The Personal Brand

Sam ZipurskySam Zipursky is a Brand Consultant, Internet Marketer, and aspiring Digital Nomad. He spends most of his time focusing on the connection between internet, branding, design and marketing. He is one of the authors from the how to become a consultant blog Business Consulting Buzz. He is also a Co-Founder with Advicetap – The place where Canadian marketing and creative professionals find gigs and build connections with other professionals.

These days more than ever it’s really important to have a personal brand strategy in place. Whether you’re a freelancer, consultant, small business owner, or even someone working at a large corporation, it’s crucial to not only understand what it means but also be thinking about and applying what you know.

So what exactly is your personal brand?

Simply put, your personal brand is how the world around you sees and remembers you. For the point of this blog post I’m referring to what happens when someone types your name into Google? Do you get desirable and consistent results? Results that you control? This means thinking about all the information you have out there online – Twitter account, Facebook, Linkedin, Blogs, Websites, etc. The name of the game is here is consistency.

Grab all internet real estate with your full name

The first step is to take your full name and apply that to everything you do from your domain name, to your blog URL, to your twitter and LinkedIn accounts. For me I have uncommon last name so it was easy for me to register www.SamZipursky.com, www.Twitter.com/SamZipursky, etc, etc. If you do have an uncommon last name like me then you should make sure you register all your accounts like I have as it’s the best way to control the search engine results.

What if my name is already taken?

While it’s not ideal, don’t panic there is still lots that you can do. Think outside the box here. Can you use your initials to make it all work? Can you throw in what you do at the end of your personal brand? So for example if my name was already taken and registered maybe I’d go with www.szipurskydesign.com, www.Twitter.com/szipurskydesign, etc. I’m a designer so I would use my first name initial, last name, and then what I do. I think you get the point!

Things to remember

Once you choose the user name you want to go with and it’s available, stick to that with all your personal websites and online accounts. Of course when you’re designing your websites and filling in your profiles you should still fill in your full name and details (as this is how Google will know it’s you). The point here is that you have a consistent user name that is easy to associate with you and what you do across all your different online accounts.

Conclusion

I’m just skimming the surface here on how you can establish your personal brand online. If you remember one thing from this post please remember to be consistent in all your online profiles. Also if you want to learn more about this important subject there’s an amazing blog by personal branding expert Dan Schawbel www.PersonalBrandingBlog.com

Writing Proposals

I recently had reason to draft a proposal for something out of the norm for my line of work. I was asked by a family member to assist in writing a formal proposal for an after-school program, with the added twist that the program had already been approved in principal, pending the formal proposal. Not really familiar with how such documents are written and structured, I spent some time reading through templates and examples, and finally assisted her in writing her proposal.

What I discovered along the way is actually pretty simple. There are two parts to a proposal – content, and context.

The content of the proposal is intended to answer a few basic questions regarding what is being proposed. It usually starts with a general summary, followed with some details regarding the proposal itself, some discussion about the benefits to both sides. There will be a section with supporting documentation, and another about the merits of working with this particular provider, along with a summary of the qualifications of the provider.

The content alone is not sufficient to win a proposal, though. The context is also important.

The context is how you present the material. It doesn’t need to be fancy, or presented in a particular style. It does, however, have to impart additional qualifications about the author. A graphic artist would make sure it’s in a style that showcases their skills as an artist. A financial planner might include some portfolio summaries. In all cases, there will be a single page that can be used by all readers of the proposal to find the information they need to make a decision.

One of the suggestions I made regarding the writing of the proposal was to keep the sentences short and the paragraphs simple. There should be frequent headings, and the entire document, in this case, should not exceed 3 pages (not including the cover). The reason is basic – the document became easy to read, thereby increasing the chances that it would, in fact, be read in its entirety. The frequency of headings resulted in the document being easy to navigate – and negated the need for a table of contents.

Do you have any tips for writing good proposals that you want to share?

Networking – Your Personal Mafia Family

In my recent post The Right Time to Network I emphasized the importance of networking well in advance of you actually needing something from your network. I was mentioning the post to my photographer during a photo shoot (new images will be put up within a few days), and he described it in a way that I hadn’t really thought about before.

Your network is basically a big family, like the mafia families of the stories, in which some things are expected of you from time to time, and in exchange, the family will stand by you when you need their help. That is, a well-cultivated network can be an extension of your family, with people you’ve helped over the years who are glad to help you when you need it, much as you helped them when they needed it.

