Melinda Wittstock: My guest today on Wings is Jen Dalton. Jen is the CEO and founder of BrandMirror where she help CEOs build personal brands and messages that cut through all that noise out there and there’s a lot of it. She’s also a senior industry fellow at Georgetown University’s Women’s Leadership Institute and she’s the president of the board for Homestretch, a non-profit helping homeless families get back on track. Welcome to Wings, Jen.
Jen Dalton: Thank you so much, I’m thrilled to be here.
Melinda Wittstock: It is really interesting what you do around personal brand and I want to dig in a little deeper into that in terms of what the differences are for women, female CEOs when they’re thinking about their personal branding and men, is there is a big difference in your clientele and where do women go wrong?
Jen Dalton: Yeah, I think that’s such a great question. For women, I think there are a couple of things that tend to be common themes. One is that we know we have to stand out especially in a C-Suite, it’s typically going to be a male-dominated environment, unfortunately, for now. Sometimes women try to act like the people around them instead of being true to who they are and share their voice. If you’re in a room with men and you’re the only female there, getting heard sometimes means you need to be louder but you want to do it on your terms, not on what is everybody else is doing. That’s a tricky thing to do because you don’t want to be perceived as aggressive because sometimes, let’s face it, men might say, “Well, just speak up, be louder,” but when women do, that leads to all kinds of negative perceptions.
I think that’s one, figure out how to interject, how to find your voice, make allies with the men in the room, do spend time connecting and networking. I think that’s a second one that women forget to do is really take some time and build relationships. I remember when I was growing up through the corporate space, as I’m moving up the professional ladder, I was always working. I was like I got to do work, I got to get these projects out and the guys will be out having lunch or going to a happy hour or whatever. I think women miss that chance of building those relationships and investing because we’re busy working and the same is true for your personal brand, you’re so busy helping everybody else, you forget to pause and say, “Hey, wait a minute, I also need to be advocating for my results.” Those are two that come to mind, what are your thoughts? Does that resonate with you?
Melinda Wittstock: It really does and I’m thinking about the networking piece as well because often we can get very easily isolated because we’re so task orientated. I think that’s partly to do with … especially if we’re moms and we have other things in our life, we have the work-life balance or integration issue. I don’t know, do you think that we’re measured a little bit or we measure ourselves by our tasks like I got through that list today and I got it all done? Whoo! Look at me, I got it all done but at the end …
Jen Dalton: Right. When you’re juggling 20 things, you’re literally juggling them, it’s right in front of you, you have to get through it but to your point, where do you stop … Because we know women are strategic thinkers, we think big picture too but because we’re doing so much, it’s almost a forcing function, that you’re trapped where you are. Taking that time to find the champion or the mentor to help you think longer term, two to five years is huge.
It’s funny that you talk about the mom piece, I was at Georgetown teaching a class yesterday and one of the executive MBA students said, “Half the people here don’t have kids and they have no idea what it’s like. Plus, most of the people who do have kids, it’s actually the husbands that are in the executive MBA, not the wife,” and so we were talking about like how do you manage all of that. A big part of that, honestly, is getting your partner to be a partner, to step up and do things that you’re doing all the time whether it’s packing the kids’ lunch or taking them to school or picking them up and it requires a commitment on both parts.
I think for women, finding a partner that really recognizes that and understands that and also being able to ask, to be able to say, “Hey, I can’t do this today, I need you to do the dishes. By the way, we’re partners.” The dads always say, “Oh, I got to babysit.” No, you don’t, it’s your kid. That’s something where I think women need to ask more and just say, “Hey, we need to have a better partnership,” and I think we miss that sometimes.
Melinda Wittstock: That’s so true. When I think in the Washington D.C. area where we both are, Jen, I mean, there are so many networking events around start-ups, that whole start-up culture is getting hotter and hotter here like it is in other areas and like every night, you could go to three or four [crosstalk 00:05:20, right?
Jen Dalton: Absolutely.
