Why building a personal brand is essential for YOUR career success!
Last night I had the privilege to present at a special event in London designed to help people make the most of their career.
As a chartered accountant it's always great to be back at Chartered Accountants' Hall and while I'm no longer a practicing accountant, it's fantastic to have the opportunity to share some of my experience since qualification and give something back.
Whether you're in the finance industry or not, please keep reading. Whatever your profession or industry sector what follows is a snapshot of what I spoke about last night, which was all about how to build a personal brand, essentially a brand to maximise your career opportunities for life.
Firstly, let me ask you a question – when was the last time you did a Google search of your name?
If you've never done this before, I'd advise you do it. Open up the search engine, type in your name and location and see what comes up. I do this periodically and am always surprised by what I find. It's a big clue as to what message is being communicated to the world about who you are, what you do and most importantly what you stand for!
But why is this important? It's important because more and more people nowadays are spending an increasing amount of time online researching, before ever making a decision to do business with you and the organisation you represent, or making a decision to hire you.
Your career brand is what others say about you when you’re not there and is created in two ways:
1. How other’s react to you and who they perceive you are.
2. What you proactively communicate to the world to influence people's perceptions.
If you're not taking control of your message to the world then there's a chance the narrative out there and people's thoughts about you and what you do are not what you'd ideally like them to be.
It's time to take control and without doubt, proactively building your personal brand is essential to your future career success!
What follows is relevant whether you’re looking to elevate your promotion possibilities with your current organisation or in the process of making a move externally:
1. How to build brand YOU!
2. How get the attention of decision makers.
3. How to create inbound opportunities that you may otherwise never see.
4. Some of the ways to take proactive control of your message and therefore your future.
On stage at Chartered Accountants' Hall in London advising the audience to Yell Out their Uniqueness!
Your personal brand and why it's important:
Your personal brand is what people feel and think about when they hear your name and as I’ve said already, it’s what they say about you when you’re not there.
It’s therefore important not to leave your personal brand solely to the perception of others, but to proactively influence it in the direction you choose to advance your career and future prospects.
This means you have to decide on, know and understand:
1) YOUR audience – who you’re talking to and where they’re based.
In your current organisation – it's likely to be senior decision makers in the company who you may or may not yet know.
If you’re active in the job market – it’s target employers within a particular niche.
2) YOUR message – this must be clear, concise and resonate with your target audience to gain their attention.
Building brand YOU – is about YELLING OUT your UNIQUENESS!
It’s about positioning yourself as the ‘go to’ person in your industry sector and about getting off the fence and communicating not only your expertise, but also your opinion.
To get promoted internally or to make a move externally, you have to stand out and this starts with building YOUR personal brand.
A lesson in marketing:
Marketing used to be about communicating a sales message to the biggest audience possible. Think TV advertising, which is essentially a general message to a wide audience. Clearly there is some targeting determined by the channel and the time the advert airs, but it's still a very broad-brush approach, not to mention very expensive.
What's more, does anyone actually take notice of the adverts on TV anymore? Personally I go and make a drink, or if I’ve recorded something I’ll just fast-forward.
This is OUTBOUND marketing at its best, but in reality, marketing in my opinion, at its worst.
With more and more sales messages bombarding us from every angle at every opportunity, as human beings for our own sanity, we’ve learnt to filter this excessive noise out.
Modern marketing has nothing to do with selling – it has instead everything to do with helping and educating.
As consumers, we use the Internet to research our purchases well in advance. We’re informed consumers who know what we want and where to get it.
Where we get it is influenced by those brands that have built a relationship with us along the way. Those that have helped us alleviate a problem or aspire to a solution. Those that have connected with us emotionally.
This is INBOUND marketing, which attracts customers to us when they’re ready to buy.
Think about your last major purchase – what influenced you and what prompted you to take action – was it an outbound or inbound marketing message?
How to build a personal brand:
Building a personal brand / a career brand for life – is a lesson in inbound marketing.
