your brand needs a more strategic positioning in the market, and a more solid sales and business strategy, as a foundation for the new messaging and design.

This can mean painful short-term pivots for the long-term health of the business. Without that, the shiny new brand may help you look nicer, but ultimately you’re not going to achieve the goal of having a highly profitable business. You might sign more clients, get more work, and need to hire more employees, but the profit at the end of the quarter or year stays the same and might even shrink.

Even when taking into account personal goals, social missions, and the like, making your ideal model highly profitable should be the end goal of any business.

Pricing for agencies that include business strategy range from $10,000 to $50,000 plus, but have no ceiling. A good way to identify these agencies is to look at their questions on your first call. Are they asking about your business and goals, or just what your wish list is? Are they asking about your biggest challenges? If they are, then they are making sure that your brand messaging is supported by a strategic and profitable business strategy.

Some of the biggest agencies do this and do it well, but the price tag usually starts at $30,000 just for the strategy, and when you throw in research, messaging, and visual design, the projects can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Smaller agencies usually don’t offer all three, given that committing to a certain size and niche business is difficult to stomach. But if you are looking for a branding firm and you struggle with profitability, I highly recommend asking agencies you are interviewing how much they need to understand the overall business in order to do their job well. If they say "yeah we don't really need to know that stuff to build you a beautiful brand" then they don't know what they don't know and I would pass if I were you.

Our evolution

We started Worstofall Design as a visual design firm, and over the years evolved into a messaging and design firm and ultimately into a business strategy, messaging, and design firm as we gained more and more insights into clients needs out of our own necessity. We realized in order to really to right by our clients, and to build them the brand they needed to succeed, we were going to have to understand the entire picture first. Otherwise, we were just taking their word for it that a new website was going to solve their problem, and if it didn't, they would think it was our website that didn't do the trick!

When we started asking more questions, we learned that almost every client had more going on than they initially shared, and by understanding that, we could actually help them craft a way more Badass message than they even thought was possible. Then we could design something that matched, and it made sense to all of us, my team and the client, why this brand was the best look and feel for the job.

We learned this while building our own business—that standing out in the market was critical to the success of a business. Without a unique message and brand voice, we could have the nicest design and still lose out to other agencies that made a better case. Once we implemented this into our business, we quickly realized this applied to our clients too, and without offering the brand strategy the client wasn’t going to hit their goal of getting more clients.

But as we continued to work with small businesses and saw patterns of the unprofitable businesses, our process evolved to address those as well. When we realized we were doing all three for clients out of necessity to help them achieve their ultimate goal of success, it helped us decide to focus on one- to three-person service businesses so we could offer all three. It’s a niche we know well—being one of them ourselves—and we have learned the ins and outs of all three elements of branding for this niche. We bring business strategy and positioning to all projects—regardless of whether our clients know they need it—because we know a message based on a weak positioning is going to fall on deaf ears.

While a beautiful brand may make people ooh and ahh over a pretty new website, if the clients don’t close and don’t create a profitable business, the brand didn’t accomplish the ultimate goal everyone ought to have.

To figure out whom to hire and what to spend, identify where you are in business, determine what your goals are, and then find an agency that is adept at helping you meet those goals.

If you need help, sign up and take our next free training below. See you there!

How To Have a 5-Hour Work Day And Get MORE Done

Pia Silva Spainbrain

This is not the "4 Hour Work-Week" that made Tim Ferris famous, nor the "collect checks while you live in Tuscany and pick grapes" model that so many (usually frat boy looking) claim to teach online. This is the true story of how I went from obsessed with obsessively making and checking off lists of to-dos, working 8-10+ hour plus days, to learning from a trip to Europe that I could actually rethink my strategy and get more done in less time if I just put a few things in place and committed to my goal.

It all started by realizing that I had some fundamental assumptions ingrained in me that was affecting how I approached the "work day."

I don't know about you but I was raised to covet the early morning hours. Maybe it's because I was born and raised in the city that never sleeps? I’ve spent my whole life thinking I was more “accomplished” the earlier I woke up. I got this idea from my parents by living in a home where everyone was “up and at ‘em” by 6 am, sometimes even earlier. Getting up at 8am was "sleeping in" and felt lazy. Growing up, it seemed productivity only even counted if it happened on the early side of the day.

Fast forward to June 2017 when Steve and I ran a little test: we booked a two-month trip to Europe—with no concrete agenda—to see how little we could work while still keeping our business going. We barely let people know we were gone, we booked Brandshrinks based on EST (even though we were six hours ahead), and we pushed ourselves to see if we could enjoy our trip and keep the lights on back home.

