Sasha Laghonh, Founder of Sasha Talks
Firstly, many people fear the words 'personal brand' as it means going public with your thoughts. I want to know if you have always found it easy to 'put yourself out there'?
Since the premise of Sasha Talks is based on my professional and self-development journey, I was aware that I would need to slowly submerge myself in waters that required me to exhibit my virtues and blind spots with audiences. Some of those blind spots have served as opportunities of growth over time. Sharing a part of myself was understood through my work. The evolution itself unfolded over time while maintaining my human boundaries. Because a person is expected or perceived to be a public personality, it doesn't mean that we become doormats in the process living for the validation of the public. There's a difference between existing versus serving in one's role. It's important to maintain one's objective when developing and nurturing a brand because people, whom you've known and those you'll never meet, will host perceptions of you by projecting their views, including insecurities and biases, onto you. Only you know yourself, only you know your facts. I discovered putting myself out there also required me to become my own pillar of strength. Developing a relationship with self has helped me with navigating the deep waters of time-sensitive decision making and choosing which environments are worth my time or not. My only guidance to new comers is to evaluate whether they are putting themselves out there for the right reasons -- is there an objective, or is this a 'free for all' feel good initiative. Any emotionally driven initiative will sooner or later fail because it lacks rationale to sustain itself over time. It's like planting a seed which will eventually grow into a tree. It requires the diligent care on daily basis, whether the sun comes out or not. The investment of nurturing anything worthy of value is an everyday commitment.
When it comes to building an authentic personal brand, what advice would you give professionals starting out?
Be yourself. Pace your progress and don't rush it. Remember not all progress is positive progress so pay attention. Everyone has their own time to rise and shine. Your DNA is all over the work so focus on becoming a better contributor in the process. It's not all about the optics because only time will tell whether you're still working. No amount of money and short cuts is going to sustain a wavering initiative in the long run. If it's your brand. You need to rely on yourself for how you direct the ship. Remove all the other people from your life from the equation. Take ownership of what you're doing.
Do you think personal branding and reputation go hand in hand, and what can people do to maintain a positive reputation while brand-building?
Dave Ramsey once said along the lines that reputation is how society perceives us while character is who we are as individuals. We can't necessarily control how people are going to perceive us but we can control how we develop our personal characters to live a sensible life. This is taking into consideration that no one is perfect. Reputation and brand building can overlap to a degree because it comes down to perception but very few people are going to truly understand the brand other than the person who created it. I would advise to do your best building the brand by not deviating from who you are and your values. The right people that align with your offerings will seek you out when there's a need. I've always said that I'm not everyone's cup of tea and it's a good thing! If you stand for everything then you stand for nothing. It's more important the right people are engaged rather than welcoming anything and anyone under the umbrella for the sake of vanity. If the latter is happening then it's clear the person isn't brand building, it's a possible facade to get in and out of the market fast. Brand building entails a certain degree of strategy assessment and execution instead of acting upon impulsive whims to yield a result. Building upon ideas and things take time. It's not intended to be an overnight project. Otherwise people are going through a checklist of actions without giving the market a chance to sample and form a connection with your offerings.
Can you share a success story of how you or someone you follow used their personal brand to build business or career?
Initially the public perception of Sasha Talks was that it represented a vanity website. Because there's a name in it, the commercial aspect of it was overlooked until I embarked upon a business radio tour within the United States during a hiatus over eight years ago. It was a two-fold tour, a live and virtual tour. My core audience understood that I concurrently hosted experience in the business and spiritual realm yet there was an untapped North American and global audience unaware of my business acumen. By engaging audiences among the metro and suburban geographies, I connected with live audiences ranging from conservative business personalities to innovative pioneers in their respective industries. I loved all of it! I grew up in a meritocracy, a principle that I personally value so it was a wonderful experience to recognize ambitious business minds wanting to learn more about my professional insights. Some of those engagements resulted in repeat appearances on live networks inviting me to honor 5-15 minute segments to comment on the job markets, entrepreneurial tips and latest engagements unfolding on Sasha Talks. It served as a great experience because I learned fast how to package my insights between live commercial breaks. Each word counts in such circumstances. As a quick learner, I believe it played a role for certain national hosts wanting me to return for future segments when there was a need. I didn't view those opportunities as above or below me. I was craving the experience at that time. I was invited to consider engaging with certain networks for longer commitments yet the timing wasn't right. I presently remain open to the right channels and networks that seek me out for these opportunities. Overall, it was my speaking engagements and business projects that attracted ears and eyeballs from business professionals wanting to engage with the platform. I believe remaining true to myself has contributed to what Sasha Talks stands for in the market.
