During undergrad, I did not do a very good job of professional networking. I was so focused on finishing school that I did not spend a lot of time building professional relationships. It was so bad that when it was time for me to look for a job, I could count on one hand the number of people I could reach out to for recommendations.
I know. Not ideal.
That experience taught me a few things. One, networks are invaluable to both professional and personal success. Two, the next time I have a chance, I will be intentional about building my network. Three, a great way to meet people, build relationships and my professional brand can happen through volunteer work.
Building My Network and Brand
Fast forward a few years, when I decided to go back to school for a professional certificate in financial planning. This time, I came in on the first day of my survey class asking others what types of volunteer activities were going on. I built a strong relationship with fellow classmates (very helpful) and we kept each other notified of volunteer opportunities within the local FPA chapter. Shortly after starting the program, I found my way to the student forum group (a networking group that encourages collaboration with other professionals) of the FPA of Silicon Valley chapter and to my first volunteer opportunity.
That experience opened the pathway to several great professional relationships and helped get my foot in the door to other volunteer opportunities. Fast forward a few years, it prepared me for my current volunteer role as director of PR and communications of the same chapter. As a newer adviser, you might be reluctant to get involved. As a solo practitioner or a part of a larger firm, there are a thousand things on your plate, right? You are trying to build a business, get clients, manage those relationships, build your operations, have a life and spend time with family. Who has time to get involved?
In my opinion, making the time to find the right volunteer activities can actually help build your professional brand. You simply need to be choosy in what you get involved with. Finding what works for you will be important.
Your professional brand is in many ways comparable to a corporate brand. It is who you are, the values you embrace, what you stand for and the way in which you express those values. Similar to how a company’s brand helps to communicate its value to customers and stand out, a professional brand does the same for individuals, assisting in communicating a unique identity and clear value to colleagues, potential employers, clients and networking partners.
Here are three benefits of how volunteering as new planner helps to build your professional brand:
(1) Increases Visibility
Okay, I will be honest. This benefit has both pros and cons. There are many instances in volunteering where you will automatically become more visible within your community. People will start to notice you at events, your name will come up more frequently and you may get multiple requests to get involved!
It will be important that you are selective in the types of activities you want to get involved with. At the end of the day, you still have a duty to your clients and managing your career. Getting involved in the right opportunities will be key. I encourage you to strategically think about your strengths and the areas where you would have the most impact. You can start with your local FPA chapter or Chamber of Commerce as an entry point.
(2) Builds Your Connections
Opportunities to volunteer will give you the chance to build your professional network. One volunteer opportunity can lead to another. I mentioned that I am the current director of PR and communications of the FPA of Silicon Valley. I am also a part of the FPA NorCal Conference Committee. This opportunity came from my involvement in the local chapter. I met several professionals in the local chapter who I built relationships with and fostered the NorCal opportunity. You never know who you will meet. These connections will only deepen over time and can last throughout your career.
(3) Highlights Your Values, Skills and Expertise
Your professional brand can play an important role in establishing or boosting your career. By volunteering, you get a chance for others to see you in action, experience your professionalism, tenacity for follow up and engagement with other colleagues. Those individuals will get an up-close and personal experience of you. The know, like and trust factors begins to take shape and instances for more opportunities (not just limited to volunteering) can present themselves. Recommendations also become easier because you will have a network of professionals to reach out to who are familiar with your work ethic.
My volunteer work has been (and continues to be) a great experience. I have met some wonderful people and the right opportunities can be a great investment in you as a professional. I mentioned a few ways to think about how to get involved. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me. I am happy to share more of how I have been intentional in building my professional brand and network.
Cameo Roberson, AAMS® manages a boutique RIA at Atlas Park Finance, helping women find their success story through entrepreneurship. Atlas Park Consulting, her practice management arm, helps advisers build infrastructure to maintain sustainable and profitable firms. Visit www.atlasparkco.com to learn more. Connect with Cameo on LinkedIn.