June 1, 2016
Building an attractive reputation, leveraging your personal authority and increasing the trustability factor for your new venture is one of the early-growth challenges all entrepreneurs have to overcome.
Abdullahi Muhammed had a lot of branding work to do once he decided to launch his digital marketing agency Oxygenmat. First of all, he was based in Nigeria – a country having a notoriously bad reputation thanks to the widespread Nigerian email scams. His road to building credibility for his businesses and hitting six figures in revenue was tough to say the least. Yet, fighting with the negative pre-existing stigma has taught him a few crucial lessons about branding and building up your online reputation. Here are his top three pieces of advices.
Focus On Your Personal Branding First
“Digital marketing is a crowded niche and choosing the right agency to suit your needs is quite a pain point for the clients, especially when they come with no marketing background. By scooping the competition, I’ve noticed that the most successful agencies are typically built around personas. Rand Fishkin is the first to be associated with Moz. Brian Clark and Sonia Simone are the folks behind Copyblogger and Rainmaker Digital. Rather than trying to appear as another faceless agency, I’ve focused on building my personal brand first as well,” says Abdullahi.
Establishing your online authority is key to leveraging your business brand. Your work, your posts, thought leadership and efficient networking could help you overcome any negative stigmas out there. Start with building a blog and publishing epic, industry relevant content. Get your name out there and start participating in industry discussions – Twitter chats, LinkedIn, Slack or Facebook groups, Reddit or simply by commenting and connecting with fellow entrepreneurs and niche influencers via their blog and email. Be proactive and don’t focus too much on earning vanity numbers on social media at this point. Instead, keep a razor sharp focus establishing meaningful connections with potential customers and word-of-mouth promoters.
You may even consider taking a step further and doing pro-bono work. Help people without asking anything in return. If you are selling a product – offer a free trial to a few influencers. If you are selling a service – offer a free audit or partial service provided in exchange for a shinning testimonial or attractive review online. Same goes with your content. Work on building your relationships with the press early on. While you don’t have a massive audience on your blog, use your best pieces for strategic guest posting.
“Aggressively pushing my name out there, guest posting and building relationships with popular niche bloggers and journalists helped me earn my stripes and even landed some juicy coverage on Entrepreneur Magazine, Inc. Magazine and The Huffington Post. I was no longer ‘some guy from Nigeria,’ but ‘someone who knows his stuff damn well’,” adds Abdullahi.
Scoop Your Competition and See What They Are Missing
You can learn a lot about marketing and carefully eyeing your already established competitors. From the design details – how their logos look like, what they feature on their homepages, what information their websites are missing – to target market insights.
“When researching your competitors ask yourself the following questions: how do they talk to your customer base? What information do they highlight and what do they fail to mention? A lot of non-industry folks still consider digital marketing and SEO some sort of a voodoo magic, when it’s just technical improvements or easy-to-measure strategies when you have the right tools. Your primary goal should be to educate your customers about the exact types of services you offer and what benefits they will get from them,” says Abdullahi.
While your competition may like to keep their “trade secrets” all to themselves, it is the transparency that is now winning more wallets. Don’t promise some secret behind-the-scenes magic. Instead, talk about the exact goals and results your product or service can solve for your customer. Educate them of the different strategies, best practices and most importantly the reasoning to bother investing in you in the first place. Talk about the costs involved and justify why, for instance, a $100.000 app is better for their business than a $5.000 one.
“When I was just starting out as a one-man band, I tried not mentioning my humble origins up till the last moment. I was reluctant about talking that I came from a 3rd world country, started working as a writer on my Nokia 6080 phone and didn’t have proper Internet connection till I’ve graduated from college. When recently a friend of mine asked if he could share my life story on the Entrepreneur Magazine, I was at first mortified. I was halfway typing a polite refusal letter, when it struck me – why indeed can’t I use my personal “from rag to riches” story to connect with people of similar background and become more relatable to some customers? That story turned out to be a bomb and brought a few new clients at my doorstep.”
Don’t try to appear somebody you are not. Each and every one of us have a unique story to share – the one of getting over a massive failure, overcoming a massive challenge or like Abdullahi Muhammed succeeding when no one ever believed that would possible. Storytelling is one of the most powerful techniques out there to increase the trust factor.
A lot of VCs prefer to bet on the race – the product or the market – while others place all stakes at the jockey a.k.a. the founder. Leveraging your personal brand is essential both for attracting the right type of investors and customers. No matter what kind of a background you have and how little experience, strategic networking, being bold and transparent just like Abdullahi Muhammed can help you take your business to a new level.
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