Personal Branding

Brand Phobia: How to fight your personal brand demons and win
by Lyn Chamberlin

In the personal branding workshops that I teach, I can feel the air getting sucked out of the room when I ask the group of successful, savvy, world-smart women to begin the process of identifying their own distinctive brand by listing their accomplishments. Eager faces suddenly turn apprehensive. A couple of people make self-deprecating jokes. Then, dead silence. I tell them that, like the cobbler's children who have no shoes, this was not an easy exercise for me to do either. When I liken it to emotional Rolfing--digging into all the uncomfortable places until you've worked out the kinks and devised a brand identity--they all laugh, and with some additional coaxing and cajoling, the pens begin to fly.
There is no magic wand here. No brilliant, earth-changing discovery or patented formula. What happens is very simple: women get the go-ahead to pat themselves on the back, to acknowledge all the accomplishments in their professional and personal lives, and to look at themselves and their enterprises in a new way.

Why is it that the women with the guts to start their own businesses, women who have fought their way to the top of big, big companies struggle so mightily with branding themselves? Why is it that most of us would rather bungee-jump than take credit for our accomplishments, for our talents, for our contributions?

My non-scientific analysis is that we are caught in a self-perpetuating, interconnected web of myths, myths that have been handed down to us in one form or another ever since Eve took a bite out of the apple. Myths such as:

Myth #1: If I Am Good, They Will Come
Myth #2: Marketing Myself Is a Dirty Business
Myth #3: I Can't Control What Other People Think
Myth #1: If I Am Good, They Will Come
Being good is not enough. Being all of the things you are and have accomplished is not enough. Toiling away when everyone else has gone home will not leapfrog you to the front of the pack. Creating the greatest widget will not by itself drive sales. You must find a way to tell your story to people who will listen. And your story must be the answer to a question that your customers, clients, and colleagues need the answer to. Otherwise, it's the proverbial sound of one hand clapping. If a tree falls in the forest, and there's no one to hear it, does it make a sound? The answer, in an increasingly competitive, dog-eat-dog, 21st-century world, is a resounding NO.
We assume that if we quietly build it behind the scenes, they will come. We shy away from promoting ourselves, from taking credit for our successes, from being our own best advertisement. This is the biggest hurdle that we, as 51 percent of the population, must overcome--whether we're at home, in the workforce, or in the C-suite.

Myth #2: Marketing Myself Is a Dirty Business
Successful personal branding means continually standing far enough away to see yourself and your work as if it were not you and your work that you were looking at.

Successful personal branding means taking a 50,000-foot view of yourself and your business, looking down on yourself from a remote-enough planet that your "buts" and "not reallys" and every other self-qualifier you can come up with cease to exist. Learn how to look at what's left of the former you as just another product on a very crowded shelf, where every other can of soup is jockeying for position and trying to knock you off in the process.

Successful personal branding means wearing labels such as "leading" and "expert," "sought-after," "popular," and "well-regarded." It means creating a brand identity that is authentic, consistent, and memorable, one that you own and are proud of.

Myth #3: I Can't Control What Other People Think
You must learn to be the marketing manager of your own brand campaign. Why do we associate Volvo with safety or FedEx with overnight delivery? Because millions of dollars were spent to create that association for us. Nike, Coke, Xerox, and Microsoft tell us how they want us to perceive their products--and we do, thanks to tightly honed messages that are reinforced and repeated over and over again.

Here are several simple steps you can take right now to bottle and market YOU:

Figure out who you are, what you stand for, and why you are different than anyone or anything else.

Create a story that communicates your value and your market differentiation.

Pull the key words that you have used to create that story and weave them into everything that you say, do and publish about yourself and your business.
Tell your story relentlessly, passionately, and unapologetically to anyone who will listen. You will refine and improve it as you go along, figuring out which parts work and which don't.
So don't be afraid to let your pen fly, to begin your exploration of your personal brand identity. Claim your rightful role as chief flag-waver for your company, your product, and ultimately, for yourself.

Play to your Strengths

When Opportunity Knocks with a Pink Slip in Hand
By: Angus Loten,
Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling and other entrepreneurs launched successful ventures only after losing their day jobs. Who knew getting fired could be a great career move?

