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by Sarah J.F. Braley | August 01, 2011

Independent Planners lead-in

After 10 years as president of independent planning outfit Stellar Meetings and Events, Bonni Scepkowski has decided to go in a new direction. "We've focused on corporate meetings for a long time, and we're good at it and we enjoy it. But the element of education and helping other businesses grow is very appealing to us," says the North Brunswick, N.J., business owner. "We are interested in working with in-house meeting planners to help them to take advantage of the years we've been doing this."

In order to make this shift, Scepkowski realizes a rebrand is in order. She plans to spend some downtime this month collecting information from clients to see what they feel she and her colleagues have to offer and writing new copy for her website (stellarmeetings.com). "I'll also come up with a new list of what we can do, either in full or à la carte, for the in-house planner." If all goes well, Scepkowski plans to launch the new concept in January.

Whether starting from scratch or reworking the concept, creating a brand — that core definition of who you are and what you offer — is tricky business and requires careful thought and implementation before you can sell your services effectively. What follows is some valuable advice from branding experts.

Define it Working on your brand starts with taking the time to crystallize the message you want all of your materials to relay.

"You have to codify the thoughts that have been in your head as to why you want to be in this business," says Christopher Litster, vice president of event marketing for Constant Contact, a Waltham, Mass.-based company that helps small businesses stay connected with their clients. "If you're rebranding, it's even more important to sit down, take those rambling thoughts and write them all down." Not doing so, he adds, raises the risk of failure, because you'll end up copying other people, rather than getting at the truth of what your business should be about.

Defining that all-important niche makes the business of running your company more enjoyable (because you've chosen the elements of planning that you love and are good at), which, by extension, makes it easier for you to brand your enterprise.

Liz King, owner and social media events specialist for her eponymous New York City-area planning business, had a vague notion of the meetings she would handle when she hung out her shingle in 2010. After a while, she assessed events she had planned, asking herself what she liked and didn't like about each one, and refining her professional mission.

"It makes it easier to find your target market if you think critically about your skills and interests and compare them to the types of events you enjoy planning," says King, who now arranges only in-person events with a social media element. "I always had a big interest in social media and started to wonder if I could combine that interest with meetings. So that's how I found my niche, by combining what I'm good at with what I'm interested in."