What’s authenticity got to do with onions?

We’re a lot more like onions than you think. Yes. Really.

If you’ve recently started working for yourself, one of the challenges you’re likely to come across is finding your true voice, your authentic self. Connecting to who you really are and what you really want is not always a straightforward process. One thing I have realised working with my clients is that the people that find it the hardest are those that were working in corporate environments that didn’t encourage them to be themselves. They’d spent so long trying to change who they were to fit in that they lost site of who they really are. This might have been because the organisational values and theirs were not aligned, or maybe they were doing a job that didn’t fulfil them or make use of their talents and strengths. Whatever the reason, once you’re free of the corporate machine you’re next biggest task is to do decide what to do next. And in doing so you’ll need to define yourself. In other words; develop your personal brand.

In making your next move, the chances are that you’ll use the online space to do so. Whether it’s on LinkedIn, ecademy or if you end up with your own site or blog. If you’re going to present yourself online, you’re going to need to make a call as to how you want to appear and what you want to say about yourself. That’s in addition to being clear about what you’re trying to achieve so that you know who you’re trying to talk to.

So, back to onions… like onions, when we’re an employee in a hostile environment we develop a thick skin to protect ourselves. It protects us nicely from the dirt that surrounds us; you know the politics, the falsities and all the other corporate BS. Then, when we get plucked free, the bit that people really want is the juicy fleshy bit. But to get to that, we need to shed a few layers first. How many layers will depend on how hostile corporate life was. Over to you Shrek…

Shedding these layers can take quite some time. I know personally, it took me well over a year to find my true voice. And believe me, the journey isn’t over!

The thing is, once you’re well on the way to finding your story you are blessed with the ability to really carve out a niche for yourself. Because in discovering your authentic self comes with it a renewed sense of confidence. This confidence enables you to inject your personality into what you do in a way that you’ve not done before. And once you get to do that, you’re on the road to uniqueness. The one thing that you can be sure of is that no-one else has got your personality. So, no matter what you end up doing for a living, if you do it YOUR way, then you will be unique and stand out from others. One of my favourite examples of this is Danielle LaPorte of White Hot Truth

Once you do this you will naturally attract others with similar values to you, which means you’ll probably enjoy working and being with them. And when you get to that, work doesn’t feel like work. And that my friend is success!

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Why personal branding is relevant to business

When you talk about personal branding to employers, many are not interested. For them, they consider personal branding all about making the employee more valuable, which means that the employee may become more expensive and look to move elsewhere. Hardly something they want to invest in.

But what they fail to realise is that every time a customer interacts with their business through their staff, the customer is interacting with a person who has a personal brand. Now, that employee may not be conscious of their personal brand, but this doesn’t mean that they don’t have one.

What impression does the employee create? Are they presenting themselves in a manner appropriate with the business and its brand? Are the employee’s values in line with the business values? If the company values customer service highly, is this reflected in the behaviour of the employee? Whenever you have negative experiences with a business it is usually down to your interaction with a person and their attitude. Often, if senior management are made aware of the problem it is quickly addressed. And let’s not forget, customer service isn’t something that is restricted to the customer service department. Internally within a business, every employee has customers. Their customers will include their fellow team members, other teams they interact with and suppliers.

Look at it from a different perspective. Let’s say your business is one of many in a highly competitive market where there is little differentiation in the service or product offering. For example, professional services such as accountants or lawyers. Typically in these businesses, the professionals will all have similar qualifications and backgrounds. By the nature of what they do, it is standard fair. So, what helps them to stand apart? The people! People do business with people. So, it follows that the most successful people will be those that have great people skills and act authentically and consistently. Isn’t that the sort of person you’d rather have in your team?

So now tell me that Personal Branding isn’t relevant to business.

Branding in a business is often thought of as belonging to the marketing department. But in fact it straddles the whole organisation. Everyone in the organisation has a part to play in bringing the corporate brand to life. A brand breathes through its people. It’s the X-factor that separates the stars from the wannabe’s.

Staff attitudes, what they say, how they look, what they do, what people say about them, and their office environment. These factors will not only influence what you think of the individual, but the company they work for. It all contributes to the overall brand.

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Finding your personal brand

There are lot of articles about on personal branding, with the majority talking about how important it is to have a personal brand. The rest of them talk about all the ways that you can increase the visibility of your personal brand in the online environment. But, before any work can be done to raise your profile, you need to be clear as to what your brand is. And working it out is not always straightforward. Well sure, it sounds straightforward when you talk about it

“… a personal brand is a blend of your strengths, personality, passion, values and goals….”

Working all that out takes quite a bit of time and effort. Let me just look at each one of these in turn.

Strengths
How many of us know our strengths? If you’ve been through corporate training, it’s likely that you’ve been subjected to a Myers Briggs profiling or similar. So, for you guys, it’s a bit easier. But for the rest of you, identifying your strengths can be difficult. Why?

  • We don’t always realise that we’re good at something, because for us, it’s natural. We don’t know what we know. Often, it takes someone else to spot our talent.
  • We’re usually much better at identifying our weaknesses.

It’s always worth starting a list on your own, but ask your friends, family and colleagues for their comments. You’ll probably have a few surprises: things that weren’t on your list, and those that were that are questioned. Be prepared for this

Personality
This is an interesting one. I bet that if we were to do a straw poll, we’d find that our ideas about our personality are not that close to the reality. Do whining negative people consider themselves to be so? You might think you’re confident, but others think of you as arrogant. You get the picture. This is one aspect of personal branding that is crucial to get some outside help with. After all, your personal brand is how others perceive you, and your personality is the crux of this. So, again, ask friends, family and colleagues for some hints.

