Losing Credibility, One Business Card at a Time

By Mike Figliuolo

Titles matter. A lot. So do e-mail addresses and signature blocks.

As unfortunate and as shallow as it is, people make a first impression snap decision about you and your business in an instant. If that instant includes your title it can make or break your business opportunity.

Yes, CxO, Vice President, Director, Manager, Analyst, and other vanilla titles are boring. They’re not edgy. They don’t have panache. That said, they quickly convey a certain level of skill and experience that the majority of the business population can interpret. Your contact isn’t left scratching their head wondering what the heck you do.

Then there’s the other end of the title spectrum: Guru, Ninja, Overlord, Grand Poobah, Super Hero. They sound wicked awesome. They get people’s attention. But you have to realize not all attention is good.

On top of that, these titles are usually paired with a cool signature block quote or catch phrase and they  have sweet e-mail addresses too. Unfortunately all of these things can undermine your credibility and cost you business. Here are a few of the biggest mistakes I see people make when it comes to the arena of titles and personal branding:

Your Title Is Ridiculous

A few definitions before we start:

  • Ridiculous: open to or the subject of ridicule and mocking.
  • Ninja: a covert mercenary specializing in the unorthodox methods of war.
  • Guru: spiritual master (origin of the term is from eastern religions).
  • Super Hero: a fictional character who has abnormal physical or mental powers conferred upon them either through mutation or unfortunate run-in with spiders or toxic waste.

Look folks — these names are fun and whimsical. We all know what people mean when they give themselves these titles. The thing is, titles like these follow the nickname rule: you can’t give it to yourself. It’s fine if you’re such an expert that people in the media or other business circles refer to you as a “guru,” however, going to OvernightPrints.com and putting it on your business card actually devalues your stature with potential customers.

You folks know I abhor titles like guru (and I’ve bashed on it before in this post — CLICK HERE to read it). But I bash on it because it’s hurting your business.

Think about it. Most folks with these titles sell to business customers. Business customers tend to be more conservative and have many choices of suppliers of services. When you come off as amateurish with a title like this, the business goes elsewhere (and yes, I have personally seen business leaders shy away from doing business with people who have titles like these).

The recommendation: Find a happy middle ground. Make your title professional. Use the terms like “ninja” or “guru” in marketing materials but not as your official title. It’s probably costing you business. Besides, these titles are so worn out that they don’t mean anything anymore. Don’t believe me? Go do a twitter search for “guru.” If you do, you’ll crash the entire Internet.

Your Signature Block Induces Seizures

Signature blocks convey critical information about you. They tell folks how to contact you and learn more about you. I see tons of people make some of these mistakes:

  • Your signature block conveys your entire CV all the way back to being the head of your Boy Scout or Brownies troop
  • Your signature block contains cheesy, worn out, cliched quotes
  • Your signature block contains sayings from scripture (the only ones who can do this are priests, rabbis, imams, and other religious leaders)
  • Your signature block looks like someone hit “engage random font and color generator”

The recommendation: Be critical in thinking about what to include. Name, title, phone, e-mail address, and a couple of key URLs are fine. Perhaps even stretch the outer limits and promote ONE thing you really want people to look at. Some color or font fanciness is fine as long as it’s consistent with your brand and not overwhelming or distracting. Simplify. Be purposeful on what you include and how you include it. Remember — all your signature block is designed to do is get people to call or e-mail you back to engage your services. It is not a product brochure.

Your E-Mail Address Lacks Credibility

Having an e-mail address of “bob@CoolHipCompany.com” can seem edgy and start-uppy. What it tells business clients is “there are 3-4 people running this thing because there’s no overlap of first names therefore I don’t want to work with such a tiny supplier/partner.” Yes. Their thoughts go there.

The other e-mail variant is “TheKingOfRock@company.com.” As much as you want to put a cool title as your e-mail address, it’s self-defeating. People meet a lot of people these days. People remember names and faces — NOT titles. While your e-mail address is memorable in this case, it’s for all the wrong reasons. “Who was that guy with the weird e-mail address again? I can’t remember his name …”

The recommendation: Look at your e-mail address through your customer’s eyes. What impression does it give? Try making sure it identifies you as an individual and that it lets people know you’re serious and professional about your work.

Boring Is the New Cool

Yes, all the advice I’m giving seems like I’m telling you to be more boring. You can take it that way if you like. All I know is if being boring helps grow your business … well … that’s pretty exciting, isn’t it?

What do you folks think? Share the worst/most ridiculous titles, e-mail addresses, or signature block stories you have in the comments below!

Mike Figliuolo is the author of One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership. He’s the managing director of thoughtLEADERS, LLC — a leadership development firm. An honor graduate from West Point, he served in the U.S. Army as a combat arms officer. Before founding his own company, he was an assistant professor at Duke University, a consultant at McKinsey & Co., and an executive at Capital One and Scotts Miracle-Gro. He regularly writes about leadership on the thoughtLEADERS Blog, read the full original post here.
Originally published: Sep 15, 2011

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