Melinda Wittstock: If you can’t get to all of them like I know that I miss a lot of them because I want to spend time with my kids or I just have a lot to do, right, it’s the same thing and I can’t get to all of them. What’s your best advice around that like how to be strategic about the ones that you actually go to and the ones where you don’t need to?
Jen Dalton: I do think picking your top three, max five groups that you show up to is really important and they should be different. For me, I have a weekly networking but it’s early in the morning so timing matters. That group, because I see them weekly and it’s the same group every week, they can go advocate and market on my behalf. I have another group that’s quarterly and so you pick the ones that serve different purposes. We could all go to 20 chamber events but you want to be the broker at different networks because you want to be the person that can connect from network A to network B and so thinking strategically about how is the network working for you and assessing it on a regular basis. I actually look at my networks twice a year and I go, “Okay, what am I putting in? What am I getting out? Am I doing a good job? If not, why? Maybe it’s not the right group anymore,” because over time you’re going to change that too.
I think that’s why from a personal brand standpoint, mapping out your visibility. Where do you need to grow awareness? Maybe if you’re a start-up, you need certain people to know you exist and so that’s a set of networks this year that might be different than next year. Where are you finding prospects? You need to have something that fill that space to and, hopefully, you have clients already. If you don’t, when you do get clients, how are you staying visible? Then if you’re hiring, if you’re an entrepreneur or a CEO and you’re trying to find great talent which is the biggest challenge, that’s another huge reason that individuals need to have a personal brand is to attract talent because people follow leaders, not logos. [crosstalk 00:07:35 leaders, not logos.
Melinda Wittstock: I love that, that’s a hashtag.
Jen Dalton: I do love my hashtags. Then the last one is thought leadership. I think one thing that women don’t do is put themselves out there enough with specific intentional messaging because a lot of times we’re really worried about, hey, it’s got to be perfect, it’s got to be spot on. Even when women apply for jobs and I’m sure most women have heard this statistic, women have to check off 100%, yup, I’m ready for the job and men are like somewhere between 30% and 60%. For women, especially in an entrepreneur space and the C-suite and on the journey in-between, put yourself out there, say yes more, go sit on panels, go speak at conferences. If you have a perspective on something, sure, you want to validate it, do some sound boarding with people that you trust but then go put it out there, even if it’s a, hey, let’s start this discussion because I know this will be the trends for next year or this is what people are facing but here’s the conversation we should be having and not wasting time on this conversation.
I think women in general, I don’t know if it’s fear, sometimes it’s fear, sometimes it’s just not having time to sit down and really think about where do they want to contribute and what’s the voice because they think it’s bragging. Personal branding isn’t personal bragging, it’s simply saying, “I’m actually good at this, I’ve spent a career learning this and, yes, I can be up on that stage and talk about it.” The mentality here is really around if you get up and speak and it’s important work, that’s helping other people. Reframing it from being about you to being about, hey, your audience really needs to hear this so go talk about it. Sometimes they get stuck in that trap.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. Well, I love what you said, personal branding isn’t personal bragging. I think women are so afraid of, some people have called it, the tall poppy syndrome where standing out and being successful, there’s something like a fear of success, that somehow we’ll be cast out or … I don’t know what that is. There’s some odd, existential, deep-seated limiting belief around all of that like showing up and claiming our power and it manifests in so many different ways and I think it is fear-based based on our collective belief structure. It’s one of these things where when we’re talking about networking, your personal network or the people around you or closest to you giving you that permission and letting you fly is critical.
Jen Dalton: Yeah. I do think that one thing women don’t do which I’ve started doing in the last few years which has made a huge difference is, one, to have a support group so who are the women and men that you go talk to when you need insight. Some people actually formalize that into a personal board of directors. I think it’s important that you’re not your own echo chamber because your inner voice, your inner critic can be brutal and so, one, how do you retrain that to be more of an inner coach and then, two, how do you find people that are on your journey with you that back you and say, “Yes, you truly should go do that.” Because you have to give yourself permission but you also want other people to validate it and not make sure you’re totally crazy. Sometimes as an entrepreneur, as you know, it’s not going to be comfortable and people may disagree with what you want to go do and you got to say, “You know what? I’m right about this and I’m going to move forward.”