Whether internal to your current organisation (i.e. promotion opportunities) or external to the company you work for (i.e. in search of new job opportunities) it starts with being helpful, interesting and engaging.
Many people find this uncomfortable and rightly so – as for many it’s a step out of their comfort zone, which is the people you know, the places you go and the things you're used to doing. Building a personal brand is often a venture in engaging with people you don't yet know in new places and on new platforms. If you've never done it before, it's also something you've not been used to doing. Package these three unknowns together and it's no surprise that many people never get started, often to the detriment of their future success.
A personal brand is personal – and for many there is a natural fear of putting themselves out there. Fear is one of the biggest hurdles we face in life, but beyond fear often exists the best opportunities. For me, fear is a major clue as to where I should be headed next. It's an indication that I'm on the periphery of my comfort zone and am about to learn something, develop a new skill or uncover something to take my career to the next level.
To bring this assertion to life, let me share with you a personal story about conquering fear in pursuit of building a personal brand.
Three years ago I was terrified of public speaking – I would avoid it at all costs and as such missed out on a multitude of opportunities to promote my personal brand and message.
I decided enough was enough and made a decision to get help in the form of a public speaking coach. I put what he taught me into practice and persisted even though in the beginning there were a few bumps in the road in the form of some very shaky performances.
By persevering and staying outside of my comfort zone for long enough I slowly improved and when an opportunity to do an eight-minute stand-up comedy set in front of 350 people came along last year, I took it without hesitation. I wasn’t very funny – but that’s not what it was about – it was about getting comfortable doing something uncomfortable and public speaking now gives me a regular opportunity to communicate my personal brand (last night was a prime example of this).
So, if putting your message out there seems uncomfortable in the first instance that’s to be expected, but don’t let this stop you. Confidence comes from the action and practice of doing, and while communicating your personal brand may be a new action for you, by persevering and being consistent it can and will become a natural part of who you are.
The big game changer:
In recent years there has been one huge game changer that has enabled anyone to promote their own unique message and personal brand to anyone they choose, wherever they're based.
This of course is social media and when it comes to successful job search, what I’m primarily talking about here is LinkedIn.
As a former professional recruiter I can tell you employers are now going to LinkedIn directly to find talent for their organisations often before advertising positions online or placing them with professional recruiters.
Prior to LinkedIn, employers when it was time to hire would ask their networks – ‘who do you know / who can you recommend?’, but this line of enquiry would often quickly dry up.
Back then you needed someone with a database to find the right person for your organisation and the recruitment industry thrived. Now EVERYONE has access to a real-time database, which is always up to date because individuals own their profiles – they have an incentive to keep things current.
If you have no presence on LinkedIn and are not capitalising on the opportunity to communicate your personal brand you could be missing out on a multitude of opportunities that exist before ever being placed in the public domain (promoted by job boards and professional recruiters) – this is the place I call the ‘hidden market’.
However if you embrace LinkedIn and choose to communicate your personal brand message consistently, inbound career opportunities are very likely to find you when you least expect it.
While many have a LinkedIn profile, very few use it proactively. While having an attractive 'shop window' is important, it's like driving a Ferrari in first gear unless you use the platform as a 'proactive engagement tool'.
Three ways to climb up the gears to make your LinkedIn profile work harder for you:
1) Status updates – a great way to communicate a consistent message to your connections. If you’re in the technology space then sharing relevant content on technology via status updates will gain you attention. Curated content, essentially taking someone else’s content, adding your opinion and then sharing it with your connections is a quick and easy way to do this.
2) Published posts – content you originally create has even more attention-grabbing value, but of course takes longer to produce.
LinkedIn puts the opportunity to create published posts right at the top of your profile underneath your photo and professional headline. This is a great clue that you should take advantage of this opportunity.
Again taking the technology sector as an example, think about the problems or opportunities in this space and communicate your knowledge and experience in a helpful, interesting and engaging way.