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When Charlotte Dulaney was five months pregnant with her third child, the furthest thing on her mind was launching a business. It was the late 1980s, and Dulaney, a 31-year-old IT manager for an electric subcontractor in Arvada, Colo., was busy enough juggling work and a growing family. To make matters worse, her daughter had recently suffered a burst appendix, forcing Dulaney to take a month off. Then, weeks before her maternity leave started, she was called into the boss's office -- and was fired for missing too much work.

"I honestly didn't know what I was going to do," Dulaney says. Too pregnant to start looking for a new job, she decided instead to try launching a business at home -- something to do with computers, she figured. "Computers were what I knew, so I thought I'd look into that."

The result was, an early online retailer specializing in gifts for baby showers. The business has since expanding into a 4,000-square-foot warehouse with four full-time employees and was once featured on HBO's Sex in the City.

"It never even dawned on me to run my own business," Dulaney says. "I was out of a job and knew I needed money coming in."

Dulaney's path to success puts her in good company. From Home Depot's Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank, to media mogul-turned-New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, some of today's most successful entrepreneurs launched their breakthrough businesses only after finding themselves out of work. And whether it's that extra nudge needed to pursue a long-formulating business idea, or simply the trigger of some latent survival mechanism, pink slips appear to be jump-starting the careers of more and more reluctant entrepreneurs in recent years.

This year alone, the number of job seekers turning to self-employment has climbed by 10.6 percent -- a 29 percent jump from a year ago, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a Chicago-based outplacement firm.

At least part of this sudden increase is the result of a wave of early corporate buyouts, mergers, and acquisitions by private-equity firms, says John Challenger, the firm's CEO. According to the Labor Department, 965 businesses reported layoffs resulting in 139,269 displaced workers during the first quarter of the year. At the same time, 24,865 workers lost their jobs completely to permanent business closures.

The inevitable job shuffling that follows buyouts, mergers, and acquisitions is leaving a high number of skilled employees by the wayside and increasingly wary of corporate job security. Consider that more than 80 percent of first-quarter start-ups this year were led by experienced workers in their 40s, according to Challenger.

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Another big driver of self-employment is the underlying strength of the economy.

"The economy, while showing some chinks in its armor, has not slowed to the point of discouraging start-up activity," Challenger says, pointing to weaknesses in the housing market and the automotive sector. "Other areas of the economy appear to be relatively healthy, a fact which has boosted the confidence of would-be entrepreneurs."

For Sastry Rachakonda, the director of Discover's business-card division, these entrepreneurs fall into two camps. The first is made up of highly skilled employees in a particular field -- usually technology -- who want to keep doing what they do best after getting fired or laid off from an employer. Many of today's successful Web 2.0 firms were started by creative young employees who lost their jobs in the late 1990s tech meltdown.

Yet, for all their technical knowledge, many new entrepreneurs in this group don't have the slightest clue about the nuts and bolts of running a business. "The biggest pitfall I've seen with this group is a lack of business skills," Rachakonda says. "They think that because they're great designers, or engineers, or developers, the business will run itself." Usually, these entrepreneurs end up hiring a business manager or going out of business, he adds.

The second group Rachakonda refers to as the dreamers. These are less-skilled employees who either want to pursue a bold business idea or simply want to be their own boss. "People in this group often suffer from a lack of appreciation for the amount of work involved in the day-to-day operations of running a business," he says.

Surprisingly, the failure rates among the first group -- those that have marketable skills -- tend to be higher, he says. "In the end, it comes down to a combination of experience, education, and hard work," Rachakonda says.

Two years ago, Tonya Thomas was an administrative assistant at a bank in Jefferson, Ala., when a merger collectively forced up to 4,000 employees out of work, including herself.

For years, Thomas had long considered the idea of launching an online service that helped smaller businesses with everything from planning special events to creating newsletters and calendars. Using the six months notice given to her and her co-workers by their new corporate bosses, she started putting her plan into action -- from securing a Web domain name to printing business cards.

Today, she runs her site, The Small Office Assistant, from her home, while taking care of her two young children. Despite the extra work involved in being her own boss, she says, it's also allowed her to be more flexible with her time.

"That layoff was a blessing in disguise," Thomas says. "If that had not happened, I would still be working in that bank today. It turned out to be a great opportunity."