Brand First, Board Second

In January I had the opportunity to rent a gorgeous office space in my building right across the hall from my current office. At the time both of my businesses were housed in a lovely two-story exposed brick loft and the space was adequate for our needs. We didn’t have a proper conference room, but we were getting along just fine as we were.

Like most people I intend for my business to grow, and there wasn’t room for more staff in the space I had. I’d often wondered where I’d move the business when that happened and now I wouldn’t have to. So I took a risk, I doubled my space, and now I’d have room to grow.

One small problem

Six months later we haven’t grown. In fact at the moment we have less clients than we did in January. Even though the “Summer Slump” is common in business, it’s extra challenging in one as small as ours. As the bad days have piled up over the last few weeks it’s been downright terrifying.

Another interesting thing happened back in January. On one of our Likeable Local Partner webinars Dave brought up the importance of creating an advisory board. It seemed like just what I needed and so I started thinking about the idea. I asked a friend and female CEO who I respect and admire, and although she personally didn’t have experience with advisory boards she pointed me to another exec who did.

I also Tweeted @DaveKerpen and asked his advice. Specifically I asked if there were any books or articles I should read. He pointed me to Dorie Clark’s books. Once I looked them up I was a little perplexed, I didn’t see how personal branding had anything to do with forming an advisory board. I love to read though, and her books seemed interesting, so I read them.

Then I got derailed

First I read Stand Out and then formed a small book club with a couple of women CEO friends. We read Reinventing You together and halfway into the book one friend had a eureka moment and decided to close her business to pursue her passion for workforce development by launching a social venture.

I got busy and I [figuratively] put the advisory board on a shelf. It was a long, weird winter. Looking back I don’t know if there was even one week where all four members of our family were well at the same time. I also had multiple friends face significant life crises at the same time, and I found myself stretched pretty thin.

My #ArtOfPeopleProject brought it all full circle. Now six months later I still haven’t formed an advisory board, and I’ve found that not every chapter in this book can be accomplished in a week. I’m also just as overwhelmed by the idea as I was six months ago. Why?

My empty office

We get a great deal of use out of our new conference room. Still, every time I walk through the empty office space I feel a little bit of embarrassment when I look at the empty desks. Dare I say it even feels a lot like failure. If I’m being really honest with myself I’d have to admit that some small part of me doesn’t feel like I deserve this big, beautiful space. The longer those desks sit empty the more overwhelming that imposter syndrome effect becomes. On the darkest days it feels like everything I’ve created is slipping through my fingers like sand.

We’re all our own worst critics, and I am no exception. There are plenty of lessons to be learned, but getting bogged down in all of that can put a real dent in your confidence.

The amazing technology of 20/20 hindsight

Two weeks ago I resumed my efforts to create an advisory board, mostly because it was the next task for this blog. I made an appointment with the only person I know locally who has an advisory board. I wanted to know who I should be seeking out as board members. I appreciated his time, but he didn’t have any great revelations for me. He pretty much told me what I already knew. I still felt stuck.

Interestingly I’d just spent some time working on personal branding for a previous post and like a lightning bolt it finally hit me--I knew why Dave suggested Dorie’s books.

If I’m going to ask busy, successful people to help me grow my business, I better be clear about what they are helping me to do. On top of that, I should be pretty confident about my role in all this. An advisory board can’t supply me with vision, or my brand, that’s my job. What kind of creative agency is led by someone who avoids personal branding? In my experience, one with a bunch of empty desks.

The task at hand

I still don’t have an advisory board, and I’m working on a list of potential board members. What I do know is that I need to get real comfortable with standing out and embodying my brand. We can’t be a faceless company and be successful, so I’m going to have to put myself out there and get crystal clear about what we do and what value we bring. I have to be someone people want to get behind, and this board has to have a reason to take an interest in my company and our success.

I also know what I don’t know--how to fill those desks. I’ve successfully led large, established organizations in the past, but I’ve never grown one from the ground up. I’ll have to find someone for my board that has done what I aim to do.

It’s an inside job

Whether it’s business or life, in the end we always come back to the same place. Ourselves. I’m going to have to decide that I’m capable of creating something bigger than myself and push through the doubts and fears and the little voice that says, “What made you think you could do this?” The first step in filling those desks is believing that I can. Then, and only then, will others take an interest in helping me grow this business.

Join me!

Want to embark on your own #ArtOfPeopleProject? Pick up the book and then feel free to follow along and comment here. You can subscribe to the blog via email list or RSS feed here

I’m @GrazianiTJ on Twitter and I’ll be using the hashtag #ArtOfPeopleProject, I’d love to hear how your #ArtOfPeopleProject is going.