Tuesday, February 26, 2013

What Does A Barbie™ Have To Do With Your Personal Brand?

Tu Marca Personal.
For many years, Barbie™ has been synonymous of perfect beauty, of a 90-60-90 perfect proportions model, which has been idolized and mimicked by many, some with spectacular results and others, not so much. As it happens with everything.

Many people have invested a lot of money searching for that "perfect beauty", many competitions are held throughout the world to reward and recognize such perfection, and, to be honest, we also know many people have a hard time and suffer badly during the search. 

Unfortunately, it’s a reality that we can see happening in professional environments too as many individuals strive more for the "how-do-I-look" instead of really "being-perfectly-beautiful", copying their preferred celebrity’s dress code, haircut, gestures, and even phrases. A parade of peacocks.

And the search for that perfection is not in itself a bad thing, because it's a standing invitation towards achieving something that, in theory, is an improved version of ourselves, but beware: it should be of ourselves, not someone else. However, as with all things in life, nothing which is taken to the extremes can be good. And here, taking this quest to its extreme and end up copying others or pretending to be what you’re not, is no exception.

The question which opens this post is self-explanatory and has (or should have), only one answer: No! Your personal brand has absolutely nothing to do with a Barbie, or at least should not.

A personal brand should not be a prison to lock yourself inside.

Quite the opposite! It should be a free and consistent expression of the real you, both professionally and personally, without impositions of others, without "grafts", no makeup, because, after all, all faked things will be noted at some point. Remember that "although the monkey dresses in silk, ..."

Some time ago I was following a discussion about how a professional should behave socially to avoid damaging its personal brand, and it really caught my attention. It was something like recommendations to follow during social events so that we didn’t commit excesses that could put us in jeopardy or harm our reputation.

And I thought to myself: "If you go to a social event and you can’t resist the urge to excessively drink alcohol until you lose your mind, or consume drugs irregularly, talking loudly or rudely, or things like that, it appears to me it’s not your reputation or brand which has the problem. It's your own problem and that’s crystal clear." At least, that was my thought.

A real professional. A professional for real.

After all, you can’t hide the sun with one finger. If you are a professional, people will notice, if you know how to behave, same thing. And I think that would be enough to give us all the freedom and confidence of the world to openly express ourselves:
  • If you are a real professional, properly prepared and trained, and not one that pretends to be, then your preparation, mastery of your work area, your knowledge and how you employ it, the words you use and what you are able to contribute, will all be authentic, will have a solid foundation (your own preparation) and you’ve nothing to worry about and nothing to pretend. Just to make sure to be always willing to learn a little more (or a lot) each day. Isn’t it funny the face made by a person who is trying to answer a question when not having an idea?
  • If you are a professional for real: Your attitude will also be professional at all times, because being professional is part of you, your nature, and you won’t have to copy anyone. You dress properly, you will handle yourself properly in front of others and many other things true professionals do.
Don’t allow yourself to be eager to imitate others, or wanting to pretend to be someone you're not, otherwise your personal brand will become a cage and steal your freedom, hiding your true and real value.

Above all, remember you are unique and have something unique to contribute with. Let it flow freely. This way you’ll find the true passion and motivation for bringing out the best of yourself.

Reference article: 

Related articles in this blog:

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Business Management: Are You Competing With The Wrong Guys?

Choosing your competitors.
Unless you’ve created a really unique and exclusive product, or a truly innovative gadget no one has ever manufactured before, you’ll have competition.

No matter what industry you decide to get into, if you don’t have a truly unique product, you will have competition. And that's normal.

Competition is healthy and necessary, because it forces companies to differentiate themselves, deliver real value, continually improve their products taking into consideration their customers’ needs ... well, at least, it should be this way under normal conditions.

A market without competition is a monopoly, and we all know the consequences of a monopolistic market.

What is really important when you analyze your competition, is to choose the right companies to compete with from the very beginning.

Can you compete with large corporations?

Many entrepreneurs, perhaps yourself, complain about the presence in their area of ​​large chain stores and franchises, or even small but very aggressive business owners who sell at very low prices. In both cases, the important thing is not those companies themselves, but the reason why you feel they are taking customers away from you.

