The past several weeks I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the work associated with and the consequences of re-branding something. In part, I’m talking about my Blog but also some of the products that I have developed and some of my services offerings through my consulting company. The process made me sit down, think about re-branding in general, and do some research. Here’s what I learned.
Why Should You Re-brand?
There are a few different reasons to re-brand a product, offering, or company. The first is to shed a negative image. On May 11th, 1996 a DC-9 flown crashed in the Everglades killing 110 people. The airline that owned the plane was ValuJet. They were grounded by the government for three months following the incident. When they were given permission to begin flying again, they found it very difficult to attract customers because the public perception was that their low fares lead to shoddy maintenance and ultimately the crash. In 1997, ValuJet purchased a competitor that was one-third their size and re-branded the entire company to use the name of their newly acquired competitor. That company was AirTran.
The second reason for re-branding is to attract new customers. Sometimes even the name for a product doesn’t quite make sense. It’s unwieldy and doesn’t quite roll off the tongue. In early 2007, a company called SimulScribe was selling voicemail-to-text software and felt the company name was holding them back. They received a lot of their business from word of mouth referrals, but the name was difficult to spell and didn’t roll off the tongue.
They hired a re-branding consultant which ultimately didn’t work out. Eventually, the founder came up with the new name while on his own during a flight from LA to New York City. That name was PhoneTag. They had some challenges, but the new name seemed to work out really well. Their daily sign up rate is up 40% and the number of customer referrals has tripled. The only downside to the re-branding effort was not doing it sooner.
The third reason to re-brand is to focus your efforts, either because you didn’t have focus in the past, or because you’re trying to appeal to a sub-market. Many manufacturers re-brand their products to enter a lower end segment because they don’t want to dilute the value of their core brand or don’t want the new brand to be dragged down by the old one. For example Lexus is well known as a luxury car, but it is owned by Toyota. Dexxa is the name on low priced computer mice, but is manufactured by Logitech. There are a lot of other examples, but the key component here is making sure that the new brand doesn’t have a negative effect on the old brand or be influenced by the old brand.
Problems With Re-branding
Re-branding is a difficult thing to do correctly. It’s easy to change the name of something. It’s much harder to make it work to your advantage and in exactly the way that you intend. One of the difficulties with re-branding is striking a balance between attracting new customers, and alienating old ones. This applies whether you’re re-branding a product, a service or a blog. In a way, readers of your blog are customers. They have been attracted to your site for one or more articles that were written and subscribed for the same reasons. Re-branding can alienate some of them because you might not be focused on what originally attracted them, so some attrition is going to occur.
The same is true for products or services. A balance must be struck between going too far in the re-branding effort, and not far enough. How far you should go is dictated by your reasons for re-branding. If it is to shed a negative image, you will need to do a complete overhaul. If your intent is to attract new customers, then a mid-level change is required to strike a balance. And if you simply want to reinforce your brand with the existing customer base, then perhaps a fresh coat of paint will suffice.
No matter what, you need to have a plan moving forward. Without a plan, the re-branding process will not be as effective as it needs to be to make it work.
Re-branding The Single Founder Blog
So all of that re-branding mumbo-jumbo was a lead in to this. What follows are the efforts I’ve taken thus far, and will take in the future to re-brand my blog. I’ll post about some of my other re-branding efforts in the future, but one thing at a time.
In the past, I only offered RSS as a subscription method, but within the last month or so, I added the ability to subscribe via via email using Google Feedburner as the back end. It’s worked out well enough so far, and I’ve only had one person unsubscribe since I implemented it at the end of September. He or she might have switched to RSS, but I don’t know for sure. Other email subscribers have trickled in, but I suspect that people prefer to use RSS to manage their subscriptions instead of email. I’ve gathered a lot more RSS subscribers in the past 4 weeks than email subscribers. I’ve also started using and in only a week with absolutely zero marketing, I have a modest following of about 20 people already, none of whom I’ve ever met face to face.
The reality is that I have no good way of tracking whether I’m really getting the message out about being a single founder and running your own company from the comfort of your own home. I know others are making taking a similar journey and making it work, but I feel that the journey itself is just as important as the destination. I’d like to share that journey with as many people as possible and measuring subscribers is a much better indicator than unique website visitors.
Next, is obviously the face lift itself. I implemented a new theme, but the categories need to be changed up a bit because the new theme has them listed across the top of the menu bar and doesn’t display all of them. There’s a few cleanup items to do concerning the excerpts on the main page and adding a few descriptive pages to the site, but it looks a lot better than the previous SimpleX WordPress theme I was using. I have a list of things that I’m working through right now.
New Domain Name
Perhaps the most significant change I’m making is to focus the content of the site more on how to build a business consisting of a recurring revenue stream as a single founder company, which some refer to as a solopreneur. About 2 years ago, I blogged about trying to land the singlefounder.com domain, only to find that someone else registered it a few days before I had. It had been on my radar to snag the domain name for months, but I waited because I was an idiot. Actually, I felt that I didn’t have the time to go about doing something significant with it so wasn’t willing to shell out a mere $10 for a domain when I wasn’t ready to use it. That’s prudent for some things, but not domain names.
