Want to take your business to the next level? Have your ‘visibility kit’ ready!












By Gigi Guyton, Women, Work, and Community
As printed in the Bangor Daily News 

I had the sad task of telling an entrepreneur whom I wanted to nominate for a small business award to hold off until next year. We simply were not going to make the deadline. Often the groups handing out awards don’t give much turnaround time, and in putting together this particular nomination, the business owner just wasn’t prepared.

Based on this experience, I started thinking about an entrepreneur’s marketing toolkit. This includes items I believe every business owner should have in what Linda Varrell, president of Broadreach Public Relations in Portland, calls your “visibility kit.”

But before business owners can fill the kit, they should nail down a positioning statement, says Sarah Guerette, director of CEI’s Women’s Business Center in Portland.

“I think this is critically important because I meet many entrepreneurs who describe their marketing approach as ‘stabbing in the dark,’” Guerette said.

Being ready for anything, including a nomination for an award, can launch a business into the next level of growth overnight. When Becky McKinnell, owner of iBec Creative, was selected as one of Businessweek’s Top 25 Entrepreneurs Under 25 in 2009, her business took off. Today, Becky’s staff has grown to 14 employees, and she has outgrown her space twice.

Varrell was instrumental in getting McKinnell ready for the nomination process.

“We scoured the past winners to understand how they were positioned, prioritized Becky’s accomplishments and really drove home her key accomplishments without missing a beat on her personality. The nomination was limited to 1,000 characters!”

When loading your visibility kit, here are some very basic things Varrell and Guerette suggest should be easily and readily accessible:

  • Logo: This would seem like a no-brainer, but, “You’d be surprised how many companies do not have easy access to a high resolution logo, in both color and black and white,” Varrell said.
  • Bio: A short version (50-100 words) and a long version (100-250 words). Varrell says this should have “not only the details of your background, but a hint of your personality.” She says if you have a difficult name to pronounce, include the pronunciation in the notes.
  • Photos: First, have a good headshot of yourself and your best business look. “Don’t crop a shot from your last summer party,” Varrell said. Use a professional photographer if you can, or use a plain background with no shadows. Keep a headshot in color, and in black and white (8×11 and 5×7). A good rule of thumb for a digital photo is at least 300 dpi. Next, have a few candid shots of you and your company and employees at work.
  • Company Profile: “Many entrepreneurs don’t have a one-pager that describes what they do, their market area, key financial and employment stats,” says CEI’s Guerette. “This concise business summary is often needed for funding applications as well as being useful for marketing purposes.” Varrell adds that the company profile should be both in short and long versions.
  • Financial Reports: Yep, the SBA is one organization that wants to see financials from each applicant to their Entrepreneur of the Year award program.  “I often find that clients don’t have their financials ready for a contest or grant proposal,” Guerette said. “Profit and loss, and cash flow statements are the two that are always missing. Many clients assume that last year’s Schedule C is enough information…and forget that much more detailed financial statements will be required.”
  • Key Takeaways or Key Accomplishments: “These are the three things that if someone knows or remembers nothing else about your company, this is it,” Varrell said.
  • Letters of Recommendation: Guerette says entrepreneurs can lower their stress at contest time by having letters of reference “on call” to avoid a rushed scramble about who will write the letter. “Some letters of recommendation, if written somewhat generally, may even serve multiple purposes, and are important to have on file.”

As with any good marketing plan, your visibility kit should be reviewed and updated annually.