Today, it’s just not enough to be the very best at what you do to keep bringing in new business and to stay top of mind with clients, prospects and referrals.
While sitting at your desk churning out excellent work product day after day, week after week and month after month may yield the loyalty of a select group of clients and colleagues, most professionals will find it hard to grow their practices in a truly meaningful way like this over time.
The good news is that there are many tactics available to professionals at any stage of their careers – such as content marketing, social media, public speaking, podcasting, creating videos and volunteering, among others – that will enable them to build a stronger personal brand and achieve the ultimate goal of revenue generation.
Personal branding is about standing out while being your best self, especially in a crowded field such as law.
A strong personal brand differentiates you in the market, enables you to establish yourself as a leader in your industry and gives you a competitive edge. The purpose of having a strong brand isn’t just about being well known in your field, it’s about leveraging the power of your reputation and expertise so that it helps you achieve your business goals. Building a personal brand is a choice, as is every single marketing activity that you undertake.
In today’s digital world, personal brands are closely intertwined with our social media and content marketing efforts, so in addition to discussing some very effective traditional means of personal branding, we will explore how to harness the power of online tools to effectively reach target audiences and establish yourself as a subject matter expert.
What exactly is personal branding?
Simply put, your personal brand is your reputation and the character traits and skills that make you unique and maximize the value you bring to others. When you deliver consistent and valuable experiences, you build a strong reputation. Think of it as the value proposition that you deliver to your clients, peers (inside and outside the firm) and colleagues, as well as the lasting mark you make on your industry.
The strongest personal brands are focused, unique and succinct. As with anything, if you overreach yourself and try to be everything to everyone, you will wind up diluting your brand. So be targeted in your efforts and find your niche or specialization.
Why should I develop a personal brand?
Cultivating a strong personal brand helps you differentiate yourself from your peers and enables you to showcase your unique capabilities, talents and strengths.
In a saturated and competitive field like law, it’s crucial to find ways to stand out from the pack. We keep hearing from in-house counsel that they hire the lawyer not the firm and how they are choosing outside counsel based on factors such as “who do I trust the most and with whom do I want to work?” and “who will best anticipate my legal needs?”
They’re seeking outside counsel who understand their businesses inside and out, makes them look good both internally and externally, and are the kind of people with whom they genuinely like working. This is why personal branding is so important – it provides additional touchpoints to make the buying decision easier for clients.
What is my personal brand?
The starting point of developing your personal brand is clearly identifying your value proposition.
In order to have a successful brand, you need to be able to communicate what makes you compelling and what distinguishes you from your peers/competitors.
Take some time to think about your career goals, what professionally fulfills you (and what doesn’t) and your unique attributes. Think about who you are and who you aren’t. Here are a few questions to think about
- What are my most unique professional qualities?
- What work do I most enjoy doing?
- For what do I want to be known?
- Why would a client hire me over someone else?
- Is there an underserved market or unmet need that I can fill?
- What are my clients looking for in their outside counsel?
- Is there someone in your professional life to whom you look up? Who I’d like to emulate? Make a list of the things you admire about them.
There’s something powerful about writing out the answers to these questions – it really does help to see the answers on paper when you are trying to narrow down your value proposition. Always keep them near you because they will help serve as your litmus test when you refine your personal branding strategy or debate whether to pursue an opportunity.
Now that you’ve defined who you are/want to be, let’s delve into how to convey your brand to others.
Let’s say you want to be a known as a public speaker. In order to do this, you’ll need to develop a speaking strategy, and it could include the kinds of topics on which you’d want to speak and where, and what is your ideal target audience and how to reach them, as well as developing a social media and content strategy for the promotion of the speaking engagements. It involves consistency, passion and persistence.
Start by identifying the marketing and BD activities that you did over the past year, noting which of them had the highest ROI…
How do you build a strong personal brand?
Almost all of us already have a professional brand because we have regular interactions with others in our industry and we are already doing many of the things that one would do as part of their personal branding outreach. In this article, we’ll focus on becoming more strategic to refine our efforts.
Start by identifying the marketing and BD activities that you did over the past year, noting which of them had the highest ROI (if possible to measure). This is a useful exercise to do during budget season as you plan how to spend your future marketing dollars.
Armed with this information, create a personal branding action plan for the year organized by month or quarter – you’ll have overarching goals and a strategic and streamlined process to make it much clearer which branding activities you pursue throughout the year.
Now that you have your personal branding goals set, let’s talk about how to execute them (many of them are low or no cost!)
1. Do Your Job Well: In order to have strong personal brand, it goes without saying that you must be known as someone who is great at what they do. There must be a consensus that you are a leader in your field, and that’s why again, it’s not enough to just produce great work. But beyond the intellectual acumen for your profession, which many lawyers possess, you also must also think like a business person, be personable (as most lawyers are), possess high emotional intelligence, be a skilled problem solver who is calm under pressure and yet will fiercely defend his clients and achieve results yet be fair.
