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Episode 13: Building Your Brand as a Consultant —with Shaunice Hawkins

Deb Zahn: Hi. I want to welcome you to Episode 13 of the Craft of Consulting podcast. My guest today is the wonderful Shaunice Hawkins. She is a principal at Evolutions Consulting and Advisory and they specialize in all things communication. Shaunice in particular focuses on crisis communication. She's also an adjunct professor at the School of Professional Studies at New York University.

On this show, we go very deep into all the nitty gritty of something that's absolutely critical for particularly new consultants, which is how to build a brand as a consultant. For those that aren't really familiar with the branding process, it's definitely more than a logo or putting up a website. There's so much more to it than that and we go over all of those details, including how to build it, how to evolve it over time particularly as you start to grow your business and expand what you do, how to hold fast to and be able to nurture it as a central way of how you build your business, and how you cultivate the very specific client experience you want folks to have of you. We go over a lot of those details in this podcast. Really excited, let's get started.

I want to welcome my guest today. I have Shaunice Hawkins with me. Shaunice, welcome to the show.

Shaunice Hawkins: Thank you, Deb. I'm so excited to be here. Thank you.

Deb Zahn: Oh, welcome. Let's start off by you telling my listeners what type of consulting you do?

Shaunice Hawkins: Well, I'm a strategic communicator, and my job is to help my clients communicate well with their consumers, whether they're B2B consumers, meaning business to business or business to consumer consultants. My job is to help them ensure that the communications that they're doing, whether through social media, through advertising, through marketing promotions, or just through simple internal communication with employees, that the message gets through to the intended audience in a manner in which that audience can receive it.

Deb Zahn: Oh, that's a really necessary type of consulting because I've certainly seen that go awry more than once. What drew you to consulting?

Shaunice Hawkins: I would like to have a very eloquent response to that, but it was actually by need. I started out actually as an internal consultant. I was a full-time employee with one of my financial services firms. It just so happened that the information and the experience that I had was necessary to become an internal consultant. I started my consulting career as an internal consultant going from line of business to line of business, department head to department head, sharing what services we could offer in my department. Then it eventually morphed into an external client base type of relationship. Now, a thousand years later, I'm still consulting.

Deb Zahn: That's great. That's great. One of the things that I thought it would be great to dive into because, I think often, for new consultants, it's sort of this mystery realm, which is branding, and specifically, how do they brand themselves? You can be an independent consultant and you have to sort of create your brand, or even...I used to be in a consulting firm. The firm had their brand and then I had my brand within it, and that has to be deliberately approached and thought of and created and cultivated, and it's sort of this mystery realm, I think, for a lot of new consultants. Or they think it's just the logo, the business card, and the website. Because I know you are an expert at this, what actually comprises a brand, and what is a brand supposed to do?

Shaunice Hawkins: Well, to answer the first part of your question, what comprises a brand is you. Most people don't understand that we don't buy products, we don't buy services, we buy the people or the spirit behind those products and services. If you are not your own storyteller, then no one will basically read your story, or your brand story, your product story, your service story. You have to be authentic to begin with. You have to be transparent in a way and I'll share this in light of my own story. It's very difficult especially for people who are introverts to be open and vulnerable and to be that exposed because it does feel like an exposure.

I think the first part is really understanding, which sort of leads into your second part of your question, which is really understand who you are and how much you're willing to give away, and how much of that are you willing to be public? Now, after understanding that the brand is you, it's really dissecting what parts of you you can capitalize on and monetize because that's the reason why you brand in the first place. Most people don't understand that. Most consumers, whether they're B2B or B2C, most consumers are looking for brands that are very public and are talked about from a word of mouth perspective. I think from an individual standpoint, first deciding who you are, what you want to be, and how you want to be perceived is the first step.

The second step is to really identify...There's an exercise that I do with my clients which is to either talk to their Facebook friends, or LinkedIn friends, or just a group of people that they know, and even some of their clients, and ask them to describe you in three adjectives. Those adjectives can be very simple. It can be very niche. It could be what have you. But getting this sort of consortium of minds who know you, have worked with you to describe who you are gives you an outside perspective. I think that's one of the best ways to capitalize on what your brand is.

Your brand is also what you shape it to be. It's what you're putting out to the external world as to how you're describing yourself. I think Diane von Furstenberg has a quote that I'll paraphrase. She says, “I may not know the woman I want to be, but I do know the type of person I want to be.” I think that is a great way to describe a brand, which is you might not know what your company might be because you're starting out or you're in the middle of a transition because consultants go through transitions. But I do think understanding the footprint that you want to put out into the world is the first key. That takes time. That takes time.

