Like many folks I have one of those GPS devices in my car.  It’s actually pretty similar to the one pictured on the left.  Since I have it mounted inside my window and plugged into the cigarette lighter, it automatically comes on when I start the car, and is always on when I’m driving.  If you don’t have one of these devices and you are on the road a lot, I highly recommend them.  It’s one of those things you think is an extravagance, but once you get one you will wonder how you got along without it.

The display as shown is actively routing you to a destination, giving you turn by turn instructions.  If you are not using the device for directions, you can simply bring up a map mode where it will show you all the roads in your immediate vicinity.  From map mode you can click into a speedometer mode which shows your current speed, direction and some historical statistics.

This is the mode I go into a lot.  The car I drive has an adjustable steering wheel, which I usually have lowered down as far as it can go.  I just like it that way.  However, it makes the speedometer very hard to see, and it is usually a good idea to have a sense of how fast your are driving.  So clicking into the speedometer mode of the GPS gives me an alternate speedometer right at eye level.  It’s much more convenient.

The statistical information displayed includes top speed, average speed while moving, average speed overall, time spent driving, time stopped, etc.  While I use this view primarily for speed and direction, lately I’ve started paying more attention to the average speed while moving statistic.

It all started as one of those personal science experiment we all do from time to time where you wonder why something is the way it is.  You form a hypothesis, devise your test, then evaluate results.  For me, the question was why it took me over an hour to drive to work when I knew it was only slightly more than 30 miles there.

I wasn’t totally without clues on this one.  I work close to downtown Cleveland, and there aren’t a whole lot of highways heading into town, so it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that getting caught up in rush hour traffic will slow you down considerably.  But what I always found odd is that it seemed to take almost exactly an hour to get to work regardless of how much traffic there was or which route I took.

So one day on the drive in, it dawned on me I could probably use the stats from the GPS to get some meaningful data on the topic.  The next day before leaving for work, I reset the information and headed out.

Well, it only took a couple days to find out that when you factor in stopping and starting your overall average speed is a lot lower than you would think it is.  I do tend to take more “back ways” than highways to work (more scenic, less stress), but even so an overall average speed around 27 mph seemed really low.  The overall moving average (which doesn’t count the time you are stopped) was only around 37 mph.

This all made a good amount of sense as I live around 33 miles from my office and it takes me a little over an hour to get there.  So basic math would tell you my average overall speed has to be somewhere a little less than 33 mph. 

The insight to Character came when I started watching these stats over a couple weeks. 

The basic numbers more or less get set fairly quickly.  A day, two at most, and most of the numbers don’t budge much.  So you don’t have to wait long to get a sense of these averages.  The other thing I noticed is that once the numbers are set, even a major change doesn’t move them a lot.  As I said, I tend to take the back roads where the speed limits are generally between 35 – 40 mph.  After letting the averages get set for just two days, I took the highway home.  It was a light traffic day and I was cruising around 70 mph most of the way home.  The impact to my averages?  A couple tenths of a mph.  Not a big change.

So what did this teach me about Character?

It only takes a short time to reveal your Character

We all like to think we’re complicated beings, with a wide range of emotions, abilities and responses.  The truth is I think it doesn’t take very long at all for most folks to pick up on the kind of person we are.  The old cliche that says “you only get one chance at a first impression” speaks to this, I think.

In my current job working with entrepreneurs, we often help educate them on the benefit of basic market research to validate whether the market wants their great idea or not.  Often, we will introduce the entrepreneur to a local service provider who can help them with the research.  Recently, I had a chance to meet a new consultant that specialized in market research in the consumer goods sector.  Unlike many of her competitors, one of Jamie’s value adds to the entrepreneur is the ability to get good market research done for a fraction of the cost.  How does she do this?  Jamie has found she can get meaningful feedback on a product through drastically less interviews.  Whereas many of our other service providers will line up 50 or more people in a market research study, Jamie contends that she can get feedback almost as good with 8 – 12 people.

This correlates well with my casual observations throughout my career.  In a variety of contexts I have conducted surveys.  Customer satisfaction surveys, which of these options do you like surveys, how should we attack this problem surveys, and more.  What I have found is that more often than not the majority answer(s) after a very small number of returns holds up in the long run. 

And so it is with other’s perception of your Character.  It only takes a small number of experiences for peers, associates and friends to form an opinion about you.

The second lesson my GPS taught me about Character was:

You cannot change perceptions quickly, or with small deeds

Just like after only two days of establishing an average moving speed, driving twice as fast had virtually no impact on that average, once someone forms an opinion or perception of your character, it will not be changed quickly.   The more interesting observation I think, is that it will not be changed through minor tweaks.  No, to change a perception I think you need drastic change over the long haul.

So, what will I do differently?

  1. I’m going to stop worrying about what new acquaintances are thinking of me.  I probably can’t do anything about it anyway.  This follows the “actions speak louder than words” cliche.  Stay authentic.
  2. I’m going to recognize that higher levels of Character and therefore Leadership require ever higher levels of action.  Those higher levels also need to be sustained to have an impact.  Be willing to commit to change.
  3. I will stay aware that my Character doesn’t exist in a vacuum, rather is the product of, or at least is influenced by, my surroundings.  Putting one’s self in better surroundings doesn’t guarantee better Character, but it certainly can’t hurt.  Be proactive to get yourself out of negative situations.

There isn’t a whole lot of mystery as to what should go into a basic investor pitch, yet the entrepreneurs I coach have a habit of getting in their own way.  I’m not sure if it’s because I deal mainly with early stage, high-tech start-ups and scientists/engineers love details, or whether people just want to do a good job and think that more information is better.

It’s not (generally).

