How to Avoid the Broke Brand Trap

adrienne graham

Contributed post by Adrienne Graham

The early days of starting a business can be a hard time for some entrepreneurs. In an ideal world, we all want to open our doors and welcome a flood of new eager clients ready open their checkbooks to do business with us. The reality is only a small percentage of new entrepreneurs are fortunate enough to start off with even the smallest roster of paying clients.

The remaining entrepreneurs have to figure a way to be able to prove their worth, showcase their talent, and if they’re lucky, convince new clients to take a chance on them. It’s standard practice to have to pay some dues before you hit the big time. Everyone has to prove themselves.

Free Doesn’t Produce Fees

Often when new business owners aren’t seasoned enough to understand that they are worth what they ask for, they leave themselves open to being taken advantage of. I’m sure you’ve heard stories of business owners who were intent on getting people to like and accept them in the beginning by giving away all the goods and barely breaking even simply because someone told them that in order to be successful they had to give away a lot for the privilege of being able to charge decent fees. While my motto is Free Don’t Produce Fees (yes, I even put it on a t-shirt), if done in moderation, you can give away valuable free content and services designed to lead to conversion.

The Broke Brand Trap (and How I Fell Into It)

When I made the transition from recruiting to business growth strategies consulting, I had to rebrand myself all over again and prove that I had what clients needed. People were used to my expertise in recruiting, so business growth strategies was new to them. Some were a bit skeptical and needed more proof that I knew what I was doing. So I set off on a mission to over share, and over deliver all across social media, at networking events, conferences and even at colleges. Wherever I could get an opportunity to speak or write, I’d take it. Many of the gigs didn’t pay, but that was OK because I was getting in front of a lot of people. 

The problem was I wasn’t getting in front of the right people. What happened was I started speaking and writing, and added my radio show and blogging to the mix. People soon looked at me was the go-to gal for small business advice. It was a great feeling in the beginning. Then one day something happened. I looked at my bank account and realized I was helping everyone else make money with my free advice, while my balance was steadily depleting. In my quest to make sure people knew I was knowledgeable, I forgot to put up limits and boundaries.

Are You Being Taken Advantage Of?

When starting a business, entrepreneurs must dance a fine line between educating people with the purpose of increasing brand awareness, and fighting that urge to over share just so people know you have the goods to be successful. I had to learn after some very hard lessons that you must figure out that where that line should be drawn between building your reputation and being taken advantage of. Giving away way too much information can turn you from a knowledgeable resource to a fount of free information. The latter instills a mindset in would be clients that if they wait long enough or ask just the right questions, they can go around your pay wall. And that’s what happened to me. So it’s important that you find some balance.

Here are a few things you need to remember to keep from becoming a broke brand.

1. Create a content sharing strategy. When developing content to share, whether on a blog, a newsletter, speaking engagement or even product demonstrations, you have to focus on delivering the why and the what. Then lead them to signing up with you to get to the how. The how is what makes you money. You should never go into step-by-step detail about any processes that you normally get paid for.

2. Decide what delivery methods you will use. Some people choose to spread their content across different mediums from blogs to podcasts to even panel discussions at speaking engagements. Determine who your ideal paying customer is and where they are most receptive to your message, then deliver it to them. But remember, the why and the what, but not the how.

3. Set limits and boundaries. You have to eat too. Many times you’ll get a would-be customer who is strapped for cash or flat out doesn’t feel they should pay for what you offer. While it’s good to groom a relationship in the early stages, be wary of people taking advantage and stringing you on. I’ve encountered people who hung around just long enough to get what they wanted then never heard from them again. Setting boundaries may be a free specific consultation period. A 15-30 minute free session should be sufficient enough to determine if you can work with a customer. This is an exploratory session not an information session. Know the difference.

4. Determine the purpose of sharing the content. Are you looking to convert people into customers? Are you trying to spread brand awareness? These are questions you must ask yourself. Sharing should be on your terms, not because others demand it. When you understand why you are sharing content, it’s easier to plan what to share and at what point a fee schedule comes into play.

Once I became clear on what I wanted and needed in order for my business to be sustainable (and profitable), I was able to reign in the over-sharing and learned how to place a value on what I offer.

Remember, if a customer is coming to you to get information or fix a problem, they should value it. You have to teach people how to do business with you. If they don’t find value or aren’t compelled to open their checkbook to go further with you, you’ll have a hard time staying in business.

About the author: Adrienne Graham is a serial entrepreneur and Founder & CEO of Empower Me! Corporation, a Growth Strategies consultancy with brand extensions in media, publishing and small business & entrepreneurial education. Graham is also a 20 year recruiting veteran and CEO of The Red Shoe Agency, a recruitment consultancy firm that helps companies find, retain & advance more and help women advance in technology & engineering. She is a published author, radio show host, and the author of the book “No, You Can’t Pick My Brain”. For more information about Adrienne, visit her company websites at www.empowerme.org.


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  • Roger Williams

    I just read this now. Very true. I just helped someone with a 95%complete solution. I guess in the back of my mind, I was expecting them to come back adn ask me to consult or freelance for them. I never heard back. I am in Adrienne’s position, nobody knows I can do this, so why would they pay me for it?
    My public project, http://www.dadverb.com, has to figure out if its going to gather email addresses, or just rely on good will for support.