To really get the point about this subject, you have to make yourself a few questions first: Does your company have the financial capacity to afford a big payroll the same way large chain stores do?, can your company purchase large merchandise volumes to negotiate lower prices with vendors?, can you sell your products at highly discounted prices the way other retailers do?

If the answer is no, then why are you competing with them?

The importance of choosing the right company to compete with.

One of the most important points that you should consider when starting your business, is to properly analyze - and understand - who your competition is, as it will have a strong impact when you design your business strategies and actions.

If you choose a competitor larger and stronger than your company, you probably have a good model to follow, but you will be exposing yourself to a lot of frustration along the way. Large companies generally have a good financial muscle, people and resources enabling them to act in a particular way in the market. And it’s certainly not within your reach.

Moreover, if you choose smaller competitors, it’s not going to help your business either grow or develop, because you will not have to make any significant effort to surpass and outsell them.

Quite the contrary, it might be this the same reason that will keep you stucked in the ground and not developing your business to its full potential.

What should you take into consideration when choosing your competition?

Generally speaking, you should consider the following:

  • The scope and reach of your business: Based on your capacity to sell your product at a local, regional, national or international level, who your competitors are will be different.
  • Your pricing policy: If for making a profit your company needs to set a product price which is higher than what others offer, then don’t consider those other companies as your competition from the very beginning, and concentrate your efforts on competing with those whose price is the same or higher than yours.
  • The type of product you sell: if you have a product that can be considered somehow unique (really and truly unique), then stay away from generalist and low price markets, and concentrate on competing within specific market segments.
  • Your "Unique Selling Proposition": what makes you different from others. Identify companies that have a business proposal similar or equal to yours, and compete with them, or keep them as reference to follow.

Knowing that you are competing with the right companies, will relieve you from a lot of headaches, allow your company to healthily compete, develop and experience the wonderful feeling of growing up at your own capacity and rhythm.

Take this into consideration when developing your business plan or even when, along the road, you realize your company is competing with the wrong guys.

Related article: Strategic Planning: The difference between desires and goals.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Popularity and Influence in Social Networks: Create Your Own Voice

You've to create your own voice
Definitely when talking about "influence" in social networks, a great expectation is generated, perhaps because being influential is the goal of many people who are taking advantage of the huge impact social networks provide, to gain an extraordinary visibility and become popular, thus believing they are "influential", or perhaps there is people out there really interested in providing others with relevant content and value, therefore promoting positive changes in people’s live.

A comment made by my dear colleague Juan Urrios in a previous post (link at the end of this post) reflects the reality that should lie behind each influential person. As a matter of fact, it does reflect what should lie behind anyone who intends to add value and make a difference in other’s people lives and, should also be the reality behind our digital presence.

With Juan’s permission, I share with you what he wrote: "We must have our own criteria. In despite of how influential and responsible a person is, we don’t have to say “amen” to everything that person says, because we would become mere repetition monkeys. It’s evident that, as a person is more prepared on a specific subject, its mindset and opinion about such subject itself will be stronger."

The importance of creating your own voice.

Juan’s comment involves three fundamental things you have to take into consideration if you really want to develop your own personality, and not one that is simply a copy of someone else’s who you follow in social networks. A personality which identifies you and allows you to leave your own mark.

  • You have to have your own criteria: Make room for your own opinions, thoughts, reflections, criteria to be known, so that you speak a voice of your own, and that is only possible if that voice emerges from deep inside you, naturally. No matter how strong or soft it might be, it’s your voice, and identifies you.
  • Do not become a mere repetition monkey: It goes without saying. Sharing content just because it comes from someone you consider influential, or because it had an attractive title and nothing else, isn’t the best way to build your own voice. What you share, even the content you generate yourself, must be a reflection of your own thoughts, what you think is right and what you consider might add value to others. Sharing just because it’s nice will turn you into a retransmission antenna, nothing else. You will not be adding any value and no one will recognize your voice, because you won’t have one.
  • The more prepared you are about an specific subject, the more solid your opinions will be: And this point is really going to help you build a very strong voice of your own: Make it a habit to continuously study and build up your knowledge, read a lot, participate in discussion groups and forums, ask about things you don’t know, investigate, search, be always eager to learn about new things, to learn more about those things about which you are passionate. Thus, you will not only have an opinion strong enough to distinguish the wheat from the chaff, but you’ll also be able to share, and generate, really interesting, valuable content, which will appeal to people who read it and will help to bring about change in their lives and businesses.

