Make the right impression when networking

Graffity saying 'Who are you?'

An essential part of networking is to be memorable - for the right reasons. This means recognising and developing your personal brand so that you can network effectively, says Stephanie Peckham, co-director of business relationship experts Smarter Networking

A brand is often described as a "collection of perceptions" people have of a product, service or organisation - it is what sticks in their minds and helps them make buying decisions. But people don't only have perceptions about products, services and organisations - they also develop a collection of perceptions about the people they meet.

I would say we all have a personal brand that influences other people's decisions about whether to do business with us. This personal brand has a powerful impact - not only on the people we meet, but other people within their networks, too. People talk about us just as they talk about products, services and organisations.

When you consider that research suggests word-of-mouth recommendation has a far greater influence (more than 80 per cent) over how an individual makes a purchase than other forms of marketing, you can start to appreciate the potential impact of your own brand.

But how do you recognise what your personal brand is, and how can you shape it so that you influence other people positively?

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How do I know what my personal brand is?

In his book Brand it Like Beckham, Andy Milligan outlines the key factors of David Beckham's brand. This is split into his public and private "self" and what he is known for in each area. In his private brand (which is anything but private!) are his roles as son, father and husband; his public brand includes celebrity, ex footballer and fashion icon.

These are the core elements of what has become a successful brand combining the "ordinary East London boy" with the more exceptional ex footballer and celebrity. But there are other characteristics, too, including David Beckham's values, motivations, ambitions, personality, interests and connections, as well as more visible qualities such as his appearance and communication style.

What is probably most important about this model of personal brand is that it is broader than David Beckham's professional reputation alone. It recognises that the whole person needs to be considered when identifying a personal brand.

If I were to apply this approach to myself, I could describe my core brand as follows:

  • Private: entertainer, Londoner, endorphin junkie
  • Professional: networking expert, speaker, coach and trainer.

I would then add other qualities and characteristics - my ambitions, motivations, personality, and so on.

Why should I care about my brand?

There are three key areas where our own and others' awareness of our brand can help (or hinder) in networking.

1. Creating an impact

Your impact on others happens in three stages:

  • The immediate impact: when they see you, before you've even opened your mouth
  • During the initial conversation: what you say and how you say it, how you build rapport
  • After the conversation: how you follow through and develop the relationship.

2. Raising your profile

Whatever you put out there in terms of your brand will dictate how you are remembered, recognised and ultimately recommended by and to other people.

3. Enabling your contacts to inform and connect you

Only if your contacts are clear about who you are and what you are trying to achieve, and they trust you enough, will they be able and willing to pass you the information you are looking for and connect you with the right people.

Identifying and communicating your brand is an essential ingredient of successful networking. If you are working with others as part of a team, then the personal brands of all these individuals will determine how your company or team brand is formed.

How do I promote my brand?

Once you've identified your personal brand - and you are comfortable with it - you need to get it to market. It's best to do this in a way that emphasises your brand qualities. For example, as a networking expert, I need to demonstrate my networking expertise - it's not enough to simply say "this is what I am".

Here are some of the things I need to do.

  • Be an expert: gather as much knowledge as possible about networking, including events and groups, networking skills, new ways of networking, the benefits of networking, and so on.
  • Share my expertise: this may mean offering free advice or information, or mentoring or coaching, or pointing people in the right direction for their own networking.
  • Be well-connected and connect other people: I really need to be walking the talk - that means being seen at events, moving around with ease, and being able to connect people.
  • Not become a networking bore: I'm more than just a networking expert and I don't want people to think "Oh no, she's going to talk about networking again". So I need to be prepared to have conversations about a wide range of topics - which adds to my being recognised as a good networker.

Keep your brand fresh

Every brand needs to be kept fresh and relevant. Your brand needs to reflect changes in your market and changes in your own goals or ambitions. If I wanted to diversify my business, for example, then "networking expert" could become too narrow a definition of what I do. I might want instead to become a "soft skills guru" or "business relationships expert" - and I'd have to refine my brand accordingly.

You can change your personal brand - it is your brand after all - so you need to grasp it, make sure it's what you want it to be and then get it out there, working for you and your business.

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