Personal Branding Trainer at LannebergBexelius
When I first started asking around for recommendations on which Boss Ladies I should take a lunch with, one of the first tips was from a fellow Australian friend of mine, Josephine Hoffmann. Having lived in Sweden for over 30 years, Josephine has an extensive network that just about reaches every industry in Sweden. So of course she could recommend a kickass Boss Lady to lunch with. One of them just happened to be her former neighbour.
Pia and I had lunch at Epicenter, one of Stockholm’s most inspiring, productive and driven communities for startups, small companies and freelancers alike. Now, if you’ve been there yourself, you know that it’s a large building. It’s not like there is just one room to meet people; there are cafes, conference rooms, lounge spaces, and coworking areas. My lunch with Pia was actually some time ago but I’ve since visited Epicenter a few times and every time I’m there I see her lunching, talking or taking fika with someone.
Every time I’ve left the amazing building, sometimes without getting a moment to say hi, I’ve thought about how Pia is a part of the Epicenter scenery. She is someone that is always there, contributing, building a vital part of the community that ultimately helps make Stockholm tick. And we need more Boss Ladies like her.
We were to meet at the street level cafeteria for what I assumed would an hour sit-down conversation. But instead of sitting down at one of the cushion-clad bleachers, I was invited upstairs to a floor that I quickly lost count of.
We jumped into a conference room so that we could have the space, physical and mental, to chat. “I haven’t booked this room so if someone comes and knocks on the door, then we need to go find somewhere else to sit.” Pia says cheerfully. I smiled right back at her. This lunch was ad hoc and I already loved it.
Who needs personal branding?
We jump right into it and I get the low down on what kind of people or companies Pia helps with personal branding. As a marketer myself, I’m pretty solid on the details of what personal branding is but the ‘who’ always varies. Pia explains that the typical clients are executives or, less commonly, middle-line managers. She starts to tell me the story of someone she has just worked with as an example of the type of person she helps with personal branding.
“I recently had a fantastic young woman from middle management within the medical industry and she came to me wanting to become clearer and more consistent in her communication to her colleagues and executive managers. The leadership group of her company had also given her feedback that they wanted her to take more space; that they thought she was a little too shy and reactive in her role.”
Naturally, a first step is to get a sense of how the client feels which Pia goes on to describe. “Her response was that she didn’t like to talk when she did not have anything to say, so she kept quiet. She let them do the talking. But in that case, the leadership group felt that she didn’t contribute and felt that she had to step up. So what we did was to look at and develop her brand in three perspectives. The first was the perspective and relationship to her coworkers; what can they expect from her and what she can expect from them?”
Your brand has a relationship with your colleagues and passions
So how did the client own and clarify this perspective of her brand? “She held a speech for her coworkers where she was very clear in what she expected from them, whilst also managed to share personal stories about herself, her values and her passions.”
Pia goes on to tell how this was a pivotal moment for the client. “All of a sudden they (her colleagues) could understand her and what she is all about. It allowed them to get a grasp on who she is as a person – which they weren’t able to do before.”
The second aspect of personal branding in this scenario was “hjärtefrågan”, which directly translated means ‘the heart question’. The better translation is your passions. Pia explains why passions were critical for this case.
“It was important for her to figure out what those passions were in order for her to truly care about her role. Identifying things that truly mattered to her was a huge step for her because it meant that she could immediately be much clearer in what she wanted or needed to do. And she was no longer afraid to step forward because she cared about what needed to be done.”
Branding is global
The third element of her personal branding was for the international element of her role which largely comprised of working with people based in southern Europe. “They have very different views on young women in the workplace. She is blonde. She is beautiful. And she is a women. And they treated her in a different way (because of that)” explains Pia.
“She tended to speak with a lower voice with not a lot of confidence in her posture. So what we need to work to improve was her presentation skills. We really tried to work with her skills in terms of the physical as well as the storytelling elements of her presentations.”