Deb Zahn: That's a great way to say that. Yeah, I actually did that exercise, and then I had to adjust it because I realized part of my brand is, and you're going to laugh, it's OK, Deb PG 13 as someone described it.

Shaunice Hawkins: Well, I know you. I would have to correct that. I would say MA, but OK.

Deb Zahn: I also have a few clients who might say, “What's the version I get?”

Shaunice Hawkins: G. Always G.

Deb Zahn: That's a question I have, is I do believe in consulting, the successful consultants that I know are authentic. And they bring their self and they bring their whole self to the work that they do. But in branding, is there a balance between that authenticity but not too much authenticity and also more of an idolized or refined version of yourself? How do you balance those things?

Shaunice Hawkins: Yes. Actually, I talk about this in my PR classes at NYU. One of the challenges that I have is a lot of my students who are studying...They're getting their graduate degrees in public relations, and they're trying to figure out how to be the best PR professional, but half of them are shy or they really don't know how to put themselves forward. They just know that they want this as a career. One of the first things that I tell them is it's OK to create an alter ego. I'm a fan girl, I love superheroes. My first iteration of my alter ego was Wonder Woman because as I mentioned, I'm an introvert.

Deb Zahn: That's mine too.

Shaunice Hawkins: I mentioned because as an introvert, I'm not shy, but there are certain things that I just don't like exposed. I can't be in this business of communication and be who I am at a default level because, A, I won't make any money and B, I won't have a business. But I do love the work that I do. What I do is I tap into my inner Diana Prince and I say what would Wonder Woman do? I think for your listeners, especially newbies and those who are new to consulting, I think that that's something that they have to really tap into. What is it that makes them step outside of themselves and be fearless for a moment? What's the thing that they can do, it scares them to death, but can they tap into that persona, that personality, that character that allows them to do the work that they have to do without sacrificing who they are?

Now, to your point, there is a balance because you don't want to 1, become disingenuous, and 2, you don't want to become inauthentic, and 3, you don't want to ride that wave of an alter ego to the point where you get lost in that and you no longer are who you are. Right? I think that there has to be a balance. I'm great for writing things down. I'll put on a piece of paper, and excuse me for speaking in third person and first person for a second, but it's who's Shaunice and who's Shaunice's Wonder Woman? What can I do to be comfortable in this space?

Case in point. I'm a consultant, and I have a firm, and I have to do business development. Anyone who knows me knows that I hate sales, and I hate business development. I'm great at client management, but I hate to pitch with everything that I have. But I know that that's a very key point because of my business because I am the brand of my business. People buy my services because they know me. I have to become Wonder Woman for the first half an hour so that I can at least find my stride in the conversation, make my pitch, but then after that, take off the Wonder Woman mantle and just be myself because I know that at the end of the day, they're going to buy me and not Wonder Woman.

Deb Zahn: It makes complete sense. This is something. I've been coaching professionals who've become consultants for quite some time and that piece is showing up in selling what I do and who I am and being confident and comfortable or at least appearing confident and comfortable is really tough. I always think because I also know that your reason for being on the planet is to help people. A lot of folks that go into consultancy, that's the same thing. They want to help people and I also try and help them tap into, “You're going to be Wonder Woman or Spiderman or the Hulk,” depending on the situation, and I'm trying to help both the Marvel in the DC universe. Everybody gets a little bit in there.

Shaunice Hawkins: Yeah, everybody gets something.

Deb Zahn: But if you can also, while you're doing that, tap into what you're really doing when you're sitting in front of them, is trying to figure out how you can help them and make their lives better and make their dreams come true.

Shaunice Hawkins: Yes.

Deb Zahn: Once somebody new, whether it's your students or a new consultant, thinks, “OK. I know the words that people use to describe me. I've done some work over time trying to refine sort of what my brand is,” what do they do with that? Then how do they express that out in the world?

Shaunice Hawkins: Well, I love how you tied into the brand with the problem. One of the things that I like to think of is you have to do the work of understanding what the client problems are and not just individual problems, almost a collective problem because the brand...When personal branding or small business branding first sort of surfaced as this thing to do, one of the first things that academics would say, “Well, branding is a promise.” I think it is in a way, but I really think it's more of a solution.

I'll give you this quick example, and I'll share how I think branding works perfectly. There was a brand years ago. It's a fast food joint, a very national brand, international brand, everyone knows it. There was a commercial, I remember sitting on my couch, Saturday cartoons and martial arts movies, I'm dating myself now. I'm just sitting on the couch but I remember, all of a sudden, there's this burger that shows up full-screen before HD and full-screen and I'm seeing the juices run from this burger. I'm seeing the tomato being nice, red, the green, crisp lettuce, the toast and bun and the sesame seeds, and this thing is scrolling ever so slowly across my screen. The question was, “Aren't you hungry?”

