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Ken Phillips is co-founder and Executive Director of Independent Contractors of Australia. He is a published authority on independent contractor issues and directs research on related commercial and trade practices issues. Through his numerous articles in newspapers and think-tank and academic journals, Ken is known for approaching issues from outside normal perspectives and is frequently sought out for media comment.

Turn yourself into a brand

Sunday, December 15, 2013

If you don’t ‘brand’ yourself when you’re self-employed, your capacity to be your own business and make good money is diminished. This is an important message I took from a presentation at the Pan-Asia small business conference in Macau in November.

The presentation by Dr Paul Temporal of Oxford University explained how successful global companies create and maintain brands. More importantly, he identified precisely what a brand is. The messages Paul was delivering are as applicable to self-employed, small business people as they are to large businesses.

Why ‘brand’ yourself? Because, according to Dr Temporal, successful branding increases the price people are prepared to pay you. That’s a pretty good motivation. You might have great technical skills in providing a service or product. But if you successfully brand yourself, people will pay you more!

What is a brand?

It’s not a slogan or a logo. It’s principally an experience in the mind of the consumer, your customer/s. It’s a relationship built around trust, reputation, quality, friendship and loyalty. Quoting Paul Temporal, a brand is an ‘experience in the mind of the consumer’.

Big companies go to a great deal of trouble to build and maintain this. For them it’s a challenge because every aspect of their business, most importantly the behaviour of every person in the business, determines the brand.

Dr Temporal gave lots of examples. Disney, for example, makes movies and runs theme parks. That’s what they ‘do’ but it’s not what they ‘deliver’ to the consumer. Rather, Disney delivers wholesome family fun. That’s their brand. That’s what consumers pay for. But to achieve that, all the people who work in Disney must reflect that in their behaviours and actions. That requires a major organizational focus and application.

But for small business people, even self-employed sole traders working on their (our) own, all we have to do is orientate our own mind and actions toward being a brand. The trouble we have is thinking of ourselves as brands. However, take this mental step and we become capable of clearly defining ourselves to our customers and achieving more business at a better price.

Take for example a self-employed photographer I know one who specializes in photographing houses for sale. She’s a great technician and highly sought after by real estate agents. But she’s much more than a great photographer. She’s absolutely punctual, arriving stylishly groomed with estate agents when doing a job. She has a warm body language and chats in a supportive manner with the home-owners as to how to best present each house. She has made herself a brand. She’s part of the selling process of the real estate agents and makes them look good to their clients.

My photographer has achieved this brand positioning of herself over several years. She’s followed the relationship building steps Dr Temporal says are required to build a brand. This starts with creating awareness (of you), to providing information (about you), building respect, then friendship, followed by trust then loyalty, culminating in togetherness in a partnership.

These are steps that anyone takes in building normal, quality relationships with people. What’s great is that they are the steps required in business, particularly when they are self-employed. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a cleaner, a courier, someone who repairs bicycles, working in a factory or in the professional areas of IT, selling, engineering or so on. The technical things that you ‘do’ are value added when you brand them and branding is about relationships.

The key theme that we constantly push at Independent Contractors Australia is that when you are self-employed you are a business. This is something that government bureaucrats (particularly tax officials), employees in big businesses, most economists and so on, have huge difficulty in understanding and accepting. They hold to the commonly accepted idea of a ‘business’ as a command-and-control type pyramid of employees.

They can ‘see’ a business when someone is running a shop, or being a plumber for example! But if it’s someone who provides ideas or services or trades in things, or particularly if they have just one client, they have difficulty ‘seeing’ that person as a business.

However, as societies have developed, the rise of self-employed people has disrupted that concept. People, on their own, can be and are businesses. It’s a fundamental idea that must achieve wide recognition!

Moreover, for those of us who are self-employed, we also have to take an additional conceptual step. If we are to really succeed, we need to do what Paul Temporal suggests and conceive of ourselves as brands. If we can do that, we’ll be better business people, adding value to society and to ourselves.
Dick Davies commented on 17-Dec-2013 09:35 AM

I agree about the importance of ‘independents’ establishing a brand.

Much has been made since the change of government last September about the new role of independents as the dynamo that can develop creativity, growth and productivity in the economy.

People also make the point that they have heard it all before. There is a fear that government will be persuaded by big business and big unions that it is too difficult to oppose the sweetheart deals that suit their respective constituents in the short term, leaving Australia uncompetitive.

Robert Gottliebsen has argued in the Business Spectator that whereas independents are heralded as the driver of growth, big business does not know how to deal with independents/small businesses,

I have little direct personal experience of this here in Australia, but it exactly concurs with experience in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall. When one fount of all wisdom fell, people looked for another. They were fearful, and the notion that they could do much better working together without some hierarchy handing down instructions was very unsettling. Some people were exhilarated by the opportunites, many felt threatened and uncertain and probably most need some positive experience and guidance to encourage them one way or the other.

Australia is at this crossroads.

I have no doubt at all that if small businesses were invited to meet with a big business in a conducive atmosphere to consider how some areas of business could be carried out better, a hugely productive discussion would ensue. Ways would be found to translate conclusions into plans and agreements from which all would benefit over time. It would be tricky at first and there would be pitfalls, but over time a far more productive work practice would emerge.

The challenge is less a technical one of how to get the work done when opportunities have been identified than it is a different sort of challenge – getting used to working in a new, adult, creative cooperative manner. As it catches on, it delivers work outcomes of a higher order of competitiveness.

We need to start working together differently, experience success, build environments for the new ways to thrive and see them develop into new institutions – brands, in fact.

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