Friday, October 21, 2011

Brand you

If you’re a small business entrepreneur, you virtually are your business. So what happens when you and your business part ways? Maybe you sell it for boatloads of money or maybe things just don’t work out. Where does that leave you? The simple answer is that unless you’ve taken steps to brand yourself as an individual, if your business goes away, so might you. But a strong personal brand can be leveraged by an entrepreneur to capture attention and bounce back.
Take Donald Trump, the consummate example of branding oneself separately from a business and rebuilding after a fall. His personal branding is so strong that most folks don’t even know the name of any of his companies, and talk about getting back up on the horse—the man has filed for bankruptcy on behalf of his companies four times.
Now, granted, Trump is the uber showboat and he’s now as much a celebrity as he is a businessman. However, as an entrepreneur there are two major steps you can take to build your personal brand and help ensure a long-term career as a business owner.
1. Actively sell yourself and your skills to the media.
No matter what kind of widgets you sell or services you provide, the fact that you're in business for yourself makes you an expert on a number of subjects. Identify your areas of expertise and spread the news. Blog about your skills. Send press releases to the media. Start a Facebook page and offer "friends" advice. Tweet. Join LinkedIn. Create YouTube videos. And, of course work in information about your business as well as yourself, which gives you credibility, offers a little extra-added exposure to your company, and gives the news media a wider selection of story angles. 
2. Create a personal website. 
When people search for you online, what results come up? If you build a website—which is becoming simpler via blogging sites like WordPress and Blogger—and change it up often to maintain its search engine optimization, you can help keep the search results that you want people to see near the top of the page.
Direct people via your tweets, Facebook page and other social networks back to your website. Link your corporate website to your personal website. And keep your material informative, entertaining and fresh, generating new entries to all your social networks at least weekly and at best daily or more.  
Sound like a lot of work? It is at the outset, but soon a rhythm sets in. Whether you undertake the project yourself, however, or contract with an agency (we know a good one), in today’s economic climate, personal branding is becoming a powerful tool in the entrepreneur’s arsenal.  

Friday, October 14, 2011

We’re going to spell it out for you

At the outset, this topic might seem a little sophomoric for an ad agency blog whose readership is made up of business owners. But as we can readily attest: Sometimes it’s the most fundamental principals that get overlooked. The topic? Grammar in your marketing, advertising and PR, and in all your written communications, really.

Your written words are an extension of you and your business, and whether that business is lawn maintenance or running a charter school for advanced students, your market has a level of expectation about your professionalism. And one of the marks of professionalism is high-quality writing.

You know the message you get about a job seeker who submits a resume peppered with typos, or the feeling you get when you read “expresso” on a coffee shop menu instead of the correct “espresso.” Well, if you want to keep from feeding that perception about your own business to your market, just apply the following three concepts to all the words generated by your company and you’ll catch the vast majority of poor grammar before it gets out the door.

1. Sit on it.

Whether copywriter, journalist or a businessperson who generates 100 emails a day, the more comfortable you get with words, the faster you can whip them out. Grammatically, however, speed can get you into trouble. It leads to transposed letters, misspelled words, you name it. So, let the copy sit for a length of time, and then read it again.

In the ad agency biz, we let copy marinate from weeks to a day to sometimes an hour or less, depending on the scope and urgency of the project. But you can be sure we have a zero-tolerance system in place that involves setting aside the words for a period of time. If your “project” is an email, then sitting on it for you might mean five minutes, and that’s fine. The point is that with the passage of time, your eyes recharge and get fresher. Also, because proofing your own work is difficult, a second set of eyes is always a good idea.

2. Read it aloud.

Reading silently and reading aloud employ different brain functions. When you read silently, the tendency is to fix typos in your mind and accept poor choices in verbiage—basically correct subliminally what is incorrect on the page. Reading silently concentrates on what is said.

Reading aloud focuses on how it is said. You can hear the words independently of each other and also their rhythm in combination. Typos become more evident, as do misspellings, missing words and poor grammatical choices.

3. Turn on your spellchecker.

The number of people who don’t use the spell check feature on their computer is astounding. Is it always right? Heck no. Will it catch every error? Not even close. If you don’t know the difference between a painter’s “palette,” a wooden “pallet” and the “palate” in your mouth, for example, chances are spell check won’t catch the misuse of the three nouns either. But what it does catch makes it a powerful and handy backup.

Of course, there are a lot more tools in the copywriting trade and if you ever want to while away an afternoon discussing them, we’d be glad to oblige. However, if your hands are full running your business and you’d like RWA to worry about your marketing- and advertising-related grammar, we’d be glad to help you out there as well. Just pick up the fone. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

Who says there are no new ideas?

Each week the RWA staff sits at our Medieval Round Table to swill from our tankards and toss around ideas for our kingdom of clients. Inevitably someone pipes up with a “Oh! Oh! Oh!” worthy of Horseshack in Welcome Back Kotter and all attention turns to the excited party.

“What about…” it begins. The idea is pitched with gusto, but greeted with silence. I look around the table. We just don’t get it.

“You know,” Horseshack says. “It’s like that ad for ______ where the guy ____... ”

Whoa, Nelly, my equine friend. We’re an advertising agency. We sell ideas. New ideas. Not an idea that’s “like” another idea that’s already out there. That’s not a new idea… or is it?

Barbara Grizzuti Harrison once said, “There are no original ideas. There are only original people.” Now I haven’t a clue who Barbara Grizzuti Harrison is, but she must have been (or maybe is) one smart lady. She seemed to recognize that it’s smart thinking that translates into success. Sure, maybe your idea’s been done before, but it hasn’t been done your way.

Take Blake Mycoskie, for instance. Blake is the founder of TOMS Shoes, this really cool, progressive company that donates part of the proceeds of his business to the needy. A philanthropic business model? Rare, yes, but not really new. What’s new about Blake is the way his company helps the needy. Rather than send money or conduct fundraisers or other old methods, TOMS Shoes gives shoes to those without shoes. In fact, for every pair of shoes you buy, someone somewhere gets a free pair of shoes.

That’s awfully nice, but does this new twist on an old idea really work? Apparently so, Blake says in a recent interview. According to Blake, companies can even make money being the good guys.

Could you give away shoes too? Sure, but that’s already been done. “You know… it’s like that company ____ where the guy ____...” So instead of using someone else’s idea, take Barbara what’s-her-name’s advice and be an original thinker. Don’t know how? Pick up Blake’s newest idea, his book “Start Something That Matters” or stop by for our next round table discussion at RWA. Inside our walls, imagination has no limits.

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