Manage personal brand like a porn star

There’s a lot being said about personal branding, and brand management. Turning your name and your message into a brand and an identity are key to recognition, respect, status and possibly even fame, and dare I say it, the path to fortune? And those kings & queens of personal branding would be?

Well porn stars, of course! But before we get all personal, we need to get, well .. personal, actually.

We’ve all heard people describe themselves as “rock stars”, “experts” and “pros”. But the fact of the matter is, they don’t get to ascribe such notable attributes — we do, assuming those people even deserve such epithets.

Details aside, the goal is to make your name synonymous with what you do. It’s about finding the right person. It’s about the ‘S’ word. We’re talkin’ specificity, baby!

So if you were looking for Wayne Smallman, then the chances are, I’d be at the top of that list. Or at least I hope so, anyway.

Personal Branding & Brand Management by ‘blogging

The goal of personal branding and brand management is to make your name synonymous with a certain phrase, usually the very thing you think you’re good at, or what you do.

For a porn star, that’s easy. If you’re Jenna Jameson, or some other sex star .. not that I know all that many (ahem!) then she’s going to be pretty happy if she gets Joe Blogs (no pun intended) finding her website on Google with the phrase: “nekkid female pornstar” or something similar.

For thee & me, the correlation needs to be similar to that, though for topics much more mundane, but maybe not any less colourful.

For me specifically, it might be a little more intangible, since I have an angle; over on the Blah, Blah! Technology blog, I take an irreverent sideways glance at technology. I rarely concern myself with the minutia of the technology, because there’s usually a ton of people out there doing that.

Wayne Smallman is all about technology trends and technology news. I look for the story behind the news. I look for the human angle to the technology. Or, I prognosticate with oft contrived predications about where technology is leading us.

While here on the Octane blog, I impart practical business advice in the guise of a story or an allegory.

If you’re a ‘blogger and you’re keen to build your own personal brand, then you’re going in the right direction, and Darren Rowse has some ideas on personal branding from a ‘blog:

“My own philosophy on personal branding is that it needs to be approached on two fronts – a big picture and a little picture one. On a big picture front one needs to think about the larger ‘picture’ that you’re wanting to paint of yourself. You might do this by thinking about the words that you want associated with your name for example. So someone like Guy Kawasaki you might associate the word ‘entrepreneur’ or Michael Arrington it might be ‘Web 2.0’”

That’s the bigger picture, which links in nicely with what I was harpin’ on about. But then it’s the smaller scale where the wheels can come off:

“On a smaller picture / micro level I think bloggers need to consider that every action that they take has the ability to add to or subtract from their personal brand: Every Blog Post, Every Comment, Every Instant Message, Every Email…”

Which could easily read: every indiscretion, every moment of weakness, every angry tirade, every snipe, criticism and moment of pretense.

So this is a question of managing your personal brand, which is about manipulating people’s perceptions of you, nudging their ideas of you towards something akin to your own view and opinion of yourself.

You’re basically looking to create your very own Reality Distortion Field, just like Mr. Steven P. Jobs.

Always remember that the search engines don’t lie, or at least not knowingly. So those indiscretions, moments of weakness and angry tirades will be squirreled away somewhere in the dark, dank, cold recesses of some cache store, waiting to be discovered.

Sometimes, the perception people have of you is so shot through, it’s just too tempting to walk away and leave well alone. Start afresh, maybe?

Even in times such as these, it’s a chance to attack the negativity surrounding your personal brand head-on and turn that sudden infamous notoriety into an opportunity, which Neil Patel over at QuickSpout explains:

“When people start slandering your name your gut reaction is probably to ignore it and hope it dies down. The problem with this approach is that it can lead to people that don’t even know you looking at you in a negative way. Instead of just ignoring the problem you should respond to them in an apologetic fashion and let them know you are listening to them and trying to fix the problem or issue that they have brought up. By doing this you are letting people know that you are listening which might start changing their perception.