I wasn't even hungry before that but I saw it, I'm like, “You know what? I could eat. I could eat.”

Deb Zahn: They got you.

Shaunice Hawkins: They got me. Now, mind you, the question wasn't aren't I hungry for a burger? It was aren't I hungry? Now, I could have gone for Chinese. I could have gone for pizza. I could have gone for Tex-Mex. I could have gone for anything but all of a sudden, this burger showed up. They asked me if I was hungry. I identified, and then they said, “For such and such and this is the brand.” All of a sudden, I want that burger from that brand. Now, there were other burger brands out there, but that burger from that brand. That connectivity, I never forgot that. Obviously, I'm a thousand years old, but I connect to that, and I use that same sentiment with consulting brands.

When people have problems, first of all, they don't know they have a problem. Sometimes you have to sell the problem.

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Shaunice Hawkins: Right? Once you've helped the client identify what their problem is, the first thing they should be thinking about is you, not your competitor.

Deb Zahn: That's right. That's right.

Shaunice Hawkins: You should be as impressionable as that burger brand is with you in your consultancy because, 1, if you're selling them on the problem and understanding that this is the problem that you have, you understand it intimately, and you're the brand for that solution. Then, obviously, you're going to be the brand that they're going to hire over another client.

Deb Zahn: OK. That's a perfect, beautiful way to describe sort of the process and the outcome that you want a brand to achieve. When you think about your own brand, which you've been very thoughtful about, you've carefully cultivated. You, I would imagine, refined it over time. How does that apply then to your brand just to give folks an example?

Shaunice Hawkins: Sure. One of the reasons why my clients come to me and new clients actually come to me is because I've done something for someone. Someone knew who I was from a corporate standpoint. It started out, like I said, in corporate and someone knew that I was a problem solver. I'm a strategist. If I don't know the answer, I'll get it for you. My reputation as being reliable and dependable and never letting someone down even though sometimes I do but I strive not to, that reliability is why clients keep coming back to me. They start referring me from one client to the other.

It started out, like I said, locally from a departmental base, and then it grew from department to company, then from company to company. Now, it just continues to grow from there. Again, it starts with yourself. It starts with who you are and how authentic you can be and what people know you for. When I did my own adjective exercise and I asked clients and friends and people that I knew, how would you describe me? Reliable, straightforward, kind, caring.

A lot of times when we think about our brands, we think of them in terms of the things that we do rather than the things that we are. I think it's so important to be a good person, a reliable person, but it's also important to have high emotional intelligence. It's very important to be very mindful. It's very important to be culturally astute and aware and respectful of all people. Knowing that about the people that you're working with is sometimes better than just the work that you're doing all together.

Deb Zahn: That's right. What I like about that is it's not...I think when a lot of people think of branding, you just don't know a lot about it, they think of exciting big adjectives, sexy, all that. But I would hire someone reliable over exciting any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

Shaunice Hawkins: Exactly. Exactly.

Deb Zahn: Yeah, I love that. My words that were generous. I don't hold value back. I don't hold myself back. I'm generous, I'm empathetic. I really try and understand their point of view, their circumstance, and to care about it deeply. Then action-oriented, which is kind of a goofy brand word, but I want people, when they have a problem of something is just not moving forward and they really need it to, I want them to think, “Hey, wait a minute. I don't know what the heck she does, but Deb seems to get things to move forward. Let's bring her in.” None of those are very exciting, but to me, they're essential to how I want to be in the world and how I want to show up.

Shaunice Hawkins: I'm going to make you laugh. One of my clients, because a lot of my communication crosses things like crisis communication, conflict communication, etc., so one of my clients calls me the chaos whisperer. I used to think of myself as just the nerd next door, but now I've sort of taken on the persona of chaos whisperer and the way it was described is a lot of times that happens, I'm brought in when it's a storm and...

Deb Zahn: The troubles.

Shaunice Hawkins: Yes. It's like this huge hurricane happening or tornado happening and then they're like, “Here comes Shaunice. She's the eye of the storm. She's the calm. She's going to make everything right.” Now I come in and I feel like, am I a bouncer for people's problems? Is that what my brand is? People have come to know me as the person who can take even the craziest situations and make sense of it. I know that about myself from early on. You have people who can organize things or see the trouble in issues and just find a clear line of sight. That's one of the things that I've been fortunate to have, whether it applies to my own personal life, that's another story, that's another podcast, but definitely for work, I can see through things clearly. I think that's one of the reasons why my word of mouth, it grows and grows with each year. This is very helpful because I hate selling. I hate business development. It's like the big guy upstairs looking out for me, so yeah.

