Image is everything. You can be the very best at what you do, but if you're perceived the wrong way, it can undermine your professionalism and ability to be taken seriously. How you present yourself plays a critical role in creating a positive first impression on customers and colleagues, and it's also what will help you stand out in a competitive marketplace. Now that the new year has arrived, what better time to assess your own professional identity? Whether you need to overhaul your current image or just perform some fine-tuning, here are some key steps to refresh your personal brand and distinguish yourself as a professional.
If you work independently, it goes without saying that you need to brand yourself, but what if you work for an organization that handles its own marketing? You guessed it: You still need a personal brand. Your company or organization is representing just that — a company. While you are a representative for them, an organization lacks the human element that you can offer. That's why branding yourself is so important: It gives customers a name and a face to connect to, someone with a story, which is so critical to developing the emotional connection that leads to lifetime customers.
Define yourself. This is the foundation upon which everything else is built. What do you want to be known for? What is your area of expertise? Why do you do what you do? Summarize this into a concise brand statement. In one to two sentences, define how you want people to describe you when they think of you. For example: John Smith helps homebuyers in the northern Chicago suburbs find classic homes in walkable neighborhoods using his extensive knowledge, experience, and passion for vintage real estate. This may require a bit of introspection and self-awareness of your values, strengths, and overall objective as a professional.
Create a presence. Once you've defined your ideal reputation, you need concrete evidence to show that what you say about yourself is true. Reinforce your rep by producing and distributing consistent, relevant, value-added content to your audience — whether that's through social media, an email newsletter, or a blog. At a minimum, be sure you're sharing relevant information from subject-matter experts and industry thought leaders on a regular basis. But if you can manage it, you'll gain even more recognition if you distribute branded content that's coming directly from you. If you need help with this, consider hiring a writer or a content marketing agency. In addition, make sure you have plenty of online reviews, which is essential to adding credibility to your image..
Make it personal. Use the content you share to engage with prospects, clients, and business partners. This is how you cultivate relationships and help people get to know YOU. It gives you the opportunity to infuse that human, relational element into your brand. If you respond to comments on blogs and social posts, it creates an instant connection and makes you seem more approachable.
Revamp "your look." Your outward image is a key factor in how people perceive and respond to you, and will help drive the success of the above efforts. Is it time for a new logo or headshot? What about a wardrobe or hairstyle overhaul? Create a look and feel that complements the personality you want to be known for, then apply it everywhere: your website, social pages, business cards, email signature. Work with a design agency, stylist, or personal coach to define and execute the look and feel that best conveys your brand identity.
Be yourself. Above all else, authenticity is most important. Being authentic builds trust, and trust allows you to develop lasting relationships that will keep your business thriving. Don't try to be someone you're not; people will see through it. Be real, let your strengths shine through, and stand by your values. Doing so speaks volumes about your character, and, ultimately, it's what will make people want to do business with you.
Taking the time to update your personal brand is well worth the effort. It enables you to control your own narrative and ensure others perceive you the way you want to be perceived. And as an added bonus, your new-and-improved brand will provide you with a confidence boost to help you perform at your best and feel well-equipped to conquer your goals.