To Build Your Personal Brand For Your Consulting Services, First Stop To Think About Why Clients May Want To Hire You. Your Brand Should Fill A Definite Need.
You’ve identified what you can teach other people from your experience and expertise and you want to build a business out of this niche, with smart personal branding, right?
Take a moment to think why your potential clients may want to hire you. Usually, people hire consultants when they are in a dilemma and need someone with objectivity; or because they want some expert people they can brainstorm with; or they need someone who can bring in specialized skills they don’t have.
It’s all about them and their problems, and less about being impressed with you and your credentials. Your branding, positioning, and reputation are important only if they can help justify why clients should ultimately choose you to meet their needs.
At Solohacks Academy, we think too many consultants are obsessed with what to describe themselves as in their branding and taglines. They forget they have to say how they can fill clients’ needs. Forget who you are and see what they want. You’ll find your perfect branding.
1. Build your branding around “why” you do, rather than “what” you do, or “how”
Increasingly experts say that a branding has got to tell the world about your “larger purpose that will improve humanity in some unique way”. The world has changed. Your branding is no longer just a description of what you do differently.
“Why” you do something for a business is the story your consumers, investors or other people want to hear. They need to know if there is a grander purpose you work for than your own earnings, name and fame. They want to know whether there is room in your grander purpose for the upliftment of the world and other people in some inspiring way, including themselves.
For those who have not watched this renowned TED talk by Simon Sinek, it’s an absolute must-see. Simon Sinek is the proponent of the idea that “people don’t buy what you do, people buy WHY you do it”. Take a moment to watch this:
Notice these businesses mentioned below – they are those whose logos and taglines we know so well. But underlying their branding see how they describe their “why” propositions.
- STARBUCKS: “To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.”
- GOOGLE: “To organize all of the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
- AMAZON: “To be earth’s most customer-centric company and build a place where people can come to find and discover anything to buy online.”
- NIKE: “To do everything possible to expand human potential by creating groundbreaking sport innovations.”
The moral of the story is that the very idea of branding has changed and people now give you their attention only if you are a contributor to a larger purpose. Think big when you think of personal branding.
2. Find a clear, simple, and articulate way to explain what you do for your clients
As we have said above in this post, your branding has to be about how you espouse a larger cause, which also meets and fulfills your potential clients’ needs. Once you have got that positioning identified in your mind, you need a way to explain who you are, and what you do and why you do it. This explanation cannot be a lengthy one. People have no time to listen to your entire back story and your goals going forward.
So how do you find that clear, simple, and articulate way to explain what you do for clients, and why you do it? Let’s look at an example. Let’s say you are a consultant in peanut allergies. You are focused on Thai restaurants that use plenty of peanut-based foods. Your “why” is that you want to help these restaurants help their customers who have peanut allergies. How would you describe what your brand is about?
Here are three options. Which one do you think is the right way to catch a potential client’s attention?
- “I am a Thai food and peanut allergy expert, and I advise Thai restaurants, like yourself, on how to give other menu options to customers who have peanut allergies.”
- “I am an expert in peanut allergies – and people who have this problem often suffer at Thai restaurants that use many peanut-based recipes. So my clients are Thai restaurants like you, whom I advise.”
- “I advise Thai restaurants, like yours, on how to deliver alternate recipes for customers who have peanut allergies. I’m sure it’s a problem that you and your customers would love to have solved.”
In the first option above, it’s more about you being an expert. That’s not the best way to project your brand. In the second option above, you still start with who you are, but you at least show some empathy for Thai restaurants and their suffering customers. It’s a reasonably better way to explain your brand than the first option.
In the third option, you don’t mention your expertise at all. You don’t need to, because the fact that you “advise” on the problem speaks for your expertise. Your statement tells your potential client (the Thai restauranteur you are talking to) that you have a solution for the problem vexing him and his customers.
Notice here how the word “you” makes such a difference. You are not even talking of your target audience generally, but are specifically empathetic to the restauranteur you are talking to. You are also hinting that you know “his” problem is an important one for him and his customers. Chances are he’ll reply by saying “Yes, indeed, peanut allergies sure are getting to be a big problem to solve.”
