In this extract from The Executive Secretary Guide to Creating a Personal Brand, Anel Martin shares her thoughts on what makes an authentic and powerful personal brand

What is a brand?

In essence, I believe your brand consists of the elements that make you unique and ultimately successful. It is the rare combination of traits and skills that combine to create “YOU”.  It is the value and quality that people perceive in you, be it real or in their minds. Simply put, it is what people say and think of you when you leave the room.

You cannot fake an exceptional personal brand; there is no easy way to create it and no quick fixes for a damaged one. It will require hard work, discipline and an honest exploration of who you really are, what you want and what you stand for.  It requires sincerity and constant course corrections over time to ensure that your brand remains consistent, on the right track and above all valuable and desirable.

The origin of the word brand comes from the Old Norse word “brandr” which means “to burn”. Cattlemen used hot irons to burn their individual marks (brands) into their animals so that they could distinguish their own livestock when they go missing or are stolen. This system of creating a distinguishing mark, logo or brand came into popular use during industrialisation when sellers wanted to differentiate their products from similar ones to ensure that buyers would select their specific product and in that way increase their profits.

The origin of the word is so fitting, as it is my opinion that our brands too, should set us apart in the world. They should be clear, singular and convey a strong message. They should be recognisable and instil trust in others.

A potent, genuine brand is especially important in our roles as office professionals. In our roles we are expected to not only project an image of professionalism, discretion and competence but also produce on this “promise”.

We tend to think of branding as a modern concept but in fact it is ancient. The first recorded brand was a herbal paste from India dating back to 1100 BCE. The focus on personal branding, however is a more modern phenomenon. It has come into sharp focus with the advent of social media, which has given us the power to engage, learn from and share with people around the world. We can now voice our opinions in a way that was limited to broadcasters only a few years ago. Social Media has also made it easier to showcase our brands than ever before.

Who needs a brand and why?

In the modern world there are so many generic, knock-off or similar products that businesses and individuals need to focus on their unique selling points (USP)/special features, customer service and the end-to-end experience to get (and stay) ahead in the game.

As unemployment and retrenchments are soaring in many countries around the world there are more individuals competing for fewer positions and resources. This makes a powerful personal brand more important and valuable than ever before.

We all need to be distinct from others in the same group to give us that competitive edge! You want to be the candidate they remember from the interview, the person who is top of mind when a new internal position or opportunity becomes available. It is in these situations that we clearly see the value of a good brand.

Office professionals for many years have tried to blend in and be “behind the scenes” people. But in a more competitive world this has become an outdated notion. Every one of us needs to define and refine our own personal professional brand to remain viable and relevant in the workplace.

Sadly, even if you don’t see the value of a “brand” you already have one (good or bad) which you create daily with every interaction, conversation of piece of work delivered. What matters is that you create, manage and promote your own brand effectively to ensure that the performance appraisals, possible promotions and other opportunities go your way. Leaving your brand to chance is unwise. It should be something that you are aware of and that you consciously create.

In many companies, the brand (which is an intangible asset) is often as valuable or more valuable than the physical assets that the company owns; the same applies to our careers in any role we choose. It’s not only what we do, but also what people believe about us that influence the value (material and otherwise) that they ascribe to us.

What does a successful personal brand look like?

In my opinion, there are two layers to a successful assistant brand. The first (or foundation layer is the part that is expected as part of the role: the “Assistant Promise” if you will.

These are elements that are expected from exceptional assistants by virtue of the role itself and you will never create an extraordinary brand of your own as an office professional if these essential building blocks are note in place and solid.

These standard requirements for our chosen profession I like to refer to as the “Assistant DNA”.  This is by no means an exhaustive inventory but can be used as a checklist.

In my experience, all the really incredible assistants that I have met all over the world had the following in common (I am sure that you can think of more): –

  1. Passion and commitment
  2. Attention to details and incredible logistical skills
  3. Pride in the product and their own performance
  4. Emotional intelligence and real care for others
  5. Intelligence and common sense
  6. Practical ability to see tasks through to completion
  7. Ability to plan and proactively avoid problems
  8. Well-spoken, confident and assertive
  9. Well groomed
  10. Discrete and trustworthy
  11. Competent and highly skilled
  12. Informed about their companies and the world at large
  13. Humble and service oriented
  14. Organised and disciplined
  15. Positive
  16. Able to work with little or no supervision
  17. Able to work under pressure and be extremely resilient

These are some of the standard features. So how did you score on my list? Are you in agreement? Not all of us can display all these attributes 100% of the time but if we want to be in the elite group of assistants globally this is what we need to aspire to and work toward daily.

In addition to these standard features we all need to identify and develop our own special features. These unique attributes and skills are what set us apart from the pack. We need to analyse what it is that makes us distinctive and put it to work in our careers.

What are the values/advantages of a successful brand?

A successful personal brand comes with many advantages. My own personal brand has enhanced my career in many ways and I can earnestly say that it is worth the work. A solid brand, built with integrity, will enhance your standing in your organisation and among your peers and within your profession. It will enable you to have a better understanding of who you are and what you stand for which then becomes like an internal guidance system, which will keep you on track.

It will also come with financial and opportunity-based advantages. A respected brand tends to be in higher demand. You will be more secure during times of flux in your organisation such as retrenchments or restructuring. Why? Well, you have defined your areas of speciality, you add value to your manager and team and you put your talents to work for the good of the company so you are less likely to be adversely affected by these kinds of changes.

In the worst-case scenario when you do need to apply for another position you will have greater confidence when you need to be interviewed, you will have a strong network outside of your organisation who can assist you with identifying possible positions (or recommend you for suitable roles) and you will be aware of how your online presence could affect your prospects. A strong brand will also draw people and opportunities to you.

Amazing things happen when you understand what you can offer the world and when you start to seek opportunities to enhance the lives of those around you by offering the best that you have within.

A good brand and work ethic will ensure that you become successful in your role and that others view you and the profession with more respect.

Don’t just take my word for it … there are many assistants today who are living proof!

Anel Martin is a multi-award winning ex-Personal Assistant who now works as a full-time trainer. She has extensive experience in the profession and is widely considered an industry expert. Anel is also one of the Directors of the Isipho Admin Bursary (www ... (Read More)

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