What most entrepreneurs don’t know (or forget), is they are the thousandth+  person to pitch that particular investor / funder / reviewer.  They’ve heard and seen it all before.  Overselling and under-informing, not to mention presentation errors, go a long way to explain why those Blackberry’s start getting checked.

If you’re pitching as part of a competitive funding process, then if you’re not the first presentation of the day, you’re fighting information overload (not to mention post-lunch hypoglycemic-induced fatigue!).

So what are the basics?While great presentations are few and far between, simply providing the basic information that funders and review committees want to see, in an easy to understand format, will set you apart from your peers.  That information generally looks like:

  • What is your business / technology?
  • What problem are you solving for what market?
  • How do you make money?
  • How experienced is your management team?
  • What is your current status and what are your next steps?

Believe me, if you can simply convey that information in 15 minutes or so in an understandable and easily digestible presentation, you are way ahead of much of your competition.  This of course doesn’t mean you will get funded, but at least you won’t get denied for lack of understanding.

I’m lucky to work as part of a regional, entrepreneurial support ecosystem and almost all my peers convey roughly the same message.  However, I recently heard about a pitch metaphor one of mycolleagues uses and I think it can be really helpful in understanding the process of going through a presentation.  I’m not sure if he calls it anything, but I call it the Pitch Staircase.

How the Staircase works

Everyone knows how a staircase works, you take one step at a time and pretty soon you’ve arrived at your destination.  The Pitch Staircase isn’t special because it’s different, it’s special because of who you are walking the staircase with: a frail, helpless individual who needs lots of help getting down the stairs (e.g. the investor).

Imagine you’re standing on the top of the staircase with your 90 year old investor grandma.  To get grandma down the stairs, you’ll walk her to the top of the stairs, then take some time to make sure she’s got solid footing before taking a step.  Once she’s ready, you’d then carefully guide her down to the next step, and again take some time to make sure she’s stable before moving on.  Repeat this process, and pretty soon grandma has made it down the stairs with your help.

Using this metaphor for your pitches can help focus your presentation and keep you on track.  Imagine the person you are pitching to as grandma, and your presentation as the staircase.  You want to guide the investor through your presentation in a logical manner, not rushing into a new topic until you’ve got them on solid footing where they currently are.

What do the steps look like?

As mentioned above, most early stage coaches you talk to will tell you pretty much the same story as to what goes into a pitch, much like I outlined above.  As presented to me by my colleague, the “steps” he takes grandma down during a pitch are:

  • Problem
  • Solution
  • Market
  • Team
  • Process

A little different flavor than mine and I like it.  Very basic buckets of information that are all important.  I also like the sequence as it builds a logical story, also a very effective approach to early stage pitches.

Bonus – 5 quick, practical tips for effective pitches

I recently stumbled across the Instigator Blog.  Written by a former entrepreneur who exited and now is a founding partner at an early stage accelerator, I love the blog for it’s practical, real world take on entrepreneurship, pitching, marketing and all those other fun things that go with early stage start-ups.  Ben’s five tips on pitching investors boil down to this:

  1. Tell you story quick
  2. Change the pace throughout
  3. Sexy slides work
  4. Don’t over-emphasize the product
  5. End strong

While all of these are good tips, #3 and 5 stick out for me in particular.  Sexy slides definitely work on many levels.  I read a while back about a psychological “test” that started with an examination of your car trunk.  The premise was your trunk represented your brain and a messy, uncared for trunk indicated the same tendencies within your human nature.  A stretch perhaps, but a professional, yes – sexy presentation always reflects well on the presenter.

Likewise with ending strong.  Too many entrepreneurs end their presentation with boring financials, or next steps milestones.  Fight that urge.  End on a strong note with something that is going to help those funders remember YOU out of the 15 other entrepreneurs they saw that day.   I really like Ben’s suggestion on how to do this – that’s a teaser to get you to actually click over to his post and read through all five tips.  If you’re an entrepreneur getting ready to pitch or in the midst of constant pitching, it’s some great advice.

It’s been that kind of week – lot’s of people to thank.  That’s a good week in my book.

Yesterday (12/9/08) I was a guest expert on Anita Campbell’s Small Business Trends Radio program.  The entire process, from working on the topic and questions with Anita, the scheduling and logistics with Staci, and the actual program with my facilitator Steve Rucinski, was nothing but professional.  It’s no wonder Anita’s blog is subscribed to by over 220,000 people!

My topic was advice for Manufacturing start-ups.  In a half hour, we covered quite a wide range of questions, from what’s changed in the manufacturing space, the three most critical aspects to consider in starting a manufacturing company, to one tip on how manufacturing entrepreneurs are avoiding most start-up costs all together.

If you’d like to read an overview of the show, or listen to a recording of the interview, here are some links:

  • Show posting
  • Link to audio file for download

You can also order transcripts off the Small Business Trends Radio website.  It’s acting a bit slow right now, so I can’t get to the transcripts page to see if there is a charge or not.

UPDATE – The transcripts are $10 to cover transcriptions, printing and shipping costs.  I didn’t see mine in the list yet, but I would guess it takes a while to get the show transcribed.

I’ll put a plug in for Anita here also.  If you haven’t stumbled upon her radio site, then you may want to take a look around.  Every week, she has a different small business expert on the show talking on a variety of issues.  Looking over some of the most recent and popular shows, I see titles like: Building a Successful Community Giving Program, Using Facebook to Market Your Business, and How to Start a Business with No Money.

So once again – Thank You Anita!  I look forward to working together again in the future.

The good folks over at The Personal Branding Blog have been writing a series of tips on recession proofing your career through your personal brand.  While they are titled from the point of view of personal branding, I’ve found most of the tips to have broad applicability and just make sense.