This is the best way to get the potential client’s attention. It’s all in the focus. Your branding should never be about you and your expertise. It should be about the solution the client would be happy to hear and agree about.
3. Raise yourself above the competitive herd by both verbal and non-verbal cues
Your personal brand, as a consultant, exists in your mind, no doubt. You also want it to exist in the minds of your clients in the same way that you have planned your brand impact to be. The way you have envisioned your personal brand may be your cutting edge against the competition, and therefore important to be perceived correctly by clients.
Although you cannot directly control your clients’ perception of your brand, the exact way you plan it, you can hope to forcefully impact clients’ perception of your brand if you take a 360° look at all the communication cues you emanate. Identify all the many cues you project, including both verbal and non-verbal cues.
Verbal cues of branding include things that people see or hear physically from you that gives them a perception about who you are and what your caliber is. It is what you curate carefully and make sure to state about yourself. Non-verbal cues are the invisibly impacting parts of you – like your personality, the personality of your business, your honesty, sincerity, and authenticity, your charm and appeal as a person, your demeanor, your approachability, and empathy.
Many online consultants think they are judged more by their brand identity elements, their websites, their social media updates, and other such explicit material. They think these materials don’t expose their non-verbal cues so much. But that is not true. The language style and tone of voice you use or don’t use also says a lot about you. There is no formal line of demarcation between verbal and non-verbal cues. Even verbal cues give off non-verbal signals.
What you need to understand is that you may be wrongly evaluating only your verbal brand communication for consistency, coherence, and authenticity – whereas the greater impact on clients may come from the subliminal non-verbal cues your brand projects. Your verbal and non-verbal cues could be in harmony or they could be in dissonance.
So, when developing or refining your consulting strategy, take a holistic view of your brand. Create strategies and tactics that build towards a congruent experience.
4. Avoid being gimmicky – thought-leadership must be your route to memorability
There is an axiom in consulting circles, that many consultants don’t speak of openly, but still believe in deeply. They believe that, “It’s better to be seen as conservative and staid than to erode your credibility by being gimmicky or non-serious”. This is why when we envision a consultant in our minds, we usually think of a suited-booted person, with his tie just right, and his face betraying very little emotion.
It is true that consultants can’t afford to be seen as funny or flirty or frivolous, but the opposite to that is not to be so stiff-upper-lipped that your personality looks more like an automaton than a human being. Don’t we all appreciate an expert consultant who is also friendly, approachable, and empathetic? How does that square with staidness?
The opposite of being too casual is to be neither starchy nor mirthless. It’s about displaying thought-leadership as your principal advantage. Denise Brosseau describes what “thought-leadership” is:
“Thought leaders are the informed opinion leaders and the go-to people in their field of expertise. They are trusted sources who move and inspire people with innovative ideas; turn ideas into reality, and know and show how to replicate their success. Over time, they create a dedicated group of friends, fans, and followers to help them replicate and scale their ideas into sustainable change not just in one company but in an industry, niche or across an entire ecosystem.”
Does being a thought-leader affect the way you dress, or joke, or come across to your clients? Does it require you to be opening your mouth only to utter a wisdom-filled spiel all the time without any human side to you?
The thing that works is that in your first encounter with a client, you need some seriousness to permeate the atmosphere. Your potential client should not take you to be a flimsy or flaky person. You need to make an educated guess on how serious you need to be to make the client in front of you feel comforted by your air of self-assurance.
But beyond the first few seconds of the first encounter with a client, it’s your thought-leadership that is going to endure as the reason why a client will begin to trust you. At the minimum don’t be gimmicky in trying to break the ice, but then hold the client with the spell of your thought-leadership.
5. Be unwaveringly “on-brand” in every little or big thing you do or say, every day
Being always “on brand” means maintaining a certain consistency in your branding. What this does not mean is repeating the same message many times over to target audiences. Overdoing anything makes it forgettable, and part of the landscape.
