Almost four years ago I left a safe and secure job with a bank to become a broker. Like many brokers who have also taken the plunge, it was one part exciting and 10 parts completely overwhelming, because not until you leave a large company do you realise all the parts that a high-performing business needs: systems, processes and a strong brand.
As a banker writing deals, I was directly involved in the systems and processes day to day; however, branding wasn’t a large focus of what I did. To me, it never seemed to be an important part of the equation because I figured that being out there pounding the pavement was the most important element, and I carried this attitude with me when I started my business, Discovery Finance, in 2013.
I spent months working on systems and processing, but not a lot of thought went into the branding behind it. I created the logo myself late one night (over too many episodes of Game of Thrones), then that same weekend I designed a simple business card and put a website online with some basic details. I was stuck in the mindset of thinking that the brand and how it looked came secondary to the business and systems itself – and initially as a one-man band this was probably right. But in the years since, I have learnt that if you want to grow your business to be more than one person pounding the pavement, then having a strong brand is the single most important factor.
For me the problem was this: as Discovery Finance began to grow beyond just myself we didn’t have a strong and clear brand. With very limited marketing exposure outside of the business cards and website I made myself, my staff found it hard to explain clearly what made our business unique. Our clients would get confused as to what we stood for and what our brand was because it just hadn’t been developed to begin with. Equally, most of them hadn’t even heard of our brand, or seen it around, so we were starting every new client conversation on the back foot. It was frustrating to say the least.
Headed for change, in May 2016 we merged Discovery Finance with Red Brothers Property Management and Red Truck Development Management to form Red & Co.
Having learned from my earlier mistakes, I know now how important it is to build a brand that doesn’t revolve around one individual, and if I could rewind to four years ago I would have focused on this.
It took four years to build Discovery Finance into a brand, but just six months to do the same with Red & Co. Why? What did I miss the first time around? And what are the simple things I could have done to speed things up?
Lesson 1: Be clear about who you are speaking to. In today’s increasingly visual, Instagrammable world, you and your brand need to be visually appealing – and unfortunately for me, my old Arial-font Discovery logo didn’t quite cut it. One thing we did early on with Red & Co was clearly define who our target audience was: we wanted a young, energetic brand that didn’t look like a real estate company. I looked for similar designs on Behance, Pinterest and Inspiration Grid to get clearer ideas of what I wanted.
Lesson 2: Get a professional on board. Not doing this is a classic mistake made by a lot of small business owners, including me! When you are starting out you generally don’t have a big budget to spend on hiring professionals, but this can be your undoing. As a broker it was ironic that I spent my days educating customers on why they should use me and leverage the skills of a professional – and then when it came to branding I didn’t follow my own advice! With Red & Co I finally learnt my lesson, and using Behance I found our designer. If you don’t want to spend a lot, another great option is to find freelancers through 99designs, Design Crowd, Upwork or Fiver.
Lesson 3: Same same, but not different. Being different just to be different is silly, but if your brand looks the same as everyone else, then how do you expect to get different results from them or stand out from the growd? This is why, when deciding what the brand would look like, I didn’t want it to look like a bank with a bland-looking logo, or like most real estate agency businesses with a sleek black font, and instead went for something that looked a bit different.
Lesson 4: Annoy your friends and family by asking for lots of feedback. Before we settled on Red & Co as a business name, some of the others shortlisted included Red Discovery, Red Finance and Red Rocket. The last of these names surprisingly made it a fair way along – we wanted to be known as a super-responsive, client-focused business – but a quick search on Urban Dictionary showed that this name wasn’t very appropriate for a professional business! Make sure you test your brand pitch on friends, family and previous customers – it’s amazing what a fresh perspective can show and the ideas you can take away.
Lesson 5: A brand isn’t just about having a pretty logo and a website. For the firrst three years of my business I only had business cards, a laptop and a website, and this worked just fine. Today, however, I’ve realised that the more you can get your brand out there, the more trust this builds and, in turn, referrals. I now have branded jelly beans to give to kids at loan appointments, branded pens, document folders, polo T-shirts, gym shirts (as surprising as it might be, these generate two to three new enquiries a month just from sweating my pants off and wearing my brand at the gym), branded cars and signs on construction projects we have funded.
Lesson 6: Branding is neverending. Like your business, branding and marketing is an element that needs to continue for as long as the business does. If you look at massive brands like Red Bull or Apple you need to understand that making a lasting brand doesn’t happen overnight; it is a process that you need to chip away at a little bit every day.
The exciting thing for our industry is that branding isn’t limited to business owners. It can also be used just as effectively by individual brokers. In a similar vein to real estate agents, you can use your personal brand to stand out from the competition. Regardless of whether you are in the early stages of starting a business or have been working at it for years, try applying these tips and see the difference it makes to your overall business exposure.
I have personally found that this branding process has been paramount to Red & Co’s success, and now we ensure we make our brand the driving factor in every marketing and promotion decision we make, which has become just as important to the business as our systems and processes.
Jayden Vecchio, director of Red & Co in Brisbane, has been an MPA Top 10 Commercial Broker and an MPA Young Gun. He was also named the FBAA’s Commercial Broker of the Year for 2016. You can read his regular advice column every Friday on MPA’s website. Find out more at www.redandco.com.au.