LMA Future Leaders Feature: 10 Ways to Build a Strong Professional Brand – Starting Today

by Stefanie Marrone

This May, I had the opportunity to teach a course on best practices in social media and branding to a group of law students visiting from the Universidad de Navarra in Spain. During the session, I stressed the importance of building a strong professional brand and how to utilize social media to promote your unique strengths through a show vs. tell approach, which is demonstrating that you are a leader in your field through providing client-centric content and letting your accomplishments speak for themselves. 

I also talked about the importance of going out of your way to aid individuals in your professional network without expecting anything in return. These are actions such as helping a contact find a job, sending someone an article you think they might find of interest, or congratulating a former colleague on a professional or personal milestone. I truly believe that those who go the extra mile to cultivate their relationships by helping individuals in your network will have greater professional success today. 

Here are the 10 tips that I gave the students for building their professional brand, which can be adapted for those in the early stages of their careers as well. Take a look: 

  1. Know what your online persona looks like and regularly audit it. The lines between our personal and professional lives are getting blurrier by the day in today’s digital world. As a result, it’s important to take appropriate steps to protect your reputation and brand. First off, Google yourself at least once per month and pay attention to the first page of results as most users do not go past those. Set up a Google Alert for yourself, which is a free service that sends you an e-mail notification when your name appears online. What do you do if you want to have information about yourself removed from the internet? If you don’t control the information from your social media accounts, you will have to contact the web sites to request removal of the content, which can be a time-consuming process. Equally important is to ensure that the information visible on your Facebook and Instagram accounts is locked down to only your friends and family. You may also want to set up friend lists on Facebook to be more specific on who can view your status updates and photos. 
  2. It’s never too early to build a strong network. Connect, cultivate and build relationships today with colleagues at your firm and within the legal marketing industry. These can be powerful sources of future job opportunities and professional networking. Also, try not to any burn any bridges – you never know when you might need a recommendation or when someone may reach out to a former employer to casually ask about you. Join the alumni networks of your former educational institutions and firms – these are great sources for networking and information. Don’t forget to stay in touch with former bosses and mentors – these are important relationships to cultivate for when you need mentorship and of course, references. 
  3. Don’t underestimate the importance of every connection. Remember that every single person you ever meet is potentially someone who is in or will be in a position to help you down the line. The person sitting next to you on the train or on the buffet line at a family function could be a prospective employer, employee or source of business. Be friendly and kind to everyone. Because you never know. 
  4. Connect in person and electronically. In the digital world in which we live, networking online is just as important as making in-person connections. LinkedIn is the most important social media channel for business development. Spend the time to develop a strong LinkedIn profile that highlights your professional attributes and background. Your LinkedIn profile is one of the top Google results when someone searches for you. Create a dynamic LinkedIn headline – that's most important line of your profile because it gets pulled into Google results. Also, have a small goal for daily social media engagement, for example, like and/or share others’ posts in your industry and at your firm, and even better, share content that you write. LinkedIn provides great excuses to reach out to those in your network through its job moves and work anniversary notifications. Use these professional milestones to reach out to those individuals who you’ve been meaning to contact – this is powerful information, don’t let it go to waste. This data enables you to stay top of mind with important connections. 
  5. Promote yourself by listening. The key to creating lasting professional relationships is not to tell someone how great you are, but rather to listen to them, ask questions and make them feel important. Keep the 80/20 rule in mind – talk about yourself 20% of the time and listen to your conversation partner 80% of the time. Another way to build a bond with someone is to connect on a personal level by finding commonalities regarding family, sports, a hobby or work. In addition, giving someone an authentic compliment can create a strong connection. 
  6. Make yourself first useful, then indispensable. Make a note to regularly follow up with important contacts by sending them value-added content with a personal note. Perhaps it’s an article, blog post or industry study that you saw – or better yet – wrote yourself. Take this one step further and keep a content feed – for me, this is a spreadsheet of articles, studies and infographics from publications and other sources that I follow. I regularly post this content to LinkedIn and Twitter to stay top of mind with my connections. Sharing information of worth to your network will position you as a thought leader and can greatly raise your profile. 
  7. Add value by connecting people who can create value for each other. One of the best ways to build relationships is by linking people to each other. For example, instead of going out for drinks or dinner with one person in the industry, go out with several who don’t know each other. People enjoy meeting each other, especially when they have commonalities. They will appreciate you for introducing them, and you will strengthen your relationship to all of them in the process, which is a win-win for everyone, most importantly, you. 
  8. Smartly network. Become an expert networker by making people feel special and being a good listener. Maximize your time at the functions you attend so that you can meet as many key people as possible. Make sure to get business cards from the people you meet and connect with them afterwards on LinkedIn with a personal note referencing something from your discussion. 
  9. “How can I help you?” should be ingrained in your head at all times EVERY SINGLE DAY. I learned this concept from Karen Kahn and her terrific business development bible Daunting to DOAble. If you think about ways in which you can help someone without expecting anything in return, you will build strong relationships over time. Giving before you get will pay you back beyond your wildest imagination.  
  10. Say YES more. Say yes to most opportunities that come your way that interest you, even those things that make you a bit uncomfortable. Maybe it’s doing something that you haven’t done before, such as public speaking, managing people, taking on a leadership role or even switching careers. It is often during the times when you step outside of your comfort zone that you are able to truly grow. Always under-promise and over-deliver on these opportunities. 

On a related note, the opportunity to lecture to these students came from networking with someone the LMA Northeast Region, Silvia Hodges Silverstein. I raised my hand when she asked if anyone wanted to guest lecture for another course she was teaching, and we have been collaborating ever since. You never know what doors may open from saying yes and networking! 

Beyond having a high-caliber mastery of your subject matter, your job is to make people like you while building connections and staying top of mind with your network. If you always remember that everyone you encounter is someone who could be a potential source of future business and that being successful at what you do requires the continual nurturing of relationships, you will be well on your way to building a more robust professional network. 

These tips can be applied to anyone at any point in your career. Try them out – at the very least, you’ll have built stronger connections and there’s absolutely no downside to that! 

Marrone stefanie_Linkedin_Tight.jpg

Stefanie Marrone helps companies effectively tell their stories and find their unique voices. She has worked at some of the most prominent law firms in the world, developing and executing global revenue generating, business development, internal and external communications strategies, including media relations, branding, content marketing and corporate journalism, and multi-channel content marketing and thought leadership campaigns.

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