Reinventing Your Business

When you are a remote professional, making a sweeping business change is a big step. Your business identity becomes inextricably intertwined with your personal identity. After a few years on the web, you consider your business URL in the same way you do your physical address. Like a cross-country move, any big change can be traumatic.

If the time has come to narrow your scope, deepen your niche or completely reinvent yourself online, there are a few steps you can take to make the transition a bit smoother.

Get an unbiased opinion… or two or three

Because you are so “close” to the project, having outside opinions from people you trust is paramount. There are things that you simply won’t see solo. Your business may often seem to be a solitary venture, but this is a place where you need to reach out to your network. Don’t fall in love with one option before seeking feedback. Go to the “floor” with your top three or four ideas.

If you blog, post your ideas there and see if any readers will offer suggestions. If you have a professional network, toss your ideas out and get feedback from peers. If you have family members that aren’t too close to your business, get their impressions of your new direction.

Once you have narrowed the field, pay a marketing consultant or business planning specialist to give a professional opinion on the pros and cons of your plans and how they will affect your bottom line and your ability to market your new brand. You don’t want to put all this effort into something that won’t help you in the long run. A single meeting may make a huge difference in the effectiveness of your efforts.

Take all these opinions and really listen to what was said. Keep notes on all the feedback for a couple days of agonizing push-me, pull-me evaluation. Once that period is over, pick the one you love. After all, you should be in love with your business name and concept. You will spend much of your life building, growing, nurturing and living with it. It should be something you love.

Plan ahead

Don’t jump into the transition. It’s going to be a challenging project. It will require a great deal of pre-planning to make the move smoothly. Start with the baby steps…

Your new URL

  • Your URL should be a brand that you can love and one you can quickly take to heart and adopt as your online “alterego.”
  • Select a URL that carries a keyword or two if possible. It should be short, focused and possess a little “zing” to capture attention. Make sure the URL will serve you from a marketing perspective. Why would you rebrand in a way that actually HURTS your online marketing?
  • If at all possible, use a “.com” URL. Forget .net, .info, and all the upcoming extensions. Select a .com for a timeless and established look.
  • The URL should be your legal business name. Register it as “MyCompany.com” to give you the advantage of “silently” promoting your URL whenever you give your business name. Even websites and directories that don’t offer a web link will accept this type of legal business name.

The Omni-important Tagline

  • Forget the pain and agony of developing an elevator speech. The classic wisdom of a 30-second regurgitation of who you are and what you do and what value a potential customer would find in hiring you is soooo outdated and old school. (Besides, that is the purpose of your website!)
  • Don’t assault strangers with all this information. You will only make them sorry they asked. Thirty seconds will seem like a lifetime to your marketing “victim.”
  • Instead, develop a self-apparent business name with matching URL and a tiny 5-6 word tagline that clarifies your unique marketing position. You can use this combo on your voice-mail, business cards and in person, when asked what you do.
  • It will take some time and quite a bit of effort to find the perfect combination of so few words. If well-executed, it will pay huge dividends and will make you memorable.

Marketing Materials

Over the years, I’ve spent thousands of dollars on all the marketing “fixings” including letterhead, multiple logos and images, envelopes, branded note cards, custom postage stamps, business cards, business websites, blogs, custom rubber stamps (with my logo), embroidered denim shirts, t-shirts, ball caps, table spreads (for events), etc, etc.,

Of those items, the most effective have been my business cards for in-person face-to-face encounters and my website/blog. Of the printed materials, I’ve used the branded notecards more than all the other business stationery combined. When I drop a physical note to a client, a peer or a prospect, I prefer it to be a personalized, handwritten item. The rest of the time, I use email and/or PDFs.

How you handle this will depend on your business and what niche services you offer. The more online your business, the less printed materials you will need… so your mileage may vary.

Before you automatically reorder all the stuff you had in the old business name, determine what really works for you. Don’t reorder out of rote. If you ordered 1000 custom envelopes three years ago and you still 995 of those, it’s probably not the best use of your funds.

Enjoy a Clean Slate

If you are rebranding, it’s a wonderful opportunity to purge any old ideas you have about how to run a business online. You have, no doubt, learned a great deal as a result of your “hands on” experience. Advise yourself in the same way you would advise someone who is just getting started.

Think about all of your “if ONLY someone had told me…” moments. Think about all the wasted time, money, and effort you expended when you first started.

Then, take a deep breath and plan. Make sure you don’t do any of that this time.

My Clean Slate

Personally, trying to keep my blog separate from my business website, and managing multiple branded websites was a mistake. I’m not a big business and I have no need to project that image. I should have accepted that fact early on.

People hire me as much for my personality as for my skills. It was weird to realize that, but it shouldn’t have been… after all, I accept or decline clients based on that “gut” feeling I have about them. Working so closely, and being happy with that situation, requires a good rapport. It just does.

Accepting that makes it easier to develop a single site (which contains a blog) to maintain.

Keep Records

You will be going (temporarily) backward to re-brand when you change your business. It’s a fact. There are places all over the web where you have promoted your old brand.

Keeping a record (a spread sheet will work fine) of all the places that you “find” your old brand will help you transition. Change all your profiles to reflect the new business identity. You will probably be surprised how many you have online. Going through your password list is a quick way to determine the identities you need to rebrand right away.

Legal Stuff

Don’t forget to change your business name legally; even if you are using a DBA you need to register it. Do the paperwork for any required business licenses for your area. Secure a new EIN, if necessary.

Change the information with your bank and PayPal accounts. Let your current clients know how to make out future checks/payments.

Redirect Traffic to Capture Visitors

Apply a Google-friendly 301 permanent redirect to capture as much of the old site(s) traffic as possible. Use your website’s 404 logs to determine when people are looking for something they don’t find.

Fix/forward every link. It will take time, but it’s worth the effort. You don’t want to lose visitors by frustrating loyal readers.

Re-Introduce yourself

Once you are up and running, take the time to go to your favorite blogs and websites and comment to help establish the new identity. Social networking can actually make this process easier. Some platforms allow a username and URL change without any problem (like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn), while others will only allow a URL change and you are stuck with the same username or the prospect of opening a new account and trying to recapture your friends (like StumbleUpon and ActiveRain).

Do a press release. Produce a little fanfare. This is a big deal! Celebrate it.

A Final Thought: Be Sure

Before you start this process, be sure it’s necessary. It involves a tremendous amount of effort and should not be undertaken lightly.

If a change is needed, it’s better to make that transition sooner, rather than later. The availability of good URLs is diminishing by the second and unless you have already captured the URLs you may want to use in future years, merely getting the perfect URL can be a costly endeavor.

Don’t forget to have fun recreating yourself!

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