Series 3 Episode 9 – The Importance of Small Business Brand Strategy with Deborah O’Grady
In this week’s episode I’m interviewing Deborah O’Grady. I wanted to bring Deborah on to the podcast today to give her an opportunity to talk through her own personal experience and personal story about how she went from working as a high valued experienced marketeer who’s been the brains behind brands such as Silent Night, Nivea for Men, and Irn Bru. I’ve asked Deborah about how she transitioned from working in a high salaried, high impact corporate organisation into her current role as a brand strategist and coach working on small business brand strategy. Deborah has been in the business for over twenty years and she’s run her own successful business for over eight years.
We talk about;
- How much Deborah believes you should be sharing your own personal story in your branding messages
- How she dealt with money blocks when she transitioned
- The importance of investing in yourself
- How to discover your superpower
- What niching down actually means
- What you should do in order to create importance around your branding
- The importance of branding power
Good morning Deborah, great to have you. Could you start by telling us a little bit about yourself, your mission in the world, and your business.
Yeah absolutely. I’ve worked for big brands in different sectors for a long time, working at different agencies in London and Yorkshire, finally setting up my own branding agency. I started looking into entrepreneurs and seeing what they were doing, and I think there’s a huge disconnect with entrepreneurs and smaller businesses where they’re not actually addressing the brand and seeing the power of their brand. There’s a huge process that the large brands go through which I’ve taken many through, and I wanted to see how I could change that process to have more of a meaningful experience for entrepreneurs. So my mission is to bring that big brand experience to create a brand that entrepreneurs feel really confident and have absolute clarity with.
Really interesting. From a branding perspective, you mentioned about taking that experience that you’ve had with working major brands; would you say that the strategy behind that is the same for small business owners as it is for large organisations?
I think it’s more personal. I think setting up a business is a fast track in self-development, you know! You’re saying “This is me” and you’re promoting me.
I’ve been investing in personal development for 20 years, and I truly think that branding is very much interconnected with that. I actually went and started training in life coaching and it wasn’t for me, but what I got from that was tremendous. I could marry my skills and see blocks with clients. I could create an amazing small business brand strategy, a beautiful visual identity, but if you’re not feeling it and you’re not clear on it and you’re not confident with it, that will stop you. You will not be successful.
What kind of challenges would stop people from embracing that? We’ve talked about this on the podcast quite a lot, about money blocks and self belief blocks; we don’t believe that we’re deserving of creating successful businesses, maybe because of a message that we heard growing up about money, or an experience that we’ve had in the past. Subconsciously that has a huge impact, doesn’t it, on our own self belief?
Hugely. I think more so for the generation of 35+, because we were brought up in a generation where there was a lot of “You are not good enough” and “You could do beter” messages. There are deep-rooted beliefs in that generation, whereas there’s a totally new kind of energy with Millennials. I did some research for a client who was a millennial business coach, and her language to her clients for example on her sales pages – everything was all about “You can!” It was empowering; “You can do this” and “I’m with you”. The research came back and it showed 91% of these Millennials felt that they were a boss already, that they were a leader. All those messages weren’t hitting because that tone of voice wasn’t right for them; you’re not talking to me, I won’t buy from you. So we changed the language and the business just changed. Just from changing the language and repositioning.
Let’s just unpick that. What you mentioned there is so important; that analysis and research, that competitor analysis, and research on your audience. People are so afraid when they first set up their business about niching down and the concept of niche. My first business coach asked me about who I was gonna be talking to, and I had this massive fear and block; if I niche then I’m not going to attract enough people. But niching the best decision I ever made. As soon as you niche your message and your language can be much more specific to the challenges and pain points of your audience.
