As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful Service Business,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Emily Lyman.
Emily is the CEO & Founder of Branch & Bramble, a digital marketing agency focused on connecting service-oriented brands with their ideal audiences. She has worked with top global companies for well over a decade and champions the kind of digital marketing that is backed by data and valuable to both the brand and customer.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
My career path began in corporate finance, took the fork to corporate PR, and ended up in marketing. I went from being a cog in the wheel to owning a business. From Utah to New York City. And, although I am very much an introvert, what I’ve loved about every role is client service. Because I’m also a builder. Whether those “clients” are internal stakeholders or external partners, it’s always about determining the goals, figuring out the pieces, and mapping out a path.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
I love the creativity, campaign excitement, and experimentation of marketing. But after working with top global companies on both the agency and brand side for more than a decade, I found myself frustrated by the emphasis on follower accumulation rather than solid strategic thinking that looks at the data and the why behind the brand. I was swimming with sharks who wanted nothing more than to prove ROI and increase the bottom line in the short term. My days were spent trying to create content that made everyone happy, but never actually said anything.
I was at a dead end with my current job, frustrated that my opinions and expertise were being ignored, when I experienced a single moment of clarity. It was simply that I could do everything my current company was doing. I could build a company based on what I felt was important while focusing on client service.
So, I left, and Branch & Bramble was born.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Every pitch matters. But there was a time at the very beginning of Branch & Bramble when every pitch really mattered. Make or break. And there was one in particular that would go a long way towards helping us achieve our goals. This pitch was beautiful. We weren’t able to present in person but we thought the way we laid everything out worked around that issue. The pitch was sent and we did a little celebratory dance.
A rejection was sent within hours. My careful copyediting hadn’t caught the misspelling of the client’s name. I was mortified. But there was nothing to do except thank the company for their time, apologize for the embarrassing oversight on our part, and hope that our paths crossed again under different circumstances.
We put checklists into place…”ALWAYS check spelling of client’s name.” But I have also come to accept that these types of mistakes are human. And while the majority of the time they do not have such dire consequences, it also taught me that I must do everything in my power to make sure we’re not in a situation where success rests solely on one potential client.
A lot of my mistakes didn’t feel funny at the time, but I’ve learned to laugh at myself along the way and give myself the space to grow.
Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
From its inception to today, Branch & Bramble’s vision has been to help brands stand up for what they believe in and to find others to stand with them. Imagine a weed pushing through a crack in the cement or a sapling reaching for a stray ray of sunlight in a dense forest. It’s hard for these plants to grow in crowded circumstances, but once they do plant roots, they’re able to flourish and stand tall. They become part of something bigger than themselves. It’s the same with brands. Our purpose is to help them better understand their own purpose and confidently grow to become the best version of their brand.
What do you do to articulate or demonstrate your company’s values to your employees and to your customers?
One of Branch & Bramble’s core values is “No bullshit — We’re transparent, upfront, and will tell you the truth — plain and simple.” This is something I try to embody in everything I do, but especially in my business. Whether it’s a client or an employee, I always strive to be honest and straightforward. With clients, this can sometimes look like frank conversations about realistic outcomes. With employees, my goal is to make them feel comfortable being honest with me. If they’re struggling personally or professionally, they know that they can come to me, and we’ll work together to find a solution to whatever problem they’re facing.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Behind my desk, I have a framed tea towel that features a turtle and the quote “Your speed doesn’t matter. Forward is forward.” It’s my daily reminder to keep pushing forward. As any business owner will tell you, you have your good and bad days. But as long as you keep moving forward, even if it’s at a turtle’s pace, that’s progress you can be proud of.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Branch & Bramble officially launched at the end of 2019. I had worked and hustled for the past 3 years for that day. I built up the agency on the side of a full-time job. I networked, I created content, I pitched. When I made the leap to officially begin, it was with two very small retainer clients and one phenomenal freelancer who was my right-hand woman. We had doubled our client base and were in the process of signing proposals with a total worth of 6 figures when COVID-19 changed the world as we knew it. Within 2 weeks, all our proposals were put on hold indefinitely and our current clients reduced their retainers.
At this time, I’d also received a job offer from a mentor I admired at a company I loved. It was tempting: “Now is the time to cut and run. I tried something for a few months, but it didn’t work out. No problem, I’ll just switch gears and go back to corporate life.”
