Standing out from the crowd is important at any stage of a career but it is best to get into good habits early on. Thinking about your personal branding should be one such early consideration.
Looking ahead to the key issues for 2023, Isabel Berwick highlighted the importance of personal branding on Working It. I would wholeheartedly endorse that and would encourage those at the start of the career to think about the what that means from them.
There is a disputed story that when former Conservative Minister and challenger to Margaret Thatcher, Michael Heseltine, was still at university, he mapped out his future career on the back of an envelope.
But planning your career and personal branding a little different. Personal branding focuses on how you market yourself and your career as a brand. This means thinking about having an image or a position that distinguishes you from others.
Personally, I have tried to carve out a position in public affairs and communications by focusing on writing and speaking about key issues and trends. This built on my academic background but was also, luckily, something that I have always enjoyed. But when I spoke on a panel about this approach, I was roundly condemned by one of the participants for being too inspired by the US. Which I thought was actually a good thing… So, always be prepared for some to sneer if this is an approach that you choose to adopt.
The options for developing a personal brand are large. You can use social media, personal websites, LinkedIn and so many other tools to broadcast your messages but also engage. Dialogue can be even more important than broadcast. It is not just about the written word either. A focus on images and video might be the most effective for you.
To start with, think about:
· Who it is you are trying to speak to through your personal branding? Who is your audience? It is potential employers? Potential customers? Think about what will resonate with them.
· What unique talents are you trying to demonstrate? Do you have a particular interest you wish to explore? Is there an emerging issue that you can become an absolute expert in that can set you apart?
Once you have considered what your brand is, how you stand out from others, then you need to be:
· Motivated – a personal brand takes time and effort to develop and implement, it is not a quick fix.
· Consistent – that brand needs to be in everything you say and do, across every communication channel
· Proactive – look for ways to demonstrate your brand for instance by reacting to news stories on the issues involved. Also, think about how you can consistently stretch and build your network. Look to reach out to relevant contacts.
· Authentic – if there is ever a feeling that you are pushing your own brand for selfish reasons then it will not resonate with your audience.
There are some fantastic examples of those who have built personal brands in a variety of walks of life – Richard Branson, Stormzy, Idris Elba, Jamie Oliver, Lizzo, Steven Bartlett, Beyoncé. Take a look at what they have done and see what might work for you. Also look at existing operators in your own chosen field as well. Those with strong personal brands do not always have to be high-profile.
Always remember that a personal brand is not just for a New Year’s resolution, if you adopt a long-term approach from the outset then it can help build a career and you stand out in a crowded marketplace.