Personal Branding: Cultivating the Right Relationships

Starla West is an executive presence and business leadership coach, “helping business professionals their interpersonal and leadership effectiveness.” She’s also in the third edition of Branding Yourself (pre-order your copy here), which drops on October 28. The following is the information she provided me for her case study. I wasn’t able to use all of it, so I asked if I could reprint it on my blog. This is what she wrote.

Why Do It?

If we’ve heard it once, we’ve heard it a million times: Effective networking is all about farming, not hunting. The goal is to cultivate relationships and gain trust. If we network only when we have to, we are way behind the game, as the full benefits of networking are most often realized after solid relationships are developed and maintained over time.

I have to admit I never fully understood this until I left the corporate world to pursue my entrepreneurial dreams. Prior to starting my own business, I was a consultant for various financial institutions throughout the United States. My job was twofold: 1) help my clients obtain more than their fair share of new customers (bank executives), and 2) help them keep these customers for as long as they possibly could.

Starla West says personal branding is all about cultivating valuable relationships.

My good friend, Starla West!

To effectively assist my clients, it was crucial that I quickly gained (and maintained) the trust and support of my clients’ executive teams. Needless to say, day in and day out I called upon my relationship building skills to “win over” these bank executives. Over time, these relationships eventually strengthened. At the end of my eight years as their consultant, these executives were more than just business acquaintances; they were now my friends.

How did I know that? Well, late on a Thursday evening, as I comfortably sat with my feet propped up on the sofa, I sent an email to my clients announcing I was leaving the company and starting my own business. After pressing Send, I closed my laptop, turned, and placed my feet on the floor. No joke, no exaggeration! Within 30 seconds, my phone rang. I thought, “Wow! I just sent that!”

I answered the call. It was the senior vice president and director of marketing for a large client of mine in Florida. I assumed he was calling to wish me good luck, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. He was calling to share his marketing knowledge and advertising expertise with me. He wanted to help catapult my business into full operation as quickly as possible by helping me develop a marketing plan. I couldn’t believe it! This extremely busy man who is next to impossible to catch on the phone was graciously giving me two full hours of his time and expert advice, and I didn’t even ask for it!

Over the next 24 hours, I received phone call after phone call and email after email from clients who wanted to help. This is when it really hit me: Networking is simply relationship building. If cultivated and nurtured correctly, these relationships develop into lifelong friendships that include a healthy balance of giving and receiving that and over time positively impact your professional growth and advancement.

How’s Your ‘I Got a Guy’ Network Looking

Could it use a little tender loving care?

The above lesson was further reinforced when my husband and I learned our friend, Alan, was badly injured in an automobile accident. While visiting Alan in the hospital, we learned our friend, Brad, was taking care of Alan’s personal matters since he didn’t have family living nearby.

During this conversation, Brad mentioned the other driver’s insurance company was calling non-stop. He was avoiding their calls because Alan’s insurance provider mandated, “Do not speak to that insurance company until you’ve hired an attorney.”
Let me pause my story there and ask, “Would you know the type of attorney needed to help your friend through this horrific situation?” If your answer is a personal injury attorney, you are correct.

That said, at this very moment, do you know a personal injury attorney whom you also like and trust?
If your answer is NO, welcome to the situation in which Brad found himself. He said, “I don’t know who to hire, Starla. I don’t want to call those ambulance chasers you see on TV but I also don’t want to pick one from an online search,” to which I replied, “I agree. You shouldn’t do that.”

I stepped out into the hallway and did a mental scan of my personal and professional relationships. Within seconds, I returned to Alan’s room and said to Brad, “Let me reach out to my friend, Amy. She’s a partner at one of the big law firms here in Indianapolis. This isn’t the type of case her firm would take. However, Amy is well-connected and I trust her. She will tell us which attorneys in Indianapolis to work with and which ones to stay away from.”

I immediately sent Amy a text and within 30 minutes she responded with a recommendation. I passed it along to Brad and said, “I know Amy very well. I trust her so this is who you should call.”  Without hesitation, Brad contacted the recommended attorney the following day.

Let’s take a moment and think about what happened.

