by Natasha Mohr
Building a personal brand has as much to do with building your reputation as it does with protecting it, but your personal brand is not about self-promotion. In fact, I strongly discourage you from flaunting or forcefully shoving your activities, accomplishments, opinions or expertise down anyone’s throat. A personal brand is about sharing your personality and your knowledge in a meaningful and relevant way. Much like developing and sharing a personal trademark – symbols, words, activities, passions – that represent you.
“…your services, expertise and experience belong solely to you.”
Establish Your Expertise
Before you can establish or develop your expertise, you have to decide for what you want to be known.
There will always be colleagues with different areas of expertise than yours and likely those with a wider, more established reputation, too. But your services, expertise and experience belong solely to you. Your personal brand is your opportunity to find your niche – find your place in the community and in your field – where you feel you can carve out your space.
Whether you are passionate about cosmetic dermatology, Mohs surgery or plastics, finding your place is key to success. Having a more narrow focus will allow you to specialize and not only pursue the things that inspire you, but to share that inspiration through your work with others! Having a focus does not mean that you disregard all other areas or slack off when it comes to keeping up with the basics, it simply helps you filter out some of the extra noise and may give direction to your choices. For instance, having a highly developed knowledge of lasers creates opportunities for you to be a more obvious provider choice for scar and resurfacing patients, conference speaker or partner to an organization that supports recovery and healing for burn victims.
Dr. Michael Gold of Nashville, TN, does quite a lot of work in China with patients suffering from burns and scars. We spoke with him about his thoughts on how his volunteer work (which came a result of his expertise with lasers) has become a color in the larger picture of who he is.
“I think that one builds a personal brand by being passionate and steadfast in their beliefs and in their commitment to what they believe are the important attributes that one brings to the table. I also think you build your personal brand by being fair and honest and by providing the best possible care no matter what the circumstances. And finally, I think you build your personal brand by working hard – and in dermatology that means seeing and treating your patients the best that you can, and by giving back wherever and whenever you can.
For me, the work that I have done in China with burns and scar patients has been some of the most rewarding and daunting work I have done. I got there because of my work in the laser business and from all the visits I have made to China teaching and mentoring doctors on best practices with these devices. Most of the time, however, I also learn from them, and that is the most exciting part.
From our work and the work of these incredible doctors, we have been able to transform lives, and that is what it is all about. The personal rewards and the accolades are second to the incredible successes that I see on a daily basis when I am there. I have enjoyed this more than anything that I have done in dermatology and am truly grateful for the opportunities that have been afforded to me.”
Own Your Space
Once you’ve identified your uniqueness and strengths, perfect them.
One does not achieve such a level of expertise by chance or without a significant amount of hard work. In this age of information, for every interest there is a vast sea of knowledge to be explored. You will need to focus your attention. Attend meetings that pertain to your particular interests. Spend time with people who are smarter and more experienced than you. And most importantly, be humble. Not even the brightest, most experienced among us know everything. Sit at the feet of the masters and be willing to learn!
Share Your Knowledge
It’s not enough to learn it; you have to teach it.
Another benefit of honing in on a particular focus is that you’ll have more opportunities to prove you know what you’re talking about, and while your potential audience might be slightly smaller, it will also be that much more relevant.
The patients who come to you will be coming because they are seeking that high-level expertise. The opportunities to give back by educating others will also come to you.
If you are serious about building your personal brand, you must share your knowledge. Write, publish and present whenever the opportunity presents itself!
Stand out by being sure that what you are contributing is worth knowing.
Content marketing is a simple, effective and inexpensive way to build your brand both in person and online. Providing high-quality information for your patients (and potential patients) helps to establish you as a reliable expert. We all have our go-to resources (websites, books, journals, colleagues) when we have questions on a particular topic. If you are offering insights and relevant, on-point information – you become a trusted source. We all go back to sources we trust. Building a reputation as a reliable resource means your patients will come back to you. The same is true with regard to your peers and other industry persons. If your content is sound and you continue to contribute items of substance and relevance, you, too, will soon become a trusted go-to.