Each day, we woke up whenever we wanted, had a leisurely breakfast, spent four or five hours at a beach, did some reading, then had a relaxing lunch before heading back to our hotel room—usually between 4pm and 6pm—to start working for the day (the advantage of being at least 6 hours ahead of the United States). After a few hours of work, we’d head for dinner. (It didn’t hurt that it’s still light out at 10 pm during the summer in Spain and Italy)

Surprisingly, after having spent a whole day relaxing and doing whatever we wanted, it actually became easier to sit down and work in the late afternoons. Despite appearances, we actually got a surprising amount done. More, in fact, than usual. It really drove the point home for us that we fill the time we have, and with limits can often get stuff done in much less time.

We annointed this realization “#SpainBrain” and before returning home, decided #SpainBrain is here for life.

Badass Your Brain

A quick Google search let me know that the 40-hour work-week is a man-made construct created in the late 19th century that we’ve all just kind of accepted as how it works. It was actually created to protect industrial workers, but it’s slowly been distorted since, encroached upon by Wall Street traders and Silicon Valley bro-culture who say you have to constantly be "on" to make progress. You can recognize this distortion by the incessant chatter of “hustle” and “grind” and “no days off!” and the pride that seems to come with being sooooo busy.

As an entrepreneur, most of us really ultimately want freedom and flexibility. (click to tweet) But unfortunately most entrepreneurs I meet end up with that constant hustle, lots of time wasted on inefficient activities, guilt for not doing enough (which, if this mindset you can never do enough), and a race to cross things off that ever-growing list.

It’s time to retrain ourselves to accept nothing less than #SpainBrain.

To achieve #SpainBrain, you have to approach your relationship with time and effectiveness differently. (click to tweet)

And that means rethinking what we’ve been taught our entire lives.

What if you were only able to work 5 hours/day?

What would you need to do to make that happen if you had no other choice? That’s exactly what Steve and I asked ourselves at the end of our vacation.

For most of us, it actually doesn't matter when we work or how long it takes to finish as long as we accomplish what we need to accomplish. Working fewer hours doesn't necessarily mean you’re getting fewer results. In fact, it could even mean that you’ll get better results because you’ll only be working in peak mental condition.

With this in mind, and knowing my addiction to productivity and to-do lists, we told ourselves on the way home from Europe that we were only going to work from 1 pm to 6 pm, five days a week. That's it. We put clear and unbending parameters in place so that we would know if we were accomplishing it or not (since "work fewer hours" could easily be encroaching on. We were actually a little scared we'd get sucked back into working in the mornings, but we were committed to making it work cause it was so damn freeing while we were away.

Sounds cool, but HOW?

Easier said than done, right? Before returning home I decided that there were a few other things I need to commit to if I was ever going to have a chance of making this a habit I could stick to:

  1. First, if I was only allowed 5 hours a day I needed to spend that 5 hours as productively as possible. That meant doing only the most high-value work; doing things only I can do for my business. Which meant I needed to outsource everything else that was humanly possible. That meant understanding the value of investing the upfront time needed to hand it off to someone else, including making a training video when needed. (Having a seriously Badass virtual assistant on my team made this possible).
  2. Second, I needed to be super clear on my short and long-term objectives and exactly what needed to get done each day, so I could hit the ground running at 1 pm sharp (not 1:15pm or 1:30pm after I checked my email and Facebook and all that jazz.) This meant committing to putting time aside to plan each week and keeping a tight list of objectives that would push the needle forward toward my big goals.
  3. Finally, I needed to stay committed to my own goal to make this schedule work.  Fight any urge to procrastinate on social media or by reading the New York Times online, my go-to time wasters.
  4. Have a clear list of fulfilling activities I wanted to do when I wasn't working. Books I was excited to read, friends I wanted to see and not just talk about seeing, classes I wanted to take. Without having activities to do instead it would have been easy for me to wake up and want to get going to work because I actually love what I do!

Easier said than done. I wrote these 4 things down in my journal and looked at them frequently. It's a simple list, and yet reminding myself of them constantly was necessary to keep my eye on the prize, especially when I felt like I was unclear why this was a good idea.

A Total Mindset Shift

Now that I’ve lived #SpainBrain for almost a year, I can't imagine getting back into my old schedule. Yes, I have to be way more efficient and disciplined to work just five hours—it’s challenging—but it doesn’t make me lazy or less-than. In fact, more free time enhances the quality of my work and expands my mind to think of new, possibly better ways, to serve people.

