Woman drinking hot chocolateBy Nancy Marshall, The PR Maven®

I recently went into a Dunkin’ for a salted caramel hot chocolate. I know, I know: It’s a lot of calories — 420 calories, to be exact.

But on a cold afternoon, after skiing all day in sub-zero temperatures, I felt that I had earned it. That New Year’s resolution could wait another day. And besides, I learned a valuable business lesson.

I have always thought that any small business owner should treat their business as if it has a franchise location in every city across the country. Small business guru Michal Gerber explains as much in The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It. In his book, Gerber highlights the importance of developing processes and procedures that are well-documented so an entry-level employee can handle the kinds of tasks required on a daily basis. Equally important is developing levels of service that are repeatable and reliable but not dependent on any one individual.

Whether you have 10 workers or 100,000, people must be able to understand what your business is all about, what defines your brand. Whether you have one storefront or 1,000, what you bring to the marketplace — and how it’s done — should be easily comprehensible.

This brings me to Dunkin’. Whether you’re in Farmington, Maine (where I bought mine), or Farmington, New Mexico, Dunkin’ is self-explanatory. You will recognize the branding — heck, you can probably recite its slogan (“America runs on Dunkin’”). You will recognize its efficient service and general menu — from those famous munchkins to the salted caramel hot chocolate that I recently enjoyed. It will feel the same way in either location.

Across the country, the Dunkin’ brand is the same. It’s consistent. Its employees are trained in the same way, so they can deliver the same level of customer service in any situation. They take your order, make your drinks and even say thank you in a consistent manner. They’re all a part of the brand experience, Dunkin’s brand touch.

Of course, Dunkin’ isn’t alone. Parallels can be drawn to the friendly atmosphere at Chick-fil-A or the payment system at your typical McDonald’s drive-thru: order at one window, pay at another. Throughout the food service industry, we have successful examples of standardized business practices that positively impact the customer experience.

In a similar fashion, my PR agency went through the “traction” process, as described in the book by Geno Wickman. He explains how to create a leadership team and introduces ways to measure company performance over time. For my own agency, the best part of going through the “traction” process was creating an entrepreneurial operating system that included processes, systems and other management techniques that took the onus off of me as the founder and spread responsibility across the leadership team. It pushed responsibilities down to the employees so everyone was taking part in running and understanding the business.

Our overall business results increased dramatically for 2018 over previous years, and we all played a part in the success. Entrepreneurs like me are guilty of driving our employees crazy by changing course every day based on the “shiny object syndrome.” This process forces the entrepreneurial founder (me) to play by the rules and systematically operate the company. As a result, the founder isn’t constantly coming up with new ideas that take the business off track and ultimately confuse the rank and file.

For small business owners, it’s easy to lose a grip on your business, especially if you change course frequently. As Wickman outlines, lack of control over the market, people problems and funding shortfalls are just some of the many burdens on the shoulder of entrepreneurship.

However, identifying those obstacles — before they fester — is the first step to getting a grip on your business. Then, it’s imperative to adapt processes and follow procedures that allow you to create a consistent framework in your business. Only then can you perform the same tasks in the same way over and over again and build customer loyalty.

Whether you’re the CEO of a large fast-food chain or a small business owner like me, people want to know what to expect from you. Your brand is not just a logo or a slogan or a bunch of specific colors. Your brand is the way your customers think and feel about you. The more people who feel strongly about you, the stronger your brand will be. In effect, your customers are your most important brand ambassadors, because they are spreading word of mouth — the single most valuable form of advertising in the marketplace.

Your brand touch is everything, so make sure that it’s repeatable and reliable. That is the difference between a memorable brand touch and a wasted opportunity.

This article originally appeared on the Forbes Agency Council CommunityVoice in February 2019.