Branding on a Budget

When it comes to branding you may not be able to out-spend your competition, but you can always out-think them. Consider these four ways to brand your small business even with a small budget.

Are you trying to promote your brand on a tight budget these days? Well then, it’s time to start out-thinking your competitors since you probably can’t out-spend them. 

Many COSE members have found simple yet creative ways to get lots of positive exposure—for free. They harness the concept of "target marketing” by precisely defining and describing their ideal customers with specific demographic details—those who really need their products or services, value their approach and style, will always pay full price and will easily evolve into raving fans. 

Here are four avenues to explore when it comes to branding your business on a tight budget.

1. Written Publications. If you know what trade publications, eLetters or blogs your target market reads regularly, try to publish content in them that promotes the value of the concepts behind your products or services. But, don’t try to sell. For example, write about the importance of data security for small businesses, not the specific data security service your company provides. Allow the exposure to ‘brand you’ as an expert. And pitching content to COSE’s Mind Your Business is a great place to start*. Hey… works for me!

2. Professional Groups. If you know what professional or business group events your target market used to attend before Covid, offer to speak at them after restrictions are lifted. Same caveat—speak about the value of the concept, not your specific product. Allow that exposure to also brand you as a dynamic and engaging expert. And don’t overlook those groups who pivoted to on-line workshops with speakers.

3. Pro Bono Work. Volunteer your time and talents to some of those groups. Showcase your expertise. The classic example is the website designer who freshens up the organization’s site pro bono, in exchange for a mention on their home page. Allow the contribution of time and talent to help brand you as a professional who gives expertise willingly to support worthy organizations.

RELATED: Check out more articles on working pro bono.

4. Referrals. Always ask for referrals from happy customers. Let them become an extension of your sales team—or your entire sales team. Testimonials on your website can help, but not as much as a happy customer calling a colleague on your behalf. And the larger the customer’s organization, the greater the chance for internal referrals to other divisions and departments.

RELATED: Read more by Phil Stella.

One final tip: Whenever you network at small business-oriented events, ask people you meet how they brand their businesses on a budget. You will be amazed at what you can learn.

So, "No-Budget Branding” is a simple and clever suite of strategies but they’re not easy. They require time and effort, especially if you don’t want to invest the money to have a branding pro do it for you. 

Phil Stella runs Effective Training & Communication,, 440 449-0356, and empowers business leaders to reduce the pain with workplace communication. A popular trainer and executive coach on writing, communication styles and sales presentations, he is also on the Cleveland faculty of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program.

*If you are a COSE member and would like to contribute to Mind Your Business, please email Marie Zickefoose.

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  • Next up: Broadband Bill GCP Supported Crosses Finish Line

    Broadband Bill GCP Supported Crosses Finish Line


    Reliable, affordable access to broadband internet is more important than ever and it is an issue the GCP Board of Directors and our members have elevated throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The crisis further exposed the digital divide throughout Ohio. Cleveland is no exception. 

    GCP has consistently called for investments in infrastructure that will support digital inclusion and technology-based economic development statewide, including broadband. HB 2 – which allows broadband providers to apply for state grants for service provided to unserved and distressed areas – is a part of our important work. The legislation was signed by Governor Mike DeWine on May 17, is effective immediately, and GCP applauded the initiative. 

    “The Greater Cleveland Partnership greatly appreciates Ohio’s collective efforts to expand high-speed internet to underserved and unserved areas across Ohio,” said Baiju Shah, President & CEO, Greater Cleveland Partnership.  “Concurrent and related efforts within BroadbandOhio, JobsOhio, and the Ohio General Assembly highlight how seriously state leaders are approaching this critical issue.  We have consistently supported the passage of HB 2 and welcome its approval.  In the state budget, and as outlined in the Executive Budget proposal, it is also imperative we address internet affordability in urban settings across the state – particularly in Cleveland and surrounding communities.” 

    The law provides $20 million this fiscal year for broadband grants. The Governor’s budget proposal called for $250 million for broadband expansion, an initiative GCP strongly supports.
    Beyond GCP's support for HB 2 GCP leaders understand more must be done in the effort to advance digital inclusion and we will continue to urge for a targeted approach in Cleveland. We stand ready to work with countless partners in our region and across the state to help solve our state’s digital challenges and prepare Ohioans for the future of work.

