Personal brand has been a hot buzz word in business as of late. But it's kind of a lofty, fluffy concept. When you hear the phrase, your mind might jump to one of many public figures in business who seems to live in front of a camera — such as Sir Richard Branson of Virgin or Oprah Winfrey of, well, Oprah's media empire.
When leaders of small- to mid-sized business hear talk of personal branding, many think "that's not for me." They assume this area is best left to big personalities who make headlines or who are bold innovators.
This is not the case. Personal brand is something every business leader should have on her mind — and here's why:
Personal brand isn't how many Twitter followers you have. It's way bigger than that. My favorite definition comes from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos who puts it this way: "Your brand is what people say about you when you're not in the room."
The way others perceive you — your brand — is critical to your effectiveness as a leader and your ability to turn your goals into action. People draw conclusions about who you are and what you're all about through every interaction that they have with you. They witness how you carry yourself, the projects you take on, what you like to talk about, the language you use, how you communicate on social media, the clothes you wear, the company you keep... and the list goes on.
Everyone has a brand. The practice of "personal branding" is making a conscious decision about what you want to be known for. Once you've defined that, it means asking yourself, with every decision, whether your intended action builds or degrades the impression you want to make.
We can’t fully control how others see us (smart, capable, compassionate, creative, fair). But many leaders don’t even try. That is, we don’t take a moment to think about how we want to be perceived and then take purposeful steps to bolster or encourage that impression.
Controlling perception and taking control of your reputation and is no small task — but you can't avoid the problem by ignoring it.
We've all been taught that you only get one chance to make a first impression. But today, that impression is often made before we even walk in the door. Google can be our best friend or our worst enemy when it comes to personal branding. It has become our new reference check — and those vetting you (to see if they want to buy from you, apply to work for you, or even reach out to you) often start there when searching for information about you and your company.
Are people finding what you want them to see? What does your online footprint say about you and your organization? If there's nothing to be found, that says something about your brand, too.
Through social networks, blog posts, and videos, we have an opportunity to take ownership of this first impression. By sharing knowledge, demonstrating thought leadership, and interacting with others, we can set the stage for the personal brand we want to project.
People want to do business with those they like, know, and trust — meaning other people, not a faceless organization. If your employees are visible and authentic, many people will find it easier to identify with you and consider your products and services. This makes personal branding particularly important for senior leaders and individuals in sales.
Thoughtful personal branding is a magnet for the "right" talent, customers, and opportunities. When you know who you are and what you stand for, the best fit people will flock to you, and the others will self-identify and head elsewhere.
Another common reaction to the idea of personal branding is that it's just for job seekers — or that if your employees spend too much effort on a personal brand, that they're somehow disloyal or a potential flight risk. This isn't usually the case.
Personal brand is something that has to be built over time. If you wait to start thinking about a personal brand until you need something, it's likely too late. You don't want to find yourself trying to change the way people perceive you or build an online presence the moment sales are down or your business is at risk.
Want to learn more about personal branding and how to take action to define your brand? Our next HNI University workshop will explore this in-depth, including sharing case studies and actionable advice to get started. Click the button below for details; it's happening next Tuesday (Feb. 10). If you can't join us, watch for blog posts sharing insight from the event over the next few weeks.
Over to you: What does personal branding mean to you? How have you built your personal brand? Please share in comments!