September 2015

Simple Steps to Build Your Personal Brand

- by Alyson Shane

If you're anything like me, you spend an egregious amount of time online chatting, sharing comments, articles and opinions, and connecting with other people.

If you don't, or if you're just starting to, then you may not be familiar with the concept of personal branding, and how it can help you achieve your personal and business goals.

What Is Personal Branding?

Your personal brand is how people in your community and the world at large think about you. It's the sum-total of all of your activity online, which helps paint a picture of who you are to the people who know you through online social channels like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest (to name a few), and your website, if you've got one.

Having an understanding of personal branding is a powerful tool because it allows you to actively shape how people see you, and gives a focus and direction of the tone, quality, and direction of the content you share.

In this post we're going to cover a few simple ways that you can build a strong personal brand which not only reflects the fabulous person that you are, but also how it can help you achieve your goals!

Build a Website That Reflects Who You Are

I'd argue that the most important piece of the puzzle regarding your personal brand is having a website that you love. Something sleek, cool, easy-to-navigate and which accurately represents who you are to the world.

Your website should have an active blog, and should act as the hub for all of your activity online, with your social media feeds regularly linking back to it. Blogging not only helps with SEO (search engine optimization) which is how people find your website, but also helps people gain a better understanding of who you are through what you write and share.

Back in the day people (like me) wrote lifestyle blogs, which were basically like online journals and didn't really exist to serve a purpose other than somewhere for us to publish our thoughts. These days, though lifestyle blogs still exist, they aren't as frequent, and blogging has taken on a more professional quality.

If you're a professional, blogging regularly about events in your industry and sharing ideas and opinions is a great way to help your audience understand who you are. Though I'd argue that lifestyle blogging even has a place, too! While blogging about your industry is great, people still want to see who you are, which is why sharing posts about things you've done, events you've attended, or experiences that you've had are also valuable content.

Explore & Be Your Authentic Self

I write about authenticity a lot, and one of the reasons that I keep coming back to it is because who you are and how you craft your personal brand can make or break your future prospects. if people think you suck, they won't want to work with you.

Luckily being your authentic self is easy: you just have to be who you are.

I've read suggestions on other blogs and websites that suggest trying to craft a "fake" version of yourself; someone who reacts to things differently than you normally would, and makes statements that contradict how you actually feel about an issue. I totally disagree with these suggestions.

Personal branding is about nurturing the best parts of ourselves, being honest and vulnerable, and sharing those parts of ourselves with the world. We're all flawed human beings who are in a constant state of growth, and part of crafting a personal brand is being open about who we are, in as much (or as little) detail as we're comfortable sharing.

Some key things that your personal brand helps people understand are:

  • What do you believe?
  • What are your goals and ambitions?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • What kind of client/contractor/employee/business owner are you?
  • On a scale of 1-10, how much do you love inspirational sloths?

(okay, that last one was just me)

Remember: people connect with other people. Being authentic builds trust.

If you don't appear to be a real human being, or seem like you're faking your way through everything (aka being full of shit) how will people trust you it they don't feel like they know the real you?

One last thing:

Being your authentic self also means that you'll rub people the wrong way. There's always going to be someone out there, naysaying whatever you blog about, share, or reflect on publicly. That's okay. To quote the ever-wise Taylor Swift "the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate."

Get Speaking

One of the easiest ways to build up your personal brand is to speak publicly about what you do. Whether it's at a conference, a local meetup, or to a classroom full of students, speaking about what you do not only builds awareness of you and your personal brand, but (bonus!) it'll help you be better at what you do.

If you're not used to speaking it can be really daunting, but a bit of practice and some great reference material (I like to make my own slides using Keynote) you'll have a whip-smart presentation in no time. Additionally, having to break down complex ideas, concepts, or speak about your strategy or workflow can be immensely helpful in helping you develop clearer way to communicate it to everyone else.

Case in point: last April I spoke about the importance of social media at the Manitoba Trucking Association's Driving the Future conference. While I discuss social media with my peers and clients on a regular basis, having to explain things like Twitter to a non-user helped me develop a better understanding of how to convey important ideas. That presentation is what led me to develop my Twitter for Beginners series. How cool!

When you speak do so from a place of knowledge and power and show that you know what you're talking about. Speaking engagements not only help people understand what you do and who you are, but they're also terrific confidence-builders, too. Win/win!

Write About What You Do & Participate in Interviews

Thought leadership articles (like the one you're reading) which provide advice, insight and reflection into what you do help give you major cred. Thought leadership articles not only give you the opportunity to discuss what you do from the comfort of your own keyboard, but can also provide valuable research and learning opportunities as you fact-check and find references to back yourself up, as well (cha-ching!)