Which platforms do you find most effective for establishing thought leadership and growing professional presence?
A professional presence can be developed through a few channels. I opted to start connecting with audiences initially through the blogs that I've hosted which showcase talents and news encompassing the commercial realm. Over the course of Sasha Talks, they've been at least four blogs which were integrated onto the platform. Remaining blogs were removed because the content provided real time updates yet no sustainable content that hosted relevance or value over a period of years. Since my work is tied to niche offerings, social media can get the word out but my ideal audience doesn't invest too much time on social media to care. So I host most of my thought leadership offerings through blogging, speaking, memberships and collaborating with other like minded professionals. I encourage people who are serious on refining their craft to seek out opportunities where they can contribute. If people are navigating the virtual and offline spaces only seeking freebies, they need to adjust their mindset because people need to give a little to take a little. If you value your insights, the least one can do is show respect to those that will consider your contribution. From observation, it's often the one hit wonders who are seeking that one opportunity to showcase their expertise that they fail to recognize how many other credible opportunities are overlooked. Figure out what you want to share with audiences, why and how you value your time. Then make it known among your network that you are willing to contribute to certain engagements. If no one knows you're interested, no one will think of you when there's a need. Learn to help yourself first instead of expecting others to do the legwork for you.
How do you ensure your personal brand stays true to who you are and your evolving goals?
I've weathered through many seasons of changes that I've been fortunate to maintain my sanity without compromising who I am at heart. I recall Tim Ferriss mentioning in one of his writings that most decisions that fall on our plate will either derive, a 'hell yes' or a 'hell no' response. If it's something that falls in between, it's likely going to be a no. When in doubt, stay clear of wishy washy people and solely emotionally driven initiatives. Be human, feel your emotions but do your best not to abandon good sense. If you're serious about what you do, then you should host healthy boundaries of not letting the outside world dictate how you run your home. It's no different with business. The technicalities may differ a bit but nothing is worth changing your DNA for in life. The outside world will find reasons to cry foul when you don't cater to its whims. Ask yourself - are you walking the dog, or is the dog walking you? Don't lose yourself in the world's noise. The noise will always be there. If you don't pay attention to it, you'll forget it's there.
What are some practical strategies or tactics professionals can use to expand their network and build meaningful connections?
I believe the more we engage with life, life will engage with us. I often discover opportunities as I go about living my day. Then again I'm not someone lingering around people with ulterior motives to attain an objective. I'm someone who's historically been put off by desperate people making their pit stops to get favors by people. Life is about giving and taking a little. Learn to listen. Put in genuine effort, or get lost. There's a reason why people are selective about their network. Some operate like a club and there's a good reason why you're not a part of it. People pay attention to character, integrity and loose lips making the rounds out there. An example is an executive who went about claiming to be associated with me, thinking he was being low-key slick among the higher circles, only to realize that some of us are loyal to one another. People do speak of bad behaviors behind closed doors so please refrain from feigning associations when you've failed to honor your part as a CEO when you were trusted to do the right thing but you didn't. Facts are facts. So when attempting to build meaningful connections, don't be negligent because the truth floats in the cold waters of the outdoors. Also stalking any subject matter isn't a wise move by involving your own children to this on behalf of you. My friendly tough love guidance on networking is -- refrain from deplorable behaviors. It's a small world. It's a much smaller world as time goes on. I'm a believer of organic networking, let life unfold as it comes, because I can spot desperate people from many miles away. If you want to build meaningful connections, it takes integrity and time.
Along your personal branding journey, have you encountered any common obstacles that readers of this interview should be aware of?
I believe for me it was assessing the right timing for activating different initiatives onto the platform. It came down to whether I had the bandwidth and fuel to nurture these activities over a period of time. When I've taken any hiatus in the past, I was busy living life to acquire new experiences to reflect upon permitting me to share these insights through new material being shared with audiences. It's important that you are comfortable with how you're adding these building blocks to your brand. It's like learning how to walk. Mind your steps.
Imagine you have a time machine that can transport you to the future. What impact do you envision your personal brand having on the world?
It's exciting and bittersweet to think about this because I like to leave some room for good surprises along the way. I look forward to seeing it evolve as life unfolds. I believe the speaking part will remain at the core of this evolution.
Close your eyes and imagine you're a bestselling author. What captivating book would you write to share your personal brand journey and insights?
I would make sure to write about my early years of humble beginnings and challenges along the way. I notice a lot of people are visual creatures leading them to overlook the reality of how people get to where they are in life, whether we're talking about success or any metamorphosis present in society.