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By Marny Lifshen, Author & Speaker
It’s a new year and a perfect time to spend some time thinking about and working on your personal brand. You have a brand, whether you are aware of it or not. Our brands need to be adapted as our careers evolve. Women in their forties and beyond cannot have a successful brand if it doesn’t reflect who they are today and where they are going.
Do you know what a personal brand actually is? I believe the clearest definition of a personal brand is how you answer the following question:
“What do I want to be known for?”
Of course each of our answers will be different, and there is no right or wrong answer. The key is to really think about what you want your colleagues, customers, clients or friends to say about you. Remember, when people talk about you they will say what you are like. Your personal brand is built on the experiences people have working with you.
In thinking about how you answer the question consider the following things:
- What makes me different?
- What am I really like?
- What makes me memorable?
- What traits should I emphasize and which should I downplay?
You have to be you. Remember that you must be yourself or people will see through it and know something is “off.” We all know people who we think are maybe “trying too hard” or simply don’t seem sincere – they might be trying to project a personal brand that is not authentic. But be prepared to make small, subtle changes.
Creating a brand that distinguishes you from others is probably the most challenging aspect of this process. Many of us simply blend in with all the other smart, talented and hard working professionals. Identifying and communicating what makes you different is difficult, but it is also critical. You can’t simply rely on being good at your job and a nice person, because that won’t set you apart.
In order to have a strong, believable personal brand it must be consistent. For example, you cannot present yourself and behave one way with your peers and the people that work for you, but present a different brand to your superiors and customers. The essence of your brand must be the same, or it will cause confusion and limit your credibility.
Your brand is built on many factors, including:
- Your experience and title
- Your demeanor
- Your communications style
- Your physical appearance
- Your network
As you begin to evaluate your current brand, be sure to address each of these elements even if they make you a bit uncomfortable. For example, we’d all like to think that our appearance shouldn’t matter, but we also know that it does. People are going to judge you – at least in part – by the way that you present yourself physically, so you need to take the time to make your appearance be an asset, not a distraction. As a woman over 40 myself, I’ve had to adapt and elevate my appearance to be polished, modern, and age appropriate so people can see me as a professional speaker.
Understanding, evaluating and elevating your personal brand may seem daunting, but it entirely doable by following five straightforward steps. Any changes you do want to make will likely be quite small.
5 Steps to a Powerful Personal Brand
1) Define your current brand: how would you define your brand today?
Briefly summarize what you believe your brand to be: your top strengths, your key characteristics, what you think your reputation is with colleagues. You can simply write words and phrases, or complete sentences.
2) Determine how others perceive you: what do they say your brand is?
Identify three or four trusted people to ask what they think your brand is. Do not include good friends, your supervisor, or people who report to you as that might create an awkward situation. Do ask mentors, former co-workers or clients, or people with whom you serve on boards or committees. Ask them what your key strengths and weaknesses are. This can be scary, but it’s crucial to understand how your brand is being perceived, as it may not be as you intend.
3) Identify your brand heroes: what do you value/admire?
Name 3 or 4 people that you especially admire, and then figure out what it is about them that you are drawn to. Is it their positive attitude, their work ethic, or their ability to command a room? These brand traits are clearly something you value, and you may be able to integrate these into your own brand.
4) Clarify where you want to go: how do you answer the question “What do you want to be known for?”
Based on the insight you have learned from the previous three steps, you now get to determine how you want to evolve your personal brand. Again, there is no formula — just write down what you want to be known for!
5) Create a plan to close the gap: how are you going to get there?
Now for the final, crucial step; you need to identify ways you can proactively and consistently close the gap between where your brand is now and where you want it to be. It is important that you include only specific, achievable action steps instead of big picture, visionary items. It may appear at first that the gap is large, but it’s usually overcome with focused and subtle behavior changes. For example, you may think you are presenting yourself as a strong, knowledgeable leader, but you may actually be perceived as a domineering know-it-all who is not team-oriented. By simply asking your team for input more often, regularly acknowledging their contributions, and including them more in decisions you can effectively change your brand.
Spending some time evaluating, adapting, and elevating your personal brand can help to make 2018 a year of success for you!
About the Author
Marny Lifshen works with businesses and executives to develop brand awareness and credibility with key audiences, and to establish relationships with key influencers. She is the author of the award-winning “Some Assembly Required: A Networking Guide for Women“. In 2009, Marny was named a winner of the Profiles in Power and Women of Influence Awards hosted by the Austin Business Journal. She is a nationally recognized expert on strategic networking, communication and personal branding.