The power of after hours: Building a brand outside your day job

An excerpt from Fashion@Work

THE WHAT: DEFINING YOUR PERSONAL BRAND

I’m not quite sure how this happened, but I’ve become a bit of a eulogist. Over the past decade, I’ve had the opportunity to do at least six eulogies and at least a dozen “big stage” or public homages to great people for one reason or another.

I find the chance to write a tribute about/to someone a massive honor and privilege. I relish the challenge of netting out the essence of someone’s life, to capture them in a way that does them justice, that distinctly and compellingly conveys what makes them unique and great. I’m always heartened and energized by the chance to do right by them, whether they’re still around to see it or are maybe watching from a better place.

In writing these speeches, the first thing I do is consider the tagline that I think succinctly nets out the person I’m profiling and then weave in a series of stories and facts that tie back to the primary tagline, with the goal of bringing the whole theme and person to life. Finding just two to three words that incisively captures someone isn’t easy, yet it always seems to hit me perfectly, almost like a form of divine intervention (a.k.a. lots of beer).

To provide you with a sense of what I’m talking about when I say “tagline,” included here are just a few from the collection I’ve created over the years:

  • Understated Awesome

  • Simply Extraordinary

  • Effortlessly Infectious

  • Classic Beauty

  • Deliciously Warm Genius

  • Dynamic Leader

  • The Ultimate Gentle-man

  • Brave Angel

Most big brands like Coca-Cola (Open Happiness), Capital One (What’s In Your Wallet?), and Nike (Just Do It) have taglines or mottos that we recognize. However, many of us probably haven’t thought about slogans in the context of the people we know, or even ourselves. It’s interesting—and incredibly helpful and informative— to consider what our own branding might be and what a group of friends and colleagues sitting around a table might create for us. (Now that could be a cool group dinner or team exercise for sure!)

By the way, if I had to come up with one for myself, it would probably be “Form and Substance,” or at least that’s what I’d aspire for it to be. On the “substance” front, I endeavor to achieve a depth of content and expertise that adds value as well as transparency, a level of authenticity, and honesty or straightforwardness. With respect to “form,” I believe the way things look and how I do things matters. Whether it’s an outfit I’m putting together or a

presentation I’m delivering or a dinner I’m serving, I focus on the whole picture related to it. To me, form without substance or vice versa just doesn’t work, yet the combination is where the magic happens.

THE WHY: WHAT WILL YOU GET OUT OF BUILDING YOUR BRAND?

So what about the “you” outside of work? Why go above and beyond your day job to bolster your career profile? Why define a tagline and programmatically execute on your personal brand?

  • Cultivating “the whole you:” As your career advances, organizations are hiring the “whole you” and all of the value and perspective that comes with that. They’re thinking, “Will she be able to represent our brand effectively out in the world? Will her brand further enhance ours in one way or another and ultimately elevate the business?” Getting it right can influence whether you’re hired, whether you advance, and whether people think you’re “worth it” (whatever “it” happens to be).

  • Interpersonal effectiveness: If you’ve thought about your personal brand, that means you’re able to go into important meetings, interviews, and annual reviews with a greater sense of self clarity. You know how to sell yourself. You understand your value.

  • Credibility & trust: Having a digital presence helps potential hiring managers get to know you before they even meet you. It also helps at your current job because it reveals a side of you that your coworkers may not see in the office, thus humanizing you.

  • Job market/opportunity success: If you build a presence online, you might be “discovered” for opportunities you didn’t know exist.

  • Giving to “the world:” When you create things of value (such as a blog), you’re inspiring and entertaining others. When you share your passion and live a more serving-focused life, it creates a certain magic around you.

  • Personal fulfillment & growth: And, it’s fun! If you don’t love your day job, this is an opportunity to create something that will bring you fulfillment and joy.

For me personally, I realized the importance of this after-hours thing relatively late in life, all in the last year through the Women@Work resource platform. I initially pursued it all as a single book, Men@Work, which started as a personal journal to escape from the stresses of work. From the outset, I never intended to go public with the book, figuring I could somehow make all of the advice and resources available anonymously.

