Cultivating The Brand of You: Here’s What I Learnt

As a writer and marketer and a business owner, I have been writing and marketing a lot in the past 2 years (especially live streaming which was a challenge and fear I set to conquer and podcasting). I think of the past 2 years as important because they’ve been instrumental to my own growth, of me pushing my own boundaries.

But the past 2 years have also been memory lapses where sometimes I think hard about what I’ve been doing and I can’t recall some parts of the year or even a specific month! Have you had that happen to you as a result of too many off and on lockdowns?

Work and business have been interesting – many new opportunities are opening up and I believe they’re a result of me finally taking charge of what I want.

And early this month, I was also pleased to receive an award (or rather a medal) from the Penang State Governor in conjunction with his 72nd birthday. It was a delightful surprise to receive the official letter but it was not pleasant to undergo a PCR swab test before I could attend the official awards ceremony!

Received the Pingat Kelakuan Terpuji from the State Governor of Penang on 10 November.

Many friends congratulated me on LinkedIn and Facebook, remarking that I deserved the award/medal because of the work that I have been doing in the Penang community. The oddest thing is, I never started out desiring any award or medal for the work that I do. Perhaps that is the biggest lesson of all – even for me.

The new Penang Governor pinning the medal on me. I know, my hair got messy!

My work originates from the interest that I have in women’s empowerment particularly from the entrepreneurship point of view. I am also a big believer in communication which is again related to my background in copywriting, website content strategy and SEO content development. In addition, I also am a proponent of zero waste living where I personally try to reuse, repurpose and recycle as much as I can. And I love to talk about marketing to clients and friends and all these different threads of interests converge in ways that enable me to serve in various capacities in the community.

So I guess the big lesson here is to truly focus on what you want to do and do it whole-heartedly and with sincerity. People and organisations will notice.

Just last week, I was invited to a youth entrepreneurship competition by a friend. This is how I know that my core interests are resonating with others – they start to associate me with events and people related to marketing and entrepreneurship.

This brings me to this topic – personal branding or personal brand. A lot of people like to talk about this but have very little idea how to go about it. A personal brand is about associating oneself with what one wants to be known for. But it is also about being true to your own motivation and needs. It is not faking it nor is it putting on a mask for the world. It is not about trying too hard or about wanting to please others.

(It’s not about playing to your ego. Some unheard of companies will come to you and say you’re nominated and finalised for the best entrepreneur award or will be listed in some book or Xpedia or publication but here’s the kicker – you have to pay to be listed! In the past, the unscrupulous ones baited people with greed but now with prestige, fame and power, they latch onto your ego and here’s the best paragraph: “To support this, we expect a standard sponsorship fee of $2500 in which you will receive all the aforementioned benefits along with the print edition of the magazine to your office address and one time opportunity to place your company Ad in the future editions of your choice.” To this end, I see so many acquaintances I know who are listed in these “publications” and I want to scream, what the heck are you all sane people thinking?)

In my case, I also enjoy TCM (that’s Traditional Chinese Medicine) and exploring the world of TCM herbs, meridians and Qi and if you know me, you know I even dedicate a blog to this subject. And yet, I don’t talk very much about this unless I need to. It’s because I want to be associated with certain topics that are business-focused. Does it mean that TCM is not important? Not at all. TCM is my lifelong passion but I have no intention of turning it into a business. I am a hobbyist and I am contented to be a hobbyist. I have no grand dreams of becoming a TCM practitioner although I am familiar with herbs and how herbs can contribute to a healthier life.

And perhaps this is where being extremely strategic and focused come into play. In cultivating a personal or even company brand, it takes as much effort to subtract as much as it is to add. It is very easy to add and get complicated. It is a herculean effort to subtract. But it is in subtraction that we cut away the unnecessary and trivialities that bog us down.

I would never say I know everything that there is to know about crafting a personal brand but I know enough to get me where I want to go. I see women, especially women who strive for recognition and success but the formula isn’t about striving for recognition or success – the formula is simply identifying 2-3 core passions that drive you regardless of the fame or money and keep talking about these passions online and offline and keep being valuable and helpful even as you promote these passions!

