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How Reputations, Relationships, and Morality Define Your Success in Business and Life

A successful business is defined by relationships, and those relationships are forged because of the reputations of the individuals or entities involved. Your reputation as an individual entrepreneur is the informal start to your official brand identity. Everyone who does not exist in a social vacuum has one. It the perception other people have of you, and the elevated starting position new connections are willing to grant you based on what others have told them about you.

Reputations can either be accurate or completely fabricated. The best ones are forged organically through the real interactions you have with others, so that they are free to form their own positive opinion about your character and abilities. This is a far stronger type of positive impression than any you could create by talking yourself up or fooling others into thinking a certain way about you.

Trust comes in two forms, and both are extremely important. The first type of trust relates to your competency. If someone is going to willingly give you authority to perform a skilled task or advise them in a specialized field of knowledge, they have to believe that you know what you are doing. We all do this many times every day. When you board a plane, you are implicitly agreeing that you trust the pilot to get you to your destination safely, and that you will not attempt to commandeer the aircraft yourself out of fear that he doesn’t know what he’s doing.

The most knowledgeable and talented people tend to become well-known in their fields. Malcolm Gladwell dubbed these people as mavens in his book, The Tipping Point, and many of them eventually become synonymous with an entire field of knowledge or branch of skilled labor. Michael Jackson was the king of pop. Richard Dawkins is known, somewhat tongue in cheek, as one of the four horsemen of modern atheism (and the acknowledged authority on evolution). David Wolfe is the face of raw food health trends. Do people trust your competency in your chosen field?

The second type of trust has to do with morality. It’s about a person’s willingness to mislead or harm another through the use of physical force or psychological fraud. Entrepreneurs cannot survive if they surround themselves with people who are likely to steal from them or lie about important information. You cannot forge a meaningful relationship with someone who is willing to take what he wants from you against your will, or trick you into doing something against your own best interest.

Just as individuals build a reputation for their competency in a specific domain, they also build one for their moral character. These reputations are built by demonstrating ability and character firsthand, and relying on the testimony of others who have personally witnessed it. When someone else publicly vouches for you, they are intertwining their own reputation with yours. Whenever you fail to live up to the standards of the reputation preceding you, you can also bring down everyone who has ever voluntarily associated with you.

The more developed a business, or a society as a whole, the more important the role of competence and character reputation becomes. You might be the smartest, most talented, most honest, most generous person on the planet – but if no one who matters knows about it, it won’t do you much good in business. Everyone must learn where the line falls between being humble about their own positive attributes, but also not hiding them from the world.

Total morality is the only logical choice for someone who is serious about growing a business and living a meaningful life. An immoral person has the opportunity to improve their life only in the short term. Moral people are incentivized to stay away from them for their own safety. Over a long enough period of time, a natural segregation occurs between those who act honestly and those who intentionally deceive. Those with money have a lot of incentive to not to let any of it fall into the hands of deceitful people. Character analyses and reputation become vital survival skills in this environment.

Ethical people know that there is so much more to be gained by building a reputation as a good person than by being a swindler who will take advantage of others for personal gain. Seek out these righteous people to align yourself with, and they will seek you out as well. If people perceive you can’t be trusted with small responsibilities, they won’t likely give you large responsibilities.

If you are the type of person who is always telling white lies or showing up late everywhere you go, these seemingly innocuous sins may be responsible for cutting you off from opportunities you never even knew you had. Just because no one ever directly approaches you about your minor indiscretions, doesn’t mean they don’t notice and remember. The loss of your reputation is the price you pay for the momentary advantages of lazy or immoral behavior.

In writing and publishing my first book, Brand Identity Breakthrough, I hired a company called Convertport to help me produce the manuscript for this book, and market it to bestseller status on Amazon. When Shola Abidoye, the woman who promised me generous results failed to produce them, she had every opportunity to make restitution simply by admitting error and refunding my money. I even offered to let her donate the full amount of my purchase to a non-profit education group if she felt more comfortable doing that than refunding the money directly to me. Instead, she chose to cut off all contact with me and disavow any obligation to deliver what she had promised.

