Archive for August, 2011

The Ugly Tax

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

Clint HowardIf you earn 10-15% less than someone who does the same job, you’re paying the price of being less attractive.

The average cost of being ugly is $230,000 out of your paycheck, over your working lifetime.

Deduct another significant chunk from your salary if you are obese, but only if you are female. Fat women earn about $14,000 less per year than their average-weight sisters, or about 12% if you are Caucasian and 7% if you are African-American. On the other hand, remarkably thin women earn $2,000 more each year than the average woman on the job.

While fat men get a pass, thin men pay a hefty price. Their salary averages $9,000 less per year than their average or big-boned brothers.

When you compare a man 6’ to one 5’5”, you are talking $5,525 in added income for the big guy. But it’s still a game of inches for a man 5’10” who earns $950 less in annual pay on average, versus the six-footer. Taller women make 5-8% more than average women, for every three extra inches they tower above the ordinary.

Blonde women earn $870 more on average than brunettes and redheads. Bald men to the tune of 63%, report earning less than guys with a full head of hair.

While most of these personal statistics are clear-cut: taller, fatter, blonde or bald for example – apparently, even ugly is pretty easy to agree on. Over half the people rated as ugly were given identical scores by more than half the respondents in a study cited by Daniel S. Hamermesh, a professor of economics at the University of Texas, Austin in his new book, Beauty Pays.

How you look directly affects the outcomes in your life. It’s a fact of life that people prefer to buy from better looking sales representatives. Jurors’ decisions favor good-looking attorneys. The electorate leans toward photogenic political leaders.

The reasons may come down to how you were handled from the get-go. Cute babies get more attention from their parents. Adorable toddlers are, well, adored. The legacy of attracting positive attention breeds a certain kind of social ease, a charm that lasts a lifetime.  Being well loved may also prevent you from overeating or being careless about your grooming habits.

All these qualities lead to the real reason we like attractive people more: they are self-confident. We intuitively believe that if you like you, then we should like you, too!

How can you add “attractive” to your personal brand? It’s pretty simple. Change what you can control.

Posture matters. People who put their legs up on a desk or otherwise pose in an aggressive manner – chest puffed out or leaning forward – actually change their own neurochemistry. Such posing raises your testosterone by 20% and lowers your stress hormone by the same amount. That looks like self-confidence. Of course, you can’t walk around pretending you’re Superman all day, so actually being buff would cut down on the posing and the extra weight. Get to a gym.

Face the facts. Men with facial hair are viewed negatively by 60% of business people. About the same percentage of directors appreciated women wearing make-up. For either gender, an attractive face-framing haircut goes a long way. Get a makeover or at least, a good hair stylist. If you’re bald, think Bruce Willis or Samuel L. Jackson, not Clint Howard.

Of course, it’s not perfection but self-love and self-confidence that trump any cosmetic change – including plastic surgery according to current studies.

I recommend this exercise to my clients. Create a list of everything that makes you feel confident – the family and friends who adore you, the work that you excel at, and the skills, interests, qualities, beliefs and values you have that give you a sense of security, purpose and joy. Keep the list where you can see it, and add to it regularly. Fill a journal with notes of that appreciation.

That will buoy your self-confidence, which helps us appreciate you. After all, wealth is all about getting your assets to appreciate.

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Buy Early, Sell Late

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

39697No, I’m not talking about how to manage your stock portfolio. I am talking about structuring your day to be successful.

Cutting-edge neuroscience data is about to be revealed in a new book, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney. A collection of recent, rather shocking studies prove that as the day goes along, you increasingly suffer from decision-fatigue – and quite literally pay the price.

Simply put:

Buy in the morning when you are sharp. Sell in the afternoon when others aren’t. To do otherwise, is to put yourself in harm’s way.

Should you be alarmed if things don’t go that way? Yes, because there’s what I call the Jenga effect, as you load one decision on top of another. Jenga is the game where you create a tower of wood pieces and start to pull them out one by one. Inevitably, the tower will fall.

What’s particularly unsettling? There is not a single decision you make that doesn’t lead to your potential ruin, known as “ego depletion.” Over the course of a day, you simply run out of steam to recognize what’s best for you and your organization. As your cognitive resources run out, you witlessly succumb to the forces around you.

Your brainpower gets worn down with every simple and complex decision you make. Every decision takes an equal toll when it comes to depleting your ability to decide anything.

Here’s an example. On your way into work, you stop for a brace of caffeine. The barista asks, “Coffee or tea?” OMG. This is where it starts – unless of course, you already had to decide which outfit to wear, and whether it would be news or music as you commuted. Decisions, all of them, count.

The brain-saver tip? Have lots of easy to follow routines. Work it out so you can answer the barista, “The usual.” Otherwise, you begin to exhaust the complex biological processes that are a necessary part of quality decision-making. No kidding. Every single decision draws down brainpower.

There’s another shock in the new neuroscience. Every time you invoke your willpower, you deplete your store of it. Stifle a yawn? You might give away too much in the next negotiation. Refuse a pastry before the meeting? You might undermine your determination to refuse a bad deal.