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  • Next up: Ask SCORE: Building a Strong Business Brand

    Ask SCORE: Building a Strong Business Brand

    Building a strong brand is critical to a business’ success. It is not, however, easy to develop. The following information outlines why building a strong brand matter and how you can get started.

    A business brand is more than a recognizable name and logo. It is the way you will communicate with your clients, a promise on how you will do business and provide your service/product. In essence, it is your calling card. The style, color and words of the brand statement will influence potential customers. Having said this, creating a brand is a challenging task.

    To build a strong brand, you must create opportunities for potential clients to connect with you in engaging ways that allow them to understand your company’s purpose and believe in the value you bring to their lives. It provides a cohesive story on who you are and how you differ from competition. Most importantly, it can create customer loyalty. 

    While brand creation is one of the key components to a successful business, it takes much thought as well as trial and error. Following are some helpful questions to consider when working through the process of building your brand:

    • What is your business’ purpose?  What problem does it solve?
    • What is the first thing you want your customers to think of when they see your product or service?
    • If your customer were to tell a friend about your business, what would you want them to say?
    • What do you want your company to be known for?

    Building brand strategy requires the following research and development components:

    1. Research to identify and understand the target audience and your competitors: This can be done by using Google to research competitors, talking to individuals who may be perspective clients to gather information on their needs and likes for the product/service, and by shopping yourself online to get the feel for how a potential customer would. This provides information on important words to include in your brand statement so when customers perform a search your product/service will appear. Competitor research will allow you to identify their strengths and weaknesses and assist in creating your advantage.

    2. Create a focus statement: The focus statement/value statement should be the center for all other brand materials created for the business. It is a 2–3-line statement that informs customers what value they can expect to get from your product/service. The important information contained in this should be: product/service, target market, value proposition and statement of differentiation from other products/services with the market.

    3. Slogan development: A good slogan is a short, catchy phrase that will be associated with your product/service. This should be used on your business cards, website headers, and other business materials. Slogans can and do evolve over time.

    4. Selection of appealing aesthetics: This may seem strange, however, color and font can communicate how you want the client to perceive you. It should help differentiate you from competitors.  When choosing a color/color scheme make sure it cannot be confused with a competitor. Also consider how print text and pictures you may add will look on the color pallet. Keep your font selected simple and never use more than 2 font types – one for heading and one for text.

    5. Logo design: The logo is the face of your business and will be on all materials. Therefore, the complexity of it should be kept to a minimum so it is scalable and can be utilized in various sizes within the business materials.  

    The final step in the brand creation process is to consider the appropriate delivery channels. Selecting the optimal delivery channels should include consideration of potential clientele audience. In todays’ business environment, there are many options available. Following are the most common:

    • Email – personalized way to reach customers that can be used across all aspects of the customer relationship from initial marketing to sales, service delivery. 
    • Web content – personalized way to reach customers. Requires a good knowledge of potential customers and effective marketing content.
    • Social media – is scalable and allows business owner to build loyalty groups that can be brand advocates.
    • Organic search - Organic search is the use of search engines like Google to assist potential clients in finding the services/products they need. This is where the use of some critical words in the branding statement will have a significant impact on its success. 
    • Display ads – these can be posted on either mobile or more traditional venues. Consideration of client base may drive the approach utilized.
    • Traditional marketing materials such as brochures, business cards, trade shows or organizations.

    Your brand will evolve as the business grows and changes over time. It is okay and even necessary to tweak messaging and make improvements along the way. Once you have your brand strategy in place and you know your message resonates with your customers, stick with it.

    Content courtesy of

    Developing your business’ brand is the perfect time to bring in the support of a SCORE mentor. A SCORE mentor has experience building strong brands and has access to the best resources to help you along the way.

    The Cleveland Chapter of SCORE was founded in 1965 to foster and support the small business community in Northeast Ohio through mentoring and education. There are currently 80 volunteers with experience in the fields of business ownership, managers, accountants, attorneys, and other business fields that are ready to share their knowledge through mentoring. For more information about our services for small business visit the website at or call (216) 503-8160. 