Above all, you always want to demonstrate that you will put your clients’ needs first over furthering your own brand. Essentially, for all my Game of Thrones fans out there, I am advising you to channel your inner Jon Snow versus your inner Daenerys Targaryen (note: under no circumstances should you channel your inner Dany in the latter part of season 8).
2. Find (and Finetune) Your Focus: While some lawyers find great success as a generalist, generally speaking (I couldn’t resist), lawyers don’t have the highest success rates when their practice isn’t focused, and if their practice isn’t focused, their branding efforts certainly won’t be either. If you establish a niche and pivot that expertise according to client needs and changing market conditions, your practice will be better positioned.
For example, I know several tax and corporate lawyers who recently became well versed in qualified opportunity zones. This area didn’t exist a few years ago – so it’s a great example of being an entrepreneur and seizing an opportunity in the market that reflects the changing legal landscape. There are many other examples like this – such as cannabis, bitcoin, blockchain – to name just a few. The moral of the story? Be open to change and finetune your niche based on client and market needs.
3. Become an Expert Networker and Superconnector: A great way to build your brand is by strategic in-person networking. Attend industry conferences and strategically network with other attendees (just not your colleagues!). Just be strategic about with whom you choose to spend your time and money on networking and social events.
Your networking goal should be to make quality connections – don’t worry about the number of people you meet. Also, one of the best ways to build relationships is by linking people to each other. For example, instead of taking one client or prospect out for the evening, why not bring several clients/potential clients together? People enjoy making new connections, especially when they have commonalities. They will appreciate the introduction that you made, and you will strengthen your relationship to all of them in the process, which is a win-win for everyone, most importantly, you.
4. Become a Thought Leader: Raise your profile by establishing yourself as a subject matter expert, which you can do by publishing value-added content. The purpose of your content is to brand you as a leader in your practice area/industry and publishing regular content (aim for one article per month) helps to keep you top of mind with your network.
Many firms have a direct gateway for their lawyers to publish thought leadership by authoring client alerts, thought leadership pieces and blog posts.
If your firm doesn’t have any of these channels (gasp!), you can publish content on LinkedIn Publisher or even start your own blog. In addition, many local law journals are often seeking guest columnists to opine on recent landmark case decisions and the business of law in their special supplements – you just need to find their editorial calendars, get on their radar and pitch them a story idea or two. The trick here is to be proactive with editors if you are seeking to publish your content in a third-party publication, find your unique writing voice and always write with your readers in mind, in terms they understand and about topics that resonate with them.
A word to the wise – your firm may already have a refined process already in place, but it is always smart to run a topic by your practice group leader first, as well as a final draft (especially if you are sending to firm contacts), clear conflicts if you mention any company names in the narrative and generally avoid writing about a firm matter unless you have client and firm authorization. Repost these articles (with visuals!) to your social channels throughout the year to maximize your content assets.
5. Speak Up: Speaking engagements are a great way to demonstrate mastery of subject matter and connect in person with key people in your industry. They can also open many doors, such as leading to additional speaking opportunities, article writing, media placements, committee appointments, referrals and the very best case of all – a new client matter.
Maximize every speaking engagement before and after using social media. For example, post a photo of yourself on LinkedIn with other speakers or attendees at the conference – be sure to thank the conference organizers for inviting you to be a part of this event.
Another idea is to write a key takeaways article from your session and incorporate insights from other sessions that resonated with you, which will enable you to build stronger relationships with individuals in your network.
Also, even if you aren’t speaking at a conference, maximize your time at the event, wisely network and make yourself a thought leader by producing content and reporting on the conference. You can read more about how to incorporate content creation into your personal marketing strategy in another article that I wrote: How to Maximize Every Conference and Event You Attend (and Build Your Personal Brand).
6. Be Yourself: “Be yourself” was one of the most important pieces of advice that I gave to students at Fordham University School of Law when I guest lectured to them last year about how to build a strong personal brand. I told the students that I’ll never be someone who wears conservative black suits to work every day and that’s more than okay. Maybe you love bow ties or have pink hair. It’s important to find ways to express yourself, inject your personality and be unique while also being personal.
Lawyers at every level of their careers can do both and still be successful in corporate America. In fact, this may even help you stand out from the sea of black and gray suits – individuality is good, especially as our clients continue to get younger and the legal industry seems to be shifting away from being less buttoned up and formal overall. Find the type of personal environment that lets you be YOU – once you do, your own brand will flourish.
7. Become a Social Media Master: Everyone – from the most senior executives to the most junior employees in the workforce today – should be using social media – especially LinkedIn – to position themselves as a subject matter expert in their respective industry.
