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Personal branding is a critical but widely misunderstood concept in the construction profession. To many, “personal branding” is an abstract concept at best, or exercise in narcissism at worst. The reality is that personal branding is simply building one’s reputation to advance their career and position their firm to win more work.

Changing Client Demands

Clients have grown more sophisticated in recent years, particularly since the Great Recession drove highly experienced construction and technical professionals out of the A/E/C side and into facilities management and plant engineering positions. Clients have a greater expectation about the credentials of the individuals they want working on their projects, no matter how large or small.

RFPs have become more demanding, and often focus heavily on the credentials of the individual team members, such as the project executive, project manager, estimator and superintendent. For example, a recent design-build RFP did not ask for company experience much less company references; rather, every proposed team member had to have a deep resume of relevant project experience and at least three personal references for similar construction projects.

Enhance Individual Reputations

The increasing focus on team members is driving the need for everyone in the industry to enhance their reputations, which can be accomplished via many “tools.” These tools pull double-duty as they can help construction professionals build their reputations initially, and then maintain those reputations through their careers.

Some tools are baseline; that is, they are expected. For a construction project manager, a client may expect that the individual has a certain type of college degree, a minimum number of years of relevant experience (as a project manager; not in another role) and perhaps even a professional certification or license. This is the “baseline” simply because in order for a construction firm to qualify for consideration, its project manager (as well as other identified positions) must meet these minimum criteria. If the project manager doesn’t meet the baseline, it is game over for the firm.

Be a Thought Leader
Beyond this baseline, clients are looking to identify thought leaders in their fields--people who have distinguished themselves as leaders among their peers or leaders in their industry. Risk is very real, and by hiring perceived experts, clients are trying to better manage risk. There are many ways construction professionals can position themselves as one of these industry leaders.

The easiest way to begin building a great reputation is to get involved with organizations. These could be business or community groups, like a chamber of commerce or local chapter of a national charity. Professional associations are a logical destination along the career-building map--but not just belonging or even attending meetings, but by becoming active and serving on committees and boards of directors. These actions position professionals as leaders among their peers.

Client organizations offer another layer, and the added benefit of direct, regular contact with clients or prospective clients. IFMA, NAIOP, SAME, SCUP, ASHE are some of the organizations where clients congregate. Of course, participation in these organizations must align with a company’s target markets and strategic plan. Once again, it is not enough to merely belong or show up at meetings. Construction professionals need to engage by serving on committees and joining boards of directors, if that is an option. Firms need to support their staff by sponsoring organizational events and participating in organizational trade shows. The intent here is to demonstrate the professional’s sincere interest in advancing the client organization, not trying to directly sell.

Get Published
Public speaking and publishing are two vital reputation-building tools. Many professionals are somewhat intimated by public speaking, and yet it is an extremely effective way to gain credibility and demonstrate expertise. Speakers gain an added benefit of greatly enhancing their network--if not with prospective clients, at least with other AEC professionals who could one day be teammates, as well individuals who may be able to refer work or make introductions to decision-makers.

Likewise, there is credibility inherent with being published, whether in a company newsletter or blog, industry publication, or larger projects like a white paper or even a book. Construction professionals should begin their writing journey in small steps, like a short post on the company blog or contribution to a professional association’s local chapter newsletter. These build “clips,” which are a necessary stepping stone to being able to write for larger AEC industry and client publications (digital or print). Other tools include networking, social media, research, pro-bono and freelance work, and even mentoring.

It’s the dawn of a new era in construction marketing. Firm differentiation is a given. Now sophisticated clients are looking for differentiation among team members, trying to identify those who seem to perform above and beyond the typical construction professional. Reputation building (i.e., personal branding) is now a critical component of any firm’s marketing strategy, and a necessary activity to enhance one’s career and advance in the profession, as firms are recruiting thought leaders and promoting them within their organizations.

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