But my right-hand woman had quit a steady, long-term work contract to join Branch & Bramble. I had made promises to both myself and to her. Not promises of success but of partnership and leadership.
One of my favorite recent reads is Trevor Noah’s audiobook Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood. Something he said really resonated with me. ”We spend so much time being afraid of failure, afraid of rejection. But regret is the thing we should fear most. Failure is an answer. Rejection is an answer. Regret is an eternal question you will never have the answer to.”
I wanted to be in this position. I signed up to be the one to make the decisions, to find out if I was capable of running my own business. Better to continue to try and fail than give up before our journey had really even begun.
So, how are things going today? How did your values lead to your eventual success?
During the pandemic, Branch & Bramble grew in amazing ways. We’ve worked with dozens of clients and hired a full team. We pride ourselves on being diplomatic while staying transparent and upfront about the results we can produce for our partners. We connect the needs of our clients’ audiences with the voice and values of their company. And we approach our own business the same way. It’s not about fast growth, it’s about the right growth.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a very successful service based business? Please share a story or an example for each.
As Branch & Bramble specializes in service-based brands, we have experience in what makes a service based business successful. The top five most important tips every business owner should know are:
- Understanding the difference between attracting vs. selling — All service brands suffer from the disadvantage of not having a product that they can put in the hands of the customer to win them over. Because of this, service-based brands can’t just sell their offerings, they have to attract a potential customer based on their brand story and brand values. A service-based business must attract a potential customer with shared beliefs. For example, we work with a sports content hub. Part of their responsibility to their customers is to create content that focuses on their shared values around the sport and continuously produce content that aligns with their shared interests. By making the effort to find alignment with their customers, they’re attracting them back time and time again.
- Impacting brand perception through design — When you don’t have a product to share, the quality of your brand’s design is crucial. If you were to visit two companies that offer essentially the same services, but one of them has a sleek, well-designed website, while the other has a glitchy user experience lacking in good design, the majority of the time people are more likely to want to work with the one with a better design. Time and time again, we see the role design plays on brand perception. Service-based businesses that want to be taken seriously need to invest in the look and feel of their brand. We worked with a fintech app that was preparing to launch. The brand understood that in order for their company to be taken seriously they needed to look like a professional, polished brand that would appeal to the millennial investors they were looking to target. If they had an average website, they wouldn’t have been able to grab the attention of their audience.
- Creating a company culture that focuses on serving the client — When building a service-based brand, it’s crucial to make sure that everyone on your team is trained in customer service. This might seem impractical for positions that aren’t client facing, but these roles still support client-facing team members. For example, at my agency, a copywriter might not be in direct contact with a client, but they still need to develop a deep understanding of who the client is and how they can best serve the client’s overall goals through their copywriting. At the end of the day, it boils down to your team caring about the client and their success.
- Making sure the customer has an above-average experience — The brands we fall in love with are the ones that go above and beyond to make us feel special. To become a successful service-based business, you can’t just be a transactional partner — you need to wow them with how much you care. We work with a life coach and content creator who excels in this territory. Because her work is meaningful and shares important life lessons, her audience is constantly reaching out to her asking for advice and telling their own stories. In response, this creator provides thoughtful responses back to each and every one of her potential customers. Not only do they walk away as fans of the brand, but they also have a special moment with her that will stick with them for years to come.
- Measuring the correct customer data — Undoubtedly, data plays a critical role in effectively running a business. However, the mistake many companies make, particularly in service industries, is looking at historical data when it comes to customer service. A hotel might look at their Yelp reviews and think they’re doing a great job because they’re receiving positive feedback. However, that’s not the full scope of data that needs to be taken into consideration. In addition to these metrics, successful businesses need to measure if their customers are coming back again. And if so, how many times do they come back? It’s good to make one sale, but the key to real success is to have these customers repeat their purchases with your brand.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Zig Ziglar has a famous quote. “You don’t build a business — you build people — and then people build your business.” I think this is an often forgotten mindset. That right-hand woman I mentioned earlier? Her name is Sarah Walsh. When I doubt myself, she is the voice that reminds me that we can weather any situation. Sarah could have very easily found a more stable position with an established company during the pandemic, but she chose to stay. She’s a friend and a colleague, and Branch & Bramble would not be the company that it is today without her unwavering loyalty, hard work, and faith in our ability.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
The Don’t Be A Jerk movement. Business, personal, all aspects of your life. Let’s switch from zero-sum to win-win.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can find me on Branch & Bramble, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter.