Archive for Personal Brand

Who do you think you are?

Ever stepped out thinking you’re looking good only to be told that your shirt, tie or haircut really, really isn’t? An external perspective can be quite different from your own. With fashion, you can heed advice or go your own way, but reputation is a different matter. It’s a fragile thing and it rest entirely on the opinion of others.

Your reputation is what it is and not what you think it is. The same disparity exists in negotiation – many people completely misjudge how they are perceived during negotiations. When I began this post, I was going to consider the fine line between tough negotiators and difficult ones. However, wherever that fine line may be, I quickly discovered that a lot of us are a long way away from it.

There’s a balance we’re all striving to find – whether in reputation or negotiation, work life or social life – between being pushy and being a pushover. We’re looking for a confident assertiveness. The reality is, according to this study by Columbia Business School, that our perception of our assertiveness is often wildly disconnected with what others experience.

This disconnect manifests itself in two ways. Firstly and most obviously, there are those who feel that they pitch themselves just right. These are the overbearing, difficult (impossible?) negotiators and the complete wet blankets who all think that they’re being firm, fair and tough when in reality there a long way off in one direction or another.

Secondly, more surprisingly, many of those who are getting negotiation right mistakenly think they’re getting things wrong. Those who feel they’re too pushy or too soft and don’t realise that their peers perceive them as being spot-on. More often than not, these people feel they’re being too hard or overly assertive.

How do we solve this disparity? We’ve seen that it’s how you’re perceived that matters, not what you think, but how do you bring your own perceptions more in line with reality in order to make any changes (if necessary)? The ultimate solution is to develop our self-awareness. Easier said than done, but brain plasticity makes this distinctly possible at any age and recognising the need is by far the most significant step.

The first step is the most important, especially as there is no final step. You can only keep developing. This is a good thing. However, all the time you are learning how you come across and adapting as necessary be sure to enlist your trusted contacts to help you out. You’ll become more self-aware with time, but in the views of trusted friends you have an instant assessment of yourself.

Your reputation is everything and your manner can make or break deals without you even realising. Bravery and stupidity is another fine line. Trying to carry off the dodgy shirt and tie combo could be called bravery. Going about your business in an unpleasantly forceful or overly meek way without even realising it crosses over the line onto the stupid side. Work on your self-awareness, understand how you come across, and if in doubt ask a friend.

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What do people say about YOU when you are not in the room?

Whatever you call your business, you and it are joined at the hip. Your reputations are one and the same and, though it takes time to build a reputation, you can lose it in a heartbeat. This goes deeper than avoiding posting inappropriate tweets (though your virtual self is an equal part of the entity). People will infer an awful lot about how you conduct business from how you conduct yourself.

Having mentioned social media flippantly, it’s actually worth giving it a serious thought. Don’t feel afraid to be funny or light-hearted online – social media is intended to be an opportunity to let people see your personality.

Like real life networking, too much time spent plugging your business gets boring quickly. Have fun; just remember it’s a publication. If you wouldn’t be happy with what you type being quoted in a paper – don’t type it!

But what about the real world? For starters, don’t be late. We all know there are nightmare occasions when the travel gods conspire against the very best of us, but there are many more occasions when a bit of preparedness can prevent lateness.

Always allow sufficient time – even if that means arriving early. If you have to sit and wait for a while in a coffee shop across the road, it’s no bad thing – catch up with some emails.

Why is this important? Because of the inference people will make. If you cannot deliver your physical presence on time, people will (consciously or subconsciously) question your ability to deliver a product or service. Not turning up at all is worse. Not turning up without explanation…unforgiveable.

The same goes for keeping promises. If you fail to deliver the (relatively inconsequential) email you promised would be sent that afternoon, you sow the seeds of doubt as to what exactly your promises are worth. Can you deliver when it matters? At all?

I’m not sure when the magic transformation happens, but after being late or failing to deliver x number of times, you become known someone who is late and doesn’t always deliver. Think about your contacts and you will know some ‘late people’. You don’t want to become one in other people’s eyes. That’s why it’s worth making every effort, every time.

If you want to demonstrate that your business can deliver results and deliver them on time, you need to start by showing that you can deliver. Live out your business code of conduct in your personal conduct – show people what you can do!

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My word is my bond

Just because you don’t happen to believe in something doesn’t mean that it’s not important. The Native Americans didn’t believe in the concept of land ownership, but the importance of this concept to the Europeans encroaching on their territories proved catastrophic for their civilisation. If you see casual promises as figures of speech you can’t assume that others won’t see them as binding.