Going public with Men@Work might not seem like a big deal, but I’m an introvert and prefer to be private in every way. I’ve never really had a social media presence. I rarely, if ever, engage in community, neighborhood, or school events. At my kids’ sports games, I pick a spot as far away from everyone else as possible so I can focus quietly on the game. Oh, and I avoid parties like the plague, preferring to grab dinner with my husband at a neighborhood bar. Meanwhile, my whole career has been focused on “the job” and being as effective as I can be, absorbing myself in the work and the deliverables through days, nights, and weekends. I felt like that was the “pure” way to advance, the only way that would be true to me. I believed any other approach would not only take me outside my comfort zone but also be disingenuous. I also thought that because of how uncomfortable I am with being a more public or social figure, I wouldn’t be, or even couldn’t be, effective or compelling.  

Beyond all of that, I once had a close colleague say something that really stuck with me. He said, “It’s human nature to shoot at things on the radar screen. Once you find yourself on the radar screen—even if it’s because you’re trying to step up and help others—expect people to fire at you.” After all these years of working in fast-paced, competitive environments, I’ve found this to be true, as sad and wrong and frustrating as it might be. I’ve seen that when people put themselves out there, there’s always someone ready to take them down. Throughout my entire career, I’ve generally avoided putting myself on the radar screen. So, when it came to creating the books and the Women@Work resource platform, I thought that if people didn’t like what I created or if they didn’t like me, I wouldn’t be able to handle it. I also thought that if the whole thing was successful and garnered attention, I couldn’t deal with that either.

All that said, somewhere along the book journey, I realized that if I did stay anonymous and off the radar, that approach would effectively squander my opportunity to make an impact. It hit me that I am uniquely positioned to do something to support women and girls for a whole bunch of reasons—unusual career path in tech, loads of early failures and lack of focus, good learning and perspective on what works and what doesn’t, a solid network of men and women in all professions around the world, and a strong belief in the importance of economic advancement and self-reliance for women. I realized that pursuing this wasn’t about me, per se, and I needed to get over myself.

Alas, after two years of self-torture over whether it was okay or not okay to put myself “out there,” I held my nose and jumped into the pool. I came to terms with the fact that not everyone is going to like me or this whole thing—and that’s fine.

Now that I’m on the other side of jumping, I’m blown away by the feedback I’ve received and the impact this whole thing has already had on hundreds of women. And while my primary goal was to provide a platform of resources for others, I’ve been equally blown away by how much of an impact it’s had on my own life and career. Establishing a broader presence beyond my core resume—building something beyond myself to help others—inadvertently brought my personality to life for friends, colleagues, and the broader marketplace of people and organizations. It has enabled me to project my “look and feel” in a way that is completely authentic to who I am vs. relying on a series of employers alone to tell the story of what I can do. Finally, the content, the branding, and the engagement have been an opportunity to forge invaluable connections that have changed my life forever.

THE HOW: THE DOS AND DON’TS OF CREATING A TAGLINE

While all of this personal brand and tagline stuff can be a bit squishy and elusive, I think we can make it more concrete and actionable with an exercise that anyone can do. Take a stab at this one and see where you land.

  1. What’s your tagline? Or what would you like it to be?

  2. What would others say it is? Is there a disconnect?

  3. What are you doing today that delivers on your desired tagline?

  4. Where do you go “off message”? Is there anything you can do to change that?

  5. What could you do to bring it to life? What cool new things might you put into action?

Once you’ve determined your tagline, think of it as your North Star, guiding you to stay on message and true to your brand. Having a tagline should bring you focus in the midst of things swirling around, enabling better decisions about what to do or not to do. As part of that focus, your tagline might help determine what you should pursue proactively to create and build a strong personal brand over time.

THE WHERE TO BEGIN: HOW TO BRING YOUR TAGLINE AND BRAND TO LIFE

So, how do you start executing on your tagline and bringing your personal brand to life? Let’s explore a few examples.

  • Young individual contributor: Let’s say you’re a 25-year-old marketing coordinator. You’ve never been a team leader and you’ve never managed anyone, but you might have an important outlook on leadership that’s worthy of a blog. Maybe you know what works and what doesn’t, whereas those in management roles have lost some perspective. Perhaps you’ve found yourself in a unique position to do some reverse mentoring—i.e., you taught an old dog like me some new tricks.

  • Experienced professional looking to evolve: Maybe you’re a 35-year-old closet creative or content/brand guru. Perhaps you haven’t illustrated or written in years, but now you want to establish an outlet for yourself while also sharing your talent with the world. This gets to the idea of sharing your passion—it may not directly correspond to your day job, but by showing the world you’re passionate about something, it inspires a magic around you. Maybe you have a pet that has all sorts of stories that you could write about to create a children’s book series. Even if it’s not a massive commercial success, pursuing a project on the side will bring amazing purpose to your life while creating something tangible that you can share with others, whether it’s just talking about the endeavor and/or showing it to them.

