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“I knew that in order to follow my passion – to continue to do all the things I’d been recognized and rewarded for – and listen to my heart, I needed to take risk.”

Lida Citroen is the Founder of LIDA360, a brand marketing firm that focuses on developing strong brands. LIDA360 was launched in 2008 and is based out of Colorado but works internationally. LIDA360 believes brand equity, when integrated into thoughtful and targeted marketing and promotion strategies, produces high-impact results and reduces costs. LIDA360 is comprised of experts in brand strategy, communication, social media, target marketing, research, design and web development, making LIDA360 the first stop when taking your professional reputation to the next level.

In 2009, after seeing a tribute to veterans, Lida decided to dedicate a large part of her work to helping veterans find jobs. Within two years she has worked with 30 veterans. In 2011, Lida published a book called “Reputation 360: Creating power through personal branding,” in which she highlights many case studies of executives, professionals and veterans as they find success through personal branding.

Lida Citroen, LIDA360 - Principal

MO: Where did you get the idea/inspiration to start your business? Where did you gain your experience in marketing?

Lida: I began my professional career in Los Angeles working for the Max Factor division of Revlon. I also worked in the entertainment industry before moving to Colorado in 1990. In Colorado, I turned my efforts to professional services marketing instead of more consumer-facing strategies. This decision was driven by my intrigue with selling an expectation of an experience rather than a tangible, consumable product. Professional services branding and marketing requires an understanding of promise, client experience, expectations and decision-making, driven greatly on emotion (you can’t exactly “kick the tires” of your prospective attorney or accountant). I found this fascinating!

I spent the next 15 years building strategic positioning, branding and marketing plans for international law firms (and lawyers), accounting and financial services firms (and their executives) and large non-profit entities (and their mission-driven leaders). When the market crash of 2008 afforded me the opportunity to set out on my own, I knew that I had been given a golden opportunity to take the experience, passion and networks I’d built to create greater meaning with my branding talents.

Before that day, I’d never contemplated opening my own business. I didn’t consider myself a risk-taker or an entrepreneur. But I also knew that in order to follow my passion – to continue to do all the things I’d been recognized and rewarded for – and listen to my heart, I needed to take this risk. I never looked back. When I finally announced to my network that I was opening LIDA360 as a consultancy for companies and executives who wanted to explore deeper meaning and results from their brand, I received an overwhelming response: “It’s about time!”

MO: Where do you see your help with veterans growing? How has working with them changed your outlook on your business and life?

Lida: I have always been an active volunteer, often leading committees and boards. When I started LIDA360, I told my husband that I needed to keep a portion of my commitment directed towards helping others. I wouldn’t be happy if I had to give that up. I didn’t know where I would serve, but I would.

Then, in 2009, I decided I had skills and talents that corporate executives paid me for to help them position themselves effectively in highly competitive situations. Couldn’t war veterans use these skills and talents? I had no connection to anyone in the military. No one in my direct family was serving, and I had no connection to the wars going on overseas. But I knew I had to find a way to help.

After about 15 months of pursuing every avenue possible, I connected with the Executive Director of a Philadelphia-based program that trains service-disabled veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan for careers on Wall Street. This was a perfect match up with my experience in financial services! It took a bit of convincing for them to believe I truly wanted to donate my services, time and talent!

I am truly honored and humbled by each of the veterans I work with. Twice a year, I travel to Philadelphia for a week where I take the program’s candidates through my personal branding workshop. We define, develop and begin to market their reputation and position them for career success in the civilian world.

I am constantly looking for more ways to help veterans. The dedication, focus on mission and passion with which they served are critical success factors in the corporate world. I find myself inspired by every story of survival, bravery, challenge and overcoming adversity. Many of the veterans I work with have arms and legs missing and have survived burns and traumatic brain injury. Who am I to complain about any challenge put in front of me when I see how much they have to overcome?

Their stories teach me about humility, passion, love and family. Many of the candidates I’ve worked with in the past still keep in touch with me. It’s wonderful to see them attain certifications (Series 7, 63, and others) and get terrific jobs.

Later this year, I plan to start my second book which will focus solely on the tools veterans need to leverage their personal brand as they transition back from service. I look forward to reaching bigger veteran-oriented groups and programs to share the power of managing and directing reputation as a transition tool for those who served.

MO: What inspirited you to write a book about your help with the veterans? How did the veterans feel about the book?

Lida: My book covers the personal branding process for all professionals, not just veterans. The process I use with executive clients is outlined in the book in ways that are understandable and consumable, making it easy to read, helpful and filled with tools to get started right away.

I profiled professionals, veterans, executives and entrepreneurs in the book. They’ve generously allowed me to share their stories and quotes. I felt it was important to spread the tools and resources. My hope is that all professionals – whether they transition from military or any other career – can experience the empowering feeling of being able to articulate what makes them unique and then market themselves to a target audience with consistency and intention.