The tips, currently at 10, are written to be a very quick read, just a couple paragraphs.  They make a lot of sense and have got me thinking a bit more in depth on most of them.  So with full credit given to the team over at The Personal Branding Blog, I’d like to add my two cents worth to the discussion.  I’m not sure anyone can really make your career truly recession proof, but the spirit of these tips is to focus back on key activities that can play a big part in making sure you are on the “A” list when hard decisions come in your company.

It would be great to make this a collaborative effort, so if you have a thought on one of the tips please add a comment.  My thoughts follow the break.

#1 Bolster your Brand

The point made here is when corporate belt-tightening comes it’s even more important to display why you are unique, innovation and valuable to the company.   Written from the point of view of personal brand, which tends to focus on creativity, innovation and thought leadership, you may be left thinking this tip is only for the folks in R&D and Marketing.  Don’t overlook that phrase early on where a “diverse workplace” is mentioned.  From the maintenance crew to the purchasing clerk, to the President, every employee adds their own special value – don’t overlook or sell yours short.

The point as made speaks to making sure you work extra hard at making sure your special value is front and center in hard times.  If cuts do come, then any incremental value, uniqueness or extra talent you have to offer, if it has been showcased appropriately, could be that something extra and keeps you employed.

#2 Build Bridges

This tip is always a good one.  The point made here is that if you have a situation in the near future where you are laid off, or need to find a new employer due to deteriorating work conditions, you want to have fresh, up to date connections with all aspects of your network.  This includes not only former bosses, co-workers and colleagues, but also groups and associations you were or are a part of.  Don’t forget those social networks either.  If you’ve recently joined LinkedIn, Facebook, or some other social network but haven’t put any time into it, learn the options available for building an active, current network.

What I’d like to add to this discussion is you need to approach this “bridge building” naturally, without betraying a sense of urgency.  We all have a business colleague or two that you only hear from when they are in-between jobs or need a referral.  Don’t be that person.  Hopefully, you’re managing good active networks as a everyday activity – the point here is to both take a review and make sure all your critical bridges are in good working order and consider widening your network just in case.

#3 Grow your Google Quotient

Maybe it’s because I’m in the Midwest or maybe I’m just not at an appropriately high executive level, but the recruiters and HR folks I talk to tend to downplay this one.  While many of them do perform a cursory Internet search on applicants they are serious about, it is more to make sure nothing unseemly is found than to see which applicant has the most impressive online identity. 

Surely having a strong online identity could be of great help to some professions, and could function as a tie-breaker when competing against strong competition. 

A valid point is made that it takes time to grow your online identity.  Even if you don’t aspire to have an “online” presence per se (blogger, website, etc.), for many business leaders it does make sense to have a complete, active and representative profile that can be found online.  For business professional I recommend LinkedIn and/or VisualCV.  Facebook is an option, but care must be taken as it is very hard to keep work and play separated on Facebook.  Whichever platform(s) you choose, it will take time to get all your information in, it will take time for the search engines to find you, and it will take time to keep it up to date.  Invest this time now.

#4 Walk to the Water Cooler

If those around you don’t know who you are or what you do, management will think they don’t need you when it is time to start preparing the layoff list.

It doesn’t get much more straight forward than that.  Networking within your organization is an activity that most smart managers I’ve met along the way were not only very good at, but made a priority.  Not only does it get you out meeting your fellow employees, but it also gets you plugged into the informal communication channels, making you privy to information your colleagues that aren’t out walking around will never hear.  A slight advantage, but one I’ve found indispensable from time to time.

#5 Get Active

This tip talks about getting out and joining some groups and associations as I mentioned above.  An excellent follow on point is to join fewer organizations and give them more of your time and energy versus joining several organizations.  I am on the Board of a small local organization and definitely see that the connections made on the Board versus those made in our monthly meetings are definitely more meaningful.  I have been on that Board for 5 years now along with several of the other Board members.  Together we have grown membership in the group from around 30 to now over 100.  The relationships and mutual respect developed from that process is invaluable.

My build on this tip would be to consider looking outside your profession when considering where to get involved.  There are lots of groups that can use your help and you can still get valuable relationships from.  One of my fellow Board members from the group I mentioned above is also on the Board of a regional park district along with several other area executives.

#6 Create Career Karma

The tip here is to help others recession proof there career.  Helping others is never a bad thing and you never know when you’ll need help.  Having a solid brand of being helpful will net you a lot of help if / when you may need it.

I’d like to expand this tip also to suggest that karma doesn’t stop at the company front door.  I’ll take good karma wherever I can get it.  Volunteer, help the neighbor rake their leaves, go to a couple of those charity events you always get invites for but never attend.  You never know where when, where and from whom you will need a little help, so spread your karma wide (and thick).

#7 Start Counting

This is just a quick tip to remind us all to be active in documenting the value we add to the company and figuring out ways to get that information in front of our boss (and onward up from there).  Maybe you have official metrics you or your department are measured against.  Make sure those are documented as a minimum and communication.

I think this is really only the basics on this tip though.  Start thinking of other ways you have added value to the organization or created opportunities.  Maybe you can suggest a new initiative that fits right into your talents that bolsters an existing metric.  Better yet, maybe it creates a new metric or goal for your area of the company and you have something truly unique you can point to. 

In general I think a lot of us are hesitant to communicate our results on a regular basis.  Whatever your reason if this is you – get over it.  Every successful leader I have ever seen does not hesitate to accurately, consistently and sometimes boldly communicate their results to their management and anyone else who will listen.  This is true lifeline to continued employment and career progression.

#8 Redo your Resume

No need to belabor this tip.  The point as made is to make sure you put your resume in top order at least six months before you’ll need it.  I truly think that misses the point.  No matter how comfortable or happy you are in your present position, you should always be managing and updating your resume.  If you have a reminder system, add a tickler to review and update your resume.  I would suggest this is a quarterly activity and certainly should take place anytime a major career event takes place (major project completed, new employer, etc.)

