Chris Brogan on Making Your Business Trustworthy
Like many other business owners, Chris Brogan has chosen to build a personal brand in part to fuel the growth of his company, New Marketing Labs. The Boston-based company helps businesses use the Internet and tools like Facebook and Twitter to improve their marketing effectiveness.
Brogan co-wrote The New York Times bestseller Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust; has a six-figure Twitter following; and pens a blog (ChrisBrogan.com) that ranks among the top 10 most influential, according to Advertising Age Power150.
Considering his high-profile personal footprint, I wondered how Brogan's social media activities were helping or hindering his ability to fashion New Marketing Labs into a valuable company. Here's our exchange:
Warrillow: A lot of the ideas in Trust Agents related to people being trustworthy. In order to build a business that can be sold, owners need to be able to separate themselves personally from their businesses. Therefore, is there a way for companies (not people) to be trusted? In the same vein, should an entrepreneur who wants to build a valuable business build a personal brand (e.g., Gary Vaynerchuk) or a business brand (e.g., Apple)? Can people with personal brands like you, Oprah, etc. separate themselves from their business—i.e., is Harpo a sellable company without Oprah?
Brogan: This is probably the key sticky trick in business, and I'm not qualified to answer as I've not sold my own businesses yet. I just keep growing them and making value. From my perspective, no: Harpo isn't sellable without Oprah. If you see the deal she inked with Discovery to create OWN, it's Oprah or no deal. I think that personal brands are a fast track to getting a company exposure, but it's also tricky because it locks up value with the founder. I ran into this with New Marketing Labs, my new-media marketing company. We got a few early offers, but they all locked me up for a year or 18 months. I said no. So now I know that I've got to grow the business to be more of a stand-alone without my name glued to it. We'll see how I do.
Warrillow: To be acquired, companies and their founders need to be trusted by the investment community (e.g., venture capitalists, private equity, angels, strategic acquirers). What tips could you provide business owners looking to be viewed as trustworthy in the eyes of people who might acquire them and/or make an investment in their company?
Brogan: Teams need to be visible. They need to have their ideas on their sleeve. They need to have relationships all over the town. Blogs and the social web make this a very visible thing. You have to do face-to-face and offline work, but if you're not using the social web to demonstrate your social proof, you're missing a chance to show acquiring companies and investors what you've got.
Warrillow: How has the main idea behind your book Trust Agents evolved in your mind since you first wrote about it?
Brogan: Julien Smith and I are working on our next book right now, so this is very close to mind. What we've discovered is that people understood our goals with Trust Agents—how to be human on the web—but they didn't necessarily know what to do next. We are writing in the direction of helping people understand how to invest in their #1 asset: people.
Warrillow: There's an old saying that business is '1 percent inspiration, 99 percent execution.' Do you agree?
Brogan: If I had to make an entrepreneur's pie chart, I'd say it's more like 1 percent inspiration, 9 percent vision, and 90 percent execution. I'd add "vision" as that step where you intelligently communicate what you want the project to resemble. This is where I think entrepreneurs fall down. I sure do. I'll call up my team excitedly, tell them some half-baked idea, hang up the phone and think that, next week, there'll be a new company in my stable. Oh, that never works. So I go back and make it better. Whenever I work on vision, I get much more back for my efforts.
Warrillow: What is the difference between an inventor and an entrepreneur?
Brogan: An inventor creates something that works. An entrepreneur creates something that others will buy.
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