In an effort to succeed in this challenging economy, small business owners must effectively manage their brands. Remember, for many of them, there is little difference between your personal brand and the brand of their business. This is especially true of the launch phase, when the old adage rings true: “People do business with people they know, like, and trust!” People also tend to do business with and purchase from brands they respect, that are consistent with their values, and make good on their promises. 

Ideally your business has the makings of an iconic brand, with clear positioning and a strong promise. To make sure your business evolves on this path, focus on the nine Cs of Branding to stay at customers' top of mind. 

Centered - Businesses with successful brands are focused. They have a definitive purpose and their values are clear. Even their goals are well-defined. As your business evolves, you may need to shift your brand positioning to ensure alignment with your message and your intent. Consider this: What are you trying to accomplish, and what position does your brand need to achieve your goals?

Clarify - Your message and image need to be crystal clear. As your brand and business evolve, it is critical to continue to hone and refine your messaging. Keep enhancing your unique selling proposition and drive differentiation so consumers know exactly what to expect.

Contribute - The popular saying, “givers gain,” has a lot of truth to it. The more you contribute to your world and community, the more you will gain in return. Define your brand's “give back” strategy and ensure it is aligned with your core customer base.

Connect - Always network with complementary brands, especially those that share your values and core client base. Be willing to create innovative strategies (like the marketing campaigns between Osh Kosh and Tide) in which both parties benefit and get customers excited and engaged. 

Create Community - No business can be successful in a silo, so create a community of support and advocacy in your industry and target market. As a small business owner, it is also critical to create a community within your business. Be clear about the culture you want to create and manage your expansion and hiring to ensure those standards are met.

Exude Confidence - Confidence is built one step at a time. So start with where you are and with what you know now. You have a unique talent, skill, product, or service to bring to the world. Hone your skills and expand your leadership capability. What do you need to do to increase your confidence?

Be Congruent - Manage your business and brand so that everything you do (and that your business and brand are involved in) promote the same message. For example, if your brand is highly technical in nature, you may not want to connect your business (i.e. sponsor an event) to the arts like the ballet or symphony. Inconsistencies may cause your target market to become distracted.

Be Consistent - Make sure your product or service delivers consistently. A brand’s reputation takes a lifetime to build but can be destroyed in an instant. Reward your loyal customers and create consistent excitement about your brand’s offerings. Make sure that every day you and your teams are exceeding your personal standard of excellence. 

Create Clout - Do everything in your power to create influence for your brand. Where appropriate, solicit relevant celebrity or cause endorsements. Connect your brand and business to activities that will raise your brand profile and exposure. Many view clout and influence as close “cousins," so make sure to use your personal connections and reputation are enhancing those of your brand.