How Much Should You Spend On Branding?


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.

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.

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


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. But unfortauntely 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.

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 We Went From a "Me Too" Brand to BADASS


"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 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.

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, which until then felt completely counterintuitive to someone who wanted to keep growing a successful and profitable business. Instead, we 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.

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.

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 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!

When Posting on Facebook is Bad for Business


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.


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.

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


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. 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. 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.


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.