5 reasons to make branding the key ingredient in your food and beverage business

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The food and beverage industry is one of the fastest growing industries world wide with new concepts launching everyday and existing concepts growing by leaps and bounds. It is also the industry with one of the highest rates of failure. Successful concepts suddenly fade and disappear due to innumerable reasons. New concepts catch the attention of consumers and many fail right at the launching board itself. 

Though issues like planning, staffing, quality of food, location, cash flow planning and timing play important roles in the success and failure of F&B concepts, branding lends itself to help stand apart from and attract customers. A well thought out brand can cut right through the clutter and be a strong catalyst for evolving into a regional and eventually an international brand. With the emirates set to attract almost 20 million visitors  by the year 2020, the opportunity for great local home grown brands are phenomenal.

A well constructed and strategically created brand can  boost your F&B business. Here’s 5 key reasons why your business needs branding to help leapfrog past the competition.

1.Showcase your Unique Selling proposition

‘If you aren’t a little different than your competition, you are in trouble.’

-Mark Sanborn

Your business needs to have something unique that differentiates it from the competition. A concept that doesn’t have a unique story tends to fade out and be without a context for the consumer’s choice. Its important to work with the branding agency and discover whats sets it apart and weave a story that can be communicated across all consumer touchpoints. Competition on price and quality is a dangerous game without an entry barrier and pushes the business into becoming a commodity that doesn’t stay relevant. Often existing concepts don’t even realize they already have a USP and they havent gone ahead and manifested it. It may be simple aspects like how friendly the place is or how the food is made, or the passion for excellence, or a fusion of food and maybe even a special dish that was created by the chef. Branding allows to discover or express this uniqueness and showcase it into the logo, the messaging, the space and the vibe of the place.

2.Connect emotionally with your consumers 

‘If people believe they share values with a company, they will stay loyal to the brand.”

-Howard Schulz, Starbucks

Branding is the art of finding an uninhabited space in the consumers mind and sparking a positive  emotional response to the business that makes them come back again and again. When a brand evolves into an emotional relation with the client the risk of competition recedes. Emotional brand connect can happen through every manifestation of the brand and this is what translates into a concept that can then be marketed and eventually franchised. Without brand emotion, again the business tends to become a commodity until the next best thing comes along.

3.Your consumers to do your marketing 

‘A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is- it is what consumer tell each other it is.”

-Scott Cook

A good brand that stand apart and connects emotional creates evangelists that market your product for you. In todays age of social media being your biggest marketing force, having reasons for your consumers to scream about your brand is crucial. Smart branding that imbibes hash tags, messages, cool interiors, unique names for dishes, humor, ambience and rituals spark reasons to share these stories through social mediums and aggregator apps (Zomato, Trip advisor, Talabat etc). A well laid branding strategy can imbibe consumer led marketing and nudge their top marketing officers to go forth and scream from the rooftops.

4.Ready for expansion and franchising 

“Your brand is what other people say about you when you are not in the room’

Jeff Bezos, Amazon

Branding standards, repeatable processes and detailed guidelines pave the way when franchisees come knocking, when new locations seek out your brand or you expand on your own. When each location has the same experience, you are officially a brand. It makes business sense to invest in systems and processes that allow your brand to take off into the next level.

5.Stand apart from the competition

‘If your business is not a brand, it is a commodity.”

-Donald Trump

Around 19000 outlets are expected by 2019 in the UAE, almost tripling the current numbers according to a recent study. The market size for the UAE places it amongst the top 20 in the world and accounts for almost Dh 60 billion, making it attractive for concepts from all over the world even with the high rate of failure. New concepts will always be born, international chains will arrive and entrepreneurs will hunt down new and successful concepts and bring them to the region.

The challenge is for businesses to compete and stand out in this crowded market space and find their feet. A well crafted story manifested as a brand will help your business cut through and be noticed by consumers and set the business up for continued success. Without a brand, it becomes increasingly tough for home grown brands to stand head to head with international chains with established brand strategies and consumer programs that are tried and tested.

10 ways for SMEs to build their brand image

An article I wrote for a business publication recently:

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10 Ways for SMEs to build their brand image

A company’s brand is one of the single most valuable asset. Your brand image can grow faster than any number on your bank sheet and today it is the biggest asset for any fortune 500 company. For an SME, brand image usually takes a back seat, as day to day issues and operational aspects take precedence. This is one of the biggest follies that companies with myopic vision fall prey to.

 

The brand image is the beacon that lets a company stand apart in todays market space, allowing customers, employees and vendors alike to be attracted instantly. Its an emotional bond that instantly builds a bridge and grows consistently to loyalty. In today’s fast growing market place in emerging countries, with the influx of multiple global brands that seek the attention of your customer, its the brand image that binds them emotionally. Its the bond that ensures your clients ignore the seduction of better price, quality, packages or add ons.

 

Every SME dreams of one day evolving into a Coca Cola, a Starbucks, a Nike or Apple. Becoming household names over decades and being entrenched in the everyday lives of our customers. Even a B2B business needs a strong brand image to attract the right partners, suppliers and even financial institutions that understand effortlessly what the company stands for and its defining purpose for existence.

 

For an SME, the journey to build a brand image that connects and endures need not be an uphill task if you gets the basics right. Its not just the advertising budget that defines the brand image. Rather, it is the basic principles and foundation upon which the company itself is built. This holds true for a FMCG, a service company, an individual, a manufacturer, real estate company, a government or even a country.

 

Here are some simple rules to get started without spending big bucks. These 10 rules will help define and build a brand image for your company.

 

 

1. Be unique.

 

In every business, if you don’t have a differentiated advantage over the competitor, chances are you will shut down soon or you have hit a glass ceiling. If you are growing successfully, then you have a differentiation and a unique way of doing business, but haven’t defined it. It may be the integrity with which you do business, it may be the process you follow or even something as simple as the unique skills of the employees you have. Having a unique selling proposition immediately sets you apart and makes the connect with the customer so much easier.

 

 

2.Know the consumer

 

It’s paramount that you know exactly why your consumer wants to do business with you. On a continuing basis, conversations, observations, discussions or research will allow you to know whats going on inside your consumer’s mind. Without this knowledge, you will never know whats their trigger and what the emotion you possess within their mind. The best brands have always reinvented themselves with the mindset of their customers, and those that failed are the ones that chose not to listen. Basis this knowledge you are constantly positioning and then repositioning your brand in their mind.

 

 

3.Know your DNA

 

A brand is born when you know what you stand for. Every brand has a DNA like a living organism, it has a personality which you build and breathe life to. Your brand has an age and characteristics. You could be youthful, fun loving, hospitable, caring and an extrovert if you are a cafe for example. Then, every manifestation of the brand has to live this DNA. The music, smell, the way your employees answer the phone, the colors, website, tone of communication and a hundred other aspects all live this DNA.

 

4.Delight your customer

 

The most effective way to build brand image is to delight your customers so much that they become evangelists of your products or service. The simple old school business rule of “under promising and over delivering” is tweaked to “promising and delivering way beyond expectations”. If every department and function has the laser focus to delighting customers and the company is consistently wowing them and bowling them off their feet, ignore all other points in this article! The first step to delighting the customer is to be able to know their end objective and most important reason for buying your brand. Then, its mapping the consumer’s decision making process, concerns and issues and installing systems to exceed expectations incrementally such that the experience as a whole is a whopping delight! Only when the experience exceeds their functions requirements and borders on delight, will real brand loyalty be born. This experience has to manifest even within departments like accounts, finance, administration or human resource, not just marketing and sales.

 

 

5.Stay connected always

 

Create reasons to connect with your customers regularly. A brand needs to be on top of mind always. Inform customers about new activities, products, services and your victories. Many of them may not even know what all you are doing now. Build events and information sharing and invite them to celebrate in your successes. Newsletters need to be exciting and interesting enough so it doesn’t reach the junk box as fast as they arrive.

