Coca-Cola. Gap. Apple. Christian Louboutin. As soon as you think about these four brands, it conjures up very specific images and emotions related to them. Love them or hate them, you know what these brands represent.
Now, insert your name here: ______________. When people see or hear your name they should have strong associations, just like they do to soda companies and fashion lines. There’s no reason why this brand, your brand, should take any more time to distinguish than the four major brands listed above. After all--back me up on this one--isn’t your own professional brand the most important of all?
From maintaining and advancing your current career to fast-tracking a transition into a new one and everything in between–there’s one, oft-overlooked way to get ahead of the rest: Build your own brand. This process will take time, patience, and work outside of your 9-to-5, but if you don’t manage your own brand, better be ready for
someone everyone else to do it for you.
How you look is not everything, but it’s the first thing. It seems a little condescending to sit here and remind you that you must “dress for success.” After all, you’re a reader of ours, which means you likely already know that! Let’s rephrase: When you walk out of the house each morning, whether you’re headed to the office, coffee with a potential client, or just to run some errands, the way you present yourself equates to the way you feel about yourself, your job, and your future. Don’t agree? Then you’re forgetting, this isn’t just about you –this is about how everyone else is going to perceive you –whether you like it or not. Everyone’s mother loves to remind them: “Honey, you’re never know when you’re going to meet the one!!” She may be talking “husband,” but she has the right idea. We have many “Ones:” Dream clients, dream careers, and dream projects. And they all aren’t achieved strictly within the four walls of an office building. You can land any of them anytime, anywhere. Yes, even at the grocery store, at a random happy hour, or within a volunteer group you’re involved with. Building a brand requires consistency. Consistency in your dress and consistency in your attitude. So yes, that one time you feel “too tired” too throw on much more than a sweatshirt and holey jeans to grab another cup of coffee with that potential client of yours may be the one time that client quietly questions if that inconsistency of yours will negatively affect the project they were going to put you in charge of.
Your Digital Footprint
You may not have believed it 5 years ago, but it shouldn’t take much convincing for you to believe it now: Social Media has the power to single-handedly shape others’ perceptions of you. Why are so many brands, big and small, jumping on the Facebook/Twitter bandwagon? Trust us; it’s not just for kicks. There are whole departments within companies dedicated to ensuring that how you feel about that company is the way they want you to feel about it, and they’re able to do it all via social media.
But if you don’t have an army of people managing your personal SM pages (and you probably don’t, unless you’re Ashton Kutcher post- Penn St. tweet), what’s a girl to do? Well, a few things:
Once you get your Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter profiles in order, remember to use the same profile pic in all three! This will ensure you're recognizable across all three platforms, and when you're building your brand online, consistency is key.
Putting in the Work . . . After Work.
How are you utilizing your time outside of the office? Going straight home and curling up with a good book and a glass of wine always feels good once in a while, but if that's your routine Mon-Fri, we'll be the first to tell you: You are missing out on some great career-advancing opportunities. Many of these opportunities are born out of good ‘ole conversation, and how are you supposed to initiate these conversations if you don't make yourself available to attend networking events, seminars, or to become a member of industry associations? Most people with powerful brands have powerful friends. Who you know can be integral in reaching your career goals. . .but you must make yourself open to meeting these people first. While attending these events, have an “elevator speech” pre-prepared. It shouldn't be more than a minute long, because unless something goes horribly wrong, most elevator rides don't take up that much more of your life. This speech should not sound rehearsed, but conversational. Be able to say what you do, why you're the best at it and what benefit you could provide to others. The point is to first be able to draw your audience in. And it doesn't matter whether you leave an event with 20 great contacts or just one. The key is in the personal follow up. Shoot them an email in the few days following the event, reminding them of a few key points in your conversation and thanking them for their time. Your time and thoughtfulness will not go unnoticed.
Once you get into a habit of going to certain industry and community events, people will begin to think of you as an expert in your profession because of the clear, obvious commitment to it they are seeing you demonstrate. You will also open yourself up to receiving new ideas. Maybe you feel like you've hit a speed-bump on your career path and are not sure what your next move should be. You'd be surprised how one idea coming from someone else can inspire, motivate, and set you back on track. One new idea has the ability to spark a whole chain of unexpected thoughts. And when you put yourself in a position to be surrounded by like-minded professionals, you are putting yourself in a position to advance yourself further, and faster, than many others. In the game of creating your personal brand, there are few better positions to be in.
Building your personal brand does take time, commitment, and continual maintenance, but once you get into the daily habit of ensuring you are putting your best manicured foot forward in all areas of life, it should also be an inspiring, fun, door-opening process as well. You have everything it takes to become a “Made Woman.” Why wait to prove it?