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Personal Brand for Business

The conversation about personal branding often gravitates towards content marketing and social selling as that is currently fashionable, but generating business and converting your personal brand into paid opportunities (like jobs or consulting work) has far more to it. You need to develop your brand, distribute through a method like social selling, then you'll have to meet people in person to shape and win the opportunity. So I want to look at this process end to end. How do you apply brand, comms, marketing and sales at a personal level to get the job of your dreams or the consulting project that excites you?

Personal brand and business generation in professional services

Each professional is responsible for their own book of work and will be asked to leave the firm if they can’t generate one. There are standard processes that can be followed. Today it is essential to build a personal brand, then use personal content marketing to develop your image. Then you can turn to sales techniques like pipeline management, relationship marketing, client account management, anticipating buying regret, negotiation and sales techniques to turn the brand into business. Most personal sales are generated through repeat business and referrals based on excellent work (trust-based). This means that marketing is often about making sure that the professional’s reputation is known in the market.

Professionals who embrace sales and marketing skills often become rainmakers and will lead practices, but they tend to be naturals and don’t like explaining themselves. Building trust is essential for the professional (Maister et al, 2001) and the “trusted advisor” is still the holy grail of professional status. It’s important to know that the last decade has seen a rise in buying departments, but the individual relationship with the buying decision maker is still key.

Increasingly, the professional must create content online that helps the decision maker diagnose the problem themselves and then reach out to professionals. This is where social selling comes in. Finding influencers who are loyal customers is very helpful.

 

Importance of personal brand: Performance, Image and Exposure (PIE)

Although this book Empowering Yourself, The Organizational Game Revealed was published over 20 years ago in 1996 by Harvey Coleman, the research still holds true. Most people focus on their performance and hope that will speak for itself. But they also need to construct a consistent image and then get that image out to their market (could be employers or potential clients). The exposure part of this graph (60%) is going to draw on marketing techniques, digital marketing channels like LinkedIn, but also in the art of conversation and networking.

Remember that performance is often dependent on other people and your ability to influence them, so image and exposure actually play into your performance. If you are truly interested in performing well, then you will need to take care of image and exposure.

A note on introverts and extroverts: I am an introvert. About 20% of the population are introverts. I know that extroverts often don't understand how hard networking and the sales process is for we introverts (my husband is an extrovert and excels at networking). It's a bit overwhelming, there is a lot to think about all at once, we hate small talk, big groups of people make us skittish with overload. There is a way around this. Seek to inform and educate, rather than promote - it helps you avoid small talk, know what to say, and feel useful to others. Use digital tools like LinkedIn so you have more time to consider your responses and you can move straight to deeper conversations in person. Do your networking one-on-one (introverts often excel in this context) and focus on quality in relationships, not the quantity of them. This way you can take care of image and exposure while keeping your personal brand authentic, which is hugely important.

 

Design your personal brand

When creating a personal brand there are several steps:

  1. Understand how you are already seen: Competent, reliable, creative etc
  2. Understand where you want to go: Technical, creative, trusted advisor etc
  3. Identify the markers of where you want to go: Creative people are often seen as having visual aesthetic and as creative problem solvers (these are the ones I always get when I run this workshop with groups) - perception is the reality.
  4. Produce those markers at every opportunity: If you want to be seen as creative then you had better have beautiful slides, you will want a memorable photograph, you will want to consider artistic jewellery, you will want to have ideas up your sleeve for every meeting, you will need to highlight what's new or different in your work, creative people seek inspiration from lots of sources so let people into that process. In this post, I go into distributing creativity markers in some depth.
  5. Distribute those markers to the wider world: Through LinkedIn articles or blog posts, status updates that come from many sources, speak up at team meetings with your ideas, talk about what you are working on and problems you have tackled, offer to share your knowledge, experience and advice with friends.


Becoming a Trusted Advisor

Trust is an important personal brand marker to project in professional services in particular, the "trusted advisor" (Maister, 2003) is still the pinnacle of status.

Dr Amy Cuddy’s work on first impressions indicates that 90% of your first impression is a mixture of your competence (can you do what you say you can?) and your trustworthiness (do you have good intentions towards me?). I have written a post about how to project Trust and Competence, both important in the "trusted advisor" status, through your LinkedIn profile.

Make sure that you put out trust and competency markers at every opportunity. You can shape them to the context. I put "Technical" at the front of posts to project competency, for example, and saying "I'm not the best person for this work, but here is someone who can help" is very powerful for trust building.

 

Social selling as an personal brand exposure strategy

Social selling gets all the attention, perhaps unfairly. LinkedIn is the main social selling tool, but any social media can be used. As with many things, how you use the tool is crucial.