While preparing this post, one of the bloggers I read more regularly, from whom I share almost everything he publishes and who I recommend you reading, Andrés Pérez Ortega, Personal Branding specialist, posted on his blog an article entitled "Are you a voice or a speaker?" in which he wrote the following sentence: "Your personal brand is an instrument based on the development of individual liberties and I deeply agree with it. "

And it’s all just about that: your personal freedom! Your voice should be a free reflection of who you are, both professionally and personally, it should be a honest, sincere reflection of your inner self, without any makeup. Anything you try to simulate or pretend to be - either to become more popular or gain visibility - will be noticed in time.

People say that "first you catch a liar than a lame" and is something you should consider at all times.

On top of everything, make your own voice shine, no matter how big or small, loud or soft it is, but it will be enough to bring to life your own individuality.

Recommended readings:
The article I mentioned above, by Andres Perez: “They will hear from you XVIII: Are you a voice or a speaker?” whom definitely I recommend you reading. (The post is in Spanish)

Related posts in this blog:
Popularity and Influence in Social Media: Do you know the difference?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Cold Calling Sales (Part II): Who Your Initial Prospects Will Be?

Cold Calling Sales (Part II)
Ok, your product is clearly defined, collateral material is all in order, you know how much you’ll charge customers for your services, and you even had the opportunity to put together an excel sheet to write your quotations.

You’re ready to take on the streets and start looking for those new customers you’re so eager to engage with.

The next step is natural: go out and do "cold calling", by that I mean, visiting people who don’t know who you are, make your presentation and eventually get them to hire your services.

Did you know there's a way to warm up those, otherwise, "cold doors"?

Yes, there is. “Cold calling” can be done in two different ways: What is usually referred to as “pure and rough” cold calls which means, well, that: knocking on doors of people who don’t know anything about you. Or you can also be a little smarter and put on some heat to warm up those doors so that they are neither so cold nor so rough.

How to do it is a really simple procedure.

Start with your connections and friends.

During your career you've accumulated a number of contacts, friends, family and relatives who are connected with you through an incipient (or very good) relationship.

What if you make a list and write down all those who are within your existing circle of contacts and might be interested in the services you are going to offer?

What are the advantages of doing this initial selection?

Well the first advantage is obvious: If there is a prior relationship with the person you’re going to meet with, the stress of visiting someone who is completely unknown to you disappears, the door is then open for you and the sales call will not be done in glacial ice.

Another advantage? Since the person you’re visiting already knows who you are, your sales presentation is going to be a little more "informal", light, you'll be more confident and your partner will even give you advice on how to do it better, depending on how closely related that person is to you.

We can even come to say that by visiting people in your contact list, you will have the opportunity to tune up your sales presentation and be ready when you go out to do it in front of a complete stranger.

After my contact list is done, how can I get more business prospects?

Let’s suppose then you've exhausted your contact list, you've already made a few visits to people you already knew from before, and eventually you could close one or more business.

What do you do now that your contact list is done? It’s then time to create a brand new list of prospects to visit. For this, there are several things you should consider to make it more effectively:

  • Depending on whether you’re planning to offer your services on an international, national or local basis, your prospect list will vary. You have to define this clearly so that you can make a better use of your time. It makes no sense, at the beginning, to drive long distances to make a cold call visit, because it ends up being a waste of energy and time, unless you can be sure there is a lot of potential on such visit.
  • Also based on your proposed offer of services, you can search the Internet for businesses that are likely of interest to you. For example, let’s say you want to offer your services as a "Community Manager", then it would be wise to start off by visiting companies which already have some sort of digital presence, whether it’s a Facebook page, or a website that you can improve, a Twitter account you can manage better, and things like that. When a customer already has this digital presence, you can "suppose" it will be easier for him to understand what you will be offering.
  • You can even develop prospect lists for specific industries. For example, if you love airplanes, as I do, you could make a list of all airlines and aviation companies of your interest and approach them.

