HOW TO NEVER SELL AGAIN (AND STILL SELL A TON)

Hate sales? Us too.

Most who run small service businesses don't like the idea of sales, they are an unfortunately means to an end. Selling to people can be frustrating, and as any consumer can attest, being sold to is the worst.

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However, sales is the lifeblood of your business. Without sales techniques, how are you going to seal the deal and convince people to buy from your brand?

Well, there is another option:
 

Build a Badass Brand that Sells Itself

While this sounds too good to be true, my personal experience says otherwise. We help create kick-ass, self-selling brands for clients on a regular basis, without the yuck factor.

Personally, when I think of icky sales, I picture someone trying to convince me to buy something. I don’t like being in that position, so I avoid putting other people into similar situations. Most consumers, it turns out, feel the same way.

But let's play with a different scenario. How do you feel when you're shopping for something specific that you really want or need? In that situation I know I don’t feel like I'm being sold to; when there’s a problem that needs solving and I'm happy to find the solution.

For example, how would you react if your roof was leaking, and a roofer showed up at your door, claiming he could fix the leak?

When you frame your service as a solution to a dire problem, your audience won’t hesitate to hire you. Instead of thinking, What is this company selling to me? they’ll wonder, Why haven’t I done this yet?!

The difference between using this as a sales technique, and having a badass brand, is that when you have a badass brand you are genuinely looking only for the people who are looking for you! This approach helps potential clients understand what you do, why you do, and how well you do it--an understanding that sells.
 

Cats out of the Bag: When you're "selling" nobody likes you

Salesy talk can pollute the conversation, reducing trust and creating doubt on both sides. Simply put, when you’re worrying about selling, and potential clients are worried about being sold to, conversations aren’t 100% honest.

But when your message is clear, you don’t have to spend time convincing people to buy from you. Instead, interactions become discovery sessions...for you to figure out if they are the right clients for you.

This clarity gives you the opportunity to learn about a potential client’s challenges, and whether your unique skills can solve them. Rather than talking up your brand, you’re asking strategic questions to dive deep into someone’s mindset.

Also, you may not even want to work with every prospect that comes your way. Why sell to someone you can’t helpor someone who seems toxic? If you realize a client isn’t right for you during the discovery conversation, recommend some other options. This helps build trust, and prospects will know you aren’t just trying to close the deal.
 

The Opposite of Sales is Integrity

Integrity goes a long way in the services industry. Even if you don’t end up working with certain people, they will have a deeper respect for what you doand it often leads to well qualified referrals! By establishing your reputation as a brand that sticks to its beliefs, and serves clients who honor theirs, you can carve out a nice niche for yourself.
 

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Want to eliminate the sale completely?

Focus on working with the right people. Develop clear, committed messaging for your business. Create a brand that knows what it does well and lets its work speak for itself.

Learn how on our FREE upcoming online training:

WHAT'S THE GOING HOURLY RATE OF AN "EXPERT"?

What you charge, and how you charge, says a lot about your level of skill whether you like it or not. I meet so many people that want to be experts, thought leaders, gurus, yet their pricing, and how they handle the situation, tells a different story.

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Here's what an expert looks like

I met Steve the week he moved to NYC. Through a mutual friend at a bar on Bleecker St., we were quickly drawn to each other and a first date the following week was scheduled.

Now, Steve had just moved here; I was born and raised in the east village. Did I ask him what he wanted to do on our date? Of course not! As an expert New Yorker I knew it was my job to put together an impressive itinerary of insider hot spots.

Neither of us had any money, so I had to plan an intriguing date that didn’t cost an arm and a leg. I knew he was an artist, so with a dignified quarter I took him to the bar on the roof of the Met to sip a beer next to some oversized Jeff Koons animal ballons. I followed up that impressive and classy spot with a few locals-only joints in the east village, including a sushi bar on St. Marks that is both delicious and crazy affordable. 

Had I asked what he wanted to do, his uninformed requests may have landed us at an overpriced hotel bar in midtown manhattan full of out of towners showing off, or worse, TGIFridays.

Therein lies the difference between and Expert and a Service Provider.

Nuanced but not minuscule, Experts learn their trade over a lifetime, and Service Providers execute ideas based primarily on your direction. 

And like any expert, had I been charging for my expertise I certainly would have charged, and earned, top dollar. Because little secret spots are not easily found in Zagat and Frommers, they are known only from a lifetime of living in the city.

How to Spot an Expert

CHARGING

Most people are service providers and they usually charge based on time. Even if they are proposing a project rate, they formulate that rate based on a forecasted amount of time. This is because they are at the mercy of the client, so they have to predict how much time the client will need!

An Expert’s fee is related to his or her value contribution. They know how long it will take them because they've done it a million times, but they don't charge based on that time. 

He or she has spent years, sometimes a lifetime learning, and clients pay for that knowledge regardless of how long it takes.

Imagine a plumber. I've had a plumber come and snake my clogged drain in 10 minutes and charge $200. And it's worth it! Because he knows how to do it, and I don't. He solved my problem, didn't ask me how, and came when I needed him. That's value.
 

PROCESS

Service Providers are the hands: they execute. They ask, “What do you think? Do you like this?”

Experts are the brain. They tell you why a decision is the right one and give thoughtful reasoning and innovative ideas to back it up.

Service Providers need to put guidelines and restrictions on their work in order to regulate the potential for a deluge of client change-requests.

Experts similarly put in guidelines, but don’t typically need to enforce them due to clients not typically needing more than one round of revisions.
 

RESULTS

Experts and Service Providers strive for you to be happy, but Experts are less likely to sacrifice the truth of a situation to make you feel good. As in, that dress really does make you look fat.

Web designers, for example, are often Service Providers. They ask for page examples, content, photos, and other websites as examples; they are acting as the hands for your vision. But when web designers are Experts, they ask what the client is looking to accomplish. They ask about the brand, the market, what is currently on the site. They ask about the goal.

When Experts asks these questions, they can charge a premium. After all, it costs more to tell the client how a website should look and function than to simply put things in placed based off client notes. Experts will tell the client what pieces of content they need in advance and recommend additional outside help, if necessary. 

Knowing these distinctions not only helps with planning and executing your next project, but with your bottom line as well. Even if Steve had hired me (at a premium) to take him on the date, considering that date would change the course of his life I think we can all agree the benefits he received far outweighed any investment ;)

 

Want to go from "Service Provider" to Expert

 

Sign up for our upcoming training and learn how to instantly elevate yourself to expert status >

HOW MUCH DOES BRANDING COST?

Branding can cost anywhere from a few thousand dollars up to multi-millions for larger corporations. What's the difference in what you get and how much should you invest in your business' brand?

Here's a general list of prices that start-up and small growing businesses should expect to pay for a professional branding project that may include a combination of the following: naming, positioning & strategy, messaging, logo & identity design, copy, website design and development, creation of marketing materials, company culture and messaging.

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1. CREATING SOMETHING FROM NOTHING: Budget < $2,000

New businesses typically don’t have a lot of cash to spend on branding, so it’s understandable that they would look for low-cost ways to get the logo and website they need to be competitive. Between fiverr.com, which offers all kinds of design services for $5; squarespace.com, with its free and almost free logos; 99designs.com, which offers crowd-sourced logos, identity, and website; and the infinite freelancers on Craigslist who will design anything and everything at all price points, it is possible to piece together a logo and maybe website for under a thousand dollars.

The question is: will it have a brand and badass business behind it that will actually make money? What if you could get more than design, but an actual business and brand that attracts clients, and is easy to sell? Learn what you should and shouldn't spend time and money on here:

How To Build a Badass Brand on a Shoestring Budget: Free & Cheap Resources

 

2. GENERAL STARTUP & SMALL BUSINESS REBRANDING PRICES: $2,000 - $15,000

If you have a little money to spend, you will be able to hire a more seasoned designer, but he or she will not offer the strategies and marketing insights you can find with a brander. A designer will create your logo, brand identity, and website, but will not build your brand. A designer cannot help you answer why people will buy from you instead of your competitors, and then design your brand to support that message. Instead, you must trust your own knowledge about branding and marketing.

Because so many small businesses need a brand but don’t have a big budget, Worstofall developed an affordable all-in-one branding package that strategizes your message and builds it out into all your materials. We’re able to deliver agency level strategy and work for less than an agency because we built a unique process that allows us to execute the entire brand in 1-2-day intensives called Brandups. Clients are people who want to start selling now with a badass, professional brand and don't have six months to waste working with a company. Read more about our process here.
 

3. SMALL BUSINESS w/ $1 million+ in Revenue: $15,000- $60,000

For small businesses that have been in operation for a number of years, this is typically the price range for a rebrand and redesign/development of materials. The price is determined by a number of factors: the size of the company and its overhead, the size of the website, the number of deliverables, and the team’s experience level. Unfortunately, price does not always equal value. Plenty of small agencies deliver design, rather than brand. Vet your agency carefully. Be sure the team will go beyond merely executing what you are thinking. (If that’s what you want, you can get it for less.) On the other hand, unless you’re a branding expert or have a background in marketing, hire a strategically minded company that you like, and then trust them to do what they do best.


4. MID SIZED- LARGE BUSINESSES: $60,000+

For larger companies or institutions with a lot of decision makers or big websites that require high functionality, the bill can increase pretty significantly. We won’t go into details here, because companies at this level usually aren’t reading articles about the cost of branding. 
 

