Today’s guest on The Successful Pitch is Pia Silva, who is the author of “Badass Your Brand.” She has a book that goes into great detail about how to be a badass when it comes to branding, which is all about charging a premium price and getting your ideal clients to realize why they should work with you. And she said, you know when you pitch don’t be vague. And you really need to not let the competition intimidate you, and really get people to see your value so that they are buying you as an expert, and not just your time. We go into a great detail about what a perfect pitch worksheet is. In fact, she gives the listeners a link on how to get it. So you want to be sure to listen and enjoy learning how to become a badass brand. Enjoy the episode.
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BadAss Your Brand with Pia Silva
Hi and welcome to The Successful Pitch. Today’s guest is Pia Silva, who is an entrepreneur, a speaker and a writer. She’s a partner at Brand Strategist, and worst of all, design, where they build “badass brands without the BS.” It’s amazing brand positioning right there. She’s a Forbes contributor, and she’s spoken to a host of entrepreneurial organizations including Goldman Sachs 10000 Small Businesses. And her company was named in the top 10 design firms led by young people that are changing the way we look at the world.
She’s got a great book coming out called Badass Your Brand, The Impatient Entrepreneur’s Guide to Turning Expertise into Profit. And we’re going to talk about that. And who isn’t impatient, right? Welcome to the show Pia.
Thank you so much for having me John. Great to be here.
Yes. I always like to go to the story of origin, which is how did you decide that you were going to create this branding for other people? Did you see a lot of problems out there and what’s your story of origin on how you came up with this badass brand?
Sure. It has been a journey. We definitely didn’t start out like this. We started actually … So my company is me and my husband and partner, and the business originally started, he was a graphic designer, he’s also an artist. So he went to school for graphic design to look at, monetize on his creativity. And he was freelancing. I’ve always kind of freelanced as a business consultant in different ways. And one day we decided, okay I’m going to build a business around you. So let’s decide we’re not working for anyone else. You’re a designer. I will manage the business. I’ll find the clients, I’ll manage, project manage, and do the money. And that way you can focus on what you do best, which is the design.
Got it. How many people would love that?
Yeah, I could’ve built the business around anything at the time. I just loved the idea of working for myself. And over the years, over the first few years, it developed into a small agency. We had two employees at one point. The branding actually was a very organic process.
First, it was two things. One, we learned about branding because I had to brand our own company in order to compete. To get clients. So out of pure need, I had to learn about branding to position myself, separate myself from the competitors. So that was one thing, and the other piece was, we kind of organically developed this process with our clients over a period of time to try to get them on board for the designs. So any designers out there, you know you show the work and then clients have feedback. And over many clients, we have built this process we actually got more and more information at the beginning. And we kind of set the stage, wrote a really clear, creative brief. And the more we did that, the easier it was to get them to agree to designs in a shorter amount of time.
And eventually we looked back we went, oh my god, we’re basically doing this whole branding business strategy, to get them to say yes to the designs, but that’s where the value is. So it was a long time evolution but when we realized it, we immediately repositioned ourselves as a branding company and realized the branding and the strategy was where the value was. We still do the design but it’s kind of like, the design is great, you’re coming to us for the high-level strategy, and then we’re going to give you awesome design as part of that.
Often times, the design can function as sort of a vacuum, right? There’s, well, we just wanted to look pretty and we don’t really even know what our strategy is. And you make sure that that’s all connected, it sounds like.
Yeah, I mean, when you’re pitching design to clients, if there’s no strategy behind it, it’s kind of at the client’s whim. At least in my experience, it’s like, oh I don’t like that color. You know, well what does that have to do it? Let’s think about your business and what you’re trying to do and what’s going to make the sales for the right customers and let’s make a decision based on that. So that’s where we kind of found … I don’t even know how you have a successful design project without understanding that part first.
So, what makes it badass? People come to you because you’ve got that brand positioning. And they say, okay, I want my brand to be badass. How do you define what badass is? Is it memorable? Is it edgy? Is it only for certain people?
