Claire Bahn: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became a C-Suite Executive
Impostor syndromes is very real, many suffer from it, and it needs to be addressed. When I first started pitching my business to investors, I had so much doubt in my mind. I didn’t know all the terminology, and I felt like I was studying for a test and trying to cram info into my head to be prepared if asked any number of questions. I mentioned this to one of my mentors, an ex-CEO of a Fortune 500 company, and he confided that he had dealt this the same feelings. Once I knew that I wasn’t alone, I realized that this feeling had no place in my life because I was worthy of being where I am today.
As part of our series called “5 Things, I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Claire Bahn.
Claire Bahn is a serial entrepreneur and is currently the CEO and Founder of Claire Bahn Group. This holding company includes Stratus Branding, Online Profile Pros, Biz with Claire, and Claire Bahn Personal Brand Consulting.
She has helped high-achieving entrepreneurs, investors, founders, and executives create their best personal brand for over ten years. As an entrepreneur and influencer with over 70k+ followers on social media, she has learned the importance of creating and maintaining your personal brand. She helps everyone from entrepreneurs to business executives leverage their personal brand to develop the authority, influence, and trust they need to exceed their business goals.
Claire has been featured in Entrepreneur, Forbes, This Week in Startups with Jason Calacanis, MarketWatch, and Ticker News Australia, to name a few.
Claire is also a former model and actress with major national commercials and feature-length film credits. She currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two adorable miniature pinschers named Beau and Trixie.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
I cut my teeth doing marketing and branding for global Fortune 500 companies in New York City while acting and modeling on the side. When I started acting and modeling, I saw that the actresses and models with larger social media followings were getting the roles that were ideal for me. I decided to combine my marketing background with my love of acting to build the Claire Bahn brand that would interest casting directors. It worked because I have national commercials and feature films under my belt.
From there, I had other actors asking for my help in branding them. I later took the skills I learned in branding people to start Claire Bahn Group.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
The most interesting story? Well, we have several companies that help people with their “personal brand,” but I think the most exciting story I’ve had recently is about an angel investor that came to me for help. He had a sizable portfolio of startup wins, but he was relatively unknown in the startup community. He came to us for help, and we crafted a personal brand for him that has had an immense impact on his standing in the startup industry. His personal brand has opened up so many new business opportunities, and he gets to use his expertise to help founders navigate the startup world.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
I’d say that my favorite life lesson quote is from Ann Landers, “It means being able to resist the urge for immediate gratification and opt for the course of action that will pay off later.” There is no instant gratification in entrepreneurship; this is the wrong line of work if that’s what you need.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on your leadership style? Can you share a story or an example of that?
I love Brené Brown, and her book “Dare to Lead” really helped me change my leadership and management views. My first job was doing PR and marketing for a Financial services firm in New York, and I can tell you that you never wanted to show up to work vulnerable. The work environment was not open, warm, and welcoming. As I’ve moved away from that space and explored other ways to lead, I want the lead with empathy to foster collaboration, growth, and teamwork.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
What makes our company stand out is that we are one of the few personal branding businesses that look at a person’s complete, holistic “brand” from how they appear in real life to how they appear online. We don’t just focus on social media, content creation, YouTube videos, or podcasts. Instead, our omnichannel approach looks at how all of these different interaction points with your potential audience can boost visibility and synergistically energize your brand.
We have a different process in that we deliver daily and weekly results instead of pitching with the hopes of getting picked up. While I’ve seen people get a short-term boost from being interviewed by the press, you don’t own or control the narrative for that interview. The world is so complex and intertwined that you need to rise above the noise to make your voice heard and focusing on a single channel or platform just won’t cut it anymore.
The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?
If I met someone who wanted to travel down this road of entrepreneurship and trying to run their own company, my first bit of advice would be… “Don’t do it!“… hahaha, just kidding. Starting your own company is very difficult, but the biggest obstacle to overcome is your trepidation and confidence in your abilities to execute. If you decide to create your own company and take that risk, you need to make sure that you fully understand the implications and are ready to take the challenge. You’ve already made the hard decision to start your own company now, have confidence in yourself, and don’t take no for an answer.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
When you’re in college, many will tell you to pick a job based on factors of stability, demand, and salary. Because of this, I took classes to get a Pharmacy degree because it was safe, paid reasonably well, and was in high demand. I would have hated being a pharmacist.
You are a successful business leader. Which three-character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- Never quit, just pivot. Sometimes an idea is a good one, but it’s much better and will get more traction if you change it up a bit. I’m not one to quit, especially when I believe in something.
- Realize your worth and get paid for it. I learned this the hard way. When starting one of my businesses, we were looking for a lot of industry partnerships to gain traction. The unfortunate problem is that those “partners” often wanted our services for a severe discount or free with the promise of a deal later. The “deals” never happened, and we never got paid what we were worth. Now, when anyone comes to me asking for a deal, I move on.
- A balanced life is a happy life- When I don’t take time for myself, I completely burn out. I suffered from burnout in 2018. So much so I decided to take a solo trip to clear my head and refocus on my why. Don’t let it get that bad. Always take time for yourself, like remembering to workout or go on a hike.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a C-Suite executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what a C-Level executive does that is different from the responsibilities of other leaders?
