Personal Branding: Are You @GaryVee or The Stealth Bomber?


Say something.


[Editor note: This post is related to the article "Founder to CEO: Mastering the Unnatural" that I wrote for Entrepreneurs Unpluggd. They share entrepreneurs' stories and advice to help you build your startup. Check them out!]

This is a quick post about branding. Personal branding. I’m not going to cover the “what” of personal branding, i.e. tools, techniques, etc. Instead, I’m going to talk briefly about the HOW. Use this as a quick gut check on where you are with your own personal branding.

Let’s talk goals first. Are you looking to get a lift in your job search and networking? Become a better thought leader in your space of learning and expertise? Get the word out about your new startup? The main question you must constantly ask yourself is, “What am I comfortable with out in the wild?” For some, it’s a series of baby steps, walks or skips. For others, it’s big leaps at every turn. Virtually all of us are looking for the same thing. We want our message to be seen and heard by people who care.

Most of us will fall somewhere in the middle of these two approaches, blend them at times, depending on the challenge or opportunity that’s in front of us. This is practicing situational awareness. I’m fairly new to personal branding and admittedly still finding the right mix. And that’s ok. The problem comes when your goals, expectations, and aspirations are out of alignment with your approach. For example, if you’re a soft-spoken entrepreneur and have big, lofty expectations for your idea in the marketplace you want to seriously consider turning up the volume on your personal branding even if it takes you out of your comfort zone.

Now, this doesn’t mean you will instantly gravitate to either extreme outlined below. But it does mean that when you decide to say something big, you should consider how big you want to say it. You’ll need to eventually put most of your personal branding chips into one of these two pots.

The Stealth Bomber

You’re a bit of a lurker. You smartly poke around different environments and platforms making incremental gains in building up your sphere of influence and network. You might even take center stage sometimes. Not a bad play. When played right, this strategy allows you to fly under-the-radar but still be visible when you need to be. You’re usually well-connected. It’s also handy for using the element of surprise when the right opportunity presents itself. You strike when the iron is hot, and do so decisively.

“…featuring low observable stealth technology designed for penetrating dense anti-aircraft defenses; it is able to deploy both conventional and nuclear weapons.” — The Stealth Bomber

Personal branders should always strive for congruence. How you say something should align well with how you actually are — your authentic true self. Let’s say you’re known as somebody that doesn’t speak up much, but when you do, you do so confidently and decisively. Your personal branding should reflect this. That’s an example of being congruent. Conversely, if the same person is all over the map and offers no conviction in their personal branding, they are out of alignment with their true authentic self — and it will show. This is where being a stealth bomber can blow up on you. Let authenticity be your watchword with this approach.


If you follow social marketing trends and aren’t familiar with @GaryVee of Vayner Media and Wine Library TV, get on Twitter or YouTube right now.  He advises some of the biggest consumer brands in their world on their customer engagement and marketing strategies. What sets him apart is his ability to put himself virtually/completely out there for mass consumption in his personal branding. It’s an integral part of his business branding too. This is a far cry from the stealthy approach outlined above. This approach requires a unique set of attributes, featuring thicker-than-concrete thick skin, laser-like focus of message, and less than zero personal inhibition. You must be comfortable in your level of exposure out in the wild being somewhere higher than the moon and stars.

“…featuring thicker-than-concrete thick skin, laser-like focus of message, and less than zero personal inhibition.”

I think you get the point with this approach. You’re putting your personal stamp on just about everything you’re putting out to the world. And you’re doing it in a very BIG and memorable way. If you buy into this approach, you are telling the world you’re confident that your message will persuade them to move in your direction.

The biggest difference between this approach and the previous one? In the @GaryVee approach, you’re putting all your chips into this pot, ALL the time. There is very little, if any, filter when it comes to your strength of conviction. Congruence is equally important with this approach to personal branding. But if you currently fall into this camp or are contemplating it, chances are you’re already the type of person that can pull this off.

Your Homework

To get you warmed up and inspired for how you’ll tackle personal branding in the New Year, watch this short video on marketing by the late Steve Jobs. In it, Mr. Jobs explains that ‘this is a noisy world, be clear on what you are about.’ It will challenge you to think differently about what you are currently doing. To say nothing is no longer an option.



Crack Your Creative Code


It’s your code.