Want to jump start your brand?

Learn how to attract clients to your brand like bees to honey in our free online training this week!

 

NAME YOUR PRICE- USE THE 50/25/25 RULE

Should you charge... what other people charge? Less? More? As much as you can?

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If the goal is lifestyle and freedom, try starting from the goal and working backwards.

Pricing is a nuanced game, and it's useful to revisit and evaluate pricing often. But to go from "always looking for more clients" to a business that has control over its cash flow, is never desperately seeking clients, and affords its owner financial and lifestyle freedom, it's useful to start with pricing goals. 

Instead of an arbitrary "as much as possible" goal, we've developed a formula that is a great start for any entrepreneur who wants freedom and flexibility. It's called the 50/25/25 rule.

First: Define Freedom

First: would you rather have 50 clients paying $1,000 per project, or 10 clients paying $5,000?

Both scenarios yield $50,000. But this isn't a trick question. In the first scenario, you’re working for 50 clients, which leads to extra churn created by having to manage and service a large number of accounts. In the second scenario, you are merely looking to delight 10 ideal clients that understand your valueand are willing to pay more for it. 

This smaller workload would leave you with extra timeso what do you do with it? You could use the time to go out and get more business. Or you could take a psychic break, relax, tackle a personal project, or work on your business, rather than in it. 

If fewer, higher paying clients sound like your speed, read on for my recipe to identify your pricing sweet spot and achieve freedom and flexibility in your lifestyle. 
 

How to Use the 50/25/25 Rule

To integrate the 50/25/25 Rule into your business strategy, first figure out how much money you need to make annually to cover all your expenses and live comfortably.

If you need $120,000 a year, then your monthly goal is $10,000. With the 50/25/25 Rule, the first goal is to reach that figure by spending 50% of your time on client workor two weeks out of the month.

Next, determine how many clients you can take care of within that timeframe. If you can complete four projects in a two-week span, divide $10,000 (your month’s goal) by four (the number of projects). In this example, you’d look to charge about $2,500 per client to reach your monthly goal.
 

Take Control of Your Business & Life

Now, this number may be drastically different from what you’re charging now. But this exercise gives you direction for how to increase your value for ideal clientsthe ones willing to pay what you’re worth. When you begin reaching your monthly financial goal in 50% of your available working time, you have the luxury of pursuing other business goals.

With this newfound freedom, you can focus 25% of your time (or the equivalent of one week of the month) on branding and business development. Everything you do during this week— such as competitive research, content marketing, social media, and email campaigns— increases the value of your service, allowing you to charge an even higher rate in the future.

And the final 25% of your time? If you’ve done the proper legwork for the other 75%, you’ve earned the right to do whatever you want with it. Devote time to learning more about your industry so you can better serve clients, or take on more work to boost profits. You can even fill this last week of the month with your own creative hobbies that have nothing to do with your business. Travel, knit, learn to surfthe point is: When you build a Badass Brand, you have freedom, flexibility, and control over how you spend your time.

The only question is… What exactly should your brand focus on to achieve the 50/25/25 balance?
 

To find out, check out our upcoming live online training--where we’ll discuss what products and services to sell, and how to position them to attract your ideal clients.

Once you’ve built a Badass Brand, 50/25/25 implementation becomes a seamless transition.

Business Partners And Still Married: Here's What We've Learned

I get a lot of funny reactions when I tell people I own a business with my husband. From the quick “I could never” paired with a dramatic eye roll, to a wondrous “What is that like?” uttered in disbelief, to “awwwwwww”—and everything in between.

So for Valentine’s Day I’m going to spill the beans—it hasn’t always been easy (shocking, I know!). But I’ve learned that working with your spouse can be one of the most valuable and beneficial things you can do to enhance your marriage—if you make the effort to use it as a motivation to grow.

These principles also apply to any partners in business who want to grow a successful company. A colleague recently shared that she is bringing in a therapist to work with her and her two business partners to help with their communication issues.

Whether you are spouses, friends, or colleagues, sometimes your differences are exposed only when you start working together: differences in how you feel about money, risk, being right, failure, and what to do when you experience success. These differences may come to the surface over time no matter what, but they are amplified in business, and they can be the source of exhausting conflict.

My husband and I had to learn a few key lessons if we wanted to build a successful business we loved without killing each other. These are key lessons for a team to be an unstoppable force in business. Without them? You probably won’t last very long—as a couple or as a business.

There Will Be a Turf War If No Treaty Exists

When we first started Worstofall Design out of our little railroad apartment in Brooklyn, our roles were clear: Steve was the designer, and I was “the business.” I knew nothing about design at the time, and Steve was happy to abscond from all business responsibilities, so it worked out perfectly. Because of this, we created a well-oiled machine during that first year-and-a-half. People cocked their heads in disbelief when we told them working together was breezy, but we thought we just naturally had an amazing relationship.

The honeymoon ended when we hired our first two employees. Our weak spots were exposed, and suddenly we were bickering more, things got tense here and there, and we fought regularly. It was exhausting.

We had a business to run and we agreed it was unfair to make our team uncomfortable with our conflict, so we knew we had to deal with this head on. That’s when we decided to go to therapy.

Sitting down with a therapist helped expose differences in our communication styles, as well as unexpressed emotions and expectations. But one of the most tangible things we learned was the source of much conflict: We had never discussed who was in charge of the two employees! We had hired a talented graphic designer and a spunky assistant/social media marketer/photographer to support us, but we had never discussed how they would be managed. On the one hand, managing employees seemed like my job because I was in charge of running the business. On the other hand, Steve was in charge of design, and James was his designer.

It turned out that almost all our conflicts arose from a power struggle over this undefined territory. Once we learned that, it was almost as simple as communicating and delineating responsibilities. In the years since, we have been able to stop conflict in its tracks just by realizing that it often starts because we both believe a decision falls under our domain of responsibility.

Make Sure You Agree on the Big Idea

If you and your partner don’t have a shared big vision for your company, you are going to have infinite conflicts. I learned this the hard way. A few years in, we realized we had never discussed our goals for the business. At some point I hadn’t even realized I had taken a sharp turn toward building a huge agency, while Steve, on the other hand, hadn’t really thought about it. All he knew was that he didn’t want to build the big agency I was imagining.

(More on that story, and how powerful defining success can be for your business, click here.)

Picture us trying to make any decision in this situation, pulling each other in different directions without even realizing it.

For example, we got an opportunity to pitch to a huge client, but it required us to stay up all night to do so. I wanted the client because it would get us closer to having the big agency. Steve didn’t share that vision, and the project didn’t sound inspiring to him, so he thought it was silly for us to bend over backward for this long-shot pitch. The poor guy had no idea why I was insisting that we push ourselves in this way. My actions made no sense to him, and it made no sense to me that he wasn’t on board.

Once we realized the discrepancy we sat down to map it out— together. Until then, I had assumed we had the same idea for how to build the business. To me, it was the obvious choice. But when we started to brainstorm what we wanted out of life and our company, I realized I didn’t want a big agency at all! I had just made that assumption at some point and never questioned it. (For more on this, I wrote about the importance of defining success here.)

Together, we developed a vision for what we wanted—for both the business and our lives. Our vision has adjusted over the years, but we revisit it often. And having that shared vision has made all the difference in how we work together.

Once we were both on board with a common goal, our teamwork skills skyrocketed. Suddenly we would happily do almost anything the other person asked because we understood why we were doing it. And we were both willing to be more flexible in areas where we tended to be stubborn because we knew we were headed toward the same ultimate goal.

This also helped make all our large decisions revolve around the actual goal, rather than our personal preferences. And that has been key to working together—really believing that we both prioritize our shared business and personal goals.

You Both Have Your Shit; Don’t Be Afraid to Own Yours

I share our experience of bringing a therapist into these conversations because although it’s possible to make these discoveries on your own, we didn’t have time for that. Business doesn’t stop, and we needed conflict resolution as soon as possible.

Plus, therapy still has a stigma. If you go to a therapist, especially with your spouse, somehow it means there is something wrong with you that needs fixing. What if that’s not the case? What if, instead, any two people engaged in something as intense as building a business can always benefit from being better communicators? The stigma is stopping business/life partners from being more potent in the world because they don’t feel comfortable dealing with these issues head on.

And if you’re reading about issues and thinking “not me,” you definitely have them. The unwillingness, or maybe even fear, to entertain the idea that you could actually get better at communicating with your business partner might even represent the potential issue itself. If you’re too afraid to admit you’re not perfect, and worried about imperfections that might be exposed when you go into a room that is meant to expose them, that might represent the very thing that can create conflict in a business relationship. One that is almost impossible to overcome if you don’t deal with it.

Everyone has their shit. Own yours and your business will thank you.

Without our business, my husband and I may have never taken the steps to learn these skills, and they have had measurable positive results in our business and personal relationships. Without the business, though, there may have been no impetus to start the exploration in the first place.

Working closely with another person is always going to be a challenge, regardless of whether you are married. But if you’re both willing to put in the effort, any two people who want to build a business together will find that it is possible to do so without killing each other—if you have the desire to build these skills. And because of, and not despite, all the challenges, working with my partner has been one of the most rewarding and special things we have done for our marriage.

This article was originally published on Forbes

The 5 Pitfalls Of Naming From 'Worstofall Design'

Everyone told us that the name ‘Worstofall Design’ wouldn’t work. “You can’t use negativity in your branding,” they said.

