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Why Is Personal Branding Important?

When you hear a major brand name — Facebook, Starbucks, Amazon — you have an immediate response, whether it’s good or bad. If you’ve ever heard someone ask “Why is personal branding important?” the answer is that your name, as your brand, creates a similar response in others.

So what is a personal brand? There’s a famous Jeff Bezos quote: “Your brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room.”

Having a personal brand isn’t a choice. Everyone has one, whether they recognize it or not.

Here’s one of my favorite analogies for a personal brand. Think about going trick-or-treating as a kid. As you walked through your neighborhood, you likely had in mind which houses were the most important to stop at.

Each year, the people living in that house by the corner always gave out boxes of raisins. Not even Raisinets! But the owners of that other house, the one just past the streetlamp, always kept a big basket full of king-size candy bars. And they let you take 2!

Your interactions with those houses stuck with you. You remembered each year which houses gave out the best candy, which had the best brand.

So, do you know what your brand is? And just as importantly, is it positive or negative?

Discovering Your Personal Brand

If you don’t know what your personal brand is, how can you find out?

Ask.

That might make you uncomfortable, but it’s the simplest and best way to learn.

Find a few people you trust to be honest with you and whose opinions you value. Maybe this is a mentor, a peer, a direct report, a close friend or even your spouse. There are a lot of questions you could ask; here are a few examples.

Asking others is just the first step. You also need to do some soul-searching and answer those questions (and more) for yourself. If this is your first time thinking through your personal brand, make this the time that you define your goals and start building a personal brand you can be proud of. What do you want your brand to be? How do you want your personal brand to help you achieve your goals?

Once this step is done, it’s time to ask yourself one more question: “Do I like my personal brand?”

Changing Your Personal Brand

What can you do if you’ve asked for input and done some self-evaluation and found that your brand isn’t what you want it to be — or, worse, people have a negative perception of your brand?

You can change what you’re known for.

Your brand has been built up over a period of time, with each interaction someone has with you impacting their perception of your brand. Identify what you have done or said that has built your brand in a way other than you want it to be seen.

If the feedback you received indicates that you’re unreliable, why is that? Have you missed deadlines, appointments or important events? Do you regularly back out of commitments?

Did you hear that you aren’t seen as compassionate? Is that because you’re overly critical, hard on others when they don’t meet your standards? Do you ignore what’s happening in people’s lives and fail to extend grace when it’s needed?

Changing what you’re known for isn’t easy, but it can be done. Whatever it is you want to change, create a personal branding strategy you can follow to make sure the way your individual branding is experienced aligns with your goals.

Using Your Brand for Personal Marketing

One of the benefits of branding yourself is that you’re taking control of your narrative. A company with good brand management would never let other people decide what it should be known for. Organizations are protective of their branding, doing what they can to ensure their target audience maintains a positive association with their brand.

You can — and should — treat your brand the same way, for the same reason.

Let’s come back to our original question: “Why is personal branding important?” The way you manage your personal brand identity will have an impact on your life, both personal and professional. What goals do you want to achieve? Do you want to build up great relationships? Do you want to pursue career advancement? Your personal brand affects your ability to meet your goals.

Marketing yourself isn’t just about tooting your own horn. You don’t have to have a personal website (unless it helps achieve your overall goals) — you just need to make sure you’re consistently putting your best self forward. And that consistency is key.

Let’s say you want to leverage your personal brand to gain entry to a new role and move up the ladder. With that goal in mind, reflect on how your brand can help you achieve it. Here are a few examples.

  1. Identify what makes you unique. Why do you want to be in a particular line of work? What do you bring to the table that someone else wouldn’t offer?
  2. Establish yourself as a go-to resource. Share ideas and insights. Offer to help with projects and tasks that aren’t your responsibility. If you’re getting your work done and also showing that you’re an invaluable asset for others to rely on, your name will come up more whenever there’s a need.
  3. Ask questions and keep learning. Don’t assume that you’ve ever “arrived” — people will see your drive for continuous learning and personal development and recognize that you’re not someone who wants to coast by.
  4. Show up every day. That’s not to say you shouldn’t take time off work, but when you’re on, be present and prepared. Demonstrate integrity by doing what you say you will, even when it’s hard.
  5. Take responsibility for yourself and be an encouragement to others. If you’re quick to accept praise and slow to give it — or to help — people will see that very quickly and shy away from you.

If you want to know if your efforts to build your personal brand are working, go back to my earlier advice and ask. Be clear about what steps you are taking and what your desired outcome is. The only way to find out if your strategy is changing the impression people have of you is to be direct — which serves the double purpose of learning how successful your efforts are as well as communicating to others that you are proactively taking steps to change.