So what were the results of this middle manager from the medical industry taking a lesson in personal branding? At the most basic level, she got praise from colleagues and managers alike. “Her boss came up to her and said, now you’re getting it. Now I can see what you’re all about”.
On a professional level, it helped launch her to amazing new possibilities. “She is now living in Switzerland as one of the top managers of the whole company.”
Personal branding and Swedish culture don’t see eye to eye
We touch on why these challenges arose for her client in the first place and it’s clear that it was largely cultural.
“Sweden has this mentality where we have consensus. It’s scary to have an opinion because if you have an opinion you always risk that someone else has another opinion. And that’s scary for a Swede. We like to have agreement on things.”
It’s scary to have an opinion...if you have an opinion you always risk that someone else has another opinion.
“So for her, it was really difficult to have opinions and feelings about things that she was totally engaged in, and to dare to have the courage to stand up for them in the leadership group.”
The role of gender in developing personal brands
Just as we’re about to delve into deeper conversation, we hear the ominous knock on the door which means we need to pick up and move spot. We shift ourselves to an open lounge area, continuing our conversation with ease as we walk the corridor.
I ask Pia whether the problems encountered by the woman in the story can be generalised as typical for most women in their field. With no hesitation she answers yes.
Women have a whole lot more expectations on themselves. They have high demands on themselves.
I follow up with a tough question that perhaps a lot of people either don’t like to ask or don’t believe can be answered easily. What’s the difference between men and women in these personal branding scenarios? Pia takes a moment to ponder the question in its entirety.
“Women have a whole lot more expectations on themselves. They have high demands on themselves.” She takes another couple of seconds to think about the comparison to men. “Men have a lot more learning by doing. They can jump into it. Women think that they should educate themselves (first) and prepare themselves and they should do everything perfect.”
I confess to her that I am definitely one of those women who have the need to feel prepared before I jump into big tasks. Nodding, she says with a chuckle but also some insistence “I hate that all the women think like that”.
Getting over it
Given that there might be a tendency for women to be more reserved or doubt themselves more than men, what are some strategies that we can adopt to either prevent those feelings happening at all, or at the very least, accelerate the time it takes to go from being reserved to fully-fledged confident Boss Lady?
“The first strategy is to be aware” stresses Pia. “The other strategy is to try to change mindset; just start to jump into it and just see what happens and learn by that.”
“Another strategy is to get rid of the habit of using insecure words when you don’t need them. For example ‘I believe’ or ‘perhaps’. Men use ‘I’m convinced’ but we say ‘I believe’. We say ‘I think it’s like this’ and they (men) say ‘It is like this’. You see what I mean?”. I agree because I recognise it within myself immediately.
Don't be afraid to take the same amount or even more space than everyone else in the room.
I probe as to whether these strategies are things women new to their field can adopt and use right away. “Absolutely. Right away” encourages Pia. It’s reassuring to hear Pia say this because when you’re new to your field, there is this feeling that you need to wait your turn before you can start demonstrating these traits. And this feeling, whether real or imagined, can last years! I still feel it and I’ve been working within my field for about 5 years.
I realise that the absence or suppression of these traits is very likely one of the variables that influence how quickly women make it to Boss Lady positions. Which is both good news and bad news. Bad news because it exists. Good news because we can overcome it quicker when we are aware of it and have strategies to overcome it.
Self-employment can protect you
I want a better idea of how gender tendencies have played a part in Pia’s personal branding development. “I have always been self-employed so that’s the biggest difference” Pia explains, meaning that she has never been in a position with higher management than herself.
“But I notice it and I feel it (in myself) when I meet some kinds of people that are really in positions of authority. Then I can get that kind of starstruck feeling. But I have the tools to not let those feelings or tendencies show. I can straighten my posture, I can raise my voice, I can keep eye contact – all the things that give the impression that I too am an authority even though I am not.”
