Protect Your Personal Brand

Looking to avoid a personal brand reputation crisis? Here's how you can sidestep a potential disaster.

When established brands face a reputational disaster - a product fails catastrophically, for example, or E. coli contaminates the menu -armies of specialists are brought in to help salvage customer trust and ease the business through its crisis. They marshal every resource available because they know these events can impact a company's reputation for years, causing potential immeasurable harm.

The damage can be especially devastating if you're an entrepreneur struggling to build your personal brand in today's competitive market.

Taking a quick step back, the term "personal brand" has been around since management consultant and author Tom Peters coined it in 1997 in an article entitled, "The Brand Called You." But the concept is as old as history. It's your reputation, your values, your capabilities - anything that separates you from your competition. So, a personal brand is what you're known for. And, if you're a budding entrepreneur, your company brand will have a lot in common with your personal brand.

What if something were to happen that undermined your customers' trust and loyalty? Your resources and reputational assets are undoubtedly limited. Would your personal brand survive? What can you do to preserve its value? And, equally important, are there proactive measures you can take to position your brand for survival?

Yes, there are. Here's five simple strategies to help you avoid a personal reputational fiasco and strengthening your professional brand.

1. Be Your Authentic Self

Strong brands don't try to be all things to all people. For example, a national pizza chain that's built its reputation on making great pizzas wouldn't start making hamburgers one day and thus dilute their brand. They would risk losing their loyal consumer base by straying too far from their core competency. Be yourself, stick with what you know and do it better than your competitors.

2. Tell It Like It Is

Related to authenticity is the need to resist overpromising. Especially when you're first starting out, it's tempting to claim more expertise than you have. So, listen to that little voice inside that sometimes makes you uncomfortable, and be transparent about your capabilities. You can always add related expertise, services, or products later, effectively expanding your brand as companies often do. The worst thing you can do is overpromise and under-deliver, especially early on in your entrepreneurial journey.

3. Communicate

This means more than sending out a monthly newsletter or writing a weekly blog post. It means writing and speaking in a way that is respectful to your audience. Respectful communications will pay off if an issue ever arises. In extreme cases, companies have taken out full-page ads in national newspapers, and CEOs have gone on national television, and these measures have gone a long way toward preserving public trust. 

4. When You Mess up, Admit it

Everybody makes mistakes, but owning up to them is less common. So learn to admit to your customers when something goes wrong. Making excuses or blaming others will only show that you can't be trusted. Admittance is the first step, but it goes nowhere without the next step.

This comes to life at home, too. I'm working hard to instill in my kids the need for honesty, transparency and authenticity. I want them to know they can tell me when they mess up, because the longer they keep the truth from me, the worse their situation becomes. It seems simple enough, but admitting there's a problem early on will get you the help and resources needed to make things right, both in business and personal relationships.

5. Make Amends 

Take responsibility for the consequences of your mistake, and if necessary, offer to make up for it. That shows your customers that you value their business and want to serve them. It's also evidence of humility, which is always an appealing trait. The actions you take to foster good will with the public may contain damage to the brand.

Ultimately, how to develop and sustain a personal brand that endures, even after a setback, isn't a huge mystery. It's about building trust with your customers.

Preserving your personal brand essentially comes down to practicing those principles most of us were taught as children. Be honest, be respectful, keep your promises, admit your mistakes, and take responsibility. You'll then have less cause to stay up nights worrying about a reputational nightmare.