Deb Zahn: But your brand being that thing that keeps that magic alive, so you have to spend less time doing the things that you don't like to do makes perfect sense. What's interesting, it occurred to me as you were talking that in some sense, and this is an exercise I haven't done, is also to think about what my brand isn't. Now, I've spent time thinking about my zone. I know what my zone is. I know my stretch zone. I get asked quite often sort of where my confidence comes from and what I always say is, “It's from not thinking I have to do everything.” I don't have to be Wonder Woman, and Spider Man, and Superman. I don't have to be everything. I need to be my superpowers. It occurred to me just as you were talking, it would make sense from a really refining and getting to know my brand is thinking about what it isn't.

Shaunice Hawkins: That's a very good point, and we learn a lot of lessons from the things that we aren't and the things that we don't if we pay close enough attention. You know when you're new, especially when you're just starting out, you feel like you have to do everything because you need to make money. I mean, let's be completely real. It's about the money. We have a tendency to chase down every dollar and almost will bend backwards and do things that we don't feel comfortable with because we're building our business. The problem with that is this, not all money is good money. Sometimes, you'll be asked to do things that will compromise not only your organization's core values, but your personal ones and you have to be very clear as to what that line of sight is. I can share with you as the chaos whisperer...Trademark.

Deb Zahn: Hashtag!

Shaunice Hawkins: Hashtag! But I can share with you and your listeners, it is very important to do a values exercise for yourself. What are your values? Most people will see that their consultancy is really a reflection of them, so their core values as a person should be reflected in their core values of their consultancy. Once you're clear on your values, we are less willing to negotiate our values when we know what they are, and we're clear about them. Most people don't do values exercises to think about what I believe in. We usually tend to go back to the messages. I know I go back to the messages that I learned as a child and I sort of start there as a base, and we don't revisit those.

But as you get older and you start building your business and you're talking about solving other people's problems and other people's values don't always align with yours and it's OK to say, “You know what? I appreciate where you're coming from, but that's not a right fit for me,” or, “It's not a right fit for me for now.” Understanding not only your capability but your capacity, especially in relation to what you will and won't do is key, I won't lie. Number 1, I suck at it, I really do, but number 2, it's inauthentic to me. I can't be an honest broker and try to build and forge relationships through communication if I'm a liar.

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Shaunice Hawkins: I mean, the news does a lot of that for us, so we don't need to...

Deb Zahn: We don't need more.

Shaunice Hawkins: We don't need more according to certain sources. Not me, just saying. Needless to say, I want to make sure that for my personal self and my brand, that I'm as authentic as I can be, and truthful, and that I'm not going to compromise those things on behalf of a dollar because when you sell yourself once, you'll be willing to sell yourself over and over and over again.

Deb Zahn: That's right, and you'll wake up some morning and you won't recognize yourself.

Shaunice Hawkins: Yeah, and your brand will take a big hit because people won't understand your brand either. Because I'm in crisis management, I can tell you literally off the top of my head, I've got like five brands that I've worked with and clients that I've worked with who I've helped out of crisis. They got into those crises because they did things that were disingenuous to their mission, their goals, their values, and their brand.

Deb Zahn: That's right. They experienced a brand crash, and that's-

Shaunice Hawkins: Some of them are still in that brand crash because they dug a hole so deep that they can't get out.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. That's really helpful. The other thing is thinking about how you refine it over time. I have the big things that I think about in terms of my brand and I'm very careful in my values, and I'm very careful to stay true to those. Then I noticed things that I do that conflict with other values or things that I wouldn't want someone to do to me. If I tell somebody, “You're going to get something on a Monday,” and there's no way in heaven it's possible to get that on a Monday, then I've now put myself in a situation where I either have to break my word, which I don't want to do, or I have to give something substandard, which I never want to do.

If I know then that one of the things that I want to build as part of my brand, and then I have to change my behavior to suit that is if I want to be more reliable with even the little things because I think every encounter is giving someone an experience of what it's like to work with you, then I need to pay attention to even some of those micro things that I'm doing that might not seem like a big deal, but cumulatively are not good for the client, not how I want to be on the planet. Those are some of the things that I've noticed over time. When I get someone a proposal or when my response time isn't what it should be, I want to change that. I know that changing that improves my brand. How would you advise professionals who are now consultants and they've done the branding stuff, but now they got to tweak it and change it and refine it? What type of things should they do?