Sure. I define a badass brand as having two fundamental characteristics. One, it has to be able to charge a premium price in a market and still win the business. So you have to be able to charge more than your competitors and still beat them out. And two, it has to attract your ideal clients. So what that means is … I talk about this on my homepage. I talk about how in order to be loved by some, to magnetically attract those ideal perfect clients who adore you and want to pay a premium price, you have to be okay being misunderstood, or even disliked by others.
When I think about being a badass, that’s not an easy thing to do. You have to have the guts to not necessarily be liked by everyone. So that’s really where the where the badassery comes into our branding. We work with people in all industries. We attract a lot of lawyers and financial planners actually. It’s not so much that their brand has to be edgy. It has to be badass within their industry, in relation to their competitors, and that’s always a little bit of a challenge for small businesses because I think, just inherently, people, humans, we want to be liked. So it’s a little scary to do something that some people might not like, but that’s powerful and that’s how you build a fan base and a tribe of people who can’t stop talking about you.
That’s what I want for clients. You want your excited clients and fan base to gossip about you so that they keep sending you business.
Also, it sounds like what you’re saying Pia, is who you say no to is just as important as who you say yes to as a client.
Oh, you’re singing my favorite word. If you can’t say no to the wrong clients, that’s not badass either. I’m a big proponent of saying no to everyone who is not a perfect fit for what you do.
So if someone wants to get out of the rat race and stop trying to hunt for clients, and get these high-paying clients that you’re talking about, what’s your advice on how to do that?
Well, the first thing is to narrow your business in some capacity. I don’t necessarily think you have to just narrow your target market. I think there’s actually a bunch of different ways that you can narrow your focus and your message. But you do need to focus your message on something because if it’s not an idea that is immediately noticeable, stands out from the crowd, immediately memorable, then you won’t empower people that you come into contact with to share it.
For example, it might be a combination of your target market and potentially your personality. What I like to say about personality and that’s something that a lot of people think of as your brand. It’s like the personality of your company. For it to help you attract these clients, it has to be contrary to the prevailing personality in your industry.
So let me give you a quick example. We positioned a financial firm who was for millennials, and we renamed them Stash Wealth. Their tagline on their newsletter is: Financial Cliff Notes. Get your financial shit together. We don’t always curse by the way, but it happened to be appropriate here.
That is a demonstration of a very cool, edgy, fun brand, and it’s very different from the financial industry. However that brand, if it were in the ad agency world, it wouldn’t necessarily be as different because a lot of ad agencies have this like hip, cool, young vibe. So it is very important how it’s relative to the competitors in your industry.
Well you have a great story and I love stories. About how you went from $40,000 in debt to $500,000 in sales in just 12 months without paying for advertising. I’m sure people would love to hear that story.
Sure. Well, so three years into our business, almost exactly three years after I said, “Steve I’m going to manage your business.” We had a studio in Brooklyn, we had to employees. We had built this small agency much like the agencies we saw out in the world. We were copying what they were doing cause it seemed to be working, and we raised our prices pretty quickly in that last, in that third year, because we were working our butts off and we were barely staying afloat, so at one point I doubled our prices from $16,000 to $32,000 a project. What I didn’t know then that I know now, is that it’s much more competitive at that price point, and the sales process is a lot longer.
So both of those things … We came in second on a lot of pitches, and three years after we started our business, we were in $40,000 of debt. So that was credit card debt. I basically spent all the cash I had on the employee payroll obviously. We weren’t paying ourselves, and that was our credit limit at the time, so that’s kind of why that was such an important number. We probably would have gone a little bit farther had we had more credit.
So we had to make a decision at that point, and I certainly was really distraught, feeling like failure. You know, feeling like we’re going to have to close up shop. Am I going to have to get a job? And Steve actually said to me, he goes … Well first, he said we need to let these employees go. They’re very expensive. And that felt like failure to me too. It felt like we were closing in – we didn’t make it. But what he said was, that doesn’t mean we’re going backwards. Maybe this is the next step in our evolution. We’re very good at what we do. Our clients are happy. There’s something not working, so we need to take a step back and look at what’s working and what’s not working.
