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Living Your Personal Brand

April 22nd, 2015

Sometimes, setting an example for yourself sets one for others.

I recently accepted an invitation to speak at a business school forum. I typically don’t charge a fee for speaking at student events, but since I would be booking a flight, I asked if travel costs were covered. I was assured that they were, and I purchased a ticket. Then, a week before the event, an administrator apologetically informed me that that there would be no travel reimbursement. Somehow, despite several conversations and email summaries of the arrangements, the students had misunderstood the budget.

On the plus side, this was the first and hopefully only time I have ever encountered this situation. I have to admit that my first reaction was disbelief. Did this business school really expect me to fly 1,500 miles on my own dime to speak for free?

As I moved from indignation to introspection, two questions kept crossing my mind:

  • How can I turn my response into a positive learning moment for everyone involved, including myself?
  • How could I use this situation as an opportunity to live my personal brand?

I’d gotten a good deal on the flight. With a little effort, I could arrange business meetings before and after the event. I could catch up with a longtime friend over dinner that evening. I could also choose to be insulted, turn down the invitation and end my interactions on a polite but unpleasant note. What kind of message would I be sending about my personal brand if I did that?

The next day, I sent a brief email message to the students and the administrator:

The mixed messages were unfortunate and I appreciate your apology. I honor my commitments, and I will honor this one. I look forward to seeing you next week.

During the forum, the administrator apologized again and reimbursed my flight. I had a conversation with another speaker that led to new business for me. Most important, my decision to speak despite the miscommunications allowed me to make a quiet and potentially powerful statement about my personal brand, and perhaps set an example for the future business leaders who attended the forum.

This situation reminded me that, regardless of external circumstances, we always have choices. We can allow our choices to be determined by the decisions and behaviors of others. Or we can make our own, intentional choices, based on what we stand for and what we intrinsically know is the right thing to do. The learning moment for me? It’s easy to find a substitute speaker. But there is no substitute for the integrity of living your personal brand.

Risk the Simple Question

July 31st, 2014

What every company should ask customers – and themselves.

Ask a friend what makes you different from another friend, and he or she can probably tell you in insightful detail.

Ask a business colleague what makes one co-worker distinct from another and you’ll probably get an equally complete comparison.

Now think about one of your company’s competitors. What would happen if you asked a customer or prospect what makes your company different from your competitor? What answer would you get?

Most business owners only risk this question, if at all, with people and companies with whom they have a positive relationship. Yet the greatest benefit often comes from asking the customers and prospects who have the most difficulty answering the question. The people to whom you have revealed little of yourself and your company are the ones who don’t know you and can’t answer.

Everyone and every company stands for something, whether they have consciously decided to make what they stand for important, or whether they stand for something by default.

Asking your customers and prospects what makes you different from your competitors involves more than the risk of hearing what you may not want to acknowledge. It also involves asking yourself first, with clarity and candor, what you and your company stand for. The answers to these questions unlock the potential to create business relationships based on knowing, liking and trusting.

Yes, asking involves risk. But if risk-taking didn’t involve some risk, as rock vocalist Tim McMahon observed, “It would be called sure thing-taking.”

What do you stand for? Are you willing to risk the simple question?