You can build this body of knowledge through newsletters, an online patient library on your website, your personal or professional blog (this should be fed on a regular – at least weekly – basis). But you can also begin by contributing as a guest blogger to other reputable sites, a contributing writer to established online or print journals, and can contribute as a reliable expert in other people’s magazine, blog or news articles.
Be sure the content and presentations you create have value. Provide useful, insightful and thoughtful information. Share a unique perspective rather than repeating what everyone else has said. Stand out by being sure that what you are contributing is worth knowing.
Keep your work fresh and stay relevant.
As an expert coming up in your field, you’ll also begin to see some unique and increasingly difficult cases. Begin to document these in such a way that you can highlight your successes and build a solid narrative for your work. History and culture show us that the vast majority of people learn well through stories. Seeing examples of real patient encounters – successful or not – is a wonderful way to help others learn and grow.
If you are so inclined, you should also look for unique and less obvious opportunities to speak. Partnering with related organizations that may have some overlap, but might not be entirely within your field can open up new avenues for partnership and collaboration. Just as you benefit from attending a multi-specialty meeting, so too can others in slightly overlapping fields benefit from your expertise. For example, as a dermatologist specializing in atopic dermatitis, your expertise might shed some light for allergists. Perhaps, a collaborative study might even be the result of an enlightening exchange!
On the point of speaking, giving a killer presentation could be the subject of its own blog series! Here I will mention only that there are some elements of public speaking that seem completely obvious, but entirely too often speakers get comfortable and settle. They settle for stale presentations they’ve given before, the same jokes, slides or highlights. As an audience member or meeting participant, nothing is less inspiring and more likely to get you to leave the room for a coffee break than a dull, tired and dated presentation. Whether you are writing or speaking, keep you work fresh and stay relevant so people will not only listen, but will learn from what you share!
It is important to note that it is inevitable that at some point someone will disagree with what you share in an article, in a conversation or from the podium. And they may not be respectful or kind. The important thing is to be open to the feedback and to determine whether it is legitimate. If so, respond graciously and figure out what you can do better in the future. If the feedback is not legit – again, respond graciously. Unless a basic element of your brand is to be brash and reactionary. Then, have at it.
Whether in real life or on social media, the key to lighting a fire under your personal brand is networking and relationships.
Stay connected. Get involved with other individuals in your field and be an engaged member of your chosen communities.
And never stray too far from the core of your work and your patients. Don’t get so busy speaking, writing or teaching that you forget to get your hands dirty! Aim to build long-lasting relationships with your patients. Not only will this improve their patient experience (increasing the likelihood they will return) and give them motivation to refer their friends and loved ones to your office (in turn increasing longevity of your practice), it helps you stay current and lends validity to your expertise. We all know of those individuals who are only too happy to flaunt their expertise, but who haven’t actually seen patients in ages; it is hard to find value in what they have to say.
In your relationship with your patients, it is vitally important that you really listen. You may receive valuable feedback or ideas for how to make small tweaks to your processes that will have a large impact on the patient experience. For example, Dr. H.L. Greenberg of Las Vegas, NV, received some negative comments from patients about aestheticians joining him on patient consultations. Rather than becoming angry, he took the feedback as a note that he could better communicate with patients why his aestheticians were in the room. To do so, he chose to add a newsletter article and a blog about his choice (http://www.smilereminder.com/sr/temp/view.do?id=1c0d6be454dab63b). When we asked him to discuss his reasoning, he said, “Patients may not understand why you are suggesting or doing what you are doing in your practice. By reaching out and humanizing myself through sharing my experience, patients feel more comfortable with me and my practice. Having my resume online and diplomas up in each room may also be a conversation starter for patients who went to school where I did or who know someone from that area. By connecting with patients interested in your thoughts and experiences, you can build stronger relationships.”
Stay connected to a respected community of learners.
