I first met Julie Cottineau when she was at Interbrand, and we were working with Interbrand on how to handle our branding after an M&A spree. After Interbrand, Julie was at Virgin as VP of Brand. She recently founded her own brand consultancy, BrandTwist, to help small businesses and entrepreneurs, and she will soon launch Brand School, an online course to teach small business owners everything they need to know to build, grow and monetize a brand.

We've tweeted each other, and Julie has participated in the #BZBowl and #SBExp events over the years, so it was wonderful to talk live and see if she'd contribute a guest blog. Not only did she share this guest blog post on "The Top Three Don'ts of Brand Building," she's offering a free 5 Minute Brand Thermometer Diagnostic for Brainzooming readers. The 5 Minute Brand Thermometer Diagnostic will help you quickly determine the health of your brand and what areas might need more attention.

The Top Three Don'ts of Brand Building

As a reader of the Brainzooming blog, you know the importance of having a crystal clear brand – even for small or medium sized businesses.

Staking that claim in your clients' mind, as the go-to resource for the things you do best, makes all the difference in the world when it comes to securing new business. It's the difference between searching for business, and being sought out.

You know what a good brand looks like. You probably even have some good ideas about how to begin building a brand. What you may not be too good at, however, is recognizing when you're committing branding no-nos.

Which is why we've put together this mini-list of the top three brand don'ts.

1. Don't put brand building off for later

There will be plenty of opportunities to put off building your brand. It’s always easy to say you don’t have the time, money, or bandwidth to focus on brand. You may also rationalize that you need to focus instead on building your business.

But here’s the thing: Building your brand is fundamental to building your business. The two are inextricably linked.

Having a strong brand has tangible business value. It will allow you to charge a premium, keep customers loyal when competitors come knocking, get customers to ask for you by name, and to recommend you to friends and even strangers.  A strong brand increases the likelihood of trial of new products and services. It will even help customers to forgive you more easily when your brand messes up (and, let's face it, we all make mistakes from time to time).

Be sure to make it a priority to build your brand.

2. Don't try to do all the brand building efforts yourself

Your ideas and your business building strategy may be flawless, but your DIY brand still doesn't look as good or work as well as you think it does.

On the contrary, 100% homemade brands often look unprofessional and unreliable. Unless you're an expert marketer, designer, copywriter and web developer in addition to your day job, there are lots of things you don't know and skills you don't have when it comes to building a brand.

Admit it to yourself, and invest in some outside brand building expertise.

You don't have to hire a full-time staff. You'll get far with, for example, some design help from 99designs.com, a web developer from oDesk, some marketing advice from a friend who knows what she's talking about, and a few books on copywriting. (May we suggest On Writing Well for learning the art of writing, and The Ultimate Sales Letter for learning how to use your newfound writing skills to sell?)

The point is that you need to be willing to invest in building a brand.

3. Don't ever think you're done with brand building efforts

Brand building is more journey than destination. There is no point where you've got your stationary and business cards, a sign on the wall and a well-developed elevator pitch, and you can just wrap it up and be done with your brand building efforts.

There is always more to learn – about your customers and your target audience, about growing and building a brand, and about strategically leveraging social media. If you somehow get to a point where you can't see any possible way to improve, beware: It's only a matter of time until someone else comes along and puts your brand out of business.

So pay attention to your customers and how the world develops around you; find out how and where you can strengthen your brand building and make it happen. - Julie Cottineau