Passion
What are you passionate about? Do you know? Understanding your passion is mega mega important! It could even be the key to your personal brand. If you spend more time than is healthy taking photographs of roundabouts, then you might have hit upon a niche. A niche whereby you could become an expert. Think of Gavin Pretor-Pinney who just loved looking at and taking pictures of clouds. He went on to form The Cloud Appreciation Society and is now a recognised expert in the cloud world. His book, The Cloud Spotter’s Guide, was a best seller.

Values
Your values are those things that are really important to you in life. Things like recognition, honesty, health, love and achievement. You probably have a clear idea of your values. If not, just ask yourself “what has been really important to me in my life?”. Some people find they have around 5 values, while others have five times that. If you have that many, you need to be clear about what the top ones are though, as these are the invisible drivers in your life. The things that control your behaviour, whether you like it or not. So you may as well be aware of them.

Goals
If you were to ask around, you’ll probably find that most people have dreams not goals. The difference? Goals have actions and timelines against them. The other thing about goals is that they are reviewed regularly so you can track your progress. The level at which you decide to clarify your goals is up to you. Some people give themselves a couple of goals to achieve over a few years, while others have 1, 5 and 10-year plans with goals for each sector of their life (financial, relationship, career etc). So, wherever you want to be on this scale, just make sure you’re on it. Because if you’re not, your personal brand is a going to have a great big hole in it.

Having said all this, the key thing to understand is that your personal brand isn’t what you want to project; it’s what others perceive. So a high level of self -awareness is important because no matter what, you will need to be consistent in the application of your personal brand. As with great consumer brands, consistency is key. Your brand represents the promise that you’re making to help others to understand what to expect from you. You keep changing and people won’t know what to expect, and they’ll go elsewhere.

So, have you figured out your personal brand?

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Personal Branding: Should the brand be my business or me?

Last weekend I ran a session on Personal Branding at MediaCamp Nottingham. This question came up and prompted a bit of debate. Even into the pub at lunch! Should our brand be our business or ourselves? Or both? And how do they fit together?

One point that I am very fussy about in this debate is the need to understand what your goals and objectives are before embarking on finding the solution. If you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve you can’t possibly make a judgement as to what the most appropriate route may be. Think of Alice in Wonderland asking the Cheshire Cat for directions. If you don’t know where you’re heading, you can take any route you want.

What do you want?
So, how does your business fit in with your overall goals and objectives? Is your business a vehicle for you to achieve your own goals? (i.e. sell up and sit on a beach) Or is it just a way for you to carry on doing what you love? Depending on the answer, these two businesses could be very different. The first could be a unique service that you’ve identified that fulfils a gap and you think could be incredibly viable. The second could be an extension of you and your expertise. So, how we approach branding the two will be very different depending on your own goals and ambitions.

How do businesses do it?snf1203ma_370813a
In any business where a parent brand exists over a number of other brands, the parent brand, like human parents, have things in common with their offspring. They don’t have everything in common, but there are key themes. For example, parent brands such as Mars, Audi have key values that set them apart. And, these values are present in their offspring, but new ones may be brought in depending on the product or category. For Audi, it’s sportiness and performance. We could think of these as settings on your sound system. So, within the Audi family, the TT’s branding has turned the sportiness setting up to max even though performance is still important. For the A4 it’s the performance that’s been turned up.

I don’t want to get too trapped into business thinking though because we’re humans and we’re very different from businesses. But there’s a lot for us to borrow and learn from business.

As people, we have many interests and experiences. As time goes on, our experiences increase and our interests may change. But the constant is our essence. The bit about us that is us. And this bit, our essence, undoubtedly encapsulates our values and beliefs. So when trying to work out your personal brand, you will need to make a decision about which bits about you you’re going to use to enhance your personal brand. The stuff that adds the fizz. Developing your personal brand is an exciting process. One where you need to think about all your past experiences, skills, competencies, talents and interests and work out what it is about you that can be packaged together to add value to the world.

Any business you start is an extension of you and so you need to be clear about your own values and beliefs and how they fit with your business because ultimately, if there is a gap, the brand YOU will be threatened. Think of some well-known personal brands in business and how they managed the dynamic.

anitaroddickpa_228x182 richard-branson-virgin

What was the relationship between their personal branding and their business branding?

So, how does this help us with our question? You are the parent brand, and any offspring you have in terms of brands or projects will reflect or emphasise certain relevant aspects you, the parent brand. You may choose create a public link between the two brands, in the way the Richard Branson and Anita Roddick did. In these cases, there was synergy and a win-win situation was created. Or there was until Body Shop was sold to L’Oreal.

But back to the question about how you decide…

Let’s say for a minute that you are a business owner, but your business is essentially you. You sell your time and your expertise to other businesses, and you love what you do. You don’t want to grow it because that might mean that you have to manage people, which would get in the way of the DOING. In this situation, it is worth noting that your business is currently fulfilling a role for you that fits with your current circumstances. But should your circumstances change (or the world around you), then your business might need to change. And, it follows that what you want from your business might change. So how do you brand?

The brand as servant
In this situation, it is worth thinking about how branding can serve you. If you choose to develop separate brands for you and the business, then brand YOU can act as the pull to your business. Brand YOU is engaged with the people that you deal with directly among your clients. But, for these people to work with you, they may need to get the project signed off at a senior level. So, unless brand YOU is significant and you are well known, your business branding is going to be key. For some reason a lot of senior business execs prefer to do business with businesses rather than individuals. So, if you’re clever, you can play tag team with your branding. So that your personal brand acts as a pull, and your business branding gets you over the line. Or vice versa.

So, what is it that you want from your business? After all, that is where the answer is probably hidden.

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