Building a Stand-Out Profile Online

This article was first published in the March 2019 issue of SA Coaching News.

Research by Princeton University’s Department of Psychology into consumer brand loyalty and purchase behaviour released in August 2010 showed that people were the first brands and faces were the first logos.  In their ground-breaking book, The Human Brand, Chris Malone and Susan T. Fiske explored how we relate to brands, with the conclusion that we anthropomorphosise brands: in other words, we relate to them as if they were human beings.  The converse of this is that humans were the first brands and that our faces were the original logos.  Any wonder that KFC still uses its instantly recogniseable “Colonel” after all these years?  Or why Ronald McDonald still makes an appearance every now and then in McDonald’s ad campaigns?

In a recent journal article, Stereotype Content: Warmth and  Competence Endure published in 2018, Professor Fiske recognised two dimensions that determine how we perceive each other – what underlies first impressions.  Warmth includes cognitive concepts like trustworthiness, honesty, likeability, sincerity and friendliness, and competence includes aspects like capability, intelligence, efficiency, skill, confidence and assertiveness. Ultimately, we all want to score high on both the warmth and the competence continuum.

We know that first impressions are created in a split second, so we only have one chance to make a lasting positive (or negative) impression on the people around us and our potential clients.  If they are judging us on the warmth and competence continuum, how do you think you measure up, and what do your online profiles communicate?

Let’s go back to the “faces were the first logos” aspect.  The average goldfish is deemed to have an attention span of about 8 seconds, while social media has impacted humans’ attention spans to the point where we only have 4 seconds in which to engage the attention of our potential clients online (yes, some of us have got shorter attention spans than the average goldfish)!

Have you ever searched for someone in a directory, on Facebook or on LinkedIn, and noticed that there are some profiles that you dismiss off hand?  How often do you see something like the image below on the left, and what kind of an impression does it make?  It certainly doesn’t tell you ANYTHING about the person, does it?  Well, it get’s worse!  What about the person who chooses to post an avatar like the gorgeous, sexy blond example below?  And the person reading the book- well, she looks like a (possible) intellectual, tea-loving bookworm but she doesn’t really communicate any interest in getting in touch with you, does she? And then we have our trying-to-be sexy underage teenagers who clearly don’t pay any attention to detail (or to what is going on in the background in their profile pic!).  Seriously?

What was it about these profiles that would make you skip over them and move on to the next one?  I’ll bet you anything that the profiles you skipped over either didn’t have a profile pic at all, or the one that they did have sent out the wrong message completely.  These profile pics also don’t communicate any level of credibility.  But not all pics are equal.  Here are just a few examples of some actual LinkedIn profile pics that illustrate my point (and I’ll also bet that your eyes kept jumping to the pics as you were reading this paragraph – right?):

I’m spending a lot of time on this aspect of your online profile for a reason: an online dating site OkCupid that does extensive research and analysis of its data, determined that the words in your profile only count for 10% of people’s impressions of you!  So, at this point, you might be saying one of two things: (1) “Well, I’m just going to leave the profile pic out completely because I want people to read my profile”, or (2) “In that case, I won’t bother with writing or wordsmithing my profile”.

Well, both are wrong.  We know that profiles with pics are 11 times more likely to be clicked on, so you’ve got to have a pic.  But, you are also competing with millions of other online profiles and it is the written content in your online profile that helps the Google, LinkedIn, Facebook and other algorithms bring your profile to the top of the list.  So having gotten that out of the way, what do you say about yourself?

Ask the people around you what they’d be interested in hearing about?  Create a word cloud from these informal “interviews” so that you can see which words appear most often. You can use to create free word clouds. I’d be interested to know what comes up and if it differs in any way from what you thought you needed to focus on.

So often, the things YOU want to tell people about yourself and what you do, are not what they find compelling.  Think about it…you’ve been knocking on doors and trying to get business without success.  Well, clearly you must be doing one of two things: knocking on the wrong doors with the right message, or knocking on the right doors with the wrong message.  Which one is it?  Test your message – test your profile.

We know from research (American Management Association, 2008) thatIn practice, according to Banning (1997) and Smith (1993), a company’s human resources department, a supervisor, or a friend are among the most common ways of finding a coach. Banning (1997) lists three important criteria in selecting a coach: trustworthiness, compatible chemistry, and solid reputation” (my emphasis).

