Stuck in neutral? 4 ways to reboot your business and rekindle your fire

Ah, the first blushes of entrepreneurial love. The romance! The energy! But what happens when the passion fades and the reality of demanding customers/clients, overwhelming marketing options and painful tasks (QuickBooks, anyone?) creeps in? Suddenly, your business becomes a grind and you find yourself working harder for less reward, less return…and less joy. Your once appreciative and dreamy-eyed business starts angrily demanding more of your time and energy – but in return, rewards you with the wrong customers, a weak profit margin and just doesn’t take you salsa dancing or wine tasting anymore.

I’ve been where you are. I know what it feels like to have your business success lead you down the wrong path. How choices innocently pile up – each one seemingly rational – paving a perfect road to discontent.

So a few years ago, I took a step back. I sought the objective counsel of colleagues, a wise coach and a wondrous wordsmith and tweaked my business model and messaging – core brand elements. I started doing more of what I loved and ditched what wasn’t working. And you know what? My heart (and success) soared.

If your business (and heart) feel stuck in neutral, here are 4 ways to reboot  – and check out my big announcement at the end on how I can help…

  1. What do you hate doing? STOP IT! If your business offerings have kept piling on so you can simply cater to every single need under the sun, you need to take stock and simplify your business model. What activities bring you the most joy? Do you love teaching and strategic planning but hate detailed tactics? Then start doing more workshops or retainer projects  and don’t offer hourly project work. Do you love doing massage and energy work but hate giving facials? Then cut down your services list. This also translates into how you talk about yourself (i.e., maybe you’re no longer a “full-service spa” but a “body care studio”)
  2. Play with pricing or packaging to attract the right customers/clients: You may find that the people you are attracting pay little but demand a lot, offering little profit margin in the end. How about adding more value/quality to your offerings and increasing your prices to deter more budget-conscious folks and attract a more affluent market? Or offer a tiered set of products or services to give more cost-conscious folks a self-service option, while freeing up your time for deeper, higher-value work that you adore.
  3. Revisit your messaging: Take a good, hard look at your web copy, company descriptor or even job title. Are you saying you do everything for anybody? Are you too vague and not focused on clear, crisp benefits? Does it sound boring, even to you? This could either a) be attracting the wrong type of work or b) confusing the prospective people that you really want. Remember, when you try to create a brand that is all things to all people, you end up being nothing to no one. Detail out your ideal customer or client and only focus on content, services or products – and the appropriate messaging – to attract those people. Don’t worry about pleasing (or offending) anyone else but that target. Trust me, they’ll be fine without you.
  4. Audit your visual brand: OK, this one may require an investment to make some changes. Based on the people you really, really want to attract and the kind of work you really, really want to be doing, is your visual branding way off base? Do you need to modernize your colors, select bolder fonts or change out your imagery to better appeal to those people? I once consulted with someone trying to attract high-powered Alpha-male executives – and yet her website was all pastel colors and flowery script fonts. She was beating her head against the wall and wondering why those powerful male executives were not hiring her. She needed to update her look and feel to match her new offerings and target clients. Side benefit? Updating your visual look and feel might also get your heart racing with pride again about your business and give you a new opportunity for some word of mouth buzz.

With these tips, you can shift out of neutral and into overdrive again. In a good way, of course. Don’t drive yourself crazy. OK, I’ll stop with the driving metaphors….

Photo credit: Vincent O’Keeffe, Flickr

Has business boredom ever happened to you? What actions do you recommend to reignite your business – or your own personal passion? We’d love to hear so please leave a Comment below. Your wise words could help someone else!


Do you judge wines by their labels? An adventure task…

While we are all taught not to judge a book by its cover, let’s get real. I’ve bought books, magazines, scented lotions, household cleaners (how can you resist Method’s packaging?) and yes, wine based solely on how the label looks.

I’m a marketing groupie. I admit it. I’m a sucker for cute, clever or crisp packaging.

As a former wine writer and still-active wine lover, I know that some gems are hidden in the ugliest bottles and even price does not necessarily guarantee “bottled poetry” But I’ve fallen in love with cheeky, well-designed wine labels over the years which enticed me to buy and try the product.

Nothing conveys a brand personality – and hints at the quality and delight of the wine experience bottled inside – like a wine label. And there are many diverse ones out there, all trying to communicate why they are good, how they are different and to stand out from the hundreds of options out there.

Your business needs to ensure its “wine label” stands out from the crowd. Can prospects tell what kind of product, service, or quality you offer right off the bat? If you don’t think visual identity or your website quality and design matters (“I offer amazing products/services. That is enough to convey my brain.”)  – think again. One stat suggests that in less than 10 seconds, you have the opportunity to lose or gain a valuable customer – just based on your website’s layout and visual appearance.

Your Slice of Adventure, should you choose to accept it:

Peruse the racks at a local wine shop or the wine aisle of your favorite supermarket.  Pick three vastly different wines based on their labels – don’t look at the price!! Just from the label, colors, font, copy – even the shape and size of the bottle – ask yourself four questions:

1) For what occasion would this wine be a good fit?
2) How does the wine taste?
3) Who is the winery’s ideal customer? Age, personality, lifestyle?
4) How much does the wine cost?