Your brain has no size meter! Using your energy to refuse small treats like a candy bar negatively impacts your ability to draw a hard line on big temptations, like caving in on price or delivery schedule when a vendor is being particularly persuasive. It works the other way, too. You might decline a great deal, because you’re just too tired to do the math.

Adding to the downside risks of your average day? A hit of glucose from a donut spikes your clarity (wheee!), which then crashes after the quick fix (kaboom!). Think protein and complex carbs in small doses throughout the day so your brain gets sustained levels of glucose.  Stock the house and meeting room with healthy food, so there’s no willpower needed and no mood swings, either.

But, eating well isn’t going to save you from decision fatigue and ego depletion.

Multi-tasking over long, hard days and using your authority to decide even small issues (should we order business cards today?) whittle away your good sense (we can wait another day!). Add in the often-necessary suppression of natural impulses, like ignoring your desire to answer the call of hunger, thirst, sex, using the restroom or taking a nap, and you become more prey than predator.

Hence: make your buying decisions early in the day. Schedule selling and big meetings later in the day – on those days when you are able to sleep in.  As “four hour millionaire” author Timothy Ferriss, the internationally successful designer agnes b and me, a leading communications coach have found: night owls enjoy an unfair advantage over early birds. That is, if big meetings are scheduled later in the day.

My personal brand has always had a “you can call me til 3 AM” vibe, and only emergencies or a time zone issue overrides my desire to put pillow over head when the rooster calls. And from now on, I won’t even try to fake being awake when a client calls my mobile at 8 AM and asks, “Were you sleeping?” I won’t feel caught. I’ll feel smart.

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Instant Branding

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

michele-bachmannMichele Bachmann got photographed with crazy eyes on the cover of Newsweek. She also revealed she is a “submissive wife” to a “godly husband.”

Those “gotcha” moments can brand you in an instant. Although, apparently not always in a deleterious way, at least in Iowa if you’re running for president of the United States. Bachmann won the first contest among Republican candidates there last week.

Iowa is the state where they deep fry butter in batter and call it a snack at the county fair. They also grow a lot of corn. I think we know what’s going on in the arteries of Iowans.

Who else can we brand in an instant? Step right on up.

Just kidding. Nothing could be less accurate than knowing a few facts, and branding someone for life. Michele Bachmann and Iowa aren’t the little that we know about them.

Even you can’t brand yourself in an instant

You have to answer a whole lot of questions, delve into your most life-forming experiences and sift through your body of work. And, that’s really just to get a running start on the authentic you. It doesn’t begin to work on what your target market needs, and why they would want it from you.

This weekend, I spoke to another group of Hollywood screenwriters about creating their personal brands. I knew they wanted me to do some version of a carnival act, where I guessed their brand on sight. At most, they wanted to answer a question or two, and have their branding expel from their mouths or mine.

It just doesn’t work that way.  The kind of impression you get or give in an instant is probably closer to the distorted reflection of a funhouse mirrors than real branding that reflects the highest and best use of you. Of course, once you have your branding nailed down, you do communicate instantly because you are doing it intentionally.

Until now, you may have relied on our impression of you to define your life and work. For example, employers post jobs. Then, you turn your resume inside out to match the description of the ideal candidate.  Or, you launch a new business based on an article that calls out: “Ten new business ideas you can start with no money from your couch!” Why that’s me, you think. I have no money! I have a couch!

A more strategic approach with long term benefits would be to set aside some time to understand 1) who you are, and 2) what meaning you want to have in our lives. Then, use your online and on-ground appearance and behavior to clearly, consistently and compellingly show us exactly what your brand is.

Here are some navel-gazing questions to get you started on your personal branding. When you were younger – before we all started to tell you who you were:

  1. What did you want to do when you grew up?
  2. Where did you want to go?
  3. Who were your role-models?
  4. What was your favorite way to spend time?
  5. What was the saddest thing that happened?
  6. What events gave you the most joy?
  7. If you were a super-hero, what super powers would you have?

This is how I start out most of my personal branding intensives, along with 93 other questions.

You see there is no instant branding. At least none worth living out and about, for the rest of your life.

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Sharing for Profit

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

Peter Shankman of HARO (Help a Reporter Out), has an interest in SnapGoods, where you can sign up to rent out your rarely used electronics. Robin Chase of ZipCar is profiled in Inc. this month because she founded BuzzCar, a service that allows French people to rent their cars to neighbors.

In Santa Monica, Writers Junction co-owners and siblings Jay Gibson and Eileen Gibson Funke wanted a quiet place to write but dreaded the isolation inherent in the profession. So they created a shared workspace they rent out by the day. It’s ideal for writers who need a real place to go once the coffee shop thing gets old. Plus Jay and Eileen can host profit-making events for their community. I recently spoke on personal branding to their screenwriter “tenants” and will do it again this coming Sunday.