 

 

6.Embrace social media

 

With the advent and acceptance of social media across age groups and demographics, media has suddenly become democratic. With the smart use of the right mediums for the right business, one could exponentially grow their visibility at almost minimal costs. So many businesses that have grown at the speed of light today attribute much of their success to being to connect directly with their consumers directly. Its important to work out a strategy and the brand voice on social media before diving into it and sinking. Clear objectives need to be assigned and responsibilities. Social media can hurt a brand faster than any medium in the past because of the lack of control on whats said and spoken. Its as important to have in your ammo fire fighting tools and methods predefined to combat an attack on your brand. With the use of Facebook pages, an SME can connect and speak to their consumers, the specific demographics can be mapped and the business can monitor the visibility very closely. Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, blogs etc all give voice and a face to the brand and can be used as catalysts to help consumers fall in love with your brand. Linked In can assist building bridges for the brand with prospective employees and decision makers.

 

7.Create brand ambassadors

 

The best way to build a brand image is to create brand ambassadors who will expound the virtues of your product and service. Every individual that a company connects with have the potential of becoming a brand ambassador. Happy employees who won’t devalue the brand no matter what. Even employees who leave the company should leave happily and remain ambassadors. Vendors, suppliers, bankers and competition can all be brand ambassadors. If other people can speak about your brand and its values its a million times the effect of you shouting it from the rooftops.

 

8.Staying focussed

 

One of the biggest pitfalls for an SME is to deviate from their core competency and strength. The more SMEs have a chief definitive aim and chase excellence in getting better at that, helps evolve a brand image of success. If the effort of an organization is to excel and have a mindset to continually improve with the focus of becoming the best at their industry, their brand will automatically sky rocket. Diversification and forward integration should emerge after conquering excellence and having a system to repeat that on an ongoing basis. Excellence is the biggest catalyst of brand success.

 

9.Adopt a cause and be a thought leader

 

Every brand should stand up for something and then become the voice for that which they hold most dearly. When the core team introspects they will find one or more key messages or words that springs up in multiple discussions. Innovation, empowerment, emerging markets, logistics, cloud computing or even employee welfare. Find these and use every opportunity to talk about it and associate your brand with them. Seminars, lectures, events and workshops all allow the company to build their image by what they say and do and become thought leaders in the field of their choice. Give interviews with your opinion on the cause, write articles, debate, research and implement innovations on your key cause.

 

I am writing this article because our company has adopted branding for SMEs and growing home grown brands as our cause. We help local companies compete with MNCs and put everything behind this cause. For us, this is passion and our ongoing quest. We speak at seminars, conduct workshops and have created 100s of brands that have gone on to hold their own against global established ones.

 

 

10.Innovate

 

Point number 10 is yours to innovate and evolve because the most effective ideas are born from your own knowledge and capabilities. Branding is a continuos process of innovation, so commit from here on to innovating for your brand and instilling in the organization a culture of innovating in each and every department.

 

Get ready for a brand that will soon be worth more than you have ever imagined!

 

About the author

Sajith Ansar is the CEO and founder of Idea Spice. Idea Spice is a branding firm that specialises in helping creating and evolving home grown brands around the world. The company has created and reinvented over 1500 brands including startups, SMEs and countries.

4 mentors who changed my life

 

“A mentor is someone who sees more talent and ability within you, than you see in yourself, and helps bring it out of you.”

Bob Proctor

When I look back today, the biggest catalysts in my life have been the mentors I had the opportunity to be influenced and inspired by along the way. At every important milestone, I have been blessed with individuals who have left their mark and navigated the journey for me.

I strongly feel each of us need to seek out people who become catalysts in our lives and bring out the best in us.

Who are mentors?

A classic mentor is an individual who will be straight with you, wish the best for you and also be able to see within us that which we can’t see ourselves and uncork that inner magnificence.

Mentors usually carry upon their shoulders wisdom, experience, integrity, warmth, a unique gift of listening, vision and a generous nature of giving and enabling. Seek out people who have inspired you and are a benchmark of the values you desire.

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”
― Benjamin Franklin

This is an ode to my mentors and the life lessons they gifted me.

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“You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him find it within himself.”
Galileo Galilei

My grandfather, A A Rahim

My late grandfather will always be a towering personality in my memories.

I have grow up seeing him in the epicenter of people and adulation and being a role model for excellence and ambition. From a small town in kerala, he went on to work with three generations of the Gandhi family. He became a cabinet minister with the foreign ministry portfolio and then a governor. His philanthropic work included being involved in building hospitals, educational institutions and mosques in the town and he is still remembered as one of the greatest political leaders years after he is no more.

I always remember our joint family house with the front door always open buzzing with a constant stream of well wishers and positive energy. He was a man known as an astute leader, an individual with the highest integrity and values, a politician with immense diplomatic skills and someone even his enemies respected. He was larger than life and still is.

He lived his life with the highest of ideals and scaled heights nobody ever dreamt about. Yet he did this on his terms and conditions and with no regrets or compromises.

As a child, I would cherish the alone time with him in the middle of his busy schedule. I would hop in whenever in I could on drives or sit in his room and seek advise and counsel or just watch how he conducted himself.

His words of encouragement and life lessons built the earliest seeds of leadership in my mind. He would expound on having an aim in life, about thinking big, the importance of fitness, knowing what true friendship is and about growing with your principles and values intact.

He walked the talk in enacting the principles of giving and sharing wealth with the needy. Even today, years after he’s no more, I always bump into someone who will share a story about how his actions touched their lives.

A story involving him that left the biggest mark in my life is regarding a race. When I was 15, I had a math tutor, who would come home in the holidays for tuition. In one conversation, the tutor learnt that I was a runner and he shared that he was also a coach for a local school. He invited me to race against his best runners and I confidently took up the challenge and reached the neighborhood school to prove my mettle.

The race was against 3 of his finest runners and we lined up at the 100 meter track with crowds from the school cheering. I put in my finest performance and raced ahead of the pack with ease. When I turned back to the group, I witnessed the scary sight of a screaming tutor running at the boys in anger with a cane and beating his fastest athlete repeatedly. After a shocking caning marathon and a barrage of verbal abuse, he turned and challenged me to yet another race with the boys.

It was the worst experience of my life and in that moment I decided to lose and save the boys another hiding. I finished last and made sure it didn’t look like I lost purposely. The tutor raced over and patted the boys proudly and I said the fastest goodbye ever.

When I reached home, I scurried into my grandfathers room wanting to recount every part of the incident. I ended with the story of what a hero I was and how I lost purposely. I thought he would be glowing with pride at my emotional intelligence at such a young age. To my shock and surprise, he asked me if I realised what I did wrong in this situation. I scratched my head and couldn’t think of anything.

He waited, paused and softly said, “I am so proud of you but do you also realise that you have just reaffirmed to the strange tutor that the way of the stick works and now, he will never stop doing that ever again!”

That was a big life lesson in reading situations, seeing the grey shades, about deeper thinking and behavioral patterns and about never being superficial and naive again.

My grandfathers influence will always stay within me just as his goodwill and aura still shines bright generations on wherever I go and meet people who once knew him.

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“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”
William Arthur Ward

My principal, Mary Roy

Mary Roy forged within me an ironclad set of values and virtues. She was a catalyst that ignited a fireball of energy and purpose into my life when I was just 16. I am still fueled and charged by this momentum from my high school years. Mrs.Roy taught me the unflinching support of truth and instilled in me an unwavering form of integrity. She handed me courage to stand for what I believed was right and taught me to hold my ground no matter what.