 

Social selling is when salespeople use social media to interact directly with their prospects. Salespeople will provide value by answering prospect questions and offering thoughtful content until the prospect is ready to buy.

Hubspot

 

The trick here is to put out content and answer questions on issues that touch on your personal brand values and markers. This will attract prospects interested in your material. They will interact with your posts through "likes" or "comments". Then you can add them as a connection and start a conversation through instant message.

You can find issues and questions by attending events in your field (you can easily put out a "my key takeaways" post) and joining active discussion groups to see what is troubling people. Identify issues you faced in your work and write up your problem-solving experience as a case study (remember to respect confidentiality by removing identifying material as appropriate).

Seek to inform and educate, not promote. Your goal is to attract people by adding value.

Once you get interaction, think about applying the below sales conversation techniques to invite those who want to into a deeper conversation with you. This is where "exposure" tips into one-on-one meetings and you turn your brand into a specific opportunity. You may want to use open questions via comments and LinkedIn messenger, as well as giving people tips on request via LinkedIn message. When an opportunity comes up, invite the person to a coffee or for a meeting at an event you are both attending. The main output of a successful social selling process is meetings. This lines up with the "pre-sales" area below.

 

Using sales ideas to convert your personal brand

Now you are presented with a number of job opportunities or work opportunities. How are you going to actually shape them into something everyone wants to actually buy. I've described this using formal language, but rest assured that you can turn the dial up or down on this with varying levels of formality and informality. Be aware of the process and activities that line up and do one or lots at each level depending on your needs.

Sales process

The sales process involves targeting prospects, pre-sales, proposal and post-sales. I often think of this more simply in terms of Before, During and After, which makes it easy to translate into lots of different contexts.

  1. Prospecting/ Target: Is the process of finding people who may want to do business with you, or give you a job. These are simply people at events or on social media who seem interested in what you do and have perhaps spoken about specific relevant issues.
  2. Pre-sales/ Before: is about connecting to your prospects, sending out content that they respond to, dealing with their questions and developing a relationship. This lines up nicely with the distribution or exposure part of the personal branding process, one flows into the other, but the sales mindset is perhaps more focused on the business goal. Social selling on LinkedIn is a very user-friendly way of taking care of this part of the pipeline.
  3. Proposal/ During: Is about the act of agreeing to do business. You shape a specific offering and the client agrees, usually after a negotiation process. This is likely to happen at a coffee meeting. It might take several "getting to know you" coffees to get to this stage. At the end of the process, you will need to document something. I love back-of-the-napkin explainers to show how I think (I use my tablet and a computer pen) and I can easily save these as photos and share them after.
  4. Post-sales/ After: Is about dealing with anticipated buyers remorse and ensuring that fee collection is smooth and delights the client as much as possible. I sometimes get small questions from previous clients through LinkedIn messaging and email, if they're small and easy, then respond to them. Invite the person to another conversation if there may be something bigger there to resolve. I have successfully cross-sold for partners this way from an employment regulations map to a data privacy regulations map for a specific client.

Social selling is about gathering prospects and drifts into presales (or before activity), but the actual proposal and work will usually happen offline. Post-sales activities such as buyer remorse management and collecting fees, are also most likely to happen by email and not on social.

Sales ideas that help

Have a process, focus on relationship development and service quality, and use techniques that support that.

  1. Pipeline management: Is just the management of people and companies through the above process. There are tools that help, free and paid, that help you keep track. Some people just use Excel Spreadsheets. I like ProsperWorks/Copper. Some tools link up with your direct mail system. It basically helps to manage your before, during and after process.
  2. Relationship marketing: This is focused on customer retention and satisfaction rather than sales transactions. Actors-Activities-Resources (AAR) model is useful for mapping relationships and creating deeper connections, like shared resources. If you're running a professional services business, then this is somewhere you can get some support from a professional marketer to ensure it is thorough enough. If it's just you, then you can just use it as a light-touch lens to give you a new way of looking at your network so that it produces better opportunities for you.
  3. Client account management: This is about having someone focused on pleasing one client, it is the mechanism for delivering on relationship marketing consistently. It is a good way to seek cross-selling opportunities and to ensure that the client is satisfied.
  4. Anticipating buying remorse: Professional services can be priced highly, but most clients are ok with that if they feel they are getting value for money. Client service is a large part of making them feel they are getting that value. Anticipate where they may get sticking points and prepare your response.
  5. Negotiation and sales techniques: This is a big area in itself and there are many books written on it. Mostly it's about trying to find a win-win and approaching the deal with a collaborative rather than conflicting mindset.

