Let’s Talk About Building Your Brand

As I prepare to moderate a panel discussion on brand-building at the Texas Governor’s Small Business Forum for Women – Gulf Coast on August 8, I’ve been meditating on what would be most valuable to the audience. There are so many things I do instinctively when it comes to branding. So I may forget that it doesn’t come as naturally for those who have more finely tuned skills in other areas.

I have a real passion for helping professionals who want to build and grow their personal brand. I’ve done it three times in different cities: Dallas, Houston, and now San Antonio. Each time I have entered a new and unknown environment, I’ve gone about it in my own way. I’ve written thought leadership articles. I’ve challenged myself to stretch beyond my comfort zone and core strengths. I worked to become the face of a company’s brand. I’ve leveraged social media successfully. I’ve mentored younger professionals, I’ve learned from them and I beam with pride at their successes.

Branding yourself is relationship-building. It’s far more than networking. It’s not a transaction, in which you start asking for the order as soon as you meet someone. It’s not “I’ll do you a favor if you do me a favor, and I’m keeping score.” What’s far more effective is learning first about a contact’s challenges and goals, and then offering ideas, connections or resources to help them succeed. Only then, after the relationship has been established, do you have a firm foundation for moving it forward.

The same type of relationship-building applies when you want to build your brand in any new community. A community could be a city, a professional group, a social or nonprofit organization, or a work group. First understand what that community’s needs are. Ask a lot of questions – don’t just depend on information that everyone else can learn. Do your own research by talking to people who understand the group’s focus. Seek out the influencers. Learn what matters most, and what might be standing in the way of that.

Now, through my consulting business, I work to help motivated executives and aspiring leaders to create the brand that fits them best — using their strengths, their passions, and their most authentic selves.

I’m eager to hear the secrets our panelists Matt Ross, Ventures Marketing; Shawntell McWilliams, SM Global Consulting; and Hami Bo Arrington, One Foot Over will reveal. I know some of our strategies will align, while others will be unique. I expect that at least one of the panelists will have insights that move the audience into a new realm of thinking when it comes to discovering and then owning our power.

One more disruption: When the unexpected happens, how do you respond?

When all the things you’ve planned end up being interrupted, delayed, reworked or canceled, your reaction can determine what happens next.

My life has been disrupted multiple times over the past year. I made marvelous, ambitious plans. I had positive expectations. I wanted to be the conductor of my life. But sometimes, the band doesn’t play the tune you want.

The plan was for my husband Dennis and I to move into our new home in Boerne by October. So, to hit the ground running before my move to the Texas Hill Country, I applied to join the Master Leadership Program of Greater San Antonio. I was interviewed and accepted to Class #15. I paid the required fees and committed to attend meetings one to three times a month. I attended one meeting. Then I hit the ground, painfully.

Yes, I fell and fractured my femur in my Houston home in October. Our new house wasn’t ready. So the timing that should have been perfect, wasn’t. Determined not to let these challenges interfere with my entry into the San Antonio business community, I ended up commuting between Houston and San Antonio for the duration of the leadership program.

What helped me through that time was faith and gratitude. I also learned to accept the help of others in a way I’d never experienced. My 50 classmates started out as complete strangers, but quickly became encouragers, wheelchair drivers, and openers of doors. One member, a doctor, even gave me a sturdy walker to use when she saw me struggling with my less substantial one. This empathy astounded me. I was able to join bus trips and walking tours around the area along with the class, and graduated with them in April.

I was reminded of the book Small Miracles: Extraordinary Coincidences from Everyday Life by Yitta Halberstam and Judith Leventhal, first published in 1999. I know it wasn’t a coincidence that God brought me to San Antonio and surrounded me with caring people when I needed them most. I was more fragile than I thought during this time, because of all the changes happening at once. I felt the emotional pain of impending separation from my circle of Houston friends. The stress of construction delays was wearying, and the commute during my healing was long and painful. Yet the help and support I received from my new friends helped affirm our decision move out of Houston to the far- more-serene pace of the Hill Country.

When life doesn’t go the way we think it should, we can either view it as miserable luck or see it as something positive to be grateful for – even when we don’t see where it might lead. The necessary shift in my speed – from nonstop pace to a hobble – gave me time to reflect on all the good things that can come from disruption.

Our house is finished now, and I’ve never felt so connected to the magnificence of nature. Just outside my window are gorgeous vistas, cardinals, hummingbirds, acres of wildflowers and fresh breezes. I’m going to just pause here awhile as I look ahead to new opportunities that will help me give back to the community that has already made me feel warmly welcomed.

Life Lesson: Change can be a way to shift our focus to the right things. God puts people in our path to help guide us, encourage us and embrace us when our hearts are heavy and our steps are unsure.

Different Perspectives: Telling Our Stories Can Benefit Others

“Your story is so encouraging to me,” several women told me on Mentoring Monday. It gave me great joy to be an encourager at this event. Sponsored by the Houston Business Journal at the Hyatt Regency Galleria, this gathering brought 40 mentors and more than 200 attendees together in small rotating groups of eager learners.  