Melinda Wittstock: We all have this, as you were describing, this inner voice whether men or women, this inner critic and on this entrepreneurial rollercoaster where in any given day, you can be happy, sad, you can think you’re doing great, you can think you’re doing really badly and you look around and you think everyone else has it figured out except you. To understand that when you’re taking on those big challenges, everybody else in the room is having the same challenges as you.
Jen Dalton: Absolutely.
Melinda Wittstock: It’s tricky because you got so many people out there, speaking of personal branding, where you got a lot of fake it till you make it. It’s very tricky to figure out how to show up especially for women in this really authentic way where I think we all feel that we have to appear strong all the time even when we don’t feel strong.
Jen Dalton: Yeah. It’s interesting, I went to hear Brené Brown speak the other day and she’s one of my favorite thought leaders and she’s describing how, when she gets asked to come and speak, if it’s a corporation, they’ll say, “Oh, make sure you wear a suit.” She went to this huge conference; she’s the keynote speaker. Five minutes before she goes on stage, she’s like, “Wait a minute, if I’m talking about authenticity and I’m wearing a suit and I don’t like wearing a suit, that’s crazy,” and so she changed, she put on her boots, her jeans, her black top and she was just herself. I think that power of authenticity, the power of being comfortable with who you are which is tough sometimes because, again, we all think we’re not perfect and we’re not but we’re really not [inaudible 00:14:06 tell ourselves, inner critic, we really got it together. I do think for women, being able to be confident and show up and be authentic and be vulnerable, it’s okay to say, “Yeah, I struggle with this,” and that’s hard for us.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. We’re so afraid of being perceived as weak because we were told we were weak for generations, told that we didn’t belong and so there’s this maybe call it the compensation gene that makes it really hard sometimes for a lot of women to be vulnerable. I’ve seen so many times in meetings where the man shows vulnerability and, literally, everyone looks at that man like he’s a golden retriever puppy, they’re like, “Aww.”
Jen Dalton: I remember talking to my parents. My mom used to take me to swim practice every single practice. The one time she couldn’t make it because I think she had jury duty or something, my dad took me and all of the moms, they were like, “Aww, you’re such a wonderful dad,” like that was the first time he’d ever done that. It’s a total perception issue. I mean, one of the things that we think about for men and women is that there are different standards. By the way, women have the same biases against women so it’s not like it’s just men versus women or whatever, we have been so trained to think certain ways that if, to your point earlier, women get too successful, they might be sabotaged by others.
We’re in such a state of transition right now with women in leadership positions and being able to have dialogs about what is the amount of sexual harassment women face and just helping men be aware that this is a problem. I mean, talking about vulnerability, when the #MeToo movement came out, there were a lot of women who openly admitted, yes, I have been sexually harassed or treated inappropriately. That’s a big deal to be able to come out and say that but the more women who do, the safer it is. I think the more women who can be vulnerable, that’s pretty powerful. I also think if you share your vulnerability and turn it into what did you learn from it, how did it help you, it changes the conversation because you’re not just saying, “Yes, I’m vulnerable,” you’re saying, “Yes, and,” right? Yes, and here’s what I’ve done with that or here’s how it’s helped my career. You reframe it, instead of thinking of vulnerability as a weakness, you reframe it to your audience and to yourself as a strength.
Melinda Wittstock: That is so profound and so important. Often on this podcast, we talk about fail moments because all entrepreneurs have those moments. You’re out there testing a hypothesis whether it’s trying to figure out product market fit or trying to figure out how best to sell your product or whether you’re creating new technology or whatever, I mean, there are so many different challenges and so within that, there are going to be lots of fail moments and these are learning moments. To talk about them openly is to validate the journey and I guess it’s sort of like an acceptance of that but it’s not something that we need to take personally.