You will soon see in action how our immediate responses to visual cues tell a whole story that words never could. This is how people are judging your business: by your website, storefront, signage, product design. This is a powerful lesson in making sure all of your communication channels convey the right clear, consistent message that you intend.

And enjoy your wine. You didn’t think I’d skip the actual taste/experience test, did you? That’s the fun part.

PS, I’m also in love with unique wine/winery names, especially saucy ones. Here are some for your amusement:

Bonking Frog
Fat Bastard Wine
Spoiled Dog Winery
Kung Fu Girl, Boom Boom and The Velvet Devil from Charles Smith Wines

Please report back your findings below in the Comments – and of course tell us if you recommend the wine! Any faves you already have that you can share? Please do…

Brand at Work: MOO

I love brands that use every customer touchpoint to delight their buyers. Most recently, I got the chance to fall in love with MOO. A UK-based firm with a U.S. office in Rhode Island, MOO prints mini and full size business cards, postcards, greeting cards and more. You can print different images on each card, and they also use recycled and sustainable products. MOO cares about beautiful design and quality products at a decent price. They inject their fun, friendly and bubbly brand into thousands of little things and really understand the concept of “enveloping” their customers in a brand experience that gets people talking.

I recently ordered some minicards from them to promote my book, Branding Basics for Small Business. I wanted to leave people with a reminder about the book, rather than having them scramble for a piece of paper and a pen.

First off, the automated email message about my order: Full of personality. It starts with, “It’s Little MOO again. I thought you’d like to know, the following items from your order are now in the mail:” and ends with:

 Remember, I’m just a bit of software, so if you have any questions regarding your order, the best place to start is with our Frequently Asked Questions. We keep the answers here: If you’re still not sure, contact customer services, (who are real people) at:

Thanks for ordering with MOO – we hope you love your order,


Little MOO, Print Robot

They took a boring, bland auto-email and turned it into a reinforcement of my decision to buy from them. Easy. Simple. No extra cost to do this.

Secondly, packaging: Your package arrives  in an appealing array.  They use package messaging to further reinforce their quirky friendly brand, with little sayings like, “Yay! You’re Our New Best Friend” in the holding case I bought, and a wrapper on the box that said,

“Your MOO minicards are inside*

*Open them quick!”

Everything about them is small, compact and sustainable. They actually design their packaging to be reused. Here is what they say about this on their website:

We think receiving products from MOO should be something special. After all, it’s your artwork, your photography, your event or your business you’re promoting. Something to be proud of and something to be shared. So we custom design our packaging for re-use, resale and recycling. If it’s worth packing, it’s worth packing well.

Third, website copy: Just look at the clever and witty way their website copy is worded and you instantly understand their brand and what they are about. The brand promise carries through in tone and word choice. Friendly. Bubbly. Customer-service focused. Check out this page for just a taste. This is actually a website you want to read and enjoy.

It is very clear throughout all of their messaging that they stand for fun, quality and environmental sustainability.

What does your business stand for? It is clear across everything that you do that this is the promise you deliver? Why not take a look at some of the simple, inexpensive things that you do and see how you can inject your brand voice into them to delight your customers?

St Germain: The Virgin America of liqueurs?

Guest post by Red Slice intern, Suzi An

How often do you hear about Elderflower liqueur? I’m not sure I knew what Elderflower was until last week. Which is unfortunate because that’s from what St. Germain is made. My first experience with fancy liqueur was at the beginning of the year when a bartender at Via Tribunali placed a small glass of something in front of me.

“What is that?” I ask.

“It’s St. Germain,” says Andrew.

I dunk my nose just below the rim of the glass and began to sniff.

“Why does it smell like lychee?” At this point, I’m confused but intrigued by the sweet smelling liqueur.

It wasn’t until last month that our paths crossed once again. But this time, I saw the actual bottle. Have you seen this thing? It is possibly the most elegant bottle of alcohol I have ever seen. It’s a tall, heavy glass bottle with six sides and a color scheme of navy blue, gold, and if you look closely, light turquoise. Even the cap is elegant and refined. I then proceeded to read the little booklet that was attached to its neck that relayed the story of St. Germain. Think about a French man riding his bicycle in the Alps to gather the delicate flower by hand. He then rides his bicycle down to the local market. There are only 40 to 50 of these men who make it possible for the rare liqueur to be made in a given year; hence why St. Germain is rare and a bit pricey. I flip the page and that’s when the sassiness began:

To put this into context, we can safely say that no men, bohémien or otherwise, will be wandering the hillsides of Poland this spring gathering wild potatoes for your vodka. Likewise, we know of no Bavarians planning to scour the German countryside in search of exotic native hops and barley for your beer.” I love that they are so confident in their brand because they know it takes much effort to make such a rare liqueur. Furthermore, they are proud of their brand because of the craftsmanship aspect of it. You can tell by their word choice. Again, brand communicated verbally is just as important as anything visual.

