By Cindy Garrett and Shawna Rasmussen
As consultants, we are in the relationship business. Over time, we craft a personal “brand” and reputation based on the quality of our interactions and the value we deliver. It is easy — relatively speaking — to project this brand when we are in front of a client, prospective client, colleague, peer, or anyone else. The problem is, the nature of our profession means we are rarely in one place consistently. Building a personal “brand” takes a little more effort when our association with someone is primarily “virtual.”
Whether you work remotely, are on the road frequently (as we are!), or reside in a smaller office far from company headquarters, the ways in which you interact contribute to shaping your personal brand. Below, we have shared several principles that we have found helpful for building a strong personal brand even when you aren’t in the room.
Take full advantage of evolving digital channels.
Not all that long ago, we relied on the telephone or email to engage with others who are not in our physical location. These channels are still important, but today we are fortunate to have many additional options for making and maintaining connections, including social channels such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and blogs. Used well, these can be tremendously effective for building and extending our personal brands — and often they don’t require a lot of effort.
For example, we try to think beyond just keeping our LinkedIn profiles current. Instead, we use that forum to share interesting articles and blog — for example, something we recently posted on our company blog (perhaps this will be one of them) or maybe company news or a colleague’s post that we find insightful and relevant. When on the road, we also use LinkedIn’s search feature to find new contacts in that market and then ask our mutual connections to put us in touch.
Social media also offers great opportunities for virtual conversation. Commenting on a blog post is a great way to start a dialogue, one that we can continue when we next see the author. And when someone comments on one of our LinkedIn, Twitter, or blog posts, we make sure to respond quickly and continue the conversation.
Extend mentoring relationships outside of your own organizations.
Many organizations have formal mentoring programs, and that is very valuable. We’ve all benefited from the good counsel of our mentors. And many of us have benefited equally as much from the opportunity to be a mentor to a colleague.
We’ve found that one way to enhance and extend our personal brand is to seek mentoring relationships outside of our organization or even industry. As consultants, we have great opportunities to cultivate relationships with juniors, peers, or more experienced executives at our client sites. Participation in external organizations such as Ellevate also offers the chance to develop additional mentoring relationships — which is one reason West Monroe has invested in memberships for our women. In fact, affiliation with a national organization such as Ellevate offers us the chance to participate in networking or volunteer mentorship events even while on the road.
[Related: Why You Should Build Your Mentor Network]
Tailor your communication style to the individual.
Often, it’s not enough to respond to an email or take a call. We need to find ways to connect on a deeper level and build respect with teams and clients. When we don’t have the benefit of face-to-face communication, the words we use and our manner of reaching out matter. We have found it helpful to take the time to learn and consider someone’s operating style and preferences. One approach for doing this is to spend time with Clifton StrengthsFinderTM talent themes or Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® personality inventory. Identifying what “works” best for an individual provides valuable guidance for communicating in a way that strengthens a connection and the perception of value your brand delivers.
Be present, even when you are not.
Building relationships often boils down to virtual communication. And it’s much easier to earn respect when we keep the communication flowing. We try to adhere to this rule of thumb: respond to all emails within 24 hours — or at most, 48 hours if traveling. Even if we don’t provide a full response to the inquiry, we want the sender to know that we appreciate the outreach and have prioritized it. If we can’t respond with the appropriate quality, we can at least provide an update that we are happy to hear from the sender and will respond shortly. Time in the air or during layovers can be a good time to take care of quick “check ins.”
Make the most of rare face-to-face time.
Unfortunately, we don’t get extended face-to-face time with many of our clients and colleagues, so when we do, we try to make the most of that time. That means closing the laptop, putting away the phone, and investing effort into developing these important relationships. For example, when we travel to another office, we may invite someone from another team to a get-to-know-you lunch. We also try to find ways to branch out beyond the normal meeting over lunch, coffee, or cocktails and engage people in activities close to the heart – for example, visiting a museum, walking around the city, or taking a cooking class. These types of interactions make memories while also marketing your brand.
Cindy Garrett is a director in West Monroe Partners’ Customer Experience practice, with over 25 years of experience in contact center and customer experience. She leads the contact center practice for West Monroe, overseeing delivery of innovative strategies that apply leading technologies to drive performance and advantage.
Shawna Rasmussen is a manager in West Monroe's Operations Excellence practice, focused on leading her clients through sustainable change initiatives as part of transformative technology implementations. With over 7 years of consulting experience her passion for people leads her to opportunities to invest in her female coworkers and clients as they navigate their own career journeys.