[Editor note: This post is related to the article "2 Must-Have Habits for High Value Networking" that I wrote for Entrepreneurs Unpluggd. They share entrepreneurs' stories and advice to help you build your startup. Check them out!]

Creativity is the spark plug to your entrepreneur engine. It doesn’t matter where you are in life or what you’re doing for a living. I’ve often been asked “why are you always coming up with these crazy ideas?” Does this sound familiar to you too?

If you find yourself in this camp then you absolutely understand that your own creative process is filled with lots of a really bad or “out there” ideas at first; and then over time they become refined to the point of sometimes being insanely good. There’s no secret to this process. In fact, most who practice it plead ignorance. They’re actually right. This idea was captured in a great quote I found by the late Steve Jobs:

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. [via BrainyQuote]

Code Your Dots

There’s a sea change going on in the world right now. Information is so readily accessible to anybody, at any time, and it moves at lightening speed. This is taking our lives by force and making it necessary, not just optional, to think more creatively in our endeavors. What’s the point of being creative if we all have the same information? Think for a moment about the idea of connecting things — those THINGS are the dots of your life and experiences. And only you have access to how they all relate to your view of the world. You own that code. That’s your edge.

There’s a cool hashtag campaign happening over at Fast Company called #genflux. I encourage you to check it out.


There’s a conversation going on there about what talent looks like today. It’s an important conversation. Especially, if you find yourself moving in your career or building a company. I personally don’t think it costs you anything extra to be more creative. All it takes is connecting a few dots to create some new things. And you don’t need a certain look, job, title, or any permission to connect the dots and unleash the creativity within. It’s all right there.

Why Your Redesign Just Failed


Beautifully maintained.


What’s the #1 reason most organizations want to redesign their website? At some point the law-of-new-shiny-objects kicks in and someone in charge decides an “updated” look and feel is needed. The site is ugly and outdated, therefore it’s not producing any results. A new redesign is worked and launched, the hour glass is flipped, and the count down to the next redesign begins. The truth is redesigns have a high probability of failure within the first two to three months, sometimes sooner.

A fresh coat of paint, a little nip/tuck, or a make-over does not equal success. Better serving customers and generating more leads does. This is ALL that matters, and the rest is just window dressing. Making it as easy as possible for a customer to do business with you is the essential #JTBD.

Creating vs. Maintaining

So, why then is this type of thinking perpetually missing from the strategy? One idea is that maintaining something is now perceived as harder than creating something. And because most organizations aren’t confident they have the resources and expertise to maintain, the strategy becomes how long they can get by with what was created. This is why so many redesign projects are front-loaded with every ounce of cool imaginable. But don’t be fooled. A maintenance strategy is both attainable and profitable when done right.

At Green Tie Marketing (disclosure: I work with this agency), we’ve learned the marketplace has a big education gap when it comes to understanding how to manage their online strategy over time. It’s not for a lack of smart and dedicated, mission-driven people, or even budget for that matter. These are the caliber of clients we prefer to work with, and they inspire us everyday. It’s really about how they’ve traditionally defined success in their organization, and how that mindset has bled into how they define success in the online channel.

We find most clients are more than strapped for time and resources. So, everything becomes time-boxed — i.e. X needs completing by this date, Y event is happening on that date, and Z can’t begin until we’re done with X and Y. Think about a component of a larger strategy, like a redesign, and how it looks in this context. The thinking often becomes ‘if we can just get something new up there, our job will be done. Until the next time.’

This is the challenge we see with the redesign as THE strategy. All the perceived value and return on the investment is tied up in the creating not the maintaining. The reality is that marketing teams that invest in a specialist, whose sole job is to consistently refine and execute the online strategy achieve high levels of success and return. And when they outsource to an online marketing partner (if they lack the in-house specialist) they achieve even higher levels of success and return for as much as 25% the cost of an FTE. Maintaining a strategy requires laser focus, and for that you need dedicated experts that can guide and execute.

Deliver the goods, consistently good.

Let’s look at a couple extreme examples to illustrate the point of focus and execution. Have you seen craigslist before? How about Drudge Report? I love bringing up these two examples because you don’t have to know ANYTHING about website design to understand that their visual style is epically craptastic! But they do one thing better than most beautifully designed sites on the Web; and that is for years now they keep chugging along and delivering the goods. The results.