Jen Dalton: Which is hard. At least for me, I have definitely taken a lot of things personally especially when you make a mistake. I mean, I’ve given talks a lot and a lot of times with personal brand and LinkedIn but I gave a talk recently on how women recover from making mistakes differently than men and one of the first things we do is it’s internalize and we never forget that we made that mistake ever in our lives. The first thing, if something does go wrong because it’s going to, is to not internalize it, to pause for just a moment, step back, make sure you’re not taking it internally and go, “Okay. Well, what was actually the mistake and how big was it?” Because sometimes perception is that women make a big deal out of a mistake because they’re so horrified they made it because they’re not trying to do that but the reality is if the mistake and context and perspective is smaller, then respond appropriately. If it’s a big mistake, respond appropriately.
I think how women recover from mistakes is pretty different. There’s some research done out of the UK where she interviewed 90 people, 45 men, 45 women. The women she interviewed, most of the time they remember the mistake they made 15 years ago whereas if you ask the guy to describe a mistake, he’s like, “Well, I was just ahead of my time, the company just wasn’t ready for it,” and just the profound difference for how we respond is amazing. I think for women, the other thing we do after we make a mistake especially if you’re in the C-suite or moving up to that is you come into the room differently after you make a mistake, don’t do that. If you’re fixing it, come in, head held high, continue on, there’s no reason to cower in the corner or not speak up in the next meeting because you’re like, “Man, they all know I made a mistake.” Well, yeah, they probably do but don’t act differently because then you’re going to be treated differently.
Melinda Wittstock: It’s so true. I mean, we often manifest what we’re thinking. Personal branding, I’m really intrigued by this to ask you. On one hand, your personal brand is your outer, your LinkedIn profile, how you show up, how you dress, all of those things but the inner piece like our inner beliefs and being in alignment, I guess, with our true purpose is vital to get that outer part right. When you’re working with your clients, how much of your work is actually connecting the dots between the inner and the outer?
Jen Dalton: Yeah, that’s a great question. Earlier this year, Sheryl Sandberg gave an interview and she’s talking about personal brand and she said, “Personal brand is a terrible thing. It’s so fake, it’s just pretend, people really need to just find their voice.” For me, I was really pretty annoyed because when I work with my clients, we start with what’s their purpose, why are they here …
Melinda Wittstock: The big why. Well, a lot of don’t people know their why.
Jen Dalton: No, like why am I here, what is my purpose, I’ve been put on this planet for however many days, what am I going to do with my time.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah.
Jen Dalton: I think that’s a big one. Sometimes people don’t know their whole life for their life but a lot of times they can tease out, well, here’s what’s important to me, here’s the role I want to play and the areas of expertise that I want to own because you can’t be good at everything. I really try to get my clients to pick the three things they’re going to be good at but they all fall under this leadership purpose because it’s all about how are you leading.
Your personal brand, companies have a reputation but people do too. If you’re not managing it, people already are giving you a brand so you could either decide to practically manage it and control your narrative so that people are using the words you want them to use and things like LinkedIn, that’s just reality, people are online, that’s your digital presence. Hopefully, it’s working for you while you’re out networking and it’s representing you the right way. To me, it is in totality, it’s who you are completely. I definitely think if you’re like Batman where during the day, it’s your job, you’re one person, then you come home and in the evening you’re totally different, you’re not in the right place because you haven’t been able to live your why and be yourself. Sometimes it’s not always easy to do that, maybe you have to take a certain job for financial reasons, et cetera, but, hopefully, people can just be themselves and live who they are all the time [crosstalk 00:22:31.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. I think that’s true. Again, it’s like that work-life integration, that you’re showing up as your authentic self and then that’s expressing itself somehow in your business so when you’re aligned personally with your business, I find those sorts of businesses … Being a serial entrepreneur, when you’re really in alignment on a conscious, even unconscious level, it’s easier to grow the business.
Jen Dalton: Absolutely, yes.
