Harnessing the power of the one-man brand

Self-employed individuals can strengthen relationships with consumers and add value to their services by building a personal brand. The first step is to think of yourself as a business.

If you don’t ‘brand’ yourself when you’re self-employed, your capacity to be your own business and make good money is diminished. That was the message I took from a presentation at the Pan-Asia small business conference in Macau in November.

The presentation by Dr Paul Temporal of Oxford University explained how successful global companies create and maintain brands. More importantly, he identified precisely what a brand is. The messages Paul was delivering are as applicable to self-employed, small business people as they are to large businesses.

Why ‘brand’ yourself? According to Dr Temporal, successful branding increases the price that people are prepared to pay you. That’s a pretty good motivation. You might have great technical skills in providing a service or product, but if you successfully brand yourself, people will pay you more!

What is a brand?

It’s not a slogan or a logo. It’s a relationship built around trust, reputation, quality, friendship and loyalty. To quote Paul Temporal: a brand is an "experience in the mind of the consumer".

Big companies go to a great deal of trouble to build and maintain this. For them, it’s a challenge because every aspect of their business – especially the behaviour of every person in the business – determines the brand.

Temporal gave lots of examples. Disney, for example, makes movies and runs theme parks. That’s what they ‘do’ but it’s not what they ‘deliver’ to the consumer. Rather, Disney delivers wholesome family fun. That’s their brand; that’s what consumers pay for. But to achieve that, all the people who work at Disney must reflect that in their behaviours and actions. That requires major organisational focus and application.

But for small business people, even self-employed sole traders working on their/our own, all we have to do is orient our own mind and actions toward being a brand. The trouble we have is thinking of ourselves as brands.

However, by taking this mental step, we can become capable of clearly defining ourselves to our customers and achieving more business at a better price.

Take, for example, a self-employed photographer I know – one who specialises in photographing houses for sale. She’s a great technician and is highly sought after by real estate agents. But she’s much more than a great photographer. She’s punctual and arrives stylishly groomed with estate agents when doing a job. She has warm body language and chats in a supportive manner with homeowners as to how to best present each house. She has made herself a brand. She’s part of the selling process of the real estate agents and makes them look good to their clients.

This photographer has achieved this brand positioning over several years. She’s followed the relationship-building steps that Temporal says are required to build a brand. This starts with creating awareness (of you), providing information (about you), building respect, then friendship, followed by trust then loyalty, culminating in a partnership.

These are steps that anyone takes to build normal, quality relationships with people. What’s great is that they are the steps required in business, particularly when you are self-employed. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a cleaner, a courier, someone who repairs bicycles, working in a factory or in the professional areas of IT, selling, engineering and so on. The technical things that you ‘do’ are value-added when you brand them.

Branding is a key function of being in business because when you are self-employed, you are a business. This is something that government bureaucrats (particularly tax officials), employees in big businesses, and most economists and have huge difficulty understanding and accepting. They hold to the commonly accepted idea of a ‘business’ as a command-and-control type pyramid of employees.

They can ‘see’ a business when someone is running a shop, or being a plumber. But if it’s someone who provides ideas or services or trades – or particularly if they have just one client – they have difficulty thinking of that person in the same way.

But as societies have developed, the rise of self-employed people has disrupted that concept. People (on their own) can be and are businesses.

For those of us who are self-employed, we must take that extra conceptual step. If we are to really succeed, we need to do conceive of ourselves as brands. If we can do that, we’ll be better business people, adding value to society and to ourselves.

Ken Phillips is executive director of Independent Contractors Australia and author of Independence and the Death of Employment.

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