Family Ties Online: How to Build the Right Image for Your Family-Owned Business

Author’s Note: This is the first in a series that will walk the reader through the steps in an image-building process for your family-owned business. Let’s start at the beginning …

Why Have An Image?

When we get up each morning, most of us devote a certain amount of time to creating an image that is acceptable to ourselves and appealing to others. For our jobs, we dress and act in a manner that presents an image that is professional and appropriate. In addition to the more obvious trappings of clothing and grooming, a professional image can often include intangibles. You want your attorney or banker to project an image of intelligence and trustworthiness. You want your doctor to come across as experienced and knowledgeable. All these intangibles are part of the overall image these professionals project to their clients, customers or patients. What image is right for you?

An image that combines tangibles and intangibles is what you are seeking. The key purposes of your business image are:

  • To attract customers/clients
  • To build the client’s confidence in your business
  • To serve as the cornerstone of an ongoing relationship with customers by communicating a specific set of expectations

Attracting Customers

The image you convey in your advertising, catalogs, direct mail, social media and other forms of external communication is the only means a prospective customer has to determine whether or not to do business with you. The messages you convey—whether they emphasize quality, expertise, service or price—begin building an image in the mind of consumers. If it is an image that addresses their values and needs, and with which they can identify, there is a good chance they will consider doing business with you. When this happens, your image has successfully attracted a prospective customer.

Building Confidence

Your image can help build confidence among existing and prospective customers if you consistently communicate your story, whether it be commitment to service, meeting the customer’s needs, or the stability of dealing with a family-owned business.

Creating Expectation

Another way of looking at your image is to see it as the beginning of a continuing relationship between yourself and your customer. When you build your business image, you are creating a set of expectations in the minds of prospective clients, which you will then be challenged to meet. These may include your promise to stand behind the products you sell, to provide ongoing quality service, or to assist customers with special requirements. These components of your image let customers know what they can expect when they do business with you. The ability to consistently meet the expectations of your clients is the cornerstone of building a successful business image.


Determining the image that is most appropriate to your business is one of the most important steps you can take. Take a few moments to write down what you believe to be your business’s current image. (You may write it in several descriptive sentences or list the key components of your image as bullet points.)

My current image is:

I know this because:

I am (or am not) happy with this image.

If you had difficulty defining the image of your business you may be experiencing one of several common problems:

  • You may feel that defining an image is something only big companies need to do.
  • You may avoid determining your image now or may have avoided it in the past because you aren’t sure where to start.
  • You know what your business’s image is, but have a hard time expressing it.

Let’s look at each of these problems.

Image-Making Is Only For Big Retailers

Just because you don’t have a big advertising budget and a marketing department doesn’t mean you shouldn’t define your image and make an effort to communicate it. In fact, if your business is relatively small, it is even more important for you to determine how you will differentiate yourself from others. This is particularly true if you will not (or cannot) compete with jewelry stores on the basis of price alone.

You Don’t Know Where to Start

Many people are intimidated by the process of determining an image for their business. They think it must take a marketing genius to craft the perfect image that will appeal to as many as possible. Rather than risk making a mistake, they choose to let the image form itself by default. This is the worst thing you can do because then you are not in control of your own image. Instead, your image is being determined by rumor, word of mouth, competitors and a variety of other variables that you can’t control.

You Know Your Image, But Can’t Express It

If you can’t express your image, then you may as well not have one because the people who need to hear about it—your employees, suppliers, clients and prospects—are being kept in the dark. An image doesn’t do your business any good if it is not clearly understood by your employees, customers, suppliers and anyone who may be interested in doing business with you.

There is a fourth problem that affects businesses …

Trying To Be Something You Are Not

Often a business owner has clearly defined an image, but it is unrealistic or inappropriate. It is an image that is geared to meeting your needs, not those of your clients. For instance, a locally owned business may want to become the low-price leader in the market. If it is competing against national retailers, it is fighting a losing battle. Not only will the business lose money and market share, but it will also lose the chance of developing a loyal customer base if the store’s relationship with them is based solely on price.

In subsequent columns, we will discuss why a customer should do business with you, what policies help or hurt your image, how employees can help build your image and more.