Your firm’s “brand” is about more than the message or tone conveyed by its website or logo. It’s also about you. You’re likely one of the first people to touch base with clients or prospects, and how you come across influences the connection people feel for you and the firm. In short, you’re a keeper of the practice’s brand, a teller of its story.
If you can tell your own story well, your personal brand will convey to everyone you interact with—including your team—your experience, your value, and the special skills you add to the mix.
Let’s start with some context around what a personal brand means. For old time’s sake, think about your favorite brick-and-mortar store. Whether it’s Costco, Target, or HomeGoods, you’re a customer for a variety of reasons. Maybe you can always get the items you want or need. Perhaps you take comfort in knowing exactly where to find what you’re looking for. Whatever the reason, your impression is clearly favorable or you wouldn’t keep going back.
Just as you view corporate brands in a particular light because of your interactions with them, people make judgments based on their interactions with you. Based on first impressions, how would they describe you? They pick up on the signals you’re giving out, through your body language and presence, as well as what you say and how you say it.
Formalize What Your Brand Should Be
When working with firms to develop their brand stories, we often begin with their positioning statement. Some of the same points we use to develop that statement can also be useful when creating a personal brand:
Define your target audience. Think about who you’re trying to reach (e.g., colleagues, centers of influence, clients). It’s easier to craft a personal story when you understand your target audience.
Pinpoint your audience’s needs. Factor in rational and emotional needs. For example, clients may expect you to provide reliable information when they call into the office, but they may also need you to be a problem solver with a sympathetic ear when things don’t go according to plan and worries arise.
Evaluate how you meet those needs. Let’s say your target audience is your staff, and you want them to know you’ve heard their concerns about their professional development and assure them you’re invested in their career growth, too. So, think about adding a regular professional development check-in to the calendar and make a point to let them know about any educational opportunities they might be interested in.
Identify your specialty. Your personal branding should encompass what you do especially well. Perhaps you’re a retirement planning guru or a whiz with debt management. You know what makes you special—and those around you should, too.
With these four points in mind, you can put together a very simple brand statement for yourself. It might look something like this:
(Your name) is a (your role) that provides (target audience) with
(your offering) in a (your differentiator) manner.
As you start to develop your personal brand story, this statement can serve as a useful guidepost—but feel free to revise it as your goals and audience change.
Audit Your Brand
It’s not enough to come up with a brand; you should also see if you’re living up to it. To conduct a brand audit, rank yourself in the following areas from 1 to 5 (with 1 being nonexistent or needs improvement and 5 being your brand is solid):
Communication style (written and verbal)
Body language and physical impression
Online presence (e.g., social media profiles, publications using your name or firm website, personal bio)
Written documents that include information about you (e.g., firm marketing materials)
Feedback from colleagues and friends
If you have trouble with this exercise, enlist a close friend or colleague to go through the list and provide a ranking for you. Then, see how the ratings compare. Where do you align? Where are the scores widely different? The insights will help you identify areas that could use some work, as well as key strengths.
Preserve Your Personal Branding
Keep on tending to your brand once it’s defined. Here’s how:
1) Email. An email can make or break you in just a few keystrokes. So, always keep your brand in mind when crafting messages.
Check your tone. Do your emails sound instructive and helpful, or do they veer toward tone-deaf and harsh? Set the right tone, especially when writing a sensitive email. You might ask a colleague to read it first. Or you may find calling the person is better than sending an email. I have a personal rule: if I’m having trouble finding the right words for an email or find myself going on too long, I pick up the phone instead.
Be professional. If your email uses too much jargon, the reader might be confused. Use proper English and clear language, and explain any acronyms or abbreviations (depending on the audience).
Spell check! Don’t let the message of a well-crafted email get obscured by unnecessary typos.
2) Voice (voicemail, phone messages, and calls). Ever wonder if you’ve been too casual (or too formal) in conversations with clients? To project both your firm and personal brand, consider:
Creating scripts for standard greetings, phone messages, or placing a caller on hold.
Being sure what you’re saying—and how you’re saying it—is in line with what others on your team are conveying.
3) Body language. Your body language can give off unintended impressions. Before a serious conversation, practice having the discussion in a mirror. Take note of your body language and facial expressions.
4) Social media. Most of us use social media personally and professionally. It can be a major boost to your personal brand—if you use it correctly.
Know who “follows” or “likes” you. Since your likes and follows can be viewed by others, your followers could have implications for your personal brand. Be mindful of the comments on your posts.
Think before you tweet. Before you send off a quick post, ask yourself, “Is this something I would want my employer, family, or friends to see?”
Check the language. As with email, stick with appropriate and consistent language.
Use professional-looking photos. Does your LinkedIn photo convey the professional image you want others to see? Is it recent, or a shot from five years ago? Your photo doesn’t have to be taken by a professional, but it should accurately convey who you are.
Google your name. What information appears? Is it what you expected?
Of course, different platforms will help you tell different parts of your brand story (e.g., LinkedIn to highlight your professional accomplishments or Twitter to stay up on and share the latest industry news). And, if done well, it can be an important way to reach your target audience and maintain your personal brand.
Rebranding Could Be in Order
If you’ve never really thought about your personal brand, I hope I’ve given you a good place to start. It can help you visualize what you want other people to see in you and what they’re actually seeing. And if those two versions don’t align? Well, it could just be time for a rebrand.
Please consult your member firm’s policies regarding social media prior to utilizing the platforms discussed.