  • Mature senior manager who’s plateaued just below the top: Perhaps you’re a 45-year-old who’s done well, but you feel like you’ve been stuck just below the top levels and can’t seem to break through. Consider what you can do to put yourself “out there” and take yourself to the next level in terms of presentation and communication skills, exposing yourself more broadly to get you on the radar screens of other companies while changing the way you’re perceived inside your organization.

In the context of building “You, Inc.”, there is a myriad of options around how to build out your content and make it available to your relevant audiences. By opening yourself up to using your talents and/or expertise, you have an opportunity to expand and enhance your personal brand in all sorts of amazing ways. Consider first what you’re passionate about—maybe it’s related to your day job, or maybe it’s not. It could be a sport or an art or a cause you care about. Or perhaps consider whether you have a unique perspective on a specific topic, such as marketing, tech, government, or healthcare. Decide how you might go deeper in your field of expertise or even take it in another direction.

Once you figure out what you want your focus to be, determine what you can create that will bring your passion and perspective to life. If you have a portfolio of music, art, or writing, present it online through Instagram or even your own website and/or blog through a platform like Squarespace or Wix. Provide advice on how to do what you do well for those who are looking to get into whatever it is that you do. Pass along frameworks or resources that will enable your great domain knowledge and skills to shine while helping others short-cut their efforts. Target young women in high school or college trying to figure out what they want to do, the pros and cons of various jobs, and your insights on the best personality and skills fit for various types of roles. You can even create something where the focus isn’t on you or your expertise, such as a video or a podcast series in which you interview people you admire in your field.

Whatever you do, keep it simple and on brand. While it’s great to be passionate about a whole range of things, try to stay focused on your topic, your “thing.” If you’ve launched, say, a healthcare blog, people are visiting and reading it because they’re curious about your perspective on healthcare—not because they want to see a bunch of photos from your trip to Cabo. Meanwhile, it’s also important to make sure you don’t spread yourself too thin. It’s always better to do one or two things well (such as growing an Instagram following) instead of trying to tackle loads of things haphazardly (such as trying to grow an Instagram, blog, Twitter, YouTube channel, etc. following all at once).

With that said, once you do hit your groove, consider what you can do to expand outside of your four walls. Reach out to publications to see if they’d be interested in having you guest blog on their site. Or find out how you can join a panel at an event or be interviewed on a podcast. While the end goal shouldn’t be to “get famous,” whatever you can do to get your name out there and get some practice in experiences that will bring you outside your comfort zone, go for it.

THE LAST WORD: MOTHERLY ADVICE FROM YOUR FAVORITE “AUNT”

Once you’ve figured out your thing and start to execute, the first rule to follow is “do no harm”…obviously to others, but also to yourself(ie). Seriously, selfies might be one of the biggest weapons you’re inadvertently deploying to sabotage your personal brand. If your social media presence is all about you—looking cute, partying like a rock star, etc.—you’re not doing yourself any favors. Make your social media presence about something bigger and better than you and #nofilter. Consider what you’re good at and what you care about and engage in it heavily. Determine how you can create a presence with content that reflects who you really are in the context of that broader initiative. Look for ways to highlight your creativity, entrepreneurialism, service to others, and ability to deliver.

With the explosion of social media combined with all sorts of professional events (i.e., panel discussions, trade shows, dinners, networking and training meetups, and more), opportunities abound to expand your personal brand beyond your day job. One of the most powerful opportunities that exists in the “after hours” is opening yourself up, providing something of value or helping others in a public way by capitalizing on your talents and/or expertise.

If done right, the Power of After Hours can be game changing for you personally, your happiness as well as your success. It can make you more credible and interesting, and just someone people want to work with. There’s undoubtedly some risk in all of it, but there’s also massive potential and reward. Plus, you can directly control your own destiny vs. relying on others to speak for you. Seize the opportunity to make yourself into a “thing” by creating a thing for the world that helps others while showing off who you are and what you can do. As the kids say, “Get it, girl.” ;)



About Christina

 
Christina-Van-Houten-public-speaking

Christina Van Houten is the founder of Women at Work. Based in Boston with her husband and two teenage sons, she has spent the last 20 years of her career as a senior executive in the enterprise technology sector. Prior to evolving into tech, Christina founded a women's athletic apparel brand and served in several public interest roles focused on community and economic development. She started working at age thirteen and hasn't stopped since. She’s eager to help women find their way to the best possible life they can achieve.