Who Needs a Strong Reputation?

20 August 2009 Rob Brown

In an extract from his book How to Build Your Reputation, author Rob Brown explains how to define and design your personal reputation.

You may be happy with the reputation you have right now, but I doubt it, for two reasons. First, if you were happy, you wouldn’t be reading this. Second, you are, without doubt, a member of at least one of the following twelve groups, each of whom need an influential reputation or life, otherwise business may be a little more uncomfortable than it should be:

1. Employed professionals looking to move up the corporate ladder. This ladder is slippery and already rather crowded with your peers and colleagues. If you are in danger of being overlooked for promotion, are not making ‘partner’ as fast as you would like or would like to cut your career track to the top a little shorter, then you need to build a strong reputation.

2. Anyone looking to make their mark and punch above their weight in a particular field. If you have moved into a new geographical area, a new department, a different business sector or a completely new career, you have a limited time to make an impact. An awareness of the key reputation building tools will radically shorten this ‘teething’ time and allow you to hit the ground running.

3. People placed in positions of trust, authority, management or leadership. Any powerful position where you are given responsibility for people and outcomes will be a test for you. You will be judged by how you influence, motivate and inspire other people to contribute to the future accomplishment of a vision. If you can build a strong reputation, you will significantly increase your chances for respect, buy-in and results.

Lou Gerstner, chairman and CEO of IBM, is a little unusual. Despite most people in his industry wearing jeans and button-down shirts, he almost always appears in a dark blue suit in photographs. When he took over IBM in 1993, the company was in decline and on the verge of being broken up. Almost everyone expected him to manage the break-up, but Gerstner did not pull the trigger. His reputation in turning round American Express and managing the leveraged buyout of RJR Nabisco meant that he became the first outsider to head this company giant. Although the situation looked bleak, if anyone could turn things around, it was Gerstner. With a move away from the internal focus that had got the company into trouble, his outward-directed, customer- focused ethos ignited the embers and turned the company around.

4. Entrepreneurs looking to build a company and even an empire around themselves. It is lonely at the top. If you have an entrepreneurial vision, it is likely you will be a lone voice. As somebody famous once said, you have to do it by yourself but you cannot do it alone. By developing the right kind of reputation, you will attract investment, partners, staff, key contacts and all the support and encouragement you need.

Fred Smith, founder of Federal Express, once famously said that not to be an entrepreneur is to begin the process of decline and decay. People thought he was mad when he laid down a promise of overnight delivery. On that first night of operations, FedEx delivered 186 packages. Now, with a global workforce of 275,000 people, it is capable of delivering 9.8 million packages in one day. There can be few more successful realisations of an empire built around a vision than this.

5. Self-employed professionals making a living doing what they love to do. Just because you are good at something, doesn’t mean you can do it for a living. There are many hungry but talented people out there who do not understand that being successful in the self-employed capacity needs a lot more than talent. You have to be a great marketer, very organised and committed to carving out the right kind of reputation that makes people come to you and minimises your involvement in the things you’d rather not do.

6. Visionaries who want to grow something big and meaningful, and leave a legacy long after they have gone. Some people say that your character is what you have when you arrive in a new town and your reputation is what you have when you leave. You can control what people think and say about you, if you give them the right cues. But to build an empire, you need to have a very strong character. In fact, it is impossible to develop a strong reputation without a correspondingly strong character. Only when you develop yourself can you build something bigger than you are.

7. Anyone thinking of starting their own company or business venture. If people are going to buy you or buy from you, they need to be able to trust you. They want to know that you can do what you say you will do, when you say you will do it. They need to know you are a safe pair of hands. They need to know they are getting value.

Your reputation is more about you than your company. Getting known by the right people for the right things will help you attract all the customers and clients you need to make your business successful.

8. People who want more recognition, reward and acknowledgement for who they are and what they do. Above pay and working conditions, you would probably cite appreciation as one of the key motivators in your job. Unfortunately, if you are like most people, appreciation will be in short supply. These days, it is not enough to do a good job. If you want to be more loved and appreciated, you have to be perceived as doing a good job by the right people at the right time. If you want more respect for what you are doing, you cannot leave this to chance. There are things you can do to get noticed and thanked. But you must take responsibility and take action, as it will not happen by accident.

9. Professionals fed up with a lack of appreciation from their peers. Sometimes you find that your clients and customers rate you, but your colleagues and team cannot muster the same enthusiasm for your work. This is often a matter of ignorance. Don’t ‘hide your light under a bushel’. It is no good you being the best kept secret in the world. You must raise your profile purposefully and deliberately if you want to be known and appreciated more than you are.

10. Professionals who want to charge premium rates for their excellent advice, and are tired of haggling and competing on price. You must remember that price is only ever an objection in the absence of value. If people are arguing about price, they cannot see the value that you bring to the table. You must educate them on what you do differently and beyond your competitors. In doing so, you give clients more of a reason to choose you and less of a reason to undermine their investment in what you offer. Your reputation can help you do this.

11. Professionals who want to attract a certain type and quality of client but seem to be in a position where they must take every client that comes their way. Whether you realise it or not, you have more than one reputation for more than one thing. For example, your family will see you in a different way to your clients. Your job is to make sure the right people see you in the right way, and to do the right things as a result. If you can define your target audience, you can go after them, market to them and position yourself in front of them. This way, when people need what you do, they come to you first.

12. People who want business to be easier, more fun and more lucrative! Most business professionals are not natural salespeople. Like them, you are probably excellent at what you do, and very technically competent. Unfortunately, part of your role will be to win new business and create new opportunities. For many people, this can take the fun out of what you love doing, and if you are failing in this area it can also adversely affect bonuses and promotion prospects.

Why you need a strong reputation

The short answer is that a bad reputation will kill you! You’ll struggle in business, and this will adversely affect your personal life. You’ll take on roles and jobs because you have to, not because you want to. You’ll find yourself in the despicable position of fulfilling other people’s dreams and achieving other people’s goals.

As you’ve learned, you get paid for solving problems. And the bigger the problems, the more you tend to get paid. But you need to position yourself so you can be considered and then engaged to solve those problems, otherwise you go hungry. You need to be sought after and ‘front of mind’ if you’re even going to get a chance to solve people’s problems.

It doesn’t matter if you’re the best person to do the job. From my experience, the best opportunities, clients and customers do not always fall to the best professionals, the best at networking, the best salespeople or the best rainmakers. They fall to those who have the strongest reputation in the marketplace. They fall to those with the greatest ‘top of mind’ awareness. They fall to those who have a personal reputation which makes them the obvious expert and the ‘go to’ professional for what they do. Is that you?

Please understand this. It’s not enough to be the best. You have to be seen to be the best. The plain truth is that you need a proper strategy to create a credible and desirable reputation, and the action plan to lift it into the minds of your target audience. That way, when they need what you do, they think of you first, above and beyond all of their other choices.