When we think of a “personal brand,” we think of an identity based on our job, our accomplishments, and the reputation we have created. This concept was OK in an earlier, less overwhelming time. But not today.
Your personal brand is no longer a sure way to get noticed in a world where everyone seems to think they have a brand. It is more and more difficult to rise above the noise in business today, and to be noticed, discovered, and heard. This is not news, but older workers are particularly at risk. We are fighting against ageism and outdated perceptions about who we are, what we’re capable of, and where we fit in today’s and tomorrow’s economy. This is why we need to update and upgrade our branding to a deeper, more professional brand.
Your professional brand is not simply the sum total of your accomplishments. It is what you stand for and how you make an impact on your business and the people you work with. It should reflect and reference all of who you are.
You need your professional brand to convey a more comprehensive and more compelling identity that can connect you more personally and more deeply with other professionals in your industry and beyond, and do it faster and more effectively.
A well-defined professional brand acts as a beacon. It cuts through questions and confusion about who you are and what you do. It creates a shorthand that can help turn new contacts into supporters, allies, and colleagues.
Why It’s Time to Upgrade Ourselves
As we get older, more is expected of us. I believe that we need to step up a level if we’re going to stay in the workforce. We’re supposed to have things figured out by this time. It’s time to use our wisdom, life skills, business experience, and emotional intelligence to do more.
Don’t hold on to the past if it is no longer serving you. You don’t have time. Be more decisive and more pro-active about what you stand for and where you’re going.
Following are some of the hallmarks and behaviors associated with a successful professional brand. These are all, in one way or another, indicators of the maturity and leadership that you’ve attained as an older worker.
If you’re going to get hired, sign clients, or secure investors, you’re going to want to consider embodying these qualities to secure your reputation and inspire your relationships.
Be transparent. You have nothing to hide. You’ve earned the ability (and the right) to just be yourself. One way or another, it has worked for you and gotten you to the place you’re at. So stand tall in who you are.
Yes, it’s your professional brand. But be personal. Don’t be afraid to share your experiences, including the successes and the failures. Younger people can be intimidated by you because you’re older, you’ve done a lot, and they might think you’re judging them. People want to know you and how you got to where you are.
Be humble. Adopt an “attitude of gratitude” for the opportunities, setbacks, and lessons that have led you to the present. Use every opportunity to meet or connect with someone as an opportunity to be of service. Give of your wisdom and solve problems – not because you’re so special, but because it’s actually the easy (and the right) thing to do.
Be open. One of your biggest brand and reputation builders is your willingness to grow and to learn new things. Defy the ageists who peg older people as stubborn and set in their ways. Embrace the awe and wonder of innovation and imagination. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone about how smart or sophisticated you are. Bring your “beginner’s mind” to every problem or opportunity.
Be vulnerable. In vulnerability there is perfect strength. Don’t be afraid to wear your heart on your sleeve. The more accomplished and expert you are, the more willing you can be to share your fears, your inner demons, and the areas of your life you’re still working on and struggling with. It will bring you closer to the people you’re working with. And they will be more loyal and supportive as a result.
Be human. Go ahead. Make mistakes. Once again, you’ve earned the right to be fallible (just like everyone else). What a stellar example you set by screwing up every now and again, despite having supposedly figured it all out. It’s a sign of true leadership when you give people the chance to see you make a bad decision, mess something up, say the wrong thing, and then learn and set it right.
Stress quality vs quantity. Don’t worry about the amount of work you do, or how much you deliver. Your value at this age is based on your insight. It’s better to think more deeply about a problem and come up with the best-reasoned solution. This is what your age and experience enable you to do. You’re more likely to dazzle them with one detailed approach they would never have thought of, than to deliver a laundry list of options.
Build good professional habits. This is particularly important for those of us who don’t have offices to go to anymore. No one is docking us for showing up late. More of us will be working as consultants and freelancers as we age. If we’ve successfully figured out our unique business niche, this is good news because it gives us tremendous lifestyle flexibility.
But to navigate this situation successfully, we have to manage our time, our tasks, our priorities, and our communication. And we have to do it on our own.
Fortunately, software and business process have kept up with the pace and complexity of work, so search for solutions that map to your business and lifestyle needs.
Honor your commitments. This may sound like a no-brainer, but it always surprises me how many people miss meetings, don’t respond to emails, and just seem to forget about what they’ve agreed to do with or for you. This is a sure-fire way to lose clients, lose friends, and tank your professional brand.
Define a clear Mission and set your goals. You are your own CEO. Even if you are working for someone else, the expectation is that you are going to know what you’re doing, and have a self-motivated sense of mission and purpose.
You’re in command and on your path. that’s why they hired you, retained you, or invested in you. You know what needs to be done.
Review your goals regularly. Peter Drucker’s famous quote applies here:
“What gets measured gets managed.”
Even though you know what you’re doing, it’s a more complex world with more moving parts and a faster rate of change. This is especially true if you’ve got a team to manage. But even if it’s just you, take the time every week if you can to monitor your progress, update priorities, and recognize the people you work with.
Question everything. Growing out of your regular review, you can’t afford to be complacent. Make sure you’re putting each day to good use. As we get older, each one is increasingly important.
Be resilient. Be prepared and expect bumps in the road. By running the numbers or mapping different scenarios, you’ll be better able to weather the storms and stay on course. This is a great use for the Intention Journal that I recommend as a cornerstone practice. Journaling lets you workshop different approaches to plan for uncertainty. And then if you find yourself in a period of uncertainty, the journal helps you journey through it.
Take calculated risks. Once again, there are fewer days ahead than behind you. Honor your ambition. When an attractive but uncertain opportunity comes up, is there a way to mitigate or eliminate some of the risks? Down the line, you don’t want to regret having missed the opportunity.