Talk can be cheap and people often make casual promises without the genuine intent one might assume. ‘I will call you tomorrow’ can often be translated as ‘I will make an effort to call you tomorrow’, ‘I will call tomorrow if I’m free’ or ‘I will call very soon’. Promises are often ideal-world goals, not necessarily realistic expectations. They are not made with the same gravitas as they are only made verbally.

Though a verbal promise or handshake may not carry the same weight with everyone as it did in the Middle Ages, it does not necessarily follow that all individuals you encounter will have a relaxed and forgiving attitude to ‘promises’ made to them. Though you may mean a promise to call tomorrow as an intention to make contact soon, other people will hold you to it and people will hold you responsible if you break it.

In the eyes of others you have made an obligation and therefore put your reputation on the line. Something you may view as trivial and commonplace may be viewed by others as lying and outright bad practice. We pay a lot of attention to actions but words are incredibly powerful and if you fail to keep your word it can be seen as unethical behaviour. Given the importance of a client or customers perception of you, this is not a tag you want attached to yourself.

Perhaps I’m being pedantic, but for all you know your next client could be equally pedantic and it is in everyone’s interest to be very careful with words and to manage expectations. Often these casual promises are entirely unnecessary.

Imagine you have ordered something online. You may not need the postal delivery to arrive until the end of the week. However, if you’ve received an email promising its arrival by a certain time on the Monday, you then start to worry if that target is missed. You wonder what might have become of your delivery even though it is not urgent and there are four more days left for it to arrive. A promise that was never important has now damaged a company’s reputation.

Managing expectations is key. Firstly, it is important not to glibly make promises unless they are genuine promises not ideal scenarios. Secondly, if you are going to make a promise, think very carefully about the task you set yourself. It is commendable to have high expectations of yourself and set positive goals, but the damage caused to your reputation by missing an overly-optimistic deadline can be far greater than any caused by setting yourself a less impressive but more realistic goal.

If you find you’ve broken a promise (even one you didn’t realise was taken as a promise at the time), honesty is your only way out. Excuses don’t wash and you need to be able to hold your hands up. But honesty should prevent you from getting into this situation. Clear honest communication should prevent misunderstandings and crossed wires. Ambitious yet realistic and achievable goal setting should inform your promises and promises, if made, should be written down, posted somewhere

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How human are you?

Social media can be a self-centred pursuit. We post about us, what we’re doing, what we’re thinking, where we are and who we’re with. Also, whichever platform you choose to use, we often apply our own self-censorship and filters to what we choose to share. We want to present ourselves in a positive light and this medium allows us to do just that. This is perfectly sensible, but it does have consequences.

On a wider social scale there is concern about how those struggling with life react to newsfeeds full of seemingly happy, positive people with incredibly successful lives. For anyone starting to feel depressed about how their life doesn’t quite seem to match up to those you see online, remember that everyone is applying the same positive filters to what they share. The difference is that you know the real story about your own life and not what’s really going on in theirs.

The same applies to business. You can feel intimidated by the success stories you read from your competitors or others in a similar situation to yourself but, like you, there are probably many other things going on behind the scenes in these businesses that they choose not to share. The only negative events that usually find their way onto social media are occasions when the individual is not themselves at fault and they are angry at someone else, or times when something has gone so badly wrong that it has become comical and even they see the funny side.

The fact that you may (consciously or subconsciously) filter your social media output to present yourself positively is not only normal but completely understandable. The problem really lies with the self-centredness. Imagine if you took your online persona and transported it into the real world. If you were at a networking event where your tweets were conversation and your LinkedIn updates your anecdotes, how do you think you’d come across?

In real life, continually spouting lists of your achievements to those you are trying to communicate with makes you something of a bore. We do want to highlight our positive qualities but people who are incapable of listening or talking about anything other than themselves are usually given a wide berth in reality. “Be interested not interesting” a watchword for networking, and I believe it applies to social media as well.

If you use social media purely to broadcast information you are missing the point and haven’t noticed the word ‘social’. To use this medium to its full potential you need to stop treating it as a sales pitch and recognise that it is about discovering people, making connections and building relationships. Growing an online community around your business is not just a numbers game, using followers and likes to keep score against others. Like an offline networking community it can provide links, leads and serve as a jumping off point for new and exciting projects.