I'm a big proponent of knowledge sharing, and I believe that it's single best way to make people aware of what I do. Not just that, but it helps people, too! How awesome is that?

Regularly writing authentic, helpful content is one of the best tools at your disposal to help build awareness of your personal brand, and establish trust between yourself and your audience.

Bonus points:

The more content you share, the more likely it becomes that people will reach out to you for interviews, commentary, advice, collaborative opportunities, and work!

Maintain Your Online Presence

If you don't have social media profiles, now is the time to start setting them up! While publishing thoughtful content on your website is great, you need to have an active presence on relevant social media sites in order to share your content and push people back to the 'hub' of your personal brand (aka your website.)

Here are some questions to ask yourself when going over your social media profiles:

  • Do they all contain relevant information?
  • Do they link back to your website?
  • Are you presenting yourself in the best way possible?*
  • Are you using high-quality photos?
  • Are you interacting with others and sharing their content in addition to your own?

* What I mean is this: no ranting, no sub-tweeting/vaguebooking, no snarky comments, no racist/prejudiced/inflammatory remarks. While jokes, comments and etc may be okay in person and around specific friends, this type of behaviour is something that you should actively avoid doing whenever possible. It just looks bad, m'kay?

Never Stop Learning

This applies no matter what industry you're in. The world is changing quickly, and we all have a responsibility to stay as informed and up-to-date on the latest changes and trends in our respective industries.

Building a strong personal brand takes time, and if you don't stay relevant then you'll fall by the wayside and all of that time you spent building it up will be for nothing. I regularly hit up sites like Hacker News and Social Media Examiner to stay informed of goings-on in my industry - I'd be lost without them!

Bonus: sharing about what you've learned, or writing a blog post about a topic you've been reading about it a great way to create some original content. Remember: people are coming to your website because they want to hear your thoughts; they could easily go anywhere else, but they came to you. Make sure you're rewarding your audience with well-researched and current opinions and facts.

The more time you spend working on and crafting your personal brand, the stronger your image will be and the sooner opportunities will start coming your way based on people's perceptions of you. Your audience will see you as a sincere, intelligent person and will be breaking down the door to work with you.

Did I miss anything, or do you have something to add to this post? If so, leave a comment,shoot me an email, or tweet at me on Twitter!


In My Community: The CEO Sleepout Recap

- by Alyson Shane

(Image via Global News Winnipeg)

This morning I woke up at 7am in a sleeping bag in a flower bed at Portage and Main.

I spent the night outside as part of The CEO Sleepout, an annual event which aims to raise awareness about Winnipeg's homeless community through fundraising efforts, community outreach, tours, and spending the night outside to gain a deeper understanding of what homelessness is like in our city.

A quick backstory: I'm from a suburb called Riverbend, which is far from our downtown core. I grew up being taught that Aboriginal people -especially the ones experiencing homelessness- were people to be feared and avoided. Since then I've lived in downtown neighbourhoods (Osborne Village, West Broadway and Wolseley, respectively) since my early twenties, but it's taken a very long time to start to start to undo the prejudices and assumptions that I learned around the dinner table.

With that in mind, I expected the CEO Sleepout to be an important event for me, but I didn't fully anticipate how profoundly my evening would affect me, and I'd like to share that with you.

One of the portions of the evening -and, I'd argue, the most important- were the tours through various homeless shelters and rooming facilities where over 500 of Winnipeg's homeless population spend the night.

What I'm about to say is really hard for me to write.

One of the stops on the tours was the Main Street Project, a location which offers emergency shelter and food services, a drug and alcohol detoxification unit, and transitional housing, among other important services. As we passed through the building, I noticed a man standing off in a corner, sweeping a broom and talking to one of the workers.

I recognized this man.

I knew him from all the times he had asked me for money, all the times he got too close to me and made me afraid, and all the times I had deliberately crossed the street away from him because his tall, imposing stature, inability to speak coherently, and dishevelled look frightened me.

For the very first time I saw him as a human being. A real person, instead of a threat.

Typing that, and sharing that statement with all of you is extremely difficult for me to do.

I feel such a deep and profound sense of shame over how I previously felt about him, how I completely disregarded that he has a story, a struggle, and that he's just doing the very best that he can with the limited tools at his disposal.

I had to fight hard to hold back tears as we completed the tour.