Mrs Roy empowered students with responsibility and treated us and spoke to us like young adults. She taught me the importance of a well rounded education and that its never only about marks and studies.

Every experience was a life lesson and the 2 years under her tutelage and mentorship, allowed me to grab responsibility and carry on my shoulders that which I never thought possible.

At such a young age, she was definitive and clear and clearly stated to me that I was a leader who would one day make the country proud. She told me that great things waited for me as life would unfold. She stood and announced it to the world and that became the self fulfilling prophecy I wanted to live my whole life by. She had set a benchmark for me to live my following years by.

My inner confidence was spurred by her belief in me and I set off from school armed with her vision for me. I left with a strong conscience and an overflowing sense of self confidence ready to take on any challenge in the world.

 

“I am not a teacher, but an awakener.”
Robert Frost

My first Boss, Sunil Handa

When I was just 22, I started working with Mr.Sunil Handa. I had just finished design school and I had graduated with a gnawing need to understand management and business principles.

I had heard about the corporate legend that Mr.Handa was and he was reputed to be a very tough taskmaster. At the time, I thought this would be the perfect training ground to evolve from just a designer into a businessperson.

Sunilbhai (as everyone calls him with respect and love) was all that and more. He was tough, set high benchmarks and expectations for me and taught me every nuance of business. I met him for my interview and shared that I wanted to use the experience over 4 years to learn hands on every aspect of business. I explained what I seemed what an apprenticeship and not a job.

The experience was any young man’s dream. He showered responsibility on me and paced me like no one had ever before. He made me believe I could do colossal tasks with quarter the time and enjoy my work as a challenge.

He would push me to the limits where I blossomed. Nudge me across the cliff and taught me flight. Combined with responsibility, there was always an unsaid belief in my delivering to his expectations and I never failed. I would seek out work outside my comfort zone and he would throw them my way. Negotiating, finance, running machinery, traveling across the country on short notice, creating dealer network, buying tools and hands on selling – I did it all and I loved every moment.

Over the years, we formed a bond stronger than a parent and he always told me that he believed that great things would happen to me and he was just being a catalyst. He sent me to one of the best business schools in the world and ensured I translated everything I learnt to reality by launching a division for the company and growing it alone as a profit center.

By the time I was prepared to take wings myself, he left in me values and had instilled a navigation system for life. Without realizing, I carried away the ability to be focused, think long term, benchmark internationally, grow talent from the roots, value the joy of work and be meticulous and resolute in any endeavor.

In my mind, no challenge would be too large anymore. Sunilbhai is still my father figure and the one who reminds me of long term goals and nudges me to the next milestone and gets me thinking bigger each time we meet.

 

“Those who know, do. Those that understand, teach.”
Aristotle

My coach, Rajesh Nagjee

Rajesh knocked on the front door of my life in a chance meeting at a training and the journey has never been the same since. When he met me, our organisation was like a hostel room, a group of friends doing our stuff not caring about the world. We lived in the office, workaholics, disorganised and caught up with our selfish motives and artistic expression. From there, waking us up and instilling a code of professionalism and finding for us a calling that more than just self expression. He taught us to look inside and pointed out our distinct strength-to use our creative abilities and marry business acumen to enable our clients businesses to grow.

Through repeated sessions both individual and with the company, we grew from strength to strength. Even as the organisation broke geographical boundaries and rapidly expanded while deeply serving our clients, I found an amazing work life balance and what is more important a clear command of my calling. Over our interactions, I found a chief definitive aim and a laser focus on my life purpose. I found a perfect zone which married my passion, my talent and automatically created a market need for my clients.

He nudged me to discover by myself that I was passionate beyond a cure to assist entrepreneurs to succeed. I realised that my strength was being a catalyst for the growth of home grown brands, to assist start ups and SMEs to rapidly grow. For this, I devoted myself and the organisation to the science of using innovation and help businesses differentiate themselves. To help clients emotionally connect with their customers and potential customers and to be able to deliver this on a consistent basis around the world. With the company and my team, he helped to evolve pillars that became my core and galvanise us into action. All this while ensuring, we spent the least time on work and strike a perfect balance. We learnt to have fun, be playful and make our clients our best friends.

An ongoing coaching and mentoring relation taught me the science of listening, of growth, of systems, cash flows, relationships, people skills and a million other lessons which permeated into parenting, life goals, vision board, self actualisation, goal setting, time management and endless other insights across all parameters.

On our company’s 10 year anniversary Rajesh awarded me a title publicly which I today operate from and have made it my self fulfilling prophecy. He bestowed upon me the title “Zen monk in a suit” and that has today become me.

 

Besides my mentors, there are individuals who influence you in so many ways. My parents, my wife, my brother and sister and my children who teach me a new way of seeing the world each day, my friends and my core team at office, the books I read, my mastermind and idols whose lives I model.

I feel the universe conspires to ensure my success by sending people into my life at intervals and important milestones!

 

The coolest tool for thinking clearly- mind mapping

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One of the most powerful tools that has helped me think really fast and declutter my mind has been mind mapping.

I create simple and detailed mind maps for almost every aspect of my life. I have mind maps for goals, company vision, team planning, client briefs, holiday plans, health goals, web site maps, workflow planning and a 100 other things. Using mind maps have allowed me to accomplish in a fraction of the usual time that work would taken me ages, because it immediately structures my thoughts. It allows me to organise information and moreover my notes can almost keep up with my speed of thinking and unrelated chains of thought.

What are mind maps and what is mindmapping.

A term that was coined and then detailed by Tony Buzan in the 60s, mind mapping is a process of organizing your thoughts visually and organically as opposed to the linear manner of listing tasks and thoughts. Mind maps break down ideas and thoughts into graphical representation that allows for total clarity.
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I have had the good fortune thanks to Right Selection to attend his workshops and learn with him. Our team and also my daughter attended and it was an eye opener. He also subscribes that we use a lot of color and visuals that stimulate the mind. He has written 100s of books on the subject and many deal with the subject of thinking for kids.

Mind mapping is also a brilliant tool for children to use for learning and this ensures they never ever forget a lesson or learning. My daughter even uses it even to plan her holiday activities and she lists out tasks and goals to achieve.

There are quite a few apps that are available and softwares which are also downloadable from tony buzans site, however I personally found “mind node” the best and easiest among the ones I tried. The other apps are “simple node”, “imindmap” and “Ithoughts” which is a paid app for (approximately 9$ on iTunes).

I found some examples of mind maps from the web which show how they can be used for planning, brainstorming, note taking, education, strategy, research and basic thinking.

Try it, it will change your life!

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One of the most important tools in business- a mastermind

Napolean Hill in his book “Think and grow rich” talks about the Mastermind being critical for success and speaks about the subject in detail. He first defined the mastermind as a “coordination of knowledge and effort, in a spirit of harmony, between two or more people, for the attainment of a definite purpose.”

Hill’s concept of the “Master Mind” was inspired by Andrew Carnegie, wealthy steel magnate. According to Hill:

“Mr. Carnegie’s Master Mind group consisted of a staff of approximately fifty men, with whom he surrounded himself, for the DEFINITE PURPOSE of manufacturing and marketing steel. He attributed his entire fortune to the POWER he accumulated through this ‘Master Mind.’”

I have a mastermind group and the strength it adds to my life is immeasurable. We meet at least once a month and follow an amazing structure that directly correlates to becoming a catalyst for clarity of thought, vision, ideas and brainstorming on millions of subjects. After each meeting, I walk away with purpose, armed with clarity and eager to implement the ideas.

I wanted to share this video of Napolean Hill speaking about what a mastermind is. I am also sharing a few links I found online on how to set up a mastermind, run it and get the best out of it.