Melinda Wittstock: There seems to be a providence or something and you know it, you get into this really interesting flow state. I’ve been fascinated with my own companies, how some of them have been so hard like several steps forward, knock on the head, kind of fall down the stairs, get up again, climb up again hard and then other ones just get into flow immediately. Breaking that down in terms of what is that, I mean, there are external circumstances, there’s your internal mindset but there’s also this really interesting factor of how aligned you are with that mission and purpose.
Jen Dalton: Well, I think it’s attractive; it’s magnetic. The trick with personal brand that I think people forget and I know we all use this phrase, people have to know you in order to like you, in order to trust you and do business with you.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, they know, like, trust.
Jen Dalton: They know, like, trust. If you don’t have a clear personal brand or some people are like, oh, I don’t want to be out there, I don’t want to be visible, I’m just going to run my company and everything is going to work out, no, like that’s possible but why leave that to chance. Because, trust me, everybody else is working on getting out there and so the best way for your prospects, your clients, your people to know about you is if you’re out there. Now, you can decide how that is, you want to do a podcast, do you want to write a book, do you want to be a speaker, do you want to be an adjunct professor. If people don’t know about you, they’re not going to do business with you. If they don’t know you, they can’t learn to like you and be attracted to the mission and vision you’re really pushing out there. If there’s no trust, forget it. I mean, if you’re going to go after funding and business partners, then you got to have the know, like, trust.
Melinda Wittstock: What’s really funny about, just on a personal note, about this podcast and how this came to be because as you know Jenna is writing a book about female entrepreneurship and really, really, obviously, a personal interest to me, I’ve seen so many women on their journeys struggle for capital, connections, confidence and all these things and as I was writing the book, I was like, “Wait a minute, this is really funny, I used to be a TV news interviewer and a radio person, why am I not doing a podcast?”
Jen Dalton: Like wait a minute, I can leverage that.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, exactly. It was funny that it took so long to occur to me. More importantly, I had really gone through a huge amount of transformational personal work on myself, in the spirit of Brené Brown in vulnerability, and a lot of growth and had arrived at the conclusion that I just really wanted to be the change I wanted to see in the world. When it comes to women, because we struggle with this invisibility, how could I go out there and affirm and acclaim women like giving them a platform to really tell their stories where we can really share but, moreover, create the type of culture where we actually actively help each other and we really are there for each other. That’s what this is all about and it is like a mission and it’s fun. I mean, it’s amazing just sitting here on a Sunday morning chatting with you about all of this, it’s so much fun.
Jen Dalton: Well, I think that’s the other thing people miss is that if you look at job satisfaction, it’s like 73% of Americans hate their job and it’s like wait a minute, how did we get here and, more importantly, how do we get out of here because if you love your work, it’s not work anymore. I mean, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t hard things, right? We know, as entrepreneurs, when you first start, you’re wearing all these different hats, you’re doing all these things that you started your business about, around a passion but now you got to learn to run a business, that’s different but how do you, as you grow your business, stay in love with it and make sure that you’re bringing in people to do stuff that they can do and you’re only doing what only you can do which is a quote my friend David [Belvin 00:27:24 says.
Melinda Wittstock: That’s so important like hire your weakness.
Jen Dalton: Outsource your weakness, totally.
Melinda Wittstock: Understand leverage because we all, as women, try and do everything. I think that’s maybe the mom thing, it’s so much within our acculturation like, okay, I’m going to do this, I’m going to do that, I’m going to do this and, honey, your socks are over there, right?
Jen Dalton: Yeah. We saw our moms do that, maybe, and that’s what you see on TV. Then I had so women say, “Well, I want to hire a maid because that looks like I can’t do everything.” Well, is that what you want to spend your five hours a week or is it worth paying somebody $100 and you now have five hours to go create value for your customers?