We decided to go with our gut and ignore the “rules.” And here we are 6 years later going strong with a name that is authentic to us. I’ll tell you the backstory of Worstofall in a minute, but first I want to share the biggest lesson our name taught us: there are no hard and fast rules for finding a perfect name that will guarantee your business success (no name will,) but there are some major don’ts that will tank your business if you break them.

 

So take it from the Worst, these are the biggest no-nos in naming:

(Note for anyone under 35: the term “widget” refers to the definition of an unspecified gadget. It’s not just a WordPress plugin, which we would never reference anyway as Squarespace devotees.)

“Widget Consultancy”

Don't pick a descriptive name.

Descriptive names are easy to forget and hard to find online.

I recently spoke to someone starting an organic lawn-care company. They were exploring the names “Extraordinary Lawns” and “Organic Lawn Care.”

First of all, I remember this conversation but had to find the names he was considering in my email because I couldn’t remember them. If I was a potential customer, I wouldn’t have been able to find him because I couldn’t even remember the company name!

Even if I had remembered the names, what do you think the results would have been if searched for on Google? Probably not this guy’s company. When you have a generic and descriptive company name, you are competing online with other companies, online magazines and various outlets—all of which have more credibility due to already being established—resulting in you spending time and money just to get your company’s name discovered on Google.

“Quality Widgets”

Don't pick a word/phrase that is ubiquitous in your industry.

“Worstofall Design” has been at the top of Google searches for “worstofall design” or “worst of all design” since the very beginning— with zero effort. Surprisingly nobody scooped up this gem before we did!

“Mailchimp” is another example. This is a simple name that combines two common words and can be immediately found at the top of a Google search. It’s unique, yet descriptive. An email marketing service, they kept the word “mail,” but by adding “chimp” that made it much easier to find.

It’s important that people who are looking for your specific company can find you easily, they are your low hanging fruit. Using common words that aren’t normally associated with your industry is a great way to be remembered and found.

“Widggette”

Don't pick a name that is hard to spell or pronounce.

While I encourage you to think creatively about word usage, it’s important that people can spell and pronounce it. Again, if someone heard about you and wants to find you online, you don’t want them struggling to find you because they have no idea how to spell your company’s name, or they forgot there was a silent “q” at the end.

A recent client of ours came up with the name “MJOLNIR Marketing”. There’s a great story behind it, but WTF? When naming your small business, if you wouldn’t know how to say it or spell it, it’s immediately out.

“Widgets R Us”

Don't pick a name that is accurate over one that feels right.

This is a little more nuanced but it’s probably one of the most valuable points to hit.

It’s more important that your name conveys your brand’s personality than that it has a story behind it. I find too many people are focused on the story and the meaning. It’s great to have depth, but don’t sacrifice the immediate impression customers receive.

Though we don’t officially name companies anymore, we do consult clients on their name choices. We chose to do this because we found it’s hard for individuals to see the value of a name outside of its brand context.

A recent client came to us with the name ‘Intent Expert.’ As an impressive team of high-level marketing technology experts, I understand why they chose this name initially. It sounds like a tech company!

But as they explained what they really did for customers, we agreed with their hunch that it felt all wrong. While they are engineers and tech experts, they actually work with fashion brands to create highly creative, engaging and personalized emails to delight customers and increase sales. Their brand needed to be fun, engaging, and clever, because that’s what clients were buying.

They sent us a long list of potential names but one stood out from the rest: Clevos. Does it mean anything? Not really, except for sounding like ‘clever.’ More importantly it sounds like a fresh, forward-thinking company because it’s short, fun, and spunky. It’s a name they can really own and build a brand on. Plus will climb the ranks of Google in weeks.

It felt like a winner, and didn’t break any of these don’ts and that’s why it works

“Widget and Gabbana”

Don't pick a name that is similar to a competitor in your industry, or globally recognized in any industry.

Besides potentially infringing on a trademark, it is a disadvantage for your small business to sound like a competitor, especially one that is bigger or more established than you. Chances are you’ll be sending them business without knowing it. Plus, you open yourself up to future lawsuits if they trademarked the name and “a reasonable person would confuse the two.”

It’s OK if there are similar names in other industries because you’re not competing with them. I’m no lawyer, but as I understand it, legally, company names are only trademarked in their industry. Of course, you don’t want to sound too much like any other large company. Clients will end up associating you with that company instead, which doesn’t allow you to build your own brand’s personality.

The Naming of Worstofall Design

When we first started, a great deal of people told us not to use the name Worstofall Design.

“You don’t want to lead with a negative in business.” “People might think you do bad work.” “You are going to confuse people or turn them off.”

Glad we didn’t listen to them! These days when people ask why we chose the name Worstofall, I say, “because we build badass brands, and that’s a badass name!”

Our philosophy is that you have to be your brand. Simply talking about your brand results in most people saying the same thing. We chose not to go with, “We help companies build a brand that dares to be different,” because we chose not to be lame. And by lame I mean generic, descriptive or copy-catting.

But naming our company Worstofall Design? That makes it clear we are different. It lets you know we aren’t afraid to stand out. The name exemplifies a cornerstone of our philosophy: you must walk the walk.

The world is saturated with companies talking up a big game, but how many of them are backing it up in how they run their businesses? We tell clients the most effective way to be different is to demonstrate your difference.

Want to show that you’re transparent and honest? Say something transparent and honest!

Transparency is a huge value of ours, but that word doesn’t show up anywhere on our website. Instead, we list out pricing because that is being transparent. My most popular article online is “How Much Does Branding Cost?” This is because most people have no idea what to expect and branding companies often don’t want to talk about it without a long conversation and an even longer proposal process.

It also serves as a filter for potential clients. People who are immediately turned off by the name usually aren’t a good fit for our approach. But clients who either get it or are intrigued? They are looking to do something bold, and are much more likely to be an ideal client for us.

The origin of our name is from my partner Steve Wasterval who, while studying art and art history at CU Boulder, got it as a nickname from his friends. Wasterval. Worstofall. Get it?

But I don’t share that explanation with people who ask. I let them figure it out on their own time because the moment a client makes the connection is priceless. It’s an ‘aha’ moment that lets them in on the secret and have their own experience with the name. Creating aha moments for your brand can be unbelievably valuable, but it’s an added bonus for a name that already stands alone without it.

Conclusion

In sum, there is no perfect name that will guarantee your success. It’s more important that your name doesn’t hurt your company. So if you are stuck naming your company, be a badass and trust your gut. And use the list above to make sure you don’t set yourself up for failure.

This article was originally published on Forbes

 

WTF IS MR. YUK?

1970's - IT ALL BEGAN WITH A DESIGN FAIL

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Dating back centuries, the skull and cross bone image has long been symbolic of death across all cultures, which is why it was a logical design choice in the 1850's to label poison and other harmful substances to protect people.

But in the 1970's, Dr. Richard Moriarty with the National Poison control center made an amazing discovery: children were actually attracted to the skull and cross bones labeled substances, reminding them of fun things like pirates and adventure. While effective for adults, skull and cross bones had the opposite association to children, who are more at risk of ingesting harmful chemicals and substances. 

After lots of research and testing, Dr. Moriarty discovered that children found a certain sickly shade of green to be the most repulsive, and after one child called it "yucky," the Mr. Yuk sticker was born. The popular skull and cross bones was changed to a yucky face, like the one you'd make if you were to drink something gross. While something that "makes sense" like the skull and crossbones might be an obvious idea, researching and understanding your entire audience on a deeper level is how you make design decisions that people may not "like" or enjoy, but that is acutely effective. And that's what matters.

 

2000's - WORSTOFALL & MR. YUK: CAPITALIZING ON A BAD THING

If the Mr. Yuk sticker was supposed to be the the epitome of disgust, of course Worstofall was drawn to it as a representation of our philosophy on design: don't be "good", be right. The Worstofall version uses a diamond, referencing that the most valuable assets to a brand might be something most people overlook.

Why would you want to associate with something that is meant to be disliked? Because if you are going to be Worstofall Design, then you have to go all the way. THAT is the definition of badass branding. Embrace what defines you no matter what it looks like.

Mr. Yuk is the perfect representation of our brand because he is meant to stand out, both by his color and stink face, and nobody else is going to use him. Mr. Yuk wouldn't work for everyone, but there is an equivalent Mr. Yuk out there for every single business. You might just need help finding it!

Debt, Success, And Branding A Small Business

Is it just me or are failure and debt a prerequisite to being a badass small business owner?

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In 2011 I started a company with my graphic design husband with little knowledge of the industry: he was the creative, and I, “the business.” In retrospect our fearlessness was largely out of ignorance but I’d always had an entrepreneurial spirit. So we took the leap without backup plan.

We experienced the typical roller-coaster of startup successes and failures. But regardless of the countless late nights and endless hours of sweat we invested, three years into our business we hit rock bottom and ended up in $40,000 credit card debt.

Here’s the thing about rock bottom: it sucks.

But rock bottom also has a knack for providing an entirely new perspective. Forced to reevaluate our business, we realized we needed to take some dramatic steps to differentiate our company to dig ourselves out of the hole. We turned to strategies we had been using with our clients, and ended up building a completely unique brand for ourselves. Essentially, we took our own medicine and it completely turned our company around.

