Cindy McGovern Explains How to Create and Sell Your Personal Brand

Cindy McGovern.

Dr. Cindy McGovern knows that everyone already has experience selling — whether it’s convincing colleagues to make a product change, expanding the services provided to a client, talking a spouse into going to a particular vacation destination, or preventing children from doing something foolish. She shows how to apply those skills to building your own brand. 

Cindy McGovern Provides a Plan to Use Your Superpowers to Build Your Personal Brand

Cindy McGovern was a few weeks away from graduating with a Ph.D. in organizational communication when a professor she respected pulled her aside and told her, “Girls who look like you aren’t supposed to be smart.”

She was taken aback but realized he wasn’t trying to insult her but to shock her into recognizing the prejudices she would encounter in the business world as an outspoken blonde who worked her way through college as an aerobics instructor. 

“His heads-up meant I might need to oversell myself as a smart, ethical, capable researcher starting with the day I would defend my dissertation to a panel of brilliant academics,” she told Startup Savant. “I was a hard worker and a good student and had good role model for becoming an entrepreneur who defied the ‘dumb blonde’ stereotype in Dolly Parton. But this helped me realize it was completely in my power to take control of how I’m perceived.”

In her new book, “Sell Yourself: How to Create, Live, and Sell a Powerful Personal Brand,” McGovern provides a step-by-step process for discovering how you want to present yourself to the world in a way that helps you reach your personal and career goals. And to recognize that, intentional or not, you are already impressing others with your brand, for better or worse.

“Every job is a sales job, whether it’s a receptionist at a doctor’s office or teller who can make a customer more loyal to the bank or, because she or he has had a bad day, start them looking for a more friendly place to put their money,” she said.

She also methodically debunks the common impression that selling must involve manipulation, pushiness, and a lack of interest in what the customer really needs unless it includes a commission.

Create Your Brand

Whether you own a company or want to start one, plan to remain in corporate management or on a technical team, or have personal goals that can be helped by branding yourself. To discover what your brand should be to service your long-term vision requires first a deep self-assessment. No matter how smart you are or how much you think you know yourself, when you dig deeper into this context, you will inevitably realize you are at the beginning of a long journey. 

McGovern explains that creating a brand starts with going to a quiet place to think about what your core values are by answering these questions:

  • Who is someone you most admire, living or dead, who you have known personally? What specifically have you admired about that individual, writing at least 15 words?
  • What is a favorite memory from your own life? Write 15 words as to why it was so wonderful.
  • Look at those 30 words and group together ones that have similar meanings — give each group a one-word name. For example, “honest,” “authentic,” and “sincere” could be grouped as honesty. Aim to come up with 10 groups of 2-5 words. Study those group titles and choose five that “best describe who you are in your heart and how you hope others see you,” she wrote. “These are your core values.”
  • Identify the people and situations that influenced your adoption of these values. “Then thoroughly answer this question: How can you rely on those values to guide you as you make decisions about what to say, how to behave and react, whom to associate with, and which career/relationships/lifestyle to go after?”

This is an exercise in increasing self-awareness, and McGovern reports that many who go through this are often surprised at what is not on their list. She advises to keep the list in front of you — carry it in a wallet, tape it to your computer, or save it in notes on your phone: it’s easy in the hustle and bustle of everyday life to get distracted and for the conscious mind to conveniently forget these. 

Another list that is vital to creating your brand is one of “big life goals,” even looking out 20 years. What is your dream career? Do you want a life partner or children? Do you want to devote yourself to serving others in a charitable activity, becoming wealthy, traveling the world, or turning your hobby into a business?

But have you considered the downside of these ideal goals? That’s another list.

You should also be aware of “triggers,” activities that really bother you, and how you normally respond. Consider how these might impact the brand you are developing and ways to cope, McGovernadvises.

Curate your brand by focusing on what is most important and revisit the list every six months. You can’t be all things to everyone, and priorities can change.

A personal brand needs to be authentic — the best version of you that you manifest consistently, even when you are not working and are with just family and friends. 

Then create a list of the “superpowers” that could enable your brand to be realized. Identify them by what others say about you that is positive, your best skills and traits. These are reasons you can get hired or be successful, so you want to continue to develop them. 

“Although I’ve branded myself as the First Lady of Sales, my true superpower is kindness, the way I treat others,” McGovern wrote. “I’m also hardworking, reliable, a good listener, curious, and a constant learner. You can’t just have a superpower, you need to use it to help others, to be a superhero.” 

If you choose a personal brand that puts you in a position to help others, that will make it easy to ask for referrals, she notes.

