No Maps for These Territories
(With Apologies to Mark Neale*)
The world, to state the obvious, has changed.
Our relationships are different. Our communication styles are different. Our work is different. The landscape of our economy is different. And as much as we might like to pretend that we’re going to wake up one morning and go back to business as usual, it’s clear that that’s not what’s going to happen.
Change is terrifying. Change is hard. Change…can be a really, really good thing.
We are all, in our own way, mourning the loss of our way of life, and that’s a normal and healthy response. But amid this mourning is an opportunity: to plan for an economic future that works for us and for our new reality. One not so easily upended by the whims of this meatspace we inhabit. One we create for ourselves.
Just 100 years ago, it wasn’t uncommon for jobs to come with “company housing” dormitories, or a company doctor, or company food. This might seem crazy to the modern worker, but it’s not so far removed from employer-subsidized health insurance. As we consider our shifting realities — which we’ve seen are far less stable than we’d thought — the idea that we may not need or want (or trust) a full-time, location-specific job has us rethinking our ideas about what a “job” is, after all.
Many people won’t be going back to the jobs they left, and they’ll look for stability in the form of having more control over their schedules and work environments. Meanwhile, businesses may realize that a structure based on physical locations with physical employees isn’t necessarily the most effective or economical.
Now is the perfect time for us to transition into an economy based on digital commerce, expanding the third-party and freelance environment exponentially. It’s not as difficult as it sounds. Following are the fundamental components to consider as you move forward.
Your Business, Online
If your business has never existed online before, or if your online presence has been supplemental, and not something you relied on for income, you may be struggling to move from a face-to-face business model. Especially for businesses that deal in real-world services, this can be a complicated step.
What can you deliver remotely? Your answers may look a little different than the business you’re used to running, and that’s okay. Is there a physical product you can ship, or a way to make your usual products more easily shareable? Do you offer a service that could be taught, or a product that you can transform into an at-home, DIY version? What do you do particularly well? How might you provide that without face-to-face interaction? You may need to try a few iterations before you find just the right focus, but this signature offering can get you started.
Crafting a Brand Identity
You’ve probably got a general idea of who you are as a business, but translating that into an online brand identity can be complicated. You can certainly hire a full-service branding agency to do this for you (and now is a great time to do that!), but if you’re on more of a DIY budget and have the time to work on your brand identity yourself, there are a few intentional choices you can make to ensure the image you’re putting out there is representative of who you are as a business.
Consider a color palette that suits your ideal style. You may choose to pull out specific colors from a photo that inspires you, create a full palette from a photo, or roll up your sleeves and create a color palette from scratch. You’ll want to have a main color or two, plus one, or, at most, two accent colors to use as a highlight. Use a blend of dark and light colors to create contrast. We recommend starting with five colors, more or less, and if you’re going to want something that reads similarly to black and white for text (like charcoal and ecru, or navy and taupe), be sure to include them in your palette.
Now it’s time to think about fonts. Unless you’re working with a professional to build your website, it’s best to keep it simple and be flexible. Use the fonts that came with the theme you chose for your site. You don’t want to get too fancy here. Serif fonts convey a more formal style and position your business as more conservative or reserved, while sans serifs are well suited to a more casual or creative business. It’s best to use your main font for the main text areas of your site, and a complementary font of a different style (serif vs sans) for headings.
Canva simplifies the graphic design process if you want to get a little bit fancy with your website elements, but for a quick-and-dirty site, you can probably manage without it. There are obviously other aspects of branding to consider — image choice, design elements, layout — but if you establish brand guidelines for your fonts and colors, it’s going to go a long way toward making sure anything you create looks like you.
Your Hardest-Working Employee: Your Website
Think of your website as the employee who answers the phone on the first ring, 24-7. They may not be able to address every special request, but they can cover all the basics, and connect customers with a manager if they need more help.
A website based on WordPress is, generally speaking, going to be the easiest and most flexible, whether you’re managing it from scratch or working with a designer but plan to maintain it yourself in the future. A basic website should have four main pages: Home, About, Services/Products, and Contact. You can certainly add more — a blog, more in-depth sales pages for high-dollar offerings, pages about your physical location or your business philosophy — but this is a good starting point.
