From 6 figures to Zero and How I Rebuilt my Brand

It's been a tough time for small business, hasn't it? The global pandemic has seen industries and incomes disappear overnight as countries locked down, people stayed in and businesses stopped spending. My business is no exception. I run Brand by Me, a brand and strategy consultancy that helps organisations build brands that drive social change. I set up the business 4 years ago after spotting a need for big brand thinking amongst small, but ambitious organisations with big vision and a hunger to make a real impact. By 2018, we were turning over six figures, with a strong client base and a clearly defined niche. In 2019, the uncertainty around Brexit took its toll on the business (and the wider social change sector) and we reported a small loss for the first time ever. However, we managed to bounce back and as of the beginning of 2020, we had a pipeline of exciting contracts and were forecasting a return to our previous income levels. Until 23rd March 2020, when overnight we saw our pipeline disappear.

Loyal clients suddenly went silent. Paid speaking engagements were cancelled. Contracts were put on hold indefinitely. No work coming in AT ALL. And we weren't alone. Hundreds of thousands of businesses are in a similar, if not worse position. I wasn't eligible for any government help initially - until the furlough scheme launched, where I was able to furlough our only full-time employee for 3 months. Again, I'm not alone in all this. And I tell you this, not as a sob story but because of what happened next. Because it's almost 3 months on and we're still in lockdown. And even as restrictions ease, there won't be a sudden return to the way things were. Or even the sudden birth of a 'new normal'. It's not that simple. I've had to learn how to lead and steer our brand through these turbulent times - and help my clients do the same. So, as a brand strategist, I thought I'd share our 4 biggest lessons with you. 1. Reach out to your community It's really tempting to think we have to go it alone. But one of the best things about this time has been the way that communities have come together. Collaborating, offering and receiving help to make sure that we survive this together. So, reach out - give help where you can and ask for help where you need it. And remember you define your community. It could be an offline network that has moved online (like the awesome H&H crew), a new work-related group, your local neighbourhood or a brand-new tribe you've found through a lockdown activity. Now is a brilliant time to extend your network - and the act of giving AND receiving has never been more important. 2. Stay visible When our clients went quiet and the response to our emails was... crickets (!), it would have been easy to stop all outreach activity. When we're struggling, it's tempting to retreat and think no-one's interested in what we have to say. It's just not true. People want to hear from you. As long as you're open, honest, authentic and helpful. Definitely share your story, but now is not the time for a self-serving rant! (but when has that ever been appropriate). I did an 8 part YouTube Live series when this all kicked off called 'Steering your Brand through turbulent times' - it was really scary to put myself out there but so appreciated by my tribe - check it out here. PS By helpful, I don't mean toxic positivity. Don't pretend it's all brilliant or try and give everything a positive spin. It's inauthentic, insincere and people will see right through it. 3. Get creative One of the buzzwords I really hate right now is PIVOT. It contains the assumption that we must suddenly change the course of our business or do something totally different overnight. Not helpful BUT this is a time to be curious and explore new avenues - based on your passions, the things you love doing in your business (but never had the time) and applying your strengths in a new way. For example, I'm a big believer in the power of personal brand, especially for black women. And have long been frustrated by the superficial way it's often communicated. So, I started running deep dive 121 personal brand sessions, something I'd never had time for before. 4. Speak out The pandemic is hitting the most vulnerable hard. As I write #BlackLivesMatter is gaining global momentum as a force to change, not just a hashtag. Social impact is seen as a priority for all brands, not just charities and social enterprises. So, it's really important that we speak out on the issues we believe in. Not just personally but professionally too. Sharing our stories and how we are actively supporting causes creates impact. Don't stay silent for fear of alienating people or because you're worried about being seen as 'unprofessional'. Find your voice and speak out!

Yes, it's been tough. But over this time there has been opportunity too. I've been asked to speak at AMAZING online conferences, to a size of audience I'd never have reached at a face to face event. I've won new clients for work that would not have happened had it not been for the pandemic. I've pushed myself out of my comfort zone and am more visible than I've ever been before. And I've learned how to let go of things that don't serve me and are beyond my control. What are your lockdown lessons? I'd love to know! Collette Philip is the Founder and Managing Director of Brand by Me. You can connect with her on LinkedIn or follow on Twitter or Facebook.

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