Over the next couple months, we put ourselves through our own branding process. One of the key questions I always ask clients, that we asked ourselves was, what is our favorite thing about what we do? What we found was that we love the work. We love the design work. Working with clients. We didn’t like the long drawn-out projects. We didn’t like how after we did all this up-front work and show them all this work that we were very proud of, that committee, that design-by-committee, would water it down, and these detailed feedback back and forth, and these projects that would last 6 or 12 months. Months longer than they were supposed to because of all the back and forth. Just stuff that really sucks the energy and profitability out of projects.
So then we said, okay well, what’s the most profitable thing we do? And it turned out that we actually had a process and a product that we had built a year earlier, that we both loved and was much more profitable. And so essentially, the year before, because we raised our price so much, a business coach of mine he said, okay Pia, you’re really pricing yourself out of all these people in your network. These small businesses who don’t have $30,000 to spend. So he said just come up with something you could offer them because they keep calling you, and you keep saying oh no sorry we’re too expensive for you. I was just turning people away. It was like no, no, no, we’re an agency now.
So we came up with this thing called the Brand Up. And it was a one-day intensive where a client came in for $3,000, and Steve and I would make everything we could for them. And that was it. We did it a few times over the year. I didn’t advertise it because I was really going for the big fish. But at this moment when we were in debt, we realized that those were really fun, and they were much more profitable. Because $3,000 for a day, really it’s a lower price point but it far eclipses the amount of money we would make over a $30,000 project overtime. Right? I mean we spend more than 10 days on a $30,000 project.
So we doubled down on this process called the Brand Up and we only started selling that. So we repositioned our company basically overnight. We built a one and two-day Brand Up. And I called up all the outstanding proposals that I had out. You know how this goes when you call a proposal, at the client and say hey, just checking in on the proposal. You know that dreaded call?
So I made that call to a bunch of clients and they said to me, oh yeah I’m so sorry I haven’t gotten back to you. You know excuses, excuses. And I said, no I’m calling you to tell you that that proposal is no longer valid. We’re no longer doing that. However I can do your project in two days for a fraction of the price. I closed four clients just from that.
Sure. Well the big takeaway here I think is, step back, don’t throw in the towel. Figure out as they always say, a way to pivot, right? And say, okay if this isn’t working, what is it we really love? What makes us unique? What are the objections? If it’s price, is there a way to reformat it so we’re still premium price, but not having to put so much work in? And this concept of Brand Up is really great. It instantly says what it does. And you’re only asking people to give you a day and at the end of that day, you’re giving them all these amazing takeaways. That’s a good use of their time as an investment, as well as a reasonable price, that they can’t say, I get that I’m getting probably five times or more that in value from doing this.
So that’s really great information for people that say, you know if your pitch isn’t working, whether it’s your pitch to get funded, your pitch to get a client, or even to get hired. You need to just step back and literally what you did, it is rebrand yourself. Is that an accurate summary of what you just said?
Yeah, absolutely, and it really informed the pitch. I mean when I say badass brands without the BS, but no BS is the six months of feedback. To me, I’m cutting out the BS for you as much as for me. We’re still delivering high-quality deliverables but in a much shorter amount of time that I’ve actually found works really well for clients too who don’t have the time to dedicate.
Yeah, it’s like we don’t have a month to debate what color this is going to be. We’ve got to make a decision now because we have so many other things to cover, and it’s already noon, right?
And you shouldn’t. You shouldn’t, especially as a small business owner. I think small business owners sometimes use that as an excuse, not intentionally but like, oh let’s talk about this logo for a long time. It’s like, no, no, let’s get this done and get started selling. I mean that’s why my book says impatient entrepreneur. I am the impatient entrepreneur. I don’t want to do this for six months. I want you to start making sales tomorrow.
Right. Well talk about your book. How did you come up with the concept to do a book? What’s your intent on doing that?
Thanks for asking that. I actually started writing the book because I wanted to learn … I wanted to see if I could write a book, and I wanted to learn the process of self publishing. I have a lot of clients. Again, my focus is one to three person service businesses, and a lot of those people, one of their best marketing strategies is to position themselves as experts and thought leaders and publishing a book is a really great way to do that.
So you know, I’m always looking to do things that will increase my value to my clients, and knowing how to self publish a book, just understanding what it takes and understanding all the marketing, I thought would be a valuable skill to have. Little did I know in the process that there would be all these amazing other things that would come up. Like having a book gives you a really great reason to come on podcasts, and I’m a Forbes contributor. I mean, I pushed a little more that cause I knew I had a book coming out. So it kind of sparked a lot of energy in me and that’s exciting.
