As owner of Robert Stewart Enterprises, a company that provides parking lot and street sweeping services, he serves as its highly visible, ebullient chief executive. With folksy wit and hilarious stories about his early days owning a new and used furniture store, he’s spent the greater part of 6 decades as an entrepreneur, and as the very public face of his companies. It’s why, he says, absent large marketing and advertising budgets, he’s never had a problem finding clients, even during difficult economic times. Rarely seen without his signature white, immaculately starched “Robert Stewart Enterprises” button-down shirt, his tireless advocacy on behalf of his company has paid dividends in longevity and in business success.
When I decided to start Orleans Cleaning Services in 2011, my Granddad’s first bit of advice? Be your company. Live it, breathe it, be it.
So far, his advice has worked. As president, I’ve acted as public face of my company at everything from organizational fairs to neighborhood association meetings to small business conferences, shaking hands, kissing babies and networking with anyone willing to sit still and listen to the Orleans Cleaning Services story. Profits for Orleans Cleaning have exceeded my first-year expectations, and I’m hiring additional housekeepers and janitors to meet increasing demand.
There’s a saying that goes “when you stop thinking about your business, others stop thinking about your business.” And, it’s certainly true. As chief executive, it’s your job to make sure that your company’s brand remains highly visible and highly respected—especially if you’re owner of a small business fighting to improve your share of the market against much larger, more established companies. But if being the public face of a company can bring rewards, it can also bring a fair amount of risk. Here are a few tips for improving your company’s visibility:
Start with social media
When my Granddad was starting out in business, building a business network meant spending thousands on marketing and advertising and almost constant travel to move into new markets. Today, with the click of a mouse, the world is of easy access to the computer savvy CEO through Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn. Unfortunately, a recent study by CEO.com found that most chief executives don’t use social media at all. Social media can be an effective tool in a CEOs arsenal, if used properly. If you’re going to employ a social media, strategy, make sure to carefully tie your messaging in with your brand, and to be a good social media citizen. Nothing makes a customer feel better than receiving a Tweet or Facebook message from the company’s CEO!
Be visible and Be Engaged
There’s immense power in being a local business, and this gives a tremendous advantage to young CEOs. One of the most important lessons I learned as executive director of the 7th Ward Neighborhood Center was the strength of visibility for an executive. When it came to raising funds for and raising the profile of the organization, there was nowhere I wouldn’t go, from making radio appearances to discuss current affairs to giving speeches about voluntarism to students at local colleges and universities. I also made a point of supporting other non-profit organizations, attending their fundraisers and even giving money to support their causes. This, in turn, created a sense of good will, which is important for any young CEO. One of the biggest pitfalls of young, visible CEOs is that it seems they’re constantly making a ‘pitch’ for their company. It’s off-putting and unnecessary. A CEO who’s visible and engaged in his or her community is sufficient branding all itself.
Protect Your Reputation, Protect Your Company
Businessman Scott Thompson had, for years, built an impressive resume. He’d been Executive Vice President of Inovant, a Visa subsidiary, Senior Vice President of Technology and President of Paypal. In each position, he’d worked to improve the company’s bottom line, sometimes bringing in record profits and turning around troubled businesses. It was that reputation that landed him the job as CEO of Yahoo in January, 2012. Scandal, however, has sallowed his once-stellar reputation, as it was learned that he had been less-than-forthcoming with his academic credentials. Did his not having dual degrees in computer science and accounting diminish his executive abilities? No. But they put a real dent in his credibility—and could have potentially devastated the Yahoo brand. Simply put: if you can’t be trusted, neither can your business. Guard your reputation as you would your life.
Sam Cook, III is the president of Orleans Cleaning Services, an estate, residential and commercial cleaning company located in New Orleans. He is the former executive director of the 7th Ward Neighborhood Center.