Branding Strategy Success: X Marks the Spot

Branding Strategy Success: X Marks the Spot

“X” is the spot only your brand occupies: it stands alone in terms of what you provide and to whom.

Before you start a new business or  or decide your current business needs a makeover and re-branding, it’s imperative to define your brand. Clearly being able to describe your brand, in words in visuals, so that others easily understand (and can tell others!) what your business does. Here is a simple branding strategy that will help you brand or re-brand your business.

Keep in mind that re-branding shouldn’t just be about a new logo; it’s really about a new way of doing business.

Before you brand your business, you should first determine why your business exists (its purpose on the planet) and how it can stand apart from other businesses in your same space…a.k.a. the competition.

If you don’t stand apart, you are a commodity and your only differentiator is price.

Step 1 – Develop a Branding Strategy:

  • How are you going to approach branding?
  • Who’s in charge of the branding initiative?
  • Will you hire a consultant, graphic designer, copywriter, brand strategist?
  • What’s your timeline?
  • Do you have a budget?

Step 2 – “Decipher” Your Brand:

A Mission Statement:  in 100 words or less, says Who you are, What you do, Whom you do it for, Why you do it, Where you do it and most of all:  What’s your BIG IDEA? What do you do that no one else does? Why should they buy from you instead of someone else? This is also known as the differentiator. Your Mission Statement will be the “touchstone” for your business – use it as a guide to decide what work to pursue; what projects to take (and what projects not to take); all to keep the strength of your brand.

A Vision Statement – the sky’s the limit: an in-house document that describes where you’ll be in 1, 3, 5 or 10 years. How you’ll get there. How big is your staff? Where are you located? Do you want to sell your business? This document can evolve but it is Your Destination Roadmap.

A Value Statement – “the Guiding Principles” or “core beliefs” of your business (many companies want to buy from those with shared values). Words like sustainability, diversity, creativity, excellence, community, innovation, etc. are found in value statements.

Positioning works hand-in-hand with branding.

Step 3 – Your Positioning Statement sets out:

  • What Product or Service you offer
  • Who Your Ideal Client is (client profile) –  Know your audience before you ever begin to market!
  • What Benefits you offer those that work with you
  • What Needs your ideal client has

Brand positioning is crucial: clearly describe your product or service, define your ideal client and their needs and wants and finally, highlight the benefits of working with your company. Where those four factors intersect is at what’s called your “brand essence.”  Once you’ve determined your brand essence or “truth,” you can incorporate visuals, written content, testimonials, case studies and FAQ pages to convey the personality of your business, your industry knowledge and expertise and showcase your product or service solutions.

Spending the time on developing and executing branding strategy pays off in greater brand recognition, memorability and effectiveness. Definitely time well spent.

This article originally appeared on


Martha Spelman is a Los Angeles-based branding and marketing expert. She is the author of The Cure for Blogophobia: How to Easily Create, Publish & Promote Your Business Blog.

Certificate in the Fundamentals of Entrepreneurship Program

You can learn Entrepreneurship. In the Certificate in the Fundamentals of Entrepreneurship program at California State University-Dominguez Hills, students will have the opportunity to gain knowledge and skills to assist in the development of a start-ups or existing businesses. The cornerstones of the program are learning, applying, engaging, and inspiring.

The certificate is offered jointly by the South Bay Entrepreneurial Center (SBEC) and CSUDH College of Extended and International Education (CEIE). The pgoram is open to everyone. Participants will receive inspiration from successful, practicing SBEC mentor entrepreneurs and existing California State University Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) faculty members who are passionate about teaching and mentoring.

You can learn more on the registration website.

SBEC Pitch Night (August 2016)

SBEC Pitch Night was another fun, inspiring and interactive meeting of entrepreneurial minds. After a brief introduction from Executive Director Gary Polk and Lead Mentor Mike Manahan, the pitches began. All three companies showcased are currently working within the SBEC cohort program. First, Alina Ugas, co-founder of The Final Step, shared her vision for their program called The Needs Based Method. Next up, Annie Vonheim, the Chief Juicer at Smart Pressed Juice, dazzled the audience with the company’s plan for dominating the juice and cleanse market. And closing the evening was the charismatic Lonnie Wade, who explained how Eat Better Today can bring healthier, affordable meals to EBT cardholders.

