THE INVISIBLE BRANSON
Creating Your Personal Brand
As we said in Chapter One, the key focus in this book is about learning to take full advantage of a powerful marketing tool called personal branding and using it to leapfrog you into becoming a business rock star through making yourself the public face of your business. This is not about creating an artificial, fake persona. On the contrary, the process of developing a personal brand is actually about discovering your true essence and identity—your strengths, talents, character, personality and values—and then expressing that identity into your market. To show you how this works we'd like to share two case studies about what drives and shapes the personal branding process. The first case study is based on our client John Shanahan. The second is about my (William's) personal journey.
Story Of John Shanahan
John is the CEO and owner of a company called Pyrosales. They make industrial temperature sensors. In recent years John’s business was acknowledged as the Suncorp Western Sydney Business of the Year Award. Not only did he receive this prestigious award, the business was also recognized with the Award for Excellence in Exporting and simultaneously was a finalist in the Premier’s New South Wales Export awards.
These are great achievements. However, the reason for sharing this with you is that these acknowledgements are far more significant when you come to understand the obstacles that John overcame to earn them.
In March 2006, just three years before he won the awards, Pyrosales was in administration! Then the global financial crisis put the company’s Australian market share under even greater threat. Clients were deferring orders. Like similar manufacturers, Shanahan faced the daunting prospect of retrenching staff and cutting back.
However, rather than focusing on the obstacles, he took on our guidance, of channeling his ‘inner Branson’ and choosing to look for new possibilities. He started to ask “What if?” questions such as: "If the Australian market was in decline, then what could he do to get a share of the world market?
The answer: he needed to go from thinking of himself, and his business as small timers and begin the journey of operating like the world's best in their niche. He needed to create a personal brand that would become known in the global market in which Pyrosales would operate. And, he had no time to waste!
It was do or die time: to admit defeat and face the crisis of administration or use the fact of being cornered and come out fighting. John chose to fight. He decided to create a clear and compelling goal that not only inspired him as the CEO but would have the same effect on his team, clients and prospective new ones alike.
At first, the notion of gaining a world market share seemed unrealistic. After all, he’d need to become the best in the world to get any recognition. The biggest obstacle was in navigating through his mindset (beliefs and perceptions) of how his small organization, in the back streets of suburban Sydney, could take on the world market. Thankfully, John was up to the challenge.
He knew that to be the best, his first priority was to understand the needs of the global market. This could not be done from his desk. So, with a sense of urgency, he visited fifteen countries and about thirty-six business prospects in a matter of months.
The purpose of these visits was not to sell. It was about understanding their needs and requirements so he could begin to build relationships based on trust. And, in time, give himself the opportunity to sell from a position of strength.
As is the case with most business-to-business connections, when a client senses your commitment to gaining an understanding of what’s important to them, they invite you in. The act of clocking up thousands upon thousands of flying hours certainly grabbed the attention of his prospects. It opened doors that were otherwise difficult to get through. John, literally touched, moved and inspired his counterparts through his commitment and willingness to take the initiative and get into their world. And in the process of visiting all these businesses, he became known as the world's most knowledgeable person in his field.
The results were spectacular. During the height of the financial crisis, John’s business gained a million dollars in extra revenue. What made this sort of turnaround possible?
Well, when we work with our clients, we encourage them to embrace one of Richard Branson’s principles: “Be bold but don’t gamble.”
However, to take such bold steps you need to be congruent with yourself. That is, to know who you truly are—and to be at ease in your own skin.
Story Of William de Ora
To illustrate the importance of being truly congruent with yourself, we want to share with you William’s personal story:
I was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and given the birth name of William de Silva. As my parents had divorced when I was three, I lived with my father until his death. I was raised as a doctor’s son and underwent a somewhat peculiar education that confusingly combined Christianity with Buddhism.
However, at the age of twelve (when my father died) I was sent to the United Kingdom to live with my mother. To paint you an even clearer picture, I could not speak English, and I was neither black nor white, but rather a brown-skinned boy who was excited by a new adventure. I was, upon reflection, naive about the real world.
My most valuable life lessons occurred when I had the rather dubious honor of being beaten up by both white English kids and black West Indian kids. I felt I didn’t fit in with any group.
In my early twenties I snapped up an opportunity to emigrate from the United Kingdom to Australia and was fortunate to land a great job in the advertising industry. In hindsight that job was a godsend. I went on to spend twenty-three years of my life as an art director working for some of the largest and most creative advertising agencies in the country.
My position involved coming up with new ideas about how to advertise and promote our clients’ products. Every day was all about creating new identities for all types of products. I was given a blank sheet of paper and expected to come up with a new look and meaning for the brand, and, I was handsomely paid to do so.
