10 April 2015 By Northern Lights
Apologies if some of the links in this blog do not work, this blog has been transferred to the Next-Up website from our old company Northern Lights PR.
I have spent the last two years listening to women talking about their career aspirations, the barriers they face and the help they need to be recognised and win those board positions.
One of the key things that has emerged is that few women are good at packaging themselves – so that others know what their expertise is and think of them for speaking engagements, board positions and promotions. These days this is called ‘personal branding’.
We’ve been helping a lot of women – and men too – to write their LinkedIn profiles and position themselves as thought leaders. But before you can do any of this, you have to be clear about your personal expertise and value: your brand.
So here I share how we help leaders to do this. And I want to give great thanks to five women who particularly shaped our thinking: Vania Henry and Lubna Qassim in the UAE (who hosted a lunch in Dubai for us – read more here); Jan Fletcher OBE, Elizabeth Jackson and Jane Hustwit in the UK.
What are you the ‘go to’ expert on?
What is your specific expertise and where do you add value? What are you the ‘go to’ person for in your organisation?
You probably want to ask others how they see you – colleagues, your boss, charities you work in. Or ask someone else to do this for an objective and independent view (we often do this when we work with directors).
What you aren’t looking for (which most people start off with) are things like ‘fun, bubbly’, ‘great with people’. When we did this exercise with lunch in Dubai, they started out by saying ‘great mother’ or ‘great wife’. You may be all these but they don’t differentiate you and are unlikely to win you a promotion or board position.
Things that are more likely to be helpful to your career or for your business are really niche areas such as ‘sustainable energy’, ‘mergers and acquisitions’ or ‘social media’. But even with these, they are still very broad. The more niche you become, the more you create a brand with real value and become a ‘go to’ person.
Write down your personal goals
What are your next career steps? Write these down. Do you want promotion – to what? Do you want to move into a different industry sector? Become a speaker? Invited on to boards as a non-executive director?
You need a business plan for yourself, just as you would for your organisation. Whatever your aspiration, think through – what will others be looking for to appoint you? What expertise, skills, track record? Would you appoint yourself now or do you need to start getting this experience?
Match your expertise to your goals
Now look at what skills and track record you need to be known for, in order to achieve your aspirations. This can be hard. Anyone who is reasonably successful and senior has a wealth of experience. But the more niche you are, the more you can promote your expertise and will become known for that.
It was interesting that I first started looking at social media for business in the summer of 2008. I started talking about it, researching, attending conferences and talking about those, then wrote an eBook for business leaders. And within about a year I started getting emails from managing partners of law firms, directors of manufacturing businesses and academics on the lines of ‘I saw this and thought of you’ – with articles on social media. I was amazed how quickly I had built a brand in a very new field.
And there is a lesson for us all here. If your brand is around aspects of the future – rather than the past – this will help you when you come to promote your expertise. You will be seen as innovative and fresh and appealing as a speaker and for new areas in a business.
When it comes to board positions, the opposite may play out. Virginia Bottomley, chair of Odgers Berndston, gave a talk a few years ago about how women should position themselves for non-exec roles. She said to analyse the roles on a board – audit committee, noms committee, mergers and acquisitions activity, international growth strategy etc – and then ask, where do you add value? It is hard for outsiders to remember that FTSE boards spend most of their time on governance – so you might be a great innovator or sales person, but there is unlikely to be a role for you there.
I recently asked a fellow board member what they thought I brought to the boardroom and the answer surprised me ‘Immediacy. And always being concerned about the customer.” Immediacy is down to being an entrepreneur; we don’t see the same time barriers that corporates do. But honestly, I don’t think this would sell me to another board at another time! However, the customer perspective probably has more value and of course comes from my communications focus.
Your personal brand should change over time
So to sum up, your personal brand should reflect your strengths and support your career aspirations. You need to check your brand and ensure it is all still working for you on a regular basis – probably annually.
Promote your brand
The quickest way to promote your brand is on social media. LinkedIn has to be your first port of call – and think about the keywords you use in your professional headline and in the Summary. Make sure your profiles on Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and on your company website are all consistent and portray the brand you want. Then make sure that your personal brand activities on social media are all consistent.
Finally, the best way to build your personal brand is to become a thought leader – and blogging should be at the heart of that. But promoting your brand is for another blog, another day!