Personal branding is all about strategy, according to international speaker and author Michele Wierzgac. And she is on a mission to educate businesspeople on how to develop a strategy that makes them stand out among their peers.
“Travel agents are dime a dozen. What makes you unique?” she asked.
Wierzgac’s recent book, “The Talking Stick According to Michele: A Guide for Reflecting on Your Personal Brand” (Luv Big Publisher, 2014), is designed to help readers answer that question—and put that answer to work. It’s a workbook that includes advice and exercises to help readers develop their personal brand.
Travel Market Report spoke with Wierzgac who offered five tips for developing that brand.
#1 Understand your gift
Wierzgac differentiated “gift” from “skills.” A gift is what you are born with, while your skills are learned and are used to build upon your gift, she explained.
“You have to go to basics. My gifts are to teach and to speak,” she said, noting that one of her skills is educational administration, an area in which she holds a Master’s Degree.
“If we don’t know who we are, then how can we tell others who we are and what we do for a living?”
She acknowledged that travel agents are trained to market, sell and manage travel, “but what is your gift?”
#2 Know who your brand champions are
Brand champions are agents’ supporters and they can find them in their formal and informal networks.
Formal networks are those with organized cultures, including professional associations and online discussion groups, according to Wierzgac. Informal networks don’t have any formal rules and feature a freer exchange of information, such as friends and colleagues who get together away from the office.
“They’re the ones who will spread the word about you,” she said.
If agents have brand champions and let them know what their passion is, those champions will talk about them to their networks.
“I don’t make cold calls,” she said. “My brand champions speak for me.”
Agents should also increase their focus on their informal networks,Wierzgac added. Nearly 90% of everyone’s brand champions are their family and friends, according to Wierzgac. She said most of her own business comes from Facebook rather than LinkedIn.
#3 Make a good first impression
“First impressions are lasting impressions, and more than 70% of first impressions are accurate,” Wierzgac said.
How agents introduce themselves to future brand champions is important. “Don’t just say, “I’m a travel agent and I work out of my home. That’s not exciting,” she said.
Wierzgac suggested creating what she calls a 10-second commercial — an introductory statement that tells people who you are.
The introduction must be compelling. “Show that you’re excited about what you do. People want to do business with people who know their stuff,” she said.
Next, create a 30-second commercial and a 60-second commercial for conversations that go beyond the introduction. But don’t do all the talking. The conversation must be balanced; be prepared to listen.
#4 Avoid stereotyping and judging
When people network, they don’t know who knows who. Agents might think a particular person isn’t their kind of client, but that person might know someone who is.
After a keynote address Wierzgac presented, an attendee introduced himself to her as the husband of one of her former students. He told her that her class had helped his wife’s career and said he will help Wierzgac generate business.
#5 Maintain your reputation
Reputation starts with one’s family name and includes one’s personal brand; what someone is known for.
“I’m well known for being approachable, being a teacher,” Wierzgac said.
“If you need a lead, if you need help, I’m always there. Then people do a great job of promoting me. It’s the human spirit to help each other out.”
People want a reputation they can be proud of, but it’s also important to balance pride with humility, she said.
As agents gain success, they need to remember the people who helped make them successful.
“Take the approach of always managing your reputation, your brand, whether times are good or bad,” she said. “Marketing and branding is a daily exercise.”