Much has been written about how to build a personal brand — that is, how you want to be known to people or what you want to be known for. However, very few of these articles have focused on how to accomplish this task in a professional services firm.
That matters because professional services firms have some unique traits: They typically don’t have much in the way of traditional assets such as factories, patents, or inventory. The “assets” of a consulting, accounting, or law firm are the collective talents of its people — their accumulated knowledge, expertise, insights, and ideas. Since the company’s assets go up and down the elevators each day, executives can generate substantial value by enhancing the reputation (and hence the value) of their people. This is where personal branding comes in.
Your personal brand, in essence, is a summation of your professional capabilities and reputation. When talking to our professionals at Guidehouse about personal branding, for ease of understanding we sometimes use the words “brand” and “reputation” interchangeably. And they are inextricably linked. But just as you have a personal reputation grounded in personal characteristics — for example, being a strategic thinker, or meticulous, or a hothead — you should cultivate a professional reputation built around your professional capabilities, expertise, and experience.
If you understand the importance of a personal brand, then you will see the value in proactively working to cultivate it. You should actively build your personal brand over time rather than let it be something that is thrust upon you through your work experience. No matter the stage of your career, you can take three actions to support the development of your personal brand.
Become known for something
On a continual basis, individuals should focus on acquiring distinctive skills and knowledge. For example, you should strive to be the best at one thing on your team or within your office, then build on it. Become an expert in a topic, function, knowledge area, or a technology tool. Try to build your expertise around a skill that is portable across industries, such as data analytics, rather than simply building expertise in an industry sector. If you pursue the latter course, as your expertise deepens (and becomes more concentrated) over time you may find yourself “trapped” in a particular industry.
It’s critical to get out of your comfort zone: try different things, take on new challenges, or raise your hand for the daunting assignment that nobody else wants. By applying your acquired skills to different areas, you will develop a far richer understanding of where you excel and the impact you can have. Plus, you will have gained new experiences — for example, leading a cross-functional team or taking an international assignment — that can be leveraged later in your career.
Share what you have learned
Your skills and experience can be invaluable to others grappling with similar problems, so sharing your insights in a genuine, helpful way can establish your personal brand with a broader audience. Don’t share explicitly for the purpose of getting more business; do it because you are truly passionate about what you have learned. You might be surprised when people start to seek you out for that expertise. One note: social media, particularly LinkedIn, can be a great platform to extend your brand, but it also carries greater risk. Whatever you publish online will be permanent, so it pays to be thoughtful and careful about what and how you post.
The impact of a well-developed personal brand can be far-reaching. It can help employees elevate their profile, distinguish themselves from their colleagues, pursue the most interesting projects, and build a diverse set of marketable skills. It can also act as a homing beacon for people, both internally and externally, who need someone with specific knowledge and experience, as well as to attract and retain clients. And it can ensure that you — and more important, your career — don’t get lost in the shuffle.
In subsequent posts, I’ll be sharing tips and tricks on how to build your personal brand, including general best practices and recommendations, as well as how to use social media to amplify your brand.