If you have had people slandering your name in the past and you ignored it, go back and respond. It is never too late to try and fix your name.”

You cannot control what people think of you, but you can influence the variables a little, influencing their perception. Be hands-on and tweak, so to speak.

Want to build brand? Give them something to remember you by!

The porn stars are usually a generous lot .. again, not speaking from any personal experience. This is all accumulated knowledge gleaned from my more broadly-travelled nephews. No, honest!

The porn stars want your money. It’s that simple. And to get your credit card details flung over the electronic ether into their merchant bank accounts, they usually flash their white bits through the odd short video clip, or in a small selection of images. It’s the old Loss Leader trick. Very much tried & tested.

So the question is: what are your white bits? Where are they? And what is their value? Well, that’s for you to decide.

Two examples in the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) & SEM (Search Engine Marketing) biz immediately spring to mind, those being SEO Book and SEO Egghead. They both give away oodles of knowledge, insights and tricks of their trade on a near daily basis, as well as offering books (of the electronic and dead tree variety).

For my part, I flash my white bits in the form of my own ebook, The Beginner’s Guide to Social Media, which has enjoyed a healthy number of downloads.

Why do we do this? Because we’re building brand and then managing that brand even further by way of driving the visitor towards our books, which reinforce our attempts to build a sense of authority.

The successful guys get to stand up in front of strangers and talk, stuff like that. That too is an aspect of personal branding and self promotion. It’s actually one of the best ways to promote your brand. People get to see you and interact with you personally.

And finally, if ever there was any doubt that sex sells, let me widen your cultural orifice with a brisk exchange of social fluids, and watch the following video clip for the, err .. lowdown, so to speak.

This article was first published on Octane’s sister blog, Blah, Blah! Technology, in an article entitled: “Manage personal brand like a porn star


Questionable Antics on LinkedIn’s Q&A?

LinkedIn’s Q&A is a great way to get answers from some of the smartest business people in the world. It’s also an excellent way to demonstrate your expertise to those very same people. Sadly, not everyone is going to give you a straight, or even a polite, answer.

LinkedIn, the professional business network

In life, we live and we learn. The wise share what they know and help others avoid their own hard mistakes. And then there are those who choose to be unhelpful, egotistical and just plain ignorant. What was it I was saying about professionalism again?

“A huge salary is not a sign of professionalism. Nor is a insulting the competition, getting blind drunk in public, beating up your girlfriend, illicit affairs, gambling addictions, abusive behaviour or questionable TV appearances.”

Being openly hostile, ignorant, rude, stupid and generally annoying don’t count towards professionalism either. Case in point: the Q&A section on LinkedIn, sometimes littered with some very unpleasant replies.

So what is LinkedIn?

“LinkedIn is an interconnected network of experienced professionals from around the world, representing 170 industries and 200 countries. You can find, be introduced to, and collaborate with qualified professionals that you need to work with to accomplish your goals.”

Goals. Remember that word.

A few days ago, I answered the question: “What are the key criteria for making a business decision?“, posed by Gary Lennon, co-founder of Ideas2Reality.

Yes, the question is a little broad, but I was reminded of what my dad once said when asked: “How long is a piece of string?” To which he replied: “Half its length multiplied by two”. There’s usually an answer to even the most ambiguous question, which his actually wasn’t, it was just broad.

Gary replied to me personally, and thanked me for taking the time out to answer his question sensibly. I was just glad to help. However, he’d posted the question in several different areas on LinkedIn and the replies he got weren’t all as helpful as my own.

I wasn’t in the least surprised. I recently made my thoughts very clear, concerning the total lack of professionalism exhibited by some on the LinkedIn Q&A:

“If you don’t like a question in the LinkedIn Q&A, don’t answer. Smart arse replies show a lack of professionalism, plus you look stupid.”

As a professional, the Q&A on LinkedIn is a perfect venue to demonstrate your knowledge and expertise, not only to the people asking questions, but to everyone else besides. The good news is, idiocy, rudeness and belligerence are usually self-regulating; why should anyone consider you as an expert if you’re acting so unprofessionally?

