“Marketing is expensive,” said the well-meaning business and entrepreneur trainer when I approached him with a business idea that would help to expand his reach and potentially bring in a whole new audience. You hear this statement a lot and it’s usually followed by “I’m already using social media” like it’s some kind of magic bullet.
The thing about social media is that a few tweets here, a status update there and pin or two can only take you so far in getting feet through the door. If you’re using it to grow your reputation and business, unless you have a defined objective backed up by a solid strategic engagement strategy in place, you’re talking into the wind.
Over the past five or so years, I have worked on building my personal profile and in the process have followed some – now influential – people as they rose through the ranks to become the meaningful industry voices they are today. I was interested in creating a platform for myself which would enhance and be beneficial to my start-up business.
On my profile-building journey, there have been a number of people have been instrumental in advising me and showing me the ropes. I will, in this two-part series, attempt to share what I learnt and shed some light in how you can build a platform for yourself.
Call a friend
When you get stuck for an answer in ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’, you are allowed to call a friend for the answer. Mentorship is very similar. It is about surrounding yourself with people who want to see you succeed and are willing to openly share the knowledge and experiences they have accumulated over the years.
A mentor doesn’t have to be older than you or necessarily wildly successful. Their value lies in sharing what has and has not worked for them and providing a sounding board when you’re unsure of the way forward.
Thought leaders are also useful guides. While you might not always have direct access to them, the insights that they share across their various platforms can help you to have important “Aha” moments or inspire you to follow a particular train of thought.
Early on in my journey one of my friends, who also plays in the creative space, encouraged me to share my thoughts, interpretations and insights across a variety of important industry platforms. This would allow me to raise my profile, as well as gain the opportunity to engage with the industry and to learn from their comments and feedback.
While initially a rather daunting prospect in the beginning, it made sense that if I was going to try and build my business around harnessing the power of influencers, then I should be living by example, showing potential clients what I had achieved rather than just making what might appear to be empty promises.
Writing regular thought leadership pieces for some of South Africa’s leading industry platforms, co-hosting an online TV show called ‘Let’s Talk Possibility’ and hosting Network Radio’s This Week in Startups has given me the opportunity, not only to share what I’ve learned through my research and the projects that I’ve undertaken, but also to learn from those responding to the articles, or appearing on the shows.
Be relevant and interesting
In my search for a magic bullet, soon after starting my business, I approached a media consultant for help on how to grow my business. He told me to take my own medicine and that selling anything, including oneself, means you have to put yourself out there.
The thing about putting yourself out there is that you’d better do a decent job. Don’t share unless you have something that is meaningful, relevant and valuable for your readers or listeners. Always do your homework too, so that you can back your thoughts and opinions up with fact wherever possible.
Be aware that you’re not always going to have a favourable response. In fact there may be times when someone heckles you and insists that you don’t know what you’re talking about. Everyone is entitled to their opinion; remember at all times that it is how you conduct yourself in these moments that leaves you looking professional or not.
Have you ever found yourself making the analogy “mechanics drive the worst and most dilapidated cars”? No one wants to be that mechanic, let alone make contact with them. If you’re trying to position yourself as a thought leader, do your homework before you present your case, attend relevant industry conferences, events and workshops.
Take up interesting opportunities that will add to your knowledge in your chosen field and report back on what you learnt. Discuss past projects including what the brief was, what the outcome was and share what worked or what didn’t and muse about what you might do differently (if anything) second time around.
Why should anyone listen to you?
Our mentors are the people that we quite often bare our souls to, all the while trying to show them that we’re constantly growing and improving. My mentor has many of the traits that I want to cultivate in business, including the ability to captivate an audience and sell ideas that clients know are worth the investment.
The first questions he asked me was, “Why should anyone listen to you?” This got me thinking about the contribution I would like to make within my chosen field. In my case, the answer to that question is, “People should listen to me because I am able to generate conversations about their brands and products by introducing them to a network of fresh, relevant, exciting and engaging young South African thought leaders.”
Once you have identified why people should listen to you, creating a plan and then implementing a strategic course of action which will encourage them to listen and to ask the important engagement questions, is easier.
He also shared with me, that people listen to those whom they perceive have ‘made it’ in their respective fields. So en route to blazing a trail, remember to build a network through your contributions, which will assist in building your credibility.
We all have that one connection who calls for help whenever they’re desperate but who is seldom able to return the favour. Don’t be that guy. It is the people who give first that are more likely to make lasting connections and it’s those connections that can help to make you a force to be reckoned with in your field.