Strength coach Jon Torerk at BioMechanix in Los Angeles wanted to build himself an elite facility to train in. So he created an industrial/zen-style super gym where contract trainers pay a small fee to bring their clients. It’s got the exact equipment that professional athletic gyms have, plus video games, movies, a conference area, kitchen and even a place to nap. And, Jon can work out whenever he wants.

This is a new take on “follow your passion.” It’s more like “share your passion.” Or, build it and they will come. “They” according to Seth Godin, are your tribe. The basic concept is seeing that your taste, desires or stuff are probably really attractive to other people like you.

What’s great is that you can afford more and better stuff when you share. And, there’s a fun quotient here. Something good happens inside and out, whenever you are with your tribe, even if just one aspect of your lives brings you all together.

Warning: this is not a business concept for only children or people with poor boundaries. You have to be able to play well with others. You must set clear rules and standards for the behavior of your clients. You also must have the right apps or check-in/check-out procedures to keep track of what’s going on. And, make sure you are making money.

Good people skills

Your personal brand plays into this business scenario. You must have good people skills. You must be generous in nature. You must be able to bear the bent edges or spilled coffee, or whatever dings are going to happen in a shared environment.

You like-ability is going to be part of the sell as well. Successful shared services, equipment or space business begin with positive buzz from people you know. In this business model, without others you are nothing, or at least you make nothing.

Elliot Erwitt is a photographer and filmmaker who was getting lost in Los Angeles until she found that sharing her home with other people’s dogs was the ticket to a great business concept. She’s someone you like instantly. It helps that she sends home professional quality photos of your dog at play and rest. Her business Citizen Kanine has a great Facebook page that documents the field trips and activities of her pack. She also alerts a very large group of followers about dog-friendly and dog-saving tips. For example, oleander is poisonous and a lot of it grows in the neighborhood.

So, look in your closet, bookshelves, garage and backyard. Think about what you have and would like more of – or better. Consider what your friends always admire about you (or what they borrow). Spend some time appreciating yourself. Maybe you’re really patient with grandparents and they love how you play piano. Or teenagers always come to you for advice. A clubhouse concept may fit perfectly in your living room.

Something is bound to bubble up that you can put on loan, for hire or in some way share for profit. Given the current financial markets’ roller coaster ride, it really might be best to invest in yourself and the stuff you like at this time. You might find out what you’ve got is as good as gold. Maybe better.

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Taking Credit When None is Due

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

BusinessWoman-Home-ShockedDuring the debt ceiling negotiations, among the punked-style news: a Tea Party leader touted a “massive rally” on behalf of that group (at which less than 2 dozen people actually showed up). He claimed the majority of Americans supported his party’s position because “the phones were lit up and the government websites melted down,” (once President Obama urged us all to contact our representatives to urge them to not default on our global credit obligations).

In that televised interview, a fair-minded host aired video of the small, motley crew who made the “rally.” He then reported the statistics on who had contacted their representatives. Better than two-thirds were in fact largely furious that 61 Tea Party freshman congressmen imperiled our country’s sterling creditworthiness, setting off a $700 billion sell off in the stock market (where our 401K plans are now imperiled) over 5 days.

Credit where credit is due

I bet you aren’t surprised by these shenanigans, because you’ve been punked yourself, and paid for it.

Haven’t you worked with someone who wantonly took credit for your ideas or work product? When your boss showed management his PowerPoint with your points on it, did you stage an uprising? No, you sat through the meeting – and watched him enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Haven’t you lived with someone who was a slacker, and didn’t want to pay bills he owed? Did you just let the house bills go unpaid? And, let him ruin your credit? No, you paid the bills to preserve your credit score – and his, too.

Hasn’t a classmate who didn’t turn in her part of a group project held you hostage? Didn’t you wind up just taking whatever she got to you, while you did the majority of the project – and earned her the same A you deserved?

Credit doesn’t always go where it is due. You know that already. But, what can you do about it?

Your career depends on your ability to withstand these crises.  Perhaps the future of your company depends on that. Thus, you need a way to remain calm and confident in spite of the madness around you.

Being effective regardless of victory or defeat

You need to be effective at producing an income, controlling costs and doing work that moves your career forward: no matter who is attempting to defeat, default or otherwise deter you. How?

As a career and business coach, my recommendation is that you set up several options whenever that is feasible. For example, line up several job interviews. Don’t stop looking because you got one call back.

And, even when you are happy and hired: create something on the side that you find personally meaningful and at least potentially profitable. Or, make sure you keep up with your connections, so if you have to leave a company: you have people who care about you – not who hear from you only when you are out of work.

Avoid having all your eggs in one basket

In business, choose two vendors whenever you can chunk off 20% of the work. That leaves you with an option if one tries to hold your work hostage for more time or more money. Cross train your employees so no one person is the only person who knows how to do anything that is mission critical.

Having a set of alternatives: a plan B, C, D, E, F, G and so on, is the best insurance you can have in your career and business. It doesn’t make you disloyal, it’s just good policy.

In terms of the debt ceiling dealings, I learned sometimes the only alternative is watching cute kittens on YouTube.

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