Gary called me on Skype a couple of days later, to discuss a great idea he’s working on, directly related to the question. Fortunately, he was fine about some of the replies he got, and laughed them off.

But it was towards the end of our hour-long conversation when he said something that really struck a chord and conjured up a very clear image in my mind, and sort of put the LinkedIn Q&A into its proper perspective.

“We’re all just trying to move the ball along. We might not be there to see the end product, but at least we try!”

Or words to that effect. And in an instant, I could see the business playing field before me. Immediately, I began to see business as a game of football / soccer.

Our loved ones are collectively the goal keeper, there to keep the other side from taking the advantage, to control the pace of the game and to get the ball in play again, back up the field.

Our financial backers, business support organizations and the many, many support groups and business forums like LinkedIn are the defenders, each taking a turn at moving the ball forward.

Our business partners, senior management and directors are the mid-field, linking the play from the back and holding the attacking line.

We, the innovators, the doers, the creators and the people with the ideas are the strikers, stepping in and out of the wild tackles, dodging the attempts to bring us down and take possession of the ball. We press our advantage, aiming to make a Net gain.

Fans go wild…


9 steps to building a better biz tech’ workflow

Technology marches on. The rate of technological progress increases all of the time. How we react to this change varies from the hopeful to the outright hostile. But what if there’s a new technology that could improve your workflow?

To those like me, technological change is both inevitable and usually for the better. For some, the changing face of technology is a barrier.

Are barriers to new technology all in the mind?

So can we say that mindset is a barrier to the uptake of new technology? This was the question put to me recently, where my reply was published as a centre spread in the event organizer publication.

The common perception (and by extension, a common misconception) is that technology is something new. No, technology is as old as the first stone wielded to crack a nut:

“You see, the perception is that technology is new stuff, like computers, energy-efficient light bulbs, high-speed trains, space flight, nanotechnology, genetics, crazily tall buildings and stupidly long bridges.

When in actual fact, technology is glazed drinking mugs, the three field system, mass-produced cloths, glass windows, zip fasteners, the bow & arrow, central heating and the printed word.”

And the events industry is by no means an exception to such mental barriers, as I noted in the featured article:

“It’s not that people resist change for no reason, it’s that the resistance comes as a result of there not being compelling enough reasons to do things differently.”

There’s several ways of looking at this issue:

  • having looked at the technologies available, only to discover few if any are an appropriate fit, or replacement of those currently being used;
  • not having looked at the available technologies in enough detail, to determine their benefits;
  • fear of technology and change itself.

It’s easy to say people are lazy or ignorant, but it’s not nearly that simple. Once you’ve got yourself a workflow, it’s a brave person who risks the productivity of their business to find new and better ways of doing things.

New technology ideas. Same old business problems

This becomes even more of a concern if you’re a business with employees. The potential for short-term disruption might be more expensive than the gained benefits over the same period. This is always a challenge, for any business.

Scale that up for multinationals businesses, like a leading client of mine who’re in the process of moving over to Microsoft SharePoint, and the training costs alone would make you wince, not to mention actual implementation, technical support, or the cost of the software itself.

Having seen how I’d recently re-built my entire workflow around Marketcircle’s Daylite CRM package for the Mac, a client of mine, PR and communications professional Emily Cagle decided to buy an iMac and download a trial version of Daylite. This is fine if there’s only the one of you, as is the case with my client and myself.

There are those brave souls who abandon paper and pens and even the comfy confines of Microsoft Excel. A couple of years ago, I developed a web application for Premier UK, an events management specialist based in the West Midlands. This was a complete departure for them, and an exceptionally brave and bold move, too. Obviously not for everyone.

But if you’re a bigger company, what’s the solution?

