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Developing Your Brand

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This post is the second in the series 4 Easy Steps To Creating The Brand Called You, and describes the first step in a four step process for creating your personal brand. If you haven't read it yet, you might be interested in reading the introductory post on personal branding.

The first, and probably most difficult order of business when creating a personal brand, is to actually specify what exactly is your brand. This starts with an important distinction: your brand, like consumer brands in the marketplace is not the logo, the packaging or look and feel of a product or service (although these things are important). A brand is a promise of value. It helps to think of a specific example: when you think of the Volvo brand, very often the first word that comes to our minds is safety. Yes, the packaging is nice, they have a recognizable logo and their cars have a fairly consistent look and feel, but their brand is the promise of an extremely safe car. So the question of developing your brand becomes quite simply: what unique value do you promise others? For many, this can be a hard question to answer. To get you working towards an answer, try answering the following questions:

  • What do you stand for? What is truly important to you?
  • What makes you different? What to you do that is different or unique?
  • What are you most proud of?
  • What have you done that you could easily brag about?
  • What would you like to be famous for?
  • What do your colleagues, clients and friends say is your greatest strength?

So the first step in developing your brand is to ask yourself these questions. Better yet, ask yourself and ask others! Write everything down. Don’t worry if there are paragraphs and paragraphs of apparently disjointed themes. Getting everything on paper makes it tangible and manageable.

The next part is easy: put it aside for a few days and simply let is percolate in your subconscious. Our minds have a great way of working things out in the background. There are countless stories of scientists and inventors literally solving big problems in their sleep! They immerse themselves in the problem, and then when they put is aside and sleep, they wake up with the solution. There is probably good reason the advice to “sleep on it” is given out so often: we are subconsciously aware of the power of our subconscious!

Finally, we need to get everything down into an elevator pitch, a description of the promise of value you represent in 15 words or less - that’s one or at most two sentences. Read it over again, and again, and again. Refine it. Does it resonate? It should, and if it is truly “you”, it will. If it doesn’t, sleep on it again or talk it over with a friend. Get your promise of value down to it’s very core. Don’t rush this step, it’s the foundation of your brand that everything else will rest on. If you are still having trouble, consider the following: what for you is a must and not just a should? For example, perhaps you should always create a nice deck of powerpoints and rehearse for any presentations, but you must always, always have accurate data. Your brand is accuracy, and perhaps not so much public speaking.

Sometimes there is nothing like a real world example. People who go to business schools would call it a case study. Let me give you one: Garr Reynolds, the man behind Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery. Honestly, I don’t know how he would articulate his brand, but the promise of value he represents, his brand, is easy for me to articulate and I can do it in three words: make great presentations. What Garr does differently is presentations, particularly how to effectively use powerpoint and other slideware in presentations.

The next post in the 4 Easy Steps To Creating The Brand Called You series is Packaging Your Brand.

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Change Is Good

Shine a Light
Creative Commons License photo credit: Ryan Kilpatrick

After three years and almost 100 posts, I decided that the Life Sutra could use a bit of a face lift. I updated the software (WordPress), and updated the theme (something nice from Simplethemes). What started off as a journal that would track my progress towards a 4-Hour Workweek, has evolved into a blog on my Rules of Life: things that I have discovered that help me work smarter and live happier. I'm still working more than four hours a week, but mostly out of choice. Alas, some guy in India is not making appointments for my oil changes. I've come to the conclusion that it's not actually about working only four hours a week and outsourcing all our tasks, but having the power and freedom to choose how one lives their life. I've been busy starting my own company (a "muse" in Ferriss speak), and doing a bunch of other stuff. I'm looking forward to sharing more of the things I've learned along the way. Stay tuned - the best is yet to come!

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4 Easy Steps To Creating The Brand Called You

Note: this is the first article in a series of articles on personal branding. After reading this article, you'll enjoy reading the next article in the series: Developing Your Brand.

It’s been a while since I looked seriously at personal branding. What is personal branding? According to Wikipedia:

Personal branding is the process whereby people and their careers are marked as brands.