 Everyone, at some point in their career, goes through a questioning stage. We ask ourselves, “What value do I bring? What role can I create for myself?” As women in the business world, we can learn from one another and discover the answers that will propel us through our current, and our next, career role.

 Many of the women who joined the conversation at my table were facing some kind of roadblock. They were seeking a fresh perspective. And sometimes it helps for someone to show them how to turn a situation around a few degrees, to see a path beyond a hurdle that they hadn’t considered. It helps to hear someone else’s story and realize that there might be a fresh way of using our strengths.

 I was impressed with how determined and thirsty women were to learn as much as they could in the short time we had together. What I saw happen was a re-energizing. Like a Tesla electric car, the women who sought me out needed to be plugged in to an energy source for a while, to allow them to run on their own power.  

 As our discussions unfolded in the brief 10-minute time frame, I shared my story of how I worked to move a great but virtually-unknown company into the spotlight, using solid but unconventional strategies. And then I talked about leaving that company, coming back in as a consultant, and then launching a solo career in the sixth decade of my life. Faces brightened and I could see the gears turning. I could see that they were happy for my successful transition, but it was more than that. It was like a secret message had been conveyed: “If she can do it, I can too.”

 Life Lesson Unpacked: I have learned that I truly love sharing my story to help others. When you see that others want to learn from you, and they recognize they can benefit from your life experience, it’s a great feeling. If my story can inspire someone else, I’m ready to participate in Mentoring Monday for years to come!

What Marketers Can Learn from a Serial Entrepreneur

On September 27, I have just 20 minutes to interview Russ Capper, the Executive Director of Houston Exponential, on stage at the American Marketing Association’s Marketing Edge 2018. I wish we had hours and hours with this audience, because Russ is someone who knows how to make things happen. Marketers will be inspired by his insights about Houston, about technology, and about leading big change. 

One of the lessons we can learn from Russ is that where you start out doesn’t dictate where you’ll end up. Russ has successfully led a number of technology companies. I first met him when he was at eRealty.com, a company he launched in 1998. His use of web-based technology was innovative for its time. It changed the way people find and buy real estate. Serial entrepreneur that he is, Russ went on to found HighDrive.TV, a digital video network. 

Russ and I have had a great relationship over the years. We worked on programs together when I was advancing my career at PKF Texas. We put together an Entrepreneurs’ Playbook that positioned PKF as a thought leader, not just an accounting firm. Russ opened doors for me in a strategic way, and I reciprocated. His loyalty to the Business Makers program we did together always impressed me. 

Now, as executive director for the trio of groups that make up Houston Exponential (HX), Russ is in his element. He gets to use his entrepreneurial mind, his technology expertise, and his passion for connecting people with opportunities. HX works to grow the innovation ecosystem for the whole Houston region.  

Another lesson we get from a mover-and-shaker like Russ is that you can grow your own business, or you can grow the entire platform upon which your business and others will thrive. This big-picture thinking means bringing a variety of players to the table. In the case of HX, the players include economic development leaders, city government, tech business incubators, higher education, start-ups, corporations and investors. Russ has an unselfish approach, and really, that’s the Houston way. I’ve seen this personally, and I know he’s already hard at work to bring a brighter spotlight on our high-tech community.

Russ knows – and so do longtime Houstonians – that our willingness to work together is one of our strongest attributes. We have proved it in the face of hurricanes and we prove it every day in business.

I’m grateful for the opportunity bring Russ Capper’s insights to audiences. And I can’t wait to see what’s next as our innovation ecosystem expands.

Life Lesson Unpacked: Understand the big picture for your industry and be a passionate connector of people to turn big ideas into reality. 

The Impact of Bringing Key Influencers Together

I believe we’re given talents so that we can benefit others as well as ourselves.
I think it’s important for us to recognize when our unique abilities match a need
in our community, however large or small that community may be.


One of my heroes in this area is John Reale, cofounder and CEO of Station Houston. I’ve seen him in action on the board of Houston Exponential. This group is working to transform Houston into a hub for tech innovation and entrepreneurship.


John calls himself an Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builder. He’s passionate about helping others, learning and entrepreneurship. What impresses me most about John is his ability
to bring key influencers to the table, and his giving spirit.


An example of that is the launch of the Houston Innovation District in April 2018.
It’s a collaboration that involves our city’s Mayor Sylvester Turner, Rice University
and the broader Houston technology, innovation and entrepreneurship community.


Entrepreneurs are constantly overcoming barriers and winning over disbelievers,
John says. “I think that entrepreneurs get used to hearing ‘no’ more than ‘yes.’ It’s rewarding
to watch how folks have worked together to activate a startup community. We realized
we are solving a problem as much as we are creating tomorrow. We knew we would need
the involvement of corporations, entrepreneurs, investors, academic institutions, and local government. It’s awesome to be a part of that and do our bit.”


John is humble about his significant role in the business community. He says he has a natural inclination to serve. “It’s part of my faith. I had great role models. The late Father T.J. Martinez was a great inspiration to me. He was a Jesuit priest and founder of Cristo Rey Jesuit College Prep in Houston. He showed me what it means to build a community and to serve. I worked alongside him to co-found a mentoring program at the school.”


