A-Ha #3: The Discovery Delusion

For Part 3 of this series, click here. To check our earlier posts, visit our main page here.

Focusing on strengths? Check. Tweaking perspective? Check. We’ve completed the first two steps on your path to building a superstar personal brand. Those steps are fundamental, but they’re only the beginning. Where do we go from here?

We wait to be discovered, right?


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A-Ha #2: The Player Principle

For Part 2 of this series, click here. To check our earlier posts, visit our main page here.

Be yourself. It’s the first step to turning your uh-oh moment into an a-ha realization. But where do you go from there? How do you continue on the path to success?

Change your vocabulary.

The words you use to describe your situation help frame how you think and what your outcome is.

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A-Ha #1: The Identity Ethic

For Part 1 of this series, click here.

After my life took a turn off of the path that I (and my family) always thought it would be on, I was left adrift. I wasn’t sure where I was going to go with my life and how I was going to get there.

Well, I did know something. I knew what I thought was wrong with me and that I needed to fix it.

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From Uh-Oh to A-ha! (Part 1)

The path to success can be a roller coaster…I’m living proof of that.

My life had a plan for it from Day 1. You may even have had one just like it for yours. Get good grades in high school, then get into a prestigious school, then get good grades again, then get a good job. Once you get the job, you’ve got to get promoted or get a better one. Then you get married, have kids, and continue along your path. Somewhere along the part about promotion, things went off schedule.

When my life took a left turn (and a right turn, and another left turn, and some zig zags for good measure), there was a lot to worry about. When you drop from a six figure salary to $39k a year, you’re going to have some sleepless nights. But eight years later I’m doing doing exactly what I want to do, working with incredible women, and am the head of a seven figure business.

So how did I do it?

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Niche Is The New Rich

target nicheIt’s counterintuitive, perhaps, but tightening your focus, narrowing your target and getting clear about your niche can help you grow MUCH faster and healthier as a speaker, author, coach or consultant.

Why? Because if what you’re selling is YOU, then right off the bat we’re dealing with a situation where there’s scarcity, which means that there is limited YOU to go around. Without a strong value proposition in a niche, then most likely you face lots of competition, which puts downward pressure on your prices.

And if you’re competing on price, then you’re in a situation where you need VOLUME in order to make decent money. Relying on volume is one sure way to a) not be very profitable, and b) quickly become exhausted.

The most profitable brands and businesses that do NOT want to offer mass market, volume products or services, are the ones who can hone in on a niche and sell to them at a higher price…

So once you’re clear about who you are and what you’re up to from an IDENTITY perspective, the next thing to determine is what NICHE you’re going after. Having a strong niche (i.e., specializing in something) will not only raise your value to the end user, it will also help you generate referrals because it’s a LOT easier to be “top-of-mind” for something specific than for something general.

Here are some examples:

  • The difference between a general practitioner (general) and a spine surgeon (niche).
  • The difference between jeans (general) and designer jeans that make you’re backside look awesome.
  • The difference between a massage therapist (general) and a specialist in chronic neck pain (niche).
  • The difference between an esthetician (general) and a specialist in teenage acne (niche).

In all of the above cases, the specialist (assuming they are truly excellent) will be able to CHARGE more (because the stakes are higher and the need more specific) and they will get a lot more word-of-mouth, referral business (because it is FAR easier to be top-of-mind for something specific than for something general).

How do you choose a niche?

Here are some ways:

  • Analyze your existing book of business to identify any niche audiences for whom your service has high value.
  • Ask your existing clients why they come back to you.
  • Ask friends and family what they have you “top-of-mind” for.
  • Do some homework on any referrals you’ve gotten or get, to find out how they were referred to you (what did the referrer say about you?)

For example, most massage therapists never specialize and end up competing on price because there are a LOT of people who can provide massages. But only a small percentage specialize in any one thing – but as anyone with chronic, severe neck pain can tell you: they would pay more for someone who could get them better results – it’s worth the extra investment.

