By Courtney Arrington, CPA
What is a personal brand and why is it necessary? A personal brand is the public perception that represents who you are and what you do. A strong personal brand can lead to opportunities for career advancement and other professional accolades. Your personal brand is the first impression most people will get when they Google your name. If that makes you nervous, then you may need to spend some time developing your brand!
When establishing yourself as a working professional, a strong brand message is critical. It is not enough to have a killer résumé or LinkedIn profile, although these are important tools in brand building. To build a strong personal brand, your message needs to be clear, consistent and credible. A clear personal brand easily describes who you are and what you do. When I began building my personal brand right out of college, I started with these basics: I am a creative and I mentor my peers. Sure, this sounds incredibly generic right now, and I will expand on how I grew these two attributes into my personal brand. Second, your brand message should be consistent. We live in a digital world where your social media presence is nearly as important as your résumé. If you cringed imagining what a recruiter would think about your Twitter account, then you may be sending mixed messages. Lastly, your personal brand message should be credible. Building a personal brand that is not sincere will not be sustainable, as it can easily be torn down.
A clear brand message should speak to what it is you want people to know about you. This message should explain what you do and how you do it. Revisiting my two attributes of creativity and mentorship earlier, I recognized early in my career that I strongly value mentorship. Of the professional relationships that I have built over the years, those with the most lasting impact were the ones that I built with my mentors. In building my personal brand, it was also important for me to be able to tap into my creative side. With these two attributes as my focal points, I started my blog, The Accounting Struggle. My vision for the blog was to help new accountants get acclimated by creating content that would be useful to them early in their careers. I was intentional about making sure this branding message was clear and visible across my platforms.
Personal branding should be consistent. While the delivery of your brand message may vary depending on the audience, the message itself should not change. As a millennial, I am rather active on social media. The tone of the content that I post on my LinkedIn page is slightly different from the tone that I post on my Instagram page. The messaging, however, is consistent throughout. When building your personal brand, you can share as little or as much of your personal life as you choose. It is important to consider how this sharing will impact your overall brand messaging though. Transparency and relatability are major themes in my personal brand. I recognize that it may be relatable to share with some of my younger audience that I have an affinity for rap music. It would be contrary to my personal brand, however, to post a video of myself singing along to any offensive lyrics of said music.
Finally, your personal brand message should be credible. A personal brand that is not credible will not be sustainable. In one of my favorite movies, “Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead,” the main character Sue Ellen decided to brand herself as an established fashion executive with an extensive résumé. This exaggerated branding ultimately landed Sue Ellen a role working for a major fashion company. It became increasingly obvious that Sue Ellen was not qualified and after a series of professional failures, she had to confess to fabricating her brand. Sue Ellen built a brand that was not credible. Personal branding is less about being the expert in your field, and more about being the expert at being you and sharing your message.
So where should you start when building your personal brand? Start with what you want to be known for by others. To dig deeper, look at what you are most passionate about. This does not have to be related to what you do for a living. You simply need to identify your purpose and what it is you enjoy creating. Next, take that and consider how you can use it to add value. Let’s say you are an accountant, but you are most passionate about physical fitness. More specifically, you are passionate about teaching others how to prepare for running marathons. Although running marathons has very little to do with performing accounting procedures, you could brand yourself as the “fitness accountant.” Accountants typically work long hours and struggle to maintain steady fitness routines during peak busy seasons. An accountant in the office who understands these specific pain points, who is also equipped with the expertise to address them, would be very valuable. A fitness accountant could share tips on how to complete a 15-minute cubicle workout or how to avoid busy season weight gain. If branded as the fitness accountant, other accountants looking to get into shape would be interested in this brand message. Before long, the fitness accountant could be invited to accounting firms across the nation to help get the other accountants in shape.
When I started my blog, The Accounting Struggle, my goal was to simply share what I was learning in the accounting field in real time. I intentionally branded myself as the accountant who would be open and honest about what the journey looked like when I was not succeeding in accounting. It was important for me to establish a brand that was credible, so I often shared my full journey — including wins and losses. Building a personal brand is a process that will evolve with time. Whether you are establishing your personal brand or rebranding, remember that you control the narrative. Decide who you are and what you do, then begin building your brand from there.
Courtney Arrington, CPA, is an investment accountant for Genworth Financial in Richmond and an accounting influencer. She writes a blog called The Accounting Struggle, where she helps new accountants get acclimated in the field.