How do you take a startup and make it stronger? It’s a question we’re asked on the regular. And it’s a multi-faceted one, answers to which cover everything from getting the right business culture to negotiating better deals with suppliers.
But our first answer is always the same: to really grow your business, you’ve first got to build your brand.
You’ve got to know your why
To understand your business — and thus understand how you can grow it — you’ve got to understand your brand. That means knowing who you are, what you do, and, crucially, why you do it.
As Simon Sinek, says, you’ve got to know your why. This is the basis of all good branding — from the things you say and the way you say them to your brand colours and design aesthetic. Everything starts with your why.
“Things like hiring the right people and winning clients are obviously critical,” says our executive creative director, Mark. “But how do you know if they’re right for you? Well, you need to have shared values and beliefs. You need to have the same ambitions and vision of the future. If you don’t have that, your relationships won’t work, with colleagues or clients.
“And all this stuff? It’s embedded in your why. You need to really understand yours, so you can spot the right people to work with. The people who’ll take you further.”
Be a hedgehog. Seriously.
Defining your why has another benefit — it defines the reason you exist. This is your brand mission, and it helps you define your offering, and how you offer it. Too many brands fall at this hurdle. Either they don’t take the effort to define their mission, or they do, but don’t stay true to it. They overstretch their offering, becoming Jacks of all trades and masters of none.
Take Nike. They make sportswear that makes people feel like heroes. Or streetwear that makes people feel confident. They don’t make suits or dresses, because that doesn’t fit with their brand purpose. You can’t ‘Just do it’ in a pair of well-heeled brogues. Nike don’t stretch their offering, they focus it, and are more recognisable and stronger for it.
“Find your niche and own the hell out of it.”
“You need to be really damn good at one thing,” says Mark. “Find your niche and own the hell out of it. Jim Collins’ book ‘Good to Great’ describes this as the hedgehog concept. A hedgehog defends itself against the fox by doing one thing, using its spikes. And because it does it so well, it doesn’t matter how sly the fox is, the hedgehog wins every time.
“For us at Woven, our hedgehog concept — our mission — is ‘To make brands work beautifully’. And because it’s all we focus on, we do it really well. So find what you’re good at and stick to it. And if that thing is something you love, so much the better.”
Value your brand values
“People often ignore their brand values,” Mark explains. “But as we spoke about earlier, they’re really important. They help define what makes your business unique, which means they should resonate in everything you do – your tone of voice in marketing, the people you hire, the way you treat your customers.
“Defining your brand values doesn’t have to be a long-winded process, but doing so properly creates strong foundations for you to build your brand on and grow your business in a consistent way with the right people.”
“Your brand values are the foundation upon which your business grows.”
The importance of defining your brand values isn’t limited to big businesses. “We hear smaller businesses ask, ‘Why bother with brand values?’, not realising their values could be their creative edge over the bigger players.
“Look at innocent. They were a values-driven business from the beginning and those brand values informed everything they did, from their products to their design and copywriting. 15 years after they started, they were bought by Coca Cola for hundreds of millions. That’s the power of valuing your values.”
Define your dream
So, you know your why, the thing that drives you. And you know your values, the things you represent and want to see more of in the world. Now, you need to work out what success looks like.
“Dream big,” says Mark. “Be ambitious. Picture success and imagine what it looks like in your business. Imagine what your workspace looks like. The view from the window. Picture your product as the best in its field. Or visualise a broken shelf that’s cracked under the weight of all the creative awards you’ve won.
“Your dream is a destination in time you’re aiming for. Visualise it, write it down and pin it above your laptop. Think about it every day. Tell your friends, your family and your dog about it. Keep the dream at the forefront of your mind so that every decision you make gets you closer towards achieving it.”
Get the right people in the right seats doing the right things
What we’ve talked about up to now mostly focuses on how to build your brand — now, we’re putting our business heads on.
So, you might have a dream but that doesn’t mean you know how to achieve it. Don’t worry, that’s fine. In fact, it’s normal. It’s why you hire people.
Let’s go back to Jim Collins. He says to consider your business as a bus (first hedgehogs, now buses; Jim loves a metaphor). He writes: “Look, I don’t really know where we should take this bus. But I know this much: If we get the right people on the bus, the right people in the right seats, and the wrong people off the bus, then we’ll figure out how to take it someplace great.”
“If someone doesn’t want or understand their role, they might be in the wrong seat. Or on the wrong bus.”
You should ask three questions about everyone who’s already on your bus – and those you might want to invite onto it:
- Do they understand their role, responsibilities and the processes?
- Do they actually want their role?
- Do they have the technical, physical and emotional capacity to do it?