Building a better workflow

Whenever I offer advice, I do so from my own point of view; what would I do if I were in their situation? If you’re keen to try out a new technology in your business, it’s essential the process be as real as possible, while minimizing the chances of their being major problems along the way:

  1. make sure that whatever new technologies you choose will link into and integrate with your business in the same or a similar way to the ones they’re replacing;
  2. whether it’s software or hardware, do some research and find out what other people think;
  3. if it’s a software-based solution, see if there’s a trial version available;
  4. identify a low priority / low cost project that doesn’t have a strict deadline;
  5. to make the experience as real as possible, engage with the customer / client and get them on your side, maybe with a financial incentive for them to be a Guinea pig;
  6. make sure you have access to all of the support staff / resources you’re going to need when things go wrong, because there’s a very good chance they will;
  7. document your every action, so you or anyone else can re-trace your steps;
  8. be sure to involve at least one other member of your team, to ensure the knowledge you’re acquiring isn’t all in one place;
  9. compartmentalize each process and measure the amount of time taken, then compare to your present workflow.

Of course, each business is different, so it’s as well that you write down your existing process first, making sure your leap of faith isn’t going to result in the loss of some key aspect of your workflow.

We all want to make more money. Ideally, we want to make more money while making less effort. By building a workflow based around more efficient technologies, you’re heading in the right direction.


The pros and cons of staying secure and blocking spam with a contact form

So you’ve got a website! Now what? If you want to connect with your visitors, you’re going to need a contact form. But what are the security advantages and disadvantages associated with a contact form?

I’m sure you, like me, have had your fair share of spam email; people trying to sell you everything from prescription drugs to watches. Worse still, some of these offers will probably be coming through your companies contact form, which is both annoying and a time waster.

Securing response forms with a CAPTCHA

OK, I confess, this is a buzzword. After everything I said about buzzwords and jargon being a pain, I go and do this! But, there’s a a very good reason.

There is a way of preventing a good percentage of the unsolicited email you receive, and it’s a security feature you can add to your contact forms. It’s called CAPTCHA, which stands for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Human Apart. If you go to the contact page of the Octane website, you’ll see one in action.

Manually submitting contact forms

However, CAPTCHAs aren’t a silver bullet, or some kind of cure-all. Because of the various tools I use, I can see where people come from before they send me a message via my contact form.

The vast majority of the spam I get is from India. So rather than this being some automated system trying and failing to complete my response form and navigate its way around the CAPTCHA, it’s a real person at the other end. That’s a problem you can’t solve with software alone.

However, some feel having a CAPTCHA on your response forms might be doing more harm than good. As an example, a recent body of research shows that CAPTCHAs have a measurable effect on conversion rates:

“From the data you can see that with CAPTCHA on, there was an 88% reduction in SPAM but there were 159 failed conversions. Those failed conversions could be SPAM, but they could also be people who couldn’t figure out the CAPTCHA and finally just gave up. With CAPTCHA’s on, SPAM and failed conversions accounted for 7.3% of all the conversions for the 3 month period. With CAPTCHA’s off, SPAM conversions accounted for 4.1% of all the conversions for the 3 month period. That possibly means when CAPTCHA’s are on, the company could lose out on 3.2% of all their conversions!”

Those figures do certainly offer pause for thought. But it’s also worth mentioning this is a relatively small study group, and I have a feeling that the type of visitor could play a major part in conversion and abandon rates.

Respondr response form script

Because I got sick of relying on other people, I wrote my own response form script, called Respondr, which you’ll find being used here on Octane, as well as on the Blah, Blah! Technology blog, and several clients of mine.

Rospondr is free to download, and if you’re a web developer, it should be easy enough for you to install and configure. Rospondr also includes a built-in CAPTCHA, which can also be configured.

In the time I’ve been using CAPTCHAs, I’ve seen several people get stuck with them, but very few have abandoned them. My feeling is, people know why they’re being asked to enter a security code, because they’re just as sick of unsolicited mail as I am.

But if you are concerned about people abandoning your contact form, make sure your telephone number is near by, so they can call you direct.