Melinda Wittstock: Now, this gets into this, I love this topic because you just said the word value. If you actually sit down as an entrepreneur and think about where you provide the most value to your company, maybe you might be walking in the woods or having a massage, you’re getting your nails done, whatever but you have that really inspiring thought for a new product or a way that you’re going to market something or somebody that you’re going to hire or some sort of inspiration like that and the value that you just created in that hour, what’s your hourly rate, is it $1,000 an hour, is it 10,000 an hour for what you just did versus paying a maid like cleaning up yourself or even just doing the accounting, say, in your company like thinking you got to do the [crosstalk 00:29:01. That comes into know your value where you’re really doing the things that only you can do.
Jen Dalton: I think that shows up in so many different ways. I mean, it is my fifth year in business, I finally hired an accountant last year to do my books, that took way too long. [inaudible 00:29:23 well, my books aren’t that complicated, I can just do it, it’s like no, I don’t like doing it, it’s not useful. I would find myself for a full day in December trying to do all my books for the year and whatever, that’s a terrible use of time.
I think the other way that shows up is when we price ourselves and we submit proposals and we undervalue our time there too. To your point, let’s say, you’re going to go into a company, you’re going to help them generate a million dollars in value. When you put together your pricing proposal, you’re like, “Well, it’s going to be 20 years of work, here’s my hourly rate so I’m going to charge $10,000.” You’re like, “Wait a minute, you just said you’re going to generate a million dollars.” There’s also a disconnect in how we price ourselves, we underprice women, for sure, underprice our value. I do this too, by the way, this is a constant struggle. Think about what’s the value you’re really bringing, not just your hours but your thought leadership and your different perspective on things and price that way. The hardest thing for women is to get to the bigger price to get us saying, “Oh my gosh, I was only going to charge 10, this is worth 75.” Sometimes I don’t know if it’s the, wow, am I really worth that …
Melinda Wittstock: it’s the fear too of someone saying no to you. if you’re so wrapped up in it personally, that you take it personally, then it becomes very difficult to ask for the sale because to get to know is somehow a personal rejection. Often there’s a fear about … oh, if I ask for that and they say no, oh my God. One of my mentors really helped me with this, an amazing sales guy, he’s a man, he really gets this. He said, “Okay, Melinda, so your task today is to go and get as many no’s as you can. This week, I want you to get an exponential number of no’s like more no’s each day.” I was like, “Okay,” so that was the goal. It was this amazing advice. It was so liberating because it took the fear away of the no because the objective was the no and if you’re getting a no, it means you’re asking [crosstalk 00:31:57 I wasn’t even asking very well, I had to really get out of my own comfort zone.
Jen Dalton: Well, I love that because you also want to practice before you get to the ask that really matters. I have clients in a C-suite who are interviewing to move to other C-suits in other companies and I’ll tell them, “We need to do at least 10 to 20 practice interviews.” Find a job you might want, let’s apply, let’s have you interview and practice because you want to practice your first interview with the job you actually want. I think the same is true for the ask, go ask 10 companies, that if they said no, not a big deal because it’s not the one you really, really want until they said yes, awesome.
I think the other thing is not all clients are clients for you. It is okay to turn someone away if they don’t fit your values or if they’re not paying you enough or if you’ve heard through grapevine they’re terrible to work with. You don’t need to say yes to every person that comes to you especially if they’re paying you to do work that’s not where you have the most value. I think in the first year or two and I certainly found myself doing this, you get trapped doing work because you really think you need the income. It’s not that you don’t but you really want to stick to here’s what I’m good at because now you’re wasting time doing work that’s not going to help you build the case for your business.
Melinda Wittstock: I know this one where you take on a client that’s really not the right fit because you think, “Oh man, I need revenue, I need revenue, I got to do it.” The problem is when you take on that client though, you may miss the one that actually is the right one. Having the confidence to say no like actually knowing in advance who is your ideal client, who you want to work with and why and where do your values align like some sort of framework for that.
