US-based entrepreneur and business coach Ali Brown believes business owners shouldn’t shy away from speaking their minds, and says it was through using her own personal brand that she built a global coaching business with millions in annual revenue.
“Don’t be afraid to have an opinion. A good brand stands for something, and is against other things,” Brown told SmartCompany last month.
“You don’t need some huge mission statement workshop. Work out what you’re all about and that’ll make everything easier.”
Brown was in Australia during February to conduct a number of one-on-one coaching sessions with other entrepreneurs and SME owners, and to hold a networking event with the Director Institute. Her coaching sessions can cost up to $US50,000 ($64,000) and require business owners to fill out a detailed form on her website, according to news.com.au.
Brown now considers herself old hand at personal branding, with over 250,000 followers signing up for her online business courses and coaching. She also runs regular leadership and mentoring events.
However, her path to success was not an easy one.
During the 1990s century, Brown was working as a copywriter in a job agency in New York when a contractor let her on to the wonders of the freelance lifestyle.
“I was so excited I just quit, and I told myself I’d just figure it out,” she says.
But she was in for a shock, as although she knew how to write, Brown says she “had no idea how to find clients, or make money”.
“The breaking point for me was when I tried to withdraw a $20 note from an ATM, and I didn’t have enough in my account,” she says.
“I remember thinking ‘this is where everyone else decides to stop’, so I kept pushing on.”
After persevering and knocking the doors of a few different ad agencies, Brown says she “pieced it together”, and started seeing success doing business on her own. She turned to the internet and began publishing a newsletter to share what she knew with others.
“I started seeing results, and I started getting jobs,” Brown says.
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From this point, Brown released an ebook and put together what she calls a “crappy” website. Eventually, the ebooks turned into workshops, and the workshops turned into coaching. She launched her business, Ali International LLC in 2003, and in 2009, the company had annual revenue of US$4.5 million ($5.8 million).
Now, Brown has carved out a reputation as both a business coaching and adviser, and is particularly focused on empowering female entrepreneurs. She’s previously been named one of Forbes’ “Women to Watch”, and is an official entrepreneur delegate of the United Nations Foundation’s Global Accelerator conference.
Brown’s business followed her “personal evolution”
Brown attributes part of the success of her business to her own personal branding, and says her business has always followed her “personal evolution”.
“I realised my clients were coming to me because of me, not because of what I was teaching. They started to ask things like how I scheduled my day or my opinion on things,” she says.
“My personal brand evolved very naturally, and then social media just blew it through the roof.”
Brown has over 145,000 followers on her Facebook page and 79,000 people follow her Twitter account, from which she regularly shares advice and tips for budding entrepreneurs.
While Brown believes “everyone has a personal brand” thanks to the prevalence of social media, with potential customers “always watching” entrepreneurs on Facebook and Twitter, she says for business owners considering promoting their personal brand, it’s a choice that requires careful consideration.
“I get a lot of business owners asking me if they should start their own blog or website, and that’s a choice you have to make,” she says.
“You don’t have to have a personal brand, but it can be advantageous. No one can copy your voice and your opinions, but they can copy the services you provide.”
For Brown, building a personal brand is about “differentiating from the guy at the local dry cleaners shop”.
“It’s about people who have more missions and movements they’re embracing,” she says.
One way to for SME owners to develop their personal brand is to connecting with other like-minded entrepreneurs, says Brown. Exploring their opportunities as an entrepreneur can also foster their personal brands.
“Get together with other entrepreneurs and talk about big issues. One mistake SME owners make is they get to a certain point and they forget to change the circles they’re in,” she says.
“Get out there and meet people strategically. Expanding your circles is so essential.
“A lot more people are getting excited right now, as the opportunity to make a difference as entrepreneurs is a significant opportunity that not many have.”