Written by Lori Thiessen

Do you want to get an MBA-type education without spending the time and money? Here in Vancouver, BC, there is a company helping you to do just that.

Make It Business has spear-headed business reading groups around the Lower Mainland focusing on the leading business books of today.

Partnering with Blenz Coffee to provide the meeting space, Make It Business wants to facilitate not only getting people to read and discuss business books but to foster networking and mentoring opportunities for local business people.

For cafe commuters, this book club fits well with our career and lifestyles whether you are a small entrepreneur or working for a company.

Sometimes it’s difficult to find time to read those business books you’ve been meaning to read. Knowing that you are expected to read and discuss the book with a group of interesting and interested people could be that motivating factor you’ve been missing.

You can choose the group you want to be with based on your business interests or areas in which you want to be better informed (e.g. career development, business management, financial management, etc.). The Make It Business website lists a number of business books to choose from.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said:

“Tis the good reader that makes the good book; in every book he finds passages which seem to be confidences or sides hidden from all else and unmistakably meant for his ear; the profit of books is according to the sensibility of the reader; the profound thought or passion sleeps as in a mine, until it is discovered by an equal mind and heart. ”

You might also say that a good business person is a good reader.

Q: Name a business book that has influenced you the most and share with us why.

Thanks for dropping by and I’ll save your seat until next time!

Written by Lori Thiessen

These days I sometimes wonder if I exist in the ‘real’ world because so much of my life and the lives of those with whom I am in contact take place online, in virtual reality. So it is a no-brainer to look seriously at personal branding in the online world.

Step 1 – Google Your Name

Sometimes your personal branding has already been done and maybe not by you. Check and see what’s out there about you. If there is anything that you are not entirely proud of, see about getting the info removed. If you’ve been tagged in a Facebook photo album and it’s not something you want a client to see, then untag yourself. There are software programs available to remove anything you don’t want online anymore.  Check out this Consumers Report on 5 of these programs.

Step 2 – Choose Your Social Media

With the oodles of different sites out there, it can be difficult to choose. I would urge you to be selective. There are a few reasons for this.

  • Time management – how many sites can you realistically update on a regular basis? There is a site called krunchd.com which will help you manage your online life, social media included.
  • Work vs. Personal – are you using the social media sites mostly for business or pleasure? Whatever the answer, err on the side of caution and keep all of your online communications g-rated and THINK before you hit that send button.
  • Specialization – the world of social media is so big now that it is important to choose your niche and stick to it. This is the best way to become an expert in your industry and to network well within your industry.
  • Security and Privacy – how secure is your information on any given site? This is a particularly thorny issue at the moment given the recent hacker attacks on Facebook, though given the low level of public response  most people seem to be largely unconcerned.

I would suggest that LinkedIn.com and Facebook are good ‘foundation’ sites for your online presence. Personally, I’m not that keen about Twitter, though I realize that many people feel that life without Twitter is akin to life without breathing. If you use Twitter, make sure that you keep your tweets professional and g-rated.  People are rapidly becoming re-acquainted with the phrase “Discretion is the better part of valor.” Just because you can say something to the entire world, doesn’t mean you should.

Step 3 – Words and Images

The key here is, you guessed it, professionalism. The photo you have up on any social media site should reflect the image you want to create. After all, clients or potential employers will likely be Googling you to get a first impression of you. Make it count.

Now I haven’t followed this advice for my own Facebook page. I rarely have a picture of myself up there. I use ‘masks’ of various sorts.  Frankly, I don’t like any photos of me taken in the last few years, and to be truthful, I have this paranoid notion that someone will download my image and steal my identity.  After having taking my paranoia in hand, I will have a decent photo of me taken and put up on my Facebook page in the near future.

As for words, well, I think your profile should reflect the best of who you are. You may want to put in your mission statement, your interests and perhaps even state what your values are. But most of all sound like yourself.

I’ve broken, oh, I don’t know how many blogging rules by using large words, using archaic words, writing longish posts and incorporating some esoteric references in them. BUT it is a reflection of who I am and my wide-ranging interests. If we all write alike, then we all sound alike.

First and foremost, personal branding is about self-awareness. Resist the temptation to brand yourself into a clone of someone else. I know a lot of secrets of success books would like us to think that success is simply a formula and if you follow that formula, ergo you will be successful. At the end of the day, you need to be fully and wholly yourself for success to have meaning.

Step 4 – Monitor Your Brand

Set up Google alerts with your name to keep track of how your name is being bandied about in cyberspace. If you don’t control your brand, someone else will.

So there you have it, folks; a quick look at the world of personal branding online. The main things to keep in mind are: keep it manageable, keep it professional and above all keep your brand yours.

Below are a few other resources to help you with managing your personal branding online.

  • plaxo.com – much like LinkedIn, it is a site geared towards career, work and networking.
  • zoominfo.com – a directory of people and businesses. Check your listing.
  • Google.com – a site to get a free email account and tools to help you manage your online life.

Q: What tools have you found useful in managing your online life?

Thanks for dropping by and I’ll save your seat until next time!

Written by Lori Thiessen

I’m so old that I remember a time when branding just meant taking a fresh-from-the-fire hot piece of metal and searing it into the hides of poor, unsuspecting cows.

Branding has now become the by-word on everybody’s lips as THE way to succeed in business. While I don’t think it is the only element in a successful business, it is necessary to distinguish yourself from the herd, so to speak.

Remember that the average attention span has decreased considerably and the load of media stuff coming at us all the time has increased exponentially. And, yes Virginia, there is a correlation between the two.  So your  business brand needs to sear the brain matter of your potential clients like the flame-red brand on a cow hide.  Can your potential clients feel the sizzle of your brand?