Pitch Night is a friendly environment for companies wanting to improve their presentation skills and potentially raise capital (you never know who is sitting in the audience!). Those in attendance offer feedback on the presenters and presentation – and on this evening, the three pitches were outstanding.

SBEC Crowdfunding Trends in 2016 Breakfast Event Panel (Part 1 of 2)

The South Bay Entrepreneurial Center in Torrance, California presented “Crowdfunding Trends in 2016” on May 15, 2016 at the Toyota Auto Museum. Topics included new legislation around crowdfunding (JOBS Act), what entrepreneurs have learned from past campaigns and more about service providers in crowdfunding.

MODERATOR: Mark Hiraide
SBEC board member Mark Hiraide is a Corporate and Securities Partner with Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp. Mark represents companies listed on national stock exchanges and privately held businesses and defends individual officers and directors in corporate and securities law matters. During his 30-year career, Mark worked as an attorney with the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Division of Enforcement and Division of Corporation Finance and as a Special Assistant United States Attorney. In private practice he has handled both courtroom litigation and business transactions representing entrepreneurs, startups, publicly traded companies, directors and officers, broker-dealers, investment bankers, investment advisers, accountants and investors. He is an authority on the federal JOBS Act, having testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee evaluating the law designed to help startups raise money. He is the author of a book on crowdfunding just published by Thomson Reuters. And he is working with the California Legislature to pass a state crowdfunding law he drafted


James Lin
James is a co-founder of SBEC cohort company ZenMount. Having been struck by an idea for a tablet holder, James sought out and worked with local product designer Matther Tarnay to transform the abstract idea into a working prototype, initially using Kickstarter funding. ZenMount designs and manufactures device mounting systems for tech gadgets such as tablet, smartphone, and e-readers. Their “Origin” product is the first tablet mount with Simul-LockTM , which makes it easy to use and infinitely adjustable.

Taylor McPartland
In 2010, Taylor, a Northern California native, co-founded CrowdfundX, a leading crowdfunding agency which has leveraged crowdfunding technology, as well as the implementation of the JOBS Act, to raise funds for innovative organizations ranging from automobiles (such as Elio Motors) to non-profits. Assuming an advisory role in the company in 2015, Taylor refocused his energy on evangelizing the benefits of crowdfunding and how its strategies can be applied at local, state, and federal levels. Most recently, Taylor founded the Lincoln Federation, an organization focused on bringing together Los Angeles entrepreneurs with elected officials to collectively create positive change for a sustainable future.

Allen Jebsen
Allen is the Director of Business Development at StartEngine, the premier equity crowdfunding platform, connecting Millennials and aspiring investors with tomorrow’s progressive companies. StartEngine aims to revolutionize the startup business model by helping individuals invest in private companies on a public platform for the first time in history, thereby helping entrepreneurs achieve their dreams.

Dean Quiambao, CPA
Dean, a Partner at Armanino LLP helps numerous private companies, as well as private schools and social service, performing/fine arts and faith-based organizations address their tax, audit and outsourced accounting needs. Boards and finance and audit committees appreciate his laser focus on bringing to life the audit items that matter most, including his proven method of benchmarking data and key financial operating ratios.

Joe Platnick: The Angel Funding Process – What Every Entrepreneur Should Know

SBEC: Ask the Angel Investors

[This article originally appeared in 2013 – Mr. Platnick has updated to reflect recent marketplace changes.]

Recently a company founder asked me about what kinds of things entrepreneurs have done (and should do) to increase the odds of getting funded. A few years ago John Isaacson, past Chairman of the Pasadena Angels, did a presentation on “How to impress an Angel and get your company funded.” This presentation provided a comprehensive overview of the common denominators (both good and bad) we’ve seen from companies pitching the Pasadena Angels over the past 14 years. For John’s talk, he divided the presentation into the following topics:

  • What Every Entrepreneur Should Know
  • What We Look For
  • Investment Criteria and Cheat Sheet
  • Getting Inside the Mind of the Angel
  • Top Deal Killers

For this post I’ll talk about what every entrepreneur should know and provide some additional granularity to John’s main points on this topic:

1. Having a good idea is not enough

Every so often we come across an entrepreneur who believes they’re investment worthy based on how bright they are or because they came up with a good idea that was well articulated in a 2-page summary. Along with the funding criteria on the Pasadena Angels website, there are two other things we look for in companies: (1) a prototype or proof-of-concept that validates the company really can deliver on its idea; (2) ‘real’ market validation to confirm that a viable market exists; (3) the “plan” behind the plan, which I’ll address in a later post and covers how you’ll execute once you’re funded.