This morning I had the opportunity to talk to Chad (pictured above) who has been homeless for three years. We talked for a while and he told me about how he stopped caring for himself after his wife died, how he's struggled with addiction and low self-worth, and how he's fighting a steep uphill battle to detox and get better. Chad's holding one of the thermal sleeping mats that John and I gave out, and I told him that the next time we see each other on the street, that I'll buy him a coffee and he can tell me about his progress.

He said "I hope I have good news to tell you, but I can't promise anything. There isn't much good news in the homeless community these days."

Chad wasn't the only person experiencing homelessness that I had the opportunity to speak with, but I wanted to share his story, specifically, because it shows how easy is is for us to slip into a downward spiral.

Having the opportunity to connect with people, hear their stories, and learn about their struggles is, in my opinion, where the real value of The CEO Sleepout really lies.

Last night when I posted a the above picture on Instagram someone left the following comment: "Do they have lobster this year? And security to keep away those dreaded homeless. Make them watch your empathy at a safe distance."

That comment has been making me feel sick since last night, because it's indicative of a larger problem within our society. Namely, that taking the time to write a snarky comment disparaging other people's efforts to raise money and awareness about a serious issue is somehow acceptable. That making assumptions about the efforts of others and responding with cynicism instead of participating and making a difference is a suitable course of action to take (it isn't, and it doesn't help anyone, either.)

It's easy to be cynical from the safety of your home, but it takes guts and courage to step up and say "I want to be a part of a solution."

As a small business owner, citizen of Winnipeg, and a resident of one of the poorest federal ridings in the country, I have a responsibility to make my voice heard. I have an obligation to share my stories and experiences, and to take the time to give back to my community and try to make my city a better place for everyone to live.

Sure, the CEO Sleepout isn't perfect, and there isn't a single perfect solution to ending homelessness in our city, but taking time from our days to ask for donations, raise money to help fund jobs and training, tour emergency and shelter facilities, and spend a night on the cold ground to get a glimpse of what it's like to spend a night on the streets is a worthwhile endeavour, and something that I feel everyone -not just people from Winnipeg, and certainly not just CEOs- should do at least once.

You can still donate to the CEO Sleepout, and I encourage you to give whatever you can. Even five dollars will make a difference in someone's life.

If you can't afford to donate, consider giving some of your time to places like Siloam Mission, who are always looking for volunteers (I've volunteered there and can attest that it's a truly rewarding experience.)

Even if you can't do either, thank you for reading this post, and thank you for sharing in this journey with me. I hope to see you out at Portage and Main next year.


7 Ways to Make a Buyer-Centric Website

- by Alyson Shane

One of the harsh realities about running a business is this: nobody cares about your products or services except you (sorry/not sorry.)

What they do care about is finding solutions to their own problems, and making sure that your website provides them with the information and tools to help them diagnose their problem, determine a solution, and take steps to solve it is a crucial part of turning them from a visitor into a customer or client.

One way that businesses approach helping their audience solve their problems is to link to landing pages based on the problems their product or service can solve. Each of these paths, starting with the landing pages, contains unique content designed to communicate your expertise in solving these problems.

By creating engaging, unique and helpful content, you can build some empathy and move your audience along the buying cycle, prompting them to fill in a contact form, call a number, or send you a request for assistance.

Below are a seven ways to make a buyer-centric website:

1. Make sure your site is current.

Making sure that the content found on the pages of your site is current and up-to-date within your area of expertise, and don't forget to update your employee roster, product lists, and anything other which might change over time. Additionally, having a website with an easy to navigate, up-to-date layout which is optimized for mobile is another integral part of their user experience, and one which will stick with them long after they've navigated away from your page.

2. Have some personality.

your website needs to be a reflection of you and your brand, which means that it needs to convey more about you than just what you offer; everything from the layout, to the tone of your copy, to the photos you choose, must contribute to an overall understanding of who you are.

3. Use photos and images.

The days of walls of text are long gone, and people's attention spans are honestly just too short to sift through a page that looks like something written by Charles Dickens.

(don't do this)

Luckily digital mediums allow you to break up you text and present it in various ways that don't contribute to your reader going cross-eyed, or worse leaving your page altogether. Some ways you can spruce up your content are:
  • Custom photos & memes
  • Audio feeds
  • Video clips
  • Cartoons
  • Infographics & charts

4. Make your content interactive.

Getting people involved with your content is one of the easiest ways to keep them interested and move them through your sales cycle. Include charts and forms where applicable, and links to contact you whenever necessary

5. Focus on feedback loops.

Don't make visitors hunt around your site for ways to get in touch with you. Easy to find "contact us" links are essential, and direct feedback options like "rate this" buttons, online forums, review and opportunities to post comments allow your visitors to feel more engaged with you beyond just using your services

6. Include social media share buttons.

Including social media "share" buttons is a quick and effective way to encourage visitors to your site to engage with and share what you have to say. All your content (blog posts, whitepapers, videos, etc)

7. Think about your visitors' learning style.

Some people prefer to read articles, some like videos, and others prefer audio. Some prefer all three! Doing a bit of research and seeing what similar sites are doing to present their information will give you valuable insight into how your visitors will want to consume the information that you have to share.