This is exactly what needs to project from your profile: trustworthiness, compatible chemistry and a solid reputation (we go back to the more recent research done by Professor Fiske that I mention in the opening paragraphs).  But how on earth do you create an impression of warmth and competence in an inanimate profile?

Remember those all-important 4 seconds that we have within which to get and keep someone’s attention? Well, Wikipedia tells us that most of us can read about 180 words per minute on a screen (Wikipedia, Words Per Minute). This means that we have about 45 words in which to grab someone’s attention. It makes sense, then, to start by telling them what you can do for them.

I spent some time a little while ago combing through online profiles and developed a series of “sentence starters” for my coaching clients that stuck out for me for creating online profiles to help get you going (you don’t have to complete them all – they’re just there to get you started):

  • If you’re struggling with…
  • Have you ever had a tough time…
  • When you find that…
  • My expertise lies in…
  • My methodology and approach include…
  • Other tools that I use to get the best results are…
  • I specialize in…
  • My passion is…
  • I am inspired by…
  • My clients include…
  • I have a background in…
  • My training includes….
  • The models I use include….
  • Some of my best strengths and attributes are…
  • My clients have the following to say…
  • As your coach, I will…
  • In addition to coaching, I…
  • I am a member of…
  • I am accredited with…
  • My academic qualifications include…

And finally, here’s a meme that I received recently that demonstrates very cleverly how our eyes track.  I know mine definitely followed where they were led visually in the meme.  Did yours?  What does it tell you about how you present your information and what gets read?  Happy profiling 😊


American Management Association. (2008). Coaching: A Global Study of Successful Practices (Current Trends and Future Possibliities 2008 – 2018. American Management Association.

Susan T. Fiske, A. J. (2006). Universal dimensions of social cognition: warmth and competence. Trends in Cognitive Science Vol 11 No 2 , 77 – 83.

Susan T. Fiske (2018): Stereotype Content: Warmth and Competence Endure.  Current Directions in Psychological Science 2018, Vol. 27(2) 67 –73 © The Author(s) 2018 Reprints and permissions: DOI: 10.1177/0963721417738825

About the Author:

Megan has a degree in Politics and Languages, and spent most of her early career in the fields of Marketing and Advertising.  She trained as a coach in 2001, and ran a successful practice until about 2007, when her husband’s engineering business started to consume most of her time.  Megan is also a qualified Ethologist, with a degree through an Onderstepoort-affiliated body, as well as having studied Psychology though UNISA.  She continues to reflect on the close similarities between the study of politics, and animal and human behaviour.  Megan’s guiding principles are Integrity and Aesthetics. In addition to consulting to COMENSA on a national basis on Marketing & PR, from 2009 to 2013, and again on Social Media from 2015 – 2018, Megan runs a number of successful businesses including a property business, a specialist marketing consultancy, a marketing training course (developed in 2001) aimed at SME’s but tailored specifically to Coaches & Mentors, as well as co-editing and co-publishing SA Coaching News, the only coaching magazine in South Africa.  She has also had an online business since 2004.  Megan can be contacted on email: 

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Use Online Directories to Market Your Business

This article was first published in SA Coaching News.

The results of the 2017 Sherpa Executive Coaching Survey showed an increasing trend for people to use “trade association” (or professional bodies) and “web search” to find an executive coach, with slightly less reliance on personal reference (word-of-mouth-referrals). We don’t have the 2018 figures, but let’s assume that the trends continue as we can see in the table below. While personal reference still remains in the lead by a long shot, it seems to be on a slight downward trend every year, and I can guarantee that if I was looking for a coach and received a referral from a someone I trusted, I would still want to do my own research and check up on them by searching for them on the internet.

Question 2017 2016 2015
How do you find an executive coach?
Personal preference 73% 76% 80%
Trade association 7% 4% 6%
Web search 12% 7% 7%
LinkedIn 4% 4% 3%
Service broker 3% 7% 4%


I would want to know if they belong to a credible professional body to ensure that I am protected by a code of ethics and a complaints procedure in case I happened to have a bad experience (I know, it’s disaster-thinking at its best or risk aversion, depending on how you look at it). I’d also be interested to see what they say about themselves on industry-related directories, where their profiles could easily be scrutinised by their peers.