Many people spend their lives building connections and making a meaningful contribution on various platforms. Others spend their time asking to tap into the connections you’ve spent countless hours nurturing without feeling the need to contribute anything of value in return.
Referring one of your connections to another is a difficult decision to make, because at the end of the day, regardless of whether or not you are involved in the interaction that takes place thereafter, your reputation is at stake should one person not live up to the promised expectation.
Would you prefer to be someone that encourages others to want to refer you because they can trust the way you will conduct yourself with others or are you comfortable with the possibility that your calls are being ignored for a good reason?
5 Steps to success
These are some of the first steps I took, and as I learn along the way, nothing is set in stone, the journey and the strategy changes on occasion and different things become more useful.
- Start by growing your network
- Surround yourself with people from whom you can learn and who you can potentially help in return for their insights and guidance
- Begin building your profile, making sure to do your homework.
- Ask yourself the question “why should anyone listen to me” and then create a strategic plan to reach them.
- Lastly, be the person that people like to refer to others rather than drain their patience.
Brush Up On Your Personal Branding To Cement Your Success As An Entrepreneur
Check your life skills ratings in these three key everyday areas to see whether you need to pull back from the edge.
When you run your own business, you are the brand champion and the brand ambassador – in fact, you are the brand. That is why in all the turmoil of start-up or getting a new product launched, you need to spare a moment to step back.
Think about how you are presenting to the world the brand that is so precious to you and that means so much for your future. Your clients certainly want to know and even see evidence that you are deeply committed to your brand. But there is a fine line between living the brand and letting the brand take you over and cloud your better judgement.
This is where personal branding becomes as important as your innovative product solutions or your customer service excellence. Edgy entrepreneur is one thing – but clients might shy away if they think that you have stepped over the edge and are more involved in process than delivery.
Check your life skills ratings in these three key everyday areas to see whether you need to pull back from the edge:
- Time management: Despite traffic problems or transport schedules, getting this right is vital. If you do not make it on time to an initial meeting with a client, this will raise alarm bells. The client’s immediate thought is, “Can I trust this person’s word about delivering on time?” Time is money and not being on time could ultimately cost you money.
- Look the part: If you look tired, dishevelled or have poor hygiene, instead of giving you a high five for pulling an all-nighter trying to troubleshoot a new product, clients might simply think that you do not fit with their corporate culture. Ask yourself if you even fit with your own corporate culture? Is this the way you want to present your brand and your business to the world?
- Clear the decks: You might just get away with your office or workshop looking like a tip where only you know where to find something. But do not let that attitude spill over into the world outside.
That apparently friendly and innocent courtesy of being escorted to your car by your host when you leave the meeting could cover them checking you out. Many business people judge potential service providers or partners by their car – not the brand but what it looks like.
Is it covered in dust and badly in need of a wash? Is it full of the rubbish of several lunches on the road and a muddle of paperwork? It is likely that they will deduce that this is how you run your business and how you would run your business relationship with them. In other words, the state of your car might get you the thumbs up or put an end to what had been a promising negotiation.
You can be how you like, do what you want when you are off duty. But when you are on your own business’s time, you are your own brand and you need to live up to it if you want to make your mark.
5 Things You Can Do To ‘Humanise’ Your Brand
Face it: Consumers don’t automatically trust your brand or anyone else’s. Whaddaya gonna do?
Let’s face it, consumers don’t trust brands. Most people view companies like faceless enemies; they’re just out to make money; they’re just telling us what we want to hear. So, if your company wants to win over more customers, you’ve got to get them to trust you.
In fact, according to PwC’s Global Consumer Insights Survey 2018, more than one in three consumers surveyed ranked “trust in brand” among the top three factors, other than price, influencing their decision to shop at a particular retailer. How do you get consumers to trust your company? You do it by showing them the human side of your brand. That will inspire more trust from consumers and boost your conversions.
To form meaningful relationships with your audience, check out these five ways to humanise your brand.
Show off your funny bone
One easy way is to show off your funny bone. According to researchers from the Turku PET Centre, Oxford and Aalto universities, social laughter leads to an endorphin release in the brain and may promote the establishment of social bonds. So, if laughter can make us feel good and encourage connections between people, you should consider using it to get the same results for your business.
Not a comedian yourself? Don’t worry; you can share popular and funny content that already exists. It’s what Netflix does when the media giant shares funny images from its shows.
Showing your more playful side will help consumers see that you’re not just a business focused on selling a product; you’re a human who can put aside your seriousness and have some fun.