By focusing on these key elements, you can make sure that your website is buyer-friendly, leads them down the right paths, and (most importantly) is an enjoyable experience for them to use. Remember: for many people, your website is the first glimpse that they get of you as a brand, and their experience will likely dictate their relationship with you from that point onward!

Did I miss anything, or do you have something to add to this post? If so, leave a comment,shoot me an email, or tweet at me on Twitter!


5 Essential Content Marketing Habits

- by Alyson Shane

Content marketing is one of the move valuable tools at your disposal to add value to your marketing strategy. Good content educates your audience, prospects potential clients, and when done correctly does a powerful job of advertising your brand message.

However, if you're managing multiple accounts at once and want to stay as organized and focused as possible, it's necessary to start developing the right habits as early as possible. Below are a few key things that I've learned which have helped me save my sanity, and be better at what I do.

1. Track Your To-Dos

I've mentioned my daily checklist in a previous post, but having a concrete, written plan for what you need to do each day/week/month/etc is unbelievably helpful. This is especially true when you're working on a project which requires a team effort, and a bit of project management.

My favourite tool for this purpose is Trello because it's super-easy to learn to use, has a simple design based on columns and checklists, and allows you to drag specific tasks "bubbles" around between columns, so everyone can see where you are on a specific project.

Here's an example via a quick Google Image search to give you an idea of what it looks like:

Having tools like Trello (or Asana, or Slack, whatever your preference) helps with communication in teams who may not be in the same office, or even the same country, and allows you to easily keep track of who is working on which portion of the project, and where they're at. Being able to access this stuff at-a-glance is super easy, and saves a ton of time.

2. Establish Milestone and Conversion Goals

Before you sit down and start tweeting or posting, establish what your definition of "successful" looks like. Is it 2,000 newsletter subscribers by Thanksgiving? To speak at a nationwide conference next year? Maybe hit a million visitors to your website this month?

Whatever the case, by developing a clear vision of success and what it looks like not only helps you plan how you will achieve those goals, but also helps you have a clear game plan which can be adapted to deal with any unexpected changes.

Conversions are the best way to measure the success of your campaign (think bread-crumb trail) and anything that you do which leads a user down your breadcrumb trail is worth tracking.

3. Analyze Behaviours and Achievements

Behaviours are the actions that visitors take once they arrive at your website, and achievements are when they behave based on the breadcrumbs that you left for them to follow.

By keeping track of how people move through your (or a client's) website, you can gain valuable information as to how people are getting there, and how they're moving around. Ideally, they'll follow a set of pre-defined steps that you've put in place in order to get them to visit a particular page, or buy a product.

So whenever you identify a new measurable behaviour (maybe your traffic goes up, your website's ranking increases, your click-through rate increases, etc) you can analyze the behaviours that led to the increase, and refine and revise when necessary to make sure things keep going well.

4. Get In the Cloud

This took me longer to get into the habit of doing than I'd like to admit, but saving all your documents, contracts, photos, and work in the cloud (I use Google Drive) is the only way to be truly effective wherever you are, and saves a ton of headache down the road.

Here's an example: I invoiced a client before I went out of town, but they sent me an email a few days later and said that they needed me to re-submit it. So instead of having to worry about re-creating an invoice from scratch because my original document was on my iMac back in Winnipeg, I opened the Google Drive app on my phone, found the invoice (I also have all of my invoice templates saved there, just in case) and re-shared it within the span of a few minutes.

It saved me a ton of time time and and I was able to avoid the headache and stress of re-creating an invoice to make sure I got paid when I was expecting to.

There is literally no excuse for you to not be using a cloud-based sharing service, so get on it!

5. Report & Tweak

Though many people are starting to see the value of of it, a lot of people still view content marketing and social media as a wishy-washy thing to spend money on, so us content marketers need to be able to prove our worth.

The best way to show value is through reporting - showing successes, areas of improvement, engagement levels, and providing recommendations on how to move forward. It also helps with long-term planning, as reports can indicate shifts in behaviour and engagement over time, which allows you to identify things that succeeded, and things that didn't.