Live Your Brand

McGovern reports that experts say it typically takes 21 days of practice to form a habit. Start with one thing that is important to your new brand and practice it until this really becomes part of your daily behavior. Then choose another. Your goal is to become “the whole package,” whether that means dressing differently, getting up earlier, upgrading your diet, having a better exercise regimen, learning something new, or mastering a skill. 

It may come as a surprise that you need to “consider how others perceive you through their five senses: sight, smell, touch, hearing, and taste,” McGovern wrote. She gives an example of how she dressed to the nines to fly somewhere and found herself next to a CEO. If she had dressed for comfort, she might not have been so impressive or had so much self-confidence (their conversation led to his becoming a client).

Smell? She says to consider whether you put on too much perfume, smell of smoke, or reek of lunch.

Touching is touchy, especially since the pandemic and the #MeToo movement. Ask permission before making actual contact. 

Hearing? Talking too loudly, mumbling, gossiping, or letting others hear your phone calls can be turn-offs, so ask friends to be candid on whether you need to be more sensitive to others.

Taste? Taken literally, this could mean considering the preferences of others when you choose a restaurant for a meeting. But more importantly, it refers to having good taste in every way.

McGovern says that few people are aware of just how much effort goes into mastering the details and being consistent for those who are household names. “Celebrities plan which restaurants they are seen in, whom they will be seen with, and what they will say if a fan or media reporter approaches them,” she wrote. 

To stay consistent in the impression you create for your brand:

  • Make a list of behaviors that could derail your reputation and resolve to think before you act.
  • Don’t get too comfortable with your brand’s image and take it for granted — keep it up to date.
  • Don’t get too big for your britches — arrogant people never see how their egos offend others.
  • Always be grateful to those who have been supportive and recommended you.

As companies are realizing, their employees’ personal views expressed on social media can impact the business, and corporations are increasing their investment in training workers to avoid public controversy. 

But inevitably, most people will run into some trouble with inconsistencies in their brand, so ask yourself some hard questions:

  • In what way could my brand rub some people the wrong way? Could it be used against me?
  • Is there some aspect of it that might be easily misunderstood?
  • Are there conditions that might cause me to act in a way inconsistent with the brand, such as overreacting to criticism?
  • Is there any part of my personality, philosophy, or beliefs that is contrary to my brand?

Once you have done this planning, try to avoid situations that may cause trouble, determine how you could stay on-brand in that event, and prepare a response that might be needed. The key points in a reaction plan are to never lie, always say you’re sorry if you mess up, and act fast before the negative news gets a stronghold, and people’s impressions will be hard to reverse. And, of course, learn from your mistakes.

Sell Your Brand

“Early in my career, my boss decided I would be a good salesperson and pitched the idea,” McGovern recalled. “I said, ‘No. Never. Gross.’ I wasn’t buying it, but he asked me to try, no strings attached. I did and actually decided I enjoyed sales so much, I left to form my own business, Orange Leaf Consulting, to help other people embrace their natural sales abilities.”

In fact, her first book in 2019 was entitled “Every Job Is A Sales Job.”

She says the most successful salespeople she knows — whether it is insurance, clothes, homes, or household services — follow a fairly simple process:

  1. Plan for the Sale. Your personal brand plan won’t sell itself. Do some strategic planning on how you might sell what you are offering. Set aside time to think and write down ideas, groups you might join to help you, and how you can differentiate yourself from the competition, and then track your progress.
  2. Look for Opportunities to Sell. You’ll become aware of people who can help you market, events where you can showcase your offering, and situations that will allow you to network with people looking for your brand. Put yourself out there. Connect with influencers. Find mentors. 
  3. Establish Trust With the People Who You Want to Buy Your Brand. Get to know and listen to them to determine if your brand is a good fit for something they need. Be honest and accountable, and don’t use people. 
  4. Ask for What You Want. Ask others to help get the word out. Ask for introductions and recommendations. Ask for buy-in. 
  5. Follow Through With Consistency and Attitude. Once you’ve been invited in, live the brand you sold them and show your gratitude by following through on everything you promised.

For those who need more guidance, McGovern offers an Academy to provide support in developing and implementing your personal brand.

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Scott S. Smith

Scott S. Smith has had over 2,000 articles and interviews published in nearly 200 media, including Los Angeles Magazine, American Airlines’ American Way, and Investor’s Business Daily. His interview subjects have included Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Meg Whitman, Reed Hastings, Howard Schultz, Larry Ellison, Kathy Ireland, and Quincy Jones.

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