Next, I would definitely check out their LinkedIn profile to get a quick snapshot about them and their experience. Finally, I would probably check to see if they had a website because it will give me a more detailed sense of the person behind the name, the calibre of their thinking and what kind of work they do. In other words, before I even meet the person, I want to be able to develop some kind of chemistry…or not.

I’m a HUGE fan of using online directories as part of your online Search Engine Optimisation strategy for your website, and actively encourage my clients to look for appropriate online directories to list in.  There are a number of great reasons for this:

  • You can include all of your contact details, including your blog or website address, and Google will pick this up as a website LINKING BACK to your site.  Always remember – when listing your blog or website details online – to include the full URL, for example: This great tip was given to me years ago by a good friend, and the reason for this (including the http:// bit) is that it makes it so much easier for Google to find and index your website.
  • Listing on a variety of online directories across the web means that you put signposts out directing potential clients or customers to your business from many different directions.  If you don’t give people great directions on how to find you, they’ll never get to your front door!
  • One of the very first directories that you need to list on is the directory belonging to your professional body or the association for your type of business. While this may seem like a given, the professional body or association should be doing a good job of marketing the credibility of your body or association – credibility that you would hopefully want to be associated with! They should also continually be working on their search engine optimisation to ensure that they come up tops in the list of search results on keywords that apply to you.

By the way, if you do take my advice and list on your professional body’s online directory, you will also find yourself in the minority as I can name two professional bodies off hand where only 20% – 50% of their members have actually bothered to create online profiles. What an absolute opportunity for those members who have taken the time and trouble to get their profiles published.

  • You will be able to find as many directories as you are prepared to search for.  Ensure that your message and content remain consistent no matter where you are listed, but also ensure that you tailor your basic profile to fit the target market of the online directory.

Some of the online directories that I use or recommend are:

  • Directories belonging to the professional associations that I am a member of. In the case of the coaching profession, if you are a member of the ICF, COMENSA, ABCCP, WABC, EMCC, IMCSA and so on, you absolutely MUST list in their online member directories as this is one of the main places that people – who are looking for coaches – will be directed to when they use search engines;
  • Directories that are profession-related, for example Remember that the owners of these websites and directories depend on your subscription fees for their income so they are going to make 100% sure that their directories remain at the top of the list of search results when anyone searches for a coach.
  • LinkedIn is, strictly-speaking, a social media platform for professional networking, but we know from the research results that it is becoming one of the places that potential clients visit when they are looking for a coach. LinkedIn also gives us a great idea of just how many other people are in the same pool as us as you can easily search on a term and get detailed results.

Now, here are some frightening stats. We all know that coaching is one of the fastest growing industries but check out the change in the numbers from when I searched on LinkedIn on a few keywords in just 12 months:

Keyword January 2019 January 2018
Coach 5,427,647 1,603,532
Coach South Africa 88,353 27,226
Executive coach 1,057,036 109,051
Business coach 2,614,111 137,029
Life coach 1,123,773 81,579

I realise that I’m just giving you the bald statistics without analysing them in any detail but they do seem to confirm that the field of coaching, and the number of people calling themselves coaches, is growing at a rate of knots. Watch out for follow-on articles in the next two issues of SA Coaching News in which I deal with:

  • How to make your profile stand out from the rest (March 2019);
  • What you need to do to differentiate yourself from everyone else (April 2019).



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2 Minute Tip: Making your WhatsApp Profile Work Harder for You

This article was first published in SA Coaching News.  Download your free copy of this issue of SA Coaching News by following this link.

I was working with a client recently who is doing a “soft” re-launch of her coaching consultancy. I noticed that her WhatsApp profile showed a picture with a quotation, and she didn’t show her full name in her profile so that the first time she sent me a WhatsApp message I couldn’t even be 100% sure who it was from—after all, there was no profile pic and the name could have belonged to a couple of people from my neighbourhood alone.

I remember reading some research done at Princeton University many years ago which said something to the effect that people were the first brands and our faces are our logo’s.