Reporting can be (okay, almost always is) a chore. It's boring, but by taking the time to put together a comprehensive report you can effectively demonstrate your value, as well as open up lines of communication with your clients. Reporting builds trust and helps clients feel like they've got a good grasp of what's happening, even if they're totally hands-off day-to-day.

Developing the right habits from the get-go allows you to not only feel more organized, but it actually makes you better at your job, which is good news for both you and your clients.

Did I miss anything from this list? Do you have anything you'd like to add? If so, leave a comment, shoot me an email, or tweet at me on Twitter!


Why My Autumn Mantra is "Less Is More"

- by Alyson Shane

It's been a whirlwind few weeks and somehow a few days ago I woke up and it was already September. How the heck did that happen?! I feel like I blinked and already I'm transitioning to warmer drinks, longer sleeves, and yellowing leaves.

Anyway, this is generally the time of year when businesses begin to really kick things into high gear - everyone is coming back from the cottage, the lake, or an extended vacation, and are starting to plan the big push for the fall/winter season. With that comes a slew of work, usually in the form of new projects, tasks, meetings, conferences, Skype calls, phone calls, coffee dates, you name it.

With all this is can be difficult not to get too caught up in the minutiae of everything. It can be hard not to become overwhelmed, but it can also become increasingly difficult to stay focused and streamlined.

Which is why my autumn mantra is "less is more."

What does that mean?

What I mean is this: more information doesn't mean better information.

However, when you're a business owner it can be easy to get lost in all the details. You start to feel the need to communicate every thought, idea, brainstorm, detail, etc with everyone involved in your project, which can actually waste time and cause miscommunications, which set you even further back from your original goals.

This is because we're often led to believe that including every single detail, or poring over something exhaustively, or even outlining things in crazy detail is the best way to convey what we have to say.

Don't believe me? Let's debunk a few common misconceptions about communication, shall we?

  • Facts are what matter. That the right information stated in a clear and concise manner will get people to act and agree.
  • Everyone wants all the details.
  • People will pay attention because they know that they should. They will read the entirety of your email, pay attention to every detail of your phone call or meeting... you get the idea.
  • People will take the time to learn something properly.

If there's one thing that I've learned in the past while it's that none of these things are true.

Here's what's actually true:

  • People make decisions based largely on what they feel, regardless of what the facts are.
  • People will gloss over details. Be ready (and willing) to repeat them.
  • People only pay attention to what matters to them. If your email is too long, they'll skim it; if your meeting lasts a while, they won't remember every detail.
  • People will half-ass most things unless it is required of them.

This is in no way a slag against anyone - this is just how we are. We only give 100% of our attention to things that we're emotionally and presently invested in, which usually isn't your email (it's probably what they're doing this weekend, or that funny gif they saw).

Okay, but why does this matter? I hear you asking.

It matters because if you're like me -longwinded, talkative and verbose- you have to work really damn hard to be concise and make sure that you're conveying yourself properly.

What can you do?

Here are some steps you can take (and that I'm trying to take) to get around these issues:

Say the important stuff at the beginning of your email. Guys, I struggle with this one so hard, but it's true: put the important stuff at the beginning of your email or it'll never get read.

Send follow-up emails after a meeting. Sure, you took notes, the other people in attendance took notes... but are they all the same? Do they all outline the same goals, objectives and responsibilities? You have no way of knowing, so send a quick summary email detailing the meeting. That way you can clear up any miscommunications and potentially save yourself some hassle down the line.

Break longer emails down into easily readable chunks. If you have to write out a longer email, use bold text to indicate new sections, and try to break things down into lists if possible. If someone opens your email and is greeted with a wall of text they're less likely to spend the time to read the whole thing.

What does this mean for your audience?

If we think about our content strategy with the same focus -namely, that people have limited attention spans and only pay attention to things that interest them- we can start to draw some conclusions which we can apply to the kind of information that we share.

Let's look at a few questions we can ask ourselves:

  • What can you tell your audience (besides facts) which will mean something to them?
  • Which important details can you focus on to get your point across?
  • How can you share content in an original and engaging way to get people interested?
  • How can you lead people to the same conclusions or end-goals as you?

By twisting the perspective around and thinking about how you can share more with less, you begin to ask questions which put you in your audience's shoes (spoiler alert: this helps you be better at what you do!)

Awesome! Now what?

Now you can start to apply your new mantra to everything you do! Use the "less is more" mantra to send better emails, have less lengthy and time-consuming meetings and follow-ups, and convey yourself better to your colleagues, clients, and your community.

Got questions? I've got answers! Leave your queries in the comments, tweet at me, or send me an email to continue the conversation!