“Solopreneurs,” those hardy warriors who are a company of one, must build a brand just like larger organizations if they want to go big time. However, they make some simple boo-boos—perhaps because they are working alone and too close to their business. I asked my buddy Joe Moreno, founder of Epics3.com and successful solopreneur, to help me compile a list of six mistakes that solopreneurs need to avoid.
1. Diluting your brand. Just because you own multiple businesses or domain names, doesn’t mean you should put them on your business card or in your email signature. This is what this boo-boo looks like:
This type of signature creates more questions than it answers: “Why should I care about these other things?” “How can he do a good job for me if he’s got these other gigs?” This is not the place to advertise how busy you are with your other ventures.
2. Overusing pictures of yourself. Does your home page contain a picture of your smiling face that looks like the pictures on supermarket carts for real-estate brokers or the owner of an online dating site for busy professionals? Go to the home pages of all the best brands: Do you see any pictures of the CEO or founder?
Do what you want in the About page, but cool it on the home page. Even on the About page, if you’re good looking, you don’t need to include a picture. If you’re ugly, why remove all doubt and scare people off?
3. Spending an inordinate amount of time and money on your logo. A recognizable logo is more an outcome of success rather than the cause of the success. For example, the Apple logo is, without a doubt, an extremely powerful icon but only because of Apple’s overall success.
Many top companies, such as Microsoft and Google, use logos that are not much more than stylized text, and there's nothing wrong with that. Amazon.com has a well-recognized logo, but most people don't realize that the swish, pointing from the A to the Z, is meant to convey that Amazon sells everything from A to Z. Just get a decent logo and focus on your business. If your business is successful, people will think your logo is swell—or you can fix it when you have the time and money.
4. Using a weak email address. What do you think when someone with an AOL.com email address writes to you? Thoughts like “with it,” “dedicated to this business,” and “hip and cool” are probably not what pops into you head. An email account with your company's domain name is better for two reasons: first, it shows that you’re serious about the company; second, it shows that you’re not clueless.
Email from a Gmail account is a tricky case. Using Gmail doesn’t make you look clueless, but it does beg the question: “Is this person serious about the business or just doing this on the side so she’s using Gmail?” Why open this can of worms? Get a real email address and remember: any little faux pas like this can affect the perception of your brand.
5. Confusing your look and feel. Details such as look and feel, font type, and color should be consistent on your website and marketing materials. Apple is a great example of a company with a consistent look and feel across multiple product lines. For example, their consumer hardware is usually white, black, or colored (iPods, iBooks, MacBooks) while their professional hardware is brushed aluminum (Powerbooks, MacBooks, Mac Pros, and Xserves).
Pick a scheme (font, color, overall style) and stick with it. It’s one less thing to think about, and it will make your business look more stable and solid.
6. Being long-winded. Keep your branding messages short and sweet. Websites or emails with hundreds or thousands of words will not be read in today's world of 140 characters and ten-second sound bites. If you can’t communicate what you do within these parameters, maybe you’re not doing the right things.
You’ll be lucky if you can stand for one thing in the minds of your customers. Volvo = safety. Porsche = engineering. Audi = four-wheel drive. Ferrari = sexiness. Solopreneurs get long-winded when they try to stand for multiple things for multiple people. That’s a recipe for disaster.
The appeal of solopreneurship is that you can control your own destiny and do the right things the right way. These are six examples of ways that you can improve your branding and increase the probability of succeeding.
Joe Moreno is the founder of the photo sharing site Epics3.com, based in Carlsbad, CA, and also provides cloud computing consulting services to businesses. You can follow Joe on Twitter @JoeMoreno.