Professionelle resources

Personal Branding

By Galia BarHava-Monteith

“How do I succinctly describe what I do? This dilemma stems from being a generalist and that I don’t want to pigeonhole myself into one category in case I miss an opportunity.

My core skills are in project management (no PM qualification), problem solving, analysis, group facilitation, strategic and business planning.”

This is a superb question from one of our members that is relevant to many of our Professionelle readers. The key thing that comes to mind is the need to establish a personal brand.

Personal Brands

Brands are all around us. In fact, when extremely successful as in the case of Hoover, Google and the like, they can even creep into our language as new verbs and nouns that stand for the action or item they represent. I’m sure that most of our readers are aware that companies invest a lot of money, time and creativity in building maintaining and protecting their brands.

So, the leap from thinking about product brands to personal brands is actually not that hard. It is really all about leveraging your existing reputation to develop a cohesive and powerful personal brand to help differentiate yourself from others in the market place.

Powerful personal brands enable people to secure a higher premium for their skills and experiences in the same way that consumers are prepared to pay more money for a well known, trusted product than a generic one.

Personal branding describes the process by which individuals and entrepreneurs differentiate themselves and stand out from a crowd by identifying and articulating their unique value proposition, whether professional or personal, and then leveraging it across platforms with a consistent message and image to achieve a specific goal. In this way, individuals can enhance their recognition as experts in their field, establish reputation and credibility, advance their careers, and build self-confidence.

That all sounds very well, you may say, but how can you actually do it in practice?

Specialise Without Limiting Opportunities

A way to specialise yet preserve opportunities is to weave two different, yet complementary, strands together:

  • Your industry strand – maybe you’re a hospitality expert, a property lawyer or a healthcare manager?
  • Your functional strand- have you worked on marketing issues? Do you have analytical skills with large datasets?

The functional strand crosses many industries and the industry strand can encompass a wealth of functional issues. You now have two specialties and you can emphasise one or the other as the situation requires.

So although our member is worried that specialising may mean missing opportunities, I’d encourage her to consider the complementary specialities she can offer. She can build onto this base by finding a unique way to articulate her personal brand (see below), and thus she will be more likely to find interesting work and be able to charge a better price premium. The key for her is to find out what is unique about what she has to offer.

Identify What Makes You Unique

Just as marketers do market research to identify the core aspects of their brand to leverage and target their offer around, so can you. Your branding process should begin with extracting information about what you uniquely have to offer.

What I recommend using for this purpose is the Reflected Best Self Exercise (RBS). The RBS draws directly on the principles of Positive Psychology and rather than having people focus on their weaknesses in career development, it focuses on their strengths. This makes it a marvellously positive and affirming exercise! All the information and instructions you need about the RBS can be found at http://positiveorgs.bus.umich.edu.

The RBS helps people identify the key attributes they can bring to a situation. Our member might find that her uniqueness is in her sense of humour in stressful situations, or in her powers of “helicopter vision” to see the key elements and interrelationships in a problem… whatever the industry or function she’s operating in.

Identify Your Values

Some writers in this area argue that your personal brand is ultimately a reflection of the values you hold. If you hold the values of honesty and respect, your personal brand will reflect those.

  1. Write down 3 – 5 core values you believe define you as a person.
  2. Think of 2 ACTUAL examples of how you ‘live’ your values in your life, preferably one at work and one in your home or social life. It is really important to think of actual, not general, examples of how you bring the values into your life because it is only in the specifics that you will discover the REAL values you hold. If you struggle to find an example, try these tips:
  • Ask yourself if the value you chose is not really one of your core values.
  • Refer to the RBS for insights into what others believe your values are.

Once this exercise is completed, you can combine what makes you unique with the values you stand for, and there it is…the first draft of your personal brand!

Identify Your Sources of Work

Once you’ve got reasonable clarity about what your personal brand is, it’s time to become strategic about your target market. Remember that the best way to get new work is through your existing contacts. So, rather than focusing on increasing your contacts, focus your activities on those you already have and get better at them. Once your confidence increases and you feel that your personal brand is reasonably well developed, and more importantly, you are confident and comfortable in communicating it, you can ask your contacts to link you up with their contacts and start networking in earnest!