This may sound like an ideal job; in many ways it was. But by 1989 the world of advertising was changing, and more importantly I was changing. In 1990 I decided to leave my career and start my own business. I was in my early forties and whilst I had lived the high life, travelled the world for twenty-three years and had a lot of fun, I didn’t have too much to show for it. I worked hard but equally played hard—there was definitely no tomorrow—or so I thought!
I remember waking up one day and realizing that whilst I had been busy making other people successful, I was now facing the reality that I hadn’t taken care of my own future.
I was flat broke and depressed. I didn’t know how I was going to make my rent payments, and, my future seemed dull. Whilst I could easily have maintained a facade of success, I knew I needed to do something different.
I confronted the fact that I had sold myself short to be able to succeed in the business world and that I had squandered many opportunities. I had wasted so much of my life. Or so I thought. Gloomy with increasingly dark visions, I contemplated taking the easy way out. Thankfully a voice inside me kept whispering that there was hope—but only if I decided to leave my old life behind and create a new one.
It was time for action. My background, life experiences, skills and knowledge all came to the forefront. I realized that if I was this unhappy with my life, then I had to choose: either find another job or create a whole new reality. There was no point in continuing to waste my time, spin my wheels or keep berating myself.
When faced with this predicament, most people consider new jobs, decide to move to a new or a different country. However, I knew I needed a total, personal 360-degree overhaul. And, as most of our clients know, I don’t do things in small measures.
Do As You Do For Others
I began to do for myself what I had so often done for my clients: I would rebrand myself. I would create a totally new persona and then challenge myself to step into that identity. I knew that if I could rebrand myself then the sky was the limit. There was nothing to be gained in settling for average or ordinary!
This meant considering the possibility of something as fundamental as a name change. As I mentioned, my birth name was de Silva. And, I was absolutely certain that I wanted more than just silver in my future. My life would be about going for gold.
And so the name “de Ora” was born. (This name is created from Di Oro or d’oro, which is the Italian translation for “of gold.” In French, the word Or means gold, and d'or means of gold.) I changed my name by deed poll on 30 April 1992 and reinvented myself as William de Ora. I gave myself permission to become the person I had always wanted to be.
But let me be straight with you. From my perspective, I had my back to the wall at the time. What I know now is that you need not wait to hit rock bottom in order make changes. It is far more enjoyable to intentionally create a personal brand when life is great.
For me, it was important to understand what success meant in my life. To make changes to my identity was not about some ego trip. It was about reclaiming my true self.
The process of rebranding and reinvention was about peeling off the old facades I had built up in order to fit in. It was a process of discovering and giving value to my true self. It was about taking, and being, responsible for my life. After all, I was the writer, director and star of my life.
The difference between William de Silva and William de Ora is that the latter is far more congruent with the spirit of who I am. In coming to Australia, I wanted desperately to be accepted. So I did everything I knew to become an Australian. Inevitably, somewhere along the way, I lost my identity—and any real sense of who I actually was.
Unfortunately, and all too often, we see this happening with many small-business entrepreneurs. They start out in their own businesses with inspiration, motivation, passion and purpose only to become numb, frustrated and disillusioned by what being in business is actually about. And, what it takes to be in business.
This is why Sir Richard Branson is a fantastic role model because, as he describes in his book, Screw It, Let’s Do It, “If something stops being fun, I ask why? If I can’t fix it, I stop doing it.”
Reincarnation In This Lifetime
Changing my surname allowed me to express all the positive attributes I had ever wanted. It was a stunning revelation that I could actually step into that new identity. But, as I now realise, it wasn’t just about changing my name. It was about breaking away from the past. I had the freedom to focus on the future and start working with a clean slate.
For me, this was like going on a holiday. I’m sure you’ve experienced a different way of being whilst on vacation. You feel a freedom and ease with life—different from how you normally are. Everything around you looks fresh, clean and interesting. You have a sense of joy and curiosity about life. You do and say things you would normally never think of doing and saying. Even if you make a fool of yourself, it doesn’t matter because no one knows you.
When I invented William de Ora, I felt exactly like that. It transformed me; but unlike a vacation, this new life direction wouldn't end. It was the new, real me and I could now look forward to an endless future, free from all the baggage of the past.
What I created is not that unusual. It really is the most natural way of living. It became clear to me that the meaning of my life is all about the meaning I give it. And as I became more secure in my true self, I was able to extend my identity into my business and work. My personal brand emerged and grew. I became a recognized expert.
