How has personal branding helped you and your business?
Personal branding is essentially the very core of my business in one sense, and yet, in another sense is almost irrelevant. You see, much of the work I do is essentially behind the scenes, and as closely as possible it is invisible to those beyond my clients themselves. What I mean is that so much of marketing today is designed to be unobtrusive, uncontrived, and to feel natural. So, it isn’t as if I can put logos and branding on my work. Yet at the same time, reputation is everything to my particular business.
Providing a lot of free and public help and advice is one of the few ways in which I can ‘advertise’ my abilities beyond my existing clients, and those they recommend me to. That is far harder than it sounds initially as the entire point is to ensure that public advice is always accurate, reliable, and useful. Branding oneself as mistake-prone, not-thorough, etc. would be disastrous.
If you ask people to describe my work attributes or sum up their perceptions of me, then that is the personal branding I have successfully transmitted. Generally, people know that I am very honest, very knowledgeable, quite clever/innovative, and don’t hold with nonsense or time wasting. They see that my peers (often people they already know and respect) hold me in high regard, and that my advice is respected and accepted. They don’t see, however hard they look, instances where I have given poor advice, or ever failed a client. Things like that simply can’t be faked.
What are the steps you take to make sure your personal brand doesn’t get affected? I’m sure there would be many who’d look at misusing it anytime.
The biggest risk to my personal brand is if I were to make mistakes. Technically, it would be enough to simply always fix my mistakes, but I believe it is important to not be seen making them in the first place too. I, therefore, have to be extremely careful to be thorough, to very clearly state which parts of anything I share are personal opinion, or are situationally specific, and so forth. I have to add that while I take care of over-accuracy, and knowing my field, it is also important (at least for my particular business) to never be seen as overly-cautious, such as avoiding the tough situations, or sticking only to things that are easy and safe.
My reputation as fearless, sometimes blunt, honesty is important here. I’m well-known for it, and if I say something isn’t true, people know my reputation.
Mostly, what I have to do to protect my reputation is ensure that I always know what I am talking about, check my facts, do extensive research, and be sure to honestly and openly engage with critics and dissent. While I try to never make mistakes, the only way to do that is to always be aware that mistakes happen, and that making them is possible, and be actively looking for them.
Out of all the activities you do for personal branding, which is that one thing that never disappoints to get exposure?
Honesty. In a world that is ever more worried about being ‘politically correct’, and fearful of offending, fearless honesty is a rare and instantly-recognizable quality. When a business client hires me, he doesn’t want politically correct answers – he wants facts and absolute honesty in the advice given. That doesn’t mean I can only talk about established facts, of course. One can be just as fearlessly honest in stating opinion, as long as one is very clear about stating that it is your honest opinion.
The other part of what makes my personal branding activities powerful is that I never waste people’s time with stating the obvious, or simply rehashing things already discussed enough elsewhere. It means that when you have already read several articles about a topic, and then see one from me, you know that it won’t be just more of the same. I’ll have an important distinction to add, or even be fact-checking those other pieces I have been seeing. What you choose not to do is far more important an aspect of all forms of branding than most realize. If I see a great article or bunch of articles about a topic getting a lot of attention, I don’t try to hijack the interest by adding my own article. Instead I’ll happily point people to the best ones I have seen. Selfishness is not a good quality in branding. Helpfulness and always cheerfully getting the best information to the people, regardless of who authored it, is the key.