Shaunice Hawkins: It's so funny because I've gone through this a few times. First of all, your consultancy in your brand is a living breathing thing. Meaning that as you grow, as you gain clients, as you gain experience, it will change and brands are not static. If you have a static brand and you haven't updated it, refreshed it, these are for your listeners who are a little bit more mature in their business, I encourage you to revisit it. As a matter of fact, I don't make resolutions at the top of the year but I do use that time as...I use January and September as times to refresh and renew and check in with the brand. It coincides with the new year and it coincides with the fall, sort of the deciduousness of things, some things have to fall off. It started out great in the beginning of the year, but by the middle of the year, the end of the year, I might need to abandon that.

If you do that on a regular basis, I mean, annually might be too much for some people, I don't think it is, but just always checking in and making sure that you are relevant at all times is important. I think the other thing is bringing in partners who know you.

When it's our business, it's our baby. What do we do with our baby? We smother it, we coddle it. I mean, we nurture it, but we also spoil it and we don't have a realistic view of what that baby is. If that baby is Chucky...

Deb Zahn: We don't think so.

Shaunice Hawkins: We don't think so.

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Shaunice Hawkins: We think Gerber Baby. We don't think Chucky Baby. Right? One of the reasons why I'm really big on bringing in outside voices is because they help me see what I can't see. We have our own bias, perception bias. Because the brand isn't for me, the brand is for other people, so I need to make sure that the other people who are impacted by my brand are seeing the brand as I'm intending it to be shown and demonstrated. I bring in other voices and I had a planning meeting in January. I have a colleague of mine that I bring in and she comes to my home. I clear everybody out and we sit in my dining room and we hash it out. She's a writer, so she's like, “I hate this language, take it out.” I'm a writer, but she's a better writer. I'm going to sit down with her and she's going to tell me, “Yeah, that sucks. Don't ever say that again.” That's what I need.

That part is important. I think the other part that's important is don't be afraid to throw out things that you're close to. If you're holding on to it too tightly, that might be the thing that you have to let go because that might be the thing that might be tethering you or anchoring you where you are. You can't grow if you don't experience a little shedding and a little pruning, and so your business has to go through that. I think the final piece that I want to say about this is you are being interviewed all the time. People are watching everything that you do and say.

Again, I'll use my own experience. Whether I'm teaching, whether I'm speaking, whether I'm working with a client, whether the people in the room are of a certain level or not, everyone's watching and everyone has a potential to give you a lead. If you treat people differently or you act differently or you're adverse to your brand on one occasion or two occasions, that's going to impact your business. One of the things that I like to do is I like to encourage new and actually experienced consultants is to use platforms like a LinkedIn to really shape your voice so that people can understand that your brand is consistent. When your messages are inconsistent, then they're going to say, “Well, you don't know who you are and therefore I can't trust you.”

Deb Zahn: That's right. Talk about that because different social media...LinkedIn is for professionals. Facebook is for cats…

Shaunice Hawkins: Family.

Deb Zahn: Family. I was going to say cat videos, but family is just probably a better answer.

Shaunice Hawkins: Hello? Are cats part of the family?

Deb Zahn: Hello! Exactly. Exactly. Different social media exist for different purposes. How do you nurture your brand through these different channels with consistency, but also recognizing that they exist for different purposes?

Shaunice Hawkins: I have rules. I feel like that song, Dua Lipa, New Rules. I have rules for different social media. Personally, I'm bad at putting my voice out there because I do so much writing and ghost-writing and guest-writing for all of my clients that sometimes I just don't have the time to do it for myself. I'm very hands-on with my clients. The reason why my clients stayed with me was because they know my voice, and so my voice will be in everything that I will do for them. I use LinkedIn when I want to...Either for myself or especially for my clients because at the end of the day, it's not necessarily about making friends. Facebook is great, but you're not really doing business on Facebook. Twitter is great, but again, there's only so many things you can do between 120 and 280 characters.

Deb Zahn: Although these days.

Shaunice Hawkins: Yeah. Instagram, I think, is a great hybrid. YouTube, I think, is going through its own brand, I would say, adolescence. Right? It's going through its own puberty at the moment. It knew who it was. Actually, more like a midlife crisis because it's been in existence and now it's going through another morph. I think the reason why I say LinkedIn is because, number 1, we're supposed to be making money. I'm a capitalist. I'm a saved capitalist, and I'm a capitalist for those Christians out there. But as a capitalist, again, we're in this business. I would like to think that we're altruistic whether you're a social entrepreneur or for-profit entrepreneur. We still have to make money.