Don’t take it personally if the change you believe you’ve already made doesn’t come through in the feedback you receive. If you get criticism, accept it humbly and then incorporate any valid critiques in your action plan.

So again, why is personal branding important?

Because if your desired brand attributes are the types of things you are known for, before long you’ll catch the eye of decision-makers around you who will want to invest in you. People talk, and your personal brand will precede you, both in your current role and even in your larger network.

Looking for more information on building your personal brand? Check out chapter 7 of my book, Lead, Don’t Manage, or book me to speak at your next event!

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What Is the 4% Rule?

US News & World Report 4% Rule

The 4% rule has long been a rule of thumb for retirement planning — but what is the 4% rule for retirement?

Simply put, the 4% rule is a guideline to help determine how much of your retirement savings you can withdraw on an annual basis, without depleting your funds prematurely. Using this rule, retirees can expect to withdraw 4% of the funds in their retirement accounts, adjusting for inflation, and still have their nest egg last for the duration of their golden years.

But as I shared with Brian O’Connell at US News & World Report, there are many factors that must be considered when estimating how long your retirement savings will last.

Specifically, I believe retirement planners should evaluate their expected living expenses, any financial considerations related to their health (which often wind up being higher than retirees anticipate), estate planning and forecasting the potential growth of your retirement funds through any investments you may decide to pursue.

I highly recommend reading through the full article on the 4% rule, which includes my insights as well as those of other experts in the financial services industry.

Financial Mistakes: Why Is Personal Financial Literacy Important?

With inflation running rampant, financial problems are common these days. However, the biggest financial mistakes I see most Americans making are due to a lack of personal financial literacy. Understanding how money works allows you to put your money to work for you and use it to make more money. Unfortunately, most people do not understand how that happens — or other important financial tools, like taking advantage of compounding to maximize their money’s value.

Personal Financial Literacy in America

There is a broad lack of personal financial literacy in America, partly because we don’t emphasize the importance of financial education in school curriculum. In the long run, we need an effort to introduce proper financial techniques into the school systems for younger Americans.

As of 2020 nearly half of U.S. states incorporate personal financial literacy education in their curricula. However, it takes time to show results from this coursework, and it’s not uniformly designed. The Council for Economic Education has produced a set of national personal finance standards for K–12 students. Adopting this level of standards nationwide will have a big impact on our national level of financial literacy.

Without a broad base of financial education, many people don’t even know that how they approach personal money management is a problem. Bad financial planning can be difficult to address. People often aren’t aware they are making some of the worst money mistakes. Sadly, the real financial woes won’t show up until the future — when it may be too late to address money problems.

Here are some of the most common financial mistakes to avoid.

Biggest Money Mistakes To Avoid

The following financial pitfalls can lead to a host of money issues, but they won’t all show up in the near term. If you fall into some of these traps, you might not realize the problem until you’re in or near retirement. At that point you may struggle to address your financial trouble.

Do yourself a favor and learn to avoid these finance problems so you can avoid some serious financial struggles down the road.

Delaying Savings

The first mistake many people make is not starting to save early in their working lives. Compounding interest is amazing; if people start saving when they are young (regardless of the amount) they will see big benefits from that early start.

Saving money is a habit, but unfortunately most of us learn to spend first and save second — again showcasing the need for greater personal financial literacy education.

Not Prioritizing Your Financial Future

The second mistake is not paying yourself first (this goes back to saving). Think about how you pay your monthly bills. Those are financial responsibilities that (should) get taken care of first, when your paycheck comes in and before you allocate money for discretionary spending.

Cultivate the mindset that your savings or retirement accounts should get the same treatment. Many Americans pay for eating out, entertainment, streaming services, and more before putting money away for savings. We need to change the mindset.

Your savings and retirement accounts are equally important as your fixed monthly expenses, but usually people only pay themselves with what is left over. We should think about our future is as important as our bills.

Overusing Credit

The third big financial mistake people make revolves around credit cards and charge cards.

Recent data from LendingTree shows that consumers in the United States carry a significant amount of credit card debt — $841 billion as of June 2022. While the averages vary by state, the national average credit card debt per cardholder is just over $6,500, and over 50% of all credit cards carrying a balance from month to month.

Not only do many Americans rely on credit too much, there is also a lack of knowledge of the way interest accrues on credit card debt. Only making minimum payments can be incredibly detrimental, with credit cards having some of the highest consumer interest rates available.

Ignoring a Company Match

A final mistake many Americans make is not contributing to a company-sponsored retirement plan.

Not everyone has access to this benefit, but many company-sponsored retirement plans offer a matching 401K contribution. In this situation, an employer uses its own money to match (up to a certain percentage) the money you contribute to its sponsored retirement plan. When you take advantage of this type of benefit, you are effectively receiving free money. Additionally, most people don’t understand that the money you invest pretax into a company-sponsored plan also reduces your taxable income for that year.