Even as recently as last week, a woman who works in one of the multinational companies messaged me on LinkedIn saying that she wants to contribute to women’s development and is interested in this topic and could I let her know how she could get started? I give her brownie points for this as she knows what she is keen about and willing to explore!

These days it’s even easier. You have your own blog (which I always encourage anyone with a point of view to start because it is YOUR space to pontificate and no one can ever tell you to get off the platform) and you have social media.

Soon the people around you will notice you and your work. It helps if you can get into organisations that fuel that passion further which means strengthening your brand as you serve the people you are with. Look for men and women who can mentor or guide you and always be open to getting advice. And if you can, volunteer with a diverse group of people because you can only grow when you start understanding others and how to work with others. I’ve worked with all kinds of people, from the very young to people in their 70s and 80s and I’ve appreciated these interactions for the experiences they’ve imparted. I also have friends from all kinds of backgrounds as this helps to inform me of all the things I don’t know about! Diversity truly makes me smarter.

I’ve always been open to working on short-term projects with people I don’t know or even people I know well. In projects, I get to see how people really work (or don’t – and yes there are plenty of that too!). I get to decide if I want to work with some people again based on their behaviour and attitude in the first project that we are in. If I see some aberrations in their character, I stay a mile away after that. It’s easier to say no later because you already know who they are and how they work.

So I use projects to tease the true personalities of people I meet. It’s usually an accurate way of figuring out a person. If someone is helpful in a project, you bet that person is helpful outside of the project. If a person is lazy, crappy on follow-up and goes AWOL most of the time, I will never be in the same project or fundraiser with this person again no matter how nice she or he is in the eyes of others.

I’ve learnt the hard way sometimes when I trust too much so I’ve devised a method to deal with people who initially seem nice but you don’t want to be on their team when crap hits the fan. I’ve seen “leaders” throw their followers under the bus when troubles brew.

Gail Gibson, the podcaster of The Can Do Way

Speaking of which, I spoke about this when I was featured on The Can Do Way podcast recently. Yes, November has been a surprising month for me. Check it out if you want to find out what I said about cultivating my can-do attitude. A friend texted me yesterday from Europe saying that she found it refreshing and authentic and her favourite thing that I said was that “Open yourself up to the world and the world will open up to you”. I can’t recall I said that but hey, that’s what I meant when I said this pandemic is causing me to have memory blips! (And the fact that I am also simultaneously managing various endeavours may have something to do with it!)

I’m thinking of writing a book of what I’ve learnt as a woman, entrepreneur, podcaster, connector, marketer and storyteller. The very least is that I can help someone out there with what I’ve learnt.

What do you think? What would entice you to read a book like this? Or what would you hope to learn from a book like this? Your thoughts are welcome!

Homegrown Heroines

You know me.
Despite my gregarious and oftentimes open personality, I am really shy.

Penelope Cruz on Sept issue of The Malaysian Women's Weekly
Penelope Cruz on Sept issue of The Malaysian Women's Weekly

I was an excruciatingly shy girl while growing up. The only way I shone was through my academic results. Even so, my pride is often mixed with a kind of shyness.
I don’t know how to react when the spotlight is on me.
Crazy as it sounds, yes, that is me.
But I have no problem shining the spotlight on people. In fact, I love doing that.
So where’s this post going? I interviewed Alex many moons ago for our business blog and I thought that was that.
It was not to be.
She came back to me a few weeks after that, asking to interview little old me!
She was doing a feature on 3 Malaysian women who were “women with heart” and one of them was to be me.
Oh gosh!
It was a little follow up to find out what the women of the Great Women Of Our Time Awards were doing after getting nominated for the award. (My claim to fame was in 2008 and if you missed that post, you can check out the glamour me four years ago. I had so much fun during the photo shoot in The Westin KL and the glamorous gala dinner where Ning Baizura sang and I was all goggle-eyed.)
I was in superb company in this September 2012 issue of The Malaysian Women’s Weekly – there I was with Bilqis Hijjas (the president of MyDance Alliance) and Leela Panikkar (co-founder of Treat Every Environment Special or TrEES).

