To get noticed, you have to create an engaged workforce and practise active listening. Here’s how.

By Jim James, Founder EASTWEST PR and Host of The UnNoticed Entrepreneur.

Chellie Phillips from South Atlanta, Georgia is an author and a former journalist. In the new episode of The UnNoticed Entrepreneur podcast, she talked about how entrepreneurs can help to engage their staff to help build their brand as well.

For Chellie, it’s important for entrepreneurs themselves to have a strong personal brand because it impacts the recognition and the ability for people to connect with their product or their service. However, it’s even more important for them to be able to engage their employees in that process as well.

We all know that each person who’s working or involved there has their own set of friend groups; they have their own relationships. And people love to buy from people that they know, like, and trust. If your employees are out there talking about what a great thing is happening inside your organisation, then people are more apt to believe those people who they already know than what they’re hearing from a stranger.

It Has to Start With Your Mission

This sounds easy to do, but how can you really take what you’ve built as an entrepreneur and get your team to understand it, get engaged with it, and share it — where they become evangelists for the company?

According to Chellie, it has to start with the actual mission that you have — where the company is going and what you want to achieve. It can’t be just a mission statement or something that’s written on a piece of paper or put up on a wall. It’s got to be something that is living and breathing.

And when your employees can connect with that — and they can relate the values that they have with the values that you as the entrepreneur or business owner want to impress on people — then, they’re more apt to feel ownership in that.

When they feel ownership in that, they’d want that something to succeed as much as the next person does. It also sets your business up to be a place where people will love coming to work every day. It impacts the job satisfaction level.

We all know that when people love what they’re doing and they enjoy showing up, they’re going to have higher productivity. The morale is going to be better and you’re going to have a bunch of problem solvers on your hand instead of a bunch of negative nancies. They’re going to be sitting there, helping you improve processes and share ideas that are going to help you grow and succeed even more.

Why Your Branding Needs to be Authentic

To get people on board your mission as a business, Chellie shared that it’s first about you as the owner yourself. Your branding has to be authentic. It has to be real.

The way people can connect with you as the business owner is by learning the stories that you have. Why are you in this business? Why does it matter to you? What is the impact that you’re trying to make? You have to become real to the people who work for you. They have to be able to see you as that leader. They have to be able to identify with you.

Stories are what connects people. If you’re out there talking to your staff and your people, you have to be real with them. You can share the struggles that you had when you first started. Was there fear involved when you took that first step and went out on your own? Did you deal with people who told you, “Oh, you’re crazy! You’ve lost your mind. Why are you walking away from XYZ to ABC?” If they can really get behind you — and connect with you as a person — then it’s even much easier for you to be able to share the vision of your company.

She recently did a workshop with a company and about two-thirds of the room said that one of their values is giving back to the community or, in some way, helping others. A lot of them talked about helping animal rescues, helping feed the needy, and working with the elderly, but it was all about giving back.

Perhaps, you have a philanthropy program or you’re empowering your employees to help solve customer self-service issues in a way that they don’t have to go through five or eight steps of approval. If you can connect that value — for example, “I’m empowered to do something to make someone’s life easier or better” — they may not be going out there and helping out a food bank but it will still tug at the same strings and they’ll become more connected to that process and more apt to be sharing out these things online via their social feeds.

How to Get Your Employees Aligned with Your Values

Talking from a practical point of view, Chellie noted that doing this depends on the size of your organisation.

If you have five to 10 employees, the best thing that you can do to get your values aligned is getting face-to-face with them. Let them know who you are as a person and learn who your people are and what matters to them. Have those conversations.

Chellie and company use a lot of interoffice communication tools such as Slack and Microsoft Teams. There are different kinds of platforms that you can use to allow people to communicate with each other.

She’s also seen organisations that have a fun channel where they can share pictures of their pets — anything that’s going to engage their employees, allow them to share about themselves, and let them know that they are valued as people and not just employees. It also gives each of them the chance to answer each other’s questions. They don’t need to necessarily wait for their supervisor to find them and answer their question. They can post it out there and the first person to respond can share the document or the information that the other person is looking for.