  1. Brad needed help and I was able to help him because of the extensive network of relationships I’ve built and nurtured for well over 15 years.
  2. To help Brad, I reached out to my friend, Amy, whom I met at a business event two years prior. I was comfortable asking for help because over the last two years, Amy and I cultivated and nurtured our relationship to a point that we like and trust each other.
  3. But it didn’t stop there. To help me, Amy reached out to her network and confidently referred a personal injury attorney whom she liked and trust.

Let’s recap…

  • Brad used his network to help Alan.
  • Starla used her network to help Brad.
  • Amy used her network to help Starla.
  • And Amy helped another attorney by referring his services!

THAT is how an ‘I got a guy’ network works!

Networking is about building relationships with people whom you can share your knowledge, expertise, and talents and add value to their lives, and when done correctly, you’ll enhance your visibility and anchor your brand in the minds of others and eventually become a part of their ‘I got a guy’ networks.

As you continuously add to and nurture your ‘I got a guy’ network, it will always be full of individuals you like and trust and can comfortably refer and reach out to whenever you need assistance

A Little More ‘HELL YEAH!’ A Little Less ‘I Guess So’

Derek Sivers has time management all figured out.

Derek Sivers, creator of CD BABY, is taking an “It’s either ‘HELL YEAH!’ or no” approach to whether he takes on projects, works with people, or even attends conferences.

If said project, person, or conference doesn’t make him go “HELL YEAH! I want to do this!” he doesn’t do it. He said it’s been incredibly freeing, letting him focus on the things he really wants to.



I’ve been trying this myself. I only say yes to certain meetings, projects, and even clients that make me go “HELL YEAH!” I don’t do this all the time, and I’m not really faithful to it. But I’m a lot better than I used to be.

I don’t fill my days up with meetings, wondering when I’m going to get work done. I don’t take on every project I can find, because it takes away from projects I really care about. And I don’t take on every client, because some are more of an energy drain than others. I only take on those things that make me go HELL YEAH. Otherwise, I just say no.

At other times, though, I try a “HELL WHY NOT?!” approach. Personal development trainer Sid Savara came up with this approach, because, he says, there are times when you can’t say no to things that you should be doing. And sometimes you just shouldn’t.

Sid said he would never have started running if he had waited for a HELL YEAH. He would miss out on meeting new people because they weren’t a HELL YEAH. In fact, Sid says that a lot of things that have become a major part of his life started out as a hobby he had a small interest in. But they weren’t HELL YEAH moments.

HELL WHY NOT goes something like this: someone calls you up for coffee, and you say “Well, I’ve got all this work I’ve got to — HELL, WHY NOT?!” That meeting turns out to be a major turning point in your life and career.

Your friend has two tickets to tonight’s game, but you’re thinking that after the day you had, you just want to go home and — HELL, WHY NOT?! And you have an awesome time at the game. Much better than you would have had at home.

Or the day Kyle Lacy asked me to help him write a book. I was busy, didn’t think I had the time, but said HELL, WHY NOT?! Not only was Twitter Marketing for Dummies born, but that lead to writing Branding Yourself (affiliate link) with Kyle, and now, No Bullshit Social Media with Jason Falls.

That one HELL WHY NOT lead to two more HELL YEAH moments, with more to come.

It’s an interesting place to be, in the middle of these two responses.

On the one hand, an overenthusiastic YES! for specific opportunities. On the other, the most committed and energetic non-commitment you could ever have.

Admittedly “why not?” is not something you want to hear from someone when you ask them to come work for you, go to lunch with you, or even marry you. But HELL WHY NOT is hollered with that enthusiastic “that’s so crazy, it just might work” slapping-the-table gusto.

So I’m trying this out. I’m trying to agree to new opportunities and meetings if I can muster up either a HELL YEAH! or a HELL WHY NOT? If I look for a reason not to do something, if my first response is to groan loudly and roll my eyes, then I won’t do it.

We’ll see how it goes, and I’ll keep you posted on the results.

Only if I feel like it though.

Photo credit: DWizzy (Flickr)

Five Online Reputation Management Tactics

Your 15 minutes of fame will last a lifetime on the Internet.