How Can You Recover From Bad Financial Decisions?

Everybody makes money mistakes — that’s life. To bounce back from a major money mistake is to make baby steps in the right direction.

  1. Start small and grow from there — just start saving what you can and treat it like a game. Take a look at your finances and ask yourself how much you can save (or pay off) on a regular basis. Even if it is only five extra dollars a week, it’s important to make a habit of either saving or paying down debt.
    As your savings grow, you may find yourself increasingly excited to watch your money grow. This can lead to creating strategies that will allow you to save more. Debt repayment is very similar; make a game out of watching the debt decrease. 
  2. Consult with a financial professional. We all need help and an objective opinion. Be honest with yourself about your own knowledge (or lack thereof). Seek out a professional whom you trust and sit down and create a plan.
    Think of a financial professional like a doctor; get a diagnosis and a plan to either increase savings or decrease debt or both. You aren’t limited to just do one or the other; you can both save and pay off debt simultaneously. 
  3. Learn to use your money to create money. Learn about the different products that can assist people in saving money (banks and credit union savings accounts, stock market products, insurance products, retirement accounts).

Personal Money Management Tips

To close, I’ll leave you with five quick-hit tips to support healthy personal money management.

  1. Don’t use credit and take on debt for unnecessary purchases. If you don’t have the money to pay for something, wait to buy it until you’ve saved for it specifically.
  2. Pay yourself first and don’t mortgage your financial future for the sake of overspending in the present.
  3. Start saving as early as possible, even if it means forgoing the fancy car and daily coffee shop coffee.
  4. Prioritize paying off high-interest loans and credit cards first.
  5. Create an emergency fund that contains approximately 6 months of salary/pay.

Why Are so Many People Quitting Jobs? The Impact of Work Culture

In the wake of the Great Resignation, company leaders find themselves asking why there are so many people quitting jobs. There are no simple answers — the events of the past two years have given workers cause to truly evaluate what it is they are looking for in their work environments. Clearly there are a number of people who have realized they are dissatisfied. 

Easy Answers to the Great Resignation

Much of the discussion around the Great Resignation centers on more practical issues. Pay disparity for those who stay at a company versus those who jump to a new role. A desire to maintain (or begin) work-from-home flexibility as we continue returning to a post-pandemic landscape. Even ancillary benefits, like unlimited PTO or flexible scheduling, play a role. 

I don’t mean to downplay those factors — they certainly have a lot of weight in job seekers’ willingness to move into a new role. In fact, 64% of those looking for a new job cite higher salaries as a major factor in their search. 

But I would be willing to bet that percentage isn’t too much changed from what job seekers would have said before 2020. 

What Are Workers Saying?

While money is almost always a major factor in people quitting jobs and new job searches, it’s far from the only one. 

A recent Pew Research Center survey sought to discover why the quit rate hit a 20-year peak in late 2021, which hasn’t appreciably slowed yet. 

The results aren’t surprising. The top three major reasons respondents gave were low pay (63%), a lack of advancement opportunities (63%), and not feeling respected in the workplace (57%). 

Respondents who have already changed jobs indicated that they are finding those things in their new positions. Time will tell if that’s just the honeymoon period, though. After all, most workers who have changed jobs during the Great Resignation haven’t been in their new positions very long. 

How Can Leaders Respond?

Some of these issues are easier to address than others. 

You might not have the ability or the authority to increase your employees’ salaries to a level they deem to be competitive, particularly when they see jobs posted at 2X their salary or more. 

But can you do something? 

Look at the costs associated with hiring a replacement if you lose an employee — lost productivity and institutional knowledge, time and money invested in the search and interview process, and more. Not to mention the potential impact on morale. 

Instead of investing in new hires, consider investing in retention. And that doesn’t always have to be a monetary investment. 

In an interview in Gallup’s Called to Coach series, here’s what Saurav Atri had to say about the Great Resignation: 

“[The] Great Resignation is not an industry issue; it’s a workplace issue. … Engagement is the best medicine you have [for] retaining people.” 

Further backing that claim up, Fast Company also cites Gallup’s research, noting that 42% of the reasons Gallup’s respondents noted for leaving jobs are directly related to their feelings about their bosses and their companies’ cultures. 

Additional research from MIT Sloan finds that corporate culture can even be a greater factor than compensation contributing to employee turnover. 

If culture and engagement are such critical aspects of retaining employees in the Great Resignation, what are some ways to engage employees? 

How To Engage Employees

For many managers and leaders, what I’m about to say will require a mentality shift. 

