by Lori Prosio 

In today’s competitive and challenging business environment, companies are constantly reevaluating their branding, looking to update their image and continuing to enhance their reputation. Businesses spend time and resources networking, sponsoring and participating in events to raise their public profile, updating websites and marketing materials and launching social media programs — all in the name of boosting their image. But how often do businesses truly evaluate their employees, and the impact they have on the company’s brand? If you haven’t taken the time to really evaluate the people that work for you, there’s no better time than now. Here are some things I’ve learned along the way.

Communicate your brand to staff. When thinking about how to do this, I find myself wistfully thinking back to the mission statement that got the movie character Jerry Maguire fired. He believed in something — honest dealing as a sports agent — but didn’t have the authority to communicate it within his organization. That example showcases how important it is that you vet and approve your internal and external communication, and that you talk openly about your brand to your own employees first. It’s especially important that you are clear about what you want your customers and clients to know about you.

Your brand begins — and, in some cases, ends — with your employees. Your company culture, the values and core principles on which it was founded, how and why you do things, what you expect of your employees — all of these things define your business. It determines how your employees interact with each other, the quality of work they produce and how they will engage with your public. Make it a point to routinely tell your employees about the image you want others to have of your business, what you stand for, and what makes you unique. If you have a mission statement, post it in the break room.

Give opportunities for involvement. If you want to use your employees to market your brand, you need to provide chances for them to engage with the public and be champions of your messages. Encourage them to participate in industry organizations, leadership training or other networking events. Make sure you discuss the objectives of their attendance and participation, and set goals for what you want them to accomplish. Are they going to meet prospective new customers or clients? Do you want them to know more about the communities they serve for a project?

Make sure you work with them to identify their interests in the company and how they can excel by helping to market your business and be a brand ambassador for your company.

Make expectations clear. Have you ever gone to an event and had one of your staff drink too much and embarrass themselves in front of their peers, or worse, a client? Yes, it’s embarrassing for them, but it could prove to be disastrous for your business. Be sure to set clear expectations to your employees on what’s appropriate behavior when they represent your business.

What type of company information is considered “proprietary” or confidential? Is it OK to drink alcoholic beverages at a function where a customer or client is also attending? It’s essential that you are clear about the importance of professional conduct and how it can both positively and negatively impact your brand and reputation.

Be mindful of who represents you. Everyone knows the old adage, “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.” So it’s important that you think about who you want to represent your business in public. Your name and your reputation can hinge on the words and actions of one employee, so you want to make sure you’ve given thought to who you authorize to speak and act on your behalf, and ultimately, represent your brand.

Often, companies hire employees based on experience, a good resume and great references. But more and more, it’s becoming important to know how personalities will fit into your corporate culture. A pleasant personality, enthusiasm and energy are all traits that aren’t necessarily showcased on a job application but definitely help market your brand.

For existing employees, provide internal opportunities, like a presentation at a staff meeting, to see how well they interact with others before letting them represent you publicly.

Don’t be afraid to make a change. A difficult part of running a small business is making staff changes, but sometimes the success of your business, and your brand, requires you to take a hard look at the people who are the face and voice of your company.

Is that receptionist too terse on the phone? Is that account executive abrupt or rude in emails? Do you have that one employee that never seems to know what’s NOT OK to say at a company function? When someone isn’t promoting the same professionalism, quality and integrity of service that you would, it’s time to evaluate whether that person is the right person to interact with your customers, or if they’re the right employee for your company at all. Your employees can be your greatest asset, so be sure to use them to enhance your image and grow your business. You’ll both be better for it.

This article originally appeared in the March 23, 2012 edition of the Sacramento Business Journal.