2. Raising capital requires both time and money

Periodically we’re impressed by an entrepreneur that has left a well paying job so they could devote all of their time to their startup. To financially support their new venture, they will often take a second mortgage on their house and max out all their credit cards. The net impression when we see this is that he/she really believes in themselves and their business, are completely committed and has some serious skin in the game. At the other extreme we’ve seen people who keep their day jobs, devote a few hours per week to their fledgling business and have invested only a few hundred dollars of their own money. Although you don’t have to follow the first scenario to secure funding, you should make sure that at a minimum you’re at least half-way between the two.

The two key points on this topic are you’ll need to invest sufficient time and money into your business to get to the point where a prospective investor will be interested. Secondly, the process of raising money will invariably be the hardest part in a startup—which also translates into time and $$$$$.

3. You can save time and money if you understand the investment process

Although this is stating the obvious, you’d be amazed at how many companies don’t take the time to do this.

4. Identify and contact prospective investors whose investment criteria match your situation

Once again, it’s pretty intuitive. One added benefit of doing this is that this research may also help you discover things about the investor that you can use to get your company noticed.

5. It’s like college…you’ll be graded on a curve

Back when I was in college I was surrounded by a lot of very bright people. As if the situation wasn’t challenging enough, my class grades were often determined by how I did relative to them and the class average, and not on an absolute scale. Raising money is somewhat like that, because investors make only a limited number of investments. For the Pasadena Angels, it’s typically 12-15 per year. Although your company may be great on an absolute scale, the chances of getting funded will go down if an investor is simultaneously considering more investment worthy (i.e., stage, market, team, exit opportunity, etc.) companies. Historically, there have been many good, potentially fundable companies we’ve had to forego because of this.

6. Don’t stop till it’s done

At times we’ve watched entrepreneurs reduce the amount of time and energy they invest in the fundraising process after hitting a milestone along the way—but before actually having the money in the bank. The most common time that we’ve seen them ease up has been after receiving the term sheet and investment agreements. The amount of time and enthusiasm that you expend during the latter stages should be the same as when you’re first pitching. Remember, don’t stop until all of the money has closed and it’s in the bank.

Mark Hiraide: California To Tackle Equity Crowdfunding

This month, the Assembly Committee on Banking and Finance will hear AB 722 (Perea), a bill I drafted for Small Business California that will legalize equity crowdfunding in California.

AB 722 allows entrepreneurs to raise capital by selling equity stakes in their companies to the public. The process will feel similar to the crowdfunding going on now that you may have heard about where companies raise capital through large numbers of small donations on Internet sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo in exchange for T-shirts, first-dibs on products, and movie production credits.

But AB 722 crowdfunding will be different because investors will own a piece of the company, which automatically introduces securities law into the equation.

Crowdfunding of equity will enable entrepreneurs to use modern communication technology to solicit directly large numbers of prospective investors on social networks and, more broadly, on the Internet, thereby “democratizing” access to capital. For most on Main Street, it will be their first opportunity to invest in and potentially realize returns from an asset-class historically accessible only by professional venture capital investors.

Yes, without the promotional efforts of intermediaries such as Wall Street investment bankers and underwriters, entrepreneurs may only be able to raise a few hundred thousand dollars. But today, with technological advances in computer programming, a few hundred thousand dollars is sufficient to prove-out concepts, produce prototypes and get the attention of Angel-investors and other capital sources that are capable of making much larger investments.

Equity crowdfunding was supposed to be legalized at the federal level with enactment in 2012 of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act. Prior to the JOBS Act, Depression-era laws restricted a businesses’ ability to solicit the public to raise capital without registering the offering with the then-newly created federal agency, the Securities and Exchange Commission. For 90 years, without registration, companies could only solicit investment from people with whom they had pre-existing relationships.