    Funded in part through a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. All opinions, conclusions, and/or recommendations expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA.


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  • Next up: National Entrepreneurship Month feature: Chris Wentz, Everykey

    National Entrepreneurship Month feature: Chris Wentz, Everykey

    Hear from Everykey's founder and CEO Chris Wentz about his entrepreneurship journey turning a college dream into reality.


    Every entrepreneur’s goal is to come up with a product or service that solves a problem for consumers. If you’ve ever lost a key or forgotten a password, the company Everykey, founded by COSE member Chris Wentz, has the solution for you. 

    Chris’s interest in small business and technology goes back as far as he can remember, but it was in his senior year at Case Western Reserve University that his journey to entrepreneurship really began. The professor of his entrepreneurial class asked students to present an original business idea—one that makes money, but that also solves a problem in the world and has an impact on people’s lives. 

    Chris pitched an idea for a wristband with the technology to unlock everything including your phone, laptop, car door and house—and that also stores all account passwords in one place. Chris knew he had a good idea, but thought it was an undertaking for a big company like Samsung, Google or Apple. 

    Little did he know that a handshake and an initial investment from this professor would lead to Everykey.

    In the beginning, Chris and his colleagues competed in student business plan competitions—mostly through the university. They were fortunate to win several and received money, as well as the attention of potential investors. And perhaps most importantly, there was validation that their product was worth pursuing.

    This traction led to prototypes and crowdfunding campaigns, which raised about $300,000 through pre-orders. They were also fortunate to be well-supported through local resources in the Northeast Ohio region, and then more broadly funded by several venture capital firms.

    While the actual device may have changed a bit since ideation, the concept is still the same. The finished Everykey product impacts consumers by not only making their lives convenient and easier, but also more secure through its military-grade encryption. 

    What was once a college dream has become a successful small business.

    Chris shares details of his entrepreneurship journey on COSE’s Small Business After Hours podcast. Here are three key takeaways from that conversation.

    Takeaway no. 1: Cleveland can be the next Silicon Valley. Chris views Northeast Ohio as one of the best places to start a business. Most technology startups are created in Silicon Valley, and many believe money must be raised there as well. Chris says this close-minded mindset was more prevalent pre-COVID, but that because remote work is so ubiquitous now, that philosophy is changing. 

    In Northeast Ohio, the cost of living is far lower than on the coast, allowing companies to hire more employees for the same price. This is a top reason that Cleveland could become home to some grand-slam-type companies, Chris says.

    Takeaway no. 2: There's no such thing as overnight success. Everything takes longer than expected—especially technology. The timeline from ideation to having a ready-to-go product was probably Everykey’s number one challenge, according to Chris. The complexity wasn’t in the hardware itself, but rather in developing the different apps required to work with all web browsers. 

    With a name like Everykey, the product must live up to the idea that it can be used everywhere and with all software, which Chris says meant developing from scratch each time. 

    As a result of investing so much time and effort into this technology, they are one of only a small handful of providers. And the hard work keeps paying off. Now that they own a patent for this unique technology, Everykey has become even more appealing to potential employees, investors and buyers.

    Takeaway no. 3: Every company has moments of doubt; Never give up. One of the lowest points the Everykey team experienced was early on when they were told it wasn’t possible for their technology to connect with all platforms and software. But, with faith that there’s a solution to every challenge, they didn’t let their doubts determine their outcome. 

    Chris knows that without those challenges, they could not have developed such inventive technology, they would not enjoy the success they have today, and they would not be as well-poised to expand their product into commercial markets.

    His parting advice for entrepreneurs? 

    “Even when the chips are down or it feels like all hope is lost, never give up. Continue to believe in your vision. Bust through the barriers people put in front of you and you will come out stronger in the end. We learned so much and created so much value out of the challenges we faced.”

    Hear more about Chris’ entrepreneurial journey in episode four of COSE’s Small Business After Hours podcast.

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  • Next up: Within Reach: Closing the gap between employers and their workforce

    Within Reach: Closing the gap between employers and their workforce

    Watch a recent webinar from GCP discussing the implications of local spatial mismatch.

