Whether you’re just starting a business, a new career, or are a budding freelancer, having a crisp professional image is important to building successful new relationships - but you already know that. I’m here to help build that image faster and with more depth.
A ”Lean Professional Image” is akin to an idea taught in a book called, The Lean Startup by Eric Ries (which I highly recommend reading).
In short, Ries teaches startups how to get a desired product into customers' hands faster. The key is what he calls an M.V.P. – Minimum Viable Product.
Many startups begin working on an idea for a product or service they think people want, and then spend ample amounts of time and resources perfecting it. The intentions are good, yet there is one fatal mistake with this approach – they never ask for feedback from prospective customers along the way.
Can you imagine spending a year (or years) of your life pouring your heart, soul, and money into something no one wants?
Building your professional image and brand works the same way. You could highlight all your accomplishments, spend countless hours and money on professional branding experts, build out content on multiple media platforms, or even invest in advertising before you even know how to properly present yourself. Or, you could save time (and money) by building around the accomplishments, core competencies, and channels that matter most to your purpose and objectives in the current evolution of your business.
Here are some things to focus on to make sure you find a blend between (a) burning time producing something you see as “perfect,” (b) perpetually asking for feedback (fear of starting), and (c) not jumping in too soon at risk of looking unprofessional.
Where To Start
Define your mission and vision. Whether you are a business or an individual, you need to spend some time thinking about what you want to accomplish and how you want other people to view you. With a clear mission defined, you can start to define the core messages you want to deliver and the image you want to portray to your audiences.
Define your audience. Tailor everything you do and create to the people you want to engage. If you want to target investment bankers, you are going to want a different look and feel than if your primary audience is parents of small children.
Once you decide what you are all about (mission and vision) and what you want it to look like based on your audience, it's time to make sure you portray yourself professionally. Reserve a unique URL, setup a website, business mailing address – P.O. Box or virtual, and email address (with consistent signatures among your team). Then get a conference number, business cards, and a way to manage your contacts (a good CRM -customer relationship manager- can go a long way. I recommend something simple like Insightly, but you can also just use an Excel spreadsheet.) These things are simple, straightforward, and a must.
Next, carry over the tone, voice, and imagery of your website to all of your social media platforms to have a consistent message. Start with LinkedIn, or whichever platform is advantageous to your venture. If you choose LinkedIn, be sure your summary reflects similar ideals and goals across your team, and the experience sections should be word-for-word the same. Later down the road you may want to consider hiring a coach to explore all the other opportunities with this specific platform.
Continue to carry the tone, voice, and imagery over into company documents - from a one-pager giving a high-level overview of your business, to the letterhead on your internal documents, symmetry and consistency is key.
These eight items are less technical than the previous three, but will be what differentiates you from everyone else.
Confidence: It has been said many times that sales and influence are three parts “transfer of emotion” and one part mechanics. Along with #8 mentioned below, this may be the most important part of your initial professional image. Leverage the fact that you believe in what you’re doing to your core, and remind yourself that you don’t have all the answers. Prospects on the receiving end of this will appreciate and respect you for having this wise and professional approach, and it will help take unneeded pressure off of yourself.
Attitude: Part of what you inherently take on as an entrepreneur is the need to do things you otherwise wouldn’t want to do. So if you need to make 1,000 cold calls over two months, do it with a smile and be presently persistent. If you don’t want to make the call, then why would anyone want to pick up your call and talk? You are the man/woman in the arena doing what no one else will, and I commend you for that.
Clear Messaging: Internal clarity is MASSIVE. Make sure you and your team members all agree on (a) what your company does, (b) who you do it for, and (c) the problem(s) you solve. This will evolve over time with data/information you collect through your activity, but you need a foundation from which to start.
The Right Clients: This might sound odd because you may not feel you’ve earned the right to be selective yet. But be diligent about creating an initial ideal client profile, and stick to it. If you do, your core competencies will shine and the value you add to your client will be tremendous. Keep in mind that his will also evolve over time. Think in three month increments. What type of client fits where your business is right now?
Set Proper Expectations For Clients: Be honest and clear about what your deliverables will be for a client, and always aim to over deliver. Knowing what you don’t know is important here too. You won’t have everything perfectly buttoned up – AND THAT’S OK. If you’re with the right client (as mentioned above), you will work through small imperfections and they will be grateful for the value you are bringing to the table. Over time your core competencies and bandwidth will expand. Be patient.
Network: Get out of your home office to have coffee meetings, go to events, and share ideas/thoughts/meetings over lunch. Face-to-face meetings are very important, and don’t always have to be done in your office. Meet prospects and clients in a central location, or at their office.
Do What You Say You Will: Simple enough. If you promise to give someone something, put it on your short list for later that night or early the next morning and don’t forget.
WORK HARD. There is no way around it, and you already know this is a must. All problems are solved through working hard with a purpose and laser-focused direction. Just remember to set goals in three month increments and you will quickly learn what areas you need to improve on to take your professional image to the next level.
Where To Go From Here
I’m not sure where you are on your entrepreneurial path, but start with taking inventory of what you’re already doing right and remove the things that you may be getting ahead of yourself on – you don’t need 100 pieces of content, three websites to A/B test, or 1,000 followers on your blog to start making an impact. Reallocate that time to one or more of these tasks to improve your image, and work on what’s most important to your business for its current stage. I wish you great success on your journey.