Once you've created a list of the people you are going to visit, it’s always recommended to finish up by doing these two things:

  • Make it a habit to document yourself about the company you are visiting. If you have chosen companies that have a Facebook page or a Twitter account, for instance, you could start by following their posts for a few days so that you become familiar with what they publish. The idea is to be informed about your future prospect, so that you have a better idea about them when you approach them.
  • Try to get a contact’s name or a person you can approach directly: This is perhaps the most difficult thing to do, but it’s always worth the effort. It makes no sense to approach a business or company with the old-fashion question: "May I speak with the business owner, the decision maker, the 'big kahuna'?". That is already out of date. Try to get a name, even the assistant’s or the receptionist’s, if necessary. It will always be much easier to approach a business or company asking for someone in particular, instead of simply out of the blue.

And at this point, you're ready to continue making your “cold calling” sales campaigns, but if you've paying attention, those doors you are going to be knocking on aren’t so cold now, are they?

Like I said in the first post of this duo (link below), I personally think cold calling sales is a business skill you should develop if you are planning to go as a freelancer or even launch your own business

Those selling skills are always useful in many aspects of life. Don’t you think?

Related Articles:
Cold Calling Sales (Part I): Where Can You Start From?
Are You An Entrepreneur And Don’t Like Selling?

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Cold Calling Sales: Where Can You Start From?

Cold Calling Sales.
Cold Calling Sales. One of the most powerful tools to develop your business or, better yet, any business, is doing cold call selling or "Puerta Fría", as it is referred to in Spanish.

It is called "cold calling" simply because you are going to address a person who didn’t know you even existed, weather you make the contact by phone, email, or, in the most traditional way of all, visiting new prospects door by door.

I consider it a great tool because it allows you to compensate for the lack of efficiency of any advertising campaign you could put together for your business. As I usually do, let me explain what I mean.

Let’s suppose you’re starting your brand new business and to get your first new customers, you made a promotional campaign with flyers, you placed some ads in the local newspaper, got yourself a facebook fan page and also started following a few people on twitter. But despite your efforts, still no one comes to your business or phones you to hire your services.

So what do you do to get fresh, brand new customers?

The perfect tool in this situation is doing cold calling sales, that is, going out there, to the world and offer your products or services directly, without intermediaries, face to face to new prospects. It’s the best tool because it’s completely under your control and it’s only you the one responsible for its results and performance.

And although it seems like such a simple thing as simply saying: "Let me grab a little folder along with some business cards, some freshly printed brochures, which by the way came out really nice, and I just go out there to kick the roads and find new customers," cold calling sales actually demand a thorough planning process if you really want to do it effectively and take full advantage of it.

Cold calling sales, as any other sales process, has three steps: before, during and after, which are:

  1. Planning.
  2. Execution.
  3. Follow up.

In today’s post, I will focus on the "before stage" or the planning process which is required to make sure your cold calling sales strategy give you the best results, so that you can go out there and come back with new clients.

How to plan a “cold calling” sales campaign?

I’d like to talk with you about selling professional services (intangible assets), which is usually a little bit more complicated topic than going out to sell a tangible product.

You have to make sure that everything I’m about to share with you is done before knocking your first cold door. Keep in mind "the first impression is the most important one" and that "there is never a second chance to make a good first impression."

Let’s start then with the product which, in this case, is yourself.

Before you do anything, your product must be ready, therefore you should be fully capable of answering the following questions:

  • What product will you provide? Which will be the extent of your services? Are you going to offer yourself as a consultant or as a "I-do-it-all-myself” kind of person? Are you going to offer just one service, or several? Your product must be clearly defined so that your prospect can really identify it with no dualities or misinterpretations. If the client cannot identify your product easily, it will be extremely difficult for him to properly value it, and that's a big problem for you.
  • Clearly define the problems you are capable of solving and how would you do it. Don’t ever forget your customer will not buy your services but your ability to solve its problems. Make a list of needs your customer might have, and clearly develop the solution you would propose to each one of them.
  • How much will you charge customers for your services? Are you going to offer your services for a monthly flat fee in exchange of an specific amount of hours? Are you going to offer your services as a “package"? Are you going to have a minimum term contract? This is the one-million-dollar question: If you miscalculate your pricing proposal, you can easily be “tagged” as either too cheap or too expensive. Which is the right place for you? It will depend on the following point ...
  • Have you clearly defined your "unique selling proposition"? If you don’t know what a "unique selling proposition" is, think of it as an statement which is going to help you stand out from the crowd, from other professionals who offer the same services. What makes you different? If you can’t differentiate yourself from others, it will be difficult for you to ask for your services more money than what other people ask.
  • Obviously, all your promotional materials, should be ready and should reflect the correct information as you indicated it above. That’s why planning is such an important stage. Can you imagine printing out your brochures only to find out the information included on them doesn’t accurately reflect what you offer? What if a sales visit goes really well and when you leave, your client-to-be goes online to check your LinkedIn profile, or your website to get to know a bit more about you, only to find out your profile isn’t complete or, even worst, poorly done? What impression do you think it would create?

