For many people, coming up with a great business name is one of the first things on their new business to do list. After the business name comes the logo. Sometimes as a business grows, the name no longer works. There are a lot of agencies with some variation of “cruise” in their names who find themselves constantly saying, “I do more than cruises!” Adding a tag line that addresses the other types of travel you do doesn’t really help because it isn’t as prominent as your name. If you find yourself in this situation, don’t be afraid to rebrand. But don’t make the same mistake and pick something too specific.

The name’s counterpart is the logo, whether that is a stylized version of the name (think of the way Coca-Cola is written out in script) or an image that goes along with it. It needs to convey the speciality of your business and your personality (tall order for a graphic, I know). There are amazing designers out there who can help you. Do not use clipart for your logo! Each time you see your logo, you should love it. It should inspire you!

Of course, your brand is much more than just your business name and logo. It may not seem like a big deal to you, but even your email address speaks volumes to your clients about how seriously you take your business. Is it consistent with your website? Or are using a Gmail, Yahoo, or – heaven forbid – an AOL address instead? That’s a brand inconsistency that doesn’t look good. It makes you look unprofessional. How would you feel if your attorney emailed you from a Gmail address? Or your accountant? You are also a professional and your communication should represent that.

Also, a big part of your electronic footprint is your website. Years ago agents could get by without having a website, but not today. Having a Facebook page isn’t enough. Your website is your digital brochure and in many cases it is really the way clients determine whether or not they want to have a further conversation with you. Does it convey your speciality AND your personality? Does it accurately reflect the type of travel you do? Does it get updated regularly with fresh content?

Many agents have a website that is provided by their host, and while that is a quick and easy way to get online, in many cases, it is so broad that it can’t accurately reflect you. And there is another downside to “cookie cutter” or “template” websites: they are terrible for SEO. SEO is Search Engine Optimization, which is a dynamic science that determines how – and if – your website shows up in search results on sites like Google, Yahoo, and others. If the bots that scour websites see more than one website with a lot of duplicate content, they give it the lowest possible ranking. Of course, most of you don’t rely on Google search results to build your business, but do you really want to be on the bottom? The best way to combat this is by having a website that is customized for you that tells your story and reflects your specialty. If you have to use your host agency’s website template, can you add a blog to it? That’s a great way to get in some fresh content.

An electronic newsletter is an important way to communicate with your clients and you can repurpose the content on your website. But also make sure you are using a professional email system (like Constant Contact, iContact, etc.) so the newsletter reflects your brand (colors, fonts, logo, etc), but also is dynamic so it looks good on whatever device your client uses to access your content.

A less obvious way you communicate (or fail to communicate) your brand is in the way you deliver quotes and invoices to clients. I have always advised agents NOT to send the confirmation you receive from the vendor (cruise line, airline, tour company, etc.). Everything that the client receives should have YOUR branding on it. If you send the client copy of the confirmation the vendor provides you, it highlights that you are an intermediary and indirectly promotes the vendor’s brand. That’s not what you want! Yes, they are delivering the trip, but you are curating it and their relationship should be with you.

So those are just a few ways your brand is communicated to clients. It’s important for you to look at this from time to time. And even those who have been in business for a while benefit from a brand audit. Have someone you trust and who will be honest with you, look at your emails, website, quotes, itineraries, business cards, Facebook page and everything else you use to promote your business. Are they cohesive? Do they tell a consistent story? Do they look professional? Remember, if you DIY your design, you will attract DIY clients who will drive you crazy over price.

And if your goal is to attract higher end or luxury clients, you especially need to have someone look at your branding. Is it congruent with what a luxury client would expect to see? Someone booking a Crystal Cruise or a Tauck Tour doesn’t want to work with someone whose branding feels more like Walmart.

And if you are just getting started (or thinking of getting started) in this industry, you need to budget for a designer to help you create a look that will attract and speak to the type of client you want to work with. Don’t use clip art logos or business cards from a template (like Vistaprint!) Yes, it costs money, but you are starting a business and should budget for this in your start-up costs. Same thing goes for your website. Work with someone who knows what they are doing! There are website designers out there who specialize in travel sites. That does not mean they add a booking engine to your website (you don’t need it if you are focusing on service!). One designer a lot of our agents have used is Village Girl Marketing. (If you have ever been on a Royal Caribbean cruise you’ve probably seen the owner, Sandra, as one of the hosts on their videos that play on your in-cabin TV!)

Marketing and branding are one of those “work on your business, not just in your business” activities that can easily get pushed to the back burner, but make time for it! No client is going to call you and say, “I was going to work with you, but I couldn’t find enough about your speciality on your website.” But I promise you, it happens every day!