 

http://christinekane.com/7-real-life-tips-for-creating-a-successful-mastermind-group/

Design Secrets: 5 things a client really wants in a branding project

 An article I recently wrote for a design journal which looks at the design and branding process from a client’s point of view.

 

Clients who require branding and assigning in our hands the one thing that’s closest and dearest to them-their business venture.They breathe and live the concept and are completely committed to that success and will do whatever it takes to take the business idea to the next level.

This is what I have learnt are the critical areas of concern and conflict  for a client and what needs to be addressed to ensure a partnership model for branding.

 

 

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1.See the project from the client’s point of view

A client is looking to create a brand that speaks their story, that packages their USP and tells the world why they are so good. They need a visual depiction of their offering that emotionally connects their business to the consumers, sets them apart from the competition clearly and helps them stand head to head with large multi national firms that are coming into the fray. Clients who walk into the door and connect for a branding or a rebranding are usually ambitious and visionaries in varying proportions. They are looking for a firm and individuals who are creative and can translate their vision. I have realized that when you  stop viewing the conflicts and issues along the way as client versus designer and instead reflect on why they are saying what they are. Is there a fear of losing existing clients? Is it against their philosophy? Are they superstitious? Have they had a bad experience before? Then working keeping their point of view and thinking like them has always helped the process.

 

2.Understand their business as well as them

Clients are always seeking a branding firm that will understand them, their capabilities and craft a language that will become a catalyst for their success. They are expecting a thought partner and a strategic thinker that will relieve the strain of the next steps and guide them through the process. They want someone who will understand their business, be great listeners, ask them their dreams and soak in their ambition. They are looking for a firm that will get them from where they are to where they want to be.

 

The moment a client hears questions which want to understand their business, queries which are inquiries into the nature of the trade, the customers and a genuine need for knowledge before imparting ours. Clients are looking for a design company who want to know where they want to go and illicit enough information that allows the company to know the clear objectives of why they are meeting a branding firm. It’s important to know the history, milestones for success, team, operation model, future plans, diversification plans, HR policy, sourcing policy, CSR initiatives, succession planning, marketing plans in the past and a host of information if the company is already existing. More importantly, these need to be a conversation and not a questionnaire. A conversation which is industry trade talk where you can hold your own wows a clients and earns respect for the effort you have put in. The beauty of running and working in a branding firm is finally the exposure and expertise we have over time in so many businesses and the curiosity to learn more and more.

 

3.Make their consumer your client

Over time, I have learnt that the client respects a branding firm which is not trying to please him or the firm but is focused on the company’s objective. The due diligence of a branding firm is to work for the client’s consumer and not the client. Design work done for pleasing a client at the cost of what the right thing to do always backfires. I have also seen that design decisions explained logically and scientifically as opposed to retro fitting a reason is best. When a client sees that color, type, font, paper, textures, forms are all selected for a specific reason and his consumer is the target, decisions are easier.

 

For a good branding project there needs to be mutual trust and a partnership along with the client and his team. For this to happen, an in-depth knowledge of the clients consumer is paramount. Research, conversation with the consumer, observing decision making, seeing trends, influences and finding a clear segment in their mind is the most important step.

 

4.Differentiation, differentiation, differentiation

A great branding project is borne by having a distinct product or service. Without that, a business will rarely sustain or grow. If a business has been existing and they are successful they probably have one but they don’t know it yet. Speaking to their current consumers, vendors, employees and partners will highlight why they work with the company and what it stands for in their mind. When a start up business is being branded, its important to know the brand differentiator or create one with the client, one they can fulfill and embody effortlessly. I would go as far as saying, if the business doesn’t have a differentiator don’t do the branding, it is eventually going to fail and your equity with it.

 

A branding firm has to partner in breathing life into the success of the venture by communicating this differentiation to the world and help the business stand apart in the crowd, attracting more consumers than the client can imagine.

 

5.Make it your business

Once you sign a client, their business is yours.

Every decision needs then to be a business  led thought. If it were your business, would you print the visiting card with that stock? Does the brochure really need to be 80 pages? Is there a more value based alternative? Is this idea franchiseable? Can the concept be copied easily? Clients love a firm that becomes their thought partner and goes beyond the brief and does whatever it takes for them to succeed. Not a design company thats just interested in the design aspect and the look and feel. When their business becomes yours, and every designer and related members of your team know that, the chances of a successful outcome are heightened.

 

When the process is a thought partnership all along and the business flourishes you get a client who then becomes a friend and client for life and tells the whole world about you.

 

-Sajith Ansar

Sajith is the founder and CEO of Idea Spice, a branding firm with 5 offices around the world and has worked on creating over 1000 home grown brands from startups, SMEs and destination brands.

 

4 books that every entrepreneur must read

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I love reading and devour books in search for knowledge, ideas and paradigm shifts in my thinking. As an entrepreneur, books become a hunting ground for feeding on new ideas and thoughts to push me out of my comfort zone.
From the 100s of books I have read and dissected, 4 stand out for their effectiveness and impact they have had.

Here’s a short review and summary of these books and the reason why you should get a copy, read it and gift it to every entrepreneur you know.


1. Think and grow rich- Napolean Hill

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This is the Bible for every entrepreneur and the great grandfather of all motivational books. The original was written in 1937 but the laws of success outlined are timeless. Think and grow rich is a culmination from a lifetime of research by Napolean Hill who dedicated his life unravelling the science of wealth. Andrew Carnegie, billionaire and philanthropist, inspired and initiated the idea and also opened doors for Napolean Hill to connect and study successful businessmen across America. This book is really the father to hundreds of modern day books on success that use the core idea from the findings of Napolean Hill as the core ingredient.
Think and grow rich explains every aspect and element that constitute success. From his conversations and observations of eminent billionaires of the time like Henry Ford and Thomas Alva Edison, he outlines and breaks down the science of wealth. The book touches upon every aspect that constitutes a mindset for wealth drawing constantly on examples and anecdotes.

Each of the chapters explains a principle and Hill peels away in detail every layer of success. The book delves into the softer aspects of the mind like your sixth sense, intuition, imagination and persistence. Hill throws light and inspires mindset shift, spurs you to understand the importance of a mastermind.
If one was to have a single motivational book in your library with the mindset for success and wealth this is it!

2. Unlimited Power- Anthony Robbins

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Anthony Robbins Unlimited Power is a workbook for life and a blueprint for excellence. He breaks down every aspect of excellence from mindset, language, relationships, food, health, vision and any other aspect that can spur one to excellence. He simplifies the laws of NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming developed by Richard Bandler and John Ginder) into simple concepts and ideas with innumerable assignments and to dos. You can hear his voice through the book egging you on and pushing your limits.
Read the book with a notepad by your side and religiously do every assignment, reflect on the learnings, discuss it and share with friends and family and imbibe the same. This book can change your life in business, self awareness, relationships, health and mastery in excellence. I also advise buying the audio book and listening in the car or at the gym to deeper embody the philosophy of the book. At 421 pages it isnt intended to be a light read, but its difficult to put down.