We made $500,000 in the next 12 months selling just our services and without paying for advertising. I stopped working seven days a week and began to work normal business hours. Lastly, I no longer networked, which until then, was my main marking source.

In short, we stopped copying the agency model and stopped looking for large clients. Instead, we focused on what we knew best: small service businesses. And we developed a unique branding process for our clients that also played to our strengths and preferences: in one-to-three-day intensives we build entire brands, including everything from the strategy and positioning, to the logo design, website layout and copy. We have no ongoing clients (in other words: freedom), and have already achieved more than we had hoped for when we set out.

‘Branding’ vs. ‘Branding for Small Businesses’

I have a bone to pick with the branding world. While branding is critical to the success of any business, the word has been bastardized; it has lost a lot of its meaning. The way it’s casually thrown around, and the prevalence of poorly executed brands, has caused many to become disillusioned with the whole concept.

And while I’m at it, I’m not a huge fan of all this “storytelling,” “brand pyramids,” and finding the “why” jargon, either.

Sure, branding is a story, and stories are an engaging way to disseminate information. You probably have a great story to share, and likely more than one. But which story do you share? Your home life? Your previous work experience? Your love of dogs? That thing you did in college? No, not that thing. Your credentials? Your family?

Do you even know how to tell stories well? Remember this isn’t camp or the dinner table, without an understanding of how to tell the right story in a proper way, entrepreneurs do more harm than good.

Over the years, I’ve honed my skills specifically helping one- to three-person service businesses build their brands. The most common challenges for this group are not surprising: they don’t know how to get clients; and they are not paid enough. Like a boring story with a predictable ending, I find most entrepreneurs face the same reoccurring issues when they try to use “branding” to help.

  1. Entrepreneurs often believe that the “right” logo and/or website will solve their problems. (It won’t)
  2. Entrepreneurs stress the fundamental imperative of “telling their story.” (Important, but not in the way you think)
  3. Entrepreneurs faced with branding their company don’t know how to begin, what to do next and generally, feel completely overwhelmed with the entire process. (Been there, done that!)

These issues are the results of a gap between big ideas and tactical steps. When you own a business, or even if you share responsibilities with a partner, you are answerable for all aspects of the company: from branding your business, to getting invoices paid, to making sure there are staples in the damn stapler.

With so many things to keep track of it’s easy to see why big-branding concepts are often too abstract to be useful.

Branding is Not One-Size Fits All

Think of branding like a buffet. It tries to encompass too much for too many. The word branding is meant to work for every size business, in every industry, with every kind of goal. Before you know it, you are leaving the buffet with shrimp, a slice of toast, two tomatoes, some random slices of cheese, and part of a Jell-O mold. And in the end, it all tastes like wet Styrofoam anyway.

Since national big-box branding is very different from face-to-face sales, the strategies are different too. There are underlying commonalities, but tactically they are night and day. When you’re a consultant looking for a handful of high-yield clients, your brand and marketing strategy is going to look very different from Coca Cola’s, whose goal is to slice off a little more market share. The former needs to resonate quickly in each interaction, while the later can gain traction over time by blanketing their logo for hundreds of millions of dollars.

It can be invigorating to discuss grandiose concepts…if we were in a corner office and had hours to spare. But I’m not talking to those people. I am talking to the micro-business owners, the solopreneurs at the individual branding and sales level. I use my personal experience in this market to create actionable steps that have tangible results and don’t just look nice or sound good. I focus on what actually needs to get done, and not the high-level branding philosophies from Creative Directors and CEOs.

What It Really Means To Be A “Brand Strategist”

I’ve never worked at a large agency. I never clawed my way up the corporate ladder one generic rung after another. I have no idea what it takes to sell brown fizzy water to billions of people. And when I started my own company, I didn’t know the first thing about branding.

But now, as a partner at Worstofall Design, I know what I need to know and I know it well. And what I know about branding small businesses I learned firsthand on the front lines. I grew that knowledge through my work with hundreds of similar clients. My education in the small business world, untainted by the policies and procedures of traditional agency work, has enabled me to understand the many facets of branding and marketing a small business and explain them in layman’s terms. I find it resonates when the often-elusive idea of branding is articulated in simple language instead of agency jargon.

Badass Branding

As our medicine kicked in, so did our new philosophy. We learned how to successfully brand our company and in turn learned how to help other small businesses become noticeable, memorable and ultimately, successful brands of their own.

Take our upcoming training BADASS YOUR BRAND to learn more about how you can apply these principles to your business.

This article was originally posted on Forbes.

TURNING DOWN WORK: PROOF THAT PAID WORK CAN BE UNPROFITABLE

The Carrot

I am constantly goading people to turn down work, and am often met with resistance. Seems counter-intuitive that if you want to make more money you would turn down paying clients. So let me give you an example to illustrate the point: paid work can be unprofitable, and some paid work can actually hinder the achievement of your overall business goals.

Meet Russell, a wedding photographer who generally shoots on the weekends. Though there is a great deal of post-wedding work, weekdays are fairly flexible.

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So when Sally asks if he can do some headshots for her LinkedIn profile, he says yes. He could use the extra income.

He thinks to himself that headshots are easy and can probably be done in two hours: one for shooting, one for editing. Since he charges $5,000 for weddings, $300 feels like a fair rate to him.

Sally shows up to the shoot holding a pile of clothes. She has no idea which outfit to wear. She asks if it’s OK to take photos in a few different looks.
 

The Fall Begins

No problem, says Russell. But once the shoot gets rolling and she’s on her third outfit, Russell realizes this is going to take longer than expected. He didn’t know outfit changes were going to take up so much time. Plus, she did her own hair and makeup and it’s not looking right in the photos. Russell doesn’t know how to do makeup and hair since his brides always have it professionally done. When he looks at the shots, he knows immediately that the lighting is washing her out. He tells her to put on more makeup. This takes up time.

The shoot ends up being two hours. He was an hour off, but hey, he’s still going to make $300 he wouldn’t have made otherwise.

He could have just been watching TV during that time anyway, so what’s an hour?

The next day he looks through the shots. Because of the makeup debacle, only half of the shots are even usable. He finally finds a few good ones, picks his top five and sends them to Sally. She writes back immediately. The ones he sent are not what she had in mind, she really wanted photos of her looking more professional. Sally thinks she looks too friendly.
 

The Fall Continues

Too friendly is not how Russell is feeling right now. He goes back through the photos again and finds some that could be considered more “professional”. Sally writes that these are better, but could she just take a look for herself and pick the ones she wants?

Frustration has now turned into annoyance. He’s already spent almost an hour sifting through the photos and doesn’t want to spend any more time on this project. But Russell doesn’t feel as though he has a choice. Sally clearly doesn’t like what he’s picked and he just wants her to choose the photos so he can move on to editing them.

Sally picks a couple photos, but her hair looks weird in them. She asks if Russell can Photoshop her hair from a different picture onto her face in another. Russell knows how much time this will take, but Sally has made it clear that she doesn’t like any of the other photos and Russell doesn’t want to upset her. After all, he’s bent over backwards thus far and would hate to have spent all this time and still send away an unhappy client!

So he does the work. After another hour he has produced the photo she wants. He sends it off relieved that it’s over and psyched to spend the $300 of some rightly-deserved beers.

But like a zombie, she keeps coming back. Sally writes that she is pleased with this one, but didn’t he say he would provide three final shots? Unfortunately, unlike a zombie, his brain is still intact and he has to continue to deal with this “side project”.


The Lesson

And on and on it goes. If you think this is an exaggeration, then you don’t work with clients. The thing is, it’s not Sally’s fault, it’s Russell’s and his lack of process.

You see, if Russell regularly did headshots, he would have given Sally instructions ahead of time. He would have recommended hiring a makeup artist for an additional fee. Even better, he would have included it in the price. He would have said she is allowed up to three changes of clothes. He would have asked her ahead of time to show him some examples of photos she liked and wants to emulate. This way, when he picked the top five photos, he would know that they were in line with what she wanted (and if she didn’t like them he would have been able to refer to a concrete example). Then he would have told her he only includes one round of editing and any additional rounds or extreme editing, like editing two photos together, would cost extra.

But this is not something Russell does every day so he doesn’t have a process for it. Meaning he doesn’t have a way yet of making it profitable. Had he developed that process just for Sally, it still wouldn’t have been lucrative since he would have spent that extra time developing the process. And unless Russell wants to add headshots to his repertoire, he needs to say “no” to customers looking for work outside his niche of weddings.


Turn Down Work, Make More Money

Imagine if he had spent that same 4-5 hours working to land another $5,000 wedding client instead? That marketing work may have even planted the seeds for a few additional wedding clients. The value of his time spent is incomparable!

Plus, the last thing he wants is for one of Sally’s friends to contact him for more LinkedIn headshots, so he didn’t even receive the value of more potential business. Sally is unlikely to give him a referral for weddings because that’s not why he was hired. For her he’s not top of mind for weddings, if anything he’s top of mind for headshots.

BRAND VIBE VS. ACCURACY: A FOUNDING FATHERS CASE STUDY

What the national bird can teach us about Badass Branding...

Its 1770-something, and the founding fathers are trying to decide how to symbolically represent this great nation they are starting...

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That night, Ben Franklin goes home and writes a grumbling letter to his daughter:

"For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him... the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America… He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.”

Oh Ben. How very practical you are, but you're missing the point!