When Gregg and I started the Coffee Shop Office Project, neither of us were strong on the branding (marketing) side of business. We knew we had to do it but didn’t know exactly what it meant or how to do it. So we just tried to choose a name that would kind of say who we were and what we did. Then we stopped.

In an effort to get our branding sorted out, I’ve been doing some research on the topic. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

Definition of branding, according to the American Marketing Association:

name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of other sellers.

1. Part of brand development means you have to pin down exactly what your business does. This may seem like a no-brainer but sit down with your trusty paper and pen and list everything your company does and how it delivers its products and services. It will take a while, trust me.

2. Imagine what your ideal client is like. Who are they? Where do they do business? What are their values? Where do they hang out the most? How will your product/service fit in with their lifestyle?

3. If your business was a person, what would it be like? What are its values? What kinds of attributes does it possess? meticulous professionalism, laid back , fun, urbane, ecological, etc.

4. Are you really comfortable with the personality you developed for your company? If you aren’t,  you may want to re-think it.

5. Compare the personalities of your ideal client and your company. How well do they match up? If they don’t match up that well, then you might want to re-think it.

6. Choose a name that reflects the personality of your company.

7. Create a tag line that reflects the personality of the company and also says what it offers. Think of it as your business’ pick-up line; the better the pick-up line, the more clients’ attention you will hold.

There are oodles of information on branding out there in old-fashioned book form and online.  As a starting point, check out the article:  What is Branding and How Important is it to Your Marketing Strategy? By Laura Lake at about.com.

Also, if you are looking for a real, live person to give you some help, I can recommend Liz Gaige of Marketing Navigators (http://www.marketnavigators.ca). Gregg and I hired her to help us with our branding confusion. She guided us to a clearer vision of what we wanted to project to do and how to achieve it. We just haven’t made the time to implement those ideas. Anybody know a professional butt-kicker?

Even though Liz is based in Vancouver, thanks to the wonders of technology, you may be able to engage Liz’s service in the virtual realm.

I would recommend hiring a marketing strategist overall if you are feeling fuzzy about how to brand your business. Achieving greater clarity is worth the time and money. It’s an investment in your business.

Branding takes a while to get right but in the end being clear about what your business does can pay major dividends. I believe it will help you work more effectively and calmly because you know exactly what your company does and who your clients are.

It also helps your client to know your company better.  The more familiar a client feels with a company the more likely they are to use your company’s products/services again and again, and they will recommend their friends and family. Bottom line–more efficient, effective branding could lead to repeat business which equals increased revenue.

Q: What books or online resources on branding have you found most useful?

Thanks for dropping by and I’ll save your seat until next time!

Written by Lori Thiessen

In this age of gizmos and the drive to go green, are business cards still useful or relevant? After a quick search, the answer is a resounding yes!

The humble business card is still the best way to give your information to people in a face-to-face situation. There are those who may want to go completely techie and rely on transferring their digits electronically — zap! But then your entry is just one of so many in your potential client’s PDA.

Despite Twitter, Facebook and all the other social media that now bombard us with information, wanted or otherwise, about the contacts in our business and social network, the business card remains one of the main tools in a business person’s branding package.

This is especially true for the consultant. If you don’t have a permanent office other than your home office or a coffee shop office, then your business card is your storefront. It needs to reflect what you want people to know and to feel about your business.

But as I mentioned in the previous post, the coffee shop is a curious place  — not quite social, not quite business so you need to gauge whether or not it is appropriate to whip out your business card. Most coffee shops have a community board and it is perfectly reasonable to leave your business card on the message board. Check with the management before you do this, though.

So if you are unsure about whether or not to have business cards — say yes to the business card. It is still among the best marketing/networking tools out there.

Here’s a youtube video from an overbearing man passionate about business cards. Enjoy and take with a grain of salt.

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Q: What is the most impressive business card you have ever seen? Did it make you hire that person?

Thanks for dropping by and I’ll save your seat until next time!

Written by Lori Thiessen

So there you are. A proud neo-bedouin worker, sitting in your local coffee shop and you’ve pitched your business ‘camp’ for the next few hours. The mug of java is steaming away beside the gently humming laptop. Being in a coffee shop instead of at home brings you into contact with other humans, away from your ever-growing pile of laundry, and helps you to feel like a real working grown-up. Working from a coffee shop also gives you an opportunity to network with others and promote your business.

There are a couple of ways to do this. One is to strike up a conversation with your fellow laptoppers, but be sure that you aren’t going to be interrupting them while they are working. If both of you happen to taking a quick break from work, then smile and say hello. As a friendly, talkative sort myself, I’m on constant guard to make sure that I’m not overstepping my welcome by talking too long. Going to the same coffee shop on a regular basis allows you to develop new connections gradually and naturally. Whatever you do though, go easy and be respectful of others time and space.

Two is by visibility. When you don’t have an office or a permanent place to hang your shingle, physical advertising becomes a challenge. However, don’t despair you do have advertising space available to you. In fact, you, your body is advertising space. A t-shirt with your company logo is one way of getting your business name out there. Frankly, I’d stay away from baseball caps with your company logo emblazoned on it, but that’s just me. You can also have a patch made with your company logo and have it sewn or attached to your laptop case.

Apart from your body, another physical space for advertising is the back of your laptop screen. A little like Les Nessman’s imaginary office walls (WKRP fans will get this, for everybody else talk amongst yourselves), the back of the laptop screen acts like an office door. So why not stick something on it to help promote your business. Stickers are fun and relatively inexpensive. If the idea catches on, sticker swapping can have the back of your laptop looking like a well-travelled suitcase. Of course, these ideas are based on how dignified or funky your business is, or you are.

Q: What advertising or promotional methods for laptop start-ups have you seen (and liked, or not liked)?

Thanks for dropping by and come again soon for another cup of virtual coffee and conversation!