I could have taken her to small claims court to recover the $5,000 I paid, and potentially even more as a result of the huge delays I faced. Instead, I chose to share my extremely negative experience of working with her publically. Because we shared so many mutual connections, Convertport experienced an enormous drop in their professional reputation. I was contacted by many people shortly afterward who thanked me for bringing Shola’s immoral behavior and professional fraud to light so that they knew not to pursue working with her as they had initially planned.

In the long run, Shola Abidoye undoubtedly lost a lot more than $5,000 in business as a result of the short-term gain from ripping me off. That is a stigma which will now follow her around for the rest of her professional life. To have any sustainable success as an entrepreneur, you must protect the reputation of yourself and your brand at all costs.

Don’t be afraid to adopt morality as an absolute principle in your life. Be honest with the people you know. Go out of your way to be fair and earnest with others, even if it means a momentary lessening of your own circumstances in life. High quality individuals notice this behavior in others, and will respond to it appropriately. They will let you into their lives, and offer you greater opportunities for collaboration.

When you do mess up and wrong another person, the burden falls squarely upon you to reverse the negative effects of your actions. Most people are willing to forgive a first offense if it is minor, and if it is clear that every attempt at restitution is made. Good people generally want to see others evolve into good people too, and they will give you the chance to prove yourself if you appear sincere in your quest to reacquire good moral standing.

Likewise, don’t be afraid to appropriately judge the character of others. Read into body language and speaking style. Learn to detect inconsistencies, intentional vagueness, and outright misdirection. Each of these is a red flag for what could become major issues later on, costing you enormous time and money. Monitor how well they communicate with you on simple matters, including the times they omit important information. Observe how they follow through with promises, or if they take on too much responsibility.

When you can see all human relationships through this filter, you will be ready to start exchanging and collaborating with others who are in a position to give you what you need to get where you want to go. Nobody does it alone.

Six Steps to Make Money with Your Own Business Today

In its most basic form, earning a living means trading an hour of your life to your employer for a fixed wage. However, unless you become a doctor or a lawyer, there are strict monetary limits on this simplistic time-for-money profit model. Structure enables you to take a valuable concept and exponentially magnify its influence and earning potential. Structure allows you to leverage your time, and therefore earn higher and higher amounts of money for the same level of input. You can even set up a structure that runs mostly or entirely independently of you, earning ongoing passive income.

You don’t need a formal business plan to get started making money independently or add structure to a basic valuable idea. Here’s how anyone with a good idea can start making at least a little bit of money on day one of implementation:

  1. Create something of value – either a product or a service.
  2. Identify the type of person who needs it most.
  3. Compare it to similar solutions in regards to function, message, and price.
  4. Describe it concisely, including what it does, how it works, who it’s for, and what makes it unique.
  5. Figure out how to get this message in front of the people who need it most.
  6. Take their money, and give them the product or the perform service in return.

This is simple in principle, but gets more complex the bigger your idea, or the more you attempt to scale it. To create a more complex product or service, you will need to identify manufacturers and suppliers who can provide all the different parts you need at a price that is significantly lower than what you can charge for the finished product. These are the kinds of businesses that typically take both time and a fair amount of startup capital to get going. They may not see a profitable return for months or years, and are therefore not as appealing to bootstrapped first-time entrepreneurs.

If you are not in a position to make profits from the very beginning that you can reinvest into the business, you can seek out an infusion of cash from an investor in exchange for some ownership in the company, or an instant royalty on everything sold.

As an entrepreneur, your job is to hold the whole business together, and plan its future. At the start of your first business, you and whoever else is on your team of founders will probably be handling most of the tasks yourself – all the way from production, to distribution, to sales and marketing. As you grow, you should begin to rely on technology and other people to handle the tasks which do not require your direct intervention. In time, you will be able to structure your business in a way where you are only left dealing with the tasks you are best qualified to handle. That is when you will start making more and more money for far less work than you would previously have thought possible.

