22/07/2013 11:30 BST | Updated 21/09/2013 06:12 BST

Start With 'Why'

How much time do you spend on managing your 'personal brand'?

What others think and say about you is vital to anyone's success in business or in their career. It's not simply about whether people speak positively about you, or otherwise; it's the context in which they speak about you and your strengths.

If I look back through the last few years of my business I can easily identify the one key ingredient without which I couldn't have succeeded. So many opportunities have come my way when I didn't even know they existed. In my absence, two or more people had come together, decided that they needed help with networking or referral generation, or needed a speaker on that subject, and someone mentioned my name. I was deemed to be 'the right fit' for the opportunity.

Going further back, most of the jobs in my early career came through word of mouth, often people recommending me and then inviting me to apply for a vacancy.

Yet, despite the importance of these conversations, very few people I meet at my talks and workshops seem to devote much time to working out what they want that message to be and taking responsibility for shaping it.

People increasingly recognise the importance of building a strong network, the growth of LinkedIn demonstrates that. Still they don't pay enough attention to educating that network. Helping the people to whom they are connected understand what they do well, who they do it for and when their services are needed.

Step one is to understand what that message should be. What do you want people to say about you when you're not in the room? And who do you want them to say it to?

When I ask that question in my talks and workshops the most common responses are:



"Good at my job"

Such responses fail to make much of an impact. Yes, it is important that people perceive you have those qualities, but on their own they mean little. People first need to know why they should care; in what way you are relevant to them.

Get inside the mind of your potential client or employer and ask yourself what it is about you that could have a positive impact on their role or their lives, that will resonate with them. The question you need to be answering is 'Why?' rather than 'What?'.

On Wednesday I spoke at a conference for public sector accountants. The speaker before me, Jon Harrison, shared Simon Sinek's 'Golden Circle'. Introducing his Golden Circle at a TEDX Talk, Sinek explained, "Every single person on the planet knows what they do, some know how they do it. But very few people or organisations know why they do what they do."

Sinek went on, "By 'why', I don't mean profit. By 'why' I mean what's your purpose, your cause, your belief? Why do you get out of bed in the morning...and why should anyone care?


"The way we communicate is from the outside in. We go from the clearest thing to the fuzziest thing. But the inspired leaders and the inspired organisations, regardless of their size or industry, all think, act and communicate from the inside out."

Sinek talks about organisations or leaders beginning their communication with why they do something, using Apple as his first example. Apple, he says, don't say "we build great computers, buy one". Instead they say, "We believe in challenging the status quo and thinking differently, the way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly."

The key point, says Sinek, is that "People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it." People will buy from others who share their belief systems, they will employ people who think the same way as them. Shared values and beliefs are a key factor in creating the right opportunities for people to work together or for each other.

But it's not just shared values and beliefs that count. People don't just buy what you do or why you do it, people buy why it makes a difference to them.

As the title of Sinek's book says, start with 'Why'. But I believe that it is far more important that the why in question should be that of your target audience, not yours.

During his talk, Sinek shares the reasons behind the commercial failure of the digital recording company TiVo. Despite being best in market, he explains that TiVo has never been a commercial success because their message didn't appeal to potential early adopters.

"When TiVo launched their product, they told us all what they had. They said, 'We have a product that pauses live TV, skips commercials, rewinds live TV and memorises your viewing habits without you even asking'. And the cynical majority said, 'We don't believe you, we don't need it, we don't like it. You're scaring us'.

"What if TiVo had said, 'If you're the kind of person who likes to have total control over every aspect of your life, boy do we have a product for you'?"

When working out what your message should be, start with your 'why' and use that to identify who you want to hear that message. Who will share the same beliefs? In whose life or whose role will those beliefs best resonate. Why should they want to talk to, buy from or hire you?

Once you understand this, make sure everything you do and everything you say is consistent with this message. Be authentic in every action you take.

If you understand why you do what you do and why that is relevant to your target audience, it will become much easier to craft and communicate the message that fits. And your name will come up in conversations when the fit is just right.