It’s hard to stand out in our noisy world. People are exposed to hundreds, if not thousands, of messages a day and yours will easily get lost in the shuffle. It’s important to create a strong personal brand that your networking partners can associate with you.
I call it “planting a flag”. If you can’t be clear about what you do and why you are good at what you do, there’s no way that your network will be able to connect you with opportunities and resources. Your message will degrade every time it’s passed along (like the children’s game Telephone), so the more clarity you create from the start, the stronger and more lasting your message will be.
The personal brand message that you share will vary depending on your career goals. But whether you are founding a startup firm, looking to advance your career, or looking for a new job, it’s important that you can clearly communicate your professional focus to your network. In Networking in the 21st Century, I talk about creating a niche that focuses on your customers. Understand that your “customers” are anyone you serve; they are the people that you help as a professional. They can be actual customers or clients, but they could just as well be an internal organizational group, potential employers, or your network itself.
Developing a Personal Brand
There are four ways that you can start thinking about your personal professional brand:
1. Your mission—why do you work with your customers?
Is there a particular passion that you bring to your work? Are you motivated by more than just a paycheck? For example, studies show that many people want to work for social good through their profession. If that applies to you, share that with your network.
The underlying narrative of your career is unique to you. The more clear you are about that, the more the prospects that want to work with will click with you.
2. Your method—how do you work with your customers?
Do you approach your work from a different angle that can benefit your customers, colleagues, or partners? For example, I know a young real-estate broker who is incredibly focused on using cutting-edge technology to guide his clients through the home-buying process with ease. They love that, and they love working with him. What do you do differently?
Don’t assume that everyone does things the exact same way. Even little differences can set you apart from others in your field.
3. The demographics—who are your customers?
“Trying to be everything to everyone makes you nothing to nobody.” That grammatically incorrect but incredibly sage advice came from one of my first sales mentors. People want to know they are dealing with an expert in their field who understands their particular situation. Find a group that you like to work with and become that expert.
Instead of thinking about yourself as you define your niche, think of the people that you would like to work with. What is their unifying characteristic? Your expertise isn’t independent of them, it can be defined by them.
4.Your service—what do you do for them?
What will they get from you that they aren’t going to get from someone else? What is your “special sauce”? Look at the other people in your field and identify a way to separate yourself from the rest of the pack. Then be sure to communicate that difference to your network.
What can they get from you that they can’t get anywhere else. When you can identify that, you can powerfully connect with your prospects and clients.