I arrived at the conclusion with Verifeed with this really powerful social intelligence technology in the beginnings of AI or artificial intelligence, in our case, thinking about it in the context of, wow, AI can be used for good or bad and it’s really in the eye of the beholder so who do I want to empower with this technology. For me, I just thought I really want to work with mission-driven companies, I want to work with people who are committed to being authentic and really showing up and creating goodness in the world and solving big problems and do good models. The more I got confident about that like that’s who I want to work with, the better I feel, the more I enjoy my work and the better results I’m able to deliver for people.
Jen Dalton: Absolutely. I think that the other bad scenario is when people that you like come to you and say, “Would you do this,” and you want to help them and you’re actually good at what they’re asking you to do but it may not be where you should spend your time. Just because you’re good at something, that may not be the business you belong. You could be good at multiple things, that’s enough to launch a business. That’s the other trap is be weary when friends and people you know from maybe your past career come and ask you to do something, it’s okay to say no.
I think having multiple ways to say no or if somebody says, “Hey, can you help me?” you can go, “Yes, I can help you and here’s who I’m going to refer you to because they’re going to be a better fit for you.” Different ways to say no, different ways to say yes that don’t feel like a complete slap in the face for the person that’s come to you. You still want them to come away thinking it’s a win but it needs to be a win for you too. I think women often say yes when they get asked to do stuff and in reality, most of the time you probably should be saying no or no and here’s who can do it better or no, I don’t have time today but I would love to have time next week where I can make more time where we can have a real conversation because I value our time together. Just have a lot of ways to say no that don’t affect your personal brand in a negative way and actually help you look more thoughtful and intentional to your audience.
Melinda Wittstock: This is awesome advice you’re giving today, Jen. It really is, it resonate so much with me and I think our listeners too because there are so many great takeaways from it. How did you first get interested in personal brand and helping people with their personal brand? What was the ‘aha’ moment that made you think, “Yeah, this is my mission, this is what I’m going to go do”?
Jen Dalton: Yeah. There were some interesting aha moments. On my 10th anniversary so I was in the corporate world for 10 years, my 10th anniversary was the same day of the birth of my second son. I had one of those moments where I was like, “Hey, wait a minute, I don’t want my kids to see me in this role forever, I want to be doing what I love doing and that’s not where I’m at right now.” Now, I love the people I’ve worked with, it was a great company but I was not happy and feeling like it was meaningful work and I had this huge external force push me off of the path. I decided, let’s go back, I’m going to get my executive MBA because I’m going to keep working while I get my MBA and really focus on entrepreneurship and every chance I could work with small businesses. I work with small businesses in India and in Turkey and assessing their business model, assessing what they’re doing so I could figure out, well, how do I run a business.
Then during that, a lot of my fellow classmates came back to school, obviously, to get better, get promoted or do something but they couldn’t talk about themselves in a compelling way, especially the folks that were military and transitioning to private. I found for a lot of my classmates that we started having these conversations. Although I went back to grad school knowing I wanted to start a business in branding and strategy, I didn’t really know anything more than that, I just knew those were the things I love but it ended up being I started working with my classmates as some of my first clients and I started researching personal brand. It started becoming more talked about five years ago and it’s become much more popular now but I got certifications for it which I do every year.
My classmates were my first clients because they were really trying to figure out how do I market myself as a person. By the way, I’m old enough now where I’d like to choose where I go and where I spend my time so it’s really important that I understand my why and that I choose the right company, the right culture, the right thing so that’s how it all started.
Melinda Wittstock: You said you’re reading Brené Brown right now, which book? There is Daring Greatly, is there another one out as well?
Jen Dalton: I’m reading her newest one, Braving the Wilderness. It’s fascinating. Her talk was a two-hour talk at Lisner at GW and it was about the book. She’s a phenomenal speaker, I mean, I know her TED Talk is one of the most watched. This talk was 20 times more wow, just amazing how she uses the stage and music and interaction with the audience. What’s powerful about this book that really resonated with me was you have to be confident enough in belonging to yourself, loving who you are, that you can stand up and stand out in the wilderness by yourself and go do good work which is all about personal brand.