Defining your product, in this case, the services you are going to offer, is vital to the success of your cold calling visits. Know what you are offering in full details, so that you are fit to properly answer all questions your potential customer can make during the sales call.

Click here to read the second part of this post:
Cold Calling Sales (Part II): Who Your Initial Prospects Will Be?

Related post:
How to make a successful sale: Do we create needs or simply discover them?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

"The Hammerblow is Free": The Real Value of Knowledge.

The Real Value Of Knowledge.
This is the story of a man who had a freight company. He had two ships in his fleet and with them, he could barely keep up with the high demand of their services.

Everyday, the company received shipping orders to different countries, some closer than others, and business was running smooth for our character. The story says that years passed by and this man continued driving a thriving business, made a lot of money and had loyal customers.

One morning, he got a phone call telling him that one of his ships had suddenly stopped working. They couldn’t start it up. For some unknown reason, the engines were dead and now there was a thud, but very persistent sound no one knew where it was coming from. None of the technicians and engineers working in the company, had an idea of which could be the problem.

Our guy was desperate, distressed, because for every minute the boat was shut down, he was losing millions and he didn’t like that at all.

A day went by and assistance or a specialist who could help them solve their problem couldn’t be found throughout the city, or cities nearby, until finally, a friend of our guy called him and said:

"Call Mr. Peterson. This is his number. I understand he is a specialist in ships like yours. The only one available around "

Of course, the call occurred immediately. Our friend called Mr. Peterson and explained him his problem. Peterson said he could help resolve it and then both agreed to meet the next day.

When he arrived at the company, Mr. Peterson was very kindly received by our guy, who explained the anguish felt because of the whole situation, by the ignorance of his employees, how having the ship shutdown was affecting his business, and above all, by that strange noise, deaf and tormenting, now being heard throughout the ship.

Mr. Peterson spent a couple of hours talking with the engineers and technicians from the company. Then two more hours walking around the boat. A couple more walking by internal corridors. He auscultated inside walls. Outside walls as well, until he finally said:

"Voila. Here it is. "- Pulled a piece of chalk from his pocket, made a circle of about ten centimeters in diameter in one wall and said -" Here's the problem "

All people remain silent during such situation. Mr. Peterson took a hammer from his bag, rolled up his sleeves and, using all his strength gave a hard, dry blow right in the center of the circle he had drawn, and told the ship's officer. "Try to start the engines now"

The engineer went to the engine room and, with doubts and still surprised, pushed the button to turn the engines on, and to everyone’s surprise, including the company’s owner, the engines started to run without a problem and the deafening noise that had tortured them for days, was completely gone.

Everyone cheered, jumped excited congratulating each other and praising the work Mr. Peterson had done. Our guy was not behind in their joy and warmly thanked Mr. Peterson for having solved this strange problem.

Mr. Peterson then said: "Give me a second to prepare the bill for my services" - then took a notebook from his bag and scribbled for a few minutes to then deliver his invoice in the hands of our character, the owner of the company.

When he read it, his face grew pale, his eyes widened as his mouth and couldn’t utter a word. He stammered:

"¿What???? ...... ¿¿Two million???? ...... ¿¿For a circle of chalk and a hammer blow???"

Mr. Peterson, who hadn’t lost his composure, replied:

"The hammer blow is for free. I’m charging you because I knew exactly the right place to deliver the blow and solve your problem "

Moral of this story:

"Not only charge customers for your time. Charge also for knowing how to use your time effectively to solve their problems."