Think of personal branding as self-packaging vs. self-improvement or professional development. I recall reading the 1997 issue of Fast Company and Tom Peters’ first article on personal branding in my office. Fast Company was a really cool magazine at the time, totally geared towards 20 and 30 somethings on epic career paths. It was the dot-com era, irrational exuberance was in full swing, and here was a magazine about working 80 hour work weeks, getting jacked up on coffee (not any coffee mind you - it had to be Starbucks) and loving it.

At the time I was really convinced that we would all soon be free lancers, literally. It was obvious to me that the days of a single employer and working in an office were nearly over for everyone. Marketing ourselves from one client to another would be essential in this brave new world and so the article really resonated with where my mind was at the time. For some reason I thought I was where, or at least near to where, the action was - even though I was actually working for a very traditional insurance company where they kept track of when you arrived and left work every day. The office looked like a set from Mad Men except with computers (crummy old ones mind you). You had to get special permission to have access to the internet. I don’t know what I was thinking.

Well, most of us still have an employer, including myself. However, when you consider career change, whether it be voluntary or thrust upon you, the idea of personal branding is as important today as it was in 1997. Perhaps even more so: with pervasive search and the social web it would seem that if you don’t brand yourself, others will do it for you! Let’s face it: the first thing a potential recruiter, employer or client is going to do is Google you. So I decided to look back at Tom Peters’ article and other resources on the web and distill what personal branding is all about. I’m going to break it all down into the four easy steps you’ll need to take in order to create your brand:

  1. Develop Your Brand
  2. Package Your Brand
  3. Market Your Brand
  4. Maintain Your Brand

I’m going to describe each step in a post of their own: bite sized pieces that can be consumed in minutes in a single sitting. Here’s a teaser for the first upcoming post on Developing Your Brand: your brand, like any consumer brand in the marketplace is actually not a logo, packaging, or the look, feel or style of a product or service. A brand is a promise of value. What is a promise of value? Tune in for the next post to find out. Better yet, subscribe to the Life Sutra so you don’t miss anything in this series on personal branding!

This is the first article in a series of articles on personal branding. I think you'll enjoy reading the next article in the series: Developing Your Brand.

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Productivity Secrets of Highly Successful People

1 Comment » Written on January 25th, 2010 by Brick
Categories: Articles, Productivity

I watched this interview of Matt Rissell by Robert Scoble (The “Scobleizer”) for Fast Company “TV” (I remember Fast Company being a pretty cool magazine in the 90’s). Matt is the CEO of TSheets, a Boise-based provider of online timeclocks. He discusses how he determined what made the most productive people successful. He provides “10 productivity secrets”. I really liked the following two:

Surround yourself with excellent people: Matt goes out of this way to point out that this is not “hire excellent people”. I think this is really important for freelancers, and entrepreneurs who don’t necessarily have the budget or need for employees in the traditional sense. As the saying goes, “show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future”. As an entrepreneur, you don’t have to hire excellence. You can surround yourself with excellent advisors, excellent suppliers, excellent mentors and yes, excellent (entrepreneurial) friends.

Make your decisions be great: Again, notice that this is not “make great decisions”. I think the key is that you have to be courageous enough to make a choice and put a stake in the sand. You then move forward and don’t look back second guessing or having regrets. Just choose that where you are is the place to be.

“…act like wherever you are, that's the place to be."

-Mike Damone, Fast Times at Ridgemount High


Here’s the full video:

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The Art of Time Estimation

No Comments » Written on January 19th, 2010 by Brick
Categories: Articles, Productivity

Ah, perhaps the quintessential question in a world where we are starved for time: how long will it take? It could be anything really: a project, a meeting, a visit to the dentist, picking up the kids from school, or going to the grocery store. Working in software, I continually have to answer this question when asked how long it will take to release the next version, implement a new feature, or fix a bug. However, budgeting our time affects our personal lives as much as it might our professional lives.

