Once you have your mission statement, vision statement, and brand value proposition, and type of brand nailed down, the next step is to create a presence and get out your message to your audience about who you are and how you can help them. There’s no point in having a brand if people don’t actually SEE your brand, right?
In this chapter, we’re going to talk about two steps that can help you start to build your brand.
What You Don’t Need
A weird trend started to develop while I was in my early years of high school: All of the cool kids started to print their own business cards.
Did they own their own businesses?
But printed on these cards were their names in fancy writing, a logo (usually clip art), and any clubs they were in and special talents that they had. The coolest of the cool kids even had their pager number on there too.
I started to see these cards being passed out, collected, and talked about. So, of course, because I wasn’t one of the cool kids—but I really wanted to be one of the cool kids—I designed and printed one of my own.
When I think back to this part of my life, it makes me laugh hysterically, especially because I remember my own card saying I was a musician (true), and a karate expert (maybe not so true, although I did have a black belt). But at the same time, I know exactly why this kind of thing was happening.
It was fun and exciting to print these cards, to feel them in our hands, and to hand them out and share them with friends—the people who already knew our names and pager numbers anyway.
A little piece of cardstock made us feel like we were official, and that we had something more substantial than what we actually had, which was no business at all.
When I help new students through their entrepreneurial journey, it’s funny because many people who are at the start behave in a very similar way. For some, it’s literally the same thing—printing business cards—but for others it’s a customized blog theme, or having all of their social media profiles match perfectly. It’s swag like T-shirts, and the perfectly-branded email signature.
All of this stuff can be important and plays a role one way or another within a brand, but when you’re just starting out, you need to learn to differentiate between what you really want and what you really need.
Because your time and energy is limited, you must remove the focus on what is truly important in the beginning.
What are those must-haves? They are:
- A working website
- An email list
In my online course, Power-Up Podcasting, I teach people how to start, launch, and market a podcast that matters, and also how to make sure it gets found post-launch.
What’s interesting is a common question I receive from students making their way through the course:
Do I really need a website to have my podcast?
The technical answer is, well, no. You don’t. You could easily set up your podcast using simply what you set up via your media host, with no website of your own at all.
But that’s crazy-talk.
Of course you’d want your own website!
You don’t need it to launch a podcast, or host your own video channel on YouTube, or crush it on social media, but in order to build a sustainable, long-term business, you should absolutely have your own website.
These marketing channels are where you go to meet new people and share a little bit about yourself. This is where you are utilizing other platforms that are not fully under your control to provide opportunities for relationships to start, and for you to share a bit about yourself with others.
Your website, however, is like your home. It’s where you invite those people you meet in outside establishments to visit so that you can make them feel more comfortable, allow them to get to know you even more, and eventually help them out on a deeper level. It’s where you can direct people, under your control, to what else you might have to offer. It’s where you can begin to serve them better.
One business idea I had a while back was to provide a service to help popular YouTubers get their websites up and running and help them start to build an email list. It really scares me that many of them have millions of viewers and millions of subscribers, but no real web presence other than their YouTube channel and social media.
All it takes is one mishap or one company decision to completely disrupt everything they’ve worked so hard for, and a website becomes almost an insurance policy for the popularity they’ve earned on those outside platforms.
Plus, let’s not forget Google and search engine optimization too!
When building a website, there are tens of thousands of different ways to go about it. There are options for hosting companies, website and blogging platforms, themes and designs, plugins, etc. It’s really confusing (which is partly why many people don’t even get started), but it’s vital for the long-term success of your brand.
That’s why I say a working website—it just needs to work at first. Like with the business card example, it’s very easy to get lost in the “what’s the best way to design my website?” rabbit hole, which is a hole that many people never escape from. Yes, the look and feel of the website is important, but what’s more important is getting something up, rather than nothing.
It’s a ready, fire, aim approach, which means you can be a little off the mark at first, but then hone in on what works for you later on. You can always change things later and make improvements, and small purposeful and incremental improvements are always better when it comes to website-related items—so take that approach at the start. Take that big, bold action of getting started, and then slowly progress toward perfecting it along the way.
Plus, as you begin to publish content and begin to help people navigate through your brand and your offerings as they come, you’ll likely change and adapt to the audience that you eventually build, and can make adjustments as necessary to the website from there.
Start simple. Start simple. Start simple.
You just need it to work.
Work comes in many forms, however. Work in terms of just being ON, that’s first and foremost. Second, you want it to make sense. You want it to be easy to navigate and have some sort of structure to it. But the most important metric I want you to consider is how it’s working to help you build your email list—the third must-have for building a successful online brand.
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An Email List
Is an email list necessary in order to build a successful online brand? Again, technically, no. It’s not. But you’re climbing a much steeper mountain without it.
The biggest mistake I made (and I made it twice) was not starting an email list right away.
On GreenExamAcademy.com, I didn’t build an email list mostly because I had no idea that I could. I thought it was a fancy thing big brands had access to, and because I was so new to online business back in 2008, I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
Eventually, I found out what an email list was after a mastermind group I was involved with suggested I sell my second product—an audio version of my LEED exam study guide—to those who had purchased the ebook version.
“It’s always easiest to sell to those who have already bought from you,” I was told.
Well, the problem was I had no idea how to reach out to those initial customers, other than one by one via email. I got the email addresses from the PayPal notification emails that were sent to me, and after sending over 500 emails I was eventually banned from sending emails for about a half a day because I was sending too many within a specific time period.
I made the same mistake again when starting SmartPassiveIncome.com. The site was launched in October 2008, and I didn’t begin collecting email addresses until January 2010—almost a year and a half later.
That time, my excuse wasn’t about not knowing—it was that I didn’t think it was the right time. My site had just started, I wasn’t planning on selling anything, and I didn’t see the value in it.
So I get a few email addresses—maybe. So what then? Why is that important?
When I finally started to collect email addresses back in 2010, the importance of email became very apparent, very quickly. And as time went on, the reasons for having the email list revealed themselves even more.
At first, I saw a direct correlation between emails that were sent, and spikes in traffic to the website. This came because of broadcast emails about new posts that were published, and also the influx of visitors to older posts from my archive that were linked to some of the first few emails in the autoresponder sequence.
I also saw that emails that were sent to my list became great conversation starters. I was able to have a direct interaction with my audience because of it. I could ask questions and get answers back. I could get feedback for my work to help improve it. And, it also just showed people that I was a real person who took the time to reply.
Then, in 2013, something crazy happened—my website was hacked. SPI was down for an entire week after a DDOS attack left the site unusable, and during that insane week as I was trying to get things back online, I was still able to keep in contact with my audience to let them know what was going on. It showed me that even if my site was gone, I’d still have my email list so that I could set up shop elsewhere if I needed to. That’s huge for peace of mind.
More recently, when I made the decision to start creating my own products, the email list I’ve built has been instrumental in the success of the launch campaigns for those products. Both public launches for Smart From Scratch and Power-Up Podcasting surpassed six figures in earnings, and email, by far, was the number one referral source for sales.
For more information about setting up an email list, from what provider to start with to how to begin to segment your audience, click here for a free How to Start an Email List tutorial.