Reputation Leadership For Entrepreneurs – A MUST Have Or A Luxury?

If you are a start-up founder or entrepreneur, you are balancing every decision, every choice and every investment.

So let me ask you what are the MUST HAVE investments for any entrepreneur?

Technology – YES

Marketing – YES

Sales – YES

Reputation Management – What do you think?

Two oft repeated questions I hear from founders are:

What is in it for me?

Is it a MUST have for this early stage of our business?

If you are thinking the same you are not alone.

Today I will address the basics, use and value of reputation leadership for entrepreneurs.

I have with me two experts with diverse experience and unique perspectives from their rich and fabulous careers.

Our first expert is Susan Furness from Dubai, UAE.

Susan is among the pioneers of publicity and reputation management in the Middle East region since the early nineties. A maverick of spoken words, and the brain behind some of the most successful hospitality launches in Dubai, she is continuously evolving the landscape of communications. In 2020 during Covid-19 Susan co-created a handful of new era solutions, including Strategic Heartistry and is refining the digital-age model, Brand Journalism.

Our second expert is Michelle Garrett.

Michelle Garrett is from the state of Ohio, USA. You’ll find her at the intersection of PR, content marketing and social media. Michelle was named a Top Digital PR Leader in 2020, and her blog was on the list of Top 25 Must-Read Public Relations Blogs. She is creating waves on social media with her very poplar twitter chat #freelancechat

Question 1

Please define Reputation Leadership for us. Is there any difference between reputation leadership and brand image?

Susan Furness:

Reputation Management, morphing into the more grown-up definition Reputation Leadership both had their moments of fame over the last two decades. My considered thought then was there is no point in just managing reputation; you need to lead in it. But is this the case today? Is it my place to lead or manage my reputation?

Reputation is what others think of you. And no matter what you do, what one person thinks may not be what another thinks. This is because of perception. Perception is individual to the individual so what looks ‘interesting’ to one person may look as ‘confusing’ to the other.

Another play on reputation and the notion of perception is opinion. The presence of opinion means that reputation is not actually mine. It is the opinion of me held by another.

Here is my definition of Reputation Leadership today.

First up, it is an oxymoron. You cannot lead something that belongs to another. You can only accept it when they give it to you – as a gift or a lesson. Therefore, in appreciation full circle economics and/or communications, perhaps it is Reputation Management that is the strategic support needed by brand image today.

Considering that the definition of brand image is the impression or perception or opinion or indeed image that another has of ‘the brand’ (a personal brand or a corporate brand).

Michelle Garrett:

Your reputation is what you’re known for. It’s what people believe you stand for, your beliefs and opinions. It can include the stance you take on various issues.

I have seen it defined as this: “Simply put, brand is a “customer centric” concept that focuses on what a product, service or company has promised to its customers and what that commitment means to them. Reputation is a “company centric” concept that focuses on the credibility and respect that an organization has among a broad set of constituencies, including employees, investors, regulators, journalists and local communities — as well as customers. In other words, brand is about relevancy and differentiation (with respect to the customer), and reputation is about legitimacy (of the organization with respect to a wide range of stakeholder groups, including but not limited to customers).”

Question 2

Reputation Leadership for Entrepreneurs –is it a MUST have or a luxury in today’s time?

Susan Furness:

In today’s digital era, reputation – or perception – is a good as a Snapchat Second. Years ago we PR pros would moot ‘it’s as long as a ‘New York Mile’. That reduced greatly to a Facebook Minute, before the second given by Shapchat or indeed Stories, reduced the reputation window.

Having said that, via the social channels the lifespan of content too reduces the reputation-impacting content; in some cases this is up and gone before you can call the Crisis team.  But it still may have caused a stir, or a meme, or a GIF, or even beamed up into the shared media space.

Here is my final answer to this: Leadership is the critical responsibility in managing reputation, for every custodian of brand irrespective of the size and scale of the brand, be it brand image, brand value, brand promise, brand delivery, brand experience and more. 

Michelle Garrett:

I feel as if whether or not they work on it intentionally with purpose, the reputation exists. Whether you view reputation leadership as a “must have,” or not, it is already there. So why not decide to focus some effort on building a stronger reputation? If your reputation as an entrepreneur is strong, it helps your business. You’ll be invited to contribute your opinion more often, which leads to greater visibility.