Over the years, I have developed Brick’s Law of Time Estimation. It works like this: when asked how long it will take to do x, think about it for as long as is practical, but don’t stress over the estimation. If you only have a few moments to come up with an answer, you can rely on your subconscious and just go with how long you intuitively think it will take. If you have time to put pen to paper, you might look at past experience, factor in the resources available, add a buffer for contingency, etc. In any event, by all means do your due diligence, but don’t stress over whether you considered everything or not. Let’s say you guessed that x will take you y (minutes / hours / days / whatever). Your final, best estimate will be as follows:

Time to do x = 2y

That’s it! Take your best guess and simply multiply that by 2. You’d be surprised how accurate this method can be.

Seriously, I have seen project management books that suggest calculating such an estimate as follows:

Time to do x = 3((t/r)^0.333)

where t is the overall level of effort in units of time per resource, and r is the number of resources. Wow – how does one even attempt to take a number to the power of one third in their head when they are just planning a trip to the store? My method is better because it is simpler. I win. Intuitively factor in the resources at hand into your best guess and multiply by 2. What could be easier?

Let’s run through an example: Your friend telephones, “how soon can you be over here?”. You start thinking to yourself “well, she’s about a 15 minute drive away, and I need 5 minutes to wash up before I leave, so I could be there in 20 minutes”. Wrong! Where’s the time to find your keys? Where’s the time to account for the traffic signal being down and having to wait through some unexpected traffic? Where’s the buffer for anything else Murphy throws at you? This is what you say: “I can be there in 40 minutes.” You put down the phone. You wash up, and you actually have your keys, but you can’t find your cell phone. You call your cell from the home phone to locate it by ring tone, and so what if it takes an extra 5 minutes. No traffic problems, but you realize you need some cash along the way – no problems, just stop at an ATM, you’ve got loads of time. You get to your friend’s place 34 minutes after you put down the phone. You are happy and relaxed. She admires your promptness, your respect for her time, and how you are one calm, cool and collected person. You achieve time management greatness.

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How To Look Better Naked

No Comments » Written on September 13th, 2009 by Brick
Categories: Articles, Health & Wellness

Perhaps this link could have simply been communicated via twitter, but one part of How To Look Better Naked And Get The Keys To The Universe by Tara Stiles caught my eye:

We have the knowledge and intuition to maintain health, but we ignore it by taking ourselves out of the present. We plan meal times instead of eating when we are hungry. We go on diets instead of living healthy. We have deferred life plans instead of choosing and doing our passion.

Source: The Huffington Post

The last part really resonates with the whole 4-Hour Workweek philosophy. It’s a great article, and by the end of it, you’ll take up yoga.

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The Order Prevention Department

My friend is a distributor for a particular type of products - products he sources from various manufacturers. Now in this particular industry, some manufacturers sell directly, and some use distributors. Oftentimes it's a combination of both based on territory where, for example, the manufacturer sells directly in their home market and relies on distributors in remote markets.

So part of my friend job is to identify manufacturers that currently do not have distributors in the US Northeast or Eastern Canada. Given the popularity of this territory, these manufacturers would typically be smaller, or new, or perhaps overseas.

In the course of this identification process, my friend contacts Manufacturer X using the number provided on their web site. A receptionist answers. The conversation goes something like this:

FRIEND: Hi, I am wondering if I could speak to the person responsible for sales in the US Northeast or Canada.

X: Why?

FRIEND: I would like to explore the possibility of distributing your products in these territories.

X: We do not sell through distributors.

FRIEND: I see. So you must have a salesperson or salespeople handling this area already.

X: Yes, we have a gentleman that covers this territory.

FRIEND: Would it be possible to speak with this gentleman? Perhaps you could provide my contact info to him, or you could give me his number.

X: I'm sorry, but we do not sell to distributors who will resell our products.

FRIEND: But I am sure that you sell to customers, right? It would be great if you provide my contact info to him.

X grudgingly takes down my friend's email and phone number.

There is one thing I forgot to tell you: my friend has been working in the industry serviced by the manufacturer for years. Besides working with some of the largest companies, my friend is often asked by his existing customers to source products even when he is not selling them himself, because his customers rely on him for information and advice, not just sales. Even if he cannot represent Manufacturer X, he might like to refer his clients to their salesman if he had a knowledge of their products and a relationship with their salesman.