I always say to people that within the word authority, is the word author.
So whatever you’re the author of, you’re the authority of. And if you want to be perceived as an authority, expert/thought leader, to the media and to your clients, that’s a really great way to do it.
So let’s jump in early in the interview because you’ve been so generous in offering the listeners a special treat. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t always like to wait for the end of the meal for my dessert. So if you don’t mind, let’s jump to what the treat is, that you’re going to give the listeners of The Successful Pitch.
Yeah, absolutely. Well, when you so graciously invited me, I thought about something I could give your listeners specifically, and I wanted to share with you my perfect pitch worksheet. So I made a landing page for you guys. It’s http://badassyourbrand.com/pitch. Keep it simple. And if you go there, you can download both the first chapter of my book, which goes a little more into detail about our pivot and how we repositioned our business, and you will also get the Perfect Pitch worksheet to build your badass pitch.
I love it. So that’s http://badassyourbrand.com/pitch. We will put that in the show notes, but I just wanted to make sure anyone just listening, that they will get that URL. That’s really really generous of you.
So what will we find in the Perfect Pitch worksheet. You don’t work have to give us the whole thing, but just tease us a little bit about what’s in the Perfect Pitch worksheet that’s not in the book?
There is not a worksheet in the book specifically. Although there’s an accompanying workbook. The Perfect Pitch worksheet is really trying to distill how you’re going to say it in a 30-second elevator pitch, and what to get rid of. So I find that people tend to focus on the wrong pieces, and at the same time, I hear a lot of people giving pitches where they’re not really clear.
So in an attempt to not be the same, they end up being vague. So let’s do the marriage of the two. Let’s give it something interesting but also be really clear so they’re not just left wondering, what the hell did they do?
I couldn’t agree more. I always tell my clients, the confused mind always says no, and being vague or too complex is confusing. People are like, you’re making me work too hard to understand whether this is for me or not. Or I’m on to the next thing. Or the next pitch. Or you’ve lost me and I’m too embarrassed to say I don’t understand. If you don’t do that and you are clear and concise when you pitch, then people are much more likely to want to know more. Which in my view, is the whole point of a good pitch.
Couldn’t agree more.
What do you think are the three most important pieces of advice that you have for people who start their own business?
So number one is, although it’s valuable to look at the competition, and you want to know what’s going on in the market, don’t take it too seriously. I think it’s more valuable, and again I focus on small service businesses, so I am an authority on small service businesses. These ideas can apply, but I don’t apply them as fervently to different kinds of businesses.
Just so it’s clear, so we’re being 100% clear, how do you define a small service business? I think I know, but I’d love to hear your definition.
Well, we only work with one to three person service businesses, and there’s a reason for that. We’re doing intensive model work, and more than three opinions starts to get muddy.
So what’s a service business? Give us an example of one of your clients.
Yeah, so any sort of consultant, architect, general contractor, photographer. Anyone who is selling their expertise. So someone that’s an expert at something, and they’re selling essentially their time. Now I say that with a caveat. I don’t believe in charging money, time and money. Trading time for money. I believe in selling based on value. However, service businesses are delivering some of their time in where they deliver their value.
Sure, right. Okay, got it. That’s very clear. I love it. Especially, so now we know, like oh, if you’re an architect, if you’re a consultant, you need Pia. Right? Cause you got so specific for us in what a service business is, as opposed to, oh I have a coffee shop. Is that a service business? Do I need you?
Yes, great point. And the other thing for me, is that’s why I define badass brands as charging a premium price. A lot of the strategies that I teach and who I like to work with, they have to want to charge a premium price. I don’t play the pricing game. I don’t think anyone should. Building a business is hard enough, why would you also build a business that’s competing on price? Might as well position yourselves in a way where you can charge a premium price and you can grow that value exponentially.
Got it. So your first piece of advice is, don’t let the competition sway you.
Sway you too much. Instead I think it’s really valuable and important to look inside yourself and what your real core competency is. What you absolutely love to do. And build a business around that. Because not only will that be more enjoyable, and you’ll have more enthusiasm for it, but we are unique. Everybody can have their own unique spin on something, and you can’t find that looking at the competition.