Yeah you need to be speaking to that one person, but you don’t necessarily have to niche in sector. Niching is a really overused term, and it’s really difficult to understand sometimes, because in this online world there’s so many so-called experts giving their views, and I think you’ve got to be worried about who you’re listening to. Find out where that expertise is coming from. LinkedIn is great for that; if you are listening to someone’s opinion and you think oh my god this is really good, go look at their expertise see where they’ve come from. If they’ve not been a business coach and they’ve worked in education all their life, and now they’re talking about business – is that that best advice?
The whole thing about niching is it’s also about positioning. It’s not necessarily ‘I’m gonna serve women, they’re gonna be this age, they’re interested in this, this is their pain point, this is what motivates them to buy.’ I think it can be basically niching based on what you can deliver. It’s understanding what your superpower is and who is that person that is looking for that. I think that’s what’s really important.
How can we begin to understand what our superpower is?
Okay, well that’s my superpower! I’ve been doing this for so many years, there is this understanding that as soon as I start talking to somebody it’s like my brain goes into fact-finding. When I’m working with a client, I’m actually asking those questions that are going to give me those results. I take them through a journey. I’ll be asking them questions which sound like I’m repeating myself, but it’s just a different way and finding how they feel comfortable in giving me the answers. And it’s all there, we all know! As soon as I connect a client with their superpower, the best feedback I get is “Oh my god that was easy, why didn’t I think of that?!” because then I know it’s right.
Give me an example of a question that you would ask somebody in that discovery process to get them thinking about their superpower?
One of them – and a lot of clients like this – is “If you were a product in a supermarket what would you be?” and another one is “If you were a gadget…” That talks about skills. And then other people identify with certain brands and that really helps me get inside their head. If you ask somebody “I need to find out all about you” they’re gonna dump a whole lot of beliefs on you that aren’t true, they’re going to probably not tell you the things that they’re awesome at because they sometimes don’t know what they’re awesome at.
For me small business brand strategy is about asking really deep questions that works. I worked with a agency owner in London, and this was a guy actually. I always ask clients what are you doing in five years time where are you what are you doing, and I often ask clients to try to close their eyes with this. Really go deep; where are you, what does it smell like, what does it feel like? He described San Francisco and so we then we talked about it. He was like “Actually I’ve got loads of opportunities over there,. I don’t actually want to do this re-brand and stay in London.” It was just a moment, and it was a real shift. So this is deep stuff, it’s exciting.
But I think sometimes a lot of people think branding is superficial. For you to connect with that right audience you’ve got to connect with them emotionally, and the only way you’re gonna do that is be totally real. It’s stripping somebody bare, finding out what they are and really bringing that to life. It’s fascinating; one client came to me with this brilliant business model, and we started working through things and on a questionnaire that she filled in there was just one one tiny comment that said “oh actually I’ve also got this blog business” So I probed her on that and she was like “Oh my god I love it!” So I asked why she was going down this route. She’d experienced some bullying, actually, from a competitor who said to her if you set up doing anything with this blog business I will come after you. So she squashed that dream, and that was just a belief – this competitor couldn’t do anything, and this competitor was actually scared of the success that this woman would have because this idea was bigger and better.
That’s incredible. I’ve just launched an Inner Circle Mastermind program and all the ladies in there are in the position where they’re just starting their businesses. Quite a lot of women that I speak with who are at that stage have so much fear around getting themselves out into the world, with their message. You mentioned earlier about being honest and raw; do you think it is okay to share your own personal story in business?
Okay I’ve got a real opinion on this; I don’t believe that everybody should have a sob story, because not everybody does have a sob story. And the whole oversharing – I’m not truly comfortable with that. There’s some things that I’ll share, there’s some things I don’t want to share. I’m not an oversharer. I am very open, I’m very honest, but but I’m not an oversharer. I don’t believe it should be about this kind of sob story. Everybody has a story, but a story could be just where you began and how you’ve grown, and any of those aha moments that people can can relate to. But this whole ‘your story’ I think it’s just been blown out of proportion. I can imagine business owners out there thinking I don’t have a story, what story shall I have? It’s not about that.
