Sargent's solutions - this issue he works through the pros and cons of rebranding

Rebranding can be very useful but avoid confusion or clients could think that you have ceased trading, Alan Sargent warns.

I have been self-employed for more than 12 years now and am thinking about rebranding my business to freshen up my appeal. It all looks very stale and I want to revitalise my public image. What would you advise?

Rebranding is a term that may be construed in several ways. The important thing to bear in mind is the danger of confusing existing and potential clients (and suppliers). You may have several people who have decided to contact you when they want some work done and if you rebrand to such an extent that you alter your public "face" they may think that you have simply ceased trading.

Looking at the various elements of your current public image, analyse the reasons for your dissatisfaction. Is it because of your colour scheme? Work uniform appearance and style of lettering? Letterheads, business cards, sign writing or website information? If so, these are more easily addressed without causing any confusion. It may prove to be expensive - the cost could be high should you elect to commission a professional website designer or graphic artist. Or you could design and produce your own new logo or colour scheme without major outlay.

Changing the name of your company is a difficult decision to make. It is not uncommon for someone to start out in business with a brand name or title that seemed relevant or fun at the time. But as your skills develop, the value of your contracts increase and the social group of your clientele becomes more select, your chosen title may appear inappropriate.

Starting out on a career as a garden designer or contractor with a name that somehow represents your business ideas from the outset - very often a Latin/botanical or "floral" name - can seem a great idea. However, once you begin working, the reality is often not so flowery but muddy and extremely difficult working on your hands and knees in wet borders, and quite unlike the image your chosen name would indicate.

Customer status

If it is the case that you feel the status of your customer base demands a more mature or upmarket company name, then perhaps you should consider why you have been successful - maybe in spite of the name. If so, you should be very wary of changing it too radically.

By all means add a word or change emphasis. If you currently claim to carry out mowing and hedge cutting (or garden maintenance, for example) and you wish to advertise the fact that you also undertake landscape or garden construction works, then you could simply add the word "Landscaping" to your current title.

Many firms are known by the initials of the owner or owners and the public image is therefore not necessarily imaginative or indicative of your skills set, and simply by changing the name from, say, "AS Gardens" to "Alan Sargent Gardens" should present no loss of continuity with your clients.

I have on occasion seen advertisements in newspapers or parish magazines in the name of a firm with the words "formerly known as" in brackets underneath. My personal reaction is that the original firm has either: a) become insolvent; b) the original partnership has broken up; or c) there is some other problem with the business and I would not wish to deal with them. Unfair perhaps, but this is my personal reaction.

A major chocolate manufacturer can change the brand name of a very famous candy bar and not only render the newly rebranded product as well-known as the original but the name change now becomes a popular pub quiz question. But sadly we are not all multibillion-pound companies with the budget to make this successful transition.

Think carefully

Having analysed the reasons for your dissatisfaction, including all elements - unhappy with the title, style, colour, message, image, wording, ambience, etc - think carefully about how you want to be seen in future. Rebranding is not something you should consider too often, for the reason stated.

It is difficult to summarise any advice regarding the subject of rebranding for all of the reasons previously stated. Unless you are seriously considering a complete change of name and services offered, in which case you need to make a full and proper case for such a radical decision, then rebranding may simply be a case of freshening up your image.

Begin with choosing your colour(s) for all written and company image products, including letterheads, business cards, etc. Colour is very important because all lettering needs to be clear and easily understood. Purples and dark reds, blues and greens are often used in our industry, eschewing pastel shades or colours that are difficult to read, either from a distance or against a background colour.

Your choice of words is absolutely vital. If you are not comfortable with creating a word picture of your company's attributes, consider asking someone to check over your proposals. Too many words can dilute your message. Better by far to be succinct in your message. This is especially important when writing advertisements and web content.

Once you have made all of your choices and are ready to launch your new branding, ensure that you contact all previous clients over the past three years or so to notify them of your new business style. This is a very effective marketing strategy, reminding them of your existence and perhaps even gaining a new set of clients from among their friends and neighbours.

Alan Sargent is an independent gardens consultant at the School of Garden Management



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