woman-entrepreneur-puzzling-over-branding

This is a guest post by Karen Leland, president and founder of Sterling Marketing Group.

What do backbones and bank statements have in common?

That’s the question I posed to my client, who had transitioned from a career as a chiropractor to the vice president of finance for a startup. Her goal was to present a consistent, professional image to her clients, but she was stumped about the best way to weave a common thread through her experiences.

Stumped, that is, until I pointed out that her entire career had been based on assessing and fixing systems: first, in the physical systems of the body, and now in the financial system of her company.

Like my client, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and startup founders need to create a consistent personal brand when presenting themselves, but many become baffled when it comes to creating a coherent image from diverse career and work experiences.

As for me, I’ve been an author, freelance reporter, management consultant, marketing consultant, artist, and actor. How do all these fit together into a professional personal brand? Well, for one thing, I know the media from both sides: I’ve been the journalist asking the questions and the person answering them. That unique perspective is part of my brand strength.

The bottom line is that everyone has a personal brand, whether they realize it or not. However, if you’re not building your brand intentionally, it’s being defined by others, and that’s a risky business for entrepreneurs.

Your Personal Brand Affects Your Company’s Success

A strong personal brand means leveraging your best assets and presenting them to the world in a deliberate way. This type of brand has a clearly defined and unique proposition, a coherent narrative, and a defined tone or energy.

Zappos’ Tony Hsieh is a great example of someone who has consciously crafted a great personal and professional brand. Hsieh leveraged the success of Zappos to position himself as a thought leader in business, enhancing his company’s image by establishing his own personal brand.

All entrepreneurs and small business owners can take a lesson from Hseih’s book and recognize that their personal brands are intimately connected to their businesses’ brands. One place to start is by recognizing that you’re always representing your business — both online and off.

Consistency Online and Offline

Your brand is a combination of your online and offline reputations that reaches far beyond your bio. It’s represented in the way you dress, your social media profiles, your profile pictures, and your day-to-day behavior.

To achieve the greatest depth and richness, it’s critical to weave a consistent narrative from your past experiences into your professional brand. The keyword here is “consistent”: if you meet someone at a conference and what she sees on your website doesn’t match her in-person impression (in tone, style, or substance), your credibility is called into question.

Build Your Personal Brand Online

There is no doubt that online reputation is an important part of personal brand. For example, according to one survey of LinkedIn members, 87 percent trust the social network as a source of information impacting decision-making. There are a few primary ways to convey your personal brand online:

1. Your website

Hands down, the most important way to convey a personal brand is to have a modern, up-to-date, well-branded website that establishes you as an expert in your field.

You communicate your expertise with testimonials, a killer biography, clear and compelling offers, and social proof — including any press coverage you’ve received and articles, books, or blog posts you’ve written.

2. Your social media profiles

Your social media profiles on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other networks should be consistent with your website in look, feel, and tone. Your profiles should be complete and up-to-date, and your photo must be current and professional.

3. Your online reputation

Finally, set a Google Alert on yourself to keep track of when, how, and where you get mentioned online. It’s important to keep tabs on your personal brand in cyberspace.

Embrace Your Experiences

Like many entrepreneurs, my personal brand has changed over the years as my career has shifted and I’ve grown as a person. When I started Sterling Marketing Group seven years ago, my previous image as a management consultant had been very corporate. But, as a marketing and branding strategist and implementer, I felt I could reinvent my brand to make it more creative and energetic.

One important key is to integrate your diverse work and life experiences into your personal brand, make it deliberate, and never leave it to default. Remember, your personal brand is a valuable asset — don’t waste it.

Karen-LelandKaren Leland is president and founder of Sterling Marketing Group. As a thought leader in personal branding and leadership presence, Karen has worked with Fortune 500 companies, small businesses, and high-end entrepreneurs. She has appeared on “Oprah,” “The Today Show,” “Good Morning America,” and CNN as an on-air expert. The author of eight business books, Karen is also a speaker.