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You only get one chance to make a first impression. If you’re a leader or an expert—whether you like it or not —you are captain of your personal brand.

At a time when the economy is forcing us all to re-examine how we do business, the importance of personal branding has never been greater. Hesitate and you are out—only the most confident and resilient will survive. Things are changing exponentially and the good news is, that with focus, you can emerge stronger and ahead of the field.

The rise of social media

The traditional ways and pace of how we used to do business hold little promise in the future. Add spontaneity and the immediacy of the rising wave of social media and you have a clear equation.

A sharp, crisp, confident personal presence + the capability to respond to opportunity now = the face of future success.

Only this morning I was speaking to my elderly father-in-law, who spent many years as a bank manager in the UK, running some of the country’s largest accounts at a time when bank managers were pillars of the financial community. He commented to me that in all his years, he had not seen a financial crisis as the one we are now living through and how he believed only the very tough, and innovative, would survive. Life and business, he feels, will never be the same. We have to be prepared to change and be ready for the inevitable recovery—if not to where it was—in his lifetime.

My father-in-law still dresses every day in a shirt and tie even though he has been retired for over 30 years and I believe we can all learn a thing or two from him. Your dress might only be one aspect of your personal brand, but it is a key part of the external image you present to the world and it mirrors your core values and professional ideals. These days, even more so, our customers, employees, suppliers, stakeholders, the media and others are placing a greater spotlight on their CEOs and business leaders.

Your personal brand helps you stand out

Your personal brand is what differentiates you from the pack and makes you stand out in a tough market. Your brand is represented through your body language, the way you speak and what you say, your image, how you promote your online presence, how you demonstrate your expertise and how you deal with people.

The GFC is, professionally, forging a greater wedge between the strong and the weak. A strong, confident personal brand allows you such a richer choice of future options. It is amazing that more leaders, and next generation leaders, are not embracing the full opportunity to improve their personal brands.

A strong personal brand allows you to:

•    Charge premium pricing
•    Be exposed to a greater range of opportunity
•    Be a thought leader and sought after for comment
•    Handle the press and communication situations with ease
•    Build tangible brand assets and bankability
•    Increase employee morale
•    Attract the most highly skilled workers
•    Shine in the eyes of your target audiences, customers, prospects and suppliers, media, investors, partners and analysts
•    Increases awareness of your company or product
•    Feed the sales pipeline
•    Build personal, professional and corporate reputation.

Good leaders demonstrate their core values with every appearance. If you look at CEOs such as Richard Branson, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, who they are, what their companies do and most importantly, how they do it, is all a reflection of their personal brand values. Everyone knows them, everyone knows what they do and each could start a new business tomorrow and have instant recognition and success.

This is no time for modesty

The GFC has already seen the division widen between those with a strong personal brand and those who are less confident of shouting their skills and capabilities from the rooftops. While modesty is an admirable virtue, it seldom feeds the sales pipeline. Very few of us are lucky enough to sit quietly, holding our breaths waiting for the recession to pass, and still see a healthy sales pipeline and profit flow.

Whether you like it or not, you are the captain of your brand. It is up to each of us to steer it in the most profitable and successful direction we can. Indeed, many of us have employees who are relying on us to keep that pipeline active.

I truly believe that only the focused will survive these extraordinarily challenging times. We must all decide on whether to cut and retreat, or take the bull by the horns and do whatever it takes to succeed. Evidence shows that the more recognisable your CEO, the closer the link with a stronger business performance. Your personal brand is more than a personal asset, for many it is the face of your business. It has been proven that a strong, ethical leadership brand increases the bankability of a company.

Leadership has to be defined by core values and these should associate with your business. By building and promoting your personal brand, you are defining leadership and practising what you preach. Doing one thing and saying another will fool no one for very long, and will not build brand.

The other side of the recession

As I mentioned earlier, only the most confident and resilient experts will survive the next two years. Hesitate and you’re out. Focus and you will emerge stronger, surer and way ahead of the field. I know that times will improve (history shows they always do) and it is my confident belief and hope that this will be sooner rather than later. Equally, I believe that now is the time to act on your personal branding, now is the time to prepare for the ‘green shoots of recovery’ so that when they are strong and substantial, you are ready to move, ready to leap at the opportunities which come your way.

Jack Welch, the legendary ex-chairman and CEO of GE (USA) wrote a whole book called Control Your Destiny or Someone Else Will. While his book was about mastering change, the title is as relevant today as ever, and just as important. More than ever, your brand will define your destiny, and if you don’t stake your claim, someone else will.

—Sharon Williams is founder and CEO of Taurus Marketing (www.taurusmarketing,com.au) and a member of the Dynamic Business Expert Panel. Taurus has just launched a new service, Taurus Profile, to help leaders and rising stars achieve their business objectives through personal branding.

Why develop your personal brand?

What does success look like?
•    Lead generation
•    Positions you as a thought leader and sought after for comment
•    Aligns you and your company’s brand values
•    Differentiates you from your competition
•    Increases awareness of you and your company
•    Builds credibility and reputation in a competitive market

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Sharon Williams

Sharon Williams

Sharon Williams is the founder and CEO of Taurus Marketing. She has founded a number of businesses and organisations and has more than 25 years experience in marketing and PR from the UK and Europe to Asia, and now Australia.

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