For anyone in professional services reputation is everything today. It is a trust-creator, or a trust-killer. Basically everything you do – every engagement you work on, every social media post, everything you do at a function – adds to or detracts from your reputation.
A professional’s personal reputation is undoubtedly the most important personal branding element and should be managed carefully, but our professional reputation today is more than just your personal “brand”.
The reputation of your firm can be significantly different to your personal reputation. But it reflects upon the publics’ perception of you anyway. People are judged by the company they keep, right? In the same vein, the reputation of professional associations or distribution networks you are associated with or are a member of can have an impact upon how you are perceived by consumers. It follows that the reputation of the entire industry sector that you work in reflects upon you to a degree as well.
All of these contributors to reputation can be positive of course – but some can equally be negative. Despite your best endeavours to build an outstanding personal and company reputation, the business associations you keep can have a detrimental impact. How a professional body covers a public issue or debate can be at odds with your own views, or simply poorly handled – and that potentially flows on to have an impact on your own reputation. How a distribution network you belong to portrays itself with product manufacturers or to consumers definitely has an impact, and there is often “guilt by association”.
All of these potential reputation-impact areas need to be managed by a prudent professional. Certainly it is easy enough to decide to step away from a professional body or distribution group and simply disassociate yourself.
Often the same objective can be achieved by removing any of their branding from your own marketing, but without going to the point of you having terminated the relationship entirely. The real issue for many professionals though is that are blissfully unaware of the reputational overflow that can come by association and therefore cannot make a considered decision on whether association is a positive or negative contributor.
For this reason there are 2 steps that prudent professionals should take:
- regularly ask key suppliers/product manufacturers decision-makers for their views on the associations you keep – and also their views on the associations that you do not belong to. You may need to listen carefully to get past diplomatic drivel that says nothing, but by asking them to comment on other associations as well you can begin to form a better idea of the relative standing of your associations.
- set up a Google alert for any items relating to your associations. Be notified of the good and the bad press which may be out there, and which may have an impact upon your brand and reputation.
Equally, one should also set up a Google alert for anything relating to your name or your firms name, Doing so does not make you egoistical – it isn’t about feeding your sense of self-worth. It is about self-preservation. If you are not aware of an issue, you cannot manage it.
For the same reasons I encourage professionals to seek active client feedback in the form of net promoter scores, regular practice-wide client surveys, and simple one-to-one surveys at key points in the professional relationship. An example of this last one might be sending out a simple 3 question survey by email to every client who has just received an invoice from you and is approaching the due date. Give them an opportunity to express concerns before you get to the point of unleashing the accounts people, or alternatively it is an opportunity to reinforce their satisfaction just prior to writing out the cheque to your firm.
The bottom line is that there are number of things which can have a significant impact on your reputation, from how your firm handles routine transactions to the company you keep professionally, and definitely all the way through to whatever you do online in your own name.
All of these elements need to be managed because in this era of instant online search which is accessible for every consumer, your reputation is everything.
It is your brand, so you need to manage it.