February 23, 2010

Elmer Fudd and Other Musings for Personal Brand Camp 2

Personal Brand Camp 2 takes place today for students of the Humber PR program. As a volunteer mentor, I've been thinking about personal branding. Here are assorted musings on
  • how your brand ages
  • what you're known for
  • brand pixels
  • Elmer Fudd
Does Your Brand Change With Age?
We change as we age. What about our personal brands?

If You're A Student
You want lifelong consistency as you go from challenging the status quo to being the status quo. From tearing down the walls to fortifying them.

A personal brand built on timeless principles endures. The principles guide you when you make decisions.

Suppose you believe in accountability and work in the mobile phone world. Maybe you'd feel compelled to disclose the full price including activation fees, system access fees, usage fees, roaming charges and cancellation penalties. If you believe in fairness, maybe you'd drop cancellation penalties, a way of forcing customers to stay instead of earning their loyalty with quality, service and value.

If You're Already Old
Maybe you haven't thought deeply about your personal brand. Have you seen the Up Series, which looks at the same people at ages 7, 14, 21, …, 49? You'll notice common elements that defy aging.

What beliefs been consistent in your life since childhood? What events shaped you? They are part of your brand. If you're stumped, try asking people who've known you over the years.

What Are You Known For?
What do people say about you? I'm often called an actuary with a personality. This implies technical knowledge and accessibility --- a good combination. Contradictions intrigue.

What do people count on you for?
  • Showing up, blizzard or balmy?
  • Coming up with brilliant ideas?
  • Getting things done?
  • Solving problems?
What do you do? Not talk about but actually do? Actions beat words.

What do you want to be known for?

Brand Pixels
Everything you do adds pixels to the brand you're painting. Over time, your image develops, gets larger, has higher resolution and becomes permanent. Your mistakes get hidden in the larger tapestry.

What people expect from you depends what you did in the past. You can't build your reputation on good intentions. Even if you're entering a new venue, your past successes help others gauge your likelihood of success. That affects the financing available, the collaborators you attract and even customer demand. Think of the high expectations for the Apple tablet prior to launch. Apple was expected to succeed.

Have visible proof of past success.

For students, this means
  1. your grades
  2. your activities
  3. your portfolio
These factors especially matter when you're selling a service --- as intangible as the promise of a brand.

The same three elements of past success apply in the working world, except your grades now take the form of testimonials. You want your portfolio visible online so anyone can find you and give you a "test drive" anonymously.

Networks are important too. Online, networks have the additional advantage of showing your connections. Since we're judged by the company we keep, there's an element of endorsement. You may want to separate your business and personal lives.

Since your digital footprint is permanent, do take care in what you say and do. Your growing tapestry makes flaws less visible but that doesn't mean everyone will overlook them --- especially if they feel other options are readily available. Do you feel the same about Perrier after the Benzene scare? Or Firestone tires after blowouts caused 200+ deaths? Or Sony after the exploding laptop batteries? Or Toyota after recalling millions of cars?

Elmer Fudd
Question 8: How do you elevate your brand to Elmer Fudd status: endearing, yet feared?
Personal Brand Camp 2 answers 20 questions. That's the one I'm helping students discuss. Can you help too? Please take a few minutes share your thoughts here.


February 15, 2010


Some Will.
Some Won't.
So What?
Next Please.
--- Unknown

We're more connected than ever but can't always reach prospects. We might get voicemail. They may ask that we email instead of phone. What if they don't reply?

Following up directly has two drawbacks
  • you risk looking needy rather than proactive
  • you risk causing annoyance (remember when mom reminded you to clean up your room?)
Here's what you can do instead
  1. give more than you take
  2. have more than you can handle
  3. stay in touch informally
These steps dampen the emotional hurt of feeling snubbed and the chance of acting rashly. You're also more likely to get endless referrals.

Give More Than You Take
When you give more value than you receive, you become a resource: others need you more than you need them. Doesn't that feel good?

Warning: You may think you're giving value but they judge and may not value what you're giving.
When you give more, you strengthen the power of reciprocity. Contacts of high calibre will feel obligated to give back. They may not buy but will feel the need to reply. This still doesn't mean you'll get a response as quickly as you want.

Have More Work Than You Can Handle
If you have plenty of work, statistics are your friends. You know some (perhaps many) wonderful opportunities go nowhere. With enough prospects, you'll have enough business. You won't be emotionally attached to a particular sale. That puts you in the position of power. You can even reject less-than-ideal prospects. Being busy even increases your value: we want what we can't easily get.

Yes, you care about outcomes but you're not too attached to them. Next please.

Stay In Touch Informally
People forget about you. Why not practice consistent persistent generosity? Send valuable information without mentioning your unanswered message. If you're connected on LinkedIn or Facebook or Twitter or Google Buzz, continue posting useful items. An eNewsletter or an occasional personalized email on a non-related item might help too. You show that you're thinking of them, which gets them thinking of you and the outstanding item. You may get an apology for the delayed reply. That again shifts power to you.

Have you tried Google Buzz, launched last week? It integrates social media with your Gmail account and removes the 140 character limit on message length. Buzz also makes your Google Profile worth revisiting (e.g., here's mine).
Be patient.

