Get to know your personal brand

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Who Am I?

There is a huge number of articles advising you to ‘know’ your brand, ‘develop’ your brand, and promote ‘your brand’. Regardless of where you are in your career (or which career – I’m starting my second!), being aware of how people perceive you, your strengths, and knowing your weaknesses is empowering.

But to go down a layer; if you are an entrepreneur, or pursuing a challenging career or job change, knowing your brand can build confidence, and will be there to remind yourself of how people see you when you have those ‘OMG can I do this…?’ moments. The ‘how to’ understand your brand is something I wanted to explore in practical terms; the guidance is to ask colleagues, friends, relatives, what their perception of you is, but where do you actually start? I thought I’d give it a go….

Although I’m a confident person, this exercise was done with trepidation and butterflies in my stomach, with my finger hovering over the mouse button ‘shall I, shan’t I click send…’, perhaps showing vulnerability – scared of what might come back?’ What will people think when they see my email, am I digging for compliments, don’t I have enough ‘real’ work to do, aren’t they busy enough, am I being self-indulgent? But, I figured it isn’t mandatory to respond so people can choose not to, and eventually I just got on with it.

However, it was evident within the first couple of hours that I was going to get so much more out of this exercise than simply understanding more about how people perceive me….

To Send or not to Send…

I started with people in my business, a selection of senior managers, peers/colleagues (some I’d know for 2-3 years, some I’d known for nearly 20), and some newcomers - as I figured they would give a view of the ‘current’ me, my first impression, as opposed to opinions that may have been built over several years. I also reached out to people whom I’d not always seen eye-to-eye with, intrigued – and nervous – as to whether they would: a) reply, b) say something quite mean! In my first batch I reached out to 16 people across the business.

I drafted 5 simple questions, asking about the image I put forward, what my operating principles are, what might they come to me for (where do they see my areas of expertise?), how might they describe me to someone else, and how they might describe my communication style? Although the questions, and rationale on the email was the same, I sent it individually to each person, personalising it in a small way for each one, so that it wasn’t just a generic mail shot, I’d attempted to connect with that person and called out why I valued their opinion.

I then hit SEND (16 times!) and crossed my fingers!

The Responses Come In

Within the first couple of hours I had 3 responses, firstly I was thanked for asking their opinion, they felt appreciated, and honoured that I held their opinion in high regard – this in itself was great. I had complimented the person whose opinion I sought – people like to be asked to provide help/assistance/opinion, it makes them feel valuable and respected - and who doesn’t want to feel that!

A more senior colleague responded ‘I asked a similar question about my own brand last year, maybe we could do this over coffee and you can give me feedback on my brand as well?’ – another great response, not only have I made that person feel good, they are also asking for my opinion on them.

It became apparent very quickly that although this exercise was about me – it wasn’t all about me. We are developing not only ourselves, but developing our relationship, encouraging honest (and possibly personal) dialogue that required building trust between us – this will be great for future collaborations and understanding each-others perspective during the course of business.

A senior but also new person to the business responded very quickly, really pleased that I’d sought their opinion given that we had spent very little time together. This person is very self motivated and had also previously given a talk about their career prior to joining the business, and I was curious to know more about their journey (what might I learn from it?), and this email exchange enabled me to ask to know more. The result, we agreed to have a coffee and chat further about where we are now, but also their journey. This is a win-win situation, not only am I getting feedback on myself, I can learn from someone else’s journey, I can provide insight into the business that this new person may not have previously been given (from a different perspective). I was able to promote my abilities and expertise, not just what I do ‘now’ but where I may be able to add value based on my experience and knowledge of the business and industry. The discipline this person works is in not one that I was close to, so I have potentially opened the door to learn more about this function. This was a dialogue that is not likely to have arisen under normal day-to-day business; we was in different functions, different levels, different offices, and our paths rarely cross – I saw this as a great opportunity to build connections, learn, and share.

I also had a least 2 people say ‘this is great, is it ok if I steal it?’? Of course it’s ok – it’s a compliment, and I was delighted to potentially help someone identify their brand, for them to get the insight and opportunity that I did.

Of course, not everyone responded, and that’s to be expected, people are busy. But, I was made redundant shortly after so at the time of me doing the exercise it probably wasn’t appropriate for everyone to respond. Given that I was made redundant, from my perspective my timing was great, it helped me understand myself better before I entered a life changing moment, and I had more confidence to move forward.

So, What Did I Learn?

As well as understanding more about my brand, by just ‘asking’ about my brand I believe I improved my brand, people could see that I was curious about their view of me, I was looking to develop myself, and I valued their input.

I also got the opportunity to develop relationships that I believe enhanced our professional relationships. I got the opportunity to give feedback on someone else’s brand, making me think about my perception of that person, how I judge them – how might I articulate my opinion, and give feedback that is honest and constructive, and what attributes might they have that I might like to develop further in myself?

It enabled me to build relationships with new people – someone who didn’t know me very well, share my abilities and expertise, explore how I could add value for them, so that they might come to me for something in the future, I raised my profile. Also, what I might learn from their experience and expertise, and could they be a possible mentor?

Asking people to think about me will hopefully make people reflect on their experiences of me, what they have observed, or my work that they have seen. This should remind people of my capabilities; they ‘forgot’ I used to do ‘x’, or was responsible for ‘y’, or have experience in ‘z’; so when they have something come up where I could add value – I will hopefully be front of mind as someone they can call on.

An opportunity to give back. Regardless of peoples feedback, positive or negative, the responses enabled me to thank them and call out some of their great qualities and how they inspire me. Yes, this could be seen as some unnecessary ego-stroking, but it’s not happening every day, and as long as it’s sincere then why not make someone else feel good about themselves? And, if people want to use my methodology so that they can identify and develop their own brand, I’m all for it.

Developed and nurtured my network. There is so much focus on developing your network, and we typically see this as our external network – not the people we see every day in the car park! External networking is extremely important, but so is an internal network. You never know when you might need someone internal to support you, vouch for you or your work, make introductions, and similarly what you might do for them. And you never know when your internal network may become your external network – it can happen sooner than you’re expecting!

In conclusion, it might seem a bit over indulgent to some, but research shows that most women unplay their achievements, rate themselves lower than they are, and generally don’t promote themselves, therefore anything that helps women to validate their self-worth, expertise and value is a positive thing!

Sonya Kimpton de Ville
CEO and Founder Grapvyn Ltd.