In order to do that, you have to put yourself in the place where people who can invest in you are, and a lot of those people are on LinkedIn. I mean, you're talking about some really steep numbers. You're talking about millions of people who know other people who if they can invest in your business in one way or the other by being a clientele or hiring from you, they can tell others.

Deb Zahn: Now they have a way to do it because before, it's phone calls and then emails, and now it's LinkedIn.

Shaunice Hawkins: Right. What I do for my clients more than for myself is I help write articles and posts about the things that I know that they care about. Because I know that they care about it, there's research behind it. There's thought behind it. There are things that connect to them that they might not have the language to say. Just for those consultants who are not writers out there, there's nothing wrong with hiring a ghost-writer. Believe it or not, most executives out there have staff who write their stuff for them. Their voices are in there, but they partner with them so that the language comes across well and received in a way that is meaningful.

Write an article. It doesn't even have to be a very lengthy piece, a short thought piece or retweet something or repost something, share a thought. Just, “Hey, this is great. We should all be looking at this,” just so that people understand what your process is and what you think and how you solidify what you're thinking because when you do that, people are watching and they'll be willing to reach out to you when they need you most.

Deb Zahn: That's an expression of your brand, so you want to keep it consistent with your brand. Same tone. But I think what you're driving out, which I think is true is, I pay attention to the things on LinkedIn that bring me value as opposed to Facebook where I'm like, “Oh my gosh, she's so cute.” It's a whole different thing.

Shaunice Hawkins: Looking at my picture.

Deb Zahn: I always do. I always do. You have beautiful children. But on LinkedIn, give me something I can work with because I'm there to further my career or further the interest of my clients. Give me something I can work with. I like to think, if you post somebody else's content, bring some of your flavor to it, add something to it. Say something about it that gives me a unique take where I'm like, “Oh, that's how she's thinking about that. That's really helpful.” But I think that's what's powerful about LinkedIn, and I've underutilized LinkedIn the entire time.

Shaunice Hawkins: Can I tell you? Most people do, a lot of people do. Every time I go to a networking event, which I really don't like to go to, but have to, again…Yes, but I go to networking events, and it's hilarious because it's like, “Let's exchange through LinkedIn,” and they're like, “Well, my profile...” That's the first thing, “Well, my profile...” I stopped carrying business cards now. I don't carry one, because I'm trying to lessen my footprint, save the world. I don't carry business cards anymore, but what I do is I try to link with people on LinkedIn. It's almost my way of, number one, forcing them to reduce their carbon footprint, but also have them take a look at LinkedIn again because that's where things happen. That's where things are exchanging that impacts our brand and impacts our businesses. There's so much information out there. There's so many channels out there, it's really easy to get overwhelmed.

I mean, I work in this space so it's very easy to get overwhelmed by all of the different mediums out there. Right? Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, pick one, start with one. If you're going to start with one, I think LinkedIn is the best way to do that. If you're overwhelmed between client management and then your consultancy and just trying to figure out content, you can use a scheduling tool. I use that for clients because I'm managing so many clients and their content. I use like a Hootsuite, and I'm pushing out and scheduling content so that it's at a consistent basis.

Deb Zahn: That's right, and you can batch then what you do so you could sit for an afternoon or a few hours and say, “OK, what am I going to do over the next two, three months?” Put it all down while you're in the zone, and then go away and do the other work that you do because I find that the stopping and starting, I have to now switch my brain and I'm old. My brain doesn't switch the way it used to.

Shaunice Hawkins: Oh, gosh. I hate this age, honestly. It's killing me.

Deb Zahn: I love it. I love it. We are dating ourselves, but that's OK. But I can't switch quickly and suddenly get in a different mindset because when you're on different platforms. You're in a different mindset, and you have to get into that. That's why I do, I like the idea of batching. I do have somebody who helps me with my social media. It's primarily LinkedIn. I wouldn't give up Instagram because I just love Instagram, but she gives me everything and then I change it. I'm like, “Yeah, that's not my voice.

That's not something I would say. I think this is more valuable to say to people,” but she does all the scheduling and she helps me with it. I just make sure it's true to who I am and it's true to my values.

Shaunice Hawkins: You bring up a good point, which is know your strength. That's also part of the assessment, right? You have to do a lot of assessment. I think if I paraphrase, I think it was Abraham Lincoln that said basically, “If you want me to chop down a tree, give me four hours to sharpen the axe and two hours of chop the tree.” You do have to do the work, right? Our conversation isn't about just hiring 30 people. You still have to do the work. You have to give them something to work with, but know your strengths. I know what I'm great at, I know what I'm strongest at. Even when I'm approaching clients, I'll say, “You get me for this, but if it's about this, this, this, and this, you'll get a member of my team. Because of that, it's because I respect you, I respect your business, I'm going to give you the best person.”