Krista Goon featured in the magazine

Here’s an even funnier aside: two months ago, a local Chinese newspaper (Guang Ming Daily) here in Penang decided to interview me and a few ladies from my women entrepreneur group. It was supposed to be published before our anniversary luncheon happened but you know, you can’t rush the media.
They have their own deadlines. So when the feature on WomenBizSENSE finally got published in its entire full page glory, we were mighty pleased BUT none of us (with the exception of Cecilia) could read Mandarin. That was all of one day’s happiness – great publicity for us as a group and great publicity for us individually.
A few weeks later, there I am in my tatty shorts and grungy t-shirt buying vegetables in the Lip Sin market when the auntie who sells vegetables told me she read the interview in Guang Ming!
Her daughter-in-law mentioned that her mom-in-law (this vegetable auntie) recognized my photo in that article! I must say this lady’s eyes are sharp.
However, being in the media has its cons too. The day our feature came out in Guang Ming was the day a woman from Sungai Petani called me asking for a loan. It seemed she read about our women entrepreneur group and thought we’d be easy suckers!
She gave me some strange tale of being broke, having two kids in college and get this – the Ah Long were chasing her to repay her loan and could we or our group loan her some money?
She kept calling me until I told her that we don’t give loans and I would get her the number of a local ADUN help centre so she could get proper help. She stopped calling after that!
That was the only weird incident.
Most times, the publicity has been great and allowed me to get slightly known. I’ve always been grateful for the media limelight (many thanks to writer friends like Alex and more) because media exposure always helps promote and publicize our business!

