Business and branding strategist Jamila Bannister may have begun her career in the government sphere, but a transition to the private sector meant communications and branding strategies that not only focused on rigid and rudimental aspects of awareness and visibility, but ones backed by growth strategies to win and retain customers for small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
“My sphere of branding focuses on strategy and how to pull together elements like visuals, online content, promotions, and customer experience to leave an impression on customers,” Bannister said of her intersectional approach to helping clients reach their desired goals and audience by taking all possibilities of strategy into consideration.
She throughout her career she has noted many SMEs struggle with being agile in business and making changes to keep up with constantly-changing market trends.
“Many SMEs also tend to lack systems that make their work lighter and reduce their stress so they can spend more time making sales,” she added, explaining that successful branding strategies do not change based on the size of the business but simply need to be scaled appropriately to fit businesses and entrepreneurs who may not have the resources for big changes.
“I tell them that customers are demanding more than ever from businesses now, it’s not enough to simply have a great product because customers want a total experience,” she said. “Customers want to see you, know your story, be your friend, and enjoy interacting with you. It’s such entrepreneurs who take their brands seriously and differentiate themselves from the rest that lead the pack in terms of influence or sales.”
Bannister’s self-branded business, JBannister Branding (jbannisterbranding.com), specialises in business development consultancy. JBannister Branding is the embodiment of her professional passion: nurturing entrepreneurs and seeing projects take shape to become success stories. “This passion informs the way I help other businesses thrive. When they win, I win,” she said.
“In short, I work with brands to raise visibility and ensure that their operations are strong enough to live up to their brand promise, which leads to happier existing customers and very delighted new ones,” Bannister explained.
Her services include one-on-one and group consultations (the latter through her Sip and Strategise series), personal branding packages for individuals, which include bios, pictures, LinkedIn reviews and curation as well as a digital portfolio, and public relations. Her list of past clients includes Precision Fitness, Nu Wave Events, House of Siete, and Your Life Purpose Ltd.
As Bannister said, “My business mantra is the same as my cardinal rules of branding: be authentic, bring value, be consistent, and always deliver on your promises.”
However, she pointed out that SME owners sometimes face fears in engaging her personal services because of the assumption that branding consultancy is an expense that the average “solopreneur” or SME cannot afford. It is this belief that pushed Bannister to start the JBannister Branding Academy, an online resource where SMEs and solopreneurs can access her advice and expertise through courses at a fraction of the cost of traditional business consultancy.
“I realised there is always some hesitation when people speak to me about branding strategy. “They are always worried about the price of engaging a consultant, so I decided to adjust to suit the market.”
She gave examples of many entrepreneurs who use online courses to advance their business know-how on various topics, yet such courses rarely take the Caribbean context into consideration when being designed. She believes that while many lessons in business are universal, the specific climate of business in the Caribbean should not be forgotten.
“Many of these courses also don’t offer participants any additional resources like free webinars, blog updates, or a relatable online community, all of which are features of my school,” Bannister highlighted. “Students can even book sessions with me privately should they need more help and guidance.”
The online nature of Bannister’s Academy also provides convenience to suit the oftentimes busy schedules of solopreneurs who may have full-time jobs and other responsibilities that require their learning methods to be flexible. “The courses are all self-paced as well, so there is no rush to finish in a specific period of time.”
Her existing courses focus on special guidance for the solopreneur to grow their business and a free crash course in social media content generation for modern-day branding. “The intent is for these courses to transform the thinking of SMEs, so they approach business in a more structured way and ultimately make more sales, as well as expand,” she said.
While the academy is still in its start-up phase, Bannister said she has plans for upcoming courses, which will emphasise on growth and branding strategies for health and fitness businesses in particular and growth, branding, and leadership for SMEs. There are also plans to integrate other instructors offering complementary courses that will centre on the ins and outs of content creation and harnessing the power of business websites to drive the growth entrepreneurs wish to see.
When asked by Business Day why she felt the need to create the academy, Bannister said, “I see people struggling with simple issues that can be fixed with one tool or process. Sometimes I still get email blasts from past clients and I smile because they never even used email before I worked with them, so I know some people need the guidance and I’m happy to offer this at an affordable price.”
She also believes that her wealth of knowledge and experience should be accessible to those who may not have the financial resources to enrol online but who have honourable and innovative goals in solopreneurship, such as women and youth. Thus, she would like to partner with NGOs and community-based organisations to offer her courses at reduced rates or pro bono in special cases so that these groups have ample opportunity to understanding branding strategy that is sound and can help shape successful businesses. “I feel like this academy is truly an opportunity to give back,” she said.
“I spent quite a few years in formal schools and still spend every day learning something new. I can truly say that this is an asset that never depreciates,” she said of the power of learning and its transformative nature. “In business and in life, open yourself to new experiences and learning new things. You will thank yourself for it.