Inside: There’s one important thing you need to do before tweaking your brand’s color palette. Read on to see what it is.
When solopreneurs say “my branding feels so ‘meh’, I don't like it,” the most common advice they usually get is to just change their brand colors. You know, like “just add a pop of something bright.”
Sometimes, the advice goes as far as recommending a new set of Canva templates for social media or tips on possible logo modifications.
While this kind of advice is typical, it’s also very misleading because simply changing your brand colors or tweaking your logo now will likely lead you to repeat the same process in a few months.
It’s sort of become the norm in solopreneur circles because it’s usually the blind leading the blind.
Listen, changing your brand colors shouldn’t be the norm.
Think about Google. Blue, red, yellow, and green. Since 1998. Sure, they tweak their logo a bit, playing with shadows, 3D effects, and flat design (and arguably, the latest iteration is the ugliest of them all), but the colors stay the same.
Want more examples? Here you go:
- Coca-Cola – red and white since the 1950s;
- Pepsi – red, white, and blue, also since the 1950s.
So what makes anyone think your colors should change all the time?
The real answer is, they shouldn’t.
I always advise solopreneurs thinking about changing their brand colors to go back to basics and start with brand strategy because that’s the foundation on which the rest of their business is built.
And in this post, I’m sharing the essentials of brand strategy so you can firm up, or get started with, yours.
What to do before changing your brand colors
First and foremost, you need to make sure that your brand colors are actually based on something other than “ooh, these are my favorite colors.”
The basis for selecting your brand colors is, you guessed it, your brand strategy.
That means you should have one, and if you don’t, it’s time to develop it. Unfortunately, many solopreneurs don’t take the time to do this, and it hurts them in the long run.
In fact, starting without a strategy is one of the top branding mistakes most solopreneurs make that cost them big.
By taking the time to create your brand strategy, you’re setting up your business to stand out from the masses of others who are just flailing around, trying every new tactic that comes their way.
So, where do you start?
Step 1: Define your brand substance
For some people, this will be pretty easy, especially if they’ve given a lot of thought to why they do what they do and how they want their business to operate.
For others, defining the brand substance is something new that can take time to figure out. It’s often like this for those who jumped into their business headfirst and never considered the what and why. (No worries if that’s you – it’s fixable.)
Brand substance is all about the real purpose behind your business, your vision for where your business will go, its daily mission, and its guiding values.
So think about why you started your business and how you’re making the world a better place. Decide where you want your business to be in a decade and how you’re going to get there.
As a solopreneur, you bring your personal values into your business. But they don’t all count the same, and you may want to add some that are specific to business only. Identify them and live by them.
Step 2: Define your positioning strategy
Positioning is what many solopreneurs miss. Often, it’s because they’re actively avoiding the work that goes into it.
You know, like market research. You’d think market research was some terrifying thing, with how so many business owners go out of their way to avoid it.
It’s not scary at all. Unless you think conversations are scary.
Market research is what you need for the first piece of your positioning strategy, namely…
I know, I know, so often we think we can help everyone. But is it really true?
Can you help everyone? Or can you really only help people with a specific problem – the one you solve?
And more importantly, do you want to help everyone? Not to put too fine a point on it, but do you really want to help the a-holes of this world who will abuse you verbally and take advantage of you every chance they get?
Yeah, I didn’t think so.
Your audience is really about your dream clients. The crème de la crème, if you will. Knowing them well means you can help them better.
Does that mean you’ll never help anyone else? Of course not. People who don’t fit your dream client definition will still buy your products and services. But you don’t have to focus on them.
Think about Mercedes-Benz. A luxury brand. Their intended customer is a wealthy person.
Will they sell one of their cars to someone who just won the lottery and will waste that money faster than you can say oops? Of course. But is their messaging focused on lottery winners? Nope!
See what I mean?
So, think about your dream clients. What are they like? What traits do your favorite clients have in common?
Ask them about their goals, fears, and values. How did they realize they needed what you offer? And what did you really help them achieve?
If you don’t have any favorite clients yet, picture the people you’ve enjoyed working with in other situations and use their traits to get you started.
Once you have your audience figured out, it’s time to look at what other options they have.
Ideally, as part of your market research, you asked your audience what other options they tried before turning to you.
That gives you an idea of the alternatives out there that compete for, and appeal to, the same audience you want to serve.
But you don’t want to rely solely on people mentioning other options in your market research interviews. You need to do additional research, too, to understand the full breadth of your competitive landscape.
So, look at your immediate competition – the businesses that provide a very similar solution to yours. And then, notice the others whose solutions may be different, but that aim to provide the same outcome as you.
Evaluate their strengths and weaknesses, and note any insights you’ve had while studying them. You’ll use this info for the next part of your positioning strategy.
Now it’s time to take what you know about your dream clients and about your competition, and figure out how your business can stand out.
Way too many solopreneurs are the also-ran type. Nondescript, forgettable, and on their way to burnout.
The best way to avoid it? Determine what you do better than anyone else in your industry and hammer it home in every interaction your audience has with your brand.
It’s how you help your audience understand why it’s worth paying a premium for your products or services.
For example, one of my strengths lies in connecting dots most people don’t even see, which means I can take the vague ideas floating around in your head and turn them into a coherent, cohesive strategy for your brand.
In the words of a recent client, “I felt like my message was vague and muddled. Alex helped me refine my story and synthesized everything into a singular, concise brand strategy. Now I have clarity about my message and offers, and can speak not only about my values and mission but more importantly, about my impact.”
Most brand designers couldn’t begin to do this for their clients, simply because they weren’t trained in developing brand strategy.
I specifically sought out specialized training so I could offer brand strategy services to my clients because it’s the most critical prerequisite to brand identity design.
You can bet I talk about it often – in my videos, blog posts, social media posts, and throughout my website.
And that’s what you’ll be doing too, once you figure out exactly how your business is different from the others in your space.
Step 3: Move on to brand expression
Brand expression is built on the preceding two steps. Truly, don’t skip them, or else you’ll be redoing your “branding” over and over.
One part of brand expression is the brand persona, which is where you determine your brand’s archetypal mix. You can read about brand archetypes in this overview post.
If you’re a solopreneur and the face of your brand, your own leading archetype will play the central role. The rest of your brand’s archetypal mix will come from your dream clients.
The next part is your messaging, which is where you take all your strong opinions and examples you use to illustrate the core concepts of your work, and tie them back to your brand substance and positioning.
Ideally, your messaging should also take into account your brand’s archetypal mix.
And last but not least, is your brand’s visual expression – the brand identity, like your logos and colors, and the brand presence, like your website.
With everything else figured out and documented, the easiest (and most fun) way to get started on the visuals is by creating a mood board for your brand.
Need instructions for this? Here’s the step-by-step process for creating your brand mood board.
Got questions? I’ve got answers. Here are the usual suspects I hear from my audience and in the world of online business.
CAN’T I JUST CHANGE THE COLORS?
Let me put it this way: yes, you can. In fact, a lot of business owners do. They also tend to spend thousands of dollars on totally unnecessary stuff, work themselves into burnout, and eventually quit.
But you’re different. Or at least, you want to be different, right? You don’t want to waste a ton of money, burn yourself out, or go back to your day job.
And that means you need to do things differently, starting with first building a firm foundation for your brand and business.
So, can you just change the colors? Absolutely. Should you? Absolutely not.
CAN I GET SOME HELP WITH MY ARCHETYPE?
Totally. Kaye Putnam has a brilliant quiz you can take that will identify your top three or four archetypes.
You don’t even need to enter your email address to get the results. I recommend you do, though, because what she teaches can help you move your business forward by leaps and bounds.
Kaye also provides a free inspiration kit specific to your archetype that will give you ideas for how to express it in your interactions with your audience.
HOW DO I “NAIL” TALKING TO MY DREAM CLIENTS?
There’s really only one way to do it, and that’s by getting to know them so well, they think you’re walking around in their brain.
Yes, I’m talking about market research.
Nothing else comes close to talking to the people you think are your dream clients and asking them about their struggles, desires, and life in general.
In a real conversation, especially when you just ask a question and listen, you can easily learn all kinds of things about your people. And it’s not necessarily about reading between the lines, although that’s there too.
When you’re genuinely interested in helping your people, they’ll happily share their thoughts with you.
As you learn more about them, you’ll also learn what words they use to describe the problems they’re facing and what they really want to achieve. You can then use those words in your messaging to connect with them easily.
So, there you have it. Don’t go adding a pop of bright color or whatever when you’re feeling ‘meh’ about your branding.
Instead, go back to the very basics and make sure your brand’s foundation is rock-solid. That means review or create your brand strategy.
Define your brand substance first, and your positioning in the market second. Then clarify your brand’s persona and messaging until they feel unshakeable. Then, and only then, turn your attention to colors and other visuals.
This is precisely what I do to help solopreneurs turn their brands from slapdash to sparkling. So if you’re feeling like, “gosh, I just want somebody to help me with all this,” click the button below to see how we can work together.