5 Things I Learned This Year

I got the idea for this post when I read this GigaOM blog when I was surfing the Net recently.
Although it doesn’t necessarily need a heart attack to get me thinking, I know that by counting backwards (and looking at the good and the bad which have happened this year) I am in a better shape to move forward in 2009.
1. I am in much better shape now than I was in 2007.
Which is strange but true. I have always been doing yoga since 2001 but in 2007, when we finally moved office, I decided we needed to whip our staff into shape. She’d been gangly and thin and methinks a bit unhealthy so we made it a point to go collectively go for a Friday evening walk, encircling the lake near the Harapan students’ hostel in USM.
In the end, I benefited because I became such a walking freak that I’d go three times a week. My goal was to keep in shape, lose the flab and get into my old clothes. Initially I couldn’t even do full sit ups and ab crunches. Now I can do them all with ease, 3 sets of 10 ab crunches in less than 10 minutes. Man, am I proud of myself. (Why 3 sets? Workout enthusiasts will encourage workouts in sets as this is more effective than a single set. I suppose it gets the muscles stronger with repetition). And I got myself a hula hoop so I could do some hula hooping when I was watching TV.
All this because I am vain but also because I love myself and I didn’t want to look like a tired 30-something and look old before my time.
I was going to be fit and healthy.
And to make it sweeter, I joined the 10km StarWalk on a whim and completed it under 2 hours.
Next year, I am planning to join the Competition category for StarWalk. A friend has been asking me if I wanted to go climb Gunung Kinabalu. We shall see.
2. Certain friends have expiry dates.
I realized that people whom I called best friends or great friends weren’t so fantastic after all. I’ve always felt that good friends will come through for you no matter what. I guess I am the only one with this idea.
I became quite disillusioned with three friends, especially after one of them admitted that her husband and daughter came first and no friends came close to that.
Boy was I pissed.
I mean, do you say that to your good friends? That hurt and hurt deep. Or how about friends who promised you they’ll be there but never turned up? No sorry, no nothing.
That’s why I am going to focus on friends who appreciate and value my friendship. Not friends who take me for granted.
3. I can live without checking my email.
I used to spend weekends and public holidays checking email and getting sucked into work all over again. I used to get antsy if I were not near a PC and couldn’t do work. I felt a bit disoriented if I didn’t log on to check my Gmail every now and then.
But this year, I found that I could live without checking my email.
The problem with email is that it destroys productivity especially if you keep checking it all the time.
Now I set some ground rules for myself. I will only check email 3x a day so I can focus on completing tasks and real work.
I will not check email on weekends or public holidays. So friends and clients, do bear with me if I don’t reply you on weekends. It’s nothing personal, it’s just me and my principle.
I will not run to the nearest PC on rest days because I can do a host of non-IT stuff which helps me re-balance my life (such as reading all the books I bought this year, beading, crocheting, writing, learning, cooking, exercising, spending time brushing Margaret, lunching with family and friends, phoning family and friends for chats, going for walks, being silent).
I love my business and my clients but I know that if I am healthy and balanced, I am in a better shape to run my business.
4. I am worth it.
I often used to feel guilty if I did something for myself. I used to think that I should be doing things, pleasing others and getting them happy. I always treated myself like some second-rate citizen, refusing to give in to little pleasures which made me happy.
I think I grew up thinking that being a martyr was my lifelong work.
I felt guilty if I wasn’t an A-student, I felt guilty if I wasn’t using up every bit of time to do ‘productive’ work, I felt guilty saying yes to myself (like buying something expensive or eating something frivolous).
But this year, I have stopped these feelings of guilt.
I know I’m not the only one…it’s the same with most women – my sister buys the best for her children yet scrimps on herself.
We can splurge on expensive gifts for our friends and families but we would never (or at least if it’s only me), I would never be able to justify why I needed that thing.
But no more. I tell myself that if I don’t take care of myself, don’t reward myself for the good I do, don’t appreciate myself, then no one can either. Because I work hard for my money, I deserve to splurge now and then. I’m worth it and so are you.
We have one life to live so make this extra special. (But moderation people. I’m not responsible if you max out your credit cards in one go.)
5. Love and thanks compound well
The act of saying grateful thanks for every day well-lived is something I acquired this year.
I have conscious moments when I give grateful thanks – before I have my meals (something precious which I learnt from my Christian friends), when I start the day after my morning Buddhist prayers, and at night, when I write down 5 things I am grateful for.
I also make it a habit to read my affirmations (printed and tacked to my wardrobe door) each morning.
I have had wonderful and amazing experiences this year and I know you probably think me silly, but I attribute the good to my ‘messages’ of love and thanks.
More and more being positive is not some temporary madness but a good way to live life and in the process, touch others.
But I think it’s also in my genes – this upbeat, can-do attitude. Many people scoff at The Secret and its teaching of the law of attraction. Whatever. If it helps and does not harm me or others, I shall try it. And if you still aren’t convinced, discover Dr Masaru Emoto and his thoughts on water, vibration and thoughts.
So there, 5 things I learnt this year. I hope you will look back on your past year and tell me what you learnt. There’s much good to be had from sharing life lessons! After all we are all beings on this journey together. So let’s learn together yeah?
I won’t be partying tonight – it will be a quiet evening at home. I somehow need time to recharge and get ready for 2009.
If I have not thanked you yet, I am thanking YOU now for coming back again and again to read the mad ramblings of a 30-something woman who still feels like she’s only 21. I thank you for leaving comments. I thank you for being a friend.
Above all else, I thank YOU for sharing your life with me. Mayakirana treasures every comment, every gesture of friendship and every time you log on to visit this blog.
Muchos gracias people!

Missed Me? I Missed Me Too!

My blog title says it all. I missed my blog. I missed rambling like some old nenek. I have lots of stories to tell. In fact, sometimes I think I have so much to tell that I don’t know where to start.
This blog got cranky the past few days and I got booted out. Couldn’t log in. Couldn’t do a damn thing. Nic asked me if I had backed up the blog posts. Like yeah, maybe a month ago! Don’t do this to me, oh Blog. Don’t wipe out my entries. They’re hard work. But Nic’s my husband for a good reason – he can perform some IT miracles. Finally, my Baby (Blog) is back.

Yes, check out my ditzy hair do...
Yes, check out my ditzy hair do...

