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Three Steps to Establishing an Entrepreneur Brand

Three Steps to Establishing an Entrepreneur Brand

With the national unemployment rate still north of 9 percent, entrepreneurship is a hot topic. Starting your own business provides a means of making ends meet while doing what you love, instead of looking for outside employment. Although entrepreneurship means risk, it allows creativity and autonomy. Yes, according to the SBA , half of businesses fail in their first year, and two-thirds fail after two years. But entrepreneurs who fail have a better chance of succeeding at their next ventures, because they have experience and understand what doesn't work.

To learn more about what it takes to make yourself a successful entrepreneur in the 21st century, I spoke with Tony Hawk, who became the No. 1 skateboarder in the world at age 16 and is the author of How Did I Get Here: The Ascent of an Unlikely CEO (Wiley, 2010). Hawk, who started skating at 9, just released his 12th video game—the newest piece of a billion-dollar franchise that consists of his video game series and clothing line. He shared three valuable entrepreneurship lessons with me that will help you establish a powerful brand in your industry.

1. Be Authentic

People connect with real people and can spot a fake in an instant. Stick to your core values and beliefs and base your brand off of them. Hawk never put skating on the back burner, because he loved the sport. At the same time, he didn't let his long hours of skating weaken his authority as head of his business. "I never compromised my values or my image," says Hawk. He had final say over all business deals and anything to which his brand was attached. Even if it means losing lucrative opportunities, you must remember your devotees have certain expectations about your brand, and if you disappoint them, you might lose them as customers and fans.

2. Be Unique

Thousands of companies are selling similar products, but few get any attention at all. Tom Peters, the world-famous management guru, used to say, "distinct or extinct." If you don't differentiate yourself as an entrepreneur, no one will pay attention to you and your business. You don't want to end up as just another commodity in your industry, because you won't be able to charge a premium price and attract the right type of consumers. When Hawk first started skateboarding, it wasn't a mainstream sport, and there was no set career path, so he invented one. Figure out what makes you different, then tell your story to the marketplace in a compelling, attention-grabbing way.

As the economy shifts and your industry changes, you also need to innovate constantly. Otherwise, your competitors might steal your thunder and render your business irrelevant. "If you take your success for granted and don't innovate, you will lose your luck very fast," according to Hawk. If you aren't connecting with your customers via the latest technology, such as Twitter and Facebook, they won't find and interact with you.

3. Be Around the Right People

As an entrepreneur, you need a good support system of family, friends, and business contacts. Motivational speaker Jim Rohn is famous for saying that "you're the average of the five people you spend the most time with." The people who surround you influence your career and business success. Hawk always kept company with his close friends, regardless of how fast his business was growing. "I never moved into a new realm of people," says Hawk. Surround yourself not with "yes men" and flatterers but rather with people you know, like, and trust.

When you're authentic, you'll humanize yourself and your business. When you're unique, you'll stand out and shine in your industry, which will attract new business opportunities. When you surround yourself with the right people, you will get the kind of support you need to give your business the best odds of succeeding.