Put your team members in the spotlight
Letting consumers see the people behind the business is a powerful way to humanise your brand. If consumers are looking at just your logo all the time, they might not see your brand as human. So, put your team members in the spotlight.
Shoot some quality photos of your staff members and display them on your website and your social media platforms. You don’t need to hire a professional photographer; iPhones today can take some pretty stunning shots. You might even share your employee of the month and include a story about what makes that staffer so great. Seeing the amazing people “behind the curtain” will help consumers put a face to the brand name.
Share user-generated content
Sharing user-generated content works to humanise your brand in two ways: First, it’s exciting and flattering to the user who gets his or her photo featured on your website or social media feed. Second, it shows other consumers that you have great relationships with their peers and that those people already enjoy your products.
Instead of being asked to blindly trust a company’s claims, consumers will see real-life people falling in love with your products, which will promote trust in your brand. Example? Airbnb does user-generated content well by sharing with its followers the amazing experiences its customers are having around the world.
If you don’t have any user-generated content, ask your customers for it. Do this in an email marketing campaign; add it to your branded packages for shipping; or create a post on social media encouraging users to take a photo of/with your product and share it in combination with a unique, branded hashtag.
Tell authentic stories
Don’t spend all your time online just talking about how great your company is; humanise your brand by telling authentic stories. Sharing real stories about your failures, hardships and lessons that you’ve learned will help customers better relate and sympathise with you. According to Psychological Science, research suggests that shared pain may have positive social consequences; shared pain acts as a “social glue” to promote solidarity and togetherness between groups.
So, tell your target audience members stories that they can relate to, instead of simply presenting your brand as perfect. You could even share stories of your customers who previously struggled but then achieved success with help from your company/product. This will not only humanise your brand, but boost sales too.
Show appreciation for your customers
Letting your customers know that you care about and appreciate them is one of the best ways to humanise your brand. So, show appreciation for your best customers by sending them company swag or offering special discounts with a personalised message.
Buffer thanked one of its stand-out customers with not only company swag, but a personalised gift. I’m sure that those customers then became lifelong fans.
Not every company can afford to send out swag to all of their best customers, but sending a gift to just a few of your rockstar fans can go a long way. For a less costly strategy, show appreciation to new customers by simply sending a welcome/thank you email. Not only will such appreciation for your customers humanise your brand, it’ll turn those customers into brand ambassadors.
Over to you
Be prepared for your business to have a lot more die-hard customers. With these tips for humanising your brand, consumers will be able to connect with your business, relate to you on a deeper level and want to have a relationship with your company for the long term.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
How A Strong Brand Protects Your Business
Brand enthusiasts are welcome to follow Kyle Rolfe’s latest thoughts on brand building in South Africa and his analysis on relevant global trends and issues via Twitter @kylerolfeSA.
It is all too easy for small businesses to become victims of intellectual property theft and seeing their products and services copied by unscrupulous competitors. A clear case in point is that of Woolworths, which was recently accused of copying a baby carrier made by Ubuntu Baba, having a cheaper version made in China and selling it as its own in-house product.
Woolworths eventually apologised and withdrew its product, after Cape Town entrepreneur Shannon McLaughlin exposed similarities between the retailer’s baby carrier and that made by her company, Ubuntu Baba.
Small business owners can protect themselves from having their products or services copied by developing a strong and unique brand.
Brand uniqueness and an authentically developed product will give you a level of protection in the market, as it will be more difficult for a competitor to copy your offering.
What small business owners should avoid is the “white label solution”. This is taking any product, even one manufactured overseas, and putting your own branding and packaging on it and reselling it as your own.
There is nothing stopping your competitor from sourcing that same product and putting their branding on it and selling it as their own. In this case, as a small business owner, you would have no recourse.
Ubuntu Baba’s unique brand and authentically developed product, designed and manufactured locally, is what helped the small business successfully take on a giant retailer like Woolworths. They didn’t simply take someone else’s product and rebrand it as their own, they actually designed and built their own product.
A unique brand and product will position you as more than just a reseller and will give you a certain level of strength and protection in the market. It allows clients to differentiate you from your competitors and can also positively affect their purchasing decisions, directly impacting your profitability.
Effective branding, that is well defined and distinct, will not only help build your reputation, but it will also make you stand out from the competition.
Ultimately, your brand is your business identity. It is the image that you show to your client, making it one of your company’s most valuable assets. Effective branding portrays a company’s values and attracts the right client.
A strong brand identity also has the benefit of making your company appear bigger and stronger than your competition and consumers are generally attracted to well-established companies. So, ask yourself whether your branding conveys professionalism, reliability and trust.