Think about the most influential companies and people out there. Who comes to mind? Coca-Cola? Walt Disney? Apple? They spring to mind because they have a brand that works. It sticks with people.
What is branding?
Source: Design Your Way
So, what is branding? Coca-Cola has their van, (Walt) Disney has Mickey Mouse, and Apple has its simplistic and innovative style. But your personal brand does not have to be a physical thing.
If you are a personal assistant, your personal brand could be that you are easily approachable and calm under pressure. Or, your personal brand could be that you are known for your knowledge about intelligent automation. You get the picture.
Having a personal brand is what makes people remember you and pick you. The best way to build your brand in the modern age is by online networking.
What is networking? Who belongs in my network?
Networking is the act of getting to know people from a similar professional background to you, who you can help, and who can help you.
Your network can consist of anyone from your current colleagues and old classmates, to any professionals you have met at conferences or meetings.
Ideally, you should be able to rely on your contacts in your network to comment, like, and share your online material to boost its coverage (and vice versa!). It is also worthwhile having contacts that may be experts or skilled in a different field than you.
Benefits of networking
Networking can have countless benefits for yourself and offer up plenty of opportunities. These include, but are not limited to:
- Gaining information. Imagine you are a new start-up, and somebody approaches you asking you to host a web conference. You’re wondering, what is a web conference? Well, you can ask that contact who is an expert at digital communications for some help!
- Career moves. Networking with other people in your business or partnered businesses can help you become a well-known professional. The better known you are, the better chances you have of gaining that promotion or career move elsewhere.
- Mentoring. A contact (or a contact of a contact!) could be a great mentor for you. Someone with more experience could teach you how to communicate more effectively with clients or other colleagues.
These are just a few of the reasons you should strive to create a brand network. But it is very easy to waste your time trying to network with the wrong people.
That’s why below, we explain some key tips on building your professional network in a way that works for you.
Attend networking events
It goes without saying that a networking event is a great opportunity to create new contacts! These events could be physical or virtual, with the latter increasingly growing in popularity.
Networking remotely is the newest trend, with online pub quizzes amongst colleagues being the latest fad. Such events allow you to present your out-of-work personality and interests to your colleagues.
If a colleague discovers over a quiz night that you are really into your cuisine, they will know who to approach if they fancy visiting a new restaurant. That’s networking, too!
At physical networking events, it is much easier to pull someone aside for a private chat.
When you introduce yourself at these events, it is best to let people know your expertise. For example, if you’re really in the know when it comes to instant messaging platforms, somebody might take the opportunity to pull you aside and ask for advice.
Perhaps, somebody there is considering changing their workplace’s communication platform and wants to know some good alternatives to Slack - they will know to come to you right away!
Follow up after networking
Networking is not one-time chitchat. You don’t consider someone a friend after having a conversation with them in a queue, so why would someone be your contact because you spoke once?
Let’s roll with the previous scenario. You suggested some alternative communication platforms to your new contact at this event. Later that week, send them a message to ask if they looked at your recommendations or need more help?
If the aim of building your personal brand identity is to appear helpful and genuine (which definitely should be an aim!), following up on the advice somebody asked for will certainly help.
Support your network
Like following up on conversations with your contacts, you should always go out of your way to support them online. With many cheap web hosting options and free website themes available for anybody to use, having a website where people can connect with you is part and parcel of having a brand.
But out of all the ways communication has changed through technology, the introduction of social media is one of the most significant.
You can build a strong personal brand on social media by liking, commenting on, and sharing your contacts’ posts and achievements. However, your social media profiles should not be all about you - but also the company you keep.
By interacting with the posts of others, you increase your own visibility and make yourself appear as a desirable contact to others. And your contacts should return the favor, too!
The influence that social media can have on your brand network should not be ignored.
Keep your weak ties close
The contacts you support will likely be your strong ties - the people in a similar situation to you who know about and share the same values.
But sometimes, you will find yourself in a position where you need help from someone different.
Weak ties are people you have come across in your professional life (perhaps at a networking event) but not particularly close to due to differences in career.
If you are a business manager, a weak tie could be an IT technician - someone in a different career path than you, but who could be useful from time to time! (What do business managers know about network security, right?)
Weak ties are important because they will provide you with objective advice and offer you new information.
Offer a helping hand with the tasks you love
Just as you would go to an expert on online safety for advice about network security, you need to present yourself as the go-to person for your specific field of interest.
Do you pride yourself on your digital marketing skills? If a contact requests help with a new project, take the opportunity to get your skills out there.
If your contact approached you privately for this advice, then, of course, reply to them privately. However, if this was a public request (such as a LinkedIn post), reply to it publicly to let their contacts see the benefit of networking with you, too.
The more you offer to your contacts, the more they will offer to you. But make sure none of your contacts are all take and no give. The relationships you make and maintain should be mutually beneficial.
Create your own signature to help networking
In a professional environment, the first piece of information someone receives about you is your name and email address.
It can come across as too forced and awkward to ask a new contact in an opening email to ‘add me on LinkedIn! Here’s a link to my professional portfolio!’, and such pushy messages can turn people away from you. Enter; email signatures.
There are so many email signature templates out there to choose from that you will be sure to find one that fits your personal brand.
Having an email signature that professionally provides all your contact information to your email recipients can help expand your network and personal brand with minimal effort on your part.
If you want your networking to be effective for your personal brand, you need to consistently build new—and building upon—relationships.
The most famous personal branding examples come from people being consistently genuine and passionate about their skills and interests.
Personal branding is more than just aesthetic. Having an eye-catching email signature, a personalized website and lots of connections on LinkedIn are great, but you also need to offer more than that at all times.
Your most active contacts will notice if you have been quiet for a while, and it could affect your networked relationship.
Perhaps they have posted multiple posts on social media, and you have not interacted with any? You could come across as someone who has lost contact once they have gotten what they wanted.
Likewise, do some of your own contacts not appear to be consistent with their support? Again, these are not the sort of contacts you should dedicate your time to.
Networking can immensely expand your personal branding when done the right way.
Take the time to build up a network of like-minded and different-minded contacts so that you have a wide range of people to communicate with.
Do not waste time trying to build relationships with contacts who do not offer you anything. Likewise, make sure you always offer something to your contacts, so they want to keep you in their network.
Knowing how to build a professional network helps your personal branding by showing people who you really are and what you stand for.
Use networking to show your true colors, and your personal brand will thrive.