What's Your Brand? Insights for the Independent Learning and Development Professional

By: Dana Peters, CEO, and Rebecca Doepke, Learning Expert, Mondo Learning Solutions
April 24, 2013

We meet many independent learning and development professionals in our work. Most of them are sole proprietors, but sprinkled in the mix are some small partnerships and niche boutique training firms. Within this independent consultant or small niche firm segment of our industry there seems to be two different mind sets to finding that next contract.

On one side of the spectrum, the professionals who simply think of themselves as freelancers, independent contractors, or short-term, project-based employees. They think of their work in terms of what they do technically and believe if they do great work, more work will come naturally. The other side of the spectrum is those that think of themselves as solution providers, problem solvers, or small business owners and take a much more entrepreneurial approach to their work. They recognize, long-term, not only must they differentiate themselves as a leader from their competition, but also they must be “top of mind” with potential clients.

More and more, folks in the first group described above are starting to find that business is not as easy to come by these days and the passive approach is not going to sustain them. How could they become more like their entrepreneurial counterparts? There is much to be learned from the entrepreneurs amongst us, but in this article we are going to focus on brand.

What do we mean by "brand"?

How does brand affect a small learning and development business? Simply stated, your brand is your promise to your client. It paints a picture of:

  • What your clients can expect from you (your products and services).
  • How your offering is different from that of your competitors.

Think of brand in three parts:

  • Who you are.
  • Who you want to be.
  • Who people perceive you to be.

Who are you?

Defining your brand is a journey of self-discovery for your business.

As the old saying goes, “It’s the journey and not the destination.” In the case of defining your brand, it is a task that is never ever truly finished. The business world changes, your clients’ needs change, technology changes, and your skills, abilities, and experience level changes. If your brand paints a picture of what your clients can expect from you and how you are different from your competitors, your brand needs to also evolve. Defining your brand is a continual process.

Getting started can be difficult, time-consuming, overwhelming, frustrating, and uncomfortable. Start with some of these questions:

  • What do you do? Why?
  • Why does a client hire you and not someone else? What problems are you specifically solving for clients?
  • What are your “features”? But more importantly, how do these features benefit your clients?
  • What do your clients think of the work you do? If they say you do “good work” what specifically about your work is good?
  • How do you want to be perceived by your clients and potential clients?
  • What qualities do you want them to associate with you?

Your first round at answering these questions should throw a lot of information on paper. Work through the questions a second and third time, boiling down your answers into their most concise form. Ask others you respect that know your work and the industry to answer these questions about you.

Step back, what is bubbling up to form your brand promise?

Now what?

You have defined your brand: who you are, who you want to be, and how you would like to be perceived. The picture is forming of what your clients can expect from you and how your offering is different from that of your competitor. What do you do with all this?

It’s time to take action, to build your brand strategy. Brand strategy is who you plan on communicating and delivering on your brand messages to, how you plan to do it, what it looks like, where it happens, and when it happens.

As you build your brand strategy some common staples to consider:

  • The logo, one of the pillars of your brand. What words come to mind when someone first sees your logo? Does it match how you want to be perceived?
  • Your logo should be on everything. Your website, your blog, your social media outlets, your newsletter, your email, and your promotional materials.
  • Be consistent with everything. Use the same color scheme, font, logo placement, look and feel throughout everything you do. You don't have to be fancy, just consistent.
  • If you have employees, do they know your key messages as well as you do? Do they communicate your brand well?
  • Branding should be a consideration in everything that you do. How you answer your phone, your professional appearance, and your invoices.
  • Think about how the "voice" of your company reflects your brand. Does the voice of all your written communications and the imagery used within these materials support your brand? Think about all mediums, both online and offline.
  • Keep it simple. Do you have a short concise message that sums up your brand? A well-appointed tagline can be a strong tool for creating a memory in your potential client’s mind.
  • Always deliver on your brand promise. It’s your reputation and you’ll never recover from failure to deliver.
  • Be real. If your brand identity is nothing close to who you are or what you are about as a person your brand will lack authenticity, energy, and passion.