“On brand” consistency is about always projecting messages that are “in line with the identity and values of your brand”. For example, let’s say we have a professional who is a smartly dressed, witty guy, at most times. But if you suddenly see him at a party, after one too many drinks, letting his hair down, and cracking raunchy jokes, it would be totally “off brand” – and the second impression of him would remain unforgettable, while the first impression of his usual businesslike demeanor would get wiped out from people’s minds.
Remember that your target audience is coming across you in many ways over repeated encounters. The more consistent your messaging, the more consistent your branding.
There are four big advantages to keeping “on brand” all the time:
- Being “on brand” begets you brand recognition. Your goal in maintaining your brand consistency should be to reinforce your swift recognition and enduring memorability. You don’t need to be repetitive in your messaging just to be “on brand”. You can find many different ways of being “on brand” across different messages on different devices, and yet there must be coherence in all the messages in a single direction.
- Being “on brand” helps build trust and loyalty. People trust you when you are the same person they expect you to be after the first meeting. They don’t feel comfortable seeing an entirely different you at every chance to come across you or your messages. Trust is an important factor when it comes to selling your consulting service. “Stability” and “reliability” of your brand personality offer clients great reassurance of your trustworthiness.
- Being “on brand” evokes positive emotions about your brand. When your behavior and characteristics are harmonious and steady, your brand personality comes across as dependable. This evokes positive emotions and reactions from your target audience. Over time, your clients will begin to associate the positive emotions they feel with your brand.
- Being “on brand” helps beat back your competition. Especially if your consulting business is in a highly competitive, saturated market, brand consistency can be crucial. Being consistent in your messaging can set your brand apart from your competitors. When customers have to choose between wavering brands and unwavering brands with clarity, the latter will always win.
6. Make yourself and your brand visible with consistency across all channels and devices
There is a very real problem that many consultants face when they try to fit their messaging for multiple screen sizes on multiple devices – and clients these days may come to you via their laptops, tablets, or at least two or three different mobile phones working on different platforms. How do you keep a consistent brand when you have to now and then condense or expand your content to allow the device-responsiveness that’s needed of all your messaging?
Most consultants don’t watch to see if their brand messaging gives off the same coherence, whether the messages have to be short and crisp and condensed – or whether the communication can be long, elaborate, and expanded. There are two ways that successful consultants manage this issue.
- One, since most clients are on mobile now than laptops, always aim to build your communication as mobile-first and then expand it outward to suit the larger screens of tablets and laptops. This is a good idea if you are building a new website and content, or you are re-jigging your communication to keep up with the times. When you start off building your brand communications for mobile-first, you are in a mode of beginning with condensed messages which can then get elaborate as they unfold out for larger screens. This is easier to do, than to build elaborate messaging for laptops first and then trying to reduce the content down for smaller screens.
- Two, most of us, though, don’t have the luxury of building mobile-first sites if our businesses have been around for a while, and we have begun by building our sites, brand identity, and content for larger screens. We then have a difficult task knowing how to cut down on messages, without losing the essence of our branding cues – or worse, we sound like a different brand altogether. To solve this dilemma, draw some red lines around your brand messaging. Decide on two or three priority brand identity cues that are non-negotiable, and cannot be left out when condensing content for small screens. This way, we will know with clarity what we can and cannot forego when we pare down our messaging for mobiles. We will remember to cut only the “flab” but not the “brand essentials”.
While identifying your non-negotiables for brand messaging you can be creative and innovative. See the example below of The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. They pared things down by changing the way they describe their logo. They now describe their logo as the “Responsive W”.
Having clarified that, they then re-created all communication with this W-shape line that doesn’t lose anything if it either becomes narrow or wide. That line may appear with or without the name of the museum. They have made that W-shape their distinctive logo, and thus made it capable of responsiveness to a whole host of likely size variations. See the images of their identity planning below.
Image courtesy: Web Designer Depot
7. Let there be no dissonance between your professional brand and your personal brand
Online, your personal brand is often seen first before your professional brand is seen and understood. Here are a few examples of how this happens, willy-nilly.
- When people arrive at new websites of professionals or their businesses, the most-read page is the “About” page. They clearly want to know who you are, where you come from, what you stand for, and why you do what you do, before they want to read what else you have to say. They want to see if knowing more about you as a person makes you more likable, and makes your content, therefore, more readable. They don’t want to waste time on the sites of those with whom they feel no potential for “connection” on a personal level.