Tell us about a little bit your story. How did you get into the position that you’re in, running a very successful business?
When I was little and I always thought of these great ideas, and I got criticised. People thought I was a bit crazy. I created a festival and lots of stalls, and we raised money for charity, so I was always enterprising, and I was really creative.
I got into the advertising agency, and I was doing TV production, press, everything. That got me into the glitzy world of advertising, but obviously behind every great brand there’s also the research and the branding. So I worked very heavily with different brands, and then I got to a point where I was moving from agency to agency and clients were actually asking me “We want you to brand, would you set up by yourself?” So that’s what I did. I set up my own agency and I grew.
I actually didn’t set that brand up right, because I actually had a client to serve and I had to fly really fast delivering. That was a brand that happened overnight, because we had clients to serve. Whereas other businesses have had a long drawn-out brand journey. So my story was working with big brands, working with some inspiring people, and then I eventually got totally burned out and very disillusioned with the big corporates. In the agency industry it’s all about service; agencies are very fearful of their clients going to somebody else, and that means a whole load of redundancies. So you’re not protected in an agency because the agency is not protected against losing clients. You’re taught to really over service these clients, and playing client services is paramount in that industry.
So yeah, I got totally burnt out and I started questioning branding these bigger businesses and the why behind it. That’s what led me to then create this brand building small business brand strategy.
It seems to me from day dot you were this creative young-preneur already; it makes sense for you to be running a creative business. When we’re thinking about where to start with building an idea, it’s about using what naturally is there, but putting that out in a way that inspires you and that makes you want to get out of bed in the morning. So I can already kind of see that it feels natural for you to be this amazing brand strategist and coach, because you’re a creator.
I think as well people can look at an old career and think yeah I don’t want to do that, that’s my old me. But it’s part of you. You’ve been on a journey to get where you are, and so amalgamating lots of different career journeys; don’t discount what you’ve done. It’s not about reinventing it’s about repositioning.
How did you transition financially from that position into running your own business?
I changed from corporate to working with smaller businesses, and I had a block. I had a big block, and I presumed that female entrepreneurs had small budgets, and how could I really pull my prices down to serve these people. That’s what I would do; I would say it was a ridiculous amount reduced, it’s crazy. And to do that I had to look at finances elsewhere. How could I do this without without me having the financial pressure?
I didn’t have any money behind me, and I had to borrow money because I was earning really well at the agency. I had what some could call a nervous breakdown or a spiritual awakening; there was something going on where I just had to do this. We had all the renovation work going on we just bought a house, and so it was a case of saying to my husband; I felt nervous, scared, crazy, but I knew it was right and I had to do this. It’s been really tough, but but I knew if I could make money in my other agency I could do that again.
I can see that’s bringing up some emotion for you, and I think for a lot of female entrepreneurs there are so many emotions attached to money. You’ve talked about having the block and belief that to serve the clients that you felt that you’d have to price your services in a certain way. Let’s unpick that; where did you start with that money block, and how did you begin to remove yourself from that block so that you could run the sort of business that you wanted to run and and serve the type of clients that you wanted to serve?
I was known as somebody in my industry; I got work through referral and I often had to wear a mask when I was in sales mode if you like. Coming into an online industry where all of a sudden I was a newbie, I had to get rid of all this ego stuff that was going on because I had to start from scratch. I had no email list, I had no audience. That rocked my confidence, because the business wasn’t there. I had to work on my own confidence, and I had my own coach. EFT is just like a godsend to me; breaking down a belief that just isn’t there, it’s emotionally stored in the body and it’s just kind of clearing that.
You used EFT to help you to get rid of some of those blocks?
Yeah, I had a coach that I worked with absolutely every week, because if I hadn’t had that support I think I would have gone back into corporate. I had lots of wobbles, but I knew that this was my purpose and I kept going, and the more confidence I got the more it wasn’t necessarily about the rates I was charging. It was more about the value I was giving, and it was like this is crazy it needs to be bumped up.For me I’m very conscious about if it’s too cheap and these people are really experienced, the amount that you’re charging has an energy. I’ve got a client actually who says there’s a poor price, there’s a perfect price, and then there’s the taking the piss price. I think it’s what feels right, and you should absolutely stick with it.
