Everyone in business recognizes strong brands and understands their importance. Coca-Cola. Nike. Apple. These brands represent certain values. Their branding helps drive sales by keeping their products or services fresh in the consumer’s mind.
Independent consultants need to think the same way. You need to be top-of-mind when the need for your expertise pops up so the client thinks to call you, or their colleague thinks to refer you.
In our field this is called personal branding. It’s not about creating a fancy logo or website; it’s about being known for something and consistently emphasizing your expertise. It’s about your reputation. It’s about your image, how you’re perceived in the workplace and online. It’s how you promote yourself and “go to market.” And it’s an ongoing effort.
Personal branding is not just some touchy-feely, trendy idea, or something that just happens. It takes conscious thought and repeated attention.
Every self-employed professional should consciously create their brand and have key elements in place.
Even if you plan to build a larger firm, in the beginning it’s your personal brand that matters. Consider personal branding as a foundational step in building your business.
5 Steps for Creating or Refining Your Personal Brand
1. Clarify what you do and/or what makes you different from other consultants. Personal branding is about truly knowing yourself—your values, your strengths, your sweet spot—and having the confidence to highlight and leverage that information. Start by answering some basic questions:
- What makes me unique?
- What am I known for? (Or, what do I want to be known for?)
- What is my image in the minds of others?
- What adjectives do people use when they introduce me?
- What do I enjoy doing and do really well?
For more help, use the tips and worksheet in my previous blog post Know Your Niche.
2. Develop a “tagline” or one-sentence summary. This concept is borrowed from advertising. A tagline is a catchphrase or slogan that helps people remember the brand a certain way:
- Nike: Just Do It
- American Express: Don’t leave home without it.
A tag line should not be your job title or occupation. Instead it should be about what you do or what makes you special. For example: not “Management Consultant” but “Leadership for Companies in Transition.” Be descriptive but keep it short.
3. Replicate your tagline in multiple places.
- In your email signature
- On your business card
- On your résumé
- At the top of your LinkedIn profile
- On your blog and/or website
- On your Twitter profile
- On your letterhead and document templates
Be consistent: use the same wording across all mediums.
Be concise: it needs to be easy for other people to remember. This is the whole point!
4. Manage your brand consciously and consistently. Especially in social media, think about your brand before you comment or share something. I used to be an expert at creating organizational change strategies for major system implementations like Oracle and SAP. Occasionally I read an article about these types of projects, and I want to comment online but stop myself. I don’t do that kind of work any more. I have changed my personal brand from “Organizational change strategy and implementation expert” to “Champion and coach for independent consultants.” Always be thinking about how you want others to perceive and remember you.
5. Just do it! (Pun intended.) Consulting guru Alan Weiss states in his book, The Ultimate Consultant: “A brand doesn’t have to be totally unique and singular. It must simply serve to drive people with a particular need to your particular alternative.” For example, Intel Inside® tells us exactly what it is, the Intel chip inside the computer. Simple. Basic. Memorable.
Most of us don’t have the funds to hire a branding agency; we have to create our brand with what we have. Have fun and don’t take yourself too seriously. If you get stuck on any of the steps outlined above, phone a friend or work with a professional coach. You may also want to try some of the free tools endorsed by personal brand guru William Arruda:
- Personal Branding Survey (15-day accounts are free)
- 50 Eye-Opening Questions to Uncover the Brand Called You
- Quiz: How Strong is Your Brand?
The important thing is to do something. I read somewhere that if you don’t consciously create your personal brand, Google will do it for you whether you like it or not. Be proactive. Be your best.