It is recommended that you need to stand out from the crowd and even suggests hiring a professional resume writer.  I would be very interested if anyone out there has ever used a resume writer.  What was your experience?  Would you recommend it?

#9 Invest in a Career Coach

This tip tells us to invest in a good career coach before the pink slip arrives, and I have talked with a couple career coaches that had obvious value to contribute.  I think this decision needs a bit more introspection than just “do this”.  Obviously, if things are clicking and you are on top of your game, then an excellent executive levelcoach can help take you to the next level.

All of us however, are at different places in our career, and may have widely different issues impacting our ability to move forward.  Examine your long range plan, take a good hard look at yourself and ask yourself what is keeping you from taking that next step.  It could be education, it could be life situations, it could be you are limited where you are at.  So don’t just fall into assuming you need a career coach but do some honest evaluation of where you are at.  There are lots of different types of coaches out there.

#10 Reconnect with Recruiters

I love this tip and the suggestion made for implementing it.  I’ve always known the value in staying top of mind with the local executive recruiters.  I have though struggled with how best to stay plugged in with them without appearing too self-serving.  I was a fellow Board member with one, and developed a solid relationship, getting information on regional opportunities I’m sure others were not privy to.

The tip here is to reach out to recruiters from time to time to get their input on what is happening in your industry and seed advice.  They are basically consultants and the number of folks they talk to make their observations highly valuable.  These conversations should help develop a decent relationship and may even help cement your brand in their minds.

Final Thoughts

I’ll keep this post updates if The Personal Branding Blog adds any more.  These are great tips and I think there’s something in here for everyone.  I think the real point is that with the economy making everyone just a little nervous about their continued employment, the best thing all of us can do, is continue to do our best.  If we weren’t just a little better at what we do than the next person, then we wouldn’t be here at DCO, now would we?

Comments, as always, welcome.  What are you doing that you don’t see on the list?  What can you add to any of the tips above?

A friend of mine, Mark Pinto, is an example of a person whose destiny was probably foretold from the day he was born.  So visual and creative he can’t eat lunch with you without doodling on the napkin, Mark runs a successful consulting business providing “graphic facilitation” to clients, helping them with issues ranging from personal leadership, self-directed teamwork, and large group decision-making.

Mark also has a blog called Sketchy Business that he posts to every once in a while.  Recently, Mark wrote a post on what happened to his family when the electricity in his neighborhood went out.  You might be surprised at the result – the family ended up spending “rich, relaxing and productive” time together.

Which makes me wonder – are we really making progress with all of our so-called advancements?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting we should abandon electricty, light bulbs and automobiles, but I do think Mark eluded to an important concept in his post.  On what basis should we evaluate Progress?  Too often it seems progress is put in terms of how much more money I can make, how much more productive I can be, or how much more quickly I can get from point A to point B. 

Meanwhile, where do we stand on cultural and societal progress?  We will pump billions into advanced energy research over the next few years, and rightly so, but if we also continue to cut funding to social, cultural and educational institutions, what message are we sending to our citizens; to the world?  More importantly, what kind of country are we building?

We need more focus on family, mutual respect and rich, meaningful relationships in this country.  I’m not talking about simple “family values” rhetoric that has become a required paragraph in every politicians stump speech.  I’m talking about figuring out how to create authentic connections like Mark had with his family, without the electricity having to shut off.

Here’s my simple proposition: let’s not wait for our government to do this for us.  I’m not saying I’m down on the government.  I am saying this is something we need to take responsibility for.  Instead of waiting for the electricity to go out, let’s all spend more nights than not working on our son’s and daughter’s homework with them.  Instead of waiting for the neighbors to invite us over, let’s invite them over for a bowl of chili and some warm bread.  Instead of waiting for the price of gas to come down, let’s form a carpool and save some money while we build some relationships. 

Instead of waiting for our significant other to tell us how much they care for us, let’s tell them first.  Extra credit – add family and friends to that one.

Just because the electricity comes back on, we don’t have to be different people.

Please help get this message out.  Forward this message on to at least one person you know will take it to heart.  It’s not about chain letters and it’s not about promoting my blog (copy and paste the text into your own E-mail, I don’t care).  But if we simply stand by and let “progress” march us by, then no whining when we end up with a life and society that doesn’t fit with our values.  It’s about Balance my friends and right now, there is precious little of it on the end of the scale that matters most.

Big list of entrepreneur blogs over at altgate.  77 last time I checked.

Bonus #1 is Furqan offers a Google Bundle of the blogs so you can grab them all at once if you’d like.

Bonus #2 is at the start of the post, he also links to a huge list of VC blogs.

Go, grab and enjoy!

UPDATE 6/8/09 – altgate maps blogging entrepreneurs to twittering entreprenueurs, with follower counts.

UPDATE 6/12/09 – The ultimate twitter list for online marketers. 100 Tech twitter accounts you should be following.

UPDATE 7/21/09 – 100 entrepreneurs to follow, and learn from, on twitter.

This is follow-up post 2 of 4 to my original survey.  In interested, here is the previous recap:

  • Survey follow-up 1 of 4 (Review of necessary and supporting qualities)

It’s hard to believe it’s been a couple weeks since I first wrote on the entrepreneurial qualities survey, but time flies quickly this time of year.  In that post, I took a look at the basic results of what got voted as a necessary quality, and shared my thoughts as to whether there were any surprises to be found.  Since I also took a quick look at the supporting qualities as well, I don’t really see a need to examine them separately.

So in this post, I thought I’d take a look at the comments that were left to see if there were any good qualities that were missed in the original survey.