On the execution or operational side, having a specialty also allows you to go narrow and deep and really hone your craft so you’re delivering at the highest level – another surefire way to develop a loyal clientele and lots of great referrals. Not to mention, it feels really good to get GREAT results!

If you want to explore your niche in depth and get some SERIOUS training around identifying, targeting and “seducing” your niche audience as a speaker, author, coach or consultant, check out the Superstar Speaker Academy.

Check it out here: http://www.SuperstarSpeakerAcademy.com


“Aim High” Personal Branding for Speakers, Speaker Magazine

Thought this article was relevant, given the Superstar Speaker Academy coming up next week. Check it out – all about speaker branding. Want to learn more? Sign up here: http://www.SuperstarSpeakerAcademy.com.

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Looks Matter, Perception is Reality, and Go Get Yourself Some Great Headshots, PLEASE!

Michelle VillalobosAs a speaker, how you look impacts how the world – and your audience – perceives you. For better or for worse, your image needs to attract your target audience, establish your credibility and contribute to, rather than detract from, your branding efforts – so you can ultimately drive more incoming business and charge what you’re worth.

Within the first 3 seconds of seeing you, people have probably already made a judgment about you. And these days, with so much business conducted online, prospects, clients and potential partners are likely to “Google” you and see your online presence before they ever meet you in person! Google is the new resume, because even if you do meet someone in person, chances are they will seek you out online to learn more.

So…given that your online image is as important as your in-person image, what you need to create is an authentic, compelling and ATTRACTIVE representation of who you are in person that translates well to the digital world. And then you need to take that image and put it everywhere online – even the social media platforms you don’t use – just so that you can OWN your visual image online.

It all starts with a photo. Having a great, professional portrait is fundamental, especially if you’re trying to brand yourself as an expert in your field. All speakers and authors have professional portraits, and if you want to be taken seriously, then you need to have one (or many!) too.

As a former editor then publisher of a high-fashion magazine, I have produced hundreds of photo shoots, and I can share my personal story about the impact my headshot has had on my speaking career.

Everyone always asks me about my “Sharpie picture,” like “what does it mean, Michelle?” Well, quite honestly, the whole thing was kind of an accident. If you know me, then you know I always carry a handful of Sharpies and a blank book to draw mind maps, take notes, and explain things using diagrams and drawings (it’s the ex-math teacher in me…but that’s a whole ‘nother story). I also often use Sharpies and flip-charts in my workshops to keep things spontaneous and fun.

michelle villalobosSo what happened on the day of my headshot photo shoot (with Gio Alma, a photographer I worked with extensively at Ocean Drive Magazine) was, after we’d taken several very serious, professional, traditional “headshot” type pictures (see right) that I was using for my website, I wanted to take some fun pictures just for me. So I grabbed a bunch of Sharpies from my bag and started hamming it up. Gio played along and snapped away.

When I got the proofs, I thought the Sharpie pics were silly, obviously not something I would use professionally (haha). I went ahead and chose a regular, “professional” head shot that fit with who I was trying to be (a serious business consultant, of course) and posted it everywhere – LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

A few months later at the end of a speech about networking, one audience member tentatively raised her hand and said: “But your portrait doesn’t reflect your brand – you’re fun, young and vibrant, your headshot is sedate and boring. It’s beautiful, but it looks like it belongs on Match.com – it’s not the you we met today.”


If you know me, then you also know that I believe the “uh-oh precedes the a-ha,” so I asked the audience, “raise your hand if you agree with her?” Almost every single one raised her hand. I swallowed my pride and went back to the drawing board. There was no way I was going to do a whole new photo shoot, so I pulled out all the proofs that Gio had sent me.

And I came across those Sharpie pics. I started playing with them and I found one – ONE decent one that I KIND OF liked. I cropped it (cropped my roots out!!), put a frame around it, retouched it a little around the eyes, beefed up the color and voilá! (See the transformation I created with Photoshop, below.)

michelle villalobos

I tentatively floated it out on Facebook first…and the response was overwhelmingly positive.

