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“I opened the door, amidst a blur of luggage and wiggly wide-eyed toddlers…I looked around, closed my eyes and breathed in the sights of home.”
Twenty-two days in country and forty-eight hours of travel later, she was beyond tired and a little lotbit nervous. It seemed surreal that the adventure, she planned so carefully for, was about to begin.
“We committed to cocooning…” Which means no outside caregivers for six months (that’s right, as in none) to firmly establish trust with her newly adopted daughters.
“When we began trying to start a family (years before that moment) I knew that one of us would need to be the primary caregiver.” Based on her husband’s line of work and their schedules, she planned changes to her career that aligned with her vision of motherhood.
Katie’s story and ultimately the flexibility she needed; grew from her strategic approach to what is now known as “personal branding”.
Branding, a workhorse of the marketing lexicon, has traditionally meant creating identity and visibility for products…the things we buy. As a result the idea of ‘personal branding’ often feels uncomfortable.
However, this is one of many examples where applying the savvy and systems used by businesses can benefit you personally.
Why Aren’t More Moms Developing Personal Brands?
Let’s face it, women are taught it’s impolite to brag, even ‘humble brag’!
For many branding = self-promotion and it just feels awkward… like trying to enter a building when everyone else is exiting.
Most Moms can barely make time for sleep, let alone branding! We already feel stretched deciding which professional obligations are the most critical and it’s daunting to sign up for what feels like a complex project without an end date.
Reputation is the invisible thread that often connects people to game changing opportunities. Think of personal branding as just another way to manage your reputation.
Whatever your planned impact on the world, personal branding can set up opportunity to seek you!
Why This Matters
The era of staying with the same company, while enjoying a nice, tidy progression to the top — based on your integrity and stellar work ethic is long over.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2016 Report, the length of employee tenure has been falling since 1996.
- The median tenure at a company is 4 years for women (slightly less than that of men 4.3 years)
- Less than a third (28% for women and 29% for men) of workers have been with their current employer for 10 years or more.
- Overall women and minorities enjoy less average tenure across all environments
If you have the desire and/or economic need to work, as many Moms do, learn strategies to create as much choice as possible.
Expert Advice To Get Started
I reached out to Susan Peppercorn, seasoned Career Coach & Personal Branding Expert, for advice. What’s a busy mom to do about building a personal brand? What are the essential components? As always, when talking with Susan, I immediately felt the ease that comes from consulting a practical sage.
“Have a plan. Think about the end game…is it to strengthen visibility in your current industry or profession? Start a side hustle? Or transition into a new professional space…Do you want to become an entrepreneur?”
As Susan wisely points out, start with what you’d like to have happen as a result of giving extra love and attention to your professional reputation.
Susan’s 4 Step Action Plan To Personal Branding
- Take 15 minutes to identify your strengths. Yes! You can carve out 15 minutes…the VIA survey of character strengths is a free assessment. Susan advises “…of those 25 character strengths, identify your top 5. Notice your energy during the day…what activities energize you the most? Was it a conversation or solving a particular type of problem? Start making a list.”
- Bring your ‘future best self’ to life! “Write 15 minutes a day for four days, to picture yourself at a future point in time, i.e. in 6 months or one year. Describe your typical day. What are you doing? Are you working solo or with other people? What type of people? What are you most proud of?
- Set achievable steps that ladder up your larger goals. For example, if your goal is to begin publishing articles for your industry, identify your topics, create a schedule to begin writing, etc. “What are other small steps you can take to create your brand? Are there industry web sites you can seek for education? Can you boost your network by attending or speaking at industry conferences?
- Know your audience! As with any marketing plan, think about the type of person you want to connect with. “What do they need or expect from you? How can you deliver value?”
How Katie Did It
“I was an early adopter of all things social media…” this was a natural area of passion that bubbled into both personal and professional life.
“I knew I wanted to have a consistent identity across all platforms and selected a brand that matched my role versus using my actual name.”
