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From Invisible to Iconic: The Power of Personal Brand Building

Published on May 13, 2024
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At Vista, we visit quite a few law firms for Needs Assessments. During our days on site, we meet with individual team members to dig deep into workflow, processes, culture, and areas ripe for improvement. We see firms of all shapes, sizes, geographic locations, and team makeup. Over the years, I’ve personally met so many incredible people who walk a bit trepidatiously into the conference room, unsure what to expect from consultants but hopeful for a chance to say their piece and see improvements on the horizon. I love them all for their honesty, their candor, and sometimes for the fact that I don’t have to work with them on a daily basis! Recently at a firm assessment, we met with a successful lawyer who has been at her craft for more than 40 years. She is close to retirement, has an incredible story and career, and she’s held firm to her true self. She walked confidently and gracefully into that conference room. Her statuesque presence filled the room, and as she elegantly sat down across from us, she said, “I have 30 minutes to give you. I fiercely protect my time and will be leaving at 4:30. I make a commitment to myself daily, and I don’t intend to break it.” She then spoke candidly and often heartbreakingly about her realities, stuck to her timeframe, and glided out of the conference room in a swoosh of poise and grandeur. And that, my friends, is when I found my hero.

Talk about someone with a strong personal brand! Her beliefs are reflected in her casework, in her commitment, in her convictions, and in how she speaks and carries herself. She knows who she is, she communicates it, and she fiercely protects it. She also does not compromise it. I strive to be so intentional about my own personal brand. I’m ahead of myself, though.

What is a personal brand?

Your personal brand is not just your reputation or your appearance. It’s a unique and nuanced combination of all your values, beliefs, skills, and the impression you make on others. It’s how you show up daily at work, at home, on social media, and at events. It’s how you treat and interact with every person you meet. So, how do you know it, cultivate it, and use it?

Define your personal brand

Who ARE you? Just like all businesses should have a vision to guide them, each of us should have a personal brand that helps us make decisions, but first, we need to define it. To do that, you need a good sense of self. Ask yourself:

  • What am I good at doing?
  • What skills do I possess?
  • Which specific meetings, tasks, or duties bring me the most joy in my day?
  • What values and beliefs do I strongly ascribe to?
  • If I was not present, what would I want others to say and think about me?
  • How do I want to make others feel?
  • What words would I want others to use to describe me?
  • What do I want to be most remembered for?
  • What am I willing to fight to protect?
  • What is most important to me?

It can be difficult, without much introspection and self-awareness, to answer all of these questions accurately and honestly. And, what we WANT to be true and how we WANT to be seen is not always in alignment with reality. It can be impactful to ask a friend, trusted colleague, or influential leader/mentor for help with this exercise. Some questions to ask them that could guide your personal brand development:

  • When you think of me, what words or phrases come to mind?
  • What are my strengths and unique talents?
  • What do you consider me the “go to” person for?
  • How would you describe me to a colleague of yours who does not know me?
  • If I wasn’t in the room, what would people say about me?
  • What do you know I would fight to protect?

This exercise may require thick skin, so take a deep breath. Consider how you will feel about the answers received. If one of your unshakeable beliefs is approachability but your colleagues describe you as intimidating and standoffish, a deep look inside is in order! If you want to be known for dependability, look for descriptions like, “I can always count on her.” If what you’re hearing is, “she’s smart but flakey”, then it’s time for some soul searching.

Once you hold that self-reflection mirror up and have time to digest and reflect, regroup and move forward with your own personal vision! It’s time to live out your brand.

More than words

The most effective way to develop your personal brand is simply to live it daily through your words and actions! There are many ways to do this:

Help Others – using your personal brand to lift others builds your network of allies and friends who will speak highly of you, even when you’re not around. Share knowledge freely. Recognize the strengths in others and tell them what you see. It may seem counterintuitive to build your brand by thinking of others, but putting good out usually begets good in.

Be Intentional – Don’t rush through projects and interactions. Think about how your email tone reinforces or undercuts who you are. Look for opportunities to improve your organization using your unique skill set. If you’re amazing at developing deep relationships, offer to be a liaison to service providers or clients. If your writing skills are phenomenal, offer to guest blog. Seize the chance to shine doing the things that make you happy!

Say yes to the right opportunities – it can be tempting to accept every opportunity that comes your way, but it’s not always the best approach. Recently, I was asked to speak at an event on a topic that wasn’t squarely in my wheelhouse. Could I have done it? Sure, but it didn’t align with my personal brand, so it was not the right opportunity. If you’re a truck accident attorney who wants more truck accident referrals, saying yes to a speaking engagement on contract law isn’t the right fit. It’s okay to be flattered, to ask for something more in line with your personal brand, and to say no if now is not the right time for that chance.

Speak about your passions – Raise your hand if you’re in my network and have heard me talk about diversity on the legal industry speaking circuit. Did your hair just blowback with the collective WHOOSH of hands going up? If you want to be known for something important to you, talk about it. Tell your network. Post about it. Make it so when that topic comes up, you’re the name people think of first.

Tell the world

Now that you’ve done the hard work of defining your brand and working daily to develop it within your organization and network, it’s time to shout it from the rooftops, or at least on social media and within your organization. This is not an overnight process, especially on platforms like LinkedIn. Regular content is key, and it takes time to develop your network and get into the rhythm of posting. Ensure your posts align with your brand, your passions, and your values. Doing so helps you gain visibility in your industry, with your colleagues, with recruiters and event organizers, and sometimes with lots of people who send you annoying and unsolicited sales messages!

You can also communicate your personal brand at networking events. The key to effective networking is to approach it like dating. It’s a two-way street. No one wants to hear about you nonstop! Ask about and celebrate others, and be prepped with a few things you’re eager to share about yourself, like recent work achievements, projects, or updates. Too, be sure your behavior reflects your personal brand at events as well. Maybe your personal brand is a belligerent, tipsy jerk? That’s not the case for most people, so be mindful of your behavior. You don’t have to be boring or stuffy—be you!

Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde

If you’re living authentically, you are not two separate people: work you and home you. It’s a lot easier to live out your personal brand if it’s who you are, no matter where you are. If you are polite, kind, and helpful at work but scream wildly at other people’s children on the soccer field, you may not be living authentically. If you are passionate about justice but regularly cut people off in traffic or cheat on your taxes, it’s time to take a closer look at your personal brand. Your brand is who you are, not who you are when people are watching.

I think about the attorney who made such a lasting impression on me all the time. When I approach the end of my career, I truly hope I can look back at the choices I made (ALL OF THEM, even the catastrophically bad ones from which I had to recover, regroup, and soul-search to get back to my brand) and know that I was building a brand that I’m proud to call mine.

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