The ideal role of a founder is that of the master strategist and the heart of the company. Yet, most CEOs and other leaders end up taking on the role of gap-filler. They hire specialized employees to take care of the major functions to keep the business running, but little things inevitably pop up that fall on the boss’ shoulders to take care of. It’s common for founders caught filling the gaps in their company management to run out of the time to implement new strategies and test new ideas. Often, the person who should be taking on the highest-level tasks is relegated to busywork and maintenance instead. It’s not emotionally rewarding, and it’s potentially lethal to your business.

As the leader in your business, you time is the most valuable asset you have. When you are confident in the value of your own time, you realize how important it is to delegate tasks which can be done to the same level of quality by someone else for a reasonable price. Work to turn your company’s daily tasks into processes which can be passed on to others. Simplify what you do every day, and identify whatever ways your current employees are already wasting effort and resources. All it takes is a mind attuned to efficiency in all things to turn a functioning business into a scalable profit-producing machine.

Uniqueness Comes From the “Why” of Your Business

Why did you get into the business you are in? Hopefully, the reasons run deeper than merely having spotted an opportunity for profit in the marketplace.

I went into education very early in my professional development due to my natural capacity for it, and to develop my skills through real world implementation. Most importantly, I cared deeply about helping others increase their own working knowledge. It remains one of my core values. The fact that there was enough market demand for me to make a living through teaching and mentorship was just a happy coincidence which enabled me to survive while I pursued my passion.

To be successful as the kind of educator I aspired to be, I had to be a person others wanted to bring into the lives of their children. It was about both the process of learning and the end result of new knowledge. The emotional requirements of my profession inspired me to become supportive, direct, challenging, inquiring, and encouraging in the eyes of my students. Because education is such a genuine passion of mine, it was not necessary to fake any aspects of my personality to present myself as the appropriate kind of brand personality for the circumstances.

My uniqueness as an educator came primarily in my method of interaction. While there were plenty of ways to learn the things I taught, it would have been extremely difficult to find anyone else who could emulate the exact same relationship dynamics I cultivated with my clients. The unique combination of skills, experience, and demeanor combined into a strong personality, which was possible because I knew my strengths so well. It applies just as much (if not more) in the case of larger organizations who have little personal interaction with their audience.

If you run a large company which produces products or services for travel, what emotional qualities naturally match what your intended audience will find appealing? To answer that, all you have to do is understand why people travel. They travel for freedom. They travel for self-expression. They travel to push boundaries. They travel to learn about the world. They travel for adventure. Business travelers have their own entirely different reasons for packing their things up and getting on a plane to new places, so these personality traits can be further and further refined by sub-genre.

Your goal with personality branding will be to get your audience to feel these things before they actually complete a purchase with you. They should become automatically associated feelings from seeing your logo, reading your marketing copy, or thinking of anything that you produce. You can artificially induce that specific emotional win-state, creating a sensation of familiarity and intuitive confidence that whatever you are offering will lead your buyers toward the goal they seek. When you can combine this with a product offering that produces a specific demonstrable result, you have the foundation of a brand that will accomplish amazing things.

Choose Your Own Character or Your Customers Will Do It For You

We all play characters in the larger narrative of the world around us. If you don’t choose for yourself what kind of character you want others to treat you as, the world will do it for you without your consent. The same is true with your company’s brand. As soon as you grow big enough to be noticed, people will begin to form strong conceptions about the character of your business. They will make up in their own mind what kind of people run it, and what they are really motivated by. They will choose adjectives to align your brand with, whether you like it or not.

 

Who Are You, What Do You Do, and Why Shoud I Care?

There are three questions I find very valuable for getting to the core of the values held by a business. There’s an endless diversity of responses that come from these simple requests, and the data gleaned by listening to responses is highly valuable to crafting a better brand identity.

The three questions are:

  1. Who are you?
  2. What do you do?
  3. Why should I care?

The way someone answers the question “Who are you?” tells you an enormous amount of information about them, and not in the way they think it does. It can reveal their entire universe if you know how to listen. It’s not so much about what they’re saying as it is about how they make decisions about how to define themselves.

Whenever I ask someone this question, I’m looking for what they consider important, and what distinguishes them from other people. I’m trying to pinpoint the script they carry around with them that makes up their self-referential sense of identity in the context of their business. We are all composed of millions of bits of information in the form of memories, abilities, preferences, and tendencies that affect how we show up in the world. In that moment, when I ask a person to define themselves, they will self-select only the most important elements as they perceive them.