I strongly believe that we need to “sweat our real estate” as entrepreneurs, and this particular piece of her real estate would have lowered the temperature in my freezer it was so far from breaking a sweat! So we had a quick tutorial and tour of WhatsApp’s settings to sort the situation out.

If you want your WhatsApp profile to work for you while you aren’t even aware of it (I’ve secured two clients purely from my WhatsApp profile description), here are the 3 quick and easy steps you need to follow:

Step 1: Click on the 3 vertical dots in the top right hand corner when you open WhatsApp and select Settings from the dropdown menu

Step 2: On the Settings screen click on the section just under the green Settings header

Step 3: Upload a picture of yourself or your company logo by clicking on the camera icon.

Make sure you show your full name so people know who is contacting them.

Finally, include a quick one-liner describing what you do.


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Marketing Genius: Brazilian Lawn Mower Launch

big79937181prm002bTramontina, a Brazilian-based lawn mower manufacturer, recently launched a new model: the Trotter ride-on lawn mower in Sao Paolo.  What makes the launch so extremely clever, in my opinion, is how they went about it.

Interested buyers could test drive a Trotter lawn mower at one of Sao Paolo’s many city parks – yes, you could actually drive it around and beautify Sao Paolo at the same time!

This genius product launch did a number of things, including:

  • Gave interested buyers a real-life experience of what it would be like to use one of these lawn mowers on real terrain, risk free;
  • In preparation for the upcoming Olympic Games, I’m sure that the Sao Paolo city parks department was enormously grateful for any help it could get in beautifying the city;
  • The product launch demonstrated the company’s values of being environmentally accountable and responsible, socially aware, and concern for the welfare and quality of life in the surrounding communities.

This is true brand synergy and just plain clever marketing.  Do you have a product with which you could do something similar?

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Stay on Target

Dart Hitting Bulls EyeOne of the biggest challenges that I have when working with clients is to keep disciplining them (and myself) to keep things simple.  We are always so tempted to impress, tripping over ourselves to ensure that our potential clients perceive us to be authoritative, credible and subject matter experts – to our own detriment, as we end up hiding the simple, explicit message of our true expertise under verbosity and unnecessary cleverness.  We lose sight of our target and our goals.

We’ve recently been treated to the Australian TV series “Rake” about a well-meaning, but hopelessly ill-fated criminal lawyer.  One of the episodes is about a retired English school teacher who laments the abuse and loss of meaning in the English language in modern times.  Defending the teacher on serious charges, Cleaver Greene (our ill-fated criminal lawyer), refers to recent (real-life) incidents where meaning has been sacrificed for novelty:

  • In a report on interrogation activities at Abu Ghraib, the CIA referred to a “diminished verbal response capability”.  When asked for clarification on what this term meant, the answer was: a whimper!
  • The Pentagon described a plane crash as an “unintentional flight into the ground”! Duh!

We may laugh, but these are sad and extreme examples of how we use language to spin what is actually a very simple, clear concept.  Why would we want to blow smoke up our clients’ sit-upons? Actually, on this matter (the blowing of smoke), you may start to think that I watch an ENORMOUS amount of TV, but I happened to catch an episode of QI in passing and they were talking about a medically-accepted Victorian cure for drowning: literally, blowing smoke up the bottom of a person who had drowned!  Apparently, there was sufficient empirical evidence to prove that this cured drowning!

But back to the subject at hand: when crafting our marketing message, when identifying our niche, it is essential that we keep the language and message clear and simple.  As Winston Churchill said:

“Tell them what you want to tell them; then tell them; then tell them what you have told them.”

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Lost Marketing Opportunities

It’s been ages since I last posted – mea culpa.  I do stand by my opinion that one should only contribute something to the wealth of information on the internet when one has something of value to say.  This is a long one, but bear with me – there is a “teachable moment” at the end!

As a South African, we have just been to the polls, voting for our candidates and parties at national and provincial levels.  We had a relatively short wait to cast our vote, only tick the boxeshaving to queue for about an hour and it was during this time that I noted a number of missed marketing opportunities, and some fundamental mistakes that we could all learn from.