- On almost every social media platform, you are allowed to create a “brand page” or a “company page” only if you first have a profile page. On the profile page, it’s all about you, the person. From that personal brand, another professional brand is allowed to emanate as a separate page. Social media networks are clever and they have solid reasons why they need their users to know people as personal friends first before they show any interest in the brand pages the person in the profile wants to put out. It’s the natural “evaluation process” online, and the social media platforms know this very well.
- In the physical world, people may see a product they like. They then examine the information the product puts out, and when they are convinced they are onto a good thing, they additionally also check who had made the product. In other words, the evaluation of the product brand is supported by the evaluation of the information brand of that product – and finally, sealed by the personal brand of the manufacturer. In the online world, we cannot see and fall in love with products in the same way. Most products are digital. Since digital products aren’t so easy to evaluate, people follow the exact opposite process as in physical life. They first evaluate the personal brand of a manufacturer of any product or service, then they evaluate his information product, and finally, they allow themselves to approve the digital product or service he offers. In all cases, the personal brand of a business owner – be he a manufacturer or a consultant – is the one most evaluated.
It, therefore, goes without saying that you cannot afford a poor evaluation of your personal brand if you want your professional brand to get a look in. Make your About page a great branding element. Avoid the temptation to tell your rags to riches sob story. Instead, show your thought-leadership here. Similarly, don’t disdain your profile pages on social accounts and concentrate only on your brand pages or company pages. Make your profile page (the first look in) a splendid ambassador of your brand. Online, people draw no lines between you the person, and you the professional. Especially, if you are a solopreneur, there is no difference between you the person, and you the professional at all.
8. Aim to build long-term respect and reputation, not just short-term competitiveness
It’s easy to be competitive in the short-term. All you need to do is to keep spying on your competition – and try to beat them in their latest ploys, step for step. They give discounts, you do too. They offer something new, and you do something like that, even if not the exact same thing. But think. How can you build long-term gains by using short-term competitive benchmarks as your weekly ideas-board?
Most often, competitiveness is over-emphasized at the cost of gaining long-term market respect. Notice how your competitor gets forced to throw money on short-term tactics if he is unable to beat the long-term respect you are building, where your customers hardly even notice the competitor and his antics because they are so hooked on respect for you.
Getting respect from others has a lot to do with self-respect. If you see yourself as an expert and reflect this, clients will see you as an expert too. If you are able to charge high fees for your consulting services, out of healthy self-respect, your clients will see nothing wrong with your prices. If you respect your analysis of emerging technologies, your clients will also respect the positions you take. Followers respect leaders who respect themselves.
There are three good ways to increase self-respect, so that you can also increase your clients’ respect for you:
- Isolate your competencies and showcase them. Self-respect grows not only by recognizing your strengths, but when you force yourself to create events for showcasing your strengths, you reinforce your belief in your own strengths. For example, if you pride yourself on great “diagnostic ability” of problems for clients, have a one-week online workshop when people can bring their cases to you and you are able to showcase your special talent. Or, if you are good with “team-development”, offer to include “team-training” in all your proposals to clients. Prove it to yourself and others will see it as proved.
- Feel easy to accept compliments. I remember a webinar where an anchor was introducing an expert as a guest speaker. The anchor was laying it on a bit thick in counting the credentials of the guest speaker. No doubt the anchor was justifying his fees for the webinar by showing what a special guest he had roped in. But the interesting thing was to watch the guest. Increasingly, the guest began to twitch and feel uncomfortable with all the praise. Clearly, he was unable to take so many compliments and his self-esteem began to wobble. If his ease with compliments was there, all he would have had to say was, ‘Thanks for that introduction and those very kind words.” Instead, he began to speak about how the anchor was biased in his favor as he was a long-time friend. Even if the anchor had overdone the introduction, he could have taken it in his stride without much fuss. The listeners could neither respect the anchor nor the guest.