The JOBS Act was meant to change those rules. Unfortunately, balancing capital access with investor protection is not easy. The SEC has yet to issue final rules for crowdfunding under the JOBS Act (its present rules limit crowdfunding to high net worth (over $1 million) investors). In response to this delay, and in an effort to stimulate job creation, 18 states have rushed to enact their own intrastate crowdfunding laws. While well-intentioned, these laws do not adequately protect investors. With the exception of Maine, these states allow companies to raise capital directly from large numbers of unsophisticated investors without any review by the state securities regulators or by the SEC.

Given the relatively small sums of capital at stake in a crowdfunded offering, most entrepreneurs will treat equity crowdfunding as they do non-equity crowdfunding…they will not likely seek legal counsel or other professional advice about the detailed and transparent disclosures that are required to be made to investors in securities offerings.

Assemblymember Perea’s AB 722 contains several important investor protections, such as prohibiting unsolicited telephone calls to potential investors. But perhaps most importantly, AB 722 offers entrepreneurs the benefit of a review of their offering by state Department of Business Oversight attorneys who are experienced in securities law disclosures and the securities raising process.

This is an area where DBO involvement in the regulatory regime makes good sense. We are confident AB 722 represents a smart approach to capital access that will benefit entrepreneurs, the investing public and California’s economy.

Patrick Stacy: I’ve Got a Great Idea!

When Patrick Stacy, SBEC financial & business mentor, was asked what advice he would give entrepreneurs, he had some very helpful insights. Read to find out more!

First off…the disclaimer. I am NOT an entrepreneur. But during my career as a CFO for middle-market businesses, I have helped entrepreneurs with great ideas turn those ideas into business success. However…here’s the conundrum. Most successful entrepreneurs undoubtedly start with a “great idea”. But not all great ideas become successful businesses. And why is that? There is no one answer to that question. Whether a great idea becomes a successful business or not depends on so many different factors that MAYBE I could address them in a book…but certainly NOT in a blog!

The biggest quandary is that every great idea is going to encounter its own unique set of factors that will determine its success. Will someone buy what you are selling? Can you manufacture it? Will you run out of money? How can I find good help? These are just a few common issues that different entrepreneurs have encountered in the past. And there are a myriad of others. Some of these factors are show stoppers…if you can’t sell what your great idea produces, sorry, but you don’t have a business model…you have a hobby.

So, how can an entrepreneur determine which issues could potentially derail her or his great idea on the way to Success Station? Again, no one answer fits all situations. But one simple method of attacking the question is to ask someone who knows more than you. If you have a critical patent question, you need to find a legal expert familiar with your product and get advice. If you’re not sure about how to market your product or service, find someone who knows a lot about that field and question them.

Ultimately, as an entrepreneur, the decision to move forward on your great idea is yours alone (or yours and your partners). And you may find that factors you believed were show stoppers are really not that crucial to your success or can be overcome with relative ease. But failing to get advice from experts in a number of different disciplines related to your great idea may be the ultimate factor in whether it succeeds or fails.

Most entrepreneurs don’t lack for belief in their idea, not do they lack the will or effort to make it happen. But if you don’t know what obstacles you will encounter on your journey, it’s hard to know if you’re tackling a difficult hill or Mt. Everest. There is not any one road map, but ask people who have taken similar treks and you may just reach your destination.

And one more thing…enjoy the journey!

Patrick Stacy: SBEC Mentor

Patrick Stacy

Fred Held: Know Your Target Market

When SBEC asked what costly mistakes entrepreneurs should avoid, one of our mentors Fred Held provided some valuable insight. According to Fred, one of the biggest mistakes an entrepreneur can make is not knowing their target market which can end up causing a business to fail.

My clients usually fall into focusing on how wonderful their offering might be. They believe that there is nothing like it on the market and think they will make it in the USA. One of the most common assumptions is that the target market is everyone. They have not done a product profit plan. Usually they will not be able to compete making it in the USA. They do no market research or believe anything negative from a survey of consumers. The result is more than 90 percent fail. Spend time doing market research and understand the target market of your business and your efforts will be worth it.

Much like what Martha Spelman mentioned in our previous post, most people just think about how great their idea is and believe it will sell to everyone. However, you truly need to understand your target market to succeed.

Fred Held: SBEC Mentor

Fred Held

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