When you have a group of employees who feel connected and they feel like they have access to information, then they’re already more satisfied and more engaged in the process.

We all know that when you increase that satisfaction level, you’re also increasing productivity because they’re not wasting their time waiting for the information to get back to them. You’ll also have happier customers because they’re getting their problems resolved faster. And that employee is also happier because they feel empowered to do these things and actually help with the success of the organisation.

On Making Huge Statements as a Brand: Start Internally First

In the ongoing Ukraine-Russia conflict, we’re seeing a lot of companies, big and small, getting involved in various activities. When asked about how companies should make statements and speak up about big events that are happening in society and politics, Chellie said that the first step is having a conversation with your employees. Do you have employees that have family members or friends who are directly impacted?

Apart from that, make sure that you’re actually giving them a platform to share their concerns, fears, or something that they’ve heard that is great news — for instance, someone was able to get out of an affected area. You should let your employees drive that message and find out what their core concerns are and what they’re comfortable talking about.

Start internally. You can send something out on your messaging system and encourage your employees to share their thoughts on what’s happening, how it’s affecting their daily lives and their families, and what are the questions that they have about it.

Sometimes, it’s just about being that source of information that they need. Because they hear so many different things online and on the news, they just need to know what’s actually happening and how it is going to impact your business. Do they have to worry about how the business may shut down because of this? Is it going to cause layoffs or dwindling sales? In the case of the latter, will they not get raises this year?

Becoming more upfront about it — and being able to assuage some of the fears or concerns that they might have — is more important than making a huge public statement. Your employees should understand where you stand and know that you know that they have concerns and issues. Address these internally first before you make an external statement of any kind.

What is Active Listening

For Chellie, active listening is where you’re not listening with the intent of answering the question. You’re actually listening for the whole bit of information that comes through there. What are the concerns? What are they actually asking for?

So many times, we start listening to somebody and our brain just jumps ahead to, “Oh, this is the answer that they want.” What happens is you miss a key piece of what they’re trying to tell you or what they want to discuss because in your mind, you’ve already formulated what you think they want to know. But, in reality, it’s entirely something else that they’re trying to get to. Because you tuned out already formulating your answer, you missed out on the key that they’re trying to give you.

If people are not feeling heard or they don’t feel like they’re being listened to, that’s almost as bad as not giving them a forum at all. They’ll feel like it’s a fake forum; you don’t really care and it’s just all mouth speak — you’re not really listening to or engaging with them.

Chellie and her team work with clients on having these listening sessions, especially during evaluation time. It’s a time when people come in and they’re nervous about the evaluation. Sometimes, the best thing that you can do is to just be quiet, listen, and give them a floor to share their goals, aspirations, and the things that they see as positive this year. This, in turn, will play into that job satisfaction and employee engagement that you’ll have.

Why Engage with the Media

Being a former journalist, Chellie shared that engaging with the media and journalists — especially local ones — is one of the best ways that you can build your brand when you’re getting started. You have to reach out to them and share your stories with them.

She was a journalist for several years before she moved into corporate public relations. And the thing she loved about it was that everybody’s story is different. When you sit there and you start listening to how they decided to make the choices that they made and let them tell you their story — What was the thought process that went into it? What was their background that led them to the ultimate thing that they’re going to do in life? — then you’ll have that connection with them.

People want to connect with other people. When you tell that story and you’re not afraid of getting a little bit personal, it’s what makes people connect with you. If you’re a business owner and you want to grow your recognition in the community and eventually statewide or worldwide, start with your local media. Invite them to a coffee, have them sit down with you, and learn your story about why your organisation was created.

Talk about your backstory. Give them a chance to really learn who you are. Be personal and be authentic. There’s nothing more real than sharing some of the hardships that you had along the way. People relate to someone who faces adversity and overcomes that. With almost every business owner that Chellie knows — whether it’s a startup or a business in the initial building phase or expansion — there are always things that crop up along the way. And if you can share how you overcome those and what are the lessons you learned that someone else can benefit from, you’re not going to have a problem having these stories run.