The concepts explored and shared by Anthony Robbins is the new science of personal achievement. This is arguably his best book (his other book is ‘Awaken the giant within’) and its a culmination of his various experiments and studies. Interesting concepts to build rapport with people, methods of modeling excellence of successful people, conquering phobias and fears and exploding self limiting beliefs that hold you back.
This is a book I gift to friends, individuals who are starting out in business and people whose life I would love to touch and inspire for accelerated achievement

3.Rework -Jason fried and David Hansson

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Rework is a thought provoking book that turns many myths of business upside down. Its a manifesto for doing business with your heart and becomes even more relevant in the post recession model of entrepreneurship. This is an extremely enjoyable book written from the heart by the founders of 37signals. Its one of those rare business books that you will probably smile and grin while reading. Its a book that rolls a hand grenade gently into the board room and explodes the typical. Within its pages are nuggets of wisdom not written by academicians nor research specialists but sharing of learnings from entrepreneurs who have grown a start up into one of the fastest growing firms in the world and still run in with passion, humility and fun.
The concepts shared makes you stop and think and radical ideas are disseminated at every page. Chapters share ideas that challenge and implore you to stop planning, avoid getting caught in the quest for growth for the sake of growth, questions the need for workaholics, asks you to avoid investors and outside money, teaches you to stay lean always, tells you not to try and make the product perfect and settle for good enough and many more such compelling arguments.
Rework is one of those rare gems that you chance upon like a good friend who shakes you up from your daily grind and leaves you thinking. Seth Godin couldn’t have said it better with his quote on the cover of the paperback “Ignore this book at your own peril!”. I concur.

4.Outliers- Malcolm Gladwell

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Gladwell’s latest book is yet another stroke of genius from an author whose books blend research, date, history and facts to highlight his arguments with passion. The author of titles like “Blink” and “Tipping point” analyses success and argues that it is not the brightest who succeed nor is it the sum of the decisions and efforts we make. He says it is rather a gift. Outliers he says are those who have been given opportunities and have had the presence of mind to seize them when they came knocking.

He narrates many success stories and weaves it with circumstances that led to their success. Gladwell introduces a concept of 10,000 hours and links that as the tipping point for success. He outlines the tale of Bill gates as a young programmer and how he evolved because he had access to a computer club that no other high schools had. How Gates had 10000 hours of programer experience by the time he was 20 which was almost impossible at the time. In the initial chapter, Gladwell explains success based on birth days and gives hockey as an example sharing how most of the payers were born in the first 3 months of the year. Like his earlier works, this book is a great read and Gladwell’s innovative method of looking at theories makes you ponder.

The book is a delight and will make you think about success and its parameters in a completely different light.

30 quotes for CEOs and budding entrepreneurs

A collection of inspiring quotes and ideas for CEOs and people wanting to take the plunge into the world of business.

Each thought has so much depth and can trigger ideas and directions. The common thread of inspiration is about passion in work, risk taking, being the best at what you do, embracing failure, hard work and staying focused .

Read on and be inspired!

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The wisdom of getting rich and 5 untold secrets

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I find it fascinating meeting successful people and understanding what makes them who they are, absorbing their secrets to success, seeking inspiration and lessons. Over my  interactions with hundreds of entrepreneurs, I see extremely intelligent and innovative people struggle financially, dropouts become billionaires and billionaires become unhappy and unfulfilled. Then there’s a rare species that gets it all perfectly balanced.

A few questions I have often asked myself are:

“How do some individuals become so rich? What do they do different? “

How come certain people suddenly rocket across the business stratosphere? What suddenly shifts?”

“Why do some people who come across as inspirations turn out to be a facade of optimism as you peel away the layers? ”

“Why do so many achievers speak of regretting that they didn’t stop and smell the coffee along the journey?”

It’s interesting that how much money you make, how much you retain with you, how smart you are, how rich you are and how happy you stay is not always linked nor proportional to each other.

Having read so many books, research documents and discussed with mentors and role models, I have begun to comprehend some interesting home truths. They are so simple and staring us in the face. As I tried experimenting and began to feel the impact of the wisdom and found paradigm shifts in business and life.

The 5 important secrets are:

1.Resetting the financial thermostat

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Each of us have a relation with success and money. This evolves as a mix of genetics, experiences, things we have heard, preconditioning and internal decisions we made along the way. We often hear phrases like “you can’t make money without losing your ethics”, “dirty money” “money only brings unhappiness” and many more phrases and notions that condition our minds against it.

Deep rooted inhibitions with finance often create a love hate relation with money. Our grandparents and parents have views that stay rooted after generations. This festers like an old wound and leaves a scar.

I ran my business for years without thinking of money and as a creative person feeling that money is not a good thing. I discovered that my expenses would get covered because that was my desire but the cup would never overflow.

The simple rule is that money comes to those who love and desire it without contempt. When money is not a dirty word and welcomed with a red carpet, she visits and stays. When you long to be with money without cringing and when it’s not desired just for the material benefits of money, she appears.

This is the one simple first secret of every book on success and money. The intense desire for it. It’s as simple as that. If you intensely desire money and welcome it with open arms, money comes.

The starting point of all achievement is desire.

-Napoleon Hill

2.knowing what you want and having a map

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Imagine you are on a road trip and you want to drive to a nearby town and decide to get there without a map. You then decide you won’t ask for directions or follow the signs and don’t even know what the town is called. You set off and make a journey and you do reach somewhere, but with no reference point how far away you are and where you are. You are never going to reach and needless to say you would never know how far you are from where you want to be.

It’s the same with visions and goals. You need to know where you are going. One of the simplest secrets successful people share is that they knew what they wanted and where they were going. Writing down your plans like you already achieved them triggers actions without you realizing. Making a vision board and seeing it every day increases the chances of fulfilling them even further.

When you know where you are going, every crisis and issue become deviations, you just need a side lane to get back to the main highway of your goals.

The same rule eluded me. My vision was to do great work, work with good people, have a chic office and a cool car. All the wishes were granted very soon and then growth stagnated because I hadn’t reset my map not broadened my vision.

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
–Steve Jobs

3 . The magic of saving

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The simplest rule of money is to increase your income, reduce your expenses and make sure theres a lot in between both. Then you got to keep it that away and widen this gap year on year. Ideally the expense shouldn’t grow more than inflation and the income should grow exponentially.

Having the discipline to force yourself to save needs a mindset change. How often I have caught myself saying that I had less expenses when I had less money. The secret is to spend much lesser than we make.

The joy of seeing money as investments and not just a means to spend more needs a mindset change which creates paradigm shifts. Having your rental income cover your regular expenses and your investment interest pay your luxury EMIs is a big high.

The day it dawned on me that cash is the king in business and the oxygen that keeps it going, I sensed a remarkable turnaround in strategy and direction. There are so many nooks and corners and hidden recesses where unnecessary expenses stay hidden without realizing as I moved along. I call it the spring cleaning of unwanted expenses and this needs to be done every 3 months.

Too many people spend money they earned..to buy things they don’t want..to impress people that they don’t like.
–Will Rogers

4.Learning to give

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One of the most important secrets of wealth sharing as I read, spoke and understood is the ability to give. To share our wealth knowing that it comes back to you even more. As we move to an abundance mentality away from scarcity, the mind programs itself to know that as we give, more will take its place.

Rockefeller, Carnegie, Gates, Buffet are all well known philanthropists. In a letter to his son, Rocketfeller wrote, “…in the beginning of getting money, away back in my childhood, I began giving it away, and continued increasing the gifts as the income increased…”

For it is in giving that we receive.
-St. Francis of Assisi

5 . Enjoying the ride

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When I converse with people who inspire me, I often ask them if there are any regrets along the way. The pattern of the answers is always the same “I wish I had watched my kids grow up” “I wish I had taken more holidays” “I wish I had more time for myself” “I didn’t spend enough time with my wife” “There’s a million things I didn’t do because I was busy making money”.

Everything you make becomes worth it when every day is lived like its your last day. What is money if you can’t enjoy it with the ones you love, if you don’t have time for yourself and for finding yourself too on the journey. I believe you get richer with experiences. As you get rich, your life needs to get richer too.

Early enough we need to decide that the pursuit of wealth doesn’t have to be devoid of soul, that the journey will be a celebration and not a struggle.

I needed a major mindset shift from my 90 hour weeks I proudly practiced in the initial years of business. Waking up and deciding that I want to enjoy the ride and never regret a moment helped to change the way I enjoyed the journey. The trick was to focus on things I am best at and termed “play” and finding other people or outsourcing tasks which was “work”.