Anyway, I contacted Scott Preston, who had purchased the site immediately after he registered it. He is a fellow blogger based in Ohio, has written a book on programming robots using Java, and seems like my kind of techie. Unfortunately, he wasn’t terribly interested in selling the domain as he had some of the same ideas I did about building it out into a place where people could leverage it as a resource for building single founder companies. Fast forward two years and he still hadn’t done anything with it. In fact, it didn’t point to a server at all. I considered making him another offer, but decided against it. I don’t know what he would have sold it me for or whether he would have sold it at all. In the end, Scott didn’t bother to renew the domain and I ended up buying the domain name as it expired without forking over loads of cash.
I’ll give the story behind how to buy expiring domain names in the next couple of weeks, but I think you’ll find the process interesting. I also managed to snag miketaber.com using the same method. If you don’t want to miss that story, subscribe now using either RSS or email. *hint* *hint*
More Frequent Blog Posts
For those of you who have been following me for the past few years, you’ll have noticed that since 2007, I’ve been rather absent. I’ve had a lot going on. I’ve added two children to my family, expanded my company, contracted my company, ridden an economic boom, suffered through the economic slowdown, opened an office, closed an office, and finished a Masters degree, among other things. It’s a lot to deal with, but I think I’ve learned how to manage it all moving forward. This past month, I’ve started writing a lot more and you can expect more of the same as time goes on. If you’ve lost faith since 2007 that I would shed some light on running a business as a single founder company, my apologies. I aim to right that wrong ASAP.
On that note, leaving comments or questions helps keep me going. If you want to help keep this blog going and appreciate the advice, distraction from reality, and general edutainment that it gives you, just post to the comments. It’s virtually no effort on your part, but does a great deal for my motivation to continue.
This Time It Will Be Different
In any case, I intend to move forward with the singlefounder.com domain name to provide a real identity for my blog and to reflect my goals for the future. I’m still a tech geek at heart. I love writing software, I really like interfacing software and hardware; doing cool geeky things is fun, but doing fun stuff doesn’t provide the lifestyle that I want. At least not yet it hasn’t.
I’ve been self employed for more than 4 years now and I’m not quite where I want to be. I’ve come to realize that I know exactly why I’m not. It’s because I lost focus of my goals. I used to post my goals at the beginning of each year. I did it in 2006 and again in 2007. Somehow I got off track posting those goals in 2008 and 2009, but realistically I got off track long before then. You see, once the consulting business started to take off, I never reviewed the goals I had written to begin with. I just ran off into the weeds without looking at the map I laid out. Bad Single Founder, no donut! It’s time to change all that.
In a way, I feel like PC guy in the Mac commercials. “This time it will be different. Trust me.”
But this time it will be different and for one very important reason. My life has changed, and my new goals reflect that. Back in 2005 when I started my journey toward self employment, I had one goal in mind, which was to run my own company and not have to work for someone else. It’s been 4 years now and I’ve been largely successful with that. It hasn’t been quite as smooth as I would have liked, but it has worked out well enough so far. Now I have a new goal which simply builds on the previous one.
My Next Goal
To transition my situation from offering consulting services to offering software products.
Over the past several years, I’ve traveled a lot for work, averaging about 3 months of every year on the road. It was fun at first. I flew all over the US from Minneapolis to southern Texas. From Boston to Vegas. I even did work overseas, flying to Paris, Athens, San Juan and working with a client out of Australia. I’m married, but the money was great and the wife understood what I was doing. Then I had two kids.
It’s a lot harder to leave two kids at home when they’re so young, because they grow up so fast and I feel like I missed quite a few things; like rolling over for the first time, the first few steps, the first hand wave, the first high five, etc. I probably would have missed them anyway, regardless of how I was making ends meet. But at such a young age, they learn to do so much in a week that I felt like I missed a lot more than I should have due to my travels. Besides I really liked traveling at first. I loved it even. It’s very exciting to fly into a new city or country, explore it as much as you are able in the time that you have, and then go off to something new. It just doesn’t work for me anymore.
So my new focus is to run my business completely from home to spend more time with my family, while making what I hope will be a substantial living doing it. It’s going to take time to put all of the different pieces together, but this blog will serve as the place where I document the journey, my successes, my failures, and the tools I use to get there.
The nice part is that I have a much more substantial network of people to help me than I did several years ago. I have software and hardware infrastructures in place from my consulting company, and at this point, I understand what it takes to maintain a company and grow it.
I will post my concrete goals in a blog entry next week, so stay tuned for more detailed information. Just one other quick hint before I go. Subscribe to this blog. I promise that I’ll make it well worth your while as I describe in detail my successes and failures on this expanded journey.