I started my first business out of my university dorm room, and like most startup business owners, I had to be resourceful and use whatever tools I could afford. Thus, I taught myself how to use Photoshop and I designed my own business cards, my own logo and all of my own marketing materials — and they looked bad. Unfortunately, friends, family and everyone who I marketed my startup entertainment business to knew that my branding materials looked bad — except for me.
After scaling and building my first business into a multimillion-dollar business, I decided to sell it so I could turn my focus onto helping small business owners to scale their businesses by adapting proven checklists, systems and processes. Now I sit down on a daily basis with small business owners who are perpetually stuck in unscalable business models because they don’t see the mindsets and the dysfunctional processes that are sabotaging their own growth. In order for a business to produce products and services that people are actually willing to pay for, the owner must not be stuck in a “small-business mindset.”
You are probably thinking, “What the heck is a small-business mindset?” What I refer to as the small-business mindset is one filled with reactive business operations, poor branding and the absence of self-awareness and systems. If you run your business this way long enough, soon you will create an 80-hour-per-week job that nobody wants instead of a business that has the capacity to create both time and financial freedom for you.
According to entrepreneur Elon Musk (paywall), “Brand is just a perception, and perception will match reality over time. Sometimes it will be ahead, other times it will be behind. But the brand is simply a collective impression some have about a product.” Below are the four most common examples of the small-business mindset that I see small business owners doing on a daily basis to unintentionally sabotage the way their business is perceived.
• Adding ‘LLC’ To All Print Materials: When you add “LLC” to all print materials, this screams to the marketplace that you are a small business owner. Think bigger! Though Apple, Amazon, Nike and other industry leaders have limited-liability corporation subsidiaries, you don’t see them marketing their products by putting “LLC” next to their logo. Just because you are an LLC or S corporation does not mean you have to put it on all of your marketing materials.
• The Nonbranded Email: Have you ever asked a business owner for their email, only to find out that they have a “@gmail.com” company email? What is the first thing that comes into your mind? I immediately think, “I wonder how long this person has even been in business.” Many domain hosts offer free branded emails, and, failing that, you can get a branded email from Google for only $6 per month. This helps you as a small business owner to earn credibility with your potential customers.
• DIYing Or Hiring Friends Or Family To Create Marketing Materials: It’s very expensive to attempt to save money by creating your own marketing materials if they end up looking really bad. My friend, nothing repels wealth faster than poor marketing materials. Nothing cheapens the value you actually offer to the marketplace faster than aggressively marketing your business with poorly designed brochures and websites that were created by yourself or your friends or family members in an attempt to save money.
• Lack Of Self-Awareness: When people do an online search for you or your business, what do they find? Is it positive or negative? It always hurts my heart and my head when I sit down with a small business owner with 2.1 out of five stars who is trying to figure out why their online advertisements are proving to be ineffective. According to research, 86% of consumers read reviews, and your potential customers do, too. It’s very important that you know what the marketplace is saying about you and what you need to do to improve the experience of your ideal and likely buyers.
Starting a successful business is tough, but you don’t want to make it tougher on yourself by dysfunctionally marketing your business. As a small-business owner, you don’t often get a second chance to make a first impression. When was the last time that you audited your marketing materials and your online presence? It might be time to evaluate your marketing materials. Would you (objectively) hire yourself, or would you decide to go with a company that feels larger/safer? Stop thinking small, and start thinking like a successful big business. Drop the LLC from your materials, stop going the DIY route, get rid of that nonbranded email address and know what the internet review community is saying about you and your business.