Your goal for social media is to simply go where your clients and prospects are. Regularly and meaningfully use the social channels that they are using. So many firms and lawyers stretch themselves too thin by trying to be on all the social platforms because they think they should be. You’d be much better off focusing your social content efforts on the top two platforms most used by your target audiences.
As we discussed, the individuals with the strongest personal brands are those who share content that is helpful and value added. They are purposeful about everything they share and control the narrative. They also dedicate some of their posts to be gracious to others. In addition, they post content on social media at the right time of day – during am and pm commuting hours when you have a captive audience. They also use free online tools such as canva.com (because visuals are powerful) and hashtagify.me (because using the right hashtags enables your content to be discovered) to help their content gain a competitive edge. Here’s an article I wrote on LinkedIn profile and platform to-do’s that delves deeper on how to effectively use the platform as an effective branding and revenue generation tool.
8. Master the Art of the “Humblebrag”: When you post updates on social media about yourself, think about “humblebragging,” which is the idea of striking the right balance between promoting your successes in a way that does not make you come off as arrogant or too boastful. “Bragging” about your successes should only comprise a small percentage of your social posts and should be done delicately.
When you talk about yourself, adopt the mindset of show versus tell – so show your network how great you are versus telling them. You can easily do this through great thought leadership content as an example.
9. Help and Promote Others to Build Your Brand: I’d like you to try something on social and encourage others to do the same – for every five social media posts you create about yourself, dedicate one to someone else who is important to you, such as a client, prospect or referral source (just not a lawyer at peer firm!).
Congratulate them on a success, promote an article they wrote or an upcoming speaking engagement they have – you get the idea (you can easily find out this information from their LinkedIn profile). By shining a spotlight on VIPs in your network, you will build stronger relationships with them and they will often in turn, do the same for you.
The individuals with the strongest personal brands regularly give other praise – acknowledging others for their insights and contributions, online and in person. They are quick to share information, content and advice. You will attract people to you if you are humble, helpful and complimentary.
10. Become Involved in an Industry Association (and Do it Well): A great way to build your personal brand is to take on a leadership role within a leading association in your industry (remember to choose those where you will have the most opportunity to meet potential clients and referrals). Not only is this a great way to meet others in your field, but you’ll also have the opportunity to give back. If you aren’t sure what are the leading associations, ask colleagues, and conduct some good old fashioned online due diligence on what your top competitors are doing.
11. Be Helpful: You can strengthen your brand by ingraining the words, “How can I help you?” in your head. It’s important to remember that we are in the service business and these words should always be front and center every single day. If you think about ways in which you can help someone without expecting anything in return – such as helping the relative of an important contact find a job or sending a client who is vacationing in a place you know well an email with a list of your favorite restaurants – you will build strong relationships over time. I have seen this translate into real business and enhanced brands over and over.
12. Raise Your Hand: So many busy lawyers hunker down in their offices, being good little worker bees, waiting for opportunities to find them or worse, they’re oblivious to the fact that they should be doing more than client work 24/7. Guess what? Someone else is seeking them out. Most of the time, great opportunities don’t fall right into your lap, you must work for them. It’s so easy to not go above and beyond, especially when you are already stretched thin – but try raising your hand for something out of your comfort zone even when you don’t have the time.
If you’re an associate and you’re looking to stand out, raise your hand to take on a pro bono case. These types of matters are often high-profile within most firms and will raise your profile while giving you valuable experience.
13. Bolster Your Bio and LinkedIn Profile: One of the very first things that someone does when they want to find out more information about a lawyer is to Google them. And their web site bio is usually the first search result that appears, with their LinkedIn profile in second place.
Your bio and LinkedIn profile are important elements of your personal brand, and you have complete control over the content in each of them. They are your opportunity to showcase your work, capabilities and areas of expertise, and what makes you stand out from your competitors, so spend the time to craft a bio and LinkedIn profile that truly conveys your value proposition. For more on how to do this, read my JD Supra articles, “How to Write an Engaging, Client-Focused Professional Bio” “Show vs. Tell – How to Create A Strong Lawyer Bio” and “LinkedIn 101: How to Master Profile Basics & Build Your Professional Brand.”
14. Leverage Public Relations: Public relations is a powerful way to enhance your personal brand because it raises your profile and when you appear in third-party reputable media outlets, it gives you immediate authority as a subject matter expert. But not all media opportunities are created equal – meaning, what’s the point of being quoted or appearing in an article if the right people aren’t seeing it, or it’s the wrong kind of publication? Be very strategic in your approach for media coverage and target the publications that your clients, prospects and influencers read.
15. Silence Your Inner Naysayer: Many lawyers want to step outside of their comfort zones and try different types of personal branding activities but there’s something inside of them that holds them back. Banish those thoughts from your head and replace them with positive ones that believe that you can do anything to which you set your mind. Your thoughts greatly affect how you act, which can cause negative self-talk to become damaging. So consciously silence those thoughts, be kinder to yourself and remember that practice really does make perfect. For more on this topic, see my JD Supra article, “How to Silence Your Inner Critic, Step Outside of Your Comfort Zone, and Achieve Greater Success.”