Part of that discussion was also around and the context behind it which I think will resonate with most people is that in today’s world, people are so polarized and that we’re actually more lonely now than ever because it’s either politics or it’s religion or it’s whatever but we’re very divided. Even if you look at cities and how they voted, there’s very little diversity in thinking now in different areas like people are just around the people who think like them and so you’re also missing out on diversity of thought and appreciating that. She really talks about in a polarized world, how do we move past that.
The other big piece was how do we reclaim our humanity, how do we get to know people as people and individuals and not just keep them at arm’s length so it’s easy to not like them. Whether you’re Democrat, Republican, whatever, that’s true like the closer you get to someone … Think about the recent hurricane, nobody stopped to save someone and say, “I’m only going to save you if you’re a Republican or Democrat,” people just help each other because when you’re up close, it’s really hard to hate people, you just jump in and you help. I think that’s an important thing that entrepreneurs do too is they’re not building a business on that, they’re building a business to serve people to make a difference.
Melinda Wittstock: It is about service, it’s about helping people, it’s about solving problems the world’s biggest, most intractable problems, in fact. I mean, I think that’s what keeps you going as an entrepreneur, honestly. If you do it for the money, there are better ways to make money, honestly, because you can easily be broke for periods of time. If you’re doing it to be your own boss, that’s also not a good reason because, I mean, you have so many bosses from your customers …
Jen Dalton: Your clients become your boss. If you’re doing it to be your own boss, you’re going to be surprised for the wrong reasons, your clients are now your boss.
Melinda Wittstock: Exactly. That mission of going out and helping people is such a huge driver and it’s what really keeps you going in the moments that do feel lonely or frustrating where you thought things were going to happen by a certain time and they didn’t or just things that are beyond your control which is definitely part of the journey.
Jen Dalton: Well, in the book, Brené talks about loneliness and how that’s the number one killer of people especially as you get older is loneliness. It’s not obesity, it’s not smoking, it’s actually loneliness. I think it’s very similar as an entrepreneur and you just said it a second ago like as an entrepreneur, it can be very lonely and you do think you’re the only one screwing up and the reality is everybody is on their same journey and we all screw up at different times and in the same time too.
I think it’s very important whether you’re an entrepreneur or whether you’re a C-suite, whatever that is, find your network like find your group that you can go talk to or your person and we’ve known each other for a long time, that you can go talk to and be vulnerable about your business and about how you feel as a leader and where you’re dropping down, where you’re dropping things or where you’re doing well. Because the loneliness trap is a huge challenge for entrepreneurs but also for CEO because it’s lonely at the top, whether you’re a solopreneur or a CEO, it’s still lonely. You don’t want to be alone.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, there’s a lot of people who don’t really necessarily understand because they can’t necessarily put themselves in your shoes so that’s very, very, true. Jen, what a wonderful interview, so wonderful talking to you today, so much great advice and wisdom!
Jen Dalton: It was awesome talking with you and thanks so much for inviting me. I love the work you’re doing and I can’t wait to read your book, I’m so excited about it. I know you’re featuring so many amazing women, it’s going to be fabulous!
Melinda Wittstock: Thank you so much. I am excited about it too because all of you are just so inspiring. I just want to make sure that our listeners can find you, what’s the best way that they can get in touch with you and do you have any kind of offer for them today?
Jen Dalton: Absolutely. They can find me at brandmirror.com. I do complimentary consults so if any of them had questions about the talk we had or where to get started on personal branding, they can definitely reach out and talk with me. I do have a book that’s out, The Intentional Entrepreneur and so if any of your listeners reach out to me at jendalton, J-E-N, Dalton, D-A-L-T-O-N, @brandmirror.com, I’m happy to send them the work book and talk through how to start leveraging their personal brand to grow their business or their impact more intentionally, I would love to hear from you.
Melinda Wittstock: How wonderful. We’ll make sure that we put that in the show notes for the podcast. Any of you listening, if you miss that, brandmirror.com and Jen’s book, you can get the details there in the show notes. Jen, thank you so much for putting on your wings with me today and flying.