Every once in a while it is important to ask yourself where you are as you think about your personal brand. Based on years of feedback, I have developed a Branding Compass™ which shows the key stages of building a brand. Make a mental note that this is an ongoing process. If we do things right, we will complete the cycle over and over again as opportunities take us to the next level. Let’s start with the “E” on the right.

ESTABLISH – The establish phase is when we are at the beginning of building our brand. Typically this is when we start a new job, move to a new department, or take over a leadership role in a different division. The establish stage is a collection of first impressions – how we introduce ourselves to employees, peers, and senior leaders; how we enter a room for a meeting or networking event; the steps we take to build relationships with others we meet for the first time. It is making sure our body language is congruent with our message: we are glad to be here and looking forward to the opportunity. We have all heard the old adage about how hard it is to change first impressions. I find many people don’t make bad first impressions, but they DO make neutral first impressions. They don’t take time to think about their introduction, which should come across as confident, thoughtful, and indicative of the value they bring to the organization. What a missed opportunity!

SHAPE & BUILD – This is the longest stage of building our brand. It can last from a few months to a few years. It includes everything from the way we manage meetings to how effectively we influence in virtual communication. It includes our ability to start our presentations with a powerful opening that grabs the attention of the audience right away to having a well-communicated message instead of simply dumping information. It includes compelling subject lines on emails and concise messages, not a litany of data points which does nothing to actually entice the recipient to read the entire email. It is the language we use in meetings, striking a careful balance between “I” and “we.” The list goes on. This stage is sometimes characterized by taking a few steps forward and then a step or two back. The objective is to keep moving in a positive direction while building a credible personal brand.

WORK TO EXPAND – Once you feel you have solidly built the first two stages, then it is time to really expand your influence. This is where networking and raising your visibility comes in. Just like a brand on the shelf of a grocery store, you can have all of the right ingredients, but if no one knows about it, it doesn’t do any good. The hallmark of this stage is strategically building connections with others outside your immediate world. Maybe you volunteer to lead an affinity group within the company. Perhaps you contribute an article to an industry newsletter or volunteer to speak at a corporate event. Maybe you update your look and get a new photo for your company or LinkedIn profile, showing you have stepped up your game. Whatever you choose, you make a conscious effort to raise the visibility of your personal brand.

NOW, WHAT’S NEXT? – Assuming the first three stages are done well, the next opportunity presents itself. Perhaps you get promoted to a new department/division or you are recruited to work with a new company. The cycle then starts over again. We can never assume our past efforts are enough to keep our personal brand relevant. It is an ongoing investment in our future.

Personal branding IS a journey. Your brand is being built, either with your conscious effort or without it. The power lies in shifting your mindset and making a CHOICE to get in the driver’s seat. No one is going to build your brand except for YOU! Accept it . . . Own it . . . Drive it!