Your Home Page should greet readers and tell them two main things: what your business exists to do, and why they should care.
Your About Page tells readers why you’re the best business (and person or people!) for them. It helps to give them a human face to connect with, which is even more important in this time of disconnect and social distancing, and gives you an opportunity to cite your credentials and any accolades.
A Services or Products page shows visitors what they need to know about hiring or purchasing from you. Make sure you’re offering detail whenever possible, especially if this is a product people are used to trying out in person. Service providers might consider offering a free 15-minute phone/video consult, especially if your in-person presence was a big part of your business. Shopping cart plugins like Shopify, WooCommerce, or E-junkie make online purchasing easy, whether you’re selling custom cloth masks, cocktail mixer kits, or digital courses.
And finally, make it easy for your would-be customers to connect with you via your Contact Page. Include any social media profiles here, plus an email, contact form, or (if you’re so inclined) phone number. And be sure to check your messages and respond regularly. It’s just as important as greeting the customer at the door.
Ship Early, Fix on the Fly
We’ve seen a lot of talented, intelligent folks with really excellent offerings that never quite got off the ground, because they hemmed and hawed, wanting it all to be perfect before introducing it to the world. Which is not an unreasonable instinct, except that this is a crucial piece of what’s changed in business over the last 20 years or so: shipped is better than perfect. If you hesitate for too long, someone’s going to beat you to it. We aren’t advocating sloppy work; we’re saying that you don’t have to have every single detail figured out in order to put your offer out there. Nor are you locked into replicating it forever and ever, amen. Instead, ask for feedback. Keep tweaking, even as you’re getting new customers. Iterative cycles can be some of your best friends.
Network. And Then Network Some More.
Something else that otherwise talented, intelligent folks sometimes do: they’ll embrace the notion that they have nothing to learn from the people in their same space. Why? Because they assume everyone else is doing exactly the same thing, and thus any interaction will result in…what, exactly? We’re not terribly clear on those details. Stolen trade secrets? The loss of untold fortunes? Look, the truth is that getting to know other people who do what you do, and those who do work that’s complementary or adjacent to yours, is the best way to build allies for yourself. It can be lonely, mind-numbingly boring, and occasionally torturous to run your own business. No one will relate — except a comrade-in-arms. As you get to know those in your circle, you’ll learn what strengths and weaknesses they have, what skill sets and connections, and you’ll find new ways of working together. It feels good to have people. Especially when you can help one another bring in business.
Be Bold…But Don’t Be a Dick
Crush-it culture is cancelled. (Spread the word!) As an approach to running a business, it really stinks up the room. Especially now, people are craving genuine interaction, not over-the-top posturing. So be bold in your offerings and humble in your connections. Be honest about your strengths and an actual human being with flaws. Be kind. Be reasonable. This is going to be crucial to your longevity as an online business owner. This is going to be crucial to our leveling up as a species.
Here We Are
Yes, this is, without question, an emotionally draining point in our history. There’s a lot of uncertainty, a lot of change, a lot of worry. We’re collectively realizing that the emperor has no clothes when it comes to our ideas of what reality actually was (among other things). And, we’re uniquely positioned to create a new reality that’s more resilient, more flexible, more egalitarian, more kind. As we’re all distanced physically, there’s never been a better time to connect digitally, to expand our reach and build businesses to serve the needs of people around the world — and that give us the freedom to control our own working lives.
We’ve created the Brand Alchemy Experience to support business owners looking to build, finesse, or expand their online presence. It’s designed based on our many, many years working in the digital marketing space, with everything you need to get up and running in a way that’s authentic, consistent, and effective and calling in your ideal clients and customers. We’ve packed this course with tons of information, but streamlined so you can get off the ground and start serving your customers ASAP. We’re also including six months in our exclusive members’ community, so you have the personal support you need through emails, group coaching calls, and on-the-fly cries for help in our online forum. We’d love to have you join us.
(Questions? Shoot us a message and we’ll chat.)
*We borrowed the title of Mark Neale’s 2000 documentary about William Gibson, please and thank you!