This is a moderately lengthy post with a lot of good comments on entrepreneurial qualities.  If you don’t have the time right now, you may want to save this post for a bit later.  However, I do have one request – towards the end of the post I do ask for your comments on one particular topic.  If you have just a couple minutes, I would appreciate you reading the section titled “Humor”, and leaving me a comment on the question I ask.  As always, I appreciate your input.

So let’s step through the comments and see what pops up.

Risk

Ready to take risks

It’s funny that this should be the first comment as other than Passion, risk-taking is the quality most often talked about with respect to entrepreneurs.  I’m not sure then, how I left it off my original list, but it definitely should be there.  I’m tempted to say that the risk-taking quality is embedded in Courage (which was on the list), but something tells me they are different.  So I think this is a good catch and will add something covering risk-taking to the list.

Innovation

Innovation Self-motivation Self-starter

Three more good qualities for entrepreneurs.  Self-starter I think is captured in the current quality of Initiative.  Self-motivation likewise is another way of saying Discipline, which is on the list.  Innovation is interesting to me.  The closest thing we currently have is Creativity, which clearly is not the same as Innovation.  My sense is Innovation is probably a better quality for an entrepreneur and could replace creativity, or at least co-exist.

Integrity

I think Honesty, Integrity and Ethics are a must to be successful long term. Anyone can get lucky once and MAYBE twice, but to sustain yourself and your reputation for future ventures these are critical.

and

I think I didn’t see honesty or ethical on the list. I want to say that trust building is a major quality of an entrepreneur and you have to build trust fast. I find that people decide whether they want to work with me during the first few minutes based on how they feel about me. I don’t know if this is the situation for all it is definitely true for me. I can’t wait to see your results

Great comments, and I’m glad you made them.  All three of these important qualities, along with Truth, mean different things to different people.  Heck, they mean different things to the same person in different situations sometimes.  I just wrote about a huge difference of opinion as to the responsibility of an entrepreneur offering a free online service.  I think a big part of the point you are making is contained in the quality Character (even though Character was not voted a critical quality), but certainly you are taking the point further.

could make the argument that Integrity is neither a necessary nor supporting quality for successful entrepreneurship.  One has to look no further than our own P. T. Barnum.  While contrary to popular opinion, he never uttered the infamous phrase “there’s a sucker born every minute“, much of his fortune was built on showmanship of dubious quality.  And I’m sure P. T. isn’t the only example of successful, less than honest, entrepreneurs.

I could make that argument, but I won’t.  Since this is my blog I get to make the rules and one of the rules around here is we are interested in positive growth and personal excellence.  I also happen to agree with both commentator’s premise that Integrity is critical for both building initial trust and holding onto customer relationships in the long term.

Leadership

Did we talk about: Leadership Customer centric Culture that he wants to bring in to his company.

Leadership – Doh!  Yes, I suppose that would be good for an entrepreneur, and is another obvious quality I missed.  Many entrepreneurs of course, don’t have it and some successful entrepreneurs aren’t very good at it, but most entrepreneurs I’ve worked with do have it.  For those that are a bit weak, then a good strategy is to constitute a strong advisory panel early on or align yourself with trusted counselors.

On customer-centric culture, I’m guessing the comment is meant to convey an understanding that the startup’s ultimate goal is to make money through selling to customers; and for many an entrepreneur that is the case.  There are of course, many different flavors of startups, and a variety of different business models.  The assumption here is the goal of every entrepreneur is self-sufficiency and profitability through market adoption, which I’m not sure it would be a realistic carte blanche assessment of the entrepreneurial community. I also think there is a difference between being a successful entrepreneur and being a successful business leader.  My sense is customer-centricity falls under the umbrella of business leadership than entrepreneurship.  I could be very wrong on this so please speak up in the comments if you have some passion around this one.

Optimism

Leadership is integral factor for Entrepreneurship, not mutually exclusive. Hallucinogenically optimistic might be another quality

Leadership – agreed as above.  Optimism is another great quality, and was part of the reason I added Faith to my original list.  Faith and Optimism are two different qualities, but for the purposes here, I prefer Faith.  Again, Faith was not voted as a critical entrepreneurial quality.

The difference to me is that whereas Optimism is a personal quality or disposition to look at the world around you through a positive lens, Faith is a belief in something, even in the absence of any support or proof.  I tend to like the quality of Faith better for entrepreneurship from the standpoint that optimism can easily become a liability, whereas faith implies (to me at least), both a recognition that I could be wrong and  a search to prove I’m right.  So for me Faith is more proactive and forward-moving.

The Details

Systematic view, eye for details, stubbornness, helpfulness, logical

Are you an engineer by any chance?  I share your pain…

I like these, but I think they are just one set of means to achieve a goal.  I’ve met many an successful entrepreneur that was passionate, big picture and totally disorganized.  But somehow they make it work.  So while I’m inclined to agree with you on the importance of these traits, I think it’s more because I share many of them with you rather than a belief that they are critical entrepreneurial qualities.

Management

Ability to seek advise, Decision Making, Technology, Schedule Management, Prioritizing, Out-of-box thinking

As above, I think most of these are means to an end; management of your daily life and business I intended to be wrapped up in our quality of Independent.  But this got me thinking about that quality and how “independent” doesn’t really capture the requirement to do all those things listed in the comment.  I’ve been thinking something more like Self-Reliance is more true to the spirit.

Ability to seek advise I would file under Coachability, and out-of-the-box thinking we talked a bit about above as Innovation.

Humor

Perseverance, Humor, Self Efficacy, Enjoys change and challenges

You’ve got a point there.  If you don’t like a challenge, then you’re in for a long, unpleasant time as an entrepreneur.  I’m tempted to say this is covered by a combination of other qualities like Discipline, Hard Working, and Resilience, but then they really don’t capture that sense of change and challenge, do they.  In the end, I don’t think it’s so much about whether the entrepreneur actually enjoys the challenge, but is comfortable with it, can accept it and adapt to it.