And now Maya can get down to updating all and sundry about her 2 weeks!
Well, first off, I didn’t win in my Science & Tech category that night at the MWW Gala Dinner. But chill people. When I SMSed a friend, she shot back: “Woman, you are among the 18 chosen women of Malaysia! That’s a big win.” Yes, my dear. You are so right!
Another friend told me she bought MWW and showed “me” off to everyone! Hey, thanks Dot for the life-affirming gesture. I’m proud that you’re so proud of me!
Jennifer, Ming Ming, me and Lisa...Lisa was my invited guest that night.
Jennifer, Ming Ming, me and Lisa...Lisa was my invited guest that night. We were post-makeup session but pre-dress rehearsal

Actually I’m not even disappointed (oh god, I must be aging gracefully! I was a competitive maniac when I was in school) – I was enjoying myself so much that I quite forgot that I didn’t manage to get that Royal Doulton vase (masquerading as a trophy). I invited Lisa along and she had a grand time, being made up by the Guerlain girls in black and having her hair styled.
That's me, Hoong Ling, Alecia, Ming Ming, Jennifer & Dr Tang during rehearsal!
Regina, Carol, Shanti, me, Hoong Ling, Alecia, Ming Ming, Jennifer & Dr Tang during rehearsal...we were taught how to walk with our male models

What I loved most was meeting Jun Lin (artistic director of the Rainforest World Music Festival), Alecia (of Gorgeous Geeks, what a name for a group of IT women, love the name!), Dr Tang (Malaysia’s only pediatric rheumatologist), Cynthia (a retail consultant for One Utama), Hoong Ling (exuberant gal with such a brilliant smile), Maple Loo-Asaro (the really beautiful owner of JapaMala Resort Tioman and Samadhi Retreats), Regina (love her elegant hair do), Prof Dr Halimaton (she won in my category by the way but we had a great time chatting during dinner… she looks so much like Marina Mahathir!) and Shanti Jayaram (who was the Most Inspiring Woman of the night – she told the story of how she was nominated by her boss at Zerin Properties – what a boss, right?).
Ning Baizura in her element
Ning Baizura in her element

I was there with these accomplished, beautiful and fabulous women. Looking at them all, I think Malaysia’s in no way short of talent or skills. We’re all doing something fantastic in our own ways, helping the community and in a way, helping ourselves to grow.
From left: Cynthia Lye, me, Shanti Jayaram, Yeoh Jun Lin & Alecia Heng
From left: Cynthia Lye, me, Shanti Jayaram, Yeoh Jun Lin & Alecia Heng

As we were all being fussed over by hair stylists and make-up girls in a private room which gave us a stupendous view of Pavillion KL across the road, I felt a bit like an awards winner! Everyone was truly down-to-earth, especially the women team of Malaysian Women’s Weekly: Tara Barker (the editor-in-chief), Elaine Kwong (MWW editor), Melati (MWW writer with a hidden talent for designing evening gowns), Rina, Geetha, even to that sole guy graphic designer who shyly asked us to pose for a photo!
Lina Teoh, our affable emcee
Lina Teoh, our affable emcee

Ning Baizura sang a few Whitney Houston songs as we dined on a 3-course dinner (no photos of the food due to the subdued lighting and I had to listen attentively to my dinner companions right? Would be kind of rude to whip out my camera every 5 seconds).
Dr Amran & Lisa, hamming it up for the camera
Dr Amar Amran & Lisa, hamming it up for the camera

My dinner companions that night included Dr Farrah-Hani Imran (remember the gymnast? She’s now a medical doc) and her cute brother, Dr Amran as they were seated at our table. Dr Amran looked like a spitting image of RPK with a deliciously wicked sense of humour.
Great Women of Our Time category winners (left): Cynthia, Dr Tang, Shanti, Dr Halimaton & Hoong Ling
Great Women of Our Time category winners (left): Cynthia, Dr Tang, Shanti, Dr Halimaton & Hoong Ling

Everyone had their five minutes of fame as we were announced by Lina Teoh (who did an amazing job emceeing that night – the right dose of wit!) to go onstage, accompanied by male models, to receive our orchid bouquet from Tara. Nominees in each category were next photographed together. Each nominee received a Guerlain Paris Orchidee Imperial, Patchi chocolates (divine!), an autographed copy of MWW by Ning, a certificate, Royal Albert silver spoons and a bouquet of white lilies and orchids.