Masked passwords versus usability

I’ve always disliked masked passwords. What’s a masked password? It’s any text field on a contact form that turns all of the characters you’re typing into bullet points. Let’s face it, if you can’t see what you’re typing, how can you be at all sure you’ve typed the right thing?

Recently, usability expert Jakob Nielsen weighed in on the subject of masked passwords:

“The more uncertain users feel about typing passwords, the more likely they are to (a) employ overly simple passwords and/or (b) copy-paste passwords from a file on their computer. Both behaviors lead to a true loss of security.”

This is a problem for both new and seasoned web users alike. As a web developer, I don’t use masked password form fields. If a client asked for them, I explain why they’re such a bad idea, who’s positives are massively out-weighed by the negatives.

If you’re worried about people looking over your shoulder, that’s a people thing and not something software can get around. At the very least, if web developers are going to use masked passwords in their response forms, they should include a little check box which enables and disables it, to give the user the option.

Conclusion

Ultimately, if you choose to use CAPTCHAs or masked passwords on your company website, it’s about balance; are you doing the right thing by your customers / clients visiting your website?

And knowing your audience is essential, which is why I highly recommend you track the visitors to your website, to help widen that knowledge.


Of projects, payment and planning

In business, it’s often the basics that we get snagged up on. I’m a web designer first and foremost and a businessman second. But it’s the criticality of your business that can usurp your day-to-day plans, throwing your future into doubt. A good example would be billing clients — but it needn’t be that way.

A while ago, I had to write out a set of terms & conditions. In all the years I’d been in business (Octane celebrated it’s tenth birthday in June), I’d not given serious thought to such things, largely because there’d never been a real need. But one particular client project changed all of that.

Even though the final stage of the project had been demonstrably complete, the client insisted on additional unscheduled activities being complete first before the final invoice being issued.

When the final invoice was issued, they were shocked by the cost. But why? Because these additional activities weren’t planned for, within the scope of the project, I was essentially supplying estimates on a daily basis. So over time, the client had lost track of the amount of work they had requested.

What we had was a classic case of “mission creep“, where a project has expanded beyond its original goals, often after initial successes.

I’d always been mindful to invoice as often as a project would allow, for two reasons:

  1. to mitigate cash flow problems, and;
  2. to fend off the damage delayed or none payment can cause.

Mitigating the cost of “mission creep”

Well, this one client project made me think again about this policy. As a rule, I have invoice breakpoints, which can be better explained by quoting straight from my terms & conditions:

“Our standard practice is to divide projects into separate stages, with each stage being billable. However, stages may be billed prior to an agreed milestone if the cost of the stage exceeds £2,000.00 or a cost breakpoint previously agreed between the client and Octane Interactive Limited is met.”

This way, we limit the prospect of any one stage within a project running on further than it should. And because we agree these terms & conditions up front, me using this condition as a fall back later within the project shouldn’t come as an unwelcome surprise to the client.

The other advantage to billing often is that you give your client a clear insight into just how much each stage of a project costs, and how much of a commitment of work that stage of the project is / was.

By encouraging your client to pay in stages, they’re making a major financial commitment, which then helps them to work towards completing a project with you, rather than just abandoning it and walking away, owing thousands, thinking that they have no financial liability.

Once a client is happy that the progress you’ve made is consistent with the agreed stage, they’re endorsing your progress with a financial seal of approval.

Because of what I do, it’s often very easy to demonstrate to a client the progress being made. I can often grant them access to any given website or web application during the various stages of its development.

In fact, I often encourage clients to begin using a website or web application (even if only for internal purposes), to trigger feedback, and for them to become comfortable with their project.

I’m sure you can find similar examples within your own work process.

In this current economic climate, it’s imperative that we all work together and not apart. For my part, I’m actively working on innovative web applications than can help my clients save money during the recession.

Hopefully, this advice may help you start a new conversation with your clients that could help stave off financial problems in the future…