Many years ago, a young boy named Clifton Taulbert had a rare opportunity to go to a circus in Jackson, Mississippi. It was a two-man road trip, just the boy and his relative and mentor, Cleve Mormon.
As Taulbert shares in the book Who Owns the Ice House? Eight Life Lessons from an Unlikely Entrepreneur, the two bought their tickets, found their seats near the front of the circus tent, and dug into hot, buttered popcorn while waiting for the show to begin. Just as the lights dimmed, a burly white guy in a white shirt, suspenders, and a bow tie rushed over to them and said they had to leave because Blacks weren’t allowed at the circus on Friday nights.
Without a word or look at the man, Mormon grabbed Clifton’s hand and walked out. They never spoke of it again, even though they worked together side by side in Mormon’s successful business selling ice. But Taulbert never forgot how Mormon handled that momentary interaction—with the same calm and reliability he used in every other situation. It was part of his personal brand, and even a racist stranger in a far-away city could not shake it.
Sending Your Message Out to the World
Your brand is more than a logo, a website, an ad, or a sign. It is not what you say is that is important. It is the reputation you acquire as a result of what you do.
You can communicate your brand in a number of ways— many of which are subtle and unspoken but are often more potent than anything you communicate directly. As Cleve Mormon demonstrated, this is an aspect of your life over which you have complete control.
When you establish an entrepreneurial mindset, you demonstrate that you believe in your ability to succeed and influence your life’s outcomes. You embrace entrepreneurship not as a business discipline but as the self-directed pursuit of opportunities to create value for others.
By definition, when you focus on other people and what might solve problems in their lives, you have a humanistic outlook. You are already looking at the world through your customers’ eyes.
To convey your brand, take that one step further. Ask yourself:
- Why should someone buy my product or service?
- How will they know I will do what I say?
- Why should they believe in me?
- What are others saying about my product or service?
As an entrepreneur, you must convey to your customers that you can be relied upon to create value for them. “You can count on me” is more than a slogan for successful entrepreneurs. It becomes a habit, a way of life, and a part of who you truly are.
Tips for Building Your Brand
- Consistency conveys confidence. If people know they can count on you and your solution every time, they will tell others.
- Being on time conveys reliability. Showing up early is even better—it sends a message that you are someone eager to solve problems and get the job done.
- Taking initiative will expand your opportunities. Doing more than is expected (while not operating at a loss) demonstrates that you are service-oriented.
- Doing what you say you will do builds trust. Offering your solution for the price you agreed to, delivering it when you said you would, and creating the value you promised the customer all give you a competitive advantage.
- View problems as opportunities. Doing this goes back to the entrepreneurial mindset. If you have an optimistic interpretation of adverse events, you will become more resilient and resourceful even within highly uncertain situations. This resilience is incredibly reassuring to customers.
- Be a lifelong learner. If you make a mistake—and you will, no matter how hard you try not to—acknowledge it and approach the solution with curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking. Treat the solution as a micro-experiment, a small-stakes learning opportunity to test new ideas.
Cleve Mormon’s steadiness even when a racist circus worker provoked him wasn’t something he thought about at that moment. He had developed a reputation based on the code of conduct that he lived by, and it had become so automatic that he could draw on it even during times of extreme stress. That’s the power of the entrepreneurial mindset. Wherever we are, in whatever we do, we are constantly building our brand.