Being committed to the four things I outlined above has shown me, clearly, that my eight-hour-plus workdays were really just five-hour workdays dragged out over eight hours. I was spending a total of at least three hours procrastinating, often because I just wasn't clear on exactly what needed to get done, or doing things I should have known could have been outsourced, but I was too controlling, or oddly, lazy, to take the time to outsource.

How many of us are wasting precious time “working?” How many 100-year-old constructs are holding us back?!

If you commit to #SpainBrain (and I hope you’ll join me!), understand you will be forced out of your comfort zone. You have to give up some control and trust others, and that is usually the hardest part for entrepreneurs who want everything done a certain way. This won't always work out well, but stick with it, because it will change your life if you want it to.

The things we assume are just “the way things are” or “the right way to operate,” often aren’t. Identifying our default thinking can be incredibly freeing, and it can also create space for new opportunities. With all this free time, I am spending time reading and thinking and learning new skills unrelated to my business, and surprisingly, they all end up helping me be more effective in my business anyway. For example, I took up singing lessons just for fun, but it’s actually helping me with my public speaking skills as well. (If you've never done a visual representation of how much time you have left in your life to do these things on your bucket list, I made one for you which you can download here— it's an eye opener!)

Now that I’ve seen the other side, I'm beginning to think these underlying assumptions about life, work, and business are invisible hands pulling us in directions we might not want to go. Instead, we can create new ones, and then make them work—for ourselves. The possibilities are really, truly endless, and it’s got me rethinking everything.

Come with me. It’s worth it.

How to Respond When Someone Wants to 'Pick Your Brain'

Pia-Silva badass branding blog.jpg

Warning: this article might trigger you (if you are someone who is always asking people if you can take them out for coffee to "pick their brain," that is...)

On the other hand, if you've got it going on and have built a reputation as an expert, you probably get "pick your brain" requests a LOT. If so, I wrote this for you.

I know this riles people up. If you're a consultant whose information and time are how you make a living, it can be quite annoying when people request free work in the form of help. Usually, they don't know any better, so let's not fault them. But I've seen enough posts on Facebook about this, from angry experts who are annoyed with even the request, to know that this is a constant issue for some.

Instead of getting angry, or taking them (which is usually not a good idea considering the value of your time and the lost productivity and income), I recommend having clarity on what they are, putting them in their place, and having canned responses that you feel good about and that add value for the person asking so everyone wins.

Because we all struggle with how to respond to somebody who wants our time (click to tweet). I know I don't like it mainly because I feel like I'm being put in a position to "be mean" by saying no. And some people will definitely think it's mean to not just give them your time, but you have to remember that's their issue, not yours. As long as you are polite and give them a way to get value from you, you are perfectly within your right to protect your time.

Your Time, the Most Valuable Thing You Own

Think about it this way: In the time it takes me to travel to and have coffee with a new acquaintance, I could have drafted an article for this column, something that hundreds if not thousands of people will read. Perhaps I could have come up with a way to automate another piece of my process, thereby saving me loads of time in the future. Maybe I could have read part of a book that inspired me to think in new ways about my business. I might have even taken that time to relax and regenerate, something most entrepreneurs could use and which often makes me more effective when I am working.

When you inventory your time, you find that coffee dates with new acquaintances is the least bang for your buck. Especially when the purpose of the meeting is for the other person to mine you for free information.

Instead start to think about how many valuable things you could potentially do in an hour or two, and then you'll start to value your time appropriately. When you finally get into that mindset, you’re going to want to do everything you can to protect it.

I implemented the Brandshrink—a one-and-a-half-hour interview and write up designed to solve branding problems—so I could have clear boundaries for these requests. Having a defined process and canned response means I don’t have to get caught up in trying to be polite, or worrying about what to say when people ask for my time. I'm quick to tell people—even friends—that if they want my advice and time, they’ll should schedule a Brandshrink! I literally have a product that solves the problem they have, why wouldn't they want to buy it?

Does that sound cold-hearted?

Au contraire.

This is not just for my benefit, it’s for theirs! Not only do these boundaries ensure that I’m not running around trying to help everyone else for free at the expense of my business and sanity, but I do it because people value things more when they pay for them. And because they value them, they’re also more likely to implement my advice effectively.

It’s a little uncomfortable, especially when I know the person isn’t purposefully asking me to do free work for them but, man, it cuts right to the chase by asking them to make a decision.