Former Indiana deputy Attorney General found this out a couple weeks ago, when he was fired for posting tweets that called for the use of live ammunition against the Wisconsin protesters. I had the chance to appear on WISH TV the day Cox was fired to talk about the importance of managing one’s personal brand on social media.

Tweet from Indiana deputy Attorney General Jeff Cox

Tweet from Indiana deputy Attorney General Jeff Cox

I told WISH anchor Debby Knox, “Unfortunately, this sort of thing will follow him around forever. When someone, like a new employer, Googles his name — even 10 years from now — this story will forever be associated with it.”

The problem is, as a lot of people are learning the hard way, what you say on the Internet, even something as small as a 140-character tweet or keg-stand photo, will be around forever. And if the wrong people find it, you’ll be crucified with it. Whether that’s a potential employer or someone from the media, you can be guaranteed you’ll be found out.

Here are five online reputation management tactics you need if you’re concerned about your personal brand.

1. Know What The Internet Is Saying About You

We worked with one guy whose name was nearly identical to someone convicted of real estate fraud in the same state. The felon’s name would always appear first in a Google search if you just typed in our guy’s name. Anyone who knew him knew the difference, but when it came to potential clients, they would probably worry that they were going to hire a convicted felon.

Anyone who is named Jeffrey Cox is going to have a similar problem. A quick Google search showed that there are a lot of guys named Jeffrey Cox, even here in Indiana. Imagine the problems they’re going to have for the next several months or few years when people try to find them…

To know what people are saying about you, sign up for Google News Alerts, and have an alert set for your own name, your company name, and even your Twitter handle. Monitor this closely, and pay attention to any mention of your name that’s not on your own blog or website.

2. Know Your Influence

Whether you prefer Klout or Twitalyzer, or any of the myriad of other influence analysis tools out there, you need to know how many people are paying attention to you. If you want to positively manage your reputation, then you need to have that number as high as you can possibly get it. I prefer Klout, only because that’s what everyone is using, and so it’s easier to compare my reach by using the same stats as everyone else.

3. Practice Search Engine Optimization

Normally this is a website-/blog-only technique. If you want to get your blog or website to the top of the search engines, you need to optimize it so Google and the other search engines know exactly what your blog (and each individual post) is about.

This becomes more important if you want to knock something off Google’s front page. If you made a mistake and something is appearing at the top of Google, you need to focus on a couple of properties, like a blog, and optimize it so it sits at the top of the search rankings.

This practice is called reverse search engine optimization, and it’s becoming more important as companies and individuals realize they either made one mistake they don’t want following them around, or in a few cases, someone shares a name with a convicted felon (see below).

4. Use YouTube and Flickr/Picasa

Photos and videos are an excellent SEO tool. Not only do they boost your search rankings, but your photos and videos will often show up in your search results. If you have another result you need to boot off Google, photos and videos can help. Sign up for (and use!) YouTube and either Flickr or Picasa.

I prefer Picasa only because Google owns it, and it’s easier to integrate with my other Google properties, but Flickr is by far the more popular photo sharing site.

The best way to use photos and videos is to embed the code into a blog post, rather than uploading the photo or video to your own blog. Not only does it take up server space, but you don’t get as much search engine juice for an uploaded video as you do for an embedded one.

5. Join a Niche Social Network

If you’re trying to find a new job or establish your expertise in an industry, join a social network that’s specific to that industry. Or join one geared toward your local community. I first started connecting with people on Smaller Indiana, an Indiana-based network for people who live and work in the state. Even now, when my name appears in Google searches, there are a few results from Smaller Indiana that appear in the results.

Additionally, participating in that network will make you more visible to the other people on it. If you’re trying to make your name known in an industry, contributing a lot of valuable content to the network will accomplish this for you. Answer questions, write valuable information, and forward interesting articles to your fellow network members, and they’ll come to rely on you as someone valuable and worth working with or even hiring.

How are you managing your online reputation? Any tools or tricks we should know about? Leave a comment and let us know.

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

Random Thoughts on Writing a Book

I’ve finished my second book, Branding Yourself, with my good friend, Kyle Lacy, and am working on a third book on networking with Jeremy Dearringer, CEO of Slingshot SEO, an SEO company here in Indianapolis. I also have a couple other writing projects in the works, although those are still under wraps. I hope to have some news about those by Springtime.