While the turkey might have some qualities you'd like to represent the country, the turkey doesn't exactly inspire action or excitement

In contrast, remember the last time you saw a bald eagle soaring through the sky? You can't help but watch it, looking up above you with your mouth open in awe, and tapping whomever is near you to do the same. Have you ever looked at a turkey waddling around, pecking at the ground with the same level of amazement? 

What Ben failed to understand is that when coming up with a brand, sometimes it's more important to be aspirational than accurate. Sometimes creating the emotion you want buyers to feel is more important than explaining all the details behind a symbol that hits all the points.

The turkey is the "what."

It has characteristics that are noble and tell an accurate story. But it's no match for the majestic personality of a bald eagle soaring through the sky. 

The turkey is like listing the services you offer on your homepage. Or like calling your marketing company "Effective Marketing USA." Accurate, but lame.

The bald eagle is the "why."

It's hitting your clients in the gut with a statement, or a feeling, that makes them tingle. It's naming your company Uber or Google because it feels right, not because you need to explain what you do. 

So Happy Thanksgiving! Enjoy your turkey this week. At least the poor bastard is good for something. 

SPECIAL EDITION: THE WORST OP-ED

Whatever your politics, I think everyone is feeling a little uncertain right now. People are worried about their health insurance, or the security of their job, or their money in the market if it tanks.

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And while I’ve had some panicky thoughts myself, it was overpowered by the incredibly lucky feeling that I don’t fear those particular issues in my life. I already pay an exorbitant amount for health insurance, and it sucks, but I have the money, and I’m able to pay for it, and I am so thankful for that.

I also can’t get fired from my job. Over the last 5 years I have built skills that give me great comfort in my abilities to make money. The more I learn, the more opportunities I see. And I find comfort in that.

I share this with you because that is freedom that I want for all of my fellow small business owners. Being your own boss, in and of itself, is not freeing. It can actually be the very shackles that keep you down when you can’t, or don’t know how to, find clients. Or when you can find clients, but you can’t seem to charge enough to get out of the paycheck to paycheck cycle.

It’s been a historic, emotional week and I feel compelled to share with you my greater vision in all this “Badass Branding” preaching that I do. My big idea. My “WHY.”

First, I don’t know why but I’ve never inherently trusted that I could rely on the government for anything. I don’t trust that there will be social security when I’m older, and I don’t trust that I’ll be able to get health insurance. I’ve never had a salary with benefits or paid vacation, so that’s never even been on my radar. In fact, relying on the government has always scared me, because it meant being reliant on something that I had no control over.

To combat this fear I made it my mission to become self reliant. Part of that was learning how to make money, and part of that was staying aware of how little I need to be happy and survive.

At Wesleyan, I spent many a smoky night discussing utopian governments and societies, a favorite pass time amongst my friends. Maybe if I’d been a Government major I would have designed one around the Government, but I was an Economics major. My utopia assumed that people are selfish and act first in their own self-interests, and I used that to imagine a world where everyone prospered under those assumptions. 

If everyone had the opportunity to create their own value in the world, and through pure economic self interest created value from nothing, and then spent that money supporting other people that were doing the same thing, the world would prosper. If you could create enough profit in your own business to have excess money left over, you would buy everything from other independent producers, and stay away from Walmart, because it furthered the prosperity that you yourself benefited from. 

Now before you think I’ve gone libertarian know that because I’m pragmatic and know this isn’t possible, I support a government that helps the poor, and provides assistance, and I would be willing to pay even higher taxes if it meant ensuring that every child in this country got an education even close to the one I did. I think education alone would solve many of our country’s greatest problems.

But to you, my fellow entrepreneurs: I think you, like me, that self reliance and the comfort that comes with it. I think you love independence. And because I know so many of you that want that, but don’t quite know how to get there, I get up every morning excited to get to work.

Because I’m excited to share what I’ve learned about turning expertise into profit. It’s makes me feel safe and secure knowing that even if I lost everything overnight, I could start making money to support myself the next day. 
 

You can’t take knowledge away from someone. 

So regardless of your industry, if you are selling a service, and selling your expertise, I can show you how to sell it much more easily, and at a much higher price, which may give you a sense of security. 

You have to be committed to becoming the superstar expert in your field, though, because these strategies won’t go that far if you can’t back up your claims! 

But when I say “Badass” I tend to attract the kind of people who know they are badasses. Badasses are motivated by what they do and the value they create.

That’s why I feel so lucky that I don’t have to be scared about my insurance, or my job, or the economy. Even in an economic downturn, when people are less likely to invest in their businesses, I’m still not scared. That means there will be less demand, but there is never NO demand. And when you have a badass brand, you are the one that wins those jobs.

That’s what I want for you, entrepreneur. That security that your own know-how is stronger than whatever political turmoil may happen because you hold 100% of your economic future in your hands. That’s why I spread the gospel of Badass Branding.

(End of rant.)

TIPS & RESOURCES: BRANDING ON A BUDGET

When you’re starting out, there are so many things to pay for, and sometimes really beautiful design just shouldn’t be your highest priority.

Here is a list of amazing tools that will allow DIYers build a professional brand on a bare bones budget:

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SQUARESPACE

We build websites for our clients exclusively on Squarespace because it’s a solid platform that even the most tech-phobic can learn to use with relative ease. The templates are beautiful, and with a few nice photos and some catchy text you can have your website up ready to sell your services in minutes!

Are you a Wordpress fan, or have you heard rumors like Squarespace isn’t good for SEO? Read our comparison of the two platforms here: Wordpress vs. Squarespace

MOO

Online printing has come leaps and bounds in the last few years, and it’s hard to justify paying a higher price for a traditional printing company unless you are printing something very complicated (which you shouldn’t be!) For standard pieces like business cards, we love Moo. Their standard paper quality is silky, thick and delicious and because moo exists there is no excuse for having flimsy cards anymore. Your business cards are usually the first impression of your brand— if you cheap out on them you are telling potential clients you don’t value yourself. So how can they value you!?

Moo also has even thicker paper stock, foil stamping and other fancy offerings but if you’re on a budget, I don’t recommend splurging. You don’t have to! Their standard paper is gorgeous and it’s what we use for all of our clients.

CANVA

A great tool for making beautiful designs for documents and social media posts. This drag and drop tool allows you to edit images like a pro without high powered editing software. Truth be told we haven’t played with this too much since we, you know, have the pro software, but our clients swear by it.

MAILCHIMP

A free mail service with very robust offerings and similarly easy-to-use drag and drop features will allow you to start email marketing to your customers in a polished and professional way. Mailchimp also seamlessly integrates with Squarespace, making it simple to have people sign up for your list right on your homepage— again, without needing any coding or technical knowledge!

WORSTOFALL FREE TRAINING

Graphic designers are going to hate me for saying this but if you’re a solopreneur selling your services you can design your own brand and be successful and I’ll tell you why: YOU are your brand, and what is going to get people in the door is not the color of your logo or how fancy your website is, it’s your message and how clear and compelling you are. Yes, it’s important that your brand and website look good, but with these tools it’s not hard to put something up that is simple, clean, and polished.

However, if it’s boring, cluttered, or unclear you are going to have a problem. Unfortunately, a lot of graphic designers are simply focused on making a beautiful design, they aren’t helping you with the messaging or how you’re actually going to sell your services. Without that piece, you have a lot chance of success.

 

Badass Your Brand training

That’s why we built a free online training to help you figure these critical pieces out. Click below and sign up to take our free training where you can get some clarity on what your sell and why you’re different— because that is really what’s going to move the needle for you. When you have that taken care of, the tools above will help you build the brand you need on your own.

Now that is Badass!

YOUR “ONE THING”: FINDING YOUR BUSINESS’ FOCUS

You’re at lunch with a new networking contact. It’s a Tuesday. Or a Wednesday. Okay, it doesn’t matter what day it is, or what you order. Following an hour-long discussion and meal, you head your separate ways and what matters is this: Even after that hour conversation, you still don’t have a clear idea of what that person does.

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You have every intention of sending business their way, but you can’t put your finger on who or when would be an appropriate introduction.

Now imagine this networking friend having the same experience with you. After an hour-long discussion about your business, she walks away unclear about your value proposition--or with a complete misunderstanding of it.

From a business perspective, that lunch would be a complete waste of time. Why? Because if people don’t understand what you door don’t rememberit’s like you never even told them.

This is why you need a ready-to-go elevator pitch for your brand--one that contacts will listen, understand, remember, and act upon.

Make Sure the Right Idea Sticks

With every new person you meet, you have a tiny window of time, focus, and/or attention span. Too many details increase the chances that the idea(s) that sticks won’t be helpful for your business.

For example, if you have coffee with someone who tells you he collects Godzilla dolls and likes to swim with sharks, you may only remember him as “Jim, the thrill-seeking Godzilla collector.” But maybe Jim’s a big data wiz, and you come away knowing zero about that. You won’t be likely to refer business to him.

Best to pick a focal pointand carve your inroad there!

By narrowing your brand down to a simple concept, you frame the conversation as it benefits you, answering questions, giving examples, and even floating a few referral phrases. This way, you increase your chances that your name will pop up at the right time, and in the right conversation. After that, you can still touch on sharks--and feel confident that your central point will stick.

How to Determine Your “One Thing”

Finding your brand’s focal point can be difficult. As part of our Brandup Bootcamp, we’ve devised a formula that we teach to Badass-Brands-in-training.