It’s good to have money and the things that money can buy, but it’s good, too, to check up once in a while and make sure that you haven’t lost the things that money can’t buy.

–George Lorimer

 

 

Try out these simple ideas and see the effect!

The 7 forces of business mastery

I read this insightful and inspiring article in the Entrepreneur magazine. It featured an interview with one of my favorite authors and thought leaders, Anthony Robbins. These simple pointers are home truths and there are so many nuggets at very nook and corner. I took away truckloads of ideas and I wanted to share the complete interview.

This is a must read:

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Robbins: They’re the seven parts of any business that have to be consistently managed to consistently grow and succeed. Most people know that 50 percent of all startups are gone within the first year and that 96 percent of all business fail after 10 years.

Why do so many business fail?
Because even a small business requires consistent improvement in many areas simultaneously in order to compete and win. Oftentimes, entrepreneurs have some core skill sets — perhaps they’re extraordinary at writing code or creating extraordinary products — but their marketing skills are low. Or, their marketing skills might be off the charts but their inability to make effective financial analysis in the end destroys all they’ve built. They make poor decisions, and decisions shape our business destiny.

So, for a quick review, it’s best to start with the end in mind.

The seventh force and ultimate outcome for any business is to create raving fan customers and culture. Satisfied customers leave you when somebody gives them a better deal. Raving fan customers are loyal, they know who you really are and they stick around even when you screw up because you’ve consistently added value to them in a way that nobody else can.

After that, the first force that will shape a business is knowing where you really are and creating an effective business map. The biggest challenge for business leaders is that they’re not honest about where the business really is. They often see it better than it is, which keeps them going but it causes them to have blind spots that inevitably undermine or even destroy the business.

Knowing what business you’re really in, or what business you need to be in long term is critical. Knowing why you’re in the business and ultimately what outcomes you want the business to serve is critical for a business owner. Then, you have to know who you are and who you need in order to have long-term success.

You also need to know where you are. Every business has a lifecycle, just like a human being. Is your business in the toddler stage? Is your business in its prime? Is it aging? What to do in your business is completely controlled by where you are. Then you can decide where you want to go.

The second force of business is strategic innovation — finding a way to meet your client’s needs better than anybody else. Some companies innovate so often that they put themselves out of business because they are not being strategic about it.

The third force of business is world-class, strategic marketing. That just means having a process that gets a mass number of people to want to do business with you. Or, more importantly, the ideal client you want, to seek you out. It’s something I call “value-added marketing.”

The fourth force is sales mastery systems. It’s great that your marketing strategy is attracting clients, but that doesn’t mean anything unless you produce continued growth and sales.

The fifth force that business leaders must understand is the power of both financial and legal analysis. If you aren’t able to understand and analyze the financial condition of your business on an ongoing basis, you’re like a pilot of a plane who doesn’t know how to read the gauges in front of him. It’s easy to fly when there are clear skies (i.e., a good economy), but when you find yourself surrounded by storms and fog, if you can’t read the gauges, you’re going to crash. It’s only a matter of time.

Finally the sixth force is where you can create explosive growth in your company. Most people think in order to have explosive growth they have to make giant changes. In reality, if you understand the force of optimization and maximization of your people and processes, you can grow your business consistently while others are taking wild risks that don’t always pay off.

Entrepreneur: How can a business owner grow his or her profits by 50 percent in the next 12 months?
Robbins: The key to making documented, explosive profit gains is optimization and maximization. The goal is to make small, incremental changes that all together make your entire business significantly more efficient and profitable. If you’re not doing this already, you’re working hard every single day and you’re still not at the level you deserve. The secret is, little things aren’t little — they’re everything. Those little details — every lead you generate, every margin you increase, every promotion you run, every transaction you make, every sales person you hire — if you don’t measure it, you’re not managing it. So you’re not managing the driving force of what comes into your business to get those profit levels you deserve.

We’re treasure hunters. We know there’s treasure in our business, no question, and we’re going to find it no matter what it takes. If we try something and it doesn’t work, we’re going to try something else, and if that doesn’t work, we’ll make another change, and if that doesn’t work, we’ll shift something else until we get the result we’re after.

Entrepreneur: You say that looking through “a new filter” can help entrepreneurs uncover solutions to business problems. What do you mean by that?
Robbins: There are basic keys that offer entrepreneurs solutions, keys like finding a way to get more clients, and finding ways to increase your average transaction value. But beyond those basic keys, you need fresh perspective, or what I would call a new filter.

Take pricing for example. I did my first seminars for free. I advertised, I marketed, I did everything. I showed up in this room, I expected 500 people. Seven people showed up. Guess what I did for them? I dumped everything I had on these seven people. Can you imagine us in a room for a day? It was like Shallow Hal stuck in the elevator. But then I changed my filter. I changed my pricing, and I changed the size and venue for my seminars. Instead of intimate sessions in my living room, we were doing events at Madison Square Garden and people could learn from everyone else sitting there, which added even more value and reshaped the entire experience of the service. In many ways, it’s the same core product, but a different filter can make massive difference.

Entrepreneur: How can an entrepreneur become a better person in order to become a better business owner?
Robbins: People may come to my events to change their business, but I’m also here to help them change their lives. We all want to take both our business and our lives to the next level, and your business is a beautiful vehicle for doing that — it gives immediate feedback whether you’re in the right state, whether you’re telling the right story, whether you’ve got the right strategies. And it can provide a vehicle for your economic freedom and an expression of what you value most.

It’s important to remember that most people spend more time in their business than they do with their children, or with their spouse. For most business owners, the business is just an extension of their identity. So when we can help people make a shift or a dramatic change in their own psychology, that spills over to impact their business and every other area of their life.

If you’re able to meet your top needs in a positive way, then your life will improve. Similarly, if your business is able to first identify, and then meet, your clients’ top needs in a unique way, then you will develop a raving fan culture. Whether you’re becoming a better person or a better business owner, it’s really all connected.

How we do what we do! How we added spice to over 1000 home grown brands!

A short animated film which explains the how, what and why of Idea Spice. This film explains in a fun manner who we are and what it takes for startups and SMEs to stand out from the clutter and connect emotionally with their consumer. We storyboarded this film and Ti22 animated the film. We had a blast making this film, hope you enjoy seeing it!

Home grown brands

A short film about inspiring start ups and their story.

Our heroes and inspirations who have taken that plunge and converted their ideas into successful entrepreneurial stories. We asked them a few questions and here are their responses and stories in a bid to galvanise other entrepreneurs.

In this session, we cover Pantry Cafe by Mahesh Kalwani, M2M bespoke tailors by Kamlesh Ramchandani, Little Champions by Sabina Azizova, Fuego by Arjun and Adarsh Kumar and Farada by Ravi Menghani. From over 1000 home grown brands we have partnered with to create, here are a few in an ongoing series of stories.

At Idea Spice design and Spice works interiors, we work with ambitious, visionary and fun entrepreneurs who have a vision to create and grown home grown brands into international successes!

Directed by Umair Tareen and Camera by Asif Limbada

Shot in Epic Red.

Interview about marketing for SMEs

An interview of mine by SupportBiz. Sharing this here.

May 24, 2013
Spice Holding Group: New age advertising and marketing for SMEs

The digital age gave birth to a democratic business ecosystem. Now with smart marketing practices, smaller companies can also have the liberty to access their clients themselves. The web interface allows the SMEs and start-ups to make a strong impression through their web presence. The social media platform too enables these new brands to have a direct connect and initiate a dialogue with their consumers. It sounds very lucrative; however, it has certain criticalities which can only be managed or judged by experts.