Your identity is nothing more than a series of thoughts you carry around in your head, some more important than others, many which we’re forgetting all the time, new ones we’re adding in, and ones we keep bringing back to life over and over again. When you ask someone who they are, they’re essentially just regurgitating the thoughts they consider important to the story that’s currently composing their conception of self. And that’s what I’m doing when I interrogate them in this manner: I’m picking apart what they consider important about themselves.

Out of all the infinite possible ways that they could put words together to answer that question, they might tell me about an important part of their childhood which still affects their thoughts and actions in the present. If somebody knows how to dance salsa, but they don’t immediately mention it, it’s probably because they don’t consider it an important part of what distinguishes them from everyone else. If it’s the first thing out of their mouths, it’s important to how they see themselves as an individual.

If you really listen when people talk about themselves, you’ll see they tend to talk in terms of subjective pain and pleasure – although they’ll very rarely actually phrase it that way. They’ll speak of past events which defined them in some way such as “Well I grew up in this city…” That’s history. Then they’ll talk about active principles, active patterns of change currently relevant in their life.

When they’re describing what they do, they’re talking about the vehicle through which value is delivered. What does this exchange look like? How does your vehicle combust gasoline to create forward momentum? Talk about the alchemy that goes into your ability to turn base metals into gold for the people who hire you. The next step is to take that ordinary factual information and spin it into a compelling narrative that actually gets people to listen.

Narrative is the answer to the eternal question, “Why should I care?” Most people have never had to seriously answer that question in a way that matters. It’s considered rude to question why someone should care about something else someone has shared. We are trained to automatically respect and give attention to other people when they talk. This is lethal thinking in the world of sales.

No one ever owes you an ounce of attention, least of all a stranger you are trying to convince to do something potentially injurious to themselves by giving you their time and money. The entitlement mentality we adopt in youth must be done away with if we are the succeed as entrepreneurial adults who earn the attention and respect of others with our identities.

“Why should I care?” is such a powerful question because it’s not one that people are used to hearing, and they don’t have a prepared response to it. That’s when they actually start to think about things, and they don’t just regurgitate the same old information on autopilot. It’s a bit rude, and that’s what catches them off guard. You may get several “Did you really just ask me that?” looks if you try this.

At first, most entrepreneurs will give terrible answers to this question because they are flustered and stumbling for an appropriate response that doesn’t make them sound weak. People’s first instinct is to defend their own ego and their appearance to the world. The unwillingness to look bad for even a moment is a major detriment to improvement. If they had a good answer to this question, odds are they wouldn’t need help in the first place. Why should your prospects take the action you want them to take?

If you are honest enough with yourself to get to the heart of what motivates your actions, you will also find it becomes a lot easier to sort out, among all the infinite business ideas you can pursue, which ones to follow. Genuine passion is what pushes entrepreneurs through periods of difficulty and uncertainty in the growth of their business. It is also what will make success the most emotionally rewarding beyond just the accumulation of capital. Knowing that you are making a very specific type of difference in the world is the most powerful incentive that exists for some people.

The answers you arrive at here are what will form the foundation of your brand identity and messaging strategy. When you understand yourself, you can hone your presentation in a way which generates action from others. You will appeal more strongly to others who share your ideals and reasons for doing what you do, regardless of the actual products and services you produce.

What You Can Learn About Branding and USP From Kristy Love and Her Enormous Breasts

An overweight woman from Atlanta, Georgia named Kristy Love was able to inadvertently turn what other people saw as a disadvantage in the massage therapy industry into a powerful Unique Selling Proposition, which reportedly earns her up to $1,300 per day. Although she was once ashamed of her body, today she is the proud owner of what might be among the largest breasts in the world: size 48NN, and weighing almost 16 pounds apiece.

When she finished massage school, she could not find employment anywhere in town because every existing provider was worried that she would not be able to deliver what their existing client base was looking for, or even stay on her feet all day. Her image and personality were not congruent with what the existing brand identities in the massage space were doing.

