Your brand is the perspective, skills and experience you bring to your professional field and the way you communicate that to potential “buyers" - whether that means employers or potential business clients. The same way businesses market their products or services is how you need to market yourself. Doing so allows you to build and connect with an audience, establish yourself as a thought-leader and become sought-after for your expertise.
Enhancing your personal brand can lead to an array of opportunities including new job offers, business leads and possibly even speaking engagements. For those reasons, professionals and business owners alike should consider building a personal brand.
For professionals, a well-crafted brand can give you a leg up on the competition for a new position. On average, only 2 percent of candidates get contacted for an interview.
For business owners, developing a personal brand can foster deeper connections with clients. According to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, only 48 percent of the U.S. general population say they trust businesses, a figure that is down 10 points from 2017. This loss of trust is due to a variety of factors, including the spread of disinformation through fake news and inconsistent brand messages. The same report found, however, that thought leaders such as successful entrepreneurs, CEOs and technical experts are gaining credibility in public opinion.
This fact alone underscores the importance of making your personal brand a part of your overall business strategy. Here, we explore how to brand yourself successfully and communicate that brand to the right people, using all of the resources that are at your disposal.
To create a personal brand, you'll start by defining your identity: What differentiates you within your market and industry?
Formulating your brand starts with a compelling vision based upon your values, said Laura Mattia, a professor and program director of the Personal Financial Planning Program at Muma College of Business, University of South Florida and author of the book, "Gender On Wall Street: Uncovering Opportunities for Women in Financial Services".
"Everyone has a brand, or a reputation, whether they know it or not. Your brand is what people say about you, think about you and feel about you," Mattia said. Developing and managing your own brand allows you to proactively define yourself in the marketplace rather than leaving it up to gossip, circumstances or chance.
Figuring out your brand is as simple as figuring out what it is that you care about, so it will feel authentic to your intended audience, recommended Wayne Strickland, former vice-president of Hallmark Cards, leadership speaker and author of "Get Over Yourself, Decide to Lead."
"People need to figure out what is important to them and eventually this becomes branding. You have to earn your brand, not proclaim it," he said. Once you have a brand in mind, you can then start to live your life according to your brand and portray that brand to others. For example, if your brand is "integrity" then you have to live your life being as kind and honest as you can in your business, online and personal relationships, so that you become known for this brand. Or, if your brand is "innovative" then you'll have to constantly think about ways to improve yourself and your business so that you become the go-to person for great new ideas to those around you.
This is why it's so important to pick something that you feel comfortable with and that is realistic for your personality, so that your message is consistent. Remember, if you aren't able to live and promote yourself according to your brand, this will create an inconsistent brand message, which only encourages distrust and doubt about your abilities.
Part of branding yourself includes getting the education necessary to embody the expertise your brand promises to others. That may include getting a specific advanced degree or completing an internship in your field.
Education not only gives you an advantage within the job market in terms of knowledge, but can also provide you with access to professors who are experts in your field and career counseling services that may help you hone your brand and expertise.
Another advantage of a earning a master's or doctorate degree is the access to alumni associations and social clubs through your school, said success strategist Carlota Zimmerman. These associations can provide shared interests with potential mentors, colleagues and clients. "Sharing interests is what gives people a reason to help you. People want to help, and work with, others who share their interests," she said.
One of the key ways to develop and expand your brand is by finding the right mentor. Even if you're a senior manager or executive, it's important to have a mentor or coach to offer guidance for navigating the challenges you face at that level. Fortunately, finding a mentor today is easier than ever because you have access to millions of people on a global scale through social media.
Look for someone who can make you smarter and who can enhance your knowledge, recommended Strickland. "Find out who the smartest people are in your own company and in other companies within your field by networking, ask them for help and listen to their advice," he said. "Remember, the four most important words in business are 'I need your help' because people generally love to help other people."
Simply by asking them for their help, your potential mentors will instantly understand that you respect their opinion and will be flattered, making them more likely to meet with you, said Strickland. You also want to find a diverse group of mentors who can bring you new perspectives on your business endeavors.
After doing your research, approach potential mentors politely in person or through social media and try to give them an incentive to help you. This could be something as simple as taking them out to lunch or offering to help them with a business or personal problem that they may be dealing with so you each get something out of the relationship. Remember, their time is valuable, so make the most of any meetings that you set up.
Most importantly, don't limit yourself to just one mentor for life. "Identify two to four mentors who can help you with your brand and shift those relationships as necessary," he said. Remember, your mentor is there to make you better and if that stops happening, it's time to find a new mentor.
Browse online for potential mentors through LinkedIn and other social media platforms but don't forget to search right in your own backyard. Your supervisor, college professor or even a client may become a potential mentor, as can someone you meet through a company function. Additionally, you can hire an executive leadership coach if you're ready to have someone spend the time to help you shape your skills and brand.
According to the 2016 Nielsen Social Media Report, adults 18 and older spent almost 27 hours per week on various social media platforms. That's why one of the best ways to market your brand is to expand your online presence.
When it comes to creating your brand, a comprehensive LinkedIn profile is key, said Alexander Lowry, executive director of the M.S. in Financial Analysis Program at Gordon College in Massachusetts. "LinkedIn is where a recruiter or potential business associate starts when reviewing your credentials, so you want to start building your brand there. Start posting about topics that support your brand and make as many good connections as you can," he recommended.
Once you've got a solid LinkedIn profile and presence, develop a public Facebook page as well, said Soulaima Gourani, a motivational speaker and business consultant. You can also consider branching out to other channels like Twitter, Instagram and Youtube if you're comfortable using those platforms. These other types of social media allow you to connect with an even larger global audience but keep in mind the importance of using discretion when posting on any social media platform. "Don't be divisive or post things like fake news which can turn potential clients and recruiters off," she said.
In addition to social media, a personal website is a great way to promote yourself, and it's more vibrant than a simple resume. On your website, include an up-to-date photo of yourself, pertinent contact information and links to your social media profiles.
If your goal and brand is geared toward growing your small business, a website is also the perfect way to advertise your services. List information about your education, background and services to reinforce your expertise.
The most important part of branding is selling that brand to an audience. While it may not be entirely comfortable, especially for introverts, in-person networking is a key component of promoting your brand.
"If it's comfortable for you, then network in person and always keep business cards with you to hand out. In fact, there are services that you can enroll in for a small fee that tell you about upcoming networking events," recommended Michelle Gomez, author and life coach.
Websites like Eventbrite provide a list of networking events that might be pertinent to your brand. Or, look to network through your recreational activities or even with your colleagues. Remember, colleagues and other business acquaintances can provide positive word-of-mouth advertising for your brand.
Branding yourself correctly and getting a good group of mentors are the keys to getting on the right path to career success, whether it's by helping you start a small business or climb the corporate ladder. And don't stop at creating a brand — get out there to promote that brand in person and online for better visibility.
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