According to their site, CL has about 30 people curating, monitoring and approving content at any given time across 700 local websites in 70 countries. In the US alone, about 60 million people use the service each month. At Drudge, it’s a smaller staff (about 3-4) and their headline content is highly curated by its editors. The design of one of the most popular political news sites “remains entirely written in unscripted HTML with a mostly monochromatic color scheme of black boldface monospaced font text on a plain white background [via Wikipedia].” And Jason Fried of 37signals once called it “one of the best designed sites on the web.”

Now, this isn’t a recommendation to suddenly ditch your brand identity and personality in favor of designs like these. But the examples are living proof that the most critical piece of your online strategy is not in the creating but in the maintaining. Consistent focus over the long-term. Don’t undervalue it. If anything, over plan for it.

You bought a new wardrobe of clothes, wore them once and then neglected their up-keep. You bought the gym membership and never had a set schedule for going. You started a new diet but still kept the bad stuff sitting in your fridge or in your pantry. When you decide to pursue a redesign, make sure you have put in place the right engine for ongoing success. Otherwise, you’re just another pretty website. Until the next redesign.



Let’s Sprint, Then Party


Launch party? We’ll be there.


After reading Tim Farriss’ highly engrossing article “Always Be Closing: Y Combinator and The Art of the Pitch,” it got me thinking about how entrepreneurs spend their days/weeks in a startup environment. If you haven’t read Tim’s article you’re missing out. Be sure to fire up the Pandora and set aside a half hour. It’s a great behind-the-scenes account of a day at Y Combinator. Seriously, it’s worth it. If for anything, an always entertaining Alec Baldwin clip…

To unearth the quote that’s the lynchpin for this post I’m writing here it involved doing a keyword search for an f-bomb I remembered seeing in the article. Because it was that compelling and memorable. Tim writes:

Two days before, at the dinner, Drew Houston, the founder of Dropbox—summer of 2007— had been the guest speaker. Afterward, he told Graham there was something else he had intended to say about successful startups but hadn’t gotten to: “They don’t fuck around, right? The startups that succeed, they don’t go to meet-ups, they don’t run around talking to boards of advisers, they just write code and talk to customers, right?” This is Graham’s oft-repeated mantra, too. Write code and talk to customers.

Sure, there are meetups and events that could prove beneficial to your startup. There are recruiting opportunities (sometimes, but not always), potential first customers (really the only event you should probably never miss), hot investors (if you’re doing the right things they will find you), and others in the startup community who will no doubt tell you again just how awesome your idea can be.

Write code. Talk to customers. Have fun.

There is nothing more important to your startup, especially in the early stages. Fortunately, most people can realize instinctually when they’ve been hitting the startup circuit a little too much and need to get back to work. I’m sure the founder of Dropbox had plenty on his calendar when scaling his business coming out of Y Combinator. The point of it all is really focus on execution first, and then be strategic about the remaining time  you have and where to spend it.

One founder I’ve worked with split up the time we spent week-to-week attending functions. That’s a great a strategy. Translation: If you’re cramming down on a sprint with your development team, send the biz dev team instead. A strong startup community has tons of opportunities and resources at an entrepreneur’s fingertips. Choose wisely, time is precious.



How Deep is Your Bench?


Stay balanced. It’s a marathon out there.


I live in a perennially mediocre professional sports town. Every year ‘if only we had X, we could be Y’ seems to be the strategy for producing a quality product. This is the typical refrain from fans to front office to media pundits looking for a solution. The football team, for example, suffers from a perpetual cycle of good offense/bad defense one year, and then bad offense/good defense the next. I heard a few people in my neighborhood lamenting the team’s most recent loss. The conversation went something like this:

They didn’t have their two best players on defense playing in the game.

Yeah, they have one of the best defenses in the league when those guys play.

I hope they get healthy soon.

What struck me about this exchange is it’s almost EXACTLY what I heard a year ago about the team’s offense after a recent loss.

I’m a big believer in lynchpins, in missing pieces to the larger puzzle. Getting to the core of what’s needed to help the equation. Hopeful inertia, effervescent apathy, a beautiful river of denial – as comfortable and temporarily satisfying as they can be — are all just clever ways to avoid the practical realities. A lynchpin is something that holds together a bigger thing. The physical definition is a pin or fastener that prevents a wheel from sliding off its axle. When it feels missing, it can be tempting to not drive too fast or drive only on certain roads so the wheel won’t come off.

