Getting a brand started can sometimes feel like starting an old car. The ignition key does not turn when needed, you hear the engine struggle to get its pistons running, and you are on a prayer hoping the car will run well enough to take you where you need to go.
Well, there is no shortage of books to help a brand get started. For first time entrepreneurs and solopreneurs, they may want to consider You Are Your Brand, a personal branding book by Felicia Shakespeare. Shakespeare is the founder of Integrity International Group, a full-service personal business and professional development firm based in Chicago.
Like many small business owners, Shakespeare wears a number of hats: a published author, brand strategist, and an advocate for library media and education. But unlike many small business owners, she has cultivated her experiences to show how personal brand building leads to real value.
I learned about the book after meeting Shakespeare at a mixer with another author, Julie Holloway, who started the TEW books series (I reviewed Volume 2 in 2014; Charles Franklin reviewed Volume 3 a few years ago). Her book reflects the ideas solopreneurs and entrepreneurs who offer services should carry forward when establishing their own brand.
What Is You Are Your Brand About?
The book is focused on developing a personal business brand. In an environment where technology is essential for business development, small businesses must still rely on personal development, because so many of the early steps center on one’s perception of one’s own capabilities.
Shakespeare addresses this need well by offering her insights on her brand while highlighting the experiences guiding her wisdom. She shares the outlooks she gained from her parents, her faith and her work experiences. All of these combine to explain how “focus should lead to excellence”. Shakespeare does this understanding the challenges an entrepreneur normally encounters, such as the fear arising from the drive for excellence.
“Having an expectation of excellence can provoke some level of fear in people who don’t live by this standard. Being excellent requires one to strive to surpass just being typical or common,” Shakespeare writes.
What I Liked About You Are Your Brand
Shakespeare rightly suggests perseverance is important in branding. It’s important to identify your brand as being steadfast and consistent. And she explains how it ties into the personal focus required to get a business off the ground.
“One of the main outcomes of being focused is becoming a finisher,” Shakespeare writes. “The only way to finish or achieve anything in life is by tackling all endeavors with our undivided attention. The key word is undivided. If you divide yourself up into two main areas to focus on, you cannot focus.”
I like how she works in her personal experiences while quickly making her point regarding what readers should expect from their own business interactions. For example, she speaks to how you should leave things with customers. Check out this passage.
“Never leave a bad taste in someone’s mouth when it comes to any type of business dealings with you … Customers may come in with attitudes, and that’s something to be prepared for. If they leave it should be because their need could not be met, not because you ran them away.”
Shakespeare’s professional tips allow budding entrepreneurs to think more about how they should put together their brand than about what they think a brand is. The essence of this thought gets expressed as she advises entrepreneurs to reflect on their presentation to others and how they compartmentalize their personal and professional lives.
As Shakespeare explains, “Nowadays many people are getting tatted, a short name for tattooed, but fail to think about how this action will come across in certain professional situations later on … In life that is what has to be considered when it comes to our brand. How will my actions impact or alter my brand? Realizing that this is our world but we’re not the only ones who live in it. There are laws, there are expectations, and there are standards of living … You can be yourself, and in the process take some care in who self is and how will that “self” propel you to your purpose.”
What Could Have Been Done Differently?
The ideas that You Are Your Brand advocates can sometimes seem more oriented towards solopreneurs offering services. That perspective may not fit for certain types of businesses, such as B2B or those producing products.
Having said this, I feel the book speaks to service businesses quite well. Over the years, I have seen many businesses started as a solopreneur gig but then grown into a team. Services can be low cost to launch at times, but can be extremely hard to market to customers unless there is a brand behind it. For business owners in those situations, a book like You Are Your Brand could be an inspiration to look at branding as a solution. Shakespeare works thoroughly to explain how branding should be a natural part of a business model.
For those starting to develop a business but somewhat stuck in the personal development, give You Are Your Brand a try. The book is the right ignition switch to get the engine in your business running smoothly.