Friday, May 23, 2008

YES, Looks Do Matter

Repeatedly, branding is a big topic here at Wendistry, but I'm always surprised by the fact that not everyone is aware of the power of creating a brand for oneself. Your personal brand is all-important, particularly when you run a business. Think Kate Spade, Martha Stewart, Oprah... these are all individuals who created entire businesses around their own successful self-branding. And they know that what they look like is key to conveying their company's success.

Yes, your business standards and ethics, your personality, and of course, your performance are all fundamental parts of your personal brand. You should have a clear understanding of who you are, what your values are and what you'd like to be known for to be able to develop a successful image. However, before you'll even have the chance to prove your outstanding performance and steadfast integrity, you have to make a first impression to get your foot in the door. And to do that, you're going to need to look the part (without trying too hard, of course).

With some knowledge that I've gained by working diligently with Ayo Fashola of Ice Cream Style to hone my own brand to accurately reflect everything that we're about here at Wendistry, here are her (and my) highest recommendations:

1. First impressions count. Clothes, hair, makeup, teeth......they're all a part of first impressions. Don't wait until you lose 20 pounds or land that next big client to start taking care of your image. Your client's first impression will be hard to shake if it's not a good one. If you are building a brand around yourself, keep in mind that whenever you leave the house, your brand goes with you. This doesn't mean that you can't run out for coffee in your sweatpants on occasion, but if there is an opportunity that you may meet a potential client, you'll want to present yourself accordingly.

2. Wear clothes that fit. If you remember only one thing from this article, please let it be these four words. Just remember the last woman you saw wearing a button-down shirt that was too tight or a skirt that was entirely too short for a professional environment and these images alone should be enough to convince you to wear clothes that fit.

3. Discover your signature look. Each one of us has unique features and style. What you perceive of as a flaw may in fact make you memorable. Think of someone like Jackie Kennedy: whether you liked her politics or not, she launched a thousand styles that were copied and are still considered classics... the pillbox hat, the big sunglasses. If you've been trying too hard to look a part, you'll end up looking like you're trying too hard. Instead, focus on those characteristics that make you unique and are truly you. Whether it's always wearing a particular accessory (think Bono with his sunglasses) or carrying off an unusual fashion choice (say, the ability to make mismatched clothes work well together), a unique signature to your style will make you memorable. Just be sure that the unique signature is authentically yours and represents what you want to say to the world.

4. Be consistent. Once you've established a style that works for you, stick with it. If you look like a carefree bohemian one day and a buttoned-up businessperson the next, potential clients may perceive you as inconsistent and therefore, unreliable. Because...

5. What you wear is a costume of sorts. What does your costume say about who you are? Since it can be hard to be objective about ourselves, ask for feedback from people who will tell you the truth. While you may think that your relaxed fit cotton casual pants say "approachable and low-key businessman," to someone else they may scream "hopelessly out-of-touch dork with pleats." I'm not saying that you won't be able to wear cotton, but you may have to shift to a pant style that is of this century.

6. Match your style to your business. (On a personal note, this is where I'm having the most difficulty adjusting... I just pulled 20 black suits from my closet. What am I? A professional funeral attender?? YIKES!) If you're a tax accountant, you'll probably find a suit and tie to be a more successful look than, say, grunge. There does need to be a certain correspondence between the nature of your look and your occupation. That's not to say that you can't be a flamboyant tax accountant, but chances are, you'll have more success in the entertainment industry than at a Fortune 500 company. (Again, I did spend 2.5 years in the financial services world, hence all the black, gray, navy suits. However, now I'm a marketing, strategy, and brand development consultant... creativity for clients is a key. So, creativity must be a part of my Brand Image and attire.)

7. Be authentic. Since every aspect of yourself contributes to your "brand," it helps to be authentic. If at heart you are a hillbilly, don't pretend to be part of the east coast elite. Though American society is relatively fluid compared to many other places in the world, pretending to be what you're not will not help you to achieve a personal brand. A personal brand is quintessential you. So, embrace those aspects of yourself that make you unique instead of denying them.

Finally, remember that no amount of branding on the outside will make up for a failure to deliver the goods. You'll need to know how to use your manners, collaborate and otherwise display the emotional intelligence and diplomacy that makes the world go 'round, while also delivering a quality product or service on time, no matter how good you look.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Strategic Planning: How-To

A strategic planning meeting should be held at least once a year and should include all executive managers as well as any key supervisors with front-line knowledge and experience. Bring a copy of your company’s business plan to the meeting so it can be referred to when needed. Keep in mind the purpose of the meeting, which is to evaluate past projects and goals and to develop new strategies based on opportunities discovered through market research and analysis.

The following list can help create a more effective strategic planning meeting:

1. The meeting should be held off-site in a casual setting so participants will feel relaxed but away from distractions.

2. Make sure everyone knows that each person will be treated as an equal and everyone will have an equal voice in terms of suggestions and criticisms.

3. To promote a more comfortable atmosphere, have everyone dress in casual clothing.

4. Encourage discussion of subjects mentioned in the meeting. This will not only encourage more brainstorming as the meeting progresses, but it will also serve to fully define the subject and determine its merits.

5. Don’t let the meeting digress into endless criticism. Point out areas that merit praise, and when discussing areas of weakness, explain how certain suggestions may not fit into the overall scope of the company’s strategy.

6. Don’t try to prioritize items brought up in the meeting. The strategic planning meeting is mainly a brainstorming session where ideas are explored in relation to their strategic impact on the business.