Your “one thing” can come in a variety of forms, and you can also have multiple “one things”--your focus may shift depending on your audience. But it must always adhere to one major rule: It has to be something your competitors can’t and won’t say.

For example, we branded a financial plan for Stash Wealth, a wealth management company called Stash Wealth. We productized the “Stash Plan,” a flat-rate plan designed as the first step of any client relationship, which dives deep into a client’s goals, cash flow, and future. Now, when Stash speaks to potential clients, the Stash Plan is the only thing they want people to remember--it’s different, unique, cool, and shareable.

So, even though there are a lot of interesting things about Stash Wealth--like the fact that they work exclusively with 20- and 30-something HENRYs (High Earners Not Rich Yet)--they understand that everyone who leaves a conversation knowing the benefits of a Stash Plan is well on their way to becoming a client.

We Know Our Focus. Let Us Help Find Yours!

At Worstofall Design, our “one thing” is building Badass Brands in less than three days. We call this “without the bullshit.” For specific audiences, we may shift focus to our Brandshrink--a 90-minute deep-dive interview, where we identify a brand’s badassery and create a plan for how to unmask it.

Depending on who we’re talking to, we strategically plot out our approach. Both ideas are clear, branded, and unique to Worstofall--so when we frame a conversation around Brandshrinks or “no BS” branding, we know people will walk away with a distinct differentiator.

What’s your “one thing”?

Explore your material, nail that phrase, and watch your business grow.

Small Business Lessons From Billion Dollar Brands

If you want to be like Ralph Lauren, you have to start by thinking like Ralph Lifshitz

Apple, Nike, Starbucks, Ralph Lauren: They all come to mind when we think of successful brands. These billion-dollar companies grow not just because their products are good (many businesses sell great products), but because the brand has value in the mind of the consumer. Once the buyer believes in the brand’s message, a coffee company can start selling sandwiches and coffee mugs and a clothing company can start selling bedsheets.

It’s a great macro example of the power of branding, but small businesses often miss the mark when it comes to applying lessons to their own businesses. They make the mistake of looking at the tactics and strategies successful companies are using now to grow their business. We can gain much more value by looking at how they started.

Each of the companies listed above began by selling something very specific to a well-defined group of people. And, even more important, they all started in a niche that was unique to them. These business owners had the guts to sell something they believed in, even though it didn’t fall into line with what was on the market.

What can we learn from this? If you really want to build a brand like Apple, or Nike, or Ralph Lauren, then don’t be like Ralph Lauren...

Be like Ralph Lifshitz.

I recently spoke with a woman who wanted to start a fashion blog. While entertaining different names and ideas, she said she wanted to leave room to grow into a larger brand. Although she was starting by selling styling services, eventually she wanted to launch an event company, home accessories, and possibly even a food line. Ultimately she wanted to establish a lifestyle brand that could sell high-end products but would also offer lower-priced items.

This is a common misstep for entrepreneurs. She was already planning for her Ralph Lauren empire and letting that larger goal influence the steps she needed to take in the near future while opening up shop in her basement.

Don’t get me wrong—thinking about your Big Hairy Audacious Goal is valuable. It’s a great way to connect with your dreams and stay motivated through the day-to-day challenges of starting a business. But it can also be a hindrance if it stifles your ability to succeed in the present if you are unable to focus your current message for fear of limiting your options later. Without successes along the way, you will never achieve the BHAG.

And this is where we can learn something from Ralph. I meet many people who want a brand like Ralph Lauren, and they talk about how Ralph is able to reach everyone: he has very expensive couture lines, but he also has mid-tier and more affordable lines like Lauren by Ralph Lauren and Polo. He sells clothes, shoes, home goods, and perfume—something for everyone!

What these RL fans usually don’t know is that Ralph Lauren was originally known as Ralph Lifshitz, and he didn’t start out selling all things to all people. He kicked off in the 1960s selling just ties. His big idea? He wanted men to make a statement with their ties. The fashion trend of the ’60s was skinny, plain ties, and Ralph’s wide ties in luxurious fabrics and colorful patterns stood out from the norm.

This was a bold move. Ralph wasn’t copying what he saw in the marketplace; he was swimming upstream toward his unique vision. Many people likely looked at his ties and laughed.

“Who’s going to buy those crazy colored wide ties? They’re not stylish at all. Skinny ties are what’s in style!”

He had to have the guts to ignore the voices telling him that wide ties were out. Instead, he boldly went in his own direction. Being different stood out, and led to him being recognized and remembered. That was the foundation upon which the billion-dollar brand was built.

If you want to be like Ralph Lauren, you have to start by thinking like Ralph Lifshitz. Many large brands share similar stories.

Apple is one of the most successful brands on the planet, and it’s easy to forget that the company was on the verge of bankruptcy for decades. It took almost 30 years of swimming upstream to become the behemoth we know today.

Apple believed that intuitive design was the future of computers, and it was a risky move. In fact, the first few attempts failed. But the company stuck with its focus, which was not easy when its competitors were growing by doing the opposite. Only after Apple stayed focused and found success with the iMac was it well equipped to venture into iPods and iPhones.

Apple’s rise to Brand Superstardom came after almost three decades in the business staying true to its vision. The brand remained committed to the bold and risky stance of being the more intuitive, design-focused, creative computer choice. Its current success illustrates how big the payoff can be.

Nike is a lifestyle sport brand these days, but for the first few years of business it was known as Blue Ribbon Sports, and it sold only running shoes for more than 20 years. Starbucks was a high-end coffee bean roaster for its first 10 years in business. None of these companies came out of the gate as a brand for everyone.

How does this relate to my small business?

It’s tempting to look to successful brands for the answer and try to emulate them. After all, why reinvent the wheel? If these tactics are working for other companies, they should work for you too—right?

Again, the mistake is looking at what these companies are doing now and trying to copy that instead of looking at where they started. And a common theme among successful businesses started by people on their own sweat equity (starting a business with investors is an entirely different game) is that they founded their brand with a laser focus on one idea. And that idea wasn’t a knockoff of someone else’s concept, but something with which they had personal experience. In addition, the founders usually had a personal excitement and passion for the chosen niche.

This is why one of my favorite questions to ask clients is “What is your favorite part of what you do? What do you love about what you do?” I’m amazed at how often they don’t have an answer. What you do that you love is the first place to look for the seed for your unique and powerful company and brand.

Ralph believed in his ties, and he loved them. He had to, because he had to overcome objections from people who didn’t share his vision.

Why we choose being BADASS

As someone who owns a company called Worstofall Design, I can personally attest to the need for vision. Imagine how many people told me we should change the name of our company when we first started! We had many reasons true to our vision to use the name and it has served us well, but that conviction was necessary to continue on in the face of adversity. (You can read more about naming our company here)

Another place we receive pushback is our process. We build entire brands in 1- to 2-day intensives for clients. Do you know how many people have shrugged and told us it’s not possible, and that they don’t believe the brands we build could possibly be any good?

But our model developed organically from a core set of abilities, interests, and goals unique to my partner and me. And it’s not for everyone. That’s why our homepage says, “ In order to be loved by some, you have to be misunderstood or even disliked by others. ” Because when you are doing something badass, not everyone is going to get it. But if you get it, and if it is born out of your unique abilities and interests and goals, that is where the magic is born.

So if you own a business, and particularly if you sell your services and expertise, I encourage you to channel Ralph Lifshitz. What do you love about what you do? What do you know about your industry that gives you the conviction to overcome the objections of some because you know “your people” will get it and be energized by your message?

Branding small businesses is nothing like branding huge global brands, but these brands certainly have lessons to teach us. All of them started with a simple badass mission and a narrow focus rife with game-changing vision. Just learn those lessons from where they started, not where they are now.

This article was originally posted on Forbes

TALK BEHIND MY BACK... PLEASE!

If you want a business that attracts all ideal clients, you need to give them something to talk about.

Gossip gets a bad rap, especially considering it seems all PR is good PR these days.

Hell, we've got a presidential candidate who barely had to spend money on his campaign because he was so gossip-worthy! At Worstofall, we want people gossiping about us, too. That is, talking about us to their friends. Because good gossip is the best form marketingfree and reliable! And it builds reputation better than anything else.

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People share things that are… Entertaining

Whether it’s a polarizing political article or an adorable puppy licking a giggling baby, content that revs up our emotional juices are fun to share because they inspire reactions. This is obvious when it comes to Trump & puppies, but how does it relate to your business?

Take Night, a luxury pillow company that is as much a beauty product as a sleep buddy. We built their brand a couple years ago, and encouraged them to embrace the authentically sassy voice of their cofounders Kalle & Isaac. 

A recent blog post of theirs had me laughing so hard I had to forward it to a few friends. A behind-the-scenes story of Isaac’s trip across the country to personally deliver their product to Kim Kardashian, including a series of travel missteps and how airport miracle worker “Linda” made magic happen, was both entertaining and personal. It infused a brand (whose sole product is a black, silk pillow) with personality that makes you want to hang out with the founders.

What fun and entertaining stories can you share that let us in on the people behind the brand? 
 