In the book, I take readers through the process and then dive deep into many of the ways to market a personal brand – from social networking to image to elevator pitch and body language. Many of the professionals and veterans I’ve spoken to have commented that it truly is a “how to” book on being successful in their careers!

My next book will be a much deeper focus on the resources and tools that US veterans need to deploy as they transition from a career in military to civilian. I have learned so much about the cultural issues, gender barriers, and language differences in communications from military to civilian, I am going to adapt another book specifically for the veteran community. I’m excited to get started on that book soon!

MO: What were some struggles you faced while starting your company? What are some things you wished you knew before starting your businesses?

Lida: I mentioned that I was not really a risk-taker before. Now, with my own business, I was taking the ultimate risk! If I didn’t succeed, my kids’ college tuition wouldn’t get paid, our investments wouldn’t get funded and my family’s lifestyle would suffer. This was not an option. I never considered failure. Even during the months where projects finished up and new projects did not quickly replace them, my faith and efforts remained consistent and strong. The work kept coming in!

I learned quickly that the things I was not good at in a corporate position were just as real on my own. I tend to be a big-picture thinker, and I needed to quickly surround myself with talented people who made up for my shortcomings. I hired some great people early on, and that was a smart move.

I also learned how tempting it could be to take on clients who did not line up with my values, business goals or brand image. Luckily, I listened to my heart and referred to the brand guidelines and strategy I wrote for my own business to ensure I would not be tempted to stray from my business plan and marketing strategy. This is a difficult move for an emerging company in a tough economy. Staying true to my vision turned out to be one of my smartest business moves. Turning down work that wasn’t a fit ensured I was open and had capacity for those great projects and clients that emerged.

Before I launched LIDA360, I wish I truly knew how liberating, freeing and empowering entrepreneurship could be. It is surely not without risk and frustration, but the joy of putting your whole self out there and reaping the rewards is unbelievable. I also have the ability to help others, grow a business and watch something I truly believe in flourish. I wish I knew that earlier!

MO: What are some tips for aspiring entrepreneurs? What tips do you have for writing a book?

Lida: Entrepreneurship is not for everyone. There are people who are very entrepreneurial in spirit and ideology but are not risk-takers or they lack the discipline needed to follow through. Being entrepreneurial in how you think and approach business is highly valuable, even in a corporate or non-profit environment. Those professionals tend to be the ones who push companies to think bigger and broader.

An entrepreneur, on the other hand, is one who looks the future straight in the eye and moves into the unknown with confidence and conviction. There are scary days, when the abyss in front of you seems overwhelming, and you move through them. There are highs and accomplishments beyond anything comprehensible. Being able to navigate the challenges and the accomplishments and not lose sight of your purpose and values is the biggest challenge and opportunity for an entrepreneur.

The biggest tip I have for book writers is to follow your heart. I recently met with a colleague of mine who’d been laboring over her manuscript for more than 4 years. Every time I saw her she’d remark, “Oh, I just have to finish that darn book!” I told her that I didn’t want to read THAT book. I didn’t want to read the book that she HAD to finish. I’d like to read a book she wanted to write – one that she was inspired to write. That is a book that would keep my interest!

Since I am a hired public speaker and everyone tells speakers to have a book in tow, I’ll admit that I started my book as a marketing tool. While that was my initial reason for putting pen to paper, I found my inspiration, and the pages flowed from my head and my heart. I left it all on the paper. Many professional colleagues have challenged that I gave too many tools and resources away. I’m not worried about that at all. If I can help people learn how to uncover a personal brand that makes them successful and feel fulfilled, then I’ve done a good job.

MO: Where do you see your business in 5 years?

Lida: My vision is to have a thriving client base of corporate and personal branding clients who take advantage of my talents and my team’s expertise in pulling effective marketing strategies through an intentional brand process. My clients are coming from farther corners of the globe, and I look forward to traveling to foreign cities to continue and expand our projects.

As my value and reputation as a keynote speaker, presenter and trainer gains momentum, I am excited to work with clients in increasingly diverse industries – from international Rotarians, to medical device developers to CEOs of large banks to veterans. I greatly enjoy the energy, results and momentum my program generates, and the response I receive from participants is very rewarding. Over the next five years, I hope to travel to farther reaching locations to deliver this important program.

I look forward to expanding my work with US veterans as well. I want to work face-to-face with as many soldiers as I can, through presentations, workshops, television and radio. The more brave military professionals I can reach, the greater we will be as a working community. When each individual can articulate their values and promote their value, the world is a better place, and systems, companies and economies work more smoothly.

People know that I stand for many things. My personal brand represents my commitment to helping people move forward from a position of strength, authenticity and accountability. Over the next five years, I will continue to build my reputation as a passionate, talented and intuitive expert at building powerful brands for companies and professionals. I want to be remembered as someone who gave back to the community, through my service of helping veterans and as a good mother, wife and friend. My work will be far from done in five years, but I will have continued to make a dent in the business community through my consistent and intentional work towards being authentic with those I work with.

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