Write down all the pieces of work you’ve done in the last year or two, including who the client was and by what means they came to you. You might find that a lot of your work came through referral or through other self-employed consultants. If that’s the case you should focus some of your brand building activities on them. These activities are outlined below.

Actively Develop Your Brand

It is important to remember that just as consumer brands don’t necessarily articulate their brand qualities outright, you don’t have to either. Actions speak much louder than words and your performance on assignments and your marketing activities will build your brand in the eyes of your clients. The key for you is to know what you are building.

When you are reasonably clear about your brand, you can start thinking about the type of activities you could carry out that would be consistent with your offer and your values and that would thus reinforce them.

If you value authenticity, in other words, being true to yourself and to who others are, you might not feel comfortable organising formal events and formal ‘networking coffees’. You might prefer to use informal opportunities as they arise.

For example, imagine you ring a client to discuss something work- related and you hear in her voice that she’s under stress. If you believe she would appreciate someone from the outside to talk to, then, as an authentic person, you can suggest meeting for coffee for her to use you as a sounding board. Make the time, even if you are busy. Your client will no doubt appreciate and remember this; it is consistent with your brand and will leave an impact. The key is for you to be aware of your activities and how they all link together.

Other things you can do to build your personal brand are:

  • Use LinkedIn to post a short version of your CV and build your network of all the people you have ever worked with. Engage in recommending others and be grateful when others recommend you.
  • Find ways to ‘give back’ in a way that is consistent with your personal brand. For example, if you’re an accountant offer to do the books for a school or community group close to your heart.
  • Write articles in your area of speciality. You can set yourself up with a regular blog or contribute to relevant professional magazines.
  • Just as big consulting firms offer free client seminars, so can you, within reason. Find a creative way by which you can communicate your point of differentiation to your existing clients. Maybe you have developed a tool to help you with analysis; consider offering a brief presentation about it to other recent clients.
  • Identify the right networking opportunities for you. Attend them and offer to present to them. Most are looking for interesting and new presenters.
  • Build your own network of key clients and think of ways you can bring them together for everyone’s benefit.

A Final Word on Personal Branding

Although this advice was written for someone who is a self-employed consultant or contractor, the key principles of personal branding apply to everyone. Whether you are in the private sector or the public sector, a professional services provider or in the non-for profit sector, you can use the approach outlined here.

Personal branding is becoming more and more important in today’s highly networked and visible environment. Increasingly, smart recruiters and HR professionals identify the candidates they want through the various online and offline networks that exist. Personal brands help them bypass expensive and sometimes inefficient traditional recruiting models.

There are numerous benefits to strategically building and developing your personal brand whether you are an employee, a consultant or a contractor. Personal branding should be a process you refresh on an ongoing basis in order to adapt your brand to changing market needs and to new experiences, skills and interests that you acquire.

Finally, after a year of being strategic about your personal brand, take stock! Ask your clients what they think you stand for to find out how successful you’ve been.

A Worked Example on Personal Branding

1. Identify what makes you unique

Let’s say our member (we’ll call her Jane) did the Reflected Best Self exercise and received consistent feedback along the lines of:

“Jane is at her best when she has a meaty problem to sink her teeth into. She uses her academic analytical training to cut through the crap and come up with a practical and workable approach to solving the problem”.

Jane can start constructing her personal brand using a statement around this functional strength such as “I bring an analytical, systematic and pragmatic approach to problem solving”.

2. Identify your values

When Jane considers her values she decides that the three that best define her are:

  • Honesty and integrity
  • Continuous learning – knowledge
  • Altruism – giving back

The feedback she received in the RBS supports her choice of values and the examples add further depth. Jane can now articulate her personal brand as- “I bring analytical, systematic and pragmatic and a well informed approach to problem solving. I share fresh perspectives based on the latest research. I am true to my word and I don’t overcharge my clients”.

3. Identify key sources of work

After giving some thought to where her work comes from, Jane realises that most of her work come through referrals from her clients but also other consultants as well.

4. Actively develop your brand

Jane can now use her value of altruism and giving back to do the following:

  • Create her own network of key people and organise get-togethers to help them network with one another… as well as sing her praises!
  • Write one or more articles outlining some of her tried and true methods in problem-solving that others can use. Send these around her network.
  • If she likes presenting, write a presentation about her approach to problem-solving to present in the many networking groups that exist in her region.

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