    As Greater Cleveland continues to see substantial business growth and job creation along its outer edges, ensuring that employees have practical transportation options to these employment centers has become increasingly challenging.

    In a recent webinar, industry experts including representatives from the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA) and the Fund for Our Economic Future discussed the impacts this spatial mismatch is having on our regional economic health and how organizations could benefit from a new program designed to close the gap between workers and the workplace.

    Watch the recording below:

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  • Next up: COSE Members Share Their Favorite Small Business Resources

    COSE Members Share Their Favorite Small Business Resources

    We asked some of our COSE members what resources they turn to while running their small businesses. Podcasts, books, websites, YouTube channels... check out their suggestions!


    From books to websites to podcasts, we asked some COSE members to tell us what resources they find valuable as they work day-to-day running their small businesses—including any they have personally written or produced. Check out their suggestions and consider adding some to your list.

    Margaret Cassidy, Esq., Principal, Cassidy Law
    A book I co-authored and co-edited, although titled Lawyer’s Corporate Social Responsibility Deskbook: Practical Guidance for Corporate Counsel and Law Firms, is a great tool for small and large businesses looking to design a social responsibility program or to simply take a more socially responsible approach to how they conduct business. It covers everything from cyber security to supply chain and includes checklists, case studies and other practice resources for your business.

    Tim Dimoff, CPP, President, SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Inc.
    I wrote a book The You in Business, which is for anyone who manages or owns a small business. Filled with real-life, in-the-trenches stories, it offers insight into the fundamentals of building a business from the ground up. Readers will also learn how to develop long-lasting customer relationships to grow their business and place it on the fast track to success. 

    Alex Gertsburg, Esq., CEO, The Gertsburg Law Firm
    One of the best books on starting a business is Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, about the first 20 years of Nike.  The best personal development book I’ve ever read, and the one I “gift” the most, is The Success Principles by Jack Canfield. The book I’m reading right now (one principle per day upon waking) is Principles by Ray Dalio. All three books should be required reading in any business course. They are amazing and provide enduring lessons for life and business, written in very readable ways by masters in both life and business.

    Janet Gosche, Business Advisor and Integrator
    In Mastering the Rockefeller Habits, Verne Harnish describes John D. Rockefeller's underlying strategy and adds his own suggested three winning habits: 1) Set priorities, 2) Measure key metrics, 3) Get a rhythm of well-organized meetings to keep everyone aligned and accountable. He also provides a tool to document your plan, called The One-Page-Plan. His website,, allows free downloads of the tools. is a website from the author we love, including Good to Great. This site is filled with his articles, tools, and many other resources. It is easy to navigate and find all sorts of inspiring and helpful materials.

    Leadership Unlocked, Unleash the Power of Your Body for Impact and Fulfillment is written by a new local author, Yan Maschke, who shares leadership stories, lessons learned, and leadership practices in this easily digestible short read and quick reference guide.

    Erin Longmoon, CEO, Zephyr Recruiting
    Profit First, by Mike Michalowicz, will turn your accounting on its head and make your business profitable, sustainable, financially heathy, and resilient! Daring Greatly, or anything by Brené Brown... this book will transform your courage, leadership, and mission. Smart Strategy for CPA’s podcast by Geraldine Carter... I am not a CPA, nor in the accounting space at all, and this podcast is brilliant and has opened my eyes to new ways of thinking and solving my business challenges. The Dames, is an online (or some in-person chapters) networking group for female entrepreneurs who make 6+ figures, and who want to be surrounded by women business owners who mean business! LinkedIn with Louise, is a helpful podcast about everything LinkedIn.

    Cheryl Perez, President and CEO, BIG HR
    I have a complete library on my YouTube channel. Here you can find all the tips and tools you need from A-Z to start-up, step-up and level-up your business every week with How To-Tuesdays! My focus is inspiring entrepreneurs to develop and create the processes and systems to grow and scale their for-profit or non-profit organizations. My approach focuses on the structure, strategies, tools, and resources that can help you take your business to the next level and grow. 

    Do you have a business resource to share? Contact us—we’d love to hear about it!

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