Note that a few people HATED (and still HATE) it, but I continue to use it in spite of that. Why? Because it’s memorable, and it’s aligned with who I am – the colors, the smile, the authenticity (I truly love of Sharpies and other office supplies), and it’s memorable – and that’s the purpose of a good headshot for personal branding.

In fact, I ended up building my entire brand around the Sharpie pic, and overall, it’s worked. When you Google me, that picture is everywhere, and people remember it. Not only that, it tends to make people smile.

Sure there were some people who didn’t “get” it. Guess what? That’s quite all right. Those are not the people for me. The right people are the ones who love it. It’s actually quite a good filter.

The takeaway? It’s time to get put some awesome, authentic, beautiful, well-branded pictures of yourself out there!

Here are some tips to take a GREAT headshot.

  1. Use a current photo. A photo that looks old screams “stuck in the past.” Not only is it unprofessional, but you’re missing the opportunity to keep your brand as current and as relevant as you are. Even if you were more “beautiful” 10 years ago, chances are these last 10 years have given you experience, character and depth. Don’t hide that.
  2. Hire a professional. Go hire a photographer to shoot you, and bring 3-5 different outfits. It doesn’t cost as much as you think – you can often find a good photographer for under $100. But be careful – negotiate at the outset for them to give you the entire CD of images. Also, see if they’ll retouch one or two photos for you once you’ve decided what you want to use.
  3. Think about color. Use a color scheme that “fits” with your personality and your business, and stay away from small prints and “busy” patterns. Also, most of us should stay away from wearing white, particularly if you are pale.
  4. Use props. Having a “prop” may help convey your value and be more memorable. We’ve used everything from signs, to flip charts, to sharpies to champagne bottles, depending on the industry. But also shoot without props as well.
  5. Try several poses. Choose the “right one” in the editing process, not the shooting process. Your pose should be right for your brand. No generic, cheesy glamour shots! Your picture should reflect who you are and, if possible, what you do. If you’re a woman, consider avoiding the ever-popular “head tilt.” It’s a “little girl” pose that can diminish credibility, particularly if you’re in a male-dominated field.
  6. Make eye contact. While some situations/personal brands require something different, by and large, making eye contact engenders trust. And we all know trust is the basis of every relationship – business or otherwise.
  7. Do at least one setup with a white or contrasting color background. Shooting against a white or contrasting color background allows you to create a “silhouetted” photo that can be placed against any color background. That’s GREAT for the web and for getting creative with things like your business card or email signature.
  8. Be authentic and show personality! Just because you’re getting a professional headshot, doesn’t mean that the photo has to be generic, stiff or boring. In fact, social media IS about being “social,” so the more attractive and fun your photo – while being professional – the better!
  9. Edit when you’re DONE shooting, not DURING the shoot. When you do a photo shoot, be open-minded, try everything. You can always trash the photos later. The creative process and the editing process are opposites, don’t confuse them! One requires open-mindedness, the other critical thinking. Example: During Michelle’s first big photo shoot she pulled out that handful of Sharpies and played around. There were about 100 bad pictures and one magical one, which didn’t become obvious until much later.
  10. Post your head shot EVERYWHERE…and tag with your full name. Because of the way Google works, the more places you post your picture (make sure your pics all have your full name as the title (i.e., Michelle Villalobos Mivista.jpg), the more you’ll start to “own” your name. Go back to all those profiles you have online and drop in your headshot. It’s not necessary to use the SAME photo in all profiles, but at least use consistent photos that tell the same “story” across platforms. If you use different photos for different purposes, they all need to be high- quality, attractive and they need to accurately align with the most important brand in the world: yours.

At the Superstar Speaker Academy, we’ll be going in depth on how to develop the visual elements of your brand as a speaker, author, coach or consultant so that you attract more inbound business, book more engagements, and stand out among your competitors.

Check it out here: http://www.SuperstarSpeakerAcademy.com