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  • Sylvie Barr

Put the horse before the cart!

Updated: Jun 30


When I arrived in the UK, this idiom was one of the first that I learnt: ‘Don’t put the cart before the horse!’

The expression dates as far back as the late fifteen hundreds, and has stuck to these days as an easy way to remind ourselves of what must come first.


If you’re about to start your business, it’s very tempting to go straight to getting a logo for the name you have in mind, printing business cards, having your website and social accounts, etc.

All these tangible items do show that you’re serious about doing business, and help you getting known out there.


Yet, this could prove a costly and ineffective move if you haven’t done your homework first.


Any business transaction can be summed up as a value exchange: customers pay you for a product or a service. For this value exchange to be successful, there are 2 big questions for you to answer before you invest further into any resources, be they money, time or energy:


1): Who might be interested in your product or service?

2): What makes your product or service different from the competition?


In answering the first question, you will define your ideal customer.

The BIG mistake when you go to market is to believe that anyone will be interested in your product.

If you don’t spend time defining and understanding your target customer, you’ll end up with a bland offering and bland communications, your product or service will be as attractive as a beige buffet!


It is therefore vital that before anything, you research if there’s a market for your product/service.

In doing so you’ll flesh out who is more likely to buy what you have to offer.

The clearer you are about your target customer, the better.

Try to answer as many questions as possible about your ideal customer, and understand as clearly as possible how your product/service will be of use in their life.


You can write a list of key facts, including age, gender, where they live (regions, city v countryside), what type of job they have, life stage (single, with a partner, with a family, empty nester), the kind of hobbies they might be into, the times and places they would use your product etc. The richer the description, the better.

You can also put all this information into images, by making your own collage on a board. This is fun to do, and when you regularly check your ideal customer board, you’re more likely to market your product in a way that really talks to them!


Then try to do your own market research even if you don’t have a budget to appoint a research firm. Go out and find people that match the profile of your ideal customer and talk to them about your product or service. This will help you tweak and refine your offer, be it the way the product looks, how it’s packaged, the price it’s sold at etc.


Now on to the other big question: What makes your product or service different from the competition?

That’s where your brand comes into play. But what’s a brand? A name? A logo? A slogan?

The word ‘brand’ comes from the Old Norse word ‘brandr’, meaning ‘to burn’.

‘Brand’ has its roots in cattle ranching and farming, when farmers used to burn the cattle with an iron to claim ownership over their herd.

The word ‘brand’ was first used in the advertising industry by David Ogilvy, in the late 1950’s.


Simply put, your brand helps you/your business stand out from the competition.


And beyond its name, typeface, colour, or graphics, EVERY type of communications - verbal or non verbal, face to face or remote - go towards forming an image of your brand in people’s minds.


These days it’s very rare to operate in a market with no competition whatsoever. You’ll often find more than one company offering similar products, in a similar price range to the same target audience.


So how does your brand get to be picked over others?

In a world where people are bombarded day in day out with thousands of messages on so many media channels, how does your brand stand out? Money? Surely ‘he/she who shouts the loudest’ with big budgets can help, but that’s far from guaranteed. And when you start your own business, cash is often scarce, isn’t it?


The good news is that, as much as there are so many businesses, products / services competing with yours out there, there’s only one YOU.

So if you root your business/brand in solid yet unique foundations, your chances to stand out are much higher.

These foundations are your own Vision, Mission, Beliefs, Values and Personality.

As the founder of your business, you’ll find that more often than not, you project your own beliefs and values into the business you’ve created.

Moreover, by following this simple recipe, you bag yourself a double win: not only does your business stand out in a unique way, it does so in an authentic, non fabricated, and therefore sustainable way.


You can read about how I’ve applied the brand framework of VISION/MISSION/BELIEFS/VALUES/PERSONALITY to my own business, Holisto.


I hope this has given you food for thought and made you pause before you commit to spend your hard earned cash on branding and marketing materials.

If you need some guidance to define your ideal customer, or build a framework for your brand like I did with Holisto, do contact me, I’d love to help!


Until then, remember, put the horse before the cart!


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