She could have stopped there and accepted that there was no market demand for her to operate as a masseuse. Instead, she started posting her own ads independently, this time capitalizing on the assets which other professionals had considered a liability. By offering specialty “breast massages” where she would smother eager men in her uniquely oversized bosom, she was able to charge much more than the industry standard generic massage therapists.

Additionally, because few women have breasts as large as she does, and fewer of them live in her local area, and ever fewer of those wish to enter the massage industry, she is virtually immune to copycats in the marketplace coming along and trying to replicate her value proposition. As long as men desire to be covered in large breasts, she will have complete job security.

The moral of this story is to think outside the box long enough to realize that just because something is not in demand by the standard channels of exchange which already exist, does not mean there is no potential for you to create a new specialized approach and have total monopolistic control over it. If you look hard enough, you’ll see similar opportunities for unconventional specialization in every modern industry niche. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel; just tweak it a bit and make it your own.

Your Business Isn’t Special

Everyone on Earth would like to believe that they are special, which is rather unfortunate, because nobody will ever see you the same way that you see yourself. We are all biased about our own opinions, and that extends to all our ideas, all our possessions, and all our relationships. Everybody unconsciously thinks that their baby is the cutest, their spouse is the most attractive, and their life is the most memorable or most worth talking about.

When you have an idea for a company or a product, you will automatically give it extra credence by virtue of the fact that you are the one who thought of it. You will think it’s better than other ideas that share the same characteristics. Other people will not see it in the same light without significant marketing effort from you. You must be cautious against becoming a zealot for your own creations. Be vigilant about the effect of your own ego on your judgment. Always seek to see things from the point of view of an unbiased other.

Everyone wants to believe that their product is the best thing ever, and that level of confidence certainly plays its role in your entrepreneurial success. While it’s vital to have genuine passion and enthusiasm for what you’re doing, it comes across as cartoonish unless you are catering to a very specific kind of audience that feels exactly the same way you do. To most people, your claims and particular brand of excitement will be literally unbelievable. Contrary to popular belief, you will immediately turn off a large class of discerning buyers if you come out saying that your thing is the best thing ever.

This is a type of overpromising, and it’s the exact opposite of what you should actually be trying to do. There’s a very important difference between actually getting someone to reach the conclusion that they’re ready to buy your product according to their own internal buying processes, versus creating an emotional spike which momentarily overcomes their better judgment. Emotional peaks wear off very quickly, whereas sound decisions last a long time.

Even if you succeed in getting someone to take out their credit card or hand over their cash, they may realize soon afterward that they didn’t actually want what you sold them. It doesn’t actually solve the problem they have. They were just so caught up in the moment because you made such grandiose promises about what the product was capable of. You’ve essentially just emotionally bullied them into making a decision which was not actually in their best interest, and you have failed as a purveyor of value.

Entrepreneurs overpromise because they don’t know their own value, or they haven’t put their message in front of the right type of people. The irony of this approach is that if your product were really everything you thought it was, you wouldn’t have to rely on exaggeration and hyperbole. Maybe you just come from an antiquated paradigm of pitching, where everything must be in your face and over the top. You are copying the tactics of what you see other people doing in specific scenarios where success is actually possible, such as the modern infomercial. Or worse, you are following in the footsteps of failures and outright conmen.

Avoiding these bullying sales tactics, which just intimidate people into buying things they don’t really need, can become a core part of your company’s identity. In a world where everyone is sick of being taken advantage of by the very people they turn to for help, you have the opportunity to stand out as one of a precious few who are genuinely helpful and educative. You will feel infinitely more confident in what you are promoting when you can present it in this way, and you will earn a highly favorable place in the minds of your clients – one which encourages repeat business and word-of-mouth promotion.

Don’t misinterpret my words here to mean you shouldn’t be enthusiastic or proactive about your business, especially if that’s a part of your natural personality. If so, it makes sense that this should extend to your brand personality as well. If it speaks to your audience, you owe it to them to craft a message that will help them realize how they can improve their own lives with your help. There’s a big difference between a natural brand personality and someone who is trying to convince himself that his idea is more valuable than it is really is. His overconfidence and unbridled optimism exist only to fulfill the nagging doubts that plague him.

