As an entrepreneur, you need to create and manage your own personal brand. You may think you’re selling a product, a service, a financial plan, etc. to your investors, division heads, partners or employees. To be sure, those things are an essential part of your business. But it’s really all about you, because people invest in people. Every action you take helps others define you. Personal branding goes a long way toward cultivating your tribe, as well as your customer base.
I run a personal branding exercise at one of my programs. Typically, there are about 20 people in the room. I encourage them to mingle while grabbing coffee and breakfast before the event. When it’s time to get started, I invite the participants to sit in their assigned seats. On the table in front of each of them is a placard, and I ask them to print their names on them so everyone in the group can see. Each person then gets a stack of index cards. I ask them to look around the room, write one person’s name on each of their index cards, and jot down the first five words that come to mind when thinking of that person. An assistant then collects all the cards, enters all the words the group used to describe each participant into a file, and prints them out so each participant sees only the words used to describe him or her.
Typically, people are shocked and horrified by the way others view them. For example, a person might think of himself as outgoing, but the index card shows the group thinks his behavior is obnoxious. Another person thinks she embodies success and confidence, but the group sees her as arrogant and standoffish. Often, the way others see them just doesn’t sync with the story the person believes about themselves. It’s little wonder they’re not getting the results they want when they try to sell their ideas or raise capital in their businesses. Clearly, what they’re projecting isn’t what they need to win people over.
What would that stack of note cards say about you? What’s the impression you are leaving on others when you’re trying to build your tribe? Is that personal brand serving you or stifling your growth? Is it taking you closer to or farther away from your goals?
Here are five steps to take control of your own personal brand:
1. Identify your goal. The first thing you need to do is get very clear about what you want to achieve. Do you want to release a new product that extends your company’s footprint in the marketplace? Do you want to close financing for a big project? Do you want to create a rock-star team to help transform your local business into a global franchise? Who do you need to be to achieve that goal? What image do you need to project to bring others along with you?
2. Understand where you are now. Where are you today relative to where you need to be? What is the gap, and what changes do you need to make to fill that gap?
To answer this question, go to the five people you spend the most time with and ask them to describe your brand. Then extend your pool to others with whom you’ve had fewer interactions; more distant acquaintances may offer even more valuable information because it’s based on more immediate first impressions. By getting a handle on how others see you, you’ll learn what needs to be changed. If they say you’re standoffish, when you think of yourself as shy, this is an area of your self-presentation you need to work on. Such knowledge alone can be curative.
3. Recognize what your daily habits say about you. Daily habits can have a major impact on how people brand you. Your attire, manners and degree of organization tell people about you — and the right presentation communicates that you’re prepared and have pride in who you are and what you do. For example, when someone is physically fit and really takes care of herself, she presents as disciplined, committed, and apt to follow through. People can see and hear an energy in her physical presence immediately. Little things make a big difference, even if it’s just the cut of your clothes or the warmth of your handshake — and you can take control of them.
4. Leverage technology to define and reinforce your brand. Most people will first be introduced to you online, when they type your name in a Google search box or visit your LinkedIn, Facebook and/or Twitter profile. They’ll see the pictures and videos you distribute of yourself and what interests you. Use these tools to your advantage: Have a professional picture taken, include a link to your website, and make sure your copy is brief and to the point.
5. Be yourself. When developing a personal brand, authenticity is key. If you try to pass yourself off as someone you’re not, people will find out, and that will undercut your credibility. Be original and be creative. Present a sincere, heightened but accurate version of yourself. Don’t try to be what you think other people want you to be. When investors and customers meet you, you want them to think, “this is a person I want to do business with.”