When you post a published post, your connections will get an alert inviting them to take a look. You can also share your post in front of a specific target audience, which brings me nicely to LinkedIn groups.
3) Groups – for me, are where the real power of LinkedIn lies. Groups are a collection of individuals united by a common interest, profession or cause.
If you are looking for a career opportunity in the technology space, then technology groups are the place to be.
Here my advice is to listen first, then begin to contribute to the conversation and ultimately to share your published posts.
As a recruiter I would engage in groups all the time.
A number of years back I was asked to recruit a senior IT auditor for one or my plc clients. I had none on my database so posted a message in an internal audit group on LinkedIn. I had five suggestions of names from members of the group who I contacted individually and Neil was ultimately offered the job. If he’d not been on LinkedIn and active in groups he might not be where he is today!
For more information on how to use LinkedIn proactively, please click here to watch a webinar I ran on how to use LinkedIn to find the executive job you want!
See me – like me – trust me – promote / hire me:
We live in a world of instant gratification where fast results are what we’ve often come to expect. Technology has been a major catalyst to our increasing demand for speed, speed and even more speed!
In the job market many have the expectation of ‘here’s my CV, hire me right now’ and when this doesn’t happen it’s easy to become despondent, disempowered and lose confidence.
Building a personal brand takes time – it takes time to see the fruits of your labour, but when those fruits arrive they’re often high-probability opportunities that have yet to be made public. This means having opened a door, you're often only in competition with yourself.
Instead of see me > hire me (or promote me, if you’re looking to advance your career in your existing organisation) it should be see me > like me > trust me > hire me.
Developing a personal brand is about getting clear on who you’re trying to reach, communicating a relevant message, which resonates, and then doing it consistently.
A real-life story:
I know who my target audience is and I get ideas for my content by listening to this audience – to their questions and challenges.
The power of a personal brand really hit home to me a few months back when I secured a new senior executive client based in the USA.
He’d searched online for a solution to his challenges in the executive job market, which led him to read a number of my blog posts and watch some of my videos. He then bought my book and read it cover to cover before reaching out. When he eventually approached me directly (after a few months of consuming my message), we spoke and he started working with me one-to-one through my 'Executive Edge' Programme. I showed him how to create his personal brand to captivate his target audience and within ten weeks he had an offer to make an executive transition into a new sector.
When I asked him if he’d considered hiring anyone else to help him (after all I’m based in the UK and he's in the States) his answer was ‘no’ – such was the strength of the relationship I’d built with him through my personal brand, without ever first knowing of his existence.
The power of building a personal brand led him to me in the first place and helped him to find and secure a new executive position.
And finally, my top ten tips / takeaways on building your career brand:
1. Building a career brand requires a willingness and ability to stand out, which inevitably means a step out of your existing comfort zone.
2. Building a career brand is important for both internal promotion opportunities and external career moves.
3. Building a career brand is about YOU! You have to Yell Out Uniqueness! However in any communication with a decision maker, in the first instance it’s never about you and always about them.
4. Your future is the future you choose to create. This means a conscious move from reactivity to proactivity.
5. You can’t get there alone. Building a career brand means capturing the attention of important decision makers and then nurturing these relationships.
6. Marketing has changed drastically in recent years. It’s now about education and being helpful. It’s no longer about selling.
7. The process of building your personal brand takes time. Think see me > like me > trust me > promote / hire me.
8. LinkedIn has been a huge game changer. You have to have an attractive ‘shop window’, but also use the platform as a ‘proactive engagement tool’.
9. A personal brand needs to be consistently communicated – a start-stop approach simply doesn’t work.
10. Communicating your brand message requires a multichannel and multimedia approach. This means being an early adopter of new technology and having an appetite to embrace change.
A big thank you to everyone who attended last night's event, I had a great time and met some fantastic people.
If you're considering building your own career brand, but have yet to pull the trigger my advice is to get started. Your future career prospects could very well depend on it!