If the answer to any of these is ‘no’, they might be in the wrong seat. Or worse, on the wrong bus.
Set SMART goals
Every business owner needs goals to keep moving forward, to stay motivated and to maintain success in their businesses. When setting yours, make sure they’re SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based) so they never feel unachievable or undefined.
“Whether you’re starting up or well-established, I’d set a three-year business plan,” says Mark. “Any longer than that and things lose focus. Keeping your eye on the prize is easier when the timescales aren’t too far in the distance.
“Define what success looks like, from your turnover to the car you want to be driving in three years’ time.”
“You can set three-year goals around turnover, profitability, how many people you’ll employ, what location you’ll operate in, what you want to be known for, and so on. Define what success looks like by saying: ‘In three years, I will have succeeded if turnover hits X million pounds or we’re operating in the US or we’ve doubled our workforce. Or I’m driving a Maserati.’
“You can then do the same after two years and one year. Drilling down further, you can be hyper-focused on quarterly goals — something the book ‘Traction’ by Gino Wickman calls ‘rocks’. According to Wickman, the aim is to create five, six or seven rocks for each quarter – and it’s your job to smash them. You’ve got to really hold yourself accountable for this and check in weekly against them.”
Know the score
Books like ‘Traction’ might feel geared towards bigger businesses, but they’re relevant for smaller ones, too. One example is the ‘Level 10 meeting’ — a 90-minute weekly session with a rigid agenda where you and your senior team (which might be everyone, if you’re a small business) take time to focus on issues essential to your business. The agenda covers:
- Scorecards. Many businesses don’t use scorecards, which means they have little idea about the profitability of their business. “This is a dangerous oversight,” says Mark. “You need to set goals for financials, marketing and sales, at the very least.”
- Staff and client headlines. Share employee and client feedback that the business can learn from, rectify or celebrate.
- 90-day ‘rocks’. How are you getting on smashing these? If you’re off track, create an issue that you can discuss when it comes to that part of the meeting.
- To-do list. This is where you review the week just gone and set the to-do list for the week ahead.
- Issues. This is the meat of your meeting, where you’ll raise and understand the root causes of any problems in your business and try to resolve the priorities. It’s really important that as you go through the week, you maintain a spreadsheet that lists the issues and their status. If anything stays on the Issues list for more than a few weeks, put it on a long-term list to be discussed during your quarterly meetings.
Understand the building blocks of your business
According to Stategyzer’s Business Model Canvas, all businesses are made of essentially the same nine building blocks. Your proposition, your customers, the ways in which you reach customers, your customer relationships, your revenue streams, your value-adding resources, the key activities you do, your partners and your business’ cost structure.
“At Woven, we use the Strategyzer canvas to map out these nine blocks” says Mark. “It’s a great way to get clarity on your business proposition, for spotting knowledge and experience gaps, for seeing business opportunities, and for understanding how your business makes money. It’s equally as useful for explaining your business model to potential investors.”
Study the Ansoff Matrix
The Ansoff Matrix outlines four business growth strategies and helps you understand the risks associated with each one. The principle is that each time you move into a new quadrant, whether that’s horizontally or vertically, the opportunity increases – but so does the risk involved.
Mark explains, “It essentially works across two key dimensions: markets and services. A really useful exercise is to plot ideas for growth into the four quadrants and then focus on a few priorities. Add these ideas into your business’ vision, your long-term goals, or your short-term 90-day rocks.
Market penetration. This is your safest bet, where you focus on expanding the sales of your existing product in your existing market. You know your business, the services you offer, the competition, and how you differ from them, so there won’t be many surprises in store for you here.
Product development. This is more risky for your business, because you’re introducing a new product. But because you know the market, the risk is reduced.
Market development. Here, you’re putting an existing product into a new market, perhaps by finding a new use for the product, adding new features or benefits to it, or going into a whole new geographical arena.
Diversification. This is the riskiest of the four options – but potentially the most rewarding. You’re bringing a new product into a new market that you’ll be less familiar with. But if you’ve spotted a gap and have done your market research diligence, you have a chance of untapping a whole new revenue stream.
Build your brand, build your business
Whilst what we’ve discussed here isn’t comprehensive, it should give you an idea of how to start building your brand, and help you prioritise the regular tasks essential to building your business.
One thing you should know: doing both properly takes time, thought and a lot of different skills to achieve. At Woven, we’ve got decades of marketing and branding experience. We help design-conscious brands build from the bottom up or reboot established businesses with new brand essences, brand archetypes, brand values and creative. Take a look at our back catalogue to see what we mean, and if you like what you see, get in touch.