I’ll let the photos do the talking… it was a perfect night where I felt like a princess! Thanks to a special friend who nominated me and gave me this chance to try something totally different from my usual Penang routine. Thanks to everyone who SMSed the votes. Thanks to everyone of you who believed in me. Robert even intoned me to visualise winning using the law of attraction! (We’re both serious junkies of The Secret!)
We had to snap a pic with Lina Teoh
We had to snap a pic with Lina Teoh

Related links:

Wish Me Luck!

I won’t be posting for a few days as I am off to KL for the MWW Gala Dinner tonight.
My invitation for the Gala Dinner
Shall be going with Lisa and we two are quite excited despite having to arrive at 3pm at The Westin for a rehearsal.
Yes, you read right. A rehearsal! *making me slightly nervous now*
Ning Baizura will be crooning some songs, Lina Teoh will be the emcee.
It came in via courier in a gold envelope...made me feel like a super star!
A few days ago I got the dinner programme from Rina, the deputy editor of MWW and it seems we’ll be made up by professional make up artists and hair stylists. Am I relieved I don’t have to lug my sister’s Philips hair styling tools to KL. As it is, there’s a lack of leg room on AirAsia planes. Am I relieved I don’t have to do my own make up!
This is what I've gotten into.... something worth remembering!
Anyway, thank you my dears for your SMSes and support and calls. You know who you all are.
I am so grateful to everyone who voted for me. I am going without any expectation of winning because I want to have a fabulous time and I want to meet the other amazing women too! If I win, that’s a bonus! And the Montfort Boys Town will probably be the recipient of the RM5,000 prize….already Nic’s adamant that this organisation should get it. I think so too.
Other than that, I shall have more news and more photos when I get back to Penang next Wednesday!
That's me in the dad says he doesn't recognise me!
Until then, wish me luck, my dears!
Ah yes, a closer look!

A Hurricane of A Trip

Finally, I’m back. I’ve been missing for a while – more than a week – due to a couple of things. Well, one thing is that here’s a big shoutout to my best pal and courageous friend, Janarthani who is now a councillor with the Kuala Langat district in Selangor.
I am so proud of you Jana! This woman has been my best pal since I was 10. I’m still amazed how long our friendship has endured. Jana by herself is a powerhouse – she’s a lecturer, she is doing her Masters in Theatre (this gal does great on the stage), she is an activist fighting for the local community of Sungai Sedu (in Kuala Langat) and now she’s a councillor.
I caught up with her when I was back in Selangor last week. To everyone who’s in KL and whom I did not manage to meet up with, do forgive me. It was a sudden trip and one which left me quite breathless.
Sudden because I was nominated for the Malaysian Women’s Weekly Great Women of Our Time Awards. Sudden because I had to fly in for a photo shoot (by the veritable photographer extraordinaire, Jen Siow) and interview for print and a video taping session last Thursday at The Westin KL.

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Errr…What's That Again?

I was planning to write about this superlicious book that I’m reading right now until I read IttyBiz’s home business post.
I just got to know of IttyBiz but already I like what I read. And most times, her posts make me think. Now I can tell you that I rarely blog surf and those blogs that I surf are either people whom I know well or people I love checking up on. I love stumbling upon gems of blogs but the key thing, I much prefer to receive email updates when they post something new on their blog. I think that’s what everyone much prefers, right? To get the post right in their in-box each morning.
Anyway, her post got me thinking IF people/friends who read this blog know what I do for a living (besides blogging!). Sometimes people read about what I do but most people forget anyway, what with the 1001 things we do each day. And if they forget, as IttyBiz says, it’s really NOT their fault. It’s mine. I forget to remind or tell you what I do.

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Blogging for Soup

I was roped into being a blog panellist at the last minute at the MIRC Seminar held 2 Saturdays ago. I had promised Patie I would be attending the full day seminar as a participant. She had asked if either Nic and I would like to be speakers but no-lah, we were too tied up with our projects. So she called up about 3 days before to ask if I could help out to share my views on blogging.
Ah, my pet subject.
My ears perked. My eyes shone in anticipation.

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