Cultivating your network means slowly growing your network by always looking to bring people closer to the center of your circles, and increasing the number of people in the outer circles. In the book Make Your Contacts Count which I reviewed following a networking event last year (Getting Started with Networking), the author describes 5 levels of your network, from an acquaintance you barely know to an ally who will stand by your side. Your network will grow by moving people through those circles as effectively as possible.

Growing your network, which I describe in the afore mentioned article, involves more than merely increasing size, but doing so in a manageable way. That is, you can meet many people and make them acquaintances in a relatively short period of time, but also slowly cultivating relationships with a few people from each group, such that the groups grow slowly but surely.

Additionally, maintaining your network will involve work, to constantly connect with the people you already know, to not disappear for long periods of time. In this, websites such as LinkedIn and Facebook provide an excellent service, facilitating regular contact. That is, of course, provided you still maintain the in person contact that you would have used prior to the development and growth of these sites.

Lessons from Controlling Teenagers

I’ve taught in a high school that was fairly restrictive on its students, both within the school and when they are at home. The school was trying to promote a particular set of values, but the lesson they imparted was one of restriction – you can’t do this, that’s not allowed, and so on.

Another school took a very different approach toward imparting the same values. While some things were explicitly banned, activities were arranged to create alternatives to activities that were allowed, but did not promote the values the school was trying to promote.

Which is more effective? For some students, certainly the first system would work, in that they are inclined to follow the rules, and the creation of many rules will drive them along a particular path. Personally, however, I find the second approach to be more tasteful, and more likely to succeed. People do not want to be told what they can and cannot do. While the school can provide encouragement to participate in certain activities, students are more likely to do so with a smile when they are given a choice, rather than forced.

What does this mean to you?

When running your business, there will be times when you are trying to convince someone to take a particular path. You are more likely to see success if you promote something along the path you want them to take, rather than placing barriers along the road you do not want taken. Besides – it’s nearly impossible to block all the roads but one.

The Right Time to Network

Over the past few years, I’ve participated in a variety of networking groups, both online and in real life. I’ve also read several books on networking, and have been coached by a professional networking facilitator on etiquette. Out of interest, I started asking people around me about their networking experiences, what pushed them to start, and what approaches they’ve made to expand their network.

What I discovered was that many people start networking when they lose a job, or start a new business.

From my experiences, that’s much too late.

The best time to start networking is when you don’t need anything from the people you connect with, and ideally, when you have something to offer. Networking is not about telling everyone how great you are, or how desperately you’re looking for work. It’s not about telling the world about your latest product and how much better it is than the alternatives.

It’s about making connections that are mutually beneficial. While you can certainly do this when you need something, it’s so much easier to focus on giving when you don’t need anything. When you attend a networking event, you should be looking for people that you have something in common with, or people that you can help out. You should try to be the connector in the room, linking up people who might otherwise not find each other to their mutual benefit.

What you will discover is that by helping other people, you establish a strong network of people who have come to respect you for focusing on their best interests. True networking is reciprocal, but not necessarily within a single connection. If you set out to an event with the plan to help make 10 connections between other people, maybe only one connection will be of value to your own needs. However, in the long run, that one connection can often prove to be of equal value to the other 10 connections you made that have no direct benefit to yourself.

Pitching Software to Investors

With a company that spends significant amounts of time working on websites and applications for small businesses, and an association with a few other companies doing similar work, I’ve seen a large number of projects which have lent themselves to be proposed to investors for some capital. Some were being backed by someone other than the founder, others were self-funded, some were bootstrapped.

The question I’m often posed with, though, when starting work on a project, is whether or not I would be interested in trading my time and effort for equity in their project. While my answer is almost always a form of “no”, I do think about it. The reason for my refusal, though, has little to do with my belief in the potential of the project – quite the contrary, if I’m working on the project, it’s because I already believe the project has some level of potential be successful.

My time, when unpaid for, is an investment in the work I’m doing. If you want me to invest, you’ll have to convince me of the value of your business.

The reason I refuse is partially because I don’t really want to be involved in the running of these projects, whether because it’s in an area that doesn’t interest me, a lack of time, or because I don’t want to run a business like that at all. The other reason, though, is because I listened to the pitch, and it failed to motivate me to invest.

Yes, I’m an investor – because if I donate my time, then I’ve invested the value of my time in your business. If you want me to invest, then you’ll have to convince me that it’s worth investing in.