NOTICE: This story isn’t mine. I have read it several times over the years on sales training seminars and sessions, and keep it as a reference everytime I come across a debate on “The value of knowledge”.

Related Post: Working For Free? When, How and for How Long.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Popularity and Influence in Social Networks: You Choose What Works and What Doesn’t.

Influence in Social Networks.
Being an influential person, no matter what industry you’re related with, carries with it a great responsibility that grows as the degree of influence you can have on other people grows. They grow together.

History is full of examples of people who have been extremely influential and have managed to promote really positive changes in our social, scientific, political and religious lives, and we better stop counting as we won’t be able to finish.

Hence the immense responsibility that an influential person may have, even though he/she might not be completely aware from the beginning of how far it could get to influence others.

We are all clear that a person doesn’t turn influential overnight, and must understand that it's all part of a process in which a person gives and shares its opinions and points of view about something, and those points of view begin to be strongly accepted by others, people start listening to and following that person, and such audience starts to grow on a regular basis and people commence to have this person as a reference.

Not all influences are positive, and it’s been proven.

History is also full of examples of people who have used their influence over others on a very destructive, shameful, highly questionable way. Wars that shouldn’t have happened, needless persecution, mass suicides and many other stories that are not worth even mentioning.

And this is the point I want to emphasize in my post this week: "All influences are not positive" and the responsibility isn't only on the side of the influential person, but also on the side of the person who is being influenced.

First of all, back to the subject of influence in social networks, it’s important that you apply a lot of common sense when it comes to consuming and sharing content generated by people you consider influential to you.

For instance, there are some authors I read with absolute regularity and I don’t miss any of their posts. However, it doesn’t mean I’ll share with you everything I read from them, because in some cases, I don’t agree with the content or ideas they propose therefore I don’t feel like there is enough value on the piece as to make it worth to be shared with you.

It is responsibility of each one of us to distinguish grain from straw.

And it's a topic you have to be very clear about, if you don’t want to become one of those little mice who followed the flautist blindly toward the cliff. One such case of blind fanaticism which doesn’t distinguish good from evil.

I have read fellow bloggers recommending applications that allow you to automatically share absolutely everything that is posted at specific sites, which, in my personal opinion, shouldn’t be done that way.

And since every time I make statements like this, I share with you the reason why I think so, here it is: What if I publish in this blog an article which goes against all rules of morality and decency? Would I expect you to share it? Of course I wouldn’t. And not only that, but I would truly expect you to show me your disagreement openly and let me know what your opinion is, because I also learn from it.

When talking about influence in social networks, we always have to keep in mind we can all go from being influenced by others to becoming influential to others, depending on the subject we are talking about, the industry we’re referring to and many other things.

So, what should you do to make sure you are only being influenced in a positive way?

I want to share with you how I do it, so that you can choose from what I'm proposing, what works for you and put away what doesn’t, and I hope it works for you as well as it does for me. Here it goes:

  • First of all, make sure to read thoroughly all the posts you receive from people you consider your "guides" or people who strongly influence you. Read them from the very first to the last line.
  • At that very moment, the content will give you a “feeling” that can be positive or negative. If it’s positive, it’s kind of sure you agree with the information posted in the article and you’ve no problem with sharing it or applying it to your own business or life.
  • If the feeling is negative, compare the content you are reading (or viewing) with what other experts in the same industry say, and then try to draw your own conclusions. The most important thing will be the conclusions you draw yourself.
  • Then, make the decision whether to share or not what you just read/viewed.

Once you've followed these simple steps, you'll be more comfortable knowing that the content you are receiving is being really nutritious for you and your business, and therefore would hopefully be the same for the people you share such content with.

Thus, the true value of the social web will become increasingly powerful generating a positive influence through shared content, and all good people, influential or not, will become aware of the importance of sharing quality, relevant content adding value to other’s people lives.

Because, after all, if we aren’t willing to do so, what’s the reason motivating us to write a blog or a piece of content to share?

Click here to read part III of this post:
Popularity and Influence in Social Networks: Create Your Own Voice

Related Post:
Popularity and Influence in Social Media (Part I): Do You Know The Difference.