But I’ve learned a few things about becoming a book author, things that I thought were easy, and things that I learned are hard.

  • Copies of the book Branding Yourself by Erik Deckers and Kyle Lacy

    In all my years, this is the 5th most beautiful sight I have ever seen.

    Writing a book isn’t really that hard, if you write on a regular basis. I used to think the advice “write every day” was stupid. “Who has time for that?” I thought. “I have work to do.” Turns out the work I was doing was writing anyway, and when I decided to write intentionally — to focus on new aspects of writing and become better at them — my writing improved.

  • Have a good editor. I learned a long time ago that while I’m a stickler about grammar and punctuation, I make a crapload of mistakes. Even though I catch them on second and third edits, I still usually find one or two that has to be fixed. Pearson just sent Kyle and me the “gathers” of the book. Individual chapters that we need to read over and mark any errors before the second printing. Believe it or not, with two writers and four editors, I found a couple errors. (What’s worse, they were mine!)
  • The hard part isn’t writing the book, it’s marketing it. In order to support the book, and sell copies, I’m starting to travel more to promote it during talks. Next week, I’ll be in Northern Indiana one night and Lexington, Kentucky the next day. I’m trying to do some paid speaking gigs, but am thinking about adopting Scott Stratten’s idea when he was promoting UnMarketing (affiliate link). Scott made an offer to any group: buy 100 of my books, and I’ll travel out to you. I’m thinking about doing that for anyone who buys 50 of my books, as long as you’re within driving distance. But compare that to writing. I could write at home, spend three hours, and knock out about 6,000 words, or almost an entire chapter. It’ll take me that long to drive to most of my speaking gigs.
  • Know your subject matter. Writing teachers love to say “write what you know” (which presents a problem for science fiction or fantasy writers). But this makes life so much easier when you’re writing a book. I remember struggling with a couple of chapters on Twitter Marketing for Dummies because I didn’t use some of the tools we were writing about. I had to spend a lot of time using them before I could write about them, which threw a huge monkey wrench into my writing schedule.
  • Have a writing schedule, and stick with it. John Grisham’s writing schedule, when he first started out, was to write from 7 am to 8 am, before he opened his law office. Christopher Moore’s schedule involves a lot of screwing around all day before he settles down after lunch and writes for 4 or 5 hours. Mine is to write at night, after the kids are in bed, and go for about 4 hours. Ignore the people who tell you to wake up early because mornings are more productive, or the people who tell you to stay up late because no one is awake then. Do what’s best for your body and your schedule. If you’re a night owl, stay up late. If you’re an early bird, get up and get that worm. But create a schedule and stick to it.
  • Shut off distractions. I love my Twitter network, and love chatting. But they are also the biggest interruption of my day, because they’re always more interesting than whatever I’m doing (even as I’ve written this post, I’ve sent 4 tweets). So when I’m writing, and have the willpower to do so, I shut off TweetDeck, close my Gmail, turn off the notifiers, and get to work. I can save myself 30 minutes of writing when I do that. My wife once asked me why I didn’t do that more, and I told her to “rephrase your question in the form of a tweet.”

Writing styles and processes are different for everyone. What are yours? Do you do anything special to get your writing done, to be more efficient and effective, or even to avoid distractions? Leave a comment and let me know.

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

Your Best Editor Is the One Who Shreds Your Writing

I was just talking with Kyle Lacy’s and my editor, Katherine, about the editing of our book, Branding Yourself.

We were talking about the strong-arm nature of our development editor, Leslie, and the work she did for us on our book. Leslie was tough, asked a lot of hard questions, and really made us work. There were days I spent almost as much time fixing her edits as I did writing the original chapter.

“Would you ever want to use her again on future projects?” Katherine asked

“Oh absolutely. She kicked our asses.”

These people made Branding Yourself as good as it is.

That’s the beauty of a really good editor. They won’t let you get away with anything. They do whatever is necessary to make your writing the best it can be. And for me and Kyle, that was making sure our book wasn’t a piece of schlock that came across as one long hastily-written blog post.

A good editor will ask questions, point out errors, make corrections, show inconsistencies, and make you revise your work. A bad editor will read your work, tell you they liked it, and maybe point out a couple punctuation errors.