It's the same thing when it comes to your own brand. If you do something well, that's great. I know I write well, but I also know that I have people in my world who write better. I will get them on board to help me write the content for my website or help me write the content for a speech or help me write whatever because I know, again, it's my baby. I'm going to be writing in the way that I think is best for me, but I also need an outside voice that's going to help me.

If I can, I'll share this quick story. I'm building my brand. This is sort of earlier on in my consultancy. I had a moment in which my introversion was on 10. I have to give this keynote speech and the organizers...Now, I never write my speeches down. Either I know it or I don't. I can't script anything. But this organizer was insistent on me writing something down and took me out of my element. See, knowing yourself also helps you know your voice and be able to exercise it. Well, at the time, I was still a little hesitant even though had a 20-year career in executive work–consultancy, I was still a little green. I let her take me out of my element. I scripted this speech. I bombed, in my opinion.

Deb Zahn: You bombed in there.

Shaunice Hawkins: Right, but I bombed in front of 400 of my peers.

Deb Zahn: Ouch.

Shaunice Hawkins: Thankfully, one of the sponsors knew me and said, “No, she's got to be on her feet.” She says, “You know what, Shaunice? I know you're walking from the podium, but I have a few questions to ask, do you mind if I do a Q&A with you?” She single-handedly saved the speech because she asked me questions and I was myself. I felt comfortable. I was rapid fire. It was like having a conversation one on one and saved my ratings. You have these speeches and they get ratings, and it saved my rating. Someone wrote in the comments, “It was like she was two different people.”

Deb Zahn: That was true because not self and self.

Shaunice Hawkins: Absolutely. I share that story with you, and maybe about a year later, someone saw me in the ladies room bathroom at another conference, she says, “Weren't you that lady who gave that speech that time?” I was just like, “Ugh.” That just says, A, people never forget, but B, that feeling of not having ownership of my voice was such a lesson to me that I still carry with me today and you're talking about 10, 12 years ago, which is you never compromise who you are, what you stand for, and how you want to shape your voice because when you do, again, it goes back to authenticity, you're not yourself.

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Shaunice Hawkins: That damage that was done just from that speech alone could have set my consultancy back further, but thankfully, somebody in the audience knew me and was able to recognize that that wasn't me. That's a great lesson in both knowing yourself, knowing what you bring, and having people know who you are, and then knowing what you shouldn't do, and being something that you're not.

Deb Zahn: That's great. That's great. Actually had been one of my questions. Any other no-nos? No-no for branding that you would say like your top one or two other than the authenticity part which I think is huge? Is don't lose that.

Shaunice Hawkins: Right. The other no-nos, I think, would be not to take on more than you can chew. Do not put yourself in everything. Pick one, start with one, do it well, then you move up. That means if you're writing on LinkedIn, write on LinkedIn, do that well, get a following, then move to Instagram, or move to another platform. Don't try to do it all at once because something's going to fall off. It always does and you can't make that up. The second no-no I would say or I guess the third no-no because the first one was be authentic, the third no-no, I think, would be at the end of the day, know why you're doing it. If you don't know your why, people won't know your why. People won't know why you're in consulting. I'm not even talking about branding. If you don't know why you're consulting, no one else is going to know why you're consulting, and they're not going to buy into why you're consulting. Therefore, they're not going to buy into your brand.

Be very deliberate about your firm and what your goals and your missions are and be very clear as to who your audience is. You cannot be all things to all people. I know chasing the dollar looks great, but again, not all money is good money. I think that's very important and that all impacts your brand. I think don't take yourself so seriously. It's OK. I mean, at the end of the day, we're all human. Laugh at yourself a little.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. I actually think goofball is part of my brand if I were really honest with myself. I actually think I might get hired for that, or at least I think so. That's fabulous. Let me end with a question that I always like to ask my guests. I know that you have a very rich life apart from being a professor, and apart from being a consultant. How do you keep that balance in your life?

Shaunice Hawkins: I'm sorry. That wasn't a joke, was it?

Deb Zahn: No, no, no. There was no but at the end of it.

Shaunice Hawkins: OK. How do I have balance in my life? First of all, I would be remiss if I did not give recognition to the three most important entities in my life. Number 1, first is God. For me, having a higher power helps keep me sane, peace, stability, a sense of grounding. That's number 1. Number 2, I have the best partner in crime in the world. He's also cute, and he's also nice, tall, and chocolate, my husband. Yes, I'm putting it out there.

Deb Zahn: I can attest. He's a wonderful human being.