When I first started my business I wanted to help everybody, because that’s who I am. I want to educate and prepare and equip as many women to be financially resilient as possible. I wasn’t charging enough for my services, but I’ve learned in the last few years you can’t serve your clients to your best ability if you don’t look after yourself. One of the things that I decided to do was to launch a really low-cost membership so that all the people that I really wanted to serve, I can serve in a way that is priced to their price point. I offer them something that I know is going to create them amazing value, but at the same time it then frees up more of my time to then focus on my one-to-one work. If you’re in that position where you’ve got a real giving relationship with money, think about how could you serve those clients in a way that isn’t necessarily the main part of your business. Could you launch a podcast, write a blog every week, do a Facebook live every week? Then you can still feel like you’re giving to the audience that you want to serve, but you still have to make a profit in your business. If you’re not making profit from your business and you’re not helping yourself profit from the business, it’s not a business. What other lessons did you learn when growing your business? You had a you had an EFT coach, did you have any business coaches or anybody else supporting you?
Yeah, not necessarily a business coach but more of a kind of transformational coach who helped me look at kind of encompassing everything. Because the business that we nowadays run has an impact. It’s your business, your life, your family, it’s interconnected. So I got the help that I needed, and I think to grow you need to invest in yourself and in your business. If you’re not investing there’s an absolute block that you don’t believe you are gonna be the success that you want. If you’re actually parting with money, you’re saying this is my dream this is what I want, you can get me there and I’ll do the rest.
There’s too many people out there that either aren’t willing to invest or they’re not willing to put the work in. And I think as coaches we should really look at those people and turn them away as clients if they’re not ready. I believe as a coach that their success is your success. I’ll say to clients you need to work on this, this, and this and then come back. Some don’t like it but I can’t serve them the best way on their small business brand strategy if there’s a block about what they want to do. I think it’s identifying those those things with your clients.
Were there any books you would recommend that inspired you?
I love Brene Brown. She’s everything you would want in a business owner; if you had a boss she would she would be the ultimate boss. She teaches about vulnerability but there’s power in that. I’ve read all Brene Brown’s books and loved them. My favourite was Dare to Lead, because the time I was working with quite a few agencies – so I was actually going into two marketing agencies that delivered branding for their clients, and I was going to help them reposition and rebrand. With that came a whole host of ego, especially when I was working with all the stakeholders because here is this woman coming in to tell us how to rebrand when we’ve just won awards based on doing this for our clients. That was really tough call and I really had to to deliver. I really had to stand my ground and I got a lot of backlash from that, and that that book really helped me through that. I was daring to lead and I wouldn’t have been doing my job if I pulled away. When you’re dealing with a board that you know some people have not bought into hiring you, that takes courage and it’s uncomfortable.
In your business Deborah, as the brand strategist and coach; how are you helping to serve your clients for the rest of this year, and how can people follow you who are interested in looking at getting clear on their brand strategy and their message?
I’m actually gonna be running a free week’s worth of brand coaching absolutely free, beginning the first weekend in October. So if people go to my website which is thebrandcoach.co.uk and just sign up online you you’ll you’ll be the first to know when the wait list opens for that. So this will be about looking deep into your purpose, and it’s the big piece of work that I always do with my clients. A lot of clients will say about purpose “I set this up because I didn’t want to go back into corporate” Nobody’s gonna buy from you because of that. It’s really understanding what is your purpose, why did you set up to do this and what value can you give. So there’s gonna be a workshop on that, and there’s going to be talking about the power of your brand and how it can elevate your business. I also have all my packages; I have a full brand experience on my website.
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Brene Brown – Dare to Lead