Personal branding as a process
Personal branding as a skill or task is a huge umbrella term that, like many things, takes more than one sitting to become an expert. But I want to know if the way Pia works with clients can be described and explained as a process.
“The first thing you need to look at is yourself. You have to know yourself to grow yourself. What are your personal traits? Your strengths? Your weaknesses? Your values? What drives you?”
“The next step is to look at how other people perceive you. Because that’s your brand today. What’s the impression people get? What do other people consider your biggest strengths?”
“And then you need to compare the difference between the two; what’s the difference between how you rated yourself versus how other people view you?”
“We then discuss how it is you wish to be perceived. And from that you can see what needs to be changed. Perhaps you need to tell people another story in order to showcase a strength that they haven’t seen. Or a goal or an ambition or even a weakness.”
“With all these things we build up an action plan which includes the final part of the process: visibility. It could be traditional media but more often now, almost always, is the use of social media.”
The rise of social media and personal branding
Just as Pia mentioned the words social media, the question immediately popped into my head. What role does social media play in personal branding?
“It plays a huge part because the first impression people get is on social media today. I guess you have Googled me and I have Googled you and that’s the first impression. And people don’t think of that all the time. You can’t be private on social media and you have to know that. You have to really think of what you’re posting. But at the same time, it’s a fantastic democratic opportunity to have a voice.”
Nowadays, everyone can be their own PR consultant.
In just a few sentences Pia has pretty much summed up why I too think social media is so important for building modern societies. Not just for the individual but also the smaller companies that traditionally, would have been drowned out by the corporates.
“Nowadays, everyone can be their own PR consultant. But not everyone is so strategic about what they post, so they need some help. What should I say? What channel should I use? What’s my core message? How can I show my brand in social media?”
We stray onto the topic of which social media is our favourite for personal branding. The most powerful for my own brand would probably be LinkedIn and Facebook.
“It’s different for every person that comes to me but I think the hardest to get right and do well with is Twitter. Because it’s so short and you have to be interesting. Of course you need to be interesting on all channels but Twitter is the hardest. I like LinkedIn actually, I’m a LinkedIn fan. It’s a bit easier to have higher visibility through publishing and you can have more engagement through comments on your posts.”
First A and B, then the rest of the alphabet
I’m curious to know what happens once someone has reached their goal or level of personal branding that they set out to achieve. Is it done and dusted once they’ve gone from A to B? “First comes A and B, and then the rest of the alphabet” laughs Pia. “Of course it’s a work in progress.”
“You have to be aware that people don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it; your passions. We buy brands and what they stand for. If I share your values, then I’m in you’re tribe and I’ll probably become a loyal tribe member. So in that way it’s always ongoing and an evolution of a brand.”
There are a lot of similarities in what I am talking about with Pia and what I have discussed in the first Boss Lady lunch with Jenny Hedlund. That lunch was all about coaching and personal development. I ask Pia what the difference is between the two.
“The early stages of both are very much the same. But personal branding is all about external communication and PR. Coaching doesn’t have that competence. That’s one thing to look out for should you look into using personal branding. You have to make sure that your personal branding coach has the necessary education within communication and PR. Otherwise you won’t achieve the visibility in the right media nor will you communicate the right core message.”
Dreams of a society driven by passion
As we wind up our lunch, I’m curious to hear what Pia has in store over the coming months, and if personal branding will be her call for the foreseeable future.
“If everyone does what they love they become excellent in work. So I dream of a society where everyone knows their passions, what drives them, their unique skills and how they can contribute to a company. If everyone knows that, it’s pretty easy right? So my mission is to help people discover their unique talents and contributions so they can step forward and say here I am and I’m good at this”.
For her company, growth is on the horizon. “As of a couple of weeks ago I now have a partner in my business! So now I am going to be building and growing the company. It’s not going to be a huge company but it is going to be bigger. Now we move forward – full steam ahead!”
You can follow or connect with Pia on LinkedIn.