There are many tools available to assist with social media and they provide a good service for the broadcasting aspect. However, to do more than just post information the process needs to be human. To engage with people in a manner beyond simply responding to questions or thanking new followers you need to be conversational, genuine and interested in others. Building a genuine community this way not only raises your level of authority and status as a subject matter expert, it brings together people who genuinely value you and the product or service your business provides. This community, if you’re interested and not just interesting, will provide you with new opportunities.

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Know Yourself and Be Yourself

Always be authentic. Simply put, people aren’t stupid. You can put an awful lot of time and effort into creating a brand from yourself but if, when people meet you, that image does not match up with the carbon-based life form sat in front of them, they will smell a rat. Once again, it’s an issue of trust. If you haven’t presented yourself authentically, people won’t trust you and customers don’t buy from people they don’t trust.

Once it was only necessary to present yourself authentically at work, at work functions and on the golf course. Now your brand is on display at all times. One of the noticeable features of social media is that it allows the user to create an online persona in a virtual world, potentially very different from the real individual.

For a private individual this opportunity may be alluring or disturbing, but for a business or organisation it simply isn’t an option. You need to present a coherent and consistent brand and, given that you can’t drastically alter your own personality to fit an artificially constructed image, it is best to make sure that your online self represents the real you.

Many people are aware of this and do not actively try to build a false representation of themselves, but fall down by being so scared of alienating anyone that they unwittingly create bland, plastic versions of themselves instead. Setting your brand up to try and please everyone can be as damaging as spinning a deliberate fiction. We know that politicians try to pander to all comers and as a result they lose a lot of trust.

To build trust you need to be real. Whether you’re using social media to demonstrate your professional attributes or to convey an aspect of your personality, remember that businesses have target customers and people have personal preferences. There’s no call for deliberately setting out to offend or alienate but professionals are expected to possess opinions and know their own mind, not be mindless yes-men.

Social media makes it easy to create ‘perfect’ business brands and personas, but it doesn’t make it right or sensible. The potential effect on your reputation and trustworthiness if clients discover your brand to be a sham can be more damaging than not having had an online brand in the first place.

If your online business brand is authentic and honest then clients will feel like they already know you before you meet in person, instead of being confronted with a complete stranger. This goes a long way towards establishing that all-important trust. Yes, you need an online strategy and a plan for your brand, but a plan based around you. Social media gives you access to a huge audience, most of whom are looking for authenticity and to engage with authentic people.

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Will the “Real You” please stand up?

Personal branding defines who you are, separates you from the crowd and generates interest from potential clients. Your brand is your professional reputation and, like your personal reputation, it exits in the eyes of others and is therefore visible to all, regardless of how much effort you put into developing it – for better or worse.

Obviously it’s in your interest to spend time considering your personal brand and the image you project and to have it develop along your own preferred lines. Fabrication and deceit are not options ethically, or even practically – like a doctored CV people will see through it eventually.

Developing your brand is not creating a persona or playing a role it is recognising and highlighting your own core skills and values, drawing attention to your relevant experience and accomplishments and presenting your real self in the best light.

With this in mind, a lot of people can put a lot of time and effort into brand building on the ‘big stage’ only to let themselves down by neglecting the aspects they perceive as minor.

Networking and promoting yourself is an incredibly important part of brand management, and taking opportunities to deliver your message when meeting new contacts and perfecting your ‘elevator pitch’ is common practice. Not everyone puts the same effort into following up these opportunities.

If you meet someone at a networking event and agree to follow-up then make sure you do, otherwise you will not come over as authentic and will damage your personal brand. Regardless of how you have portrayed yourself, failing to honour any agreements made renders your brand as a façade in the eyes of those you have made promises to.

With the advent of social media and the absolute necessity of an online presence, practitioners now find themselves in more direct contact with clients and customers than ever before. Even when you are not meeting people face to face, your email, LinkedIn or Twitter accounts make you personally contactable and the same expectations apply.

Your personal brand exists in the perception of others. If you do not commit the time and effort to following up meetings and acting on agreements, whether online or in the real world, you will be regarded as unreliable, inconsistent and not the ‘go-to’ person you tried to portray.

Your unique brand is your chance to stand out and get noticed. Don’t let slips in professionalism undo all the hard graft you have put in to creating it. Keep your eye on the ball and demonstrate yourself at your best.

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