Engaging in patient-doctor communities like RealSelf is also a great way to connect with people who are interested in what you have to offer and to get a gauge on what is happening in the ‘real world’ of patients. What are they really interested in? What do they actually know? What are their concerns? How can your experience and knowledge benefit them? Be sure to answer questions honestly and accurately and to be as professional as possible. Being a part of these communities not only helps you have a better understanding of current patient needs and interests, but if you provide helpful and thoughtful responses, it helps to further establish you as an expert in your field.
Things are always evolving in aesthetics. It is also important to stay connected to a respected community of learners. By spending time with these like-minded individuals, you will be building relationships with other respected colleagues (key opinion leaders, leading researchers, innovators, etc.) and exposing yourself to more knowledge and more opportunities for collaboration, exploration and sharing.
It is also important to think about exploring relationships with influencers and even other mid-level people in your field who are also working on their own brand. This isn’t to say you should only hang out with the “popular kids” or the “movers and shakers” – or that you should spend time getting to know someone because of what they can do for you. In fact, someone who might be too heavily focused on building their brand and getting ahead may only be interested in what you can or cannot do for them. Such a relationship is not edifying or rewarding in any way. I’m speaking here of finding others who are also on the trajectory of refining their own areas of expertise, contributing to the specialty and developing their personal brand. This is an opportunity to build a genuine, high-level friendship with a colleague. Consider working together on interviews, co-authoring content or co-sponsoring events like webinars, etc. Growing together, enjoying a shared experience and having a network of mutually supportive colleagues are important.
In addition to the personal edification you receive from being engaged in all of these types of relationships, there is the added benefit that you don’t need to run around tooting your horn. Your colleagues and fellow industry people will experience your expertise for themselves through natural and organic interactions.
If you are being inauthentic, that will shine through each and every time.
Above all, your personal brand should be authentic. You don’t have to share your deepest fears or expose all of your flaws and insecurities, but your personal brand should represent a true version of yourself. If you are an innovator, by all means, innovate! If you are bold and daring – then, please, please be bold and daring. The world of medicine, your personal world – the world at large – will be a better place with you being a thoughtful, intentional you!
Carry this authenticity through everything you do. In the room with patients, with your staff, in your volunteer endeavors, in your social media posts and your speaking engagements – always bring you to the table. If you are being inauthentic, that will shine through each and every time. Your audience/colleague/patient/guest may not say anything to you, but they’ll know. And their opinion of you will be altered.
We’ve written previously about the importance of your online presence and the significance of branding it consistently. If you wish to brush up or need some tips and suggestions, please read our recommendations here and here. You can also find a plethora of professional resources online. I will say here, however, that is important to consider how you come across in every post and to monitor your accounts on an ongoing basis. Social media is not stagnant – so neither should be your use of these platforms! Accentuate the positive and always interact with others in as professional a manner as possible.
Manage and control your online presence.
It is worth acknowledging that very few of us have time to manage an entire expanse of social network channels. If you find yourself in this boat, you can choose not to do so. Pick one that seems to work for your audience (one from which you see increased engagement and interaction or from which you get the best feedback) and maximize your efforts in that particular area. If Facebook is your thing, then master it! It’s better for your brand – and for your personal well-being – to do what you do well and not to spread yourself too thin.
While social media is a wonderful tool for building a brand, having a well-developed and current website is a much more effective way to manage and control your online presence. It gives you an ongoing opportunity to add new content and to engage patients, colleagues and industry members. You can get a domain with companies like GoDaddy fairly inexpensively, so there is no excuse to delay. At a minimum, you should try to buy your own name if you can.
Lastly, don’t forget to Google yourself regularly to see what is out there. This will help you understand how you are coming across to others and will give you an idea of areas in which you are doing an excellent job of managing your brand and areas which might need a bit more attention.
And that’s it . . . ha! It isn’t as simple as 1-2-3, but building a thoughtful and well-articulated brand around you and your practice is achievable.