Shaunice Hawkins: He is. We've been friends for now 40 years and honestly, he is the IMAX to my screens. He's the technicolor to my film. He's the air that I breathe, the wings beneath my wings. OK.

Deb Zahn: He can help you so.

Shaunice Hawkins: I cannot mess up but no, he is a great partner because I actually named him the board of my personal directors because he's the person who's going to give me it straightforward or not and he's going to tell me the truth all the time. Then my children who are my motivation. I have to give those three entities credit. I think the way that I create balance is understanding that my work time is my work time, my family time is my family time, my personal time is my personal time. I am terrible at scheduling my personal time, and my family does pull my coattail and tell me, “You don't turn off.” When you're in consulting, it's all the time, and I'm a strategist so I get paid to think all the time. I think in my sleep. I think when I wake. My phone is literally next to my bed because I have an idea, sometimes I have to record it 3 o'clock in the morning.

My husband has become accustomed to sleeping with that little blue light. That's why I have to stay married to him now because it's part of the negotiation process. I think balance comes in with compartmentalization. You have to be deliberate about that. If one bleeds into the other, you have to make up for it. If I'm bleeding into my personal time with my husband like a date night, I better make up for it because he is more important to me, sorry clients, than anybody else that can pay me because that pays dividends in ways that my clients will never pay dividends. I can't miss my son and my daughter's life events because a client's having an emergency. Your emergency is not my inconvenience. I have to be able to say no. I think one of the no-nos is not saying no and then one of the yeses is being able to say no.

Deb Zahn: That's right. That's right. Which is powerful, and it's a powerful marketing tool, interestingly enough. As soon as I started saying no, I became really popular.

Shaunice Hawkins: Yes, it's exclusivity, right?

Deb Zahn: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Shaunice Hawkins: It's building exclusivity. Balance, it's OK to say no. I think the final piece is putting on your own oxygen mask, which is something that I've been working on the last 2 years, which is so important if you think about...I mean, when you've ever taken a flight, putting on your own oxygen mask before you can help others is important, and I have been bad at it for the majority of my life. I'm being more deliberate about it now that I'm entering half-life. It feels good, but you know what I've realized? Sometimes when you choose yourself, you lose some friends, but I'm OK with that.

Deb Zahn: I love that. I love put on your own oxygen mask first. That's a powerful way to say it, and you're right. Not everybody wants you to take care of yourself for whatever reason, and guess what? Too bad because that's the only way that you maintain balance. You know what's important to you. You know what you value. You know what's at the top of the heap and you do what you need to do. I love that.

Shaunice Hawkins: One more piece I would have to say, and an article just came out yesterday. I read everything by the way. I'm, again, the nerd next door. Also trademark. But one of the things that came out yesterday was that burnout is now diagnosable.

Deb Zahn: Wow. That's sad and good. It's good, but it's super sad.

Shaunice Hawkins: Do we take a moment of silence? OK. Burnout is real, and, as a consultant, when you especially are building your business from the ground up, that is a real thing. I mean, you're talking about burnout, you're talking about that mental health aspect. Putting on your own oxygen mask is some serious stuff. Get help if you need it. People will frustrate you. You will be upset about a lot of things but get help if you need it because that burnout is real and take vacations. For goodness sake, take time, take vacations, take weekends. If you can't do two weeks off, do like I do. My husband and I have made a concerted effort this last year, which is every month for a weekend away, we go away Friday through Monday every month. Take the time, rejuvenate yourself, refresh yourself, renew yourself. Your clients would be better for it, you'll be better for it. Your family, your life, your friends, you'll be better for it, I promise.

Deb Zahn: That is fantastic. I can't actually think of a better way to end this interview because I think that is...It's a life lesson but you're right. You show up and you are going to be better at what you're doing and you're going to be better for your clients. You're going to be better for your partner, for your kids, for your cats if you're me, everybody.

Shaunice Hawkins: Everybody wins.

Deb Zahn: Everybody wins. Thank you so much for being on this podcast. This has been absolutely wonderful. Thanks for taking the time and sharing your wisdom.

Shaunice Hawkins: Thank you for having me. I'm honored and blessed. Thank you.

Deb Zahn: Thank you for listening to Episode 13 of the Craft of Consulting podcast. I'm hoping you got as much out of that as I did. I can certainly think of some ways that I need to pay better attention to my brand and some things I need to do to evolve it. I'm going to have a lot of other great guests just like this one, so please subscribe to the podcast and check out Now, that's my website where you can find a whole slew of information and tools and things that you need to be able to propel your consulting business forward and be successful faster. Thanks so much for joining me, and looking forward to having you on next time. Bye-bye.

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