Question 3

Will reputation leadership help an entrepreneur to create a distinct brand and grow their business? Please tell us some other ways reputation leadership brings value for an entrepreneur.

Susan Furness:

Words matter. Words have energy. All words can create a ‘felt shift’ in the receiver or audience. The felt shift will ignite an action. This can be a positive, conducive action or it can be a negative, disruptive action, or it can be still in no man’s land. Whatever, words spark a cause and effect.

Thus, the best thing entrepreneurial leaders can do, or any organisation leader for that matter, is to spend dedicated time to co-create brand voice and capture this is a Master Message Manual. It is also crucial to remember, it’s not about what you want to say, but what those you are committed to serve (your audience) want to hear or need to hear.

Indeed, I offer this same steer when an entrepreneurial start-up is looking to name the company, product or service and then selecting brand identity (color, icon and typeface). May I suggest that the business is NOT your baby. Rather it’s true ‘ownership’ lies with your customer.

Michelle Garrett:

Yes. Per my answer above, it can bring greater visibility to you and your work. This can drive your business and bring in new prospects and customers.

I also believe that sharing your unique point of view does help you stand out and distinguish your brand from all the others.

If people follow you on social media, read your blog posts and contributed articles and like what you have to say, that can motivate them to learn more about you – and eventually to hire you or buy from you.

And the more opportunities that come your way, the more opportunities it can lead to. There can be a snowball effect. In the beginning, things may move slowly, but once you build some momentum, it sustains itself to a degree. You can be invited to contribute your opinion to articles, through speaking opportunities, and so on. All of these opportunities feed off each other, leading to more opportunities – and greater visibility.

Question 4

What do you recommend for someone who may not have lots of funds to invest in a high priced Reputation Management consultant or campaigns?

Susan Furness:

Please call me!  Currency comes in different forms than money.

Michelle Garrett:

You can do some of it yourself. Yes, it does take time. Expect to invest more time in the beginning. Start small. Do one thing you feel might move the needle. Then, add more elements as time allows.

For example, if you’re not active on social media, choose one platform where your potential audience/customers spend time and start posting and engaging there.

Question 5

Please share three of your best /proven DIY tips on reputation leadership.

Susan Furness:

1.     Talk in before you talk out.

2.     Listen to the heart, before you ask your head, and then engage your hands and plans.

3.     Acts of love and kindness provoke acts of love and kindness in others.

Michelle Garrett:

1. A very effective tool is definitely social media. NOT EVERY social media platform. The key is to pick one or two, be smart, be consistent and build from there.

2. Next is blogging. If you blog consistently, that can help build your reputation. Try to choose topics of interest in your industry. Look for trends on which you have a unique perspective to share. Be sure to share it across social media once it’s published. If you want to take an extra step, you can even try to find a publication that might republish your blog post once you’ve posted it on your site.

3. The third one is contributed articles and posts. Find a blog or publication that is popular in your industry and ask if they accept contributed articles or posts. Understand their guidelines and write your unique thoughts and insights. Once it’s published, be sure to share it. This can be a powerful way to get your name and ideas out there.

Lastly, we asked our experts if they have one piece of Reputation leadership recommendation /advice specifically for female entrepreneurs, if any.

While Susan says relevancy is the ‘essence’, Michelle raised a crucial point about women entrepreneurs who find it difficult to talk about their own achievements.

Susan Furness:

Becoming reputed is about being relevantly ready; it is not about being a man or a woman.

Michelle Garrett:

If you don’t promote yourself – who will?

Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn. You shouldn’t be afraid to share what you’re doing and shouldn’t shy away from promoting your work and your accomplishments. When I say this, I don’t mean in an off-putting way but if you’re speaking at event, post about it. If you’ve written a contributed article, share it. If you’ve won an award, let people know.

I am a catalyst using words to inspire, influence and encourage individuals, organisations and leaders to think about success, purpose and living a fulfilled life. I am passionate and committed to create credible content on the topics of women leadership, sustainable development, non-profit, public health and wellbeing.