Worry, innovate and execute. When you’re responsible not just for the business but also for your worker’s livelihood, you’re often worried that something might go wrong, and you’d have to downsize or offshore, etc. So, when you see something start to go off the rails, you need to innovate immediately and test for a solution and then have the confidence to execute on your decision and move forward. Small businesses do not have the luxury of running by committee or consensus.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive? Can you explain what you mean?
People often have the misconception that CEOs are in meetings all day, go to 3 martini lunches, and bark orders.
First of all, I set aside time every week to have meetings so that my calendar doesn’t get out of control. Meetings can be a time-suck, and I still need to get work done. Next, I’ve never been to a 3-martini lunch; I’m lucky to give myself a 30-minute lunch break away from my desk. Finally, I’ve never barked an order at anyone; it’s not my style.
What are the most common leadership mistakes you have seen C-Suite leaders make when they start leading a new team? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Well, I think that the three or four that come to mind are; Imposter syndrome, Indecision/ second-guessing themselves, analysis paralysis, and management by committee.
I think everyone struggles with Imposter Syndrome at one point or another, and it’s essential to build your confidence and make informed decisions. You’re not always going to get it right, but on the other hand, you’ll rarely be in a situation where it’s a life or death decision for the company. Sometimes I see people try to manage by committee, with endless meetings with lots of divergent thoughts about the best way to move forward, leading to analysis paralysis and indecision. You can’t wait to make a decision until every last possible factor or situation is mapped out.
Making a hard decision and living with it is the best solution; if you need to modify or innovate, do so. In my opinion, being nimble and moving forward is better than measuring every possible outcome and trying to strategize around that. It’s never going to be perfect.
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
Hiring and firing. I still have not mastered it completely. It’s surprising how fast an organization’s dynamics change when you add just one more person into the mix. I didn’t get that because I was trying hard to hire for the skill set more than anything else.
I now put more emphasis on an employee’s desire to work, be part of the team, and the desire to grow into the job. I also factor in how I feel they will interact with the other members of the team. Do they have a sense of humor? Do they like working late or early? Can they take constructive criticism? If all else fails, then I follow the hire slow, fire fast methodology.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading From the C-Suite”? Please share a story or an example for each.
Well, I think that five things I wish someone would have told me before I started running the business are:
- Impostor syndromes is very real, many suffer from it, and it needs to be addressed. When I first started pitching my business to investors, I had so much doubt in my mind. I didn’t know all the terminology, and I felt like I was studying for a test and trying to cram info into my head to be prepared if asked any number of questions. I mentioned this to one of my mentors, an ex-CEO of a Fortune 500 company, and he confided that he had dealt this the same feelings. Once I knew that I wasn’t alone, I realized that this feeling had no place in my life because I was worthy of being where I am today.
- You need to work on your personal brand. I believe this not only because that is what my business does, but the only reason I’m here is that I’ve seen it work. First for myself, then for my clients.
- You need to surround yourself with great people. You will always have those that don’t believe in you or try to bring you down. Those people are usually just jealous. There is no room for those people in my circle of friends or colleagues. Having bad energy around will only serve to bring you down.
- Networking is critical, whether you’re networking online or in person. It’s essential to put yourself out there and meet new people to learn and grow from and find new people to work and collaborate with. Much of our business is from networking and referrals, so networking has been a critical factor in my business success.
- Having a strong mentor is extremely valuable. Just like surrounding yourself with great people, having mentors that I can genuinely talk to and learn from has been so valuable to me. Sometimes you can get harsh feedback, but if you have a great mentor that wants you to succeed, then you have to take the emotions out of it and absorb the feedback.
In your opinion, what are a few ways that executives can help to create a fantastic work culture? Can you share a story or an example?
Don’t be one of the players, be the coach. You watch professional sports, and the coaches are an integral part of the team and work to earn respect and trust of their players. They celebrate the wins and deal with the losses right along with their team, but there is a clear distinction between coaches and players. I think a good business leader is like the coach of their business team and needs to know where to draw the line. Keep things professional and watch out for everyone on the team. You can’t do that if you’re acting like a “player.”
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Wow, there are so many things I’d love to start a movement and have a positive impact on many people’s lives. If I had to pick just one, I’d say adding Finance 101 to every high school’s school curriculum. I know that might sound like a weird one but hear me out … I think the failure to understand how things like banks, credit cards, insurance, budgets, and loans work causes many people all over the world a lot of headaches and misery. I’m not saying you need to be an accountant or get an MBA in finance, but if someone had just explained to me at an early age how things REALLY work and how to protect myself financially, many of my friends and myself included would have avoided a lot of costly mistakes. Heck, I’m still paying off my student loans.
How can our readers further follow you online?
Well, because my primary focus is on personal branding, I practice what I preach. Therefore, you can find me on my website at clairebahn.com and every social platform you can think of @clairebahn.
Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!
Thank you So much, it was a pleasure speaking with you too