I signed off my last column – 4 Steps to Create an Effective Personal Business Development Plan – by saying that although I’d extolled the virtues of creating a personal BD plan, the part that plan will play will be largely external. It will help you increase your profile in your local area and/or chosen industry sectors. It will also provide a useful reminder to make sure you are doing what you need to do in order to stay visible to your clients, your professional contacts and your targets so you are best positioned for new opportunities.
However, external profile is only one side of the marketing coin.
If your career is going to progress at the rate you want it to, you also need to make sure you are visible internally and visible for all the right reasons. To do that you need to create and maintain a personal brand that generates goodwill and positive PR from your partners, your colleagues and the other members of staff you rely on.
What is personal branding?
The text book (OK, Wikipedia) answer is that personal branding is “the practice of people marketing themselves and their careers as brands.”
But that’s just marketing-speak. In plain English it means you need to establish the perception of you that you want your colleagues to have of you. It’s about creating an impression so that the people you work with (and the people overseeing your career) think about you in a positive way and, by extension, will view working with you in a positive way, most particularly in respect to the types of work you want to do and the types of clients you want to do that work for.
How do you build a personal brand?
As with almost everything in marketing and business development there is a very clear route map to follow when it comes to building a personal brand. During the course of our work with lawyers, we’ve helped many create/launch/establish a personal brand and, as a result, have distilled what we’ve learned into the following 5 step model:
1 Set your goals
This basically boils down to answering one question:
What do you want to be known for?
Part of the answer will be legal (i.e. what type of work do you do, what type of clients do you tend to work with and which sectors/geographies do you tend to work within?) However, you also need to think about the emotional response your name engenders as well as the technical one. Are you seen as/do you want to be seen as being:
– Down to earth and plain-speaking?
– Academically/technically brilliant?
– Warm and friendly?
– Instantly accessible?
– Ready to roll your sleeves up?
– Helpful and always willing to take on something new?
– Ready to share an opinion?
– Confident and assured?
I’m fully aware some of those words will jar with you while some will cause you to nod your head because they sum up exactly how you’d like to be thought of but the first rule of personal branding is never default to what you think people want to hear. The watchword for success is always authenticity.
There aren’t any hard and fast rules, there is no right and wrong answer (within reason) and your clients’ requirements will of course differ from practice area to practice area but the brand values you choose always have to be authentic to you. Moreover, you will need to display them consistently in person, in print and online to make sure they remain authentic to you.
2 Audit your written brand
Take some time to look at your online presence. Do your website and LinkedIn profiles clearly list all of the legal areas you want to be known for? Are there relevant client examples (and, better still, client testimonials) that back up your specialisms and your modus operandi?
Do your social media feeds clearly and regularly promote news and views from your sector or local area? For example if you are promoting an agricultural specialism but there’s no agricultural news within your updates, how credible are you going to be when a new farmer or rural business finds you?
And lastly are you using the right ‘voice’ in your blogs, articles and updates? If you are promoting yourself as straightforward, practical and as having an opinion, is your content written in a straightforward way, does it provide practical advice and does it actually include your opinion?
3 Audit your internal PR
Once you know how you want others to perceive you, try and find out if a) fits with your colleagues’ perception of you (or if it is a reasonable goal to work towards) and b) fits your colleagues view of what your clients want you to be.
I fully accept this is the most delicate part of the process as few people are really comfortable discussing themselves and even fewer are comfortable receiving constructive feedback. The only thing is it is an absolutely vital step and by far the most effective barometer when it comes to making sure you’re on the right track. The trick is finding the right people to help and the right people at a variety of levels.
With regards to talking to someone of a similar level, you should have someone within the fee earning community who you are comfortable talking to and whose opinion you value. Looking upwards, most firms will either have a staff partner or a BD partner who have the responsibility to help with this type of exercise. However if there is a partner you tend to work with (and prefer working with), that may be a better option.
But don’t forget to look externally. Many firms will have access to someone who helps out on a project basis like me and I’m always happy to give fee earners a steer on, for example, how I feel they have come over in departmental or sector meetings, in 1on1’s or at social or BD events. And if that doesn’t appeal, then you will probably have a family member or a friend who’s got more than enough experience to provide you with a suitably frank appraisal.
4 Establish a Personal Branding Strategy
Once you have your goals, know where you are and, therefore, what you have to do to get to where you want to be, you need to come up with the right tactics to get you there.
What do you need to get involved in? How do you need to act in meetings? How should you be participating in internal activities? What types of projects and initiatives should you be synonymous with? How can your personal objectives be blended in with the professional objectives set in your appraisal? What do you need to do in terms of content production, event organisation or social media?
And one mistake I see repeatedly is lawyers at every level confusing the need to promote their personal brand with promoting their personal brand all the time. There are few things as unattractive as talking about yourself all the time!
5 Review your strategy regularly
As with everything in business development, this isn’t a one-off exercise. After a few months come back to your notes and have a think about whether they are still completely relevant to your objectives, your position and your practice.
If you’ve not created the traction you wanted to internally you may need to tweak your plans and the vehicles you’re using. You may need to ask to join other BD initiatives, speak at more of the firm’s events, produce more content for your website or e-marketing or even organise your own events to engage clients and contacts.
You may also want to look at the options more closely associated with developing the firm itself (mentoring trainees, helping with trainee recruitment or working on operations initiatives) as well as on the traditional sales and marketing type BD activities.
Or if certain parts have gone particularly well, you may want to increase your focus on those activities and drop some of the less productive ones that eat up the limited time you have available for business development.
While I am sure all of this will make sense to you, as with many things in life it is taking the first step that sometimes prevents progress. You obviously know what you do and who you do it for and probably have a pretty good idea as to what you want to be known for but how do you put all that together and turn your ideas into an implementable strategy? Well, I’m happy to help you with that bit.
If you’d like to start work on your own personal brand, please email me and we can arrange a convenient time for an initial free 30 minute telephone consultation. I’ll also share our personal branding template to make it even easier …