Sales conversation

Drawing from Young (2005), here are some simple sales conversation techniques you can draw from. You can prepare in advance for these items by developing talking points around open-ended questions, identifying possible objections, and being clear on your bottom line:

  1. Ask for business: I find this one hard myself, it is a challenge for me to create the barrier when I see troubles I can solve.
  2. Overcoming objections: Ask buyers to share any reasons that they can not continue and deal with each objection head-on. This needs to be done in a non-aggressive way if you don't want them to feel trapped. Remember that people decide to buy or not buy as much based on how they feel as whether the solution objectively solves their problem.
  3. Open-ended questions: This is the most practised technique in the professional services industry. It is about asking a series of open questions to get closer and closer to the buyers need, it is very close to the consultative selling technique. Try this one on social media as part of a social selling strategy when you are trying to shift a prospect from general engagement to a specific relationship and one-on-one conversation.
  4. Exaggeration to the absurd: Here the seller takes one objection and exaggerates it to the point of ridiculousness to minimise it in the buyer's eyes.
  5. The "assumed" close: If the buyer's body language or written language suggests they are comfortable with suggestions, then the seller can go ahead and talk about next steps as if the sale is agreed. It may be that if the client is asked for the business too early that barriers will be raised in the client's mind.
  6. The "go-away": If the seller is convinced that the offer matches the needs the buyer has, but the buyer tries to negotiate on price, then the seller can suggest that they not go ahead. This can cause the buyer to recommit to the deal.

So you've got a clear brand and you're putting out markers everywhere, this has turned into some job or work opportunities and you've had the conversation armed with a few sales tactics.

 

Examples: What does this end-to-end process look like?

So you want to use this to get a good job?

  1. Understand the job you want, the skills you need to project, and the relevant markers
  2. Start writing relevant articles and posts on LinkedIn
  3. Make sure you connect with potential hiring managers and HR professionals at companies that appeal to you through LinkedIn
  4. Join events where you might meet the right people, connect to them, and share lessons from the ground through LinkedIn to show that you are networked
  5. Engage with people through LinkedIn instant message and comments and invite them to a second coffee
  6. Remember that you are interviewing the employer as much as they are interviewing you - go with a clear idea of your bottom line and seek a win-win
  7. Bring up points that will help to manage expectations on both sides - Do they have formal diversity programmes? Can you speak to a current employee on the team? Can you see a copy of their employee handbook?
  8. Manage job opportunities in a formal pipeline
  9. When you get the job, make sure that you follow up with previous interviewers to let them know and that you keep them in your network
  10. Be prepared to walk away if the job is not right
  11. Remember to put out a mix of trust, competence and your personal brand value markers in each context and at each touchpoint

So you want to consult on a project?

  1. Understand the type of work you want, the skills you need to project, and the relevant markers
  2. Start writing relevant articles and posts on LinkedIn
  3. Make sure you connect with potential buying decision makers at companies that appeal to you and journalists in fields that you specialise in through LinkedIn
  4. Join events where you might meet the right people, connect to them, and share lessons from the ground through LinkedIn to show that you are networked
  5. Engage with people through LinkedIn instant message and comments and invite them to a second coffee, build trust and a sense of cultural fit during these coffees.
  6. Remember that you are interviewing the client as much as they are interviewing you - go with a clear idea of your bottom line and seek a win-win
  7. Bring up points that will help to manage expectations on both sides - Do they have a clear idea of the problem? Do they have the infrastructure in place for you to succeed? What does success look like for them?
  8. Manage project opportunities in a formal pipeline
  9. When you get the work, make sure that you follow up with all other decision-makers at the company to let them know and that you keep them in your network
  10. Be prepared to walk away if the matter is not right
  11. Remember to put out a mix of trust, competence and your personal brand value markers in each context and at each touchpoint

They look pretty similar because they both use the same process. It is this process that will empower you to go after opportunities of interest to you.

Personal brand signal vs noise

There is a lot of material out there, a lot of noise. People are generating content more than ever. You have some time to experiment and grow your muscle before people start noticing you, as the noise provides cover. This is a benefit as you can just get started and learn as you go, but also means that you need to play the long-term game and expect it to take a year or more before your personal brand becomes a signal and is something you can convert into jobs and work etc.

Try to do at least one thing in every category so you get familiar with the process, so you don't lose opportunities, and then build up from there. Every project is an opportunity to introduce something new. Some people take more time than others, but just seek to move the needle and you'll grow before you know it.

Bottom line: Understand how you want to be seen and the relevant markers, try to include them at every opportunity, create content online, connect to prospective hiring managers and buying decision makers, have a process so everyone has a quality interaction with you.

Get help if you need it.

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