Send a reminder if you think they forgot due to travel, holidays or busy-ness. Be friendly and light. Pretend you didn't send your previous communication. Sometimes messages get lost, blocked or deleted as spam.

Maybe you'll get a reply and get thanks for not pestering.

PS A request with $2.7 million at stake didn't reach me. Luckily the client followed up.

February 8, 2010

Mailbag: An Email Shows Why You Need To Be Findable

If you're visible, will people really find you?

Here's an email from this morning. I made minor editing changes to preserve the privacy of the sender. Afterwards, we'll answer the question.

The Email
I hope you will forgive me for this personal e-mail, but I also think you will understand why I am writing to you.

I am starting my actuarial studies, having graduated and obtained a masters in engineering more than a decade ago. My career took an unexpected path. After a long struggle, I decided to embrace it and "make lemonade".

I decided to take the actuarial path for a few simple (at least for me) reasons
  1. numbers give me comfort
  2. I like quantifying the invisible
  3. I need to feel grounded by doing something that makes sense
  4. I appreciate hard work, and
  5. I like being an expert at what I do
Still, I was debating for a very long time --- should I do this? Am I too old for an academic adventure? What about the kids, my full time job?

I stumbled upon your web site while I was still in the research phase and your sincere personal perspective gave me a push.

And then, the unexpected - I failed the first exam. For the first time in my life I failed an exam. Mind you, I have a masters in engineering with grades all above 90% and professional designations in Canada, but I failed this one! It was a blow that strengthened my doubts. I asked myself all of the above questions again.

I visited your website this morning. It had the same enlightening effect on me and I just could not resist sending you this note. Thank you for putting your word out there. The books are waiting on my desk, untouched for a month, but I intend to study. Because I can. Thanks again.
This email shows that people have real issues that you can help them resolve. Since very few bother to write, many more also benefited.

Your Turn
Let's turn to your service or product.

People want what you offer. They may not be ready to phone you, email you or meet you in person. They probably won't appreciate you contacting them --- if you knew where they are.

Instead help people find you. Put useful information where they look: online. By investing a tiny sliver of your free time, you get results year after year.

Hide and you send potential clients to your competition.

PS I get business emails too. They definitely lead to revenue and endless referrals.


February 1, 2010

Two Simple Steps To Endless Referrals

You might welcome a cold shower on a hot day but when would you yearn for a cold call?

Do Not Call. Do Not Spam. As consumers, we also rejoice when interruptions by phone and email vanish. There's still plenty of junk mail and advertising from big companies but how effective are they? The client attraction options for small entrepreneurs have changed. That's good because a cheaper classic approach works better.

Why Referrals
I've never made a single cold call. Since I started working with entrepreneurs in 2005, I've relied entirely on referrals. You can too.

When you're introduced by someone with credibility, you're automatically the expert. You can't easily brand yourself as an authority without looking like a braggart. Proper positioning is a big advantage of working in a real or virtual team.

By recommending you, the referrer looks good. They show generosity by saying nice things about someone else. They enhance their credibility by showing they know valuable resources. In exchange, you reciprocate (the first universal principle of influence). You then get more referrals.

"By Referral Only"
People want what they can't easily get. That's the lure of scarcity, the second universal principle of influence. But don't put "by referral only" on your business card, website or advertising. Who's going to believe you? If you truly have too much desirable business to handle
  • get more efficient
  • find a partner or add staff
  • refer the overflow to others in your network
Here's a simple test: if you're still giving out business cards, you're probably not taxed to your current capacity.

The Two Ways
To get endless referrals,
  1. become referrable, and
  2. remain visible
Just don't count on results later today or tomorrow. You're planting seeds. Be prepared to wait months or years. In the meantime, keep doing what you're doing.

Become Referrable
Be honest. Would you recommend your services to someone you truly cared about? Or would they get better results elsewhere? Earlier, we examined the four simple habits you can follow to become and remain referrable. Few of your competitors bother, which increases your chances of standing out.

Even the referrable get forgotten in the hectic pace of life. Suppose you're remembered. How easily can the potential referrer find your current contact information? Don't count on them searching for hours. Your web presence helps unless you have lousy email address.

Remain Visible
Networking makes you visible but you must provide regular reminders to remain visible.

Besides networking in person, you can now connect online. LinkedIn makes your network visible and you visible to your network. You can participate in different groups from the comfort of your office or home. What you do online usually leaves permanent tracks back to you.

These days it's very easy to remind people of you. This is like advertising but works better and costs less. An eNewsletter works wonderfully. So do short status updates placed where your targets can see them. Services like ping.fm let you send the same message to different sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter (if appropriate). For now, try posting a regular message on LinkedIn at least twice a week.

You want your reminders to be welcomed and eventually anticipated. So make them useful to your network. Links to online information work well. Yes, you can sprinkle in the occasional personal items.

Attracting referrals doesn't take much time or money. It takes commitment and patience. Keep doing what you're doing and add referral magnets to your mix. May your business bloom to the stage you discontinue your business cards. "By referral only" indeed.

PS You must also be great --- and remain great --- at your specialty.