peter_switzer.jpgNothing is achieved by a negative man. That’s the old and a bit sexist cliché, but I suspect negative women have the same achievement problems when they are programmed for negativity. These thoughts came to me after finally “losing my virginity”, succumbing to reading Richard Branson’s Losing My Virginity book over my Christmas break.

Over the years, I have been lucky enough to interview the guy, and he was delightful, but for some reason I had some mental block about reading the book. (It could be because I work with Qantas, hosting their Talking Business program, and Virgin is a rival – but I think I’m bigger than that!)

When I interviewed Richard, I made the point that he had developed his own personal brand so strongly, that it nearly challenged Virgin’s own brand! He disagreed, but I did suggest that Branson could be re-spelt as Brandson.

In my various business speeches, which cover the economy and what great business owners have used to grow their competitive advantage and their businesses, I often talk to employees about developing their personal brand.

People such as Branson, chef Neil Perry and Aussie Home Loans’ John Symond are the kinds of people who have used their personality and their links to the media to bolster their businesses and their personal brand.

In the past Joyce Mayne did it, Poppy King tapped into it, as did Ita Buttrose. Janine Allis has also helped boost her Boost Juice business by her media activities.

Branson’s book says he didn’t have to be so public when he was driving Virgin Records, as he had press-pulling power with rock stars such as Phil Collins, Janet Jackson and Mike Oldfield, of Tubular Bells fame.

He knew he had to force himself onto the media when he got serious with Virgin Atlantic and he was up against British Airways, which was much bigger than Virgin – I think they had four planes at the time.

He has become a human headline, and as long as he comes up with good stories for the media, they come along for the ride and do the advertising work that would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars through conventional advertising.

He prowls businesses, looking for industries with only a few players who are over-charging and under-servicing customers, and he then competes on price. He did it with Virgin Cola, Virgin Money and even a health club group called Virgin Active. By the way, not everything has been successful – he couldn’t make Virgin Wine pay – and he has flown close to the edge at times, but his achievements have been fantastic, especially considering he suffers from dyslexia.

On following his lead, he has doubts about teaching success, which I take issue with, but his view should be considered by anyone wanting to make 2009 a change year for the better.

“You cannot clearly define our business success and then bottle it as you would a perfume,” he said. “It’s not that simple: to be successful, you have to be out there, you have to hit the ground running; and, if you have a good team around you and more than your share of luck, you might make something happen. But you certainly can’t guarantee it by following someone else’s formula.”

In essence he is right, because luck plays a role, but I would argue that if you were going to change yourself to create a great business, to build a wealth-building portfolio of assets, or if you want to build your personal brand to get promoted to a better-paying job, then look to learn from the likes of Branson.

So, what’s his secret formula? The Branson Business Decision process:

1. Instinctively the business must sound like fun!

2. Compete against big players in need of healthy competition.

3. Stir the pot against over-pricing and poor products.

4. Start with a sound business plan.

5. Have a simple model of service, value for money and offer a simple product.

6. You must have a vision, but it can change on the run.

7. Lists are important.

“I have always lived my life by making lists: lists of people, lists of ideas, lists of companies to set up, lists of people who can make things happen,” he said.

Apart from his passion for his business, which is something you can’t teach, he is one of the world’s greatest networkers. This is a skill that many business greats have mastered. It requires people to get out of their comfort zone, to ask for help from experts and to give.

I was once advised by an expert networker that “givers get”, and it’s great advice for you to remember for 2009.

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