“When my husband and I were wading through the infertility process and starting to consider adoption, I quietly started building a consulting practice and client base.” She attracted clients through her ‘street cred’ and growing brand as a researcher and social media consultant.
Quickly, she found herself working full-time at her day job + going through the adoption process + consulting.
I asked her how she brought up her side hustle with her full-time employer. “Casually… I knew there wasn’t a conflict of interest and they approved”. Event organizers would pay her to live tweet and blog summarize their conferences. “I was mentioned in a book written by a popular social influencer, unbeknownst to me at first…that also helped build my credibility and visibility.”
During her six months cocooning and adjusting to motherhood, consulting helped her through the transition. “99% of my days I was ‘Mom’ however with that remaining 1%, I maintained my professional contacts, volunteered and did some writing.” Keeping a connection, even a small one, to her professional identity helped anchor her during a time of tremendous personal change and ultimately built a bridge from her extended leave into an amazing opportunity.
Her current employer knew they wanted her based on the personal brand she established. Katie didn’t have to apply or interview for the job she now has (and loves), they sought her out. Her reputation, style and presence online made it clear that she had the values and skills they wanted.
Katie’s key takeaway from her experience? “Start early. When you are starting off in the process of building or expanding your family, that’s the perfect time to also be building your brand. Look to the future and consider what your family life may look like so you can start preparing NOW to set you up well for then. If you’ve done strategic planning for a business, it’s the same thing, just apply it to your life.”
Beg For Permission or Forgiveness?
Katie and Susan both agree ‘beg for forgiveness’ is the wiser strategy as it relates to ‘side hustles’ and other tactics to building your brand. Even in the most consuming roles, you still have discretionary time – whether it’s reimagining night and weekend schedules or building new habits into the early mornings — your interests, personal or professional, that do not conflict with your employer, don’t require disclosure.
“There are exceptions…” Susan cautions. “I recently had a client who had an employment offer rescinded when the company learned of her side line.” This is not the norm, of course, and her client was being incredibly transparent about having a side hustle before accepting the offer. “In this particular case, the company viewed her side hustle as risky and ultimately it prevented her from getting a job there”.
When should you be transparent about your sideline or activities outside of work?
- Is there a conflict of interest – i.e. are you working with an organization considered competitive?
- Do you need to take time off from your day job to make it work?
- Will you be publicly promoted or tagged on social platforms, like LinkedIn, where you are visible to your employer or colleagues?
- Is it considered risky (relative to your industry or company culture)?
What To Expect
It’s possible that just reading this is making you tired… or worse, worried that you’re going to slip further into the quick sand of ‘too much’. In Anne Marie Slaughter’s book, Unfinished Business, she suggests we think of our careers as a ‘portfolio’ of skills and experiences. There are countless examples of people, at all professional levels, patching together multiple streams of income or activity, simultaneously or sequentially.
Key takeaways from Susan’s process that make getting started manageable:
- Decide what you’d like to have happen from growing your reputation and why
- Focus on the essentials – i.e. skills or learning you want to build upon or people you want to develop relationships with
- Take action… even on those days and nights when one more thing feels like too much. Feel confident in your ability to fold personal branding strategies into your bag of techniques that can accelerate your progress.
While juggling a massive amount with limited time and mental energy, it’s easy to dismiss strategies like personal branding, or other ways of developing our careers, before fully considering the benefits.
With an abundance of digital tools like LinkedIn, Audible, Podcasts and an array of online courses, now is an incredible time to create the path to personal growth you desire, even if you’re breaking the process into small steps.
What do you think? Are you inspired to take your reputation management to the next level? I’d love your thoughts.
Links And Resources:
- Via Strengths Finder
- Book, by Dorie Clark, ‘Stand Out How to Find Your Idea and Build a Following Around it’
- Follow the adventures and observations of Katie on Twitter and LinkedIn.
- Follow Susan on LinkedIn or visit her website, Positive Workplace Partners for career & personal branding tips.
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