Branding for Founders, Farmers, Tinkers and Thieves

A white ladder leads up to a giant red megaphone that represents branding and communication.

Every entrepreneur passes through four phases in the journey to wealth.

Take our test here to determine what stage you’re in.

At each stage, priorities shift. Time shifts. Resources change. And the entrepreneur has to make a decision: How can I spend my time and money best right now?
When it comes to branding, here are your priorities.

The Founder’s Brand

In the Founder Phase, the entrepreneur is her own brand.
Mary might call her café The Soultown Grill, but her first customers will come to Mary’s place because they want to eat Mary’s food and talk to Mary while she serves them.
The founder’s largest challenge is usually awareness: People probably don’t know The Soultown Grill exists. But who does know? Mary’s friends and family. They’ll be her first clients. They’ll want to help her because they care about her.
The founder’s personal brand and business brand are synonymous at this stage. This will change later, but for now, the entrepreneur’s friends and family should be her first clients. Even if Mary’s a lousy cook, they should support her (and they should pay full price and tip very well, too).
The key to remember here is that the founder’s first clients will have a personal connection. Advertising won’t attract them. They’ll be drawn in because of their relationship to you, the founder. And you should use those relationships to build your business and brand awareness.

The Farmer’s Brand

In the Farmer Phase, the team becomes the brand. As a farmer, you must now take the business’s brand from “me” to “we” by consciously referring to “the team” or “us” instead of saying “my” or “mine.” For example, an insurance company should stop saying “Chris, the broker” and start saying “the team at Super Broker Brothers.”
Some brands, like Zappos, do such a fantastic job of building the team culture that clients actually want to work with the company because they know the team is happy. That’s the gold standard, but as a farmer, you should first concern yourself with solving the “icon problem.”

The Tinker’s Brand

I have a dentist. She’s been my dentist for a decade, and in those 10 years, she has moved her practice three times. And I’ve followed her because my relationship is with her, not her office. Obviously, this is great for her—she’ll be my dentist for life—but it’s not great for the dental offices she leaves.
I have a financial advisor. He has a “book of business” with my name in it and knows that I prefer index funds to RSPs and real estate over any paper investment. I’ll go with him if he moves his practice to another company, and I imagine many of his clients would too. This is great news for him, obviously, but it’s not great for his office.
In the Tinker Phase, your company’s brand must take on its own identity. Your clients need to have a relationship with your brand that overrides their relationship with any specific staff person.
Establishing your brand’s identity independent of you or your staff starts with your clients. If you don’t want your book of business to follow members of your team down the street, you have to take a different approach to keep your brand in the forefront of your clients’ minds. Here’s how:
– Change your lexicon. Avoid staff references to “my client” and “your client.” Instead, refer to “the team” and “our client,” and use “we” in your correspondence.
– Regularly switch staff around for your clients.
– Use vacations and days off to introduce new staff to your clients.
– Put the best person in each role. If one bookkeeper is bad at sending birthday cards or congratulating clients, the client suffers. But if you have one amazing staff person in the role of congratulation and retention, it solidifies the relationship between your accounting practice and the client.
– Sign correspondence with “Your friends at Catalyst” instead of “Chris.”
– Tell staff to keep communication lines with clients professional. Don’t give out personal phone numbers or personal email addresses. There’s a strong legal reason for this, too. If a client ever tried to sue the business, the staff member’s personal text and email history could become the property of the plaintiff if they’re using it with the client. And really, who wants a client texting at 4 a.m.?
– Encourage all staff to establish their authority outside of their client sessions by producing educational videos and blog posts. Make them famous.
– Hire a diverse array of staff. I love to say, “I want you to train with Mike for the next three months. He’s great at accountability. Then you can move back to Bill in September when you’re getting ready for ski season again.”
– Don’t depend on non-sales staff for sales. If they’re the client’s only point of contact, the client will follow them wherever they go. Do goal reviews or have a separate staff specialist meet with the client three times per year.
– In general, expose every client to at least three different members of your staff.
You got the clients. You signed them up. You paid for your website and painted your office. You’re also doing your best to provide meaningful careers for your coaches. But if it doesn’t work out, do you lose the kids in the divorce? Of course not. And that’s why building loyalty to the brand is so essential. 
How do you build a brand that clients love? Start in the Founder Phase, and follow the instructions in this series.

Other Media in This Series

Branding 101: Are You Poisoning Your Brand?
Branding 101: Clarity Is Greater Than Art
Branding 101: What Are They Hiring You to Do?
StoryBrand: Can It Help You Acquire More Clients?


One more thing!

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