Warning, if you’re in business, or you’re creating a business, or you’ve hired or are planning to hire a business or marketing coach or consultant YOU NEED TO READ THIS. Yes, it’s long, but it’s IMPORTANT!
Once again, a situation has arisen to remind me that as consumers of business and marketing coaching and advice, we have to be very careful who we listen to, and hire.
If you’re seeking help from someone who claims to be an expert make sure that person really is an expert.
As I write about in Breaking the Spell, due to the lack of regulation and the low cost of entry in the coaching and consulting industries, both are booming. Anyone can call himself or herself a coach, consultant, or expert in any subject matter they choose, put up a website, and start advising others.
That’s good because it gives us many choices.
But it also means we have to be very careful.
While I definitely support people exercising their freedom and right to start their own business, I believe it carries with it a responsibility to only start a business advising others in an area that you have deep experience, expertise, or the appropriate credentials in. Unfortunately, the information marketing industry has long taught people that they only need to know a little bit more than those they’re advising, in order to call themselves an expert. I strongly disagree.
As I write in Breaking the Spell, there’s nothing wrong with helping others if you only know a little bit more than them, but I believe you have a responsibility to represent yourself that way. It does not make you an expert. Further, if you are advising people on their lives or businesses, recognize you have a huge responsibility. You are holding their life or business in your hands. They are looking to you for guidance and expertise. You could really hurt someone with what you don’t know.
This freedom also means as consumers we need to be careful about who we’re seeking advice from.
In some cases the people we’re turning to for help may know just enough to be dangerous. And even they may not realize this.
Case in point…
Twice in the past year my trademark for The Business Stylist® has been violated by people marketing themselves as business development and branding experts. I could easily excuse someone who doesn’t know any better, however, someone selling advice to others on how to develop and brand a business should know better. They ought to know how to research a potential brand name before adopting it and building a business around it.
In fact, there are two simple web searches that anyone can do for free in just a few minutes, to learn if a potential business or brand name is already being used.
I’ll share those searches with you here because I don’t want you to get burned.
Step 1: Go to Go Daddy or any other website domain registration company and search for the name as a website URL. If it’s already registered that’s not a good sign, but that’s not the end of your search. Next, click on the WHOIS link to see who owns the domain and when it was registered. Third, look up the website URL to see if there is currently a website hosted there. Fourth, do a Google search to see if anyone is doing business using the name. Often people register domains but never use them, in which case if Step 2 checks out, you may want to contact the owner of the domain and try to purchase it, or simply go ahead and register a variation on that domain. But you can’t stop there. Just because the website domain is available, or you don’t find anyone in your search, does NOT mean someone is not already using the business or brand name.
Step 2: Go to uspto.gov and do a trademark search on the name. If the name comes up and there is a live trademark registered, you probably don’t want to use the name, unless it’s for a completely different type of business. If the business is in your industry or is similar, start looking for another name. Even if you don’t plan to trademark the name, you don’t want to infringe on someone’s brand that they’ve spent time and money building. Plus, it will quite possibly create confusion among your prospects and clients, and you could end up spending your time and money marketing their business. Also, if you ever do want to trademark the name, you probably won’t be able to.
And, probably worst of all…
If you go ahead and use the trademarked name, and register a website domain, and design a website and marketing materials, you could find yourself the recipient of a legal cease and desist letter demanding that you stop using the name. That means you lose any brand equity you’ve built, plus all the time and money you’ve invested in your marketing, website, and anything else you’ve created. It also means you have to re-brand your business and start over. Not only will this cost you money and be a huge inconvenience, it can potentially cost you clients and be a serious setback.
Why subject yourself to this when it can all be avoided in a 5-minute, free web search?
Folks, this is basic business and marketing advice.
The fact that people who claim to be business and branding and marketing experts don’t do this in their own businesses is very scary to me. Because odds are they won’t go through this process with their clients either. And that’s opening up their clients to a huge liability.
The fact that you and your business could be so easily hurt is why I feel so compelled to speak out about this, and it’s why I included an entire chapter on the personal development/coaching/expert industry in my book Breaking the Spell.
As a consumer, you need to be aware.
You need to protect yourself by delving deeper into the claimed experience and expertise of anyone you’re considering hiring as a business or marketing coach or mentor. There are many qualified people out there, but there are also many who are either not qualified or are stretching their qualifications. It’s on you as the buyer to do your due diligence or face the potentially expensive and frustrating consequences.
And here’s the thing… the people who have solid expertise and experience will not mind one bit that you’re asking to verify their qualifications, or speak to their references. In fact they’ll probably welcome it, because they have nothing to hide. They’ll also very likely be the first ones to tell you if what you’re looking for is outside their area of expertise, and refer you to someone more qualified.
A few words about branding.
If you’re looking for a branding strategist or expert, please know that developing a brand is not the same as graphically designing a brand.
Branding has become a buzzword and trend in the online business and personal development industry over the past few years. Suddenly everyone is a branding expert: graphic artists, web designers, business coaches, and even photographers. While they may be very skilled at executing a brand and making it look good, it’s crucial for you to understand that developing a brand, and executing a brand, are two very different disciplines. Do not confuse them or let anyone else confuse them for you.
Brand development or brand strategy is about identifying your platform—what you stand for and that unique position that you and your business hold in the marketplace—and coming up with a brand name to represent that point-of-view. A brand strategist or developer will take you through a detailed process to uncover your brand positioning and name, and will make sure you can own it, and know how to implement it, build equity in it, and protect it.
Branding is NOT just about brainstorming a creative name or designing a logo or website.
A good brand sits on a solid strategic foundation that has been well-thought out and researched.
On the other hand, there are many fine graphic artists, designers, website designers, and even photographers who can help you create the marketing materials to represent your brand. However, many of these people are not trained in brand strategy. They are what we used to call in the advertising industry “creatives.”
I have spent 20 years working in, and contracting with, advertising agencies, in addition to running my own marketing consulting business since 1998. When I worked with agencies I was responsible for strategic advertising and marketing development, and management of an entire creative and media team to execute the strategies we developed. The art directors, copywriters, production artists, and web designers (the creatives) were masters at designing logos, ads, marketing materials, and websites to represent the brand. I don’t think any of them would have said they could do my job. And I would never have said I could do theirs. They were very different jobs requiring very different expertise, skills and talents. All roles were necessary. But it was a team effort with everyone playing a specific role.
Please note I am not an attorney and this article is not to be taken as legal advice. If you have legal questions about trademarking please consult an attorney.