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Becoming 'the Face' of Your Business: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

It wasn't a natural progression for me to become the face of my business. I didn't start YAS Fitness Centers until I was in my 40s, after having been a lawyer and in the corporate world for 20 years. Up to then, having a high public profile wasn't necessarily even desirable for my work. Plus, I've always been a private person. I grew up poor. My background was not something I wanted anyone to know about. Still, I understood that if I really wanted people to get behind my new business, I was going to have to get out in front of it.

Putting a face on your business -- your face -- is more important today than ever. People are less likely to trust impersonal, "unpersonable" companies. People relate to people, not companies. Personalizing your business says there's someone there who cares. It also says there's somewhere the buck stops. As the man in those classic Hair Club for Men ads says, "I'm not just the owner, I'm a client."

What I learned from putting my face on my business is that there are good, bad and, frankly, ugly things about doing so, and you just have to deal with that. This is how you get publicity, free publicity (and when you're starting a business, having money for marketing is rare). When the press has a person to talk about, they have her story to tell.

Unfortunately, when you're a private person, putting yourself out there for all the world to see can feel bad. And it is all going to get out in the Internet age. Letting people know my dad died homeless and that I had a brain tumor and was given six months to live when I was in law school weren't things I wanted to share with my closest friends, let alone everyone. But being the face of YAS meant being who I am.

As for ugly, well, people can and will take pot shots at you when you're a public figure. I was recently interviewed on CNN by Sanjay Gupta. (Going on camera isn't my favorite thing, but you gotta do it.) The tagline for both my yoga program, Yoga for Athletes® , and my new book, "The No Om Zone," is "No Chanting, No Granola, No Sanskrit."

Now, I have a slight lisp; I was in a biking accident where I bent my handlebars with my face; it's hard for me to pronounce "Sanskrit." So of course I was asked to share the tagline (after all, I wrote it to get people's attention). After the piece aired, I got tons of "yogis" calling me a moron for mispronouncing Sanskrit. Here I was a lawyer and former COO of a $200 million dollar company and I was being called moron by yoga instructors. That was ugly. But was it worth it to have YAS on CNN? Oh, yeah.

When it comes to women putting faces on their businesses, no one does it better than Oprah and Martha Stewart. As we all know, they, too, have to deal with the good, bad and ugly. But manage they do. I spoke at the Perfect Business Summit recently and, talking about being the face of my business, I said "I want to be the Martha Stewart of health and fitness." It got everyone's attention. And I planted that thought in all their heads because it is my goal.

So how do you become the face of your business?

1) Write your story. We all have reasons we started our own businesses. Include what makes your business different. Be willing to expose yourself. Give them "something to talk about." You have to get in the press and stay in the press to maintain a high profile for your business.

2) Have yourself and your business photographed by a pro. Early on, I had an iconic photo taken by one of my first YAS students (the late, great Rocki Pederson). You can see it on YAS's website. At the shoot, I thought I looked like a drag queen with all of the make-up she had me wearing. But you can't tell. And Rocki captured the essence of what I was going for with my business.

3) If people do take potshots at you, or your business, count to 10 before you respond. Remember, everything you "put out there" will stay on the Web forever -- so think before you act.

Use your story to get your business's story out. Then do it again. Find things in your personal experience that personalize your business, things people relate to. People want to feel like they're dealing with another human, not a faceless corporation. Understand that, for the success of your business, whether it's going public or not, you need to be.

Have you become the face of your business? Share your advice in the comments.

Kimberly Fowler is founder/CEO of YAS Fitness Centers, a growing chain of yoga and indoor cycling facilities. A motivational/business/fitness expert, Kimberly's a former pro triathlete and lawyer. Follow her on Twitter @kimberlyYAS

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