simonDo you have an accidental brand?

“Most Small businesses are underselling themselves”, says Simon Gregory, Creative Director at Clear & Creative, Oxford’s specialist branding agency for SMEs.


“When you set up a small business there’s a lot to learn and most of your time is spent simply finding and serving customers. Big firms have entire sales and marketing departments, but that’s a luxury most small business owners can’t afford.”

And according to Simon, that can lead to all kinds of problems.

“Nobody can be an expert in everything”, he says, “When you start a company it’s usually because you’re an expert at what you do – actually making the product or delivering the service. So when you’re setting up and short on cash you tend to go for DIY solutions: designing your own logo, building your own website and placing your own ads – or getting a mate who’s ‘good with computers’ to do it for you.”

clear1Why is that so bad?

“It can be fine at the start, when you’re working out of your back bedroom or garage, but there are plenty of firms who’ve grown but are still using the logo their daughter knocked up in Word Art on her PC. Because they’ve got used to it they don’t realise how unprofessional they appear. We call it ‘Accidental Branding’. A lot of these firms are baffled when they continually lose work to higher-priced competitors with lower quality products.”

So is it just about the way they look?

“Absolutely not. That’s part of it, but the biggest issue is that they don’t understand their customers. They focus on what they sell rather than how that solves the customer’s problem. Companies that understand their client’s problems, then sell solutions rather than just products outsell their competitors and attract higher value customers. When your messages are skilfully communicated and your image is beautifully designed it’s a no-brainer for people to do business with you. You become their only logical choice”


Simon spent 15 years at agencies working on multinational accounts like British Aerospace, Roche and Budget Rent-a-Car, then set up Clear & Creative with wife Julie in 1995 to bring London agency standards to small businesses who traditionally couldn’t afford it.

clear2He explained why:

“We like to work with firms with 2 to 20 employees because we can make a bigger difference to them. We recently rebranded an Oxford-based IT Support firm that’s been running for 20 years. They’d always done their own advertising and were wary of spending money with an agency. Since the rebrand they’ve gained higher value customers, sales are up by over 50%, and their staff are excited to work there. It’s hard to get that kind of job satisfaction working for blue chip firms”.

How can people tell if they have an accidental brand?

“We’ve put together The Brand Clarity Workbook – a booklet of exercises that SME’s can work through to gain clarity towards developing a unique, authentic and compelling brand. It’s free to download at”

“Our process usually begins with a Brand Clarity Clinic – a session that allows company owners to really get to grips with what makes them different and who they’re showing up for. One client said he’d been involved in two major rebrands with large firms that used big London agencies, but never been through such a thorough process. That was satisfying to hear.”

As well as Simon and Julie, the Clear & Creative team includes a copywriter, a graphic designer, a web developer and a digital media specialist. Recently Clear & Creative have handled rebranding, websites and marketing for Woodbörd, The New Driveway Company, Affluent Technology, rHaus Home Automation and Family First Solicitors – who attribute much of their rapid growth to getting the brand right before they launched.

1) When did you realise you wanted to go into business for yourself?

It was when our kids were small and we realised I was hardly going to see them if I carried on commuting. That and the fact that the company I worked for charged out my time at five times what they paid me.

2) Were you confident you would succeed or were you nervous of failing?

A bit of both. So we staged the transition, working evenings and weekends on the new business until we had enough regular clients to afford to pay the bills without the day-job. We made double my old salary in the first year, so I shouldn’t have worried.

3) Did you seek advice from your family or friends? Did anyone close to you suggest it was a bad idea to go into business for yourself or did you receive a lot of support?

Nobody in our families had started a business before, so they were all a bit sceptical. However, talking to self-employed friends, reading a lot and some support from the local Chamber of Commerce helped a lot.

4) What was the biggest obstacle you had to face and overcome in order to start your business?

Me. I had a decent job that I liked, and this was uncharted territory. However, ‘good’ is often the enemy of ‘great’, and once we got past my misgivings we’ve never looked back.

5) Do you remember your first customer and can you recall how you felt when you delivered what they were prepared to pay you for?

Our first job was to design and print a new brochure for OAD Displays in Enfield. We bought our first proper Mac with the advance so that we could complete the job! They were really happy with the result and It felt awesome.

6) What would be the ONE thing you would do differently and where do you see your business in five years time?

I’d have niched and systemised the business sooner. Trying to be all things to all people just doesn’t work.

In five years time we’ll be offering a wider range of off-the-shelf business growth packages for small companies at different stages of their growth. And there will be more of us doing it.

7) What would be your advice to any startup or to anyone thinking of going into business for themselves?

Don’t try to do everything yourself. Most people start a business because they’re good at what they do. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re good at book-keeping, accounts, sales, marketing, HR or IT. Doing stuff you hate will suck the joy out of your days, and life’s too short for that.


Stick to what made you excited at the beginning and outsource everything else as quickly as you can.


This is going to take up a lot of your time, so make sure you for (and with) people that you like.




We would like to thank Simon Gregory for submitting this article for our readers


If you have a small business and think you might have an ‘Accidental Brand’,

call 01865 204200 or email to book a Brand Clarity Clinic.