July 2016

Personal Branding Basics

By Randolph Reliford

Assistant Dean for Career Development and Employer Outreach, Whittier Law School

No matter what area of law you practice, it is important to build a personal brand. But why? It is time consuming, confusing, and takes effort. For many, communicating the fact that they have a brand can seem awkward. Some may even argue that their co-workers, colleagues, or friends don’t really care about that stuff anyway. Before I began working in career development, I may have agreed with all of the above statements.

The truth is, however, people quickly judge other people. Fairly or unfairly, potential clients, potential employers, or co-workers will judge you based on a variety of factors to determine what they should expect from you. In other words, if you don’t make and communicate your brand, people will make it up for you. Guess what? To the people with whom you work, you already have a personal brand. Unless you’ve been purposeful about developing and communicating it, there can be a large disconnect between your perception and their perception of your brand. So, what is your brand?

Simply put, your brand is your unique selling proposition.1 What do you offer to the world that other people do not offer? Distinctively, how will you help clients or an employer make or save money? Base your brand on the real you and make sure that your thoughts, words, and actions back it up. Your target audience (clients and the people with whom you work) should be able to anticipate that you will perform in that manner all the time. They should feel an emotion when you are around and understand the unique value you bring to the table.

Aside from combating the judgment of others, developing your brand makes a lot of sense. First, it will enable you to deliver an impactful message to potential clients and colleagues about why they should hire or work with you. Having a genuine, well-prepared message will make writing an advertisement or cover letter, delivering an elevator speech, or interviewing much easier. Second, setting people’s expectations and then delivering on your promise can build trust and loyalty. Much like great products, your brand followed by repetitive excellent delivery of your promise, should drive repeat business. Third, if communicated properly, your brand will help friends and co-workers refer work or opportunities back to you. After all, people who have a positive experience with you will want to help you get work or find clients. They feel good about passing along a great lawyer to their friends.

You must check to see whether your current brand is the brand you want. In other words, what kind of impact do you have on people now?2 Ask yourself what you want to be known for and identify the problems (legal or otherwise) you solve the best. Then take a short poll of some friends. Ask how they would describe you, in five to seven words, to someone at work. Also ask for which problems (legal or otherwise) would they seek your advice. If their answers do not match yours, then you need to work on developing and communicating your brand.

Many students and attorneys I’ve spoken with have a difficult time articulating their skills, talents and values on their own. Trust me, you are not alone if you too have trouble articulating them. Experts suggest using a combination of skills, talents, knowledge, values and passion to develop your brand.3 Identify your biggest successes and think about what you did to achieve them.

Also, think about which things come natural to you. If you have not done so, you may wish to take a talent or values-based assessment to provide you with the correct framework. Assessments are powerful because they will provide you with excellent language around your skills, talents, or values. I use an assessment called Strengthsfinder to help people understand their unique blend of talents. I also use a quick values-based exercise that can help put words to the ideals you hold in the highest regard. Once you have a grasp on the words to describe your talents and values, it becomes much easier to take the remaining steps. 

After you decide what you want to be known for and thought about the value that you want to provide, give some thought to the emotion you want people to experience.4 How do you want people to feel around you? Do you have any emotions that you want to trigger in people, like safety or trust?  

Your next step is to determine the right audience for your brand.5 Who do you intend to target? Research that audience. Who needs you? How can you reach them? What do they read? How do they make spending decisions? 

Armed with the knowledge of your audience, write a short personal branding statement that encompasses what you want to be known for, how you will communicate it to your audience, and how you will deliver value to them. If you get stuck here, do an internet search for personal branding statements. You will find several templates with good draft language that you can customize. 

Though there are several steps, personal branding is not difficult. Remember, you already have one. Crafting the right brand you want and communicating it to the right people may seem complicated at first, but it is worth the time investment. To guide you through the process, discuss branding with a mentor who has a strong brand or your career advisor. You can also reach out to me for help. 

1 (Llopis, Glenn, 3 Ways to Most Effectively Communicate Your Personal Brand, 2013)
2 (Goddard, Gabriella, Power Up Brand You, 2007) 
3 (Goddard, 2007)
4 (Citroen, Lida, Reputation 360: Creating Power Through Personal Branding, 2011) 
5 (Citroen, 2011)