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Every blog has to start with a first post…

(Originally posted 14 Jan 2007)

4th March 2002 – the day my hitherto shining career came to a grinding halt. The date is etched in my memory. It was an ‘aha’ moment – the kind of ‘aha’ you really don’t want to have, but I guess I needed the wake up call.

The truth is I’d spent 12 years building my CV not a career. I started off after university training as an accountant with one of the ‘Big Six’ (or eight as they were at the time) – my first brand. After four years I left and, for a brief period, became an interim manager, but I felt exposed so I joined a major finance software company as a consultant – my second brand. A few years later I was headhunted to join a small consultancy but again I felt the brand wasn’t strong enough so after a year I left and joined the management consultancy arm of another of the Big Six. And that was where I was on that day, having my appraisal.

My career progress had been based on two things: working hard and knowing a lot. As I sat listening to my manager the realisation dawned that I had come as far as those two were going to take me. Not so much ‘Aha!’ as ‘Gulp!’

First, I had one of the highest ‘utilisation’ rates (the percentage of your time you spend out with client) in the firm – not surprising given that I’d spent the preceding 6 months working 60-80 hours a week, including weekends. On the plus side, the partners were happy to see so much billable time. On the minus side I was just a name on a spreadsheet – I was never in the office so very few of them knew who I really was.

Second, I was seen as an expert in my field, and was responsible for training new starters across Europe in my practice. As a result the firm was unwilling to transfer me to another practice, with a broader business base.

Finally, I had applied for a place on the firm’s sponsored MBA scheme. Unfortunately, as a manager I was too senior to qualify.

I walked out of the meeting not really certain what to do. The strategies that had got me this far were obviously not going to get me any further. And so I left, set up in business on my own, and took an MBA.

Looking back now it’s easy to see where I’d gone wrong. I had always relied on someone else’s brand to ‘sell’ me, and had never learnt to sell myself. I hadn’t built a brand called me, so I’d become a commodity.

I’ve seen it countless times since then:

  • Successful professionals who work hard, build a bank of knowledge, but struggle to move past a certain point in their career.
  • IT people who have spent years learning their skills, and have found themselves pigeonholed in that field.
  • Consultants who the firm could swap for someone else and the client would barely notice.
  • Lawyers who struggle on their own to find clients even though they were a star in their old firm.
  • Accountants who ‘do the books’ for a client until another accountant offers to do it cheaper.
  • Managers hoping to be noticed so they can get a seat on the board, but with little idea of how to make it happen rather than having to wait.
  • Executives who wander from company to company, barely mentioned in passing in the Annual Accounts and have to watch their peers making the TV and press interviews and conference speeches that would allow them to share their own wealth of knowledge and experience.

It didn’t take me long, once I’d set out on my own, to realise that I had to brand myself or go bust. I just didn’t realise it was what I was doing.

I’ve spent the last four years learning how to present myself, how to mark myself out from my peers and competitors, how to track how I am seen by the market, and ensure that it represent the real me by making sure that I ‘live my brand’.

Today, I am a Personal Brand Strategist. This blog – The Personal Branding Blog – is one way in which I help my fellow professionals to keep their career on track. I also present regularly to MBA classes on career management, and coach and consult to managers, executives and professionals in a wide variety of industries.

Over the coming months I’ll offer a variety of tools and advice through this blog, along with my own personal musings on the sometimes weird, sometimes wonderful, world of personal branding.

To get you started, why don’t you try this free assessment of your own personal brand (click here)

Until the next time!


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