I’m not suggesting any of this is easy. We are all faced with these certain, nagging challenges. There may not be a perfect solution. But one place to start might be to first ask if there is an opportunity to throw a change-up  at the challenge that faces you.

Start building up “Your Bench”

You aren’t learning anything new at work? Start expanding your creative pursuits outside of work. Your friends drain you of positive energy? Start taking chances on meeting new people. You need a confidence boost? TRAVEL. There are tons of areas on Your Bench that you can start building up. It could be new learnings, it could be new support systems. The point is you’re trying something different, and moving beyond the constant getting-of-the-thing-that-will-get-me-the-next-thing  cycle of thinking.

For years, I spent way too much energy on trying not to be typecasted. Some days, I wanted to be the best athlete. Other days, the best student. Then one day I stopped focusing on the X/Y rat dash. I just started taking better care of myself. This rising tide lifted all my boats. I even joined a gym called Sound Mind & Body (free plug).

Your Bench completes the whole package of who you are, what you’re capable of, and where you spend your time. Your depth as a person. And the PROCESS of building it up for yourself could very well be the lynchpin for overcoming some of life’s greatest challenges.



Startup Series: How to Stop Fumbling Around and Finally Launch Your Business

As you start your business you may have a ton questions or may just being feeling overwhelmed.  Perhaps you have a business idea but you are still in the ‘dream’ stage or in the ‘I haven’t made money… yet’ stage. You may be feeling uncertain, and perhaps a little lost, about whether or not your idea will work.  Things have changed a ton since the days of going to college and getting a secure job.

People want to work at something they are passionate about and that gives them a purpose.  People also want to create their own schedule and lifestyle.  Maybe you fall into both of these categories and see others ‘making it’.  Now, it’s time to turn your idea into a business.

As you work toward your business remember your idea may change, grow and develop into something else along the way and that’s fine.

First, know that your idea is not the first idea of its kind.  It’s been done before, sometimes poorly and sometimes exceptionally.  Find those entrepreneurs who have already had success in creating a vision similar to yours and sign up to their blog, Facebook, and Twitter. Study them and figure out what they have done well and what they could have done better.

The examples don’t have to be an exact copy of someone else’s business, but look for some key things:

1. Research until you find a person or brand you want to imitate with a similar vision, strategy, or approach. Everyone’s business will be different, but if you can find something solid an use that as a mold and a motivator, you can move towards your goals quite quickly by using a similar business model or the same tools.

2. Find a business or entrepreneur who uses the same medium you envision using for your business. Whether you are creating a product or you are branding yourself as the product (coach, speaker, etc.) you need an online store, a website, or a social media platform.  It’s not likely that you will use just one medium with the options to use websites, Facebook, Twitter, Google +, and all of the other options out there, but start with one medium and build off of that.  Stay consistent and build your list and while growing your list of platforms you are using to get your product message out.

3. Look for a similar business plan.  The idea here is to get a good idea of the products they are launching, how they launch a product and how their sales funnel works.  Figuring out what works for them will not only fuel your mind with ideas, but help you learn each of the steps from creating the product to how to close the sale.

Search until you have found multiple examples of your business vision. Having multiple examples will allow you to be more specific about your business strategy and will help with implementation along the way.

From each example, take note of what specifically each business does well and study those aspects of the business.  As you study and learn from them you should be learning more and more specific details from them.  For example, when you picked them as a model you may have picked them because they sell e-books and you want to sell e-books too.  But as you receive their newsletters and watch their Facebook status, you’ll start to see how they get traffic and how they do a launch and what their sales funnel is.  Having this clarity moves your business toward success.

As you work toward your business remember your idea may change, grow and develop into something else along the way and that’s fine.  Accept that as you learn more about yourself and the new industry you are in, you need to adapt the idea or product to your new knowledge.  As you grow, always be looking for something to strive toward or better yet, to surpass!


About the Author | Nichole Carlson

Nichole is a life and fitness coach in Austin, TX. She is creator of The Rich & Beautiful Project. Connect with her at