Be in integrity. Be your best self. You’ve learned so much by this time, including the wrong way to do things. You’ve learned how to treat people with respect. Life is too short to cut corners. Be true to your word. Remember to think about the consequences of your statements and your actions.
Live in acceptance. You’ve met many different kinds of people over the course of your life and career. You know that each person is on their own journey, and is making their own level of contribution. If they’ve crossed your path, it’s probably for a reason. And the reason may be that you are there to help them learn something, or to help them take their next step. You don’t have to judge their process.
Take responsibility. Be the first person to step forward, to volunteer, and to own your mistake. Shine in the spotlight of your “response-ability.” This is where you can set a tremendous example to others. Remember to be humble. Leadership is not about you. It’s about the people you are here to support, and the clarity of your purpose and your vision can inspire and motivate them.
Define & Express Your Voice
You have a point of view about your business. Now is the best time to share it and give others the benefit of your insight and experience. How can you be a guide, a mentor, or an advocate in your field? What direction should your business take? What best practices do you favor to move things in the right direction, or to help manage people and processes?
Who agrees or disagrees with you? Look for opportunities for dialog and interaction with your peers and your network. A healthy give-and-take helps build consensus, drive progress, and build your professional brand. Become known for your willingness to encourage and facilitate constructive conversations.
These are some of the areas where you have an opportunity to spread the word and build your brand.
Find Your Channels
One of the most important ways of building and extending your brand and your voice is through the internet. Think of social media platforms as megaphones to amplify the reach of your message. Using them can expose more people to your POV and to your conversations with others.
For the most part, your business dialogue will be on LinkedIn, but other platforms including Facebook, Quora, Reddit, or Instagram may also be appropriate. Some are more marketing-oriented, but marketing your products or services can also be done in an educational way.
Be careful not to mix business and personal topics. Separate your personal concerns and causes from your business engagement. You could, for example, promote your work with animal rescue on your Facebook account, and related Facebook groups. Reserve LinkedIn solely for your business opinions.
Don’t feel you have to blanket these platforms with your views. Take a very measured and narrow approach. Focus only on a few relevant topics.
Content Curation and Mentoring
One of the best ways to interact on these platforms is through curating other content. When you read a published article that relates to your business, and expresses (or disagrees with) your views, share it with an accompanying note. Don’t just share the article by itself without any explanation. Always use the comment section to provide the context for why the article is important to you, and how it relates to your voice and your brand.
If you are sufficiently motivated and have a lot to say, consider starting your own blog on your own website or on a blogging platform like Medium. It is relatively easy to do, and there are plenty of videos and other blogs with tips and instructions on how to start a blogging practice.
Regardless of how broadly you share your voice and your opinions, sooner or later, you will likely attract people who seek you out for your guidance and mentoring. This is a fantastic way to build your network and your brand.
Remember that successful mentoring is not about “teaching” someone or telling them how to do something. It’s about listening to them, asking pointed and supportive questions, and helping them to figure it out for themselves.
Learn to Say “No”
Don’t over-commit. It may be tempting to try to answer everyone or spend time getting involved in other people’s projects. You may think that your participation could pay off in some way down the line. You could be right. Taking a little risk and making a small time investment is OK if it’s something you believe in.
But be careful. Make sure that you are giving your time to a person or a cause who is responsible, who checks out, and where you’re getting something in return. It could be something as simple as a positive experience or a case study you can reference in your work. But it has to be a win-win.
Conclusion: Be a Thought Leader
Be a cheerleader for your colleagues, your company, and your industry. Look for every opportunity (within reason!) to support, praise, and introduce your business friends and connections. Always make it contextual and as insightful as possible. If you connect people for the right reasons and their business grows as a result, your brand becomes enhanced.
Stick to your main rant. Don’t let yourself get pulled off-topic. Whether responding to a news headline or an acute or meaningful personal experience, think before you leap. Is this really advancing your voice and your brand?
Stay above the fray. Don’t get drawn into conversations with victims, “half-empty” attitudes, or others who are looking for you to confirm their cynicism and negativity. Consider reframing this kind of negativity by offering a positive or productive take on the situation.
Respond to every inquiry. You may have to start carving out a daily check-in if you get really popular on social media, or if your blog starts receiving lots of inquiries or comments to your posts. Be grateful that what you’re saying is prompting people to contact you. You’re being thought-provoking and people are seeing you as an authority.
The quality of your response is important. Your willingness to take people seriously and give them some considered time is a huge brand-builder. One of those people you help may turn around and introduce you someone at their company who offers you a consulting gig. You never know…
So be as generous as you can be. Applying the legendary 80/20 rule, plan to spend 80% of your brand-building time connecting with and supporting other people. You’ll receive valuable connections, exposure, invitations, and other benefits from the 20% of return interactions you get. This is more than enough to make the 80% worthwhile.
Collaboration is the New Competition
Embrace your competition. This is another aspect of being generous. Don’t feel antagonistic or competitive with others in your field who are doing the same thing you are. If anything, build closer relationships with them than with anyone else.
These are the people who will recommend you when they’re not available to take a gig. They will be the first to promote you and identify you among other experts in their space. They may even be willing to write a recommendation for you on LinkedIn.
In a closed business ecosystem, your competitors are – perhaps ironically – your best colleagues. You all share a vested interest in growing the ecosystem by promoting best practices, delivering effective solutions, and by responding successfully to changing conditions. Your success only amplifies their value, so you should want the same for them.
Let your professional brand stand for your expansive vision, generosity, and ability to lead through your compassion, your vision and your collaboration.