I’m on the same page as John when he talks about the rewards of volunteering our talents for a greater cause. “When you give, when you’re building and when you’re helping other people, it’s an amazing thing,” he says. “When you help other people become successful, you want to keep giving back. I see it every day.”


It just takes one person like John who works sacrificially to create the NEXT wave of needed change. Ultimately, his life work provides the leadership that benefits the whole Houston community.


Life Lesson Unpacked: One dedicated person who sees a need and works to fill it sets an inspiring example for others. This is true servant leadership.

How to Welcome Disrupters Without Fear

It’s human nature to resist change. And when a change in our business or personal life spins us around 180 degrees, it’s hard to see it as a positive. Yet, when these types of changes happen – and they will – you can either welcome them or run as fast as you can back to your comfort zone.

There are always going to be disrupters to the way we do business. A disrupter is a person, company or event that changes the understood paradigm. It’s a sharp turn away from what we knew. It requires us to change what we do and how we do it from that point on. A disrupter can be seen in a negative way, but a disrupter can also propel us forward. It depends on what changes you are willing to make in response.


Tune in to the hidden opportunity

A major disrupter in professional services is the need to shift to a consultative guiding mentality while moving away from hourly billing. Newly automated processes have tightened up billable hours along with time needed for completing projects. This disruptor now dictates a need for service providers to focus on consultative offerings layered onto the compliance service. The bottom line is an element of increased value to clients of professional services.


I have previously shared the magic of women supporting women and the small groups that support this concept. The founding of the Friendship Factor is another example of a disrupting activity which changes the traditional narrative. A small group of us saw it didn’t benefit professional women to be in competition with one another. Instead, we formed the Friendship Factor with the idea: one woman’s success can and should help another woman’s success (thank you Gloria Vanderbilt!). That idea has turned out to be a very powerful one, as the group has helped its members with generous sharing of opportunities, resources and advice.


Resist disruption at your own risk

I’ve seen senior executives become fearful and uncooperative when younger workers come in with new, potentially disruptive ideas. They may worry that the young people are “taking over,” or that they’ll be pushed out of their jobs. Yet disruption by a new generation can be healthy. Instead of shutting out younger team members, a wise executive helps position them for success and works with them to get their fresh ideas heard. This is a winning reciprocal principle as both benefit from success of this thinking.


YOU can be the disrupter

I became a disrupter and a success model within PKF Texas when I was positioned to be their first non-CPA owner, and one of only a handful in the whole industry. I’d negotiated toward that position from the very first interview and the owners agreed to consider the idea from the beginning. Being a disrupter to the accepted order became a win-win for both my company and me, because they recognized that the change could set them apart in the industry. They are still seeing the value by hiring me as a consultant to the firm... they became my first client with my new company, Karen Love & Co. ...they also made a paradigm shift when the shareholders made me the offer. Congratulations to both of Us!!

Life lesson unpacked: A disrupter can propel us into positive change when we see it as an opportunity and not as a threat.

Power in Philanthropy: Making an Impact Outside Your Office

Recently I was privileged to speak at the Women in Leadership Conference at Rice University organized by women MBA leaders. My panel’s topic was power in philanthropy and how to make an impact in your community and your business.

Why I Listen to Younger Professionals

I consider listening to young professionals a part of “reverse mentoring.” While I’m always eager to be the mentor to younger team members, I think it’s essential to let them teach me. I want to know how they see the world, especially when their experiences are vastly different from my own.

What Margaret Lea Houston Knew

A good friend of mine gave me a book called “Women of Texas” by James M. Day, and in this book, I learned the fascinating story of Margaret Lea Houston. She was devoted to her husband, the most famous man in the history of Texas, yet she also had a mind of her own.

Reaching My Next: An Interview with The BusinessMakers Show

Reaching My Next: An Interview with The BusinessMakers Show

Russ Capper, host of The BusinessMakers Show and founder of HighDrive.tv, has been asking me to sit down and share with him about my NEXT. We did the interview last week, and it gave me an opportunity to explain what Karen Love + Co. is all about.

You Want Me to Volunteer for What?

I will have the opportunity to speak at the Rice University Women in Leadership Conference on Friday, February 9, 2018. The conference is organized by organized by a committee of MBA women leaders. Its theme, “Deliberate Leadership: Forging Your Path With Purpose” resonates for me, because I believe it’s essential for women to have a strategy for their personal leadership development. I’ll be talking about volunteering as part of that strategy.

Three Suitcases: Life Lessons Unpacked

Starting over wasn’t in my plan. Yet there I was, alone, with all I owned in three suitcases. I got a quick lesson in how bad things can happen through no fault of our own. I blamed myself for making a poor life partner choice. I prayed. I took stock of what I hadn’t lost. Then I moved on.

This blog is about the lessons life throws at us when we least expect it. It’s meant to encourage, empower and celebrate women’s career and life aspirations. We’ll tackle the challenges and compare notes on what keeps us going.