My first is a bit of a personal gripe: as a woman, I really like to have access to toilet paper and soap when I go to that place which we will not name!  Our voting station was out of these two little essentials and I thought it would have been such a great opportunity for the political parties to collectively have branded sachets of liquid soap and branded serviettes available in the facilities – no discrimination, all parties given the opportunity to supply branded items in equal amounts so that voters could choose to wipe and wash with the colours of their choice.  Who know, I might have sprinkled my vote around a little more (couldn’t resist that!).

While we were waiting, it would have been fabulous to have been able to sit in chairs that were branded with party logo’s.  When I look at some of the aerial photographs of lines of voters at some of the rural voting stations, stretching for hundreds of metres with no shade, I am sure that these voters would have appreciated the chance to rest their feet – regardless of who provided the means to do so.

During our wait, I thought it would have been an awesome opportunity for a local up-and-coming band to launch themselves to a bored and captive audience.  Better still, what about creating edu-tainment opportunities to make going to the polls a more compelling exercise.  Our country is starved for education, and I – for one – would be delighted to hold my workshop (Market Your Business Without Spending A Cent) for all those entrepreneurs who might have stood in the queues.  What a wasted opportunity for free education – and wouldn’t it make the incumbent government look good?!?

Finally, when we neared the entrance to the station, there were two queues.  We knew that there was a special queue to fast-track the elderly, pregnant women, people with physical infirmities and so on.  However, there were also a number of young and perfectly able-bodied people standing in this queue, which created a lot of muttering among those of us who’d been standing for a long time.  A couple of people walked over to the officials, clearly annoyed by this situation, only to be told rather rudely that the young, able-bodied voters were merely casting a national vote as they were out of their constituency.  Don’t you think a simply set of signs would have solved a lot of unnecessary confusion, muttering and ill-temper?  One sign to say: pensioners, people with special needs and people casting only national votes, and the other sign saying: National and Provincial voters queue here.

However, the lack of signage and the problems that it caused didn’t end there.  Once we got inside, there were various stations.  First, our ID documents had to be checked against the national voter’s roll.  There were two people doing this.  They had split the voter’s roll between them – one with A – M and the other with N – Z.  Now, my surname begins with H.  I was hailed by the chap who had the N – Z’s.  It took him AGES to figure out that H didn’t fit between the letters N and Z and I had to go back to the end of the queue that had formed in front of the girl with the A – M section.  It would have been so simple to put up a sign so that voters could go straight to the correct section.

So that was “Station 1”.  The next station was to have our fingers inked with an indelible ink.  There were no clear directions or signs that could have said: “Station 2: Inking”.  The same applied for the next step, which was to have our ID books stamped and so on.

I know that this is a long post, but the point that I want to drive home is that we miss SO many opportunities to brand and market ourselves and our businesses effectively.  I’m certainly going to work on my signage immediately.  I’ve also just been approved as a lecturer at the University of Pretoria on their Neuroscience of Coaching programme and I am going to make sure that I use every opportunity possible to convey my branding.  Let’s remain aware to what’s going on around us and make sure that we grab any and every opportunity to brand, brand, brand and market, market, market!

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Darwin Awards: Drug-dealers Send Drugs to Wrong Address!

I’ve just been highly amused by a report on Talk Radio 702 of a stash of cocaine being mistakenly sent to a German supermarket!  The drug-dealers will surely be awarded first prize in the annual Darwin Awards (for sheer stupidity!)

However, there is a lesson even in this ridiculous story: make sure that you send your info, product, content to the CORRECT people.  Particularly, if you are trying to market successfully, ensure that the people to whom you send marketing collateral (emails, leaflets and so on) would want to receive it.

There is nothing worse than having your email inbox inundated with unwanted and unsolicited mail.  Just this morning, I unsubscribed to a number of unsolicited emails and I was sorely tempted to report the senders as spammers.  One of the things that REALLY annoys me is receiving an unsolicited marketing SMS!  In order to opt out, it costs ME the cost of an SMS!  Don’t people think of the irritation factor and negative impact of these pesky marketing efforts?!?

And while I am on a rant, what about checking spelling (best I quickly run a spelling and grammar check!). I personally think that there is no excuse for poor spelling, given all of the tools that we have at our disposal.  Failure to double-check your work gives a bad impression and erodes the hard work that you do in building your personal and business brand.

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