May 2017

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The year is fast rolling by, its May already, the 5th month of the year. Keeping the blogs rolling in is becoming a challenge. Writing is easy, but writing for a purpose can be challenging as readers must get their times’ worth.

This month I will speak to branding as a critical part of selling oneself and your products. I am not a marketer but my strong intuition tells me that marketing is an all-round attribute that kicks in when one stands up to do anything. Marketing becomes an integral part of your personality. How you speak, carry yourself, the promises you make and the way you behave is your marketing pitch. More so when you are running a business. How you market is a reflection on your whole person; whether people like you, whether they believe you and whether they find your product useful. Ultimately this will impact not only on the sales but the overall sustainability of the business. Performance responds to demand. Demand is a function of how people out there, customers included, perceive the company.

Going deeper, I want to focus on what I will call ‘marketing the marketer’. Marketing is about building trust; trust in the product or service that is being promoted. When consumers use the product and are satisfied that it was a good buy and that it performs the job for which it was created, you can be sure that the word of mouth will do the rest for you. At this stage both the marketer and the marketed are credible. This is true of much of the products and services that we use every day. Perfecting the art of marketing and perfecting the product takes many years. Yes, marketing is a faith-based endeavour but time is also a big part of the offering. Look around you to the best chocolates, best watches, best perfumes etc., or indeed one of the most famous drinks in the world, Coca Cola. All the best products that have a famous appeal are not only perfectly made but took a while to come to fruition.

What is my point? Whatever idea or plan we want to put in action, it must be an idea that solves a current problem. It answers something important to you or the community. After all the community will be your customers or consumers, it must be relevant to them. As the saying goes, start small, from where you are. If it is worth your while to do it, endeavour to do it well. Do not expect anything from anybody at this stage. Demonstrate that your idea works either by a prototype that you can show or a track record of having done something repeatedly. Over time your aim must be to be perfect your art to the highest level and make people see and appreciate your product or service.

Many a time ideas do not survive because they are copied from someone else. In such a case, the plan may not sustain. It is not possible to replicate every angle of a borrowed idea and on that basis it will die in your hands. You have to infuse something uniquely you in the idea to make it your own for you to survive. When people buy into it they are buying your inspiration. This is where you edge away from the competition. If it takes 20 or 100 years to edge away from the competition, so be it. Always have a long term take on the idea. You may not be there in the future but excellence must be the hallmark of what you do. Your workers and everyone associated with your enterprise must strive for excellence at every stage. As a start-up company, the idea is with the promoter.

While the promoter may not necessarily be able to verbally explain what his vision is, certainly the quality of the goods and delivery of services must speak to that. When the owner or promoter is no longer there and the company survives, the idea and the vision should continue to exist.

I listened to the frustrated narration of a credit officer from your typical bank speaking about some of the clients he has encountered. They dream of a great idea to do something, run a business or create something. Great to read about it on paper but the idea has never been tested in the real world. The promoter has no experience doing what the idea is saying they will do.

Unfortunately, the real world is fraught with obstacles. There are no ideas out there that will give you instant success regardless of how much money is channelled into it. The business must face the risks out there by doing the business. Once you start selling, you will get feedback on what the customers think of your product or service. They will either come back for more or they will not come back at all. Once you are in that situation, you are in a position to identify and start to with the risks in a realistic way.

In short, the credible marketer will only market a story that has been tested. It does not matter the size. Large or small, it must have been tested on the ground with real customers. Once all the likely obstacles are encountered, learning about the product you are selling is perfected for human consumption. Imagine if you produced thousands of items at a go and nobody wants to buy. That would be a total waste of money and who really pays for the errors? Certainly not the lender!

So, no matter how good your business plan is, the lender is really assessing the borrower and his/her idea that is being marketed. According to the credit officer, the marketer (borrower) is usually not yet qualified to market if and when they have no track record.

While thinking through this topic I came upon a passage talking about 5 Mantras that entrepreneurs of today must learn from traditional businesses. These are:

Capital scarcity: this is an age-old problem and is the experience of every entrepreneur. The ideas are usually too new to attract formal lending. So as a start-up, start with your own money, which means you start small.

Quality and branding: your quality is your brand. Focus on these and establish yourself with a growing captive clientele. Serve them brilliantly while learning and improving your product.

Define your business model: growth before profit or total quality management, perfect it! Let it be your strong point. Growth is critical so try to achieve that earlier than later.

A start up business that sustains is like a child. Watch and nurture the child to maturity. A business that sustains and grows is an asset to you and those around you.

Finally, don’t celebrate your successes. This can be a source of unwanted attention. Focus on the business, perfect your trade, and while you may be racking up the profits keep this private. Avoid fancy living to the gaze of your neighbours. The more successful you become the more humble you should be.

Humility keeps you grounded, measures your expectations and saves you money. Saving is necessary just in case the business hits a downturn in the business cycle, you should be able to save yourself. Small businesses are critical to the growth of economies all over the capitalist world. Small businesses become big businesses over time and by various means. The principle of frugality, innovation and quality are however critical to their survival. Much is being written about Small businesses and the reasons for their success or failure. Some countries like India, Nigeria, and the USA just to name a few are driven by small businesses. The emergence of women in this sector is another new dimension. In our own country, women are particularly active and have attracted attention from the government to financial institutions that are keen to help them succeed. It seems, however, that until ideas are original, well thought out, scalable and useful to the larger community out there the piles of failure will continue to rise. The onus therefore is on the entrepreneurs to come up with ideas that are well thought out and useful to the community.




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