Sajith Ansar, founder and CEO of Spice Holding Group is an expert in this domain. Through his company, he caters to the needs of the SMEs’ non-traditional marketing practices. In an exclusive interaction with SupportBiz, he highlighted some glimpse of cutting edge trends in the non-traditional marketing and advertising practices for Indian SMEs.

Edited excerpts:

What are the key trends in the area of marketing and advertising?

The trend for today’s organizations is to constantly innovate methods that engage them directly with the consumers. Companies now are interacting with their specific clientele by using non-traditional media like social media platforms and activation ideas to emotionally connect with their consumers.

What are the roadblocks or challenges for better penetration of innovative marketing practices?

Social media and digital marketing is a double edged sword and unless there is enough preparation, this may backfire. Companies should know how to respond to complaints and attack on their integrity which happens publicly and may fan rumors and doubts easily. There are so many instances of companies, who have lost credibility because of using social media without preparation.

Reaching out to the market and customer engagement are two important deliverables of any advertising agency.

What is the level of understanding of Indian advertisers on these points? You can provide a comparative feedback based on UAE and other countries.

Indian advertisers have a great understanding of customer engagement and today more and more ads are born with strong Indian sensibilities without aping the west. Ads that connect with consumers across states and demographics, purely because they speak to the very heart of India. Blending elements like humor or sentiments with strong visuals that are rooted in India, so many brands have reached out and leapt into the hearts of consumers.

The UAE has another challenge of having hundreds of nationalities and the need to connect across all these sensibilities. UAE does not have much manufacturing industry and many foreign brands have entered the market with their own guidelines and DNA. Advertisers need to evaluate these frameworks and local cultural sensibilities and create advertising pieces that stand apart. Other challenge like smaller population and target market that the advertisers appeal to, also cut down budgets and media mix. I feel that advertisers in India are lot bolder with their concepts and media platforms today.

What is your go-to-market plan of action for Indian market?

We offer branding solutions for home grown brands in India and the GCC. We bring our knowledge and expertise of working with hundreds of brands worldwide. We work with startups and SMEs and local companies and help them compete with the multi-nationals. We help them find their USP and differentiation and communicate that effectively in an integrated manner.

Here’s the link to the article:

http://www.supportbiz.com/articles/top-story/spice-holding-group-new-age-advertising-and-marketing-smes.html

Brilliant article on the 25 characteristics of an entrepreneur from entrepreneur.com

25 Common Characteristics of Successful Entrepreneurs

Do you have what it takes to get through hard times? Here are the traits that help home-based business owners thrive.
BY  |This article has been excerpted from the Ultimate Home Based Business Handbook, by James Stephenson, available from Entrepreneur Press.


Regardless of your definition of success, there are, oddly enough, a great number of common characteristics that are shared by successful businesspeople. You can place a check beside each characteristic that you feel that you possess. This way, you can see how you stack up. Even if you don’t have all of these characteristics, don’t fret. Most can be learned with practice and by developing a winning attitude, especially if you set goals and apply yourself, through strategic planning, to reach those goals in incremental and measurable stages.

The Home Business Musts
Like any activity you pursue, there are certain musts that are required to be successful in a chosen activity. To legally operate a vehicle on public roadways, one must have a driver’s license; to excel in sports, one must train and practice; to retire comfortably, one must become an informed investor and actively invest for retirement. If your goal is success in business, then the formula is no different. There are certain musts that have to be fully developed, implemented and managed for your business to succeed. There are many business musts, but this article contains I believe to be some of the more important musts that are required to start, operate and grow a profitable home business.

1. Do what you enjoy.
What you get out of your business in the form of personal satisfaction, financial gain, stability and enjoyment will be the sum of what you put into your business. So if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, in all likelihood it’s safe to assume that will be reflected in the success of your business–or subsequent lack of success. In fact, if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, chances are you won’t succeed.

2. Take what you do seriously.
You cannot expect to be effective and successful in business unless you truly believe in your business and in the goods and services that you sell. Far too many home business owners fail to take their own businesses seriously enough, getting easily sidetracked and not staying motivated and keeping their noses to the grindstone. They also fall prey to naysayers who don’t take them seriously because they don’t work from an office building, office park, storefront, or factory. Little do these skeptics, who rain on the home business owner’s parade, know is that the number of people working from home, and making very good annual incomes, has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years.

3. Plan everything.
Planning every aspect of your home business is not only a must, but also builds habits that every home business owner should develop, implement, and maintain. The act of business planning is so important because it requires you to analyze each business situation, research and compile data, and make conclusions based mainly on the facts as revealed through the research. Business planning also serves a second function, which is having your goals and how you will achieve them, on paper. You can use the plan that you create both as map to take you from point A to Z and as a yardstick to measure the success of each individual plan or segment within the plan.

4. Manage money wisely.
The lifeblood of any business enterprise is cash flow. You need it to buy inventory, pay for services, promote and market your business, repair and replace tools and equipment, and pay yourself so that you can continue to work. Therefore, all home business owners must become wise money managers to ensure that the cash keeps flowing and the bills get paid. There are two aspects to wise money management.

  1. The money you receive from clients in exchange for your goods and services you provide (income)
  2. The money you spend on inventory, supplies, wages and other items required to keep your business operating. (expenses)

5. Ask for the sale.
A home business entrepreneur must always remember that marketing, advertising, or promotional activities are completely worthless, regardless of how clever, expensive, or perfectly targeted they are, unless one simple thing is accomplished–ask for the sale. This is not to say that being a great salesperson, advertising copywriting whiz or a public relations specialist isn’t a tremendous asset to your business. However, all of these skills will be for naught if you do not actively ask people to buy what you are selling.

6. Remember it’s all about the customer.
Your home business is not about the products or services that you sell. Your home business is not about the prices that you charge for your goods and services. Your home business is not about your competition and how to beat them. Your business is all about your customers, or clients, period. After all, your customers are the people that will ultimately decide if your business goes boom or bust. Everything you do in business must be customer focused, including your policies, warranties, payment options, operating hours, presentations, advertising and promotional campaigns and website. In addition, you must know who your customers are inside out and upside down.

7. Become a shameless self-promoter (without becoming obnoxious).
One of the greatest myths about personal or business success is that eventually your business, personal abilities, products or services will get discovered and be embraced by the masses that will beat a path to your door to buy what you are selling. But how can this happen if no one knows who you are, what you sell and why they should be buying?

Self-promotion is one of the most beneficial, yet most underutilized, marketing tools that the majority of home business owners have at their immediate disposal.

8. Project a positive business image.
You have but a passing moment to make a positive and memorable impression on people with whom you intend to do business. Home business owners must go out of their way and make a conscious effort to always project the most professional business image possible. The majority of home business owners do not have the advantage of elaborate offices or elegant storefronts and showrooms to wow prospects and impress customers. Instead, they must rely on imagination, creativity and attention to the smallest detail when creating and maintaining a professional image for their home business.

9. Get to know your customers.
One of the biggest features and often the most significant competitive edge the home based entrepreneur has over the larger competitors is the he can offer personalized attention. Call it high-tech backlash if you will, but customers are sick and tired of hearing that their information is somewhere in the computer and must be retrieved, or told to push a dozen digits to finally get to the right department only to end up with voice mail–from which they never receive a return phone call.

The home business owner can actually answer phone calls, get to know customers, provide personal attention and win over repeat business by doing so. It’s a researched fact that most business (80 percent) will come from repeat customers rather than new customers. Therefore, along with trying to draw newcomers, the more you can do to woo your regular customers, the better off you will be in the long run and personalized attention is very much appreciated and remembered in the modern high tech world.