16. Say YES More: Say yes to most opportunities that come your way that interest you, even those things that make you a bit uncomfortable and even when you don’t really have the time to do them (life is always inconvenient right?). Maybe it’s writing, speaking, doing a live TV interview, starting a video or podcast series, taking on an internal firm leadership assignment or a volunteer role within your industry. It is often during the times when you step outside of your comfort zone that you truly grow. These opportunities also shine a brighter spotlight on yourself, which is powerful for your personal branding efforts.
17. Learn from Others: One of the smartest things you can do as you are crafting and refining your personal brand is to look at the brand-building activities of your top competitors. Information is power, especially when it comes to how your peers are marketing themselves, so make a list of your top 5-10 competitors and conduct due diligence on their marketing and business development activities. Pay special attention to the events, publications and news section of their web site bios as well as their recent updates and activities on their LinkedIn profile (just remember to mark yourself as “anonymous” before you conduct any major reconnaissance on LinkedIn so your research is done on the DL). You’ll be able to incorporate a few new ideas into your branding efforts from this competitor research.
18. Regularly Audit Your Online Brand: I am a true believer in the positive power of social media, but as the lines between our personal and personal lives become blurrier by the day in the digital world in which we live, you must take the appropriate steps to protect your brand after all this work that you’re putting into strengthening it. Google yourself at least once per month. Pay special attention to the first page of results as most users do not go past those. Set up a Google Alert for yourself, a free service that sends you an e-mail notification when your name appears online. What do you do if you want information about yourself removed online? If you don’t control it from your social accounts, you will have to contact the web sites to request removal of the content, which can be time-consuming.
Also, whether you like it or not, people are searching for you online, so ensure that the information visible on your personal social media accounts is locked down to only your friends and family and be selective about from whom you accept friend requests. Also, always use good judgment about what you post online because every and anything can be used against you somewhere down the line, even if you delete it. And don’t ever post about politics because in today’s supercharged political climate, you just never on know how far left or right someone influential leans, so the best stance is to take no stance. For more on this topic, see my article, “Why You Must Google Yourself Regularly and Protect Your Online Personal Brand.”
19. Give it Away: Offer to do in-house CLE programs or webinars for important clients and prospective clients. This is a great opportunity to provide clients with value-added content and showcase your expertise. You will rarely find a client who will turn you down if you offer to do an educational program on your own time. Also, consider creating a top tips article as a takeaways piece from the session. It’s a great way to leave attendees with something substantial after the program as well as a great way to brand your firm (Tip – put your firm’s logo as big as you can on it for extra branding points).
20. Seize the Day: Don’t wait for opportunities to find you, instead proactively seek them out yourself. Perhaps there’s a conference in which you are interested in speaking, or a publication for which you would like to write – don’t be shy about asking how you can get involved in it. Several of the lawyers with whom I work as well as yours truly have gotten lucrative speaking engagements and byline article opportunities simply by asking for them. You never know if you don’t ask! What’s the worst that can happen? Someone says no. Trust me, you’ll live, and it’s statistically impossible for you to hear no 100% of the time.
Putting it All Together: Personal Branding Success Strategies
Your personal brand will evolve and grow just as you are evolving and growing as a professional. The key is to embrace those changes, believe in yourself and be yourself. Continue to actively seek out marketing opportunities that will help you reach your goals.
A few last pieces of branding advice: cultivate your relationships at every stage of your career as they will always be fundamental to your success and help open new doors for you. Find the platforms that are right for you – if you love to speak, then speak; if you love to write, then write! Likewise, if these aren’t your cup of tea, don’t do them – only pursue the branding strategies for which you feel most passionate about – those are the ones in which you will be personally invested.
Regularly use social media to promote your activities but remember to only focus on the social channels used by your clients/prospects – nothing else really matters. Master the art of being subtle (i.e. the humblebrag) and pay it forward to others in your network by dedicating some of your social posts to them. Also, focus on quality over quantity – it is always better to produce a few pieces of great content vs. a lot of mediocre content, but as many lawyers tend to be perfectionists, know when to stop tinkering with a piece and to publish it – time is of the essence in many instances.
Also, you must make the time for personal branding and marketing – of course your client work is the most important thing on your plate, but ensuring that you have a steady stream of work in the pipeline is also crucial – so don’t use being busy and content at this moment as your excuse for not investing in yourself.
Think about this for a minute – it’s not enough to be a great lawyer if no one besides you, a handful of your closest client and clients knows that you are. Although it takes time, effort and energy to build a well-crafted personal brand, it’s an investment in yourself and your future.
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