More and more, customers are making their choices based on brand. So what are you waiting for? When I talk with business-owners who’ve been slow to set about building their brand, I find their reluctance often comes down to a belief that brand-building is an expensive business. Of course, the big brands often spend a lot of money on creating their brands and even more telling the world about them but building your brand doesn’t need to cost the earth. In fact, given that the strength of your brand is based on the quality of your relationship with your customer, you can build a great brand using little more than ‘blood, sweat and toil’. Sounds like too much hard work? It is, but here’s my five ways (each with a practical step attached) to build a top brand without putting your hand into your pocket: 1. Roll Up Your Sleeves That’s right; the first thing you’ve got to do is roll up your sleeves and get stuck in. Brand-building can be a messy business and you need to show your customer that you’re ready to get your hands dirty in order to make things work for them. Practical Step: Schedule regular meetings with customers where there’s no sales agenda. There’s no better way to show your commitment to your customers than meeting up with them to find out what’s going on in their lives. Of course, depending on your business, your meetings don’t have to be face-to-face. You can reach out to customers by ‘phone, email, SMS or twitter just as well. 2. Make Your Story Your Customer’s Story Now you’ve got to show your customers that you’ve been listening. It’s no good just listing your qualifications and achievements as so many of us do. You’ve got to link your story with the stories of your customers. Practical Step: Put together case stories that show what you can do for your customer. It’s very powerful when we can demonstrate to our customers what we can do for someone just like them. It’s not enough that we’re excellent at what we do; we must be able to show our customers how that relates to them right now. Good case stories offer a really effective way to do this. 3. Be A Big Fish In A Little Pond Too many business-owners make the mistake of battling it out in over-crowded marketplaces. Unless you can jump higher or shout louder than your competitors, there’s every danger that you’ll simply get lost in the crowd. Practical Step: Make yours a category of one. Find some aspect of what you do that immediately sets you apart from the competition. That might be something you specialise in, a unique service feature or guarantee, or a particular theme to what you do. The important thing is that you don’t make the make the mistake of fighting it out with bigger and better-armed competitors. 4. Build Your Own Network This isn’t simply about joining networks, although naturally enough you’ll need to do that too. This is about building your own system of vital links; that network of connections that links you to the important people in your marketplace. Practical Step: Prompt word-of-mouth. Don’t think of word-of-mouth as something that happens by accident. It’s up to you to design the network that will carry your message to those you want to influence. Of course, you’ll use existing networks wherever you can, but you need to be prepared to forge links between and beyond those networks. 5. Become An Expert Somewhat surprisingly, expertise is underrated when it comes to building brands. But it’s hugely attractive to customers, particularly in areas where that expertise can really make a difference between getting it right and getting it terribly wrong. Practical Step: Publish your expertise. Become the go-to expert in your field. This isn’t about being academic or technical. Work hard to build your expertise and then give it away freely to those who are open to it. Customers are rarely tempted to take things on themselves; when it comes down to it, they’d much prefer to have an expert take care of things for them. Over To You: It really is over to you now. Put these five ways to work for you in building your brand and keep me posted about how you get on.