10. Level the playing field with technology.
You should avoid getting overly caught up in the high-tech world, but you should also know how to take advantage of using it. One of the most amazing aspects of the internet is that a one or two person business operating from a basement can have a superior website to a $50 million company, and nobody knows the difference. Make sure you’re keeping up with the high-tech world as it suits your needs.. The best technology is that which helps you, not that which impresses your neighbors.

11. Build a top-notch business team.
No one person can build a successful business alone. It’s a task that requires a team that is as committed as you to the business and its success. Your business team may include family members, friends, suppliers, business alliances, employees, sub-contractors, industry and business associations, local government and the community. Of course the most important team members will be your customers or clients. Any or all may have a say in how your business will function and a stake in your business future.

12. Become known as an expert.
When you have a problem that needs to be solved, do you seek just anyone’s advice or do you seek an expert in the field to help solve your particular problem? Obviously, you want the most accurate information and assistance that you can get. You naturally seek an expert to help solve your problem. You call a plumber when the hot water tank leaks, a real estate agent when it’s time to sell your home or a dentist when you have a toothache. Therefore, it only stands to reason that the more you become known for your expertise in your business, the more people will seek you out to tap into your expertise, creating more selling and referral opportunities. In effect, becoming known as an expert is another style of prospecting for new business, just in reverse. Instead of finding new and qualified people to sell to, these people seek you out for your expertise.

13. Create a competitive advantage.
A home business must have a clearly defined unique selling proposition. This is nothing more than a fancy way of asking the vital question, “Why will people choose to do business with you or purchase your product or service instead of doing business with a competitor and buying his product or service?” In other words, what one aspect or combination of aspects is going to separate your business from your competition? Will it be better service, a longer warranty, better selection, longer business hours, more flexible payment options, lowest price, personalized service, better customer service, better return and exchange policies or a combination of several of these?

14. Invest in yourself.
Top entrepreneurs buy and read business and marketing books, magazines, reports, journals, newsletters, websites and industry publications, knowing that these resources will improve their understanding of business and marketing functions and skills. They join business associations and clubs, and they network with other skilled business people to learn their secrets of success and help define their own goals and objectives. Top entrepreneurs attend business and marketing seminars, workshops and training courses, even if they have already mastered the subject matter of the event. They do this because they know that education is an ongoing process. There are usually ways to do things better, in less time, with less effort. In short, top entrepreneurs never stop investing in the most powerful, effective and best business and marketing tool at their immediate disposal–themselves.

15. Be accessible.
We’re living in a time when we all expect our fast food lunch at the drive-thru window to be ready in mere minutes, our dry cleaning to be ready for pick-up on the same day, our money to be available at the cash machine and our pizza delivered in 30 minutes or it’s free. You see the pattern developing–you must make it as easy as you can for people to do business with you, regardless of the home business you operate.

You must remain cognizant of the fact that few people will work hard, go out of their way, or be inconvenienced just for the privilege of giving you their hard-earned money. The shoe is always on the other foot. Making it easy for people to do business with you means that you must be accessible and knowledgeable about your products and services. You must be able to provide customers with what they want, when they want it.

16. Build a rock-solid reputation.
A good reputation is unquestionably one of the home business owner’s most tangible and marketable assets. You can’t simply buy a good reputation; it’s something that you earn by honoring your promises. If you promise to have the merchandise in the customer’s hands by Wednesday, you have no excuse not to have it there. If you offer to repair something, you need to make good on your offer. Consistency in what you offer is the other key factor. If you cannot come through with the same level of service (and products) for clients on a regular basis, they have no reason to trust you . . . and without trust, you won’t have a good reputation.

17. Sell benefits.
Pushing product features is for inexperienced or wannabe entrepreneurs. Selling the benefits associated with owning and using the products and services you carry is what sales professionals worldwide focus on to create buying excitement and to sell, sell more, and sell more frequently to their customers. Your advertising, sales presentations, printed marketing materials, product packaging, website, newsletters, trade show exhibit and signage are vital. Every time and every medium used to communicate with your target audience must always be selling the benefits associated with owning your product or using your service.

18. Get involved.
Always go out of your way to get involved in the community that supports your business. You can do this in many ways, such as pitching in to help local charities or the food bank, becoming involved in organizing community events, and getting involved in local politics. You can join associations and clubs that concentrate on programs and policies designed to improve the local community. It’s a fact that people like to do business with people they know, like and respect, and with people who do things to help them as members of the community.

19. Grab attention.
Small-business owners cannot waste time, money and energy on promotional activities aimed at building awareness solely through long-term, repeated exposure. If you do, chances are you will go broke long before this goal is accomplished. Instead, every promotional activity you engage in, must put money back in your pocket so that you can continue to grab more attention and grow your business.

20. Master the art of negotiations.
The ability to negotiate effectively is unquestionably a skill that every home business owner must make every effort to master. It’s perhaps second in importance only to asking for the sale in terms of home business musts. In business, negotiation skills are used daily. Always remember that mastering the art of negotiation means that your skills are so finely tuned that you can always orchestrate a win-win situation. These win-win arrangements mean that everyone involved feels they have won, which is really the basis for building long-term and profitable business relationships.

21. Design Your workspace for success.
Carefully plan and design your home office workspace to ensure maximum personal performance and productivity and, if necessary, to project professionalism for visiting clients. If at all possible, resist the temptation to turn a corner of the living room or your bedroom into your office. Ideally, you’ll want a separate room with a door that closes to keep business activities in and family members out, at least during prime business and revenue generating hours of the day. A den, spare bedroom, basement or converted garage are all ideal candidates for your new home office. If this is not possible, you’ll have to find a means of converting a room with a partition or simply find hours to do the bulk of your work when nobody else is home.

22. Get and stay organized.
The key to staying organized is not about which type of file you have or whether you keep a stack or two of papers on your desk, but it’s about managing your business. It’s about having systems in place to do things. Therefore, you wan to establish a routine by which you can accomplish as much as possible in a given workday, whether that’s three hours for a part-time business or seven or nine hours as a full-timer. In fact, you should develop systems and routines for just about every single business activity. Small things such as creating a to-do list at the end of each business day, or for the week, will help keep you on top of important tasks to tackle. Creating a single calendar to work from, not multiple sets for individual tasks or jobs, will also ensure that jobs are completed on schedule and appointments kept. Incorporating family and personal activities into your work calendar is also critical so that you work and plan from a single calendar.

23. Take time off.
The temptation to work around the clock is very real for some home business owners. After all, you don’t have a manager telling you it’s time to go home because they can’t afford the overtime pay. Every person working from home must take time to establish a regular work schedule that includes time to stretch your legs and take lunch breaks, plus some days off and scheduled vacations. Create the schedule as soon as you have made the commitment to start a home business. Of course, your schedule will have to be flexible. You should, therefore, not fill every possible hour in the day. Give yourself a backup hour or two. All work and no play makes you burn out very fast and grumpy customer service is not what people want.

24. Limit the number of hats you wear.
It’s difficult for most business owners not to take a hands-on approach. They try to do as much as possible and tackle as many tasks as possible in their business. The ability to multitask, in fact, is a common trait shared by successful entrepreneurs. However, once in a while you have to stand back and look beyond today to determine what’s in the best interest of your business and yourself over the long run. Most highly successful entrepreneurs will tell you that from the time they started out, they knew what they were good at and what tasks to delegate to others.

25. Follow-up constantly.
Constant contact, follow-up, and follow-through with customers, prospects, and business alliances should be the mantra of every home business owner, new or established. Constant and consistent follow-up enables you to turn prospects into customers, increase the value of each sale and buying frequency from existing customers, and build stronger business relationships with suppliers and your core business team. Follow-up is especially important with your existing customer base, as the real work begins after the sale. It’s easy to sell one product or service, but it takes work to retain customers and keep them coming back.

James Stephenson is an experienced home based consultant with more than 15 years of business and marketing experience.