Barbara Corcoran has built some fabulous brands in her day. In a recent episode of her Business Unusual podcast, she talks about her eight tricks for building a top-notch brand and answers listener questions about small businesses. Here’s what she had to say.

Eight brand-building tips from Barbara Corcoran

#1 Make yourself the expert in your field. You can become an expert by knowing and sharing statistics. I positioned myself as an expert by publishing a report called, “The Corcoran Report”. I added up the 11 apartments my company The Corcoran Group sold that year divided to find the average. That simple report got me a boatload of attention when I was quoted in the Real Estate section of the New York Times. No matter the field you’re in, you can become an expert by publishing numbers on and off-line.

Barbara Corcoran

Put it in a form that people want to read and release it on a consistent basis. Decide on the timing the works for you, but you need to be consistent.

“Make yourself the expert in your field by knowing and sharing statistics”


#2 Tie yourself to whatever is in the news – whatever everyone is writing and talking about. I always listened to what was in the news and asked myself, how can I tie my business into that? Is there some angle that I could use to tie myself into the publicity that’s already out there? If you can tie yourself in, you get a free ride.

Every time the stock market crashed, I had a report out on how it was affecting the real estate business. It was not only affecting the real estate business, but also the luxury car business, the yacht business and other high-end markets. I made sure I was being quoted with all those high-priced products and that’s what got me a high-priced image.

#3 Have a gimmick. I think of a gimmick as a hook, something to throw out there’s that someone’s going to notice and bite on. My first high-priced listing was a dump, but it had one thing going for it. It was called, “The Vanderbilt Mansion”. Everyone knew the Vanderbilt name. Getting people to write about the Vanderbilt Mansion alone was tough until I discovered a safe in the basement that hadn’t been opened for 100 years, and no one had the combination. Then I knew I had a gimmick! With that “hook” I got every news outlet in to view the Vanderbilt Mansion and then grandstanded by having the safe blown up on a Friday morning, with Katie Couric and the Today show in attendance, dying to know what was inside. What was inside? Nothing! But by then we already had so many people looking at the property that we sold it within the week.

#4 Rent a billboard. You might say, “How could I rent a billboard? They must be expensive.” Well guess what? You’re right. But you know what I discovered building my business? There is a period between the last guy who rented for a year or two and the new guy who rents it for a year or two where the billboard is empty, that’s called remnant space. I would watch out for any billboard that was blank even for a second and I’d ask if I could rent it for a couple of months. Why was it so appealing? Because the guy who owned the billboard didn’t have another tenant to rent the billboard, and I would get drastically reduced rates for two or three months at a stretch without paying the premium rates to lease an actual billboard.

It kept my brand fresh. I kept popping up all over Manhattan just for two or three months. Everybody thought I was powerful to be able to afford all that space, but I really bought it for ten cents on the dollar.

#5 Building wraps: This is for anyone opening a new business with a brick and mortar location, like a book store, a clothing store, a pizza parlor, or anyone expanding their business by opening new locations. In the process of renovating a building, you need to put building wraps on it. But here’s what you don’t know: there are no rules that regulate what you can put on those building wraps. I would design wraps with 30-foot tall sales people with their kids and their dogs smiling down at the sidewalk, and I’d keep them up there for not just the three months of the renovation, but sometimes for nine months or a year. Why? Because I understood the power of a 30-foot sign arriving in a neighborhood that spanned half a block rather a simple sign at the door that said, “The Corcoran Group”.

Why whisper when I could broadcast my brand with nobody telling me to take it down? Building wraps are license to kill in marketing. If you’re opening a shop, you should be in no rush to take them down and certainly spend as much as you can for that one-time opportunity to let everyone know you’re there.

#6 Don’t overlook building your brand on the inside – meaning what the people who work for you believe about your company. It’s just as important as what the customers on the outside believe. I have found that the best way to get the feeling of a happy brand inside, that someone wants to be a part of, is to build a happy team. If you build fun teams, have lots of fun times, you automatically build loyalty and people buy in. If the people working for you just love the company, they relay that to all the customers they interact with on the outside.

#7 You need the right personality to market your brand. If you don’t have the personality to market your brand, you have a big problem. If you’re not the type of person who’s outgoing and easily makes friends, promoting like crazy and loving every minute of it, make sure you hire someone who is and really loves to do it.

#8 Surround yourself with happy people at work and at home. Don’t waste your time on negative people, even the ones who don’t show it right away. Get rid of them!

Now I’ll answer my Business Unusual listeners’ questions:

Q: How can I find someone to help me with my business’ social media?

Roderick, Chatanooga, TN

Barbara Corcoran: I asked myself that same question four years ago, and it’s a great question to ask because today, social media is half of every business. You’re smart to look for help, not just to save the time that social media takes, but also for the talent that it takes to do it well.

You can find the right person by posting in the right places. My favorite place to do a job posting is on Media Bistro, it costs about $150. Or, you can use Fiverr if you’re looking to hire someone for a smaller freelance project, which can very often turn into a great long-term person. Or you can find a young part-time person and offer them a cut of the new business they bring in. The younger the person is, the more likely they are to do it like second nature. You’re on the right track – you can’t build a business today without being savvy about social media.

Q: My business partner and I are thinking about opening a franchise to get some more business experience. We also thought about getting a small business loan and opening our own business that way.

James, Brooklyn, NY

Barbara Corcoran: You don’t have to buy a franchise to get business experience. Go take a business course instead. I own a few franchises, and my partners and the franchisees work their buns off making a go of it and putting in long hours to overcome the hefty challenges to grow and keep the franchise going. Getting cash for a franchise through a bank or other lender can be challenging if you don’t already have a track record in business.

If you’re set on franchising, go into it whole hog and see if the company can offer you the financial help you’re going to need.  Many franchisors offer financing to get you started because they need to sell people like you on buying into the franchise. Once you have a year under your belt and $100,000 in annual sales, that’s the time to go to someone like OnDeck who’s in the business of loaning money to small businesses.

Q: How do you get a feminine hygiene product exposure when it’s such a taboo topic?

LaTonya, Columbus, GA

Barbara Corcoran: Sometimes, “taboo” can be an enormous asset. The reason being, it raises eyebrows and it gets attention. What you should do is play up that aspect of your product and try to find a clever name for it, a creative way to describe it and a creative way to illustrate it. If you can do that, you’ll get five times more attention than the next product, simply because your product is taboo and no one else is talking about it. Think of a taboo product and how much easier it is to get attention than some other product that’s boring and talked about all the time. If you have something that isn’t talked about all the time, people will pay attention when you do talk about it.

Q: Do you need previous business credit cards to get approved for a business loan?

Crystal, Instagram

Barbara Corcoran: No, that’s not a requirement at all. What lenders want to see is a track record that shows your business can handle the debt. You can show this by building history with a business credit card or by setting up trade accounts with your suppliers and staying up to date with your payments. Traditional lenders, like a bank, usually want to see a long history before they approve a business loan. But business lenders like OnDeck only look for a track record of at least a year in business.

For more business advice from Barbara Corcoran, check out:

Barbara Corcoran’s Business Unusual podcast offers real-world advice to anyone running their own business. She’s been there, done that and more. This wildly successful, insightful and entertaining podcast will inspire you to take on your next business opportunity or manage through everyday challenges.

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