In a crowded conference room in Edison, employees at WeiserMazars gather and volley about terms like “buzzwords” and “flair.”
Sure, it might not be what you’d expect to hear from a group of accountants. But it’s the product of a personal branding training series for the accountants launched by Gabrielle Chwazik-Gee, digital marketing manager at the firm, to help them develop respected — and relatable — online personas.
Today, personal branding is not just for rock stars and restaurateurs. It has become an effective marketing strategy for everyone from CEOs to auto mechanics.
“There is so much information flying around these days that you really have to promote yourself in order to be heard,” Chwazik-Gee said.
Earlier this year, Google produced a report titled “The Changing Face of B2B Marketing,” which found that 71 percent of B2B research begins with a generic search and buyers are typically 57 percent of the way through their decision-making process before they connect with the service provider.
“A big part of what accountants do is business development,” Chwazik-Gee said. “Because decision makers are researching online before they make a decision, it’s a good idea for them to promote yourself ahead of time.”
Personal branding is the story you tell the world about yourself.
“You have to decide what you are good at and what you want to be known for,” she said. “You might provide exceptional client service, but what makes you different from all the other people who use those buzzwords and who do exactly what you do?”
Finding that true, individual value proposition involves a deep dive for many professionals.
Sonaya Williams, owner of the North Brunswick-based Sonaya Williams Group, spent the last two years working on her personal brand. While the firm, which specializes in creating infrastructure and standard operating procedures for small businesses, has been in business since 2011, Williams actively avoided personal branding in her marketing efforts.
“I kept saying, ‘I don’t want this to be all about me,’” Williams said. “But, over time, I realized people buy me and I have to make sure my brand reflects what people want to buy.”
Williams said she was shocked to find that people were actually interested in the personal information she was sharing.
“I come from a corporate banking background where I was the only woman working with a bunch of men in the technology department,” she said. “So I never really shared anything about myself. Once I started sharing, people thought it was great and I found that I wanted to share more.”
“I listened to my clients carefully and chose words
for my messaging (that) speaks to my ideal client. Now the sell isn’t cold.”
Sonaya Williams, owner, Sonaya Williams Group
For example, Williams travels frequently and posted a blog about a three-week trip to Europe.
Because her business focuses on creating processes and hiring teams that help small business owners refocus their time and energy, the blog turned out to be an effective advertisement. The post resulted in a prospect who was interested in traveling more reaching out to Williams to find out how she could run her business more remotely.
“Going through the process of figuring out who I am and not being afraid to put that in my personal brand has been tremendously successful,” she said.
Williams began her personal rebrand by hiring a brand strategist. She took on a nine-month process of redesigning the appearance of her website and interviewing her customers, prospects and partners to find out what resonated with them.
“I listened to my clients carefully and chose words for my messaging that speaks to my ideal client,” Williams said. “Now, the sell isn’t cold. Prospects have been to my site, they know what we do and they relate.”
The next step for Williams is to put together a social media strategy that reflects her new personal brand.
“I stayed away from social media for a long time,” she said. “But now that we’re clear on our messaging, what we look like and who we are talking to, I’m a lot more comfortable.”
Comfort on social media is paramount.
According to Chwazik-Gee, developing a personal brand does not mean you should create a robotic version of yourself. If you’re funny, be funny. If you’re creative, be creative.
Steve Rosner, partner at 16W Marketing LLC in Rutherford, has represented some of the highest-profile sports broadcasters in the country, including Howie Long, Cris Collinsworth, Cal Ripken Jr. and Phil Simms. When it comes to personal branding, he advises his clients to be authentic.
“Be true to yourself,” Rosner said. “Don’t be motivated by trends or economics. If you aren’t a social media person, don’t do it just to get your numbers up. If you are forcing yourself to do social media, the content that is delivered won’t be truly from the heart. I think it is very dangerous to do business like that.”
Rosner’s comment brings home the point that your brand does not just live online.
“A big concern a lot of our partners have is that social media is going to replace human interaction,” Chwazik-Gee said. “Social media should never be used as a replacement, but should be used to encourage more interactions. It’s a great way to make more connections, meet new people, then take those connections offline and have discussion as you would normally.”
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