Perhaps you’re thinking that you’re not really an expert. You see yourself as a business person just like any other. In that case, I am here to tell you that if you have been running your business for more than five years, you know a lot. It’s time to move into the spotlight and share your knowledge. In the coming chapters, we'll show you exactly how to do that.
In your case, you may not want to change your name, however I do invite you to consider what it would take for you to go from “Mr/Mrs. Average Business Owner” to “The Rock Star” in your niche?
The new life I created was that of a business mentor/coach. I decided to use a methodology that suited me to a tee. Something that combined the philosophies I knew best. The perfect marriage—east and west. This evolved into a fusion of a deeply grounding Buddhist philosophy coupled with my passion and excellence in marketing and advertising.
By combining the two, I cleared a new and productive path. It was a path that would add value to what I could offer my clients. I came to realize that the color of my skin was perfect for this role. It gave me a point of distinction.
I knew how to package this new identity and simply gave myself the same advice I had given to clients. I was learning to change from operating in survival mode to operating in a success mindset. This brought new difficulties and challenges. It also required considerable adjustment. But as a result of redefining my life, I had the fortunate opportunity to meet my wife and business partner, Louise. In so many ways, life turned around for me when I decided to turn it around.
Of course I still had self-doubts, but the feedback I received from my clients was stunning. At times I couldn’t believe what I was hearing from them. Looking back I understand that the reason for my success is that I finally became congruent with who I am at heart, the person I always wanted to be. My true identity became congruent with every other aspect of my life—in business and in relationships.
Sir Richard Branson exemplifies this self-congruency, as do other well-known business leaders such as Donald Trump, Oprah Winfrey, Martha Stewart, and Warren Buffett. It’s all about being true to yourself in all your endeavors and dealings. It has nothing to do with money. It’s about being aligned with your heart, spirit, and your soul.
Why I Had to Change
The reason for sharing my personal story with you is because I want you to understand that developing your personal brand and becoming an authority in your profession does not mean inventing some facade that's not based on who you really are.
This is something that Louise and I have discussed and debated many times. It's crucial that you understand that developing a personal brand should be based on your true self. Having discovered that essence, you will be able to live life fully with authenticity in your business.
It is fair to suppose that you know more about yourself and your business than you realize. We believe you’re already an authority in your market. But we speculate that you may not necessarily grasp your own credibility or, for that matter your true value.
Louise and I have encountered many people who have amazing capability and experience but they fail to recognize their own resources or worth. Or, if they are aware of their capacity, they often deny its true value.
Young people are usually less timid about recognizing their value and abilities than older professionals. I used to lead motivational classes for the teenagers. One of the exercises I gave these students was to have them write down two hundred good things about themselves. This simple exercise would take approximately half an hour at best. However, when the same exercise is undertaken by business owners, it usually takes anywhere between a week or two, and even then they struggle.
The point I am making is that as we grow older we all tend to accumulate a great deal of baggage. Most likely you have no problem identifying what is not okay about you but you struggle to see what is good.
This is what had happened to me. I knew all the reasons why my life wasn’t working. I had organized my life so that there was supporting evidence for the thesis that I wasn’t a success. I was trapped. And, the way out for me was to change my identity.
It is worth noting though, that there is a vast difference between what I have done and what someone like Madonna has done in order to keep her audience engaged and have the spotlight remain shining brightly over her. Madonna is always changing her image, whether she is a good girl gone bad, a virgin in white, a Marilyn Monroe, a 1920s gangster moll, an androgynous person, a cold robot, a naked sex symbol, a glamor queen, a cosmic spirit, or, finally, a doting mother. Her ability to change images every couple of years has fascinated the world, and it has been vital to her financial success. But it's not what I did, nor is it what this book is about.
Our approach to personal branding starts with peeling away the layers of your facade in order to gain access to the real you. Only you will know who that real you is. I gained a closer access to my real self by developing my personal brand according to my true identity.
In John Shanahan’s case he didn’t have the luxury of time to peel away his mild demeanour. Just like John, you too have what it takes to break through those invisible barriers between you and the success you dream of.
I recognize that there can be a sense of vulnerability in exposing one's true self in the rough and tumble world of business. For this reason, I take strength in seeing how Sir Richard Branson turned the world upside down without having to conform or pretend to be anyone but himself. It's for this reason that we chose to focus on his life as a role model for the principles in this book.
In the next section of this book, we will spend several chapters helping you to discover the real you. Don't be concerned: our discussion is open-ended and designed to give you a framework for self-discovery and developing a personal brand.
The main thing to remember is that your true identity is the foundation for helping you develop your personal brand and be the recognized expert in your field.
And that will help you become the most authentic business “rock star” around.