“Bring your whole self to work.” - Fred Kofman
Branding. We speak about it a lot in a business sense.
But I don’t think that we use it enough in a personal sense.
As an adviser, the question of 'what’s your personal brand?' is an important one, and one we’ve been asking a lot with clients lately.
The result of spending some quality time working out the answer has produced some staggering results.
Let’s be clear, by branding, I don’t mean anything flashy, artificial or inauthentic. In any context, this is bad branding.
Rather, it’s about packaging what’s authentic and unique about you, and harnessing and celebrating it.
Hiding your true self
Too many people spend their time trying to cover up, water down or avoid altogether their unique core, deeming it inappropriate in a professional context.
We compare ourselves to others or industry conventions and try to emulate or fit those, and our workplaces are far worse off for it.
If there’s an industry convention for financial services, it’s often pretty grey, dry and inaccessible.
I know things are changing and that you’re part of the change, but as someone with one foot in and another foot out of the advice profession, this impression lingers.
Don’t be defined or constrained by this.
It’s certainly not worth emulating or fitting. Break the mould and ensure that you are yourself.
As Kim Scott, author of the brilliant book Radical Candor, says: “The injunction to 'keep it professional' [means that] nobody feels comfortable being who they really are at work.”
No-one’s at their best when they constrain themselves, and we miss out on the variety that results from individuals embracing their idiosyncrasies and bringing their whole selves to work.
In the context of public speaking coaching specifically, our work on personal brand has been transformational.
In an arena where people already feel vulnerable, the added vulnerability of 'just being yourself' can initially feel far too exposing and a step too far.
Equally, for some of our clients setting out on their journey as planners and engaging with new clients, just telling them to "be themselves” can feel like you’re sending a lamb to the slaughter!
Celebrating your true self
However not only is it ok to be yourself, it’s a must in order to truly connect with your clients and get them to experience what you’re all about. And not some half-baked, non-committal version.
Personal branding turns acceptance into a celebration, and is deliberate and empowering.
It’s helped our clients feel confident, because being themselves is being 'on brand'. It shifts the focus to: “This is who I am, and these are the specific qualities that make me unique and of great value.”
Try out this exercise to better understand your personal brand.
Spend some time outlining your unique values, qualities and strengths. Be specific. Write them down. Have them in a place that’s visible to you every day. These will form the basis of your brand.
You’re not for everyone
You won’t be the perfect fit for everyone. That’s fine.
It won’t be because you’re not qualified or because there is anything fundamentally wrong with you. Some people will just prefer someone else to you. They’ll be a better fit. We speak about this in more detail in this article on diversity and inclusivity.
Our sub-conscious brains put people we meet into one of four categories very quickly: friend, enemy, potential sexual partner, and indifferent.
Ultimately, your clients want someone that’s a bit like them. That’s how you’ll be placed in the category of 'friend'. You can’t be 'like' all your clients. You're just not.
So, focus on your strengths.
We exert so much energy on our weaknesses and trying to iron these out.
Yet the reality is those weaknesses will probably never be great strengths. But they definitely will be someone else’s. Step forward another financial planner. It’s a positive thing that your clients have a variety of choices out there.
Don’t be a slightly worse version of someone else. Own your personal brand and be the best version of you.