A good editor will make your life hell, a bad editor will make your life as easy as possible.

A good editor will make your writing rock, a bad editor will let your writing suck.

I can’t tell you the number of times I got irritated with Leslie’s questions and comments in the manuscript that personally attacked me and questioned my ability as a writer. I would work on them at my dining table at 1:00 in the morning, writing snarky responses to most of them.

It took the light of day to bring a fresh new perspective to her helpful questions and comments that showed me where I skipped an important piece of information or had a poorly-constructed sentence. I quickly deleted the snarky responses, happy that I had waited until the morning before I finished making the changes. (I learned to stop reading her edits when I was running on empty at 1 in the morning, but started making them during the day when I was fully rested. She became much nicer when I did that.)

I have learned over the years that editors are only there to make your work better, not to make you look stupid or to make you question why you ever pursued writing and didn’t just go into roadkill cleanup as a career. If you’re lucky enough to find an editor for your work, whether it’s a professional editor looking at a manuscript or a know-it-all friend with a hyperactive red pen, treasure this person. Hold on to them for as long as you can, and give them as much of your work if they can handle.

And when they hand you back your baby, filled with more questions and red ink than you think can fit in one pen, say thank you, get a good night’s sleep, and then make the changes they suggested.

After all, it’s your name and your reputation going on that piece. You look like a genius because of them, and all they get — if they’re lucky — is their name on an inside page of the book.

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

I Just Received My Copies of the Branding Yourself Book

Two hours ago, I opened up something I thought I would never see: a carton of books with my name on it.

And not just because I bought them.

Copies of the book Branding Yourself by Erik Deckers and Kyle Lacy

In all my years, this is the 5th most beautiful sight I have ever seen.

Because I wrote it.

My good friend, Kyle Lacy, and I just co-authored Branding Yourself: Using Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself, and Que BizTech (Pearson Education) published it. The book will officially be released on Thursday, December 30, 2010, and will be in the major bookstores, as well as on

As much of a wimp as this will make me sound, I got more than a little choked up looking at something I never imagined as possible until last year (it also didn’t help that Mumford and Sons’ “Little Lion Man” was playing on the radio at that moment either).

Last year, Kyle and I wrote Twitter Marketing for Dummies. We had such a good time that we decided to do it again.

That’s where Branding Yourself came from.

This project has lead to several other projects and other opportunities. And now that it’s been released, I can only hope it leads to bigger and better things (it already has: 2011 is already filling up with some awesome new projects that I’ll be sharing in Q1 and Q2 2011).

If you would like to come to the launch party, we’ll be holding it on Tuesday, January 25 at Scotty’s Brewhouse Downtown (1 Virginia Ave., Indianapolis, IN 46204). You can register for the book launch party at the Eventbrite page.

There are so many people to thank for this — some people whose influence stretches back as far as five years ago — that I don’t even know where to begin. The most notable ones who deserve special recognition are:

  • Paul Lorinczi: My business partner in Professional Blog Service. He makes sure I get my work done here so I can focus on outside projects like this.
  • Lorraine Ball: She was my networking mentor and Kyle’s first employer. She taught me how to network and showed me how to claim my niche and grow it better than anyone else. Her lessons on building a niche lead to this book. (She even gets a couple mentions.)
  • Katherine Bull: Our editor at Pearson/Que BizTech. She’s just awesome, and has become a real friend. Plus, she can spot some real talent and nurture them along. Anyone who has the chance to work with her needs to leap at it.
  • Brandon Prebynski and Leslie O’Neill: Our Tech Editor and Development Editor. I don’t know how many times I got irritated with them at 2:00 in the morning as I was going over their edits, and wrote snarky, smart-ass comments in response to their questions, only to realize the next morning that they were right and I was an idiot. They made this book so much better.
  • Kyle Lacy: To be honest, I learned more from him in the last three years than I realize, and I owe him more for this success than I could ever say.

This has been such a great event in my life, I still can’t believe it’s real. I have to keep looking over at the box of books to make sure they’re really there. I’m looking forward to 2011, and what that’s going to bring. If it’s even half as great as 2010, it’s going to be freaking awesome!