Having prepared a few pitches over time, here’s what I would want to hear in a pitch, what has the potential to convince me of the value of your idea:

  1. Why – I want to know why you’re building this business. While money is a motivator, I want to hear a personal story of a need your business solves, something motivational.
  2. What – Now that you’ve explained why, tell me what it is you’re building, and how it solves that need you described in the preceding minutes.
  3. Who – Who else is in the market with a product that also solves the need? Show me some of the other players, how they’ve approached the problem, and why you feel there is still a need for another product.
  4. How – If you want me to put work into building the product, what are you doing? Are you figuring out marketing angles, lining up customers, working with other vendors? What’s your plan to get your product built, on the market, presented? What are you personally going to be doing on the project?

That’s not to say, of course, that I wouldn’t consider a business that lacks answers to these questions. However, if the founder is already making phone calls to vendors and can’t give at least the basics of the answers, then I have a hard time taking the founder seriously.

What does this mean to you?

If you’re thinking of an idea for a business and want someone else to help you with it, you need to motivate that person to join you in your venture. You need to pitch your idea to them as a business venture that is on the road to success. You need to realize that most people will not be as excited about your idea as you are. Once you realize this, and start working toward figuring out how to motivate someone else to join you, you will find that the quality of the ideas will generally rise as you start to really understand the implications of what it is you are proposing.

Lessons Learned from the Corporate World

Part of my business involves advising other business owners how to avoid certain pitfalls they may encounter as they grow. I teach them how to manage quality, people, expectations. I teach them how to balance the need for an immediate solution against the long-term needs of the business for a stable solution.

The question I get asked most often, though, is how I know what I know, why anyone should listen to me. The answer – I learned, and continue to learn from my experiences, and I’ve been exposed to the issues they’re facing.

Much of what I learned came from working in a mid-sized (1000 employees) corporation, and seeing what works, what doesn’t, and why they do things certain ways.

Change Control

Large corporations have process for doing pretty much everything, making rapid change difficult, if not impossible. The reasoning is that by having a proper process, it can help mitigate the risk of a change being bad for the company by ensuring that the proper people are aware, and that quality control can be enforced via the process.

The catch, of course, is that process for the sake of process doesn’t accomplish this, and a long, drawn-out change control process will only work to mitigate risk if there are similar processes for quality control and communication management.

Communication

Little happens in larger companies that doesn’t involve copious amounts of communication, with meetings and emails flooding in-boxes and calendars. The benefit of this is that communication by volume reduces the risk that someone with key relevant knowledge will miss something from a project or change. Since everyone is invited, or notified, about everything, little slips through.

The catch, again, is that with all this time and effort being devoted to communication, it’s easy to become side-tracked from the real work that needs to be done. Too much communication slows things down to the point of inefficiency.

Documentation

If it happened, it’s been written down somewhere, using a standard format. The creation, and enforcement of usage, of documentation can help a business learn from its experiences and avoid repeating mistakes. Having standard documentation processes means that people don’t struggle to figure out what to write, where to write it, or whom to notify.

The catch is that a poorly designed documentation process can create useless paperwork that is never read once it’s been filed. If the document doesn’t make sense for the purpose it exists for, then people will resent filling it out, as they will know that the document is doomed to be lost in the filing records, never to be referred to again.

What do you think? What are some lessons you would take from a large corporation? How would you describe them, both in terms of the need the lesson fills, and the risk of doing it wrong?

2 Paths to Product Development Success

When HP was first founded, it was done on the basis of a product which had been built out of curiosity and then sold, followed by requests for more. The engineers then built another product, and then another, each of which sold to more and more customers. The company grew on the basis of many individual products with little to no vision for where the company was going. Products were built with no vision for market and yet the company grew to become a massive success.

Other companies have taken a different route – they identify a need, a consumer, and then build a product or service to fill a void. The vision is clear, the goals well-defined.

Which is correct? Both, and neither.

Building a product with no vision for market means that the product is likely to be built well, since there is little pressure to get it to market sooner rather than later. However, since there is no market, it’s a distinct possibility that the product has no market, and therefore will never see revenue. As well, since it is not fulfilling a real need, it’s possible that the product will be found to be lacking in key areas that customers are concerned with.

On the other hand, selling the product first means that there is external pressure to complete the product as soon as possible, which can have negative impacts on quality control. Additionally, there is the risk of unachievable promises, with features being sold without an ability to build those features.

Like many things in life, the best route is that of a compromise. No vision isn’t good, but too much vision can blind you to other options and alternatives. Waiting to find a customer means time is wasted that could be spent developing the product, but ignoring customer acquisition means that you can be headed into a dead end long after you could have realized that there’s no future in the product.

Do you ascribe to one of these two concepts over the other? Why?