From that perspective, I’m tempted to reach to the quality of Flexibility on our list.  Perhaps “adaptability” would be a better word?  Readers – give me your thoughts on this one.

Humor and self-efficacy are great traits, and entrepreneurs possessing these qualities are certainly much more fun to work with.  I can’t say they are more successful however.

I tempted to say Perseverance is covered by qualities such as Resilience and Commitment.  Personally, I do agree that this is a very important quality.  Entrepreneurs encounter so many roadblocks and challenges along their journey that continuing to push ahead is always a challenge in itself.

Experience

Educated, experienced, personable…

My observation has been that neither education nor experience is a requirement for being a successful entrepreneur.  Obviously both can help make the process smoother, but neither are required and both can be compensated for or supplemented with other team members.  I’m open for intense, raging debate on this one if you care, but those are my thoughts.  However, the entrepreneur also can’t be a complete, bumbling idiot, so Competence is on our list to at least partially cover what this commentator was trying to get at.

I do think personality plays a part and I feel that’s been covered with Charisma.

Connections

‘Connected – Networked’ Leader

Another great comment, but again one I think speaks to “nice to have” versus “essential”.  Bottom line in our incubator, we align success more around the quality of the concept and the drive of the founder.  Connections are great and many founders bring connections with them, there are just too many ways to supplement for this to categorize it as an essential quality.  In fact, part of my job, and one of the biggest value-adds we offer to entrepreneurs, is our connections throughout the region.

Many entrepreneurs also take the opportunity to greatly expand their connections through the constitution of a Board of Advisors early on, and then an official Board if/when they get funding.

Final Thoughts

These were all great comments and have really helped move along my thinking about critical entrepreneurial qualities.  We’ve uncovered some important qualities that weren’t on our original list, and re-thought some existing qualities.  I’ve also seen an interesting disconnect between some of the comments and qualities that would seem to match the comment that survey respondents did not vote as a critical quality.

So, while I’m not going back to the drawing board, I am going to do some work on the list of qualities.  In the meantime, I have one more small exercise I want to perform on our responses which I will post soon.  Then the last post in this mini-series, I’ll share what came out of my re-examination of the list, and where we go from here.

I’d like to thank you all again for the great comments to the survey.

(By the way – this one works for Leadership too!)

We’ve been talking almost exclusively lately on entrepreneurial topics, and in fact, I’ve got the updated Entrepreneurial Qualities survey just about ready to go.

Before we dive headlong back into a new survey with it’s results and commentary, I want to take a side trip into Personal Excellence.  With this post, let’s talk about how to build a strong foundation for your commitment to personal excellence.  Remember that commitment you made?

Sometimes it’s the simple things that are the best, and the foundation I want you to lay today with this post is no different.  In fact, your Mom probably told you this one years ago.  I don’t know where they get it from, but mothers are the true personal development gurus of the world, all you have to do is listen.

Just be nice.

“You’ve got to be kidding me, right Dave?”  Nope – that’s it.

Just be nice.

First of all, you think being nice is easy?  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Sadly, you will be in the minority of most of the people you interact with on a daily basis.  Certainly, not everyone is downright mean.  But not many are nice.  It’s hard to be nice.  It takes guts, and it will certainly take determination.  You’ll be called a pollyanna, you’ll be seen as weak by your boss, there are people that will probably not take you as seriously as they would otherwise. I’m sure there are a few readers out there shaking their heads a bit even as they read this.

Just be nice.

I have yet to see a situation that no matter how difficult, how contentious or chaotic, can’t be made a bit easier with a dose of kindness or consideration.  Anger will only escalate the situation.  While a kind word may not work miracles, there are times when it does.

Just be nice.

Let’s be pragmatic.  What is your goal?  Are you trying to build and grow your business?  Who do you think your employees will give 110% for day in and day out?  The boss who continues to demean or insult, or the boss who encourages and responds positively to challenge?  Are you trying to build or maintain healthy, positive relationships in your life?  You can bet your future that anger, guilt and defensiveness won’t get you there.  Consideration and kindness may not solve every relationship challenge, but it sure is a heck of a good start.

The fact of the matter is, and I’ll admit I’m biased on this, as we move through our personal and professional lives, a healthy dose of “nice” makes everything better.  It may take some getting used to and sadly it may seem to take more energy at first than the anger and frustration you are used to feeling throughout your day, but if you try it for a couple weeks you may find it actually makes things easier.

I’ve mentioned the topic of Personal Branding a few times before, but a recent post (along with a free download) on Chris Brogan’s blog got me inspired to write a primer describing my views of this concept.  I’ve been hearing the term more and more, maybe you have too, so I’ve been not only giving it some thought, but reading with interest the posts I can find on the topic.

In this post I’d like to share my thoughts on the two dichotomies of personal branding, offer an overview of what a personal brand is and how to create one, and offer some simple tips on getting started supporting your personal brand.

This is an evolving concept that I don’t think is fully fleshed out in anybody’s minds.  Therefore while I do believe this will be an informative, even helpful article for most of you, please remember that the topic of personal branding is a relatively new one so if it is a topic of importance for you, please do not rely solely on this article to form a course of action.

You may also notice that I have this post filed under the Leadership category.  Not so much a something you do to lead, but rather something that leaders should consider doing.  Likewise, even if you are not an strategic leader in your company, personal branding may still have relevance in your personal leadership development strategy.

As I have written this article, it has become apparent that there are more elements to even a primer on personal branding than can realistically be covered in one article.  Therefore, I think this will turn into a four part series.  Stay tuned for upcoming additions to this topic.  Also be warned this is a fairly lengthy article. 

