In another lifetime I toiled as a corporate cog. In that tightly controlled environment, I had a fairly clear idea of what I could wear, what I could say, and who I could say it to. It was boring on some levels, but I knew that as long as I didn’t stray too far from the accepted script, my career would be safely protected.
On the other hand, as an entrepreneur or solo practitioner, one has to constantly define not only one’s professional brand, services, voice and deliverables, but also package oneself as the ultimate purveyor and distributor of Brand You, which can be tricky or exhilarating- depending on your approach and philosophy. One of the best parts about working for yourself is the ability to study and then implement the personal style and philosophies of others in varied industries.
Another ongoing feature of MintStyle will be insights and takeaways on personal style from successful and interesting professionals.
I asked four women (next in this series, four men weigh in) with very unique personal and professional styles to share their thoughts on the most recognizable elements of their professional brands, influenced, of course, by their very varied personal styles.
Titillating or Committed to Excellence?
Author Kayt Sukel was once known best for her work in writing on subjects related to neuroscience. With the publication of her book, Dirty Minds: How Our Brains Influence Love, Sex, and Relationships (Free Press January 2012), which discusses, among other things, how her brain’s experience of sexual pleasure appears on a Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (FMRI) machine, she’s developed a nickname which alludes less to her work on neuroscience than sex. This is difficult for anyone, much less a professional journalist and single mother.
When asked how she deals with this level of scrutiny, Sukel says “I’ll admit that I’ve worried a bit when I’ve gotten a nasty email or gotten a wisecrack from a potential source. But what I hear more often than not, is that people are impressed I was willing to go the extra mile so I could accurately share something that seems quite odd with my readers.” Sukel pushed herself outside of her comfort zone. She says, “Ultimately, I think, for those who can get past the punch line, this is actually an enhancement for my brand. It shows I’m willing to push hard in order to write a great story.”
What she does: Instead of allowing others to define her, Sukel has instead chosen to use her newfound notoriety to stress her commitment to her craft.
What you can do: Accentuate the negative. Sometimes owning up to the most controversial element of your personal brand can allow others to better understand you and what you can do for them.
Past and Present Personal Style
Shannah Compton is a savvy business woman with both an MBA and CFP (Certified Financial Planner) certification. She describes herself as a “born entrepreneur” who, in college, created a film festival and in more recent years, launched her own financial services corporation. After undergoing a painful divorce after a decade of marriage, “I walked away entirely from my previous life and the only one true constant that I had was me.” Not content to remain a person defined by a previous relationship, Compton then decided to reevaluate both her personal and professional brand.
When she embarked on her new solo life, Compton bought a giant white dry erase board. “On one side, I listed all of the personal traits that I admire about myself: what am I really good at and what others admire about me. On the other side of the board, I listed all of my professional goals. I crossed off anything that didn’t align.” In that way, Compton confronted her evolving personal and professional self. “I look at that board every day as a reminder of who I am, what I am about, and where I want to go.”
What she does: Not content to remain mired in the past, Compton challenges herself to evolve on a daily basis.
What you can do: Even if you’re not ready to face your faults and best qualities on a daily basis, challenge yourself to create a list of your top three qualities, as compared to your goals and dreams.
A Shocking Talent
The Great Kat is a larger than life Juilliard trained classical violinist turned guitar shredder (extremely fast guitarist in the heavy metal style). In other words she takes her knowledge of the great works of Beethoven, Bach, and Mozart and processes them through a heavy metal music filter to “single-handedly resurrect classical music.”
As for her own personal style, Kat describes her “shred-metal style” which includes, “exaggerated, outrageous metal outfits, leather garb, and insane imagery designed specifically to get attention and wake up the masses to the genius and complexity of Beethoven, Paganini, Liszt, and more.” As a style influence, Kat references violin virtuoso Niccolo Paganini who “dressed in all black and encouraged people to think that he was possessed by the devil to be able to perform such supernatural displays of technique.”
What she does: Kat’s extreme talent and classical training allows her to create an outrageous persona that supports both her professional message and motivation.
What you can do: Let your professional style take flight. If you’re secure in your talents, background, and training, you can work toward adding more creativity to the mix.
Sweet and Mellow Style
Iyna Bort Caruso is a multi-Emmy Award winning copywriter and principal of Sweet Lime Ink. Her company name is “an admittedly obscure reference from the Wes Anderson movie, The Darjeeling Limited.” A name, that Caruso says, “has visual play, a quirky element and conveys a quality of approachability.” But the reality is, that many of her clients only know Sweet Lime Ink when they write out the check. “For the most part, my own name really is my brand.”
What she does: Caruso recognizes her own intrinsic value as a trading partner, while still allowing her quirky style to shine through.
What you can do: Your work style doesn’t have to be over the top to be distinctive. Continue to highlight your best elements when possible to create a consistent personal brand.
Shake Up Your Style
While it can be easy to fall into both a personal and professional style rut, it’s important to be constantly evolving to remain relevant. In a wobbly economy, constantly sharpening your skills means creating recognizable and marketable traits that are easily identified and remembered as your unique personal brand traits and go-to style.
Rachel Weingarten is a style expert, marketing strategist & personal branding consultant for CEOs, politicians and celebrities and the creator of MintStyle. She is the award-winning author of Career and Corporate Cool and Hello Gorgeous! Rachel writes for top media outlets including CNN, Fortune, Forbes Life, MSN, USA Today, Yahoo Finance and many others. She is a regularly featured expert on TV shows including Good Morning America and The Today Show. Visit her online at http://racheletc.com , or on Twitter @rachelcw.