Can You Tell a Good Story?

It took me a long time to accept that merely being good at something was not enough to garner the attention, the respect, or the dollars of other people. The truth is that people’s actions are not affected by what is. They are affected by what they can see, and how they think it will affect them. So while the essence of business may be the creation of specific value, you can never expect a business to succeed on the virtue of its good ideas alone. It has to be presented in a way that answers questions people are asking, solves problems they are aware of, and is easily digestible.

This might sound obvious, but think of how many times you’ve been held back from getting what you wanted in life because people could not see the value you knew you had.

In my early twenties, I struggled to understand why I was considered virtually unemployable in conventional corporate environments. While I did pretty well for myself innovating independent ways to make money – from teaching music lessons locally, to helping retirees sell antiques on Ebay, to fixing up old violins and flipping them for a profit – I could never seem to stand out as someone worth hiring in a real company with a salaried position.

My own internal logic was flawless to me. I knew that, all other things being equal, I was a smarter-than-average person. From my point of view, if you assigned a task to me I would quickly figure out whatever pattern would lead to it getting done as efficiently as possible, making the optimal amount of money for myself and whomever had the privilege of adding me to their staff. So why did I continue to see myself passed over for jobs, which were given to people I was sure I could outperform?

It wouldn’t be until I accidentally stumbled upon my first corporate role as a copywriter that I would finally put the pieces together and see the bigger picture of how the hiring process worked. A music student of mine was thoroughly impressed with my teaching skills and my knack for clear verbal communication, and in passing she mentioned that the company she worked for was looking for writers to fill a temporary position as a content creator for their website. Because she personally knew me, she was able to get her foot in the door on my behalf, and after I passed the standard interview and skill assessment process, the job was mine.

What I gained from those two months working at a desk in a cubicle, surrounded by other desks in other cubicles, was a new perspective of business culture in America. The reason I had had so much trouble attracting the attention I wanted from the world of “real” jobs was I had not learned how to present my value in a way that matched what they were specifically looking for. Their job description was not “bright young man who’s good at figuring things out and putting down words”. It was a specific series of qualities combined with real working experiences which conformed to their work environment.

The irony is that as soon as I figured out how the corporate world worked, I had gotten over my interest in joining it. As of today, I’ve helped quite a few other people prepare their own résumés and cover letters to better match specific positions they had their heart set on. I can do this for them because it finally clicked to talk about the concept of value in a way that fit what others were looking for. I finally learned how to answer the questions people were actually asking.

Your Business is a Way to Exchange Value

Your business is a way for people with different subjective preferences to trade one type of value for another. By building a business which can sustainably create value, you put yourself in a position where people will appreciate your existence, and be willing to pay to keep you around. Understanding this one simple principle instantly puts any entrepreneur many steps ahead of the many people who never realize that they are in complete control of how much money they make, merely through the creation of greater value.

This is an important foundational premise to operate from. By focusing first on creating value, you put yourself into a completely different head space, and all your actions will be different as a result. Too many business owners look at the monetary value of what they are selling or the cost of the service they are offering, without seeing the value that those numbers are supposed to represent. Figures, profit and loss statements, and balance sheets start floating around in their minds and this becomes their entire focus.

Once your mindset becomes “how do I create value today?” you’ve already won the largest battle: the battle of your own internal motivation. If you can truly embody this principle in everything that you do as an entrepreneur, you will have already ensured that you will always be producing and earning a living in some way. There will always be people willing to exchange some value back to you for what you do for them.

Living securely in the knowledge that no matter what trials await you in life you will be prepared to handle them is a powerful form of self-mastery. Waking each day and focusing on what kind of value you can create for your audience gives you the confidence that you will never be poor again, and never struggle to survive. Even if all your worldly possessions were to disappear overnight, you would still have the mentality and the knowledge you would need to regain it all quickly and effectively. That is the power of knowing how to make other people happy through targeted value.

As an entrepreneur, value creation will always be your first line of defense against business failure.