Got it, okay.
Was that a long one?
No, that’s good.
I’ve got two more.
Okay, number two would be, I kind of said this a little bit, selling based on value, not on time. Positioning yourself as an expert versus a service provider. So when I look at service businesses, you are a service provider, but there’s a way to charge and position yourself as an expert where people are coming to you because of what you know as opposed to coming to you because you’re the hands to execute.
There’s a bunch of different ways to do this, but two of them is the way that you manage the process. So taking control of a project and asking bigger questions first. Not what do you want me to do? But what are you trying to accomplish? And coming from that positioning, which is more of an expert positioning.
And two, is to sell based on value, not on time. So not even quantifying time for a client and giving them an ability to dissect an hourly rate. It shouldn’t really matter how much time you spend. So that would be two.
Three is to have the badass guts to say no to clients that are not your perfect ideal clients, and by ideal clients, I mean both clients that you want to work with and you would love to engage with. And also clients that are positioned to really get the most out of what you do. So, I think it’s really important for your own brand’s reputation to pick clients as much as they pick you, based on whether or not you can really do your best work for them.
I love that because I’m always counseling people who are pitching for getting their startup funded. You need to be coachable, and if you’re pitching or interviewing potential people to help you with your brand, like someone would be talking to you, you need to come across as someone who’s coachable. And if it’s going to be antagonistic from the get-go, just during the interview process, the negotiations don’t have to be that way.
And it sets the tone for how you’re going to engage and start questioning every little line item, you’re going to drive yourself crazy. So I always talk about, here’s who this is for, and here’s who this is not for. And if this fits you, I do my best work with my ideal clients. I’m helping people crafting really great pitch, and helping them get more clients, or whatever the objective is. And the same thing, sounds like that’s what you do. It’s like, here’s who this is for. If you need help with your brand, and getting the design up and running in a short amount of time, and you work in the service business like a consultant or an architect, then this is who this is for.
If you’re not charging a premium price, and you want to argue about the color of something for two months, this is not for you.
Yeah, exactly, and what that means is, every client we work with is really excited. And they’re amped and ready to get the best out of what we do. So it’s a win-win.
I love it. Well you are all over social media. Your Twitter handle is @PiaLovesYourBiz. So we definitely want to encourage people to tweet you and follow you on all the different social medias. Is there any one last piece of advice you’d like to leave our listeners? Either about something from your book, or just something that you’ve learned along the way yourself.
Yeah, I just want to … I love to tell fellow entrepreneurs, and this is something that I am constantly reminding myself to do, which is, be committed. Be super focused on the thing that you’re doing, and what you love to do. Also, keep reminding yourself to take a step back and survey the landscape because every time I have had a new idea, it’s come when I take a little bit of space and then it’s right in front of my face. The Brand Up and building that was an obvious one, but I feel like I had so many moments like that, and when I noticed them, I think, oh my gosh how was I not … I was just so myopic in my thinking up until now, I wasn’t able to see that. So, just always remember to go back and forth from the focused, to the expansive look.
It’s great because it’s almost a paradox, isn’t it? What most people do, is they try to do both in one day. Big picture and focused. Big picture and focused. What about these 20 ideas, and I’ve lost all my focus. So you’re like, schedule some time to just focus, and then schedule some time to take a break and open your mind up to what else you could be doing. But not concurrently, so you’re not multitasking in your head.
Yeah, absolutely. And I think that, I know I can get married to ideas when I’m working on them. And then get scared if maybe they’re not working well. But as Steve is always there to remind me too, it’s like, this could be something else completely in the future, you know? It’s not that I want to be changing all the time, but there’s so many possibilities and that’s really exciting. And I think that’s what entrepreneurism is all about.
Thanks Pia, you’ve been a great guest. I love your own branding. Badass your brand, that’s the name of the site, that’s the name of the book. Good branding there.
Be sure to pick it up. It’s easy to remember and it solves a big problem that a lot of people have, which is don’t be vague. Anybody … Get very clear and concise. Thanks again Pia.
Thanks so much for having me John. This was great.
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