You would be right to say that you were not aware of this critical piece of information when you read the passage describing the conversation between my friend and Manufacturer X. But that's exactly the problem: either did the receptionist answering the phone. Surely the salesperson, whose job it is to sell would be the best person to qualify any contact that expresses a desire to speak with him! In this case, just speaking with my friend may have added the salesperson to my friend's network on people to call on when trying to source something my friend does not sell. The receptionist is part of a department that I see alive and well in many companies: the Order Prevention Department. Do you have any Order Prevention Department stories to share?

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Our Greatest Fear

No Comments » Written on May 1st, 2009 by Brick
Categories: Articles, Inspiration

"Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, handsome, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us. It is not just in some; it is in everyone. And, as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

- Marianne Williamson

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High Intensity Training Update

It's been a while since I updated everyone on my High Intensity Training (HIT) program. Well, I fell off the program for some time over the winter. I was playing a lot of hockey. I might even be able to come up with more excuses given more time to think. When I did go to the gym, I fell back into the old habit of split training. To all the HIT advocates out there, I am ashamed. I guess I just did not become the hulk I assumed would be the natural outcome of the program and became a little unmotivated.

However, that leads to one very important finding from my experiment with HIT: while I did not become Arnold, I certainly did not lose any size or muscle. What this means to me is that it is probably not necessary to spend a lot of time in the gym to have an effective weight training program. In fact, I would take this one step further: most people doing weight training probably over train, and get little benefit from so much time spent lifting. I look back at the hours I used to spend at the gym and I think it probably just helped me get injured (torn rotator and hamstring to name just a couple injuries I've sustained at the gym).

Back For The Attack

Dr. Mike provided a nice comment here a week ago, recommending The New High Intensity Training: The Best Muscle-Building System You've Never Tried by Ell Darden. I went out and bought it, and if you are at all interested in HIT, you might do the same. I've read a few chapters and it is really good. One part of the book that struck me was a description of Arthur Jones supervising a set of arm curls. It was an epiphany. One aspect of a set in HIT is that you choose a resistance level such that you lift to failure within a limited number of repetitions. I realized that when I was doing the HIT program I developed, I was not really lifting to failure, at least not the way it was dramatically described in Ell's book!

So back to the gym this week to try again in earnest. Here's what I did: lifted to where I would stop before and then squeezed out a couple more reps, sacrificing a little form if necessary. I then quickly dropped the resistance by 25% or so and squeezed out two or three more reps. Let me tell you, I was be in agony after each set! I also understood for the first time why the HIT people suggest only two or three training sessions per week. I could still feel the effects of my Wednesday workout in my legs and biceps as I started my Friday workout!

So I'm back!

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What Are You Reading?

No Comments » Written on February 27th, 2009 by Brick
Categories: Articles, Personal Development

I have no central theme or message here besides me being a big fan of reading. One of my favorite types of posts by others is when they share a book review, or what they are currently reading. Paul Kedrosky does this almost daily. At one point I virtually outsourced my book purchasing decisions to Garr Reynolds who shares some really great reading ideas at Presentation Zen and his personal blog (you will see one of his recommendations below). Here is my current list:

Story by Robert McKee: Storytelling is perhaps the premier instructional technique. In this book, McKee discusses the "substance, structure, style, and principles of screenwriting". Imagine the Gettysburg Address as a powerpoint instead of the story delivered by Lincoln and you start to understand the importance of being able to tell a good story.

Universal Principles of Design by William Lidwell et al.: The subtitle says it all - "100 ways to enhance usability, influence perception, increase appeal, make better design decisions and teach through design". Packed full of tips, each presented in a about two pages!

Toothpicks & Logos by John Heskett: "Design in everyday life". Toothpicks as developed and used by Europeans and the Japanese are different. Read this book and you'll know why.

Buddhism by Smith and Novak: A fantastic introduction.

CSS Cookbook by Christopher Schmitt: For the techno in me. Cascading style sheets are perhaps the most blatant place where the technology of the web and design meet. Anyone creating web sites and applications should learn CSS.

As Will Smith says, whatever problem you may have, whatever you need to know, someone has written about it (he also advocates running!):

So what are you reading these days?

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