Missed Connections

“You never know who they might know”—the FOMO of the business world—is one of the worst myths entrepreneurs tell themselves. Sure, anybody could know some amazing contact for you who just happens to be looking for someone exactly like you to feature in their upcoming Fast Company cover story. Likelihood is low though.

In retrospect, I know why I would spend time endlessly meeting with people over coffee: these meetings made me feel like I was doing something for my business. In reality? I didn't know what else to do.

Now that I’ve learned how many other things there are to do, this isn’t a game I recommend you play. Not if you if want to build a business with longevity. Just because you're desperate for clients doesn't mean you have time to go have coffee with everybody who’s willing to have coffee with you. Quite the opposite, actually. Because you’re desperate for clients, you DO NOT have time to go have coffee with everybody.

This fact is more obvious for people who are still charging hourly rates (which you should stop doing). Think about it: if you're charging $50/hour, and you just spent three hours getting coffee with someone who will never be your customer, not only did you pay for the coffee and scones, but you just cost yourself $150 of lost productivity. At that rate, you'll go out of business before that golden opportunity ever comes.

This is like betting money on bad poker hands over and over just in case three more 2s happen to show up. You’re likely to be out of chips before you hit it big. Why not use all that time to create your own luck, instead?

I’ve done both: had coffee with all those people, and stopped doing the coffees to create my own luck by spending that time building value in my brand. I’d choose the latter any time and wish I had started earlier.

While I understand that meeting with someone face to face can build a stronger relationship than a quick phone call, I also question how valuable building that relationship is if that person has so much time to kill. I’m all about building solid relationships with valuable referral partners, but I save my time for those I know are valuable. Until then, you’ve got better things to do. You don't need to be crushing it to realize there are more valuable ways to spend your time.

Standing Up For The Way You Do Business

Part of being an authority is having clear boundaries. If you have a clear and pre-defined way to help people that asks them to put their money on the line, they’ll either hire you, or they won’t (click to tweet). And if they disagree or are somehow offended, then they definitely weren’t going to hire you or be a good client. Congratulations! You just dodged a bullet!

A few times, early in my business, I got a lot of requests to barter services. They give me copy, I provide them with a site, that sort of thing. But I always got the short end of the stick in those interactions, so I developed a ‘no bartering’ policy. This policy made it easier to communicate my boundaries. In my mind, if you really want my services and I really want yours, then I can hire you and pay you, and you can hire me and pay me back. But it’s important to me that checks are exchanged and deposited. You can consider that bartering and I'll consider that an agreement to do business, but I want those parameters in place.

If any of this makes you uncomfortable, I completely understand. It doesn’t feel good to think someone might think poorly of you while all you’re doing is trying to protect your time and business. I've had people straight up question if my values "aligned" with theirs when I didn't want to spend half a day trekking to have a free coffee with them, which stung until I realized the reason they wanted to see me for coffee is because they wanted to sell me something. You see? Cutting to the chase sniffs out the true intentions sometimes.

And that's why you can’t make decisions about your business based on how somebody might respond, because you never really know what is actually going on for them. Being worried about offending people doesn't mean you offended them. And it certainly doesn't mean you owe them your time. You can't help everybody, and especially not everyone who emails you to go to coffee.

IT'S ON YOU.

Sometimes these coffee dates are an excuse to feel productive and busy doing the easier thing, as opposed to what can be mentally-draining biz dev work, content creation, etc... As entrepreneurs, we have so many things we could be doing, and sometimes it feels easier to blow off the things that need a lot of brain power for a cappuccino either to help someone out (so altruistic!) or because you never know who they might know. And it can be really easy to spend your days getting nothing done if you aren't clear on your big picture goals and value of your time. You owe yourself and your business that clarity and respect.

That’s what experts do.

If you want to find some middle ground between saying no and saying yes, make it easy for people to buy time from you with services like Clarity.FM. It lets people book time and pay by the minute. That's another way of letting people know you don't give away your information for free while still offering to help.

Time is the most valuable and finite resource we have. If you’ve ever done a visual representation of the time you have left on this earth compared to the time you still have available, it’s really quite limited. (If you’ve never done one I made one for you to download here— it’s a great exercise!)

If you need it:
I’m giving you permission to create a “pick your brain” session people can pay for.

If someone is a good fit for you and your services, they will go through your process. If they choose not to, they weren’t a good fit, and you just got back a few hours of your life. They are not bad people for requesting it, just like you are not a bad person for wanting to get paid for your expertise! But it’s up to you to define it.