Building Your Personal Brand Through Networking
By Catherine Ducharme
Are you a fair weather networker? That’s someone who only starts networking in earnest when they find themselves out of a job or is anxiously looking for new business. Perhaps you don’t have time to network or maybe you just dread the thought of walking into a room full of strangers.
The key to building a positive, memorable corporate brand is visibility, consistency and delivering what is promised. It’s no different when the brand is you. Networking is the path to building a strong personal brand but it doesn’t have to be a painful, desperate experience if you approach it with the right intent.
Networking is defined as developing an extended group of people with similar interests or concerns who interact and remain in informal contact for mutual assistance or support. It’s a continuous long-term proposition that needs to start well before you need something. Indeed many would argue networking is more about giving than receiving … and they would be right.
The networking mind set
At its core, networking is about building positive win-win relationships. By going into networking with a “giving” mindset, you’re creating an opportunity for people to really get to know you. If you approach every networking situation with a genuine interest in people and a desire to help them, you’ll leave a positive and lasting impression. It’s not about randomly showing up at events and asking strangers for favours.
Networks are your safety net
The past year has shown us that we live in an unpredictable world. We don’t know when a recession will hit, if we’ll lose our job, or if a contract will be cut short. We don’t know if our skills will be relevant or if we’ll outgrow our current careers. Having a strong network helps us deal with those eventualities. I’ve changed jobs, been laid off and have started my own business and each time, I’ve had a well-established network of talented and connected people to help me along the way. A network is a safety net. If you’ve done your job well, developed relationships, given more than you’ve received and kept in touch, your network will have no problem helping and supporting you when ‘you need it most.
There’s no downside to networking
Eighty-five per cent of all jobs are filled through personal references and contacts. It’s how you meet future clients, employers, life long friends and business partners. It’s how you find amazing employees, unearth tremendous opportunities and learn how to transition your career. It’s also how you establish information avenues, solve problems and mentor other people. Simply put, networking accelerates your career and business success.
So many places, so little time
Where you network depends on your goals and objectives. Networking opportunities are everywhere, through professional, industry and business associations, networking groups, courses, volunteering opportunities and social clubs or events. If nothing meets your unique needs, you can even start your own networking group. Your challenge will be to strategically select organizations that provide opportunities to develop genuine win-win relationships without over- extending yourself. Remember, the key to building a brand is repetition and delivering the promise. In a networking context that means showing up and contributing.
I’m going in, cover me
How to work a room is a big topic, so I’ll just briefly cover the basic components: preparation and conversation.
To prepare you’ll need the following:
Business cards (obvious but often forgotten)
An elevator speech -a 20-second natural sounding introduction as to who you are and how you benefit others
Specific networking objectives i.e.: meet particular people, seek out two opportunities to help people, meet four people who can help you down the road, etc.
The basic rules of conversation are to be interested and interesting and include others in your conversation. Never make anyone feel irrelevant or part of a networking quota. Ask questions, then offer information about yourself – don’t interrogate. Remember you are there to make relevant business connections so avoid staying in conversations because they are comfortable. Instead, be polite and graciously exit the conversation. Above all be confident, positive, genuine and natural.
Sustaining your networks
It’s much easier to maintain and contribute to an existing network than start a new one. Consistency, consideration and contribution are the hallmarks of effective networking. Don’t drop out of circulation when things are busy, always return phone calls and e-mails, and find ways to contribute such as offering a favour, passing along a relevant article, asking how the big project went or noting an accomplishment. It only takes a minute and small things are always remembered.
There’s a fine line between networking and using people, so don’t be a fair weather networker. To be successful you’re going to need people to help you get there. Networking is about planting seeds and in my experience; you do reap what you sow.
A successful brand is recognizable, timeless and it stands for something positive. Network well and you’ll build an effective brand.
Catherine Ducharme is Principal of Ducharme and Associates a communications management company that helps technology organizations communicate their story, sell their products and services and align their staff Catherine also speaks on and writes about communications, management and networking topics.
This material has been copied under licence from Access Copyright. Resale or further copying of this material is strictly prohibited. The author has granted permission for reprinting this article.
10 steps to developing your personal brand
Marketing and advertising agencies help clients (companies or individuals) brand their services and products. Take the concept of branding a service or product one step further and consider branding YOURSELF. Coming up with a brand description, even a tagline, might help you subconsciously when it comes to creating your cover letter and resume.
- You are the product/service. What/who are you?
- Identify your core values
- Identify your core passions
- Identify your core talents
- List the key talents/attributes to be known for
- Who are your competitors?
- Who is your target audience?
- What will be your specialty?
- Write your brand description
- Identify your brand with a tagline
Tom Peters created the term and concept of “the brand called you” in 1997 to express the idea of individuals managing their career as if they were managing a “brand”. In other words, he suggested that each of us could manage our career and future better if we worked out what makes each of us stand out from the crowd.
Here are some thought-provoking questions that need to be answered before you can build your personal brand.
- What do I do that I am most proud of?
- What have I accomplished that I can brag about?
- In what ways do I add value to the organization I work for?
- What do I want to be famous for?
- What matters to me?
- What do I do REALLY well?
- What do I get excited about?
In his article, The Brand Called You, Tom Peters notes “if you want to grow your brand, you’ve got to come to terms with power—your own”. Consider your resume a “marketing brochure for Brand You”. Peters also cautions that no matter what you do your brand must always include “being a great team mate and a supportive colleague” and “having exceptional expertise in something that has real value”.
Some samples to guide you
One of the things I do best is…
- One of the many things I learned with age is…
- Ever since I was a child I have been able to…
- If I were to receive an award, it would be for…
- I have always appreciated my knack for…
- My home shows that I am very…
- As I get older I feel more and more qualified to…
- The kind of situation in which I show my truest colors is…
- Something I find absorbing is…
- The skill that I am most proud to have is…
- A project or undertaking that I have been most proud of is…
- One of the greatest lessons that the school of life has taught me is…
- I have always been thankful that I am…
- An employer would be lucky to have me as an employee because I…
- With age I have developed my ability to…
- One of the greatest things I have to offer an employer is…
- My last employer appreciated me for my…
- One of the most thrilling things I have ever experienced was…
- People can always count on me to…
- One of the things I enjoy learning about is…
- Things I enjoy making are…
- My creativity is expressed through my…
- Something that I am passionate about is…
- A time when I was deeply committed to something was…
How employers view candidates
Employers rate the importance of candidate qualities/skills on a 5 point scale. (1=not at all important and 5 = extremely important).
Communication skills (verbal and written) 4.7
Teamwork skills (works well with others) 4.6
Strong work ethic 4.5
Analytical skills 4.4
Interpersonal skills (relates well to others) 4.4
Computer skills 4.3
Organizational skills 4.1
Leadership skills 4.0
Friendly/outgoing personality 3.8
Entrepreneurial skills/risk-taker 3.2
Sense of humour 3.2