It only gives you more things that you can share out. You can share featured content and highlight your employees. Here’s why you’ve hired them, here’s where they’re great at. You can share how you’re building your organisation even from the hiring blocks going forward.

On Maintaining Personality and Collaborating with Other Brands

There’s always a central dilemma for companies when they’re building a brand. One is that they recognise that they’ve got a founder’s story. But then, they also want to be seen as a corporate brand because big companies actually buy from other big companies and not from people. How should this problem be reconciled — how do they grow as a bigger brand and not lose some of the personality?

Chellie considers this a mistake that a lot of companies make: losing the personality. Personality is what sets you apart.

If you look at things, there are actually many other ways wherein you can collaborate, especially from business to business, as far as growing your brand is concerned. If you have a great relationship with another company, you can have a joint post and share what each other is doing. That way, your people are seeing you in your market and their people are also seeing you in their market. You can help each other grow.

There’s a lot of success to go around. It’s not so much a competition that you have beat someone esle out of the gate. She always tells her clients that there’s plenty of success. So, not being afraid to share the limelight with somebody, sometimes, is even more powerful and impactful for a brand because it becomes not so me-focused — it becomes us-focused.

When people see you as someone who’s going to bring people together, share that spotlight, and shine a light on things that are great inside the industry, then you get to position yourself as the person to go to for either connections or information. You become a very reliable person because people trust you when you share stuff about other people.

It’s not just me, me, and me all the time. It’s very authentic in a way that you can create a community of sorts, with not only the other business owners in the industry but also with the people who are following you and even the media that might be following you in different contexts. Because there are a lot of industry publications. There are a lot of things that you can get in front of. And whether it’s speaking at a conference or a seminar and you recognise other people and talk about the good things that are happening — inside and outside your organisation — it does nothing but add to your value as an entrepreneur.

On Being Consistent and Real

To build and get her own brand noticed, Chellie shared that she tries to practise what she preaches.

One of the things that she tells people is that consistency is key when you’re building your brand. If you follow her, you’re going to see that she blogs consistently. She shares information and content from others as well. Once the podcast episode that she did with me goes public, she said that she’ll share it so that her audience gets to see it, which also, in turn, exposes them to me. By doing this, they can get a takeaway that can actually help them succeed even more.

It’s also about being authentic. It’s about being real and showing the behind-the-scenes. It’s also about showing up and responding if people reach out, have comments, and post things. She also makes herself available to speak at seminars and does workshops.

For her, it’s all about being real and having that follow through. One of the mistakes that she sees in people making branding is that they forget the consistency part. They think it’s okay to do something like, “I have to do it when I first get started and I’m going to make this big splash and then everything will just continue on its own.” Well, this is not the case.

There’s so much noise out there online and in the world. You really do have to be that consistent face and message that’s showing up there.

You also have to be real because people can spot a fake in a heartbeat. If you’re not being real and you’re not showing what’s really happening inside your organisation and you’re not handling the people who are on your social feeds in a respectful way, people are going to notice.

This is her big takeaway: Show your personality, engage with your tribe that’s following you and learning about you, and be consistent. Eventually, it’s going to take root and it’s going to show up and people are going to start saying, “Hey, if I want to know about branding or I want to know about building an engaged workforce, I’m going to come to Chellie” or “If I want to know all the latest things that are making entrepreneurs successful, I’m going to find Jim.” It’s just a matter of showing up — being that face — and being consistent in it.

You can find Chellie’s books on Amazon and similar sites. On LinkedIn, you can also find her blogging twice a week about personal branding and corporate culture. She’s also on Instagram and Facebook.

This article is based on a transcript from my podcast The UnNoticed Entrepreneur, you can listen here.

Originally published at https://eastwestpr.com on March 28, 2022.

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Working with the world to #getnoticed from the garden shed.

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Jim James

Jim James

Working with the world to #getnoticed from the garden shed.

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