Two dichotomies of Personal Branding

From what I’m reading my sense of the concept of Personal Branding shakes out along two major fault lines:

  1. First, I see two types of personal branding associated with two pools of individuals.  The first pool is of content creators, thought leaders, business visionaries, bloggers, etc.  These are people whose livelihood and reputation are largely tied to their “content” and online presence.  The second pool is those of us more functionally or operationally oriented. 
  2. The second dichotomy I see with personal branding is in the execution.  Creating and maintaining a personal brand for thought leaders is different than operational leaders.  While many of us may be thought leaders here and there in our own right, our career is probably more tied to “results” than “ideas”.  Therefore creating a brand is more closely tied with adding operational and strategic value than imagining and authoring ideas.  Yes, I know it’s not that simple, but for the purposes of differentiating between two approaches to personal branding it’s a distinction that will add value to our discussion here.

Creating a Personal Brand

As mentioned above, I believe the process of creating a personal brand is different depening on which pool you swim in: content creator or strategic leader / person of excellence.  If you are a content creator then personal branding is intimately tied to your online presence and perceived (and actual) contribution to the online community.  If you are the other side of the fence, then personal branding is more of a marketing exercise, although managing your online presence can be an important part of that exercise.

Content Creators / Thought Leaders

I’m not going to go too in-depth on personal branding for content creators in this post, since Chris Brogan basically has the topic nailed already.  If you’ve never heard of Chris Brogan, check out his website, and his About page.  Basically, he’s an aknowledged expert on using social media and technology to build meaningful relationships for business, organizations and individuals.

Chris recently made available for free download, an eBook on Personal Branding for the Business Professional.  (For those of you unfamiliar with the term “eBook”, it’s just the Internet’s buzzword for a short, topic-focused document in pdf format that is made available for download, usually for free, on blogs and websites). 

Now Chris has been doing this for years so I’d be a fool to argue with him; and anybody who knows me can figure out what’s coming next.  I’m going to be a fool and maybe not argue, but quietly suggest that the eBook should have been called Personal Branding for Professional Content Creators and Business Visionaries.  The suggestions in the book, and there are a lot of them, mostly focus in on establishing credibility and presence as part of an online community.

Don’t get me wrong – there is usefulness in there for all of us and if you are interested in the topic I would recommend you download it and take a look.  However, the focus of online presence starts early and is pervasive throughout the document.  Topics covered in this eBook include:

  • Why build a personal brand?
  • The technology of brands
  • Online listening
  • Passports, Outposts and Content
  • Conversation, Community and Face to Face
  • Elements of a Personal Brand
  • Passion

So, whether you are a content creator, business visionary, or simply fascinated by the topic and want to self-educate, I highly recommend you download this eBook and take a read.  I think other leaders that could benefit from this book would include non-profit executive directors looking to build a conversation with their constituencies, politicians looking to do the same, and perhaps educational and cultural institutions, among others.

Leaders / Persons of Excellence

As I mentioned, for those of us that fall in this category, I think personal branding is more of a marketing exercise.  Don’t get me wrong, technology and online communities can and should play an important part in that exercise, but they aren’t the sole focus nor the driving reason for undertaking personal branding.

An in-depth discussion of the entire process is out of the scope of this post (which is already longer than I intended).  So, for the purposes of this primer, let’s start with two essential steps of the personal branding process:

  1. Figuring out exactly what your “personal brand” is.
  2. Creating, communicating and supporting your personal brand.

For those of you having a hard time wrapping your head around the concept of “personal brand”, try thinking of it as the value you can offer employers (or groups, associations, friends, etc.).  Then think of of step 2 above as showing or proving to that prospective employer (or group, association friend, etc.) the value you say you offer really exists.

Defining your Personal Brand

Your personal brand is what makes you unique, what is the core value you offer, why should I pay you six figures to do this job versus the next applicant?  This is an evolving concept, but in very broad strokes, I see two flavors of personal brand: what you have to offer and what makes you unique.

What you have to offer

One of my jobs was at a fairly large international consulting firm.  Five of my years there were spent in business development and account management (read: sales).  Like many consulting organizations we were given standard company sales presentations.  A key slide in the presentation, and probably one in yours, was the Key Differentiators slide. 

The problem was that none of the key differentiators listed really were “key” or “differentiators”.  They sounded nice, things like “customer-focused”, “strategic partner”, and “results oriented”, but let’s be honest, every consulting firm said those things.  They may have been value adds, but they weren’t key differentiators.  We did have one key differentiator at the time, but because it was listed with all the rest, and wasn’t treated like the true gem it really was, I believe we missed a golden opportunity to leverage something no one at the time was really executing well.

So if your personal brand is of the what I have to offer flavor, think of it as your “true gem(s)”.  This may take you a while to get to as we’re all used to talking about our value adds and never really spend the time to get down to our core.  If you are on LinkedIn, take some time to go through your list of contacts and look at a good sampling of headlines.  A LinkedIn headline is the short, ten words or less self-description that appears right after your name on your LInkedIn profile.  If you’re still having trouble grasping the concept of a personal brand, LinkedIn’s headlines are a great example.

What makes you unique

Other people focus more on what makes them unique versus strictly what they have to offer.  This is a more creative play and I see these brand headlines more consistently from entrepreneurs, creatives, highly successful people, and also people just starting out in their career.  This type of branding is very effective for all these groups.

Especially for individuals just starting their career, a personal brand more oriented towards your personal uniqueness versus what you have to offer may be a good way to get around a relative lack of experience.  Just because you don’t have 20 years of experience on your resume doesn’t mean you don’t have unique, highly valuable skills or talents to offer an employer.