People share things that are… easy to share

I bet there are a ton of people that know and trust you that would love to send you business... but they don’t. This is usually because you’re not easy to share with others because:

  • You are selling something generic that lots of other people are selling. In their most genuine tone the only reason they have to tell their friend to contact you is because they like you. “You should call my friend who’s an insurance broker because… he’s a great guy!” Not a very compelling sell. 
  • What you do is hard to explain, so it’s hard to bring it up. “My friend does this energy healing thing, I’m not sure exactly how she does it but she makes you feel better. You should try it!” Hmm… really?
  • It’s completely unclear how much you cost, so others are fearful of sending the wrong people to you because it may make them look bad. Either they send you someone who can't afford you (and wastes your time), or they send you a client who is ready to spend a lot more and then feels like their time was wasted when they find out you are at a much lower price, and therefore not in the league they were looking for.

Having a clear idea, action or product that makes you easy to talk about and share can change this. One example: we productized SAT test prep company Ivy Lounge Test Prep’s first meeting into an “Ace the Test Game Plan.”  Instead of an hourly test prep tutor, Ivy Lounge offers a $750 package where they do a full assessment of the student’s testing abilities, diagnose strengths and weaknesses, discuss test score and college goals, and gives a full report with an action plan on how to achieve said goals.

This is both easy for students and parents to share, and it lets everyone know the price range of their services. Instead of being another, albeit great, test tutor, they have something clearly defined that others can talk about.
 

People share things that… are unexpected

There are so many unexpected ways to be unexpected, but I’ll share my favorite one here: say "no" to clients that aren’t ideal for you. Nobody forgets the company that said “no” to them, whether explicitly ("we're not a match"), or implicitly by pricing themselves out of certain clients.

We just got an amazing client from a prospect who wanted to work with us months ago but couldn’t afford our services. Instead of feeling disillusioned, she was motivated to get her business to a more established spot so she could afford our services. In the meantime she became a raving fan who told her colleague that they had to work with us because they could afford it.


Are you gossip worthy?

Do you have something clear and specific that makes it easy for your friends, colleagues and fans to share you with others?

Sign up for our upcoming training and get clear on what makes you gossip worthy...

THE GREATEST BRAND OF ALL (AND WHY YOU SHOULD IGNORE IT)

Apple is the most Badass Brand out there... right???

One of the biggest mistakes small business ownersand even brand strategistsmake is emulating the branding of companies like Apple, Ralph Lauren, Starbucks, Coke, and Nike. These household names appear over and over in articles about becoming a powerful brand, and yet... 

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...here’s why they shouldn’t:

Your small service business is nothing like these behemoths. Your goals are different, your offering is different, your challenges are different. And you don’t sell products. Being the next Apple, even if you could, would be a mistake. 

Large Brands vs. Your Small Business

Companies like Coca-Cola and Nike are looking for market share. You? You should be looking for a sweet spot niche: a specific segment of well-paying clients that need what you offer, precisely the way you offer it.
 

Big-name brands also have hundreds of millions of dollars to spend on their advertising campaign. Do you?

Consumers buy Starbucks lattes, Nike baseball hats, and Apple, well, everything largely because each paid for placement over and over again to build brand recognition and trust in your mind. (Not to mention millions in R&D to formulate and test the products to begin with.)

People pay for your services because of trust, too--but instead of traditional advertising, you establish consumer confidence in your brand through more focused channels. Maybe you steer your efforts toward owning social media or creating a killer website--and directing traffic there. Or perhaps you work on an integrated plan to make your brand undeniably badass. Great! In your corner of the world, you are Coke or Pepsi. 
 

The Opportunity to Stand Out

Household brands want to separate themselves from the competition, just like you. But these brands need to stay conservative for the most part, so as not to alienate their universal fans.

Your service brand is liberated from this problem. Since you’re targeting a select few, you can play an entirely different game. Think about it: Your business can thrive off of very few customers. So, if you can reach these people and hit them with a message that sticks, you’ll position your brand as a major player among your target. 

Research tells us the average person needs to see a brand seven times before recognizing it. Without a colossal marketing and branding budget, you’d better start by making a memorable first impression.
 

Narrow Your Focus & Sharpen Your Message

With the right message, you can distinguish your brand from the competition. Remember: your brand doesn’t need to appeal to everyone--it just needs to appeal to someone. So, don’t cast a wide net just to see what you can catch. Find people who love what you do and get their attention.

Branding that resonates with your target audience will drive consumers to notice you, remember who you are, and tell their friends all about it.

Want a brand like that?
ake our upcoming free online training Badass Your Brand

Remember, none of the biggest brands started out selling everything to everyone. They were all badass. Nike spoke to performance athletes. Apple was for nerds that wanted to be hip. Ralph Lauren Polo appealed only to equestrian types. Once they made a name for themselves and became known for something, they expanded their consumer base and appeal.

THE *MOST* POWERFUL BRAND PLAY

To a business strategist like me, it’s infuriatingand puzzlingthat so many service companies try to be everything to everyone. If only they knew what we know: specializing is the most powerful branding play. By far.

When you narrow your focal point, you are suddenly seen as an expert in a focused area.

(Now I'm trusting you with this valuable info! Because narrowing will elevate your brand and your perceived expertise, regardless of whether or not you are actually an expert. So please use these powers for good.)

What else can narrowing do for you? Make your company instantaneously memorable, increase the likelihood of referralsand even help you command premium pricing.

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Sounds pretty Badass, huh? But how do you figure out what to focus on?

Well... don't just pick something out of a hat! #worstideaever

Specializing for specializing’s sake is weakwe’re looking for what gets you jazzed to get out of bed in the morning. What keeps you going, with or without a caffeine fix? It has to be a skill you love, for clients you enjoy being around, or else... seriously what’s the point?.

Once you nab it, and commit to it, it's like pouring jet fuel on the engine. 
 

Start Here: Focus on the Winners

To find your niche, look back at your favorite projects, clients, and experiences. Who have been the best clients to work with? Why did you enjoy those projects and people? Once you understand what makes a client ideal, you’ll have a clear direction for your specialization.

Usually, I use these benchmarks to evaluate and identify “ideal” past clients:

  • They had problems your background, expertise and experience made you ideally qualified to fix
  • The project scope, budget, and timeframe allowed you to fulfill on your promises to the best of your abilities
  • You’re proud of the value you delivered, and they were impressed and excited about the final result
  • They understood your value and were willing to pay your premium price without blinking, bargaining, or bartering (Also, they paid you on-time!)

If you've had clients like this, start there. If you’ve never had such a magical experience, choose the project that runs closestthen figure out how to make it magical.

Be Master of Your Domain

As a small business owner, you’re in a unique position: You have the power to build your business exactly how you’d like.  <<click to tweet>>

If you feel like you need $5,000 to deliver your best value, then you need to charge $5,000 for your services. And if you don’t think anyone out there will pay $5,000 for your services, you’re either hanging around the wrong crowd, or need to revamp your offering and messaging. 

Present and polish your brand so that the price tag makes sense. With a crisp, clear, sophisticated brand and message you will be attractive to the clients you actually want to work with.
 

Case in Point: The Wedding Industrial Complex

I recently spoke with a woman who creates custom paintings of weddings as beautiful mementos for the happy couple. Charging about $1,500 per painting, she worried about the future of her business because people were haggling.

But she’s in the wedding businessan industry where price sensitivity goes out the window.

What an opportunity!

If you’re running into consistent bartering like her, you’re talking to the wrong people. Once you acknowledge and accept that, you can adjust your strategy and course. For our wedding artist, the money and market most certainly exist, she just has to own that positioning in the market. Be a higher end service, stick to what she wants from the deal (i.e. her price), and then only put effort into marketing to the people who have the right budget.

If she identifies potential referral partners that cater to $250,000+ weddings, and then only puts energy into connecting with them, she will build a reputation with a higher-end market. She may have to polish up her website and process. She may need to invest in nicer boxes in which to deliver the paintings (presentation goes a long way with premium priced services.) She probably needs to dress the part (can't show up to a million dollar wedding in discount clothing.) Plus, with $1,500 prices on her site, she’ll never sell a painting for $5,000 or $10,000. But with the right messaging and targeting, she can reinvent her brand and position herself specifically in that $5-10,000 price range (or much higher.) 
 

Cause you might as well...

You don't need to be in the wedding industry to charge a premium. There is a premium version of any service in every industry. Why shouldn't it be you? 

Specializing bestows enormous power in your space. To pick your focus effectively, identify your ideal process, clients, and price point, and build your brand's positioning around that. It’s difficult enough to build and manage a successful business, in general, so you may as well center it around something you truly love (and that's profitable!)

In fact, if you enjoy it, you’ll have a better shot at success, and the benefits will extend much further than your company’s bank account--inspiring you to commit fully to each project and deliver the highest value possible.

Need help finding your niche?

Take our upcoming Badass Your Brand free online training!

HOW WE DIFFERENTIATED STASH WEALTH FROM ALL THE COMPETITORS

In the last article I told you about a client that we took from ZERO to $20k/months. But how did we figure out what made them more badass than their competitors?!

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A lot of it came down to one simple question.

WHAT ARE YOU AGAINST?

When we did a Brandshrink with them, which is our deep-dive interview where we identify what is so badass about a company, I asked them what pissed them off about their industry, and they started to get really heated. They told us that they were fed up that Merrill Lynch only works with people who have a minimum of $500,000 in liquid assets, and that they think people who are still BUILDING their businesses and careers, people who might not HAVE that kind of money yet, should still have access to reliable, financial advisors and advice.

They were AGAINST the BIG CORPORATE Merrill lynch way, yet they had built a brand that still looked a lot like Merril Lynch. The copy was a little more hip, but it didn’t reflect the passion they expressed when they spoke about their disagreement with how Merrill Lynch does things.

