Yesterday, I had the pleasure of participating in the inaugural New York City event for She Breaks the Law, a network of women leaders founded by Priya Lele, Christie Guimond and Nicky Leijtens. The group brings together women in the legal industry who are “breaking the mould and challenging the norm in the world of law. Our members come from a wide range of backgrounds and disciplines, from female founders of disruptive start-ups to general counsel to innovation leaders in traditional law firms. They all have one thing in common: they are leading the change in the way that legal services are delivered.” Over the past two months since the soft launch, the group has grown to over 1,000 members, and officially launched with their London event last week.
At the New York event, as in London, in addition to general networking, we had structured “networking circles” – ours focused on legal tech and how we use it, the power of networking in the legal industry, legal design, and personal branding. I had the opportunity to chair the personal branding sessions, and it led to some thoughtful and interesting conversations around the idea of what it really means to develop your personal brand.
Let’s talk a little bit about what your personal brand is, and isn’t, and what steps you can take to put yours together.
What your personal brand is NOT
One of the things that came up yesterday that was the fear that having a personal brand means that you need to be very self-promotional and do a lot more public speaking – and I’m here to tell you that that is very much NOT what personal branding is about (unless that’s part of who you are!).
The word “branding” often throws us off, but put simply, your personal brand is…YOU. It’s everything that you are, and everything that people believe you to be. That’s why we’ve often said here on Zen that everything you do is part of your “brand,” from what you wear, to how you answer your phone and emails to your interpersonal interactions, etc. All of those things combine to tell people who you are, both professionally and personally. If you tell everyone verbally that you’re a very conservative, traditional person, but you’re always wearing bright colors, you have visible tattoos, and you start your emails with “Hey!” you can see how you may be sending mixed messages about your personal brand.
What your personal brand IS
Your personal brand starts with the question: Who are you? When you’re developing this for your professional use, you want to consider this from your career perspective – who is it that you want to be perceived to be?
- Consider the words you want people to associate with you: problem-solver, analytical, thoughtful, etc.
- Where do you excel?
- What motivates you? What drains you?
- How do you want others to describe you?
If you’re struggling with any of the above, sit down with some colleagues or trusted friends, and ask them. In the first group yesterday, we had three women who worked at the same firm, and it was fascinating to watch them describe each other’s strengths in a way that each of them hadn’t recognized in themselves before. So you may not see certain things as assets or part of your brand, which your colleagues value in you.
Important in this process is also looking at these key characteristics: consistency and authenticity. When delivering on your brand, it’s essential to have both of these. As we described above, when you’re not consistent in the message you’re delivering, people lose trust because they don’t know who the real “you” is. Similarly, it’s much easier to be authentic when you simply are who you say you are. Having a personal brand isn’t about developing and delivering a fake persona – it’s about identifying the key pieces of who you are as a person, and continuing to deliver on them.
The next question you ask yourself is “What do you do?”
- What are your skills and credentials?
- What’s your superpower?
- What do you want to be known for?
And finally, how are you different to others?
- What makes you unique?
Your personal brand is your story – it highlights your strengths and communicates the unique attributes you bring to the table.
What do you do with a personal brand?
So, now I have a personal brand. What do I do with it?
Having a personal brand is similar to having a company brand – you can then use it to promote yourself (don’t worry, this isn’t where I advocate public speaking or tooting your own horn if that’s not your jam).
This is where I first advocate what I would do with any branding exercise, and that’s defining your audience – who do you interact with? Who do you WANT to interact with? We agreed during the second session we had yesterday that we often have slightly different brands depending on our audiences and their needs (adaptability may be a brand characteristic for some of us…). You want to identify the universe of each of those audiences:
- Clients and potential clients
- Networking connections
- Referral sources
Do you want to be seen in the same way by each of these audiences? Authenticity demands that the answer for this is mostly yes, but perhaps with a few small tweaks – you may be slightly tougher for your clients than with your networking connections for example, depending on the type of lawyer you are. But in general, you will stay true to yourself. Then, you identify where these audiences are – where do you interact with them? The answers may surprise you, because while of course, you have face to face interactions with most of these groups, you will likely also be interacting with them to various degrees as well on the phone, via email, through social media, maybe text messaging, etc. When you look at those messages/interactions, does that reflect the personal brand you believe you’re putting out into the world?
Tweaking your brand
We’ve all heard the phrase, “dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” This is about tweaking your personal brand – the idea is to get people thinking about you in the context of your next role. You can do this in other ways too. Let’s say, for example, that you want to practice in a niche area of law in addition to what you’re already doing. You would identify where the audience is that is interested in that area of law, and then you would start showing up there, and sharing your expertise – for example, you may start tweeting articles that other experts have written, while sprinkling in a few of your own. Connecting on LinkedIn to these experts, potential clients, journalists for those trade papers, and conference organizers who plan trade events. Updating your bio to reflect any relevant expertise. Contacting existing clients who may need this niche expertise to have lunch or visit their offices (at your cost) to identify how you may be able to assist them, and also to stay up to date on the latest pain points. Over time, everyone begins to associate you with this area of the law – not simply because you’re handling more matters in this area, but because you’re also talking about it, writing about it, sharing about it and consistently linked to it.
This can be implemented for brand attributes as well, such as leadership, being the go-to person, a problem-solver, etc. If there is something that you would like to be considered to be, start doing more of that, start sharing more of that, and add it to your repertoire, and before you know it, it will be an intrinsic part of your personal brand.
What does the idea of a “personal brand” mean to you?