Neither passionfruit nor pear, grapefruit nor lemon, the sublime taste of St. Germain hints at each of these and yet none of them exactly. It is a flavor as subtle and delicate as it is captivating. A little like asking a humminghbird to describe the flavor of its favorite nectar. Très curieux indeed, n’est-ce pas?” Very curious, indeed, is it not?

Very curious. Beyond curious. I’m fascinated. The reason why I say St. Germain is the Virgin America of liqueurs is because of the sassiness and the experience they promise. Virgin America flies to limited places, St. Germain has limited quantities of their liqueur. Virgin America promises to make flying fun, St. Germain promises to make you feel sassy and sophisticated. Virgin America’s tone is that of St. Germain. Both are fun and snippy.

In the same booklet, there are pages of recipes that contain even more fun little surprises than the brand story. For example, at the end of the directions for the Sangria Flora, it says, “Serve in an iced-filled glass, then telephone your physician and regale him with stories of your exemplary fruit consumption.” I chuckled as I read that. As I closed the little booklet, it was as if a whimsical soirée had come to an end. I wanted to go back and read through the whole thing like a party I just didn’t want to leave. I wanted to feel like I was enjoying a warm summer night eating delicious French food with my closest friends, as we dine by the dim lights hanging from the trees around us. My experience with St. Germain is not about the liqueur; it’s about the brand, the story of how it came to be, the way it interacts with me, and the way the brand makes me feel. I don’t think I could say that about any other alcohol brand.

Why I’m a walking billboard for Dave’s Killer Bread

Guest blog post by Red Slice intern, Suzi An.

It’s 2 a.m and my boyfriend and I decide to do some late night grocery shopping. Normally, I shop at Whole Foods where I buy the same brand of whole-wheat sunflower bread. But because they close at 10 p.m., I ended up walking down the street to QFC.

“Suz, come look at this.” Roger is awkwardly holding a loaf of bread with bold colors on the packaging.

“What is that? That’s not my normal loaf of bread,” I say. I shrug my shoulders and continue to walk down the bread aisle looking for my sunflower bread.

“Suz. Come read this!” Fussy and defeated, I walk back towards him.

I grab the bright yellow bag from him and begin to read: I was a four-time loser before I realized I was in the wrong game. 15 years in prison is a pretty tough way to find oneself, but I have no regrets… Immediately I am hooked. Who is this guy spilling his life story on a loaf of bread? I continue reading and realize that this guy created his whole brand on his incredibly story. He was in and out of prison for drugs, assault, and robbery until he realized he needed to change his life: A whole lot of suffering has transformed an ex-con into an honest man who is doing his best to make the world a better place…one loaf of bread at a time. My heart sunk. I turn the bread around and see “Just say no to bread on drugs!” and I cannot believe how clever and fantastic this is. I see that the specific loaf that Roger had grabbed was called GOOD SEED. How cute. A loaf of bread named after Dave’s change. Ultimately, it is Dave’s story, a story that is personal and inspiring, that will make his business and brand successful. And the best part, his products live up to his brand promise. Heavenly Texture and Saintly Flavor. His bread is probably the most texturally pleasing bread I have ever tasted in my life. I practically devour the entire loaf in three days. I am beyond obsessed. As a strong supporter of the green movement and sustainable eating, Dave had won me over with his organic bread, compostable bags, the wind farms, and only providing the Northwest with his mouth-watering bread. He believes everyone deserves a second chance, so most of his employees are ex-cons as well. Dave, can you be anymore fabulous?!

I follow Dave on Twitter and I try to see him at almost every festival where he is present. I recently saw him at the Bite of Seattle where I bought six loaves of bread, a T-shirt, a coloring book, and had the opportunity to meet the guy behind the brand. I feel like a giddy ten-year-old girl! The only words that came out of my mouth were, “I am a huge fan and I eat your bread on a daily basis!” Really? How did I become a “bread groupie”? At least once a week, I tweet “How can I get on Dave’s PR team?” I have yet to receive a response but they seem to reply to everything else I tweet about them.

It’s brands like Dave’s that reaches out to interact with their customers, creates relationships, and has a clear vision of what it wants the brand to do that will be more than successful. I am proud to be a consumer of his bread and will follow Dave wherever he goes. So when can I start?

Telling a story with a label

Love this post by Seth Godin about how simple things like labels and packaging can help further your brand story and customer promise. This is what I mean by finding a unique way to tell your story in every customer touchpoint you have. Some people may just slap a functional label on their product or put it in a boring box. But get creative and find a way to carry your brand promise through to the way the item looks when people see it on the shelves or get it in the mail.

While some packaging ideas do indeed cost way more than others, cash-strapped businesses can still get creative and find a way to present their products in a delightful way that actually furthers their message to customers. Use color, intriguing words, or other ideas to stand out. It’s not about money, it’s about creativity. But it’s also about clearly knowing what your story is so that you can convey it effectively.