When I look back to the start of my career I sometimes get a little annoyed with myself for how much time I wasted trying to be what I thought others wanted me to be. Today, I give myself a little slack because I was new in my career and in the field and learning as I went along, but I wish I had been more familiar with personal branding and taken the time to figure out who my authentic self was.
I think that the longer it takes us to not only develop our brand but also to live it, the longer we give others the opportunity to define who we are, or to influence it. Sometimes this isn’t a bad thing; often it is.
Your brand is what differentiates you and your career. It is what you market to others, it is the ongoing process of establishing your image in the mind of others. Some articles I have read on the subject say that 70 percent of professionals believe they have defined their personal brand and 50 percent believe they are living it. In working with different groups, my experience is that about 15 percent of people have truly defined their personal brand and less than 5 percent are living it consistently at work each and every day. Honestly, I think even those figures may be a little high.
I found early in my career that, as a woman, defining my brand was tough. I wanted self-assertion to be part of my brand but there was a thin line between being assertive and being… let’s just say bossy. It took some time to figure out where that line was and how closely I wanted to sit to it. After a few years I figured out that being assertive is not really part of my brand but that it did help me support it. I feel comfortable pushing the line when I need to and honestly don’t take it personally if someone feels I pushed the line too far. That came with clearly defining my brand – and with experience.
When I started really living my brand, I realized that I was more authentic, and this helped me to build better work relationships. My confidence and self-esteem increased. I felt like I was the driver of my career rather than a passenger. I was able to focus my energy and showcase what makes me unique. I felt like I was leaving my mark. There are many benefits to being purposeful with your brand, but ultimately, it always feels good to be your authentic self.
Building your authentic self and a strong personal brand is about true alignment between who you believe you are, who you want to be, and who you’re perceived to be. We know that not enough people have an authentic self. So let’s look at the steps of building yours.
What Do you Have to Offer People?
Give some thought to why people come to you. What specifically are they looking for? What are your strengths? What do you do during the day that gets you excited? What are you passionate about? Are you fearless? A big-picture thinker? Adaptable? Creative? I like to refer to this as your superstar factor.
Take Time for Self-reflection
It’s important to take the time to look at yourself and figure out what’s working and what is not. Understanding and discovering your personal brand starts with discovering and understanding yourself. Think about how you connect with others. Are you good in a group or one-on-one? How do you exist in the world?
Do a Self-Assessment
Think about some words that you would use to describe yourself. Do they match what others would say about you? Look at your online presence – does it say what you want it to? Does it match the brand that you are trying to develop? Every picture or tweet builds your brand. Once you understand how you wish your brand to be perceived, you can start to be much more strategic about it.
Let it Evolve
Associate with other strong brands. Keep current, relevant, and both exciting and excited. Always look to develop new skills. Keep growing and evolving. Stay true to yourself. Own your strengths and share your superstar moments. That is how you will build the most successful version of yourself.
I think everyone can benefit from building their personal brand, but I think that women in a male-dominated industry can sometimes get a little lost in the shuffle. I think it can take us longer to stand out purposefully because sometimes we feel like we stand out just for being female. If you start to focus on your brand, however, I think this becomes less of an issue. If you aren’t focused on it, most other people won’t be either.
When things aren’t going well or I feel like I’ve lost my voice, I revisit some of my branding exercises to remind myself of what makes me unique and what I bring to the table, and this makes it easier to find my voice. It all comes together if I make sure I am living authentically.
Stacey Felzer is a sales and marketing professional with over 15 years of experience in manufacturing and wholesale distribution. She presents regularly on personal branding and the importance of finding your voice and being authentic.