What can MLB players teach small-business owners about personal branding? A lot.
There are a number of core similarities between the groups—dedication, perseverance, confidence and the drive to succeed. The other similarity is that players, like entrepreneurs, don't know where they're going next—no matter how hard they've prepared. Players can be traded, released or signed to new teams. Small-business owners can go out of business, be bought, merge with another company or go global. This is why both players and business owners need personal brands. By putting forth a strong personal brand, you help move yourself forward, separate even from your business.
A personal brand is easy to cultivate when all is good, but when you're striking out, or worse, and the media is calling you out in big print on the front page, that's when you need to take care of your personal brand. What you do in a situation like this can define you and your brand for a long time.
A Tale of Two Athletes
For several years now, Major League Baseball has been plagued by the Performance Enhancing Drug (PED) scandal. Lets take a look at two accused athletes, Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees and Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers, and how each responded to these accusations, and the effect it had on each athlete's personal brand.
When Braun was first accused, he immediately went on the defense, fighting the accusations, his suspension and even disparaging the doctor who tested him. Since his initial reaction, Braun has stepped back, accepted his fate and taken responsibility for what he did. He is currently serving out his 65-game suspension and intends to watch the rest of the season from the dugout. In a 10-paragraph, 944-word statement, Braun apologized to everyone affected by his actions, including the urine sample collector.
Working hard to ingratiate himself again with the fans, Braun has taken a very personal approach—he has been calling them directly. He approached the Milwaukee office and asked for a list of names and numbers, because he wanted to apologize to them one-to-one. Although most fans were appreciative and responded positively, others were not so easily won over. Braun has a lot to do to get back in Brewers’ fans good graces, but he is taking steps toward reaching that goal.
Rodriguez, on the other hand, has not been as remorseful as Braun. A-Rod, unlike Braun, is fighting tooth and nail to avoid being suspended from Major League Baseball. The star athlete, who has been involved with PED accusations and confessions for years, is paying out of his own pocket to appeal any suspension he is sentenced with, which may even be a lifetime one. Rodriguez is also not seeking advice, help or even support from the Yankees organization. Rodriguez doesn’t even speak to members of the Yankees office. By filing appeals, Rodriguez is able to continue playing baseball for the Yankees. He refuses to admit guilt and plans to fight to continue avoiding suspension
Lessons Learned From the Scandal
So what did we learn from each athlete's very different way of handling the same situation, and how can small-business owners apply it to solidifying their own personal brands?
1. Admit and learn from your mistakes. We all make mistakes; it’s what makes us human. But it's what you do with these mistakes that’s important. A-Rod has made this mistake before. He openly admitted to taking PEDs from 2001 to 2003 and claimed he was committed to never taking them again. However, he is now back in the steroid-scandal spotlight. With Braun, you get the feeling that he isn’t going to make this mistake again. He appears remorseful, ashamed and is trying to do anything he can to get to where he was in his 2011 MVP season.
Authenticity in brands (corporate and personal) is a hugely important quality. People are drawn to it—and they can smell the opposite a mile away. But don’t just say you are going to "get better." Be specific about how you will change your behavior moving forward. It's often a good idea to get the support of key partners and colleagues that can help hold you to your promises.
2. Highlight your past strengths. Even in the face of mistakes, it's a good thing to remind people why they chose to invest in you in the first place. For athletes, “investment” often means picking you for their fantasy team or buying a shirt with your number on int. For small-business owners, “investment” could mean financial investment, patronage or partnership. The PED scandal will be particularly difficult for both A-Rod and Braun because when it comes to PED accusations, you are never fully believed. If you used PEDs the last two years, who’s to say you didn’t in college or when you got to the pros? PEDs create doubt in the minds of the people as to whether you were ever really clean.
Fortunately for small-business owners, most mistakes we make don’t wipe out all the good actions. At the same time you are apologizing, remind people of the qualifications that you had in the first place that attracted them to you. And ensure them you will do your best to bring this to the plate or business table more often and with more consistency.
3. Deliver 110 percent moving forward. In life, as in baseball, talk is just talk. It’s what you do when you get up to bat that matters. This means that all eyes will be on your actions, not your words. People may always doubt when Braun has been clean in the past. But if he can come back next year and produce for his team and consistently show that he can be trusted, there is a good chance that this saga will fade into the past. Trust is vital, and trust is earned. If the Brewers can count on Braun to perform well and stay clean, then fans will see him as someone who is honest and dependable.
In a period after a personal brand crisis, you need to pay special attention to delivering what you promised. This might mean actually doing less, but doing it better and with more follow through. Instead of wooing new clients, for example, in a “recovery” period it might make more sense to focus on your current clients. They have the greatest potential to become your best brand ambassadors, and help you win back the trust of others.
Your Turn At Bat
No one bats 1000 all the time, but you can increase your stats and your future earning potential by consistently trying to do your best, apologizing when you make mistakes, reaching out with sincerity to your best customers and most loyal fans, and delivering what you promise moving forward.
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