How to build a strong professional brand that amplifies your career

What do people say about you when you’re not in the room? If that question worries you, it’s time to work on your professional brand, says Michelle Sales.

Think of someone in the world you know with a strong professional brand. Maybe you’re picturing a personality like Oprah Winfrey, Richard Branson, Lady Gaga, Steve Jobs or Sheryl Sandberg. Their personal brands have helped them manoeuvre the business world and become global success stories —and not by accident. They have put effort into defining their brand, which means we know what they stand for and what they are all about.

But professional branding isn’t just for the rich and famous—it applies to you and your role as an EA too. As Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon says, “Your brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room.”

Hence, regardless of what role or industry you work in, you need to have a strong, clear professional brand, a good sense of who you are, what you value and support, to be able to navigate and fast-track your career. The real problem is that most of us, especially if we’re working in a comfy role, don’t take the time to invest in developing the right brand for what we want to achieve. A strong authentic brand should always be evolving, to help you stand out from the crowd and help you achieve professional and personal success. Here’s how.

Securing your future

Your professional brand is created by the experiences people have with you in all different contexts, whether that be face to face, online, the stories others share about you, your actions, your words or the way you dress. That means, it needs to support your future roles as much as your current one. Always thinking about what you would like people to say about you when you’re not in the room is going to get you that next promotion or opportunity.

For example, if your new role requires you to be a strong negotiator and strategic and have great interpersonal skills but your current brand is more about being a good ‘doer’, a quiet achiever and a bit black-and-white, then you have work to do on your brand to enable you to step up your performance.

Professional branding isn’t easy, but thinking through your unique strengths, your career goals and aspirations, and how you want others to perceive you over the next few years is a great first step.

3 ways to step up, now

Every aspect of your behaviour and how people experience you affect your brand. Consequently, it is also important to reflect on what you do that can negatively impact your brand, as well as positively impact it. Things like dressing for your current job, rather than your future one, not managing the first impression you make on others, failing to get back to emails or requests. To help start working on your brand today, to get ready for tomorrow, follow these three simple steps:

  1. Define what you want your brand to be.

What are the elements of the brand that you want for yourself? What is your point of difference? Think two to three years out to ensure it supports a stepped-up version of you. Make it clear and write it down.

2. Get feedback on what your current brand is.

Ask colleagues that know you well and you trust will give you honest feedback. A simple way to do this is to ask five people for five words that describe your current brand.

3. Make an action plan to build your desired brand based on that feedback.

Make an action plan to address the areas you want to work on. Start consistently leading in a way that aligns to your new brand.

This will ensure that your professional brand supports a stepped up, authentic, confident version of you—one that you are excited and energised to step into.  At the end of the day, Oprah, Branson and all the rest never leave their professional brand to chance, so neither should you.

Michelle Sales is a highly sought-after speaker, trainer, facilitator and coach who helps senior leaders and their teams learn to show up as the best version of themselves, to build their confidence and influence with others, and to maximise their leadership and performance. She is the author of The Power of Real Confidence.