- Your self-respect is always on test when it comes to your price tag as a consultant. That’s why it is always said that discounts on price should never be used as a tactic by consultants. Discounts devalue respect and expertise. They show that you are unsure how to value yourself and are market-driven on self-respect. Instead, find ways to give something extra for free on top of your services (like an ebook or a short course), and you’ll always look better for the grand gesture of generosity that can only come from healthy self-respect.
9. Leverage your time and productivity to spread your online impact more and more
How do you, as a consultant, use your time and productivity best to spread your brand impact more and more online? Fortunately, there is one simple time-tested way, and most expert consultants swear by the success of this one method. It’s called “blogging”.
People online don’t come to buy things, they come to get information before they buy. They like to educate themselves before buying. They like to hear the reviews of their friends and peers about any brands they are considering. They don’t want advertising from consultants and service brands. They want “information” and “knowledge”.
Given this climate of “information-seek” that happens online all the time, sales of consulting services is a result of that information-gathering. Sales becomes a by-product of the quality of information your brand puts out. Plus, after reading many of your articles and posts around a topic of interest, your readers grow to trust your word – and then when you make a purchase recommendation, and have the products to recommend, they become predisposed to accepting your word as an authority on that topic. They do as you say.
This method of marketing – called “content marketing” – is a direct antithesis to pushy hard-sell advertising. Content marketing is THE ONLY WAY anything can be sold online, because that is the nature of the online marketing beast. There is no other way people online will buy anything.
That’s why blogging is so important. Repeated and regular publishing of blog posts from you on your niche topic, gradually builds market trust in you as a subject authority – and then you can sell what you want to, when sufficient trust is built. In fact, as more and more trust builds, you can sell services at higher and higher prices. It all begins and grows with your blogging.
One more thing: if you build your loyal target audience before you build your products and services, your own subscribers and community of readers will suggest to you the kind of services they may like to buy. This way, if you get your ideas from your audience, you’ll never waste money making dud offers that have no demand. You’ll have a verified, solid potential customer base to sell to, because you tailored products to their taste. The more followers you have, the more accurate will be their feedback to you on what may sell well.
10. Stick to best-of-breed ethics – top-grade consultants never shortchange clients
More than in any other industry, in consulting, ethics and integrity matter a lot. It’s no wonder that if you visit the sites of apex bodies for consultants, there is usually an “ethics charter” to follow. If you are a consultant who is a member of such an apex body, the market believes that you will be practicing your business to the high standards set by these apex bodies.
I have once read a description of “consulting” that went like this: “If you’re not part of the solution, there’s good money to be made in prolonging the problem”. This is clearly a mischievous, unethical consultant’s point of view. This sums up to me why people get suspicious before hiring a consultant. It’s tough to quantify what attitude you’ll get for what you pay. There are consultants and consultants – and some of them have far less integrity than others. They work more for their own gain, and often that means prolonging the solution to a client’s problem, so they can milk clients dry before they get their solutions.
The conflict of interest a consultant faces between quickly solving a client’s problem versus prolonging his engagement with the client is beautifully summed up by Mohammed Nosseir in his article “Integrity Matters: The Importance Of Ethics In The Consultancy Business”:
Most consultants are usually talented and competent professionals who have advanced their knowledge and experience through intensive exposure to many diversified companies. Nevertheless, the consultancy dilemma is not about the knowledge that consultants convey, but more about the knowledge that they might not reveal to their clients.
The consultancy business is a double-edged sword, often involving consultants in a conflict between serving their clients to the utmost of their knowledge, and manipulating this knowledge to serve their own business interests. During any consultancy assignment, a number of milestones often occur that can either serve the client to perform better instantly, or be structured and shaped by the consultant to prolong his assignment. The catch here is that this is the consultant’s particular call; it is here that his personal ethics play a crucial role.”
What this shows us is that “ethics” is a personal call of every consultant. If you choose the less-ethical route, however, over time you will get shunned by the client crowd as someone not being truly in their interest. Short-term gains will erode your long-term brand equity.
So What Are Your Thoughts? Do Share!
This post is incomplete without your input. The community of Knowledge Commerce solopreneurs would feel galvanized to hear from you … so do share your thoughts on this topic with us, in the comments field below this post.
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