7. Don’t assume that everyone will come with a notepad and pen. Make sure you provide both.

8. Make sure you cover each topic thoroughly before progressing to the next. Keep in mind that you are exploring strategic solutions. When discussing each subject, apply timelines for specific actions after the meeting has been adjourned.

9. Write a summary of the meeting and circulate it to everyone who is part of the strategic planning team. Then, make sure you have follow-up meetings to review each person’s progress.

10. Wrap up the meeting with allowing everyone to share their biggest success over the last year and how that knowledge and experience will be utilized moving forward into the next.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Don't Ignore Your Best Performers

Sometimes CEOs are so busy trying to keep their business alive that they forget the people that got them there. Don't ignore your stars. If you ignore them and assume that they will just keep on giving above and beyond for too long, they will go elsewhere just to be appreciated. And, they'll even take less money for it.

Every business owner out there has experienced this scenario: an employee with key knowledge walks into your office and says, "I love you and I love working for you, but I have an offer I just can't refuse." Most of the time, the CEO finds extra money or whatever is necessary to keep the employee. My suggestion is to be proactive about keeping key people in the first place.

Pay increases and performance bonuses are more than extra money to an employee. It's your way of saying, "You are valuable around here and I appreciate you." Try giving that key employee 1/4th of the money you would have to give them in the "I'm quitting" scenario. See what kind of loyalty and morale you build then.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Doctor - Operation - Plan

I just acquired a new client... a world-famous surgeon who has retired and is focusing all his energy on his foundation. I am so excited about this project because this guy "gets it." He has always understood the need for accurate strategy, careful planning, and skillful execution... no deviations from the blueprint, or someone could wind up in very bad shape on his operating table.

His foundation, however, is a completely different story. Yes, there are some plans, but very little passion, execution, or sense of urgency.

Well over 90% of small business don't have an operations plan. Why is this? All the good businesses do. However, the real reason is that writing an operations plan is a real pain. It requires hard work, sacrifice, and understanding your business extremely well.

Perhaps it is this understanding of the business that scares people away? If you don't have a full understanding of your business and its systems, you will be unable to write a roadmap. Don't let fear hold you back. the point of an operations plan is that you most likely do NOT understand your business systems at the beginning of the process. However, you WILL understand them by the time you are done.

This is the reason you do the plan. It's not the plan itself that is of value, it is the process of doing it forcing you to refine your procedures, tighten your strategies, and point out any "holes."

Monday, May 19, 2008

Remember Everything

Cool new item I found over the weekend... courtesy of Cali Lewis and GeekBrief.TV.
With the tagline "Remember Everything," Evernote allows you to easily capture information in any environment using whatever device or platform you find most convenient, and makes this information accessible and searchable at anytime, from anywhere.

So, what’s the point of Evernote? We are all constantly bombarded by information, much more than our brains can handle. So, we end up forgetting all sorts of things. With Evernote, you can start capturing all of those experiences, ideas, and memories, from both your real and digital life that would otherwise slip away.

I see this as a great tool for photographers, artists, and other visually creative types who store images rather than documents. No more "senior moments."

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Beauty of the Beating

"One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful." Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) Austrian psychoanalyst

I found this gem of a post from Danny Evans, author of Dad Gone Mad who expressed his joy at realizing his dream of writing books. Excerpt:

One night, about a year ago, I decided to quit dreaming.

Every day, every night, for 20 years, the dream was exactly the same – same props, same characters, same outcome. I could picture all of it with vivid clarity, but the fantasy never survived the transition from sleep to the real here and now. It burned up on re-entry. It lived only in the ether of my mind.

In the dream, I was an author. I wrote books. I spent my days on safari in my own imagination. I was satisfied. I was doing what I loved for a living, and that contentment permeated every hard, dark corner of my existence. Then suddenly I was awake again, and the reality that I was NOT the person in my dream washed over me like rain cloud.

So one night, about a year ago, I decided to quit dreaming. I sat down at my keyboard and began to write. I began to create the trappings of my dream in real life.

It has been the hardest year of my writing life. Rejection has reigned. Every small victory has been countered by enormous disappointment and despair. I have neglected friendships, responsibilities, family obligations. Phone calls and emails have gone unreturned. I have opened my soul to criticism, and I have convinced myself that this is my last best chance to accomplish something for myself – to escape the rut of cubicle jobs, financial desperation and career aimlessness.

Thursday morning, my agent called from New York. “You have a book deal,” she said.
And, just like that, the dream became real.

Whether it's authoring books or founding the next big technology "thing," behold the beauty of your entrepreneurial dream. Weather the storm; Take the beating; STAND. Your vision is worth it and your journey will become a legend.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone...

Thursday, May 15, 2008

How to Keep Your Brand Fresh

Conduct a "brand audit" once a year. Look at how your product or service is marketed and branded (i.e. what messages you're sending), and analyze your brand position by asking your customers what they think of your company. Then, compare the two sets of data and see how well they connect.

A coffee-house owner, for example, might think she serves great coffee, while convenience or ambience may be a bigger selling point from the customer's perspective. Realize that it is the customers' perspective that is most important to your success. And, don't fight it. I watch so many entrepreneurs get wrapped up in the fact that they "built the best widget," yet their customers love them mainly for their speed of service, or their friendly staff, or their whatever it may be.

The point is: WHO CARES?!? If you have a loyal following for particular reasons, focus on those reasons and continuously reinforce those messages. However, realize that those reasons may (and probably will) change over time. Market forces shift. New competitors come into play. New products are invented that create new desires which shifts attention away from old habits. Make sure your company stays fresh and in the middle of the conversation.