For creative folks, the notion of condensing themselves down into a couple “value-adds” will be an exercise in futility.  You just don’t think that way.  Rather, your view of yourself and the world is much more open and expansive, and it will be a natural exercise to create a personal brand along those lines.  I’ve been reading Chris Guillebeau’s blog The Art of Nonconformity for quite a while now.  Chris’ blog “chronicles my writing on how to change the world by achieving remarkable personal goals while helping others at the same time.”  It’s no wonder Chris’ LinkedIn headline is “Challenging Authority Since 1978.”

My personal branding experience

Personally, I’ve taken a hybrid approach.

I just recently changed my LinkedIn headline.  It used to be “Versatile Operations and Technology Leader”.  I’ll spare you the thought process I went through, but in the end I think most of that was value adds, not key differentiators.  Certainly this wasn’t a personal brand, there are thousands of people out there who could say the same thing.

So what did I change it to?  This is a work in progress, but I changed to “Business Chameleon and Technology Interpreter.”  I suppose you could argue these are value adds also, but I think this is starting to get to my true value.  Business Chameleon speaks to the fact that I’ve officially held just about every functional role you can in an organization, and those I haven’t held officially, I’ve either held unofficially or added significant value to.  Not everyone can say that.  I’ve also spent almost an entire career straddling technology and business and effectively communication between those two camps.  Not everyone can say that either.  So while I lose the title “leader” out of this headline, along with all the positive connotations, I feel this new headline does a much better job of communication my true gems versus just value adds.

Unfortunately, there is no magic to speeding up this process or helping you get started.  I’ll be writing some follow-up posts on this topic I hope will help if you’re having problems.  If you have specific questions, leave them via a comment and I’ll do my best to answer.

Demonstrating your Personal Brand

While I will be covering this topic in-depth in a future post, here are some simple ways to get started demonstrating your brand:

  • A picture is worth a thousand words they say, and nothing helps communicate your brand than seeing it first hand.  There are plenty of online sites that allow you to share documents and graphics as part of your resume.  I’m currently playing around with VisualCV, but you can also check out Brandego, BlueSkyPortfolios, and Careefolios.com.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is a tip solely for creative types, sharing a complex project plan, an employee handbook or an executive presentation, all superbly executed, can help reinforce your business brand visually.
  • Start your personal “brand strategy” examination.  I will post a step by step process for doing this in the near future.  In the meantime, start thinking about what you want your personal brand to represent.  What is essentially “you”?  What are the “true gem(s)” you have to offer?  If you don’t have marketing genes, and I find a lot of technical people don’t, then try this: instead of trying to hone in on your personal brand, start examining how you usually describe yourself to prospective employers and new business contacts.  Now start throwing away elements in common with more than a handful of others.  What are you left with?
  • Consider starting a blog.  If you are a thought leader, a creative type, or a business visionary, a professionally executed blog can help reinforce your brand.  If nothing else, you gain knowledge and experience with a technology you knew nothing about previously. 
  • If you’re not comfortable starting your own blog (or there are reasons why you can’t or shouldn’t), venture online and find out where people in your industry hang out.  Comment on those blogs and contribute to the discussion.  Prove you know what you are talking about.
  • Find a social network that matches your brand.  Join it and use it as a base to build and reinforce your brand.  My brand is business-focused so my social network of choice is LinkedIn.  Remember it’s not just about joining, but becoming active.  One of the best ways within LinkedIn to reinforce your brand is through their Answers section.  Find the categories that match with your brand and become active both answering and asking questions.  Try to get at least a couple “best” answers under your belt.
  • Make sure your resume reflects your brand and matches all the efforts you are putting into other channels. 

These ideas should get you started in the right direction.  As I’ve mentioned, I will have some follow-up posts on this topic forming what I hope will be a nice little series on Personal Branding.

In closing

I hope you enjoyed this primer on Personal Branding and I welcome your comments and observations.  Pleae stay tuned for follow-up articles containing more detail on the process of creating a brand and some ideas on how to support your brand statement.

This is my 100th official post to the blog!  I spent a small amount of time trying to come up with some sort of cheesy, bloggy way to celebrate, only to eventually decide most of the ways were, well, cheesy.  So I’ll just say that it’s been a lot of fun writing those 100 posts, and I’m looking forward to the next 100.  It certainly feels like the blog has found it’s legs so to speak, and I’ve got a couple surprises in store for the next few weeks I think you’ll enjoy.

With that introduction, there seems no better topic for post 100 than the 2009 version of my Entrepreneurial Qualities Survey.

This year’s survey builds upon the one I ran last year, both in content and approach.  (You can skip over to my recap of last year’s survey if you want to catch up.)  I’ve formatted this year’s survey to be more tightly focused on entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial support personnel, so it will be interesting to see if the results change any.  Also, I’m capturing just a bit more information from entrepreneurs (two questions), which should let us do some basic (read: unscientific) analysis of whether entrepreneurs from different disciplines value different qualities.

This year’s survey isn’t quite as wide open as last year’s.  This year I’m limiting feedback to three types of individuals:

  1. Entrepreneurs, of course
  2. Entrepreneurial support personnel
  3. Investors

Finally, I’d like to thank Niki for taking a preliminary look at the survey and giving me some great feedback.  Niki is a doctoral student at a local university focused on studying the science of entrepreneurship.

In honor of the 100 post milestone (and to test my social networking skills!), I am targeting 100 responses for this year’s survey.

Take the DCO 2009 Entrepreneurial Qualities Survey

Feel free to share this survey with anyone that falls into one of the three categories above.  If you received this post via E-Mail, simply forward along.  If you are reading this on the website, then use the green “Share This” button at the end of the post.  If you have me in a feed reader/aggregator, there should be an “Email this” link at the end.

I will keep you updated as to survey progress.  The sooner we get to the 100 response target, the sooner we can start looking at the results.  Thanks for all your help.