BY truly understanding what they were AGAINST, we could build a brand that sounds and looks like it stands for something that’s ACTUALLY different from their competitors.

Rather than say they “break from the mold”, their brand now ACTUALLY breaks from the Merrill Lynch mold through it’s young, fresh look, copy and vibe. They were able to embrace a business model that is unheard of in their industry specifically because it made sense to their demographic.

ONCE YOU REALIZE THAT YOU ARE AGAINST SOMETHING, YOU CAN REALLY EMBRACE WHAT YOU ARE ALL ABOUT.

We productized their first step, the financial plan advisors do for every client when managing their money. Except instead of including that plan in the fee, we told them to charge for it.

That’s right, we actually told them to charge for the financial plan that their competitors are doing for free. And it made their business explode.

How come? Because it addressed a fundamental desire their young demographic has- the desire for a quick fix. Instead of marrying a financial advisor to get the plan, you can just buy it! And decide later if you trust them to manage your money.

But the magical thing about this is that in the process of delivering a Stash Plan (that’s the name of their $1000 financial plan) Stash demonstrates incredible value to the client. Through that process the client builds trust with them, and at the end, 90% of those stash planners become managed money clients anyway.

THE RESULT? $20K/MONTH IN STASH PLANS, A SERVICE THEY WEREN’T GOING TO CHARGE FOR BEFORE THEY MET US.

The result? Mo more schmoozing to get clients. Instead they get paid to sell their services.

THE RESULT? A BADASS BUSINESS.

In the next article, I’m going to show you how to translate this into your business.

From ZERO to $20k/month and growing

We took a struggling business in a boring industry from ZERO to $20k/month and growing, onboarding 20 clients a month without any of the usual hoopla, with this secret sauce.

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A boutique wealth management firm started by 2 ex-Merrill Lynch advisors, Moderna Capital wanted to help “young professionals” with financial advice.

BUT AFTER A YEAR AND A HALF ON THEIR OWN, THEY JUST COULDN’T GET CLIENTS.

They were doing exactly what they had learned at Merrill Lynch and it just wasn’t working.

When we looked at their brand it became painfully obvious. They had left the big corporate firm to be a small boutique agency for young people, and yet everything about the way they looked, spoke, and operated was a carbon copy of the Merrill Lynch model. And that just wasn’t going to fly for the young professional demographic.

We needed to show them off as being something different, special, cool as compared to the stodgy Merrill Lynch brand.

THEY NEEDED TO EMBRACE WHAT WAS SO DIFFERENT ABOUT THEM IN ORDER TO ATTRACT A YOUNGER AUDIENCE.

The name had to go. Moderna Capital? Their new name is Stash Wealth and they help HENRYs (High Earners Not Rich Yet) with financial education.

Their new marketing consisted of happy hours with craft beer and not-your-father’s financial advisor presentation about how to live the life you want with the budget you have.

Their newsletter is called “Financial Cliffnotes” because nobody under the age of 40 (or any age really) wants to read a long boring article about the value of an IRA (yuck.)

And they started really owning their voice. Within a year they became known on a national level, seen as the voice of this generation on finance. They’ve had guest columns and have been featured in dozens of publications, and invited to speak as experts and MBA programs such as Harvard, Cornell and Yale (neither of them have an MBA.) They’ve been contacted by McKinsey for advice on how to appeal to the millennial generation.

AND IT’S PAID THEM BACK IN SPADES.

They started making $20k/month in product sales off their site and onboarding about 20 clients per month into their asset management platform. At this rate they will be a multimillion dollar company in the next 2 years.

HOW DID WE DO IT?

Stay tuned because in my next article I’m going to tell you exactly how we find their secret sauce.

THE 2ND TIME WE SAID "NO"

Saying "no" to the wrong clients is one of the hardest and most important ways to build a reputable brand that attracts clients and commands a premium price. We already shared the first time we said no and how pivotal it was to our profitability. That time had to do with price. This next time was totally unexpected, and it came out of nowhere...

It was summer 2015. We’d been flying high for about nine months, only doing Brandups, steadily raising our prices each month yet always filling our calendar with clients. 

I got a call from someone with a slightly different request.

His e-commerce website needed a new design, and he was also open to a new logo and possibly even a new name. He told me he needed it soon—or more specifically—within two weeks. 

I told him we don’t really deal with e-commerce or products, and usually we do brand strategy and website design for service businesses.

But he was desperate to get something soon, and he loved both our approach and our package.

Couldn’t we make an exception?

Well, technically we could. We are always booked solid, but we also normally leave a week open for internal and personal projects, and that week happened to be coming up. For $10,000, I could make an exception, and Steve—though usually unwilling to give up his art time (smart man)—succumbed to my pressure (he doesn’t anymore, and I’m fine with that).


Stick to your process

I said we would start with a Brandshrink and take it from there. The client and his partner were in the office the next day, and to see if this was even possible, I wrote the brief that night and sent it the following morning.

They were sold.

And because of the tight timeline, we agreed to do the Brandup a week and a half later.

In the meantime, we needed feedback on the brief, which outlined what the client was looking for, our plan, and advice for how to execute it. They needed messaging, and they sent me “brand documents” someone else had prepared for them.

Now, these brand documents were pretty typical. There was a lot of info and tons of ideas—a lot of fluff, all pretty sweeping and generic.

I told them their documents weren’t too helpful, because it was just the same thing over and over again. The reason there was so much info was because they hadn’t picked an angle yet, and they desperately needed to. 

The client’s business was delivering brand name goods to Africa from all over the world at affordable prices. Their mission was smart, and their model made sense.
 

Ask your client the important questions

But what was separating them from other companies like this? Even if they were really “better,” there were too many details to explain—too many details they insisted needed to be part of the message.

They were falling victim to one of the most common problems I’ve seen: a startup with little to no funding who didn’t want to be known for anything in particular. Instead of specializing, they wanted a brand broad enough (“like Amazon,” they said!) to appeal to everyone.

They made brands available with cash—a big problem solver in Africa—but they also took credit cards and didn’t want to seem like they didn’t.

They allowed deliveries to kiosks, solving the postal service problem for people living outside of delivery zone, but they also delivered directly to people, so they couldn’t own that.

They delivered fancy brands from America and Europe, but they did so at affordable prices!

To sum up: This client offered the cheapest, easiest way to get your goods from the U.S., Europe, and Asia, with guaranteed quality that can be delivered to your home OR kiosk paid by COD OR credit card.

Okay, let’s sum that up now: They wanted to be everything for everyone.
 

Identify the problem (if there is one)

Even though they kept saying they trusted us, they really didn’t want to budge. They wanted something generic, something that—in our opinions—wouldn’t work.

How could we execute this properly? They wanted our expertise, but they weren’t letting us give them our expertise.

There was also another problem here: this was not our specialty. We know small service businesses like the back of our hands. Not only have we successfully built one ourselves, but we’ve worked with hundreds of them and can confidently say what will and won’t work. 

Large e-commerce delivery services on another continent, though? Well, we know that the branding principles still apply, but I just couldn’t confidently put my foot down…

The situation was becoming clear: we had a client who wanted to work with us but didn’t want to let us do our thing...

They needed to separate themselves from competitors, but they weren’t willing to focus on one detail of their business. They wanted to be everything for everyone.

So, this Brandup was going to be a lot of back and forth, just trying to make something they like, and then them looking to us to tell them it’s good.

“No, it’s not good, but it’s what you’re forcing us to make…”

It was a shitty situation with a client that I’d turned into a bad client.

FACE A SHITTY SITUATION HEAD-ON

We prepped anyway, and we made some great looking designs that were both in-line with what they wanted and modern. (Seriously, anything would have been better than the site they’d currently had.) We also wrote some generic copy they wanted, attempting to make it unique and different.

All prepared, Steve and I walked to the client’s office early to start the first day, both kind of dreading this project.

Why dreading it? Because we were going to charge them our fee to do something we didn’t believe in. Even if they were ultimately going to be happy, they shouldn’t be paying a premium rate for this. If they wanted a designer to just make something that looks nice according to them, there are waaaay cheaper options.

And me? I was going to have to manage the entire thing, simultaneously trying to please them and convince them that the generic fluff they were forcing me to write was actually going to work? (Not like they needed much convincing anyway.)

That’s when we turned down $10,000 the morning of a project, even though we had done all the prep work and could have easily just done it and made them happy.

Best “No” we ever said.
 

DON’T SEVER TIES

Of course, Steve and I called the client up and apologized. I explained why: I didn’t think they were going to let us provide the service they were paying us to provide, and I couldn’t charge them for the work we were going to do. I said we would just give them all the prep work anyway, and that they could take these awesome designs and find someone cheap to implement them if they wanted. I figured they basically got some great design work without having to pay for it, and that that would make them happy.

They understood, no hard feelings. They were happy to receive the designs for free, and Steve and I danced down the street excited to have escaped this nightmare couple of days.
 

BE WHO YOU ARE

This experience solidified it: we were for service businesses only. Now, we knew we wouldn’t even entertain products because it just wasn’t worth it. There are plenty of service businesses in need of our Brandups, and we know we can crush it every time. The value of what we are selling is highest for those types of clients. 

And that’s the main point of saying no in the first place: to create time for the clients you love—to work with the clients you can do your best for.