You are not in charge of your team. You are in charge of your team’s development. 

The people you lead are just that, people. Just as you would want to have the person or people you report to have a measure of empathy in your interactions with them, your employees feel the same. 

How can you tangibly do that? Here’s a short list. 

There are times that, as a leader, you will have to make the hard call, and your team may not like that. If that’s the case, be open and communicative. Nothing will sink a team’s morale faster than unaddressed conflict. 

Also, remember that you might not be your employees’ first choice of someone to talk to. So don’t wait for them to come to you — seek them out instead. Ask what they need from you. And be willing to meet them where they are. 

For business leaders to be effective, they must successfully balance the two main needs of the organization: supporting both the financial bottom line and the employees ultimately responsible for the company’s performance. 

Leaders who can manage both of those aspects of their role will best position their companies to get through the Great Resignation with minimal employee turnover from people quitting jobs.

Are Annuities a Good Investment in Your Financial Future?

Many people aren’t familiar with the concept of an annuity, and for those who are, a number of them may question whether annuities are a good investment in their financial future. In times of economic turbulence, consumers may be hesitant to put their money into any financial product, let alone something they have a limited understanding of.

A 2020 study by LIMRA’s Secure Retirement Institute found that 75% of consumers failed to answer at least 7 of 10 annuity related questions correctly, with more than 40% of respondents unable to answer any of the questions. That same study found that the higher a respondent’s score was on the survey, the greater the likelihood was that they would have a positive view of annuities.

What to make of this? Annuities are a mystery to many consumers, but when that mystery is clarified and the product is better understood, consumers are generally interested in adding annuities to their financial planning strategy.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the benefits of an annuity, debunk some annuity myths and clear up some of the misconceptions around this product.

What Is an Annuity?

Let’s get this one out of the way up front. I’ve written about this before, but annuities are not equity investments — like investing in the stock market. Rather, annuities are insurance products, contracts between an annuitant and an insurer. There are different types of annuities, but the basic concept is you pay an insurance company, either over time via premiums or in a lump sum, to fund the annuity. At a given time (immediate or deferred), the annuity begins to pay you, providing you with a guaranteed, reliable source of income.

Annuities vs. 401Ks

When most people think of retirement planning, the savings vehicle that most commonly comes to mind is a 401K. However, there are a few key differences between these two retirement planning tools.

One difference between the two is that when you start to withdraw your funds, a 401K has a limit — what you’ve contributed plus any investment earnings — whereas an annuity will continue to pay out as long as you live (and possibly beyond, depending on the type of policy you purchase).

Additionally, 401K contributions are limited each year, although most people don’t reach that maximum contribution. Conversely, depending on suitability and product restrictions, contributions to an annuity are much less restrictive.

That’s not to say that these two planning vehicles are mutually exclusive. Many financial professionals will recommend contributing as much as you can to a 401K, because it has a higher growth potential or because you may benefit from a matching employer contribution that can significantly impact your savings potential. However, the two can work together as part of a balanced retirement strategy and give you diversity in both risk and benefits.

Annuities vs. Life Insurance

Although annuities and life insurance are both insurance products, they serve opposite purposes. An annuity is intended to pay you a fixed amount on a regular basis for your lifetime. Its purpose is to protect you financially if you live a long life, providing a guaranteed source of income so you can’t outlive your funds. The purpose of life insurance, on the other hand, is to provide financial security for your loved ones in the event of your early death.

Both are important — you want to be prepared in case of either an early death or a long life.

What Happens When You Die?

Annuities generally pay out until the annuitant dies (or the annuitant and his or her spouse, for a joint annuity). There are different ways you can structure the payment to last beyond the original annuitant’s life, however.

One option is a life with period certain annuity. This annuity type will pay out the guaranteed amount for the duration of the annuitant’s lifetime, with a guaranteed payout period. For example, if you have a life and 15 years certain annuity, the payments are guaranteed for at least 15 years. If the annuitant (or both, in case of a joint annuity) dies 2 years into the payout period, his or her beneficiaries will receive the remaining 13 guaranteed years of payments.

Who Should Buy Annuities?

First of all, the best recommendation on whether annuities are a good investment in your future in retirement should come out of a conversation with a financial professional who understands your unique planning goals and situation.

With that said, a common recommendation is that annuities become more appealing the closer you are to retirement. Because they don’t offer a high rate of return, a younger individual with a longer investment time horizon may be more interested in equity investments that offer a chance for greater upside.

Still, there may be a place for annuities in a retirement strategy even for retirement planners who still have decades of their careers ahead of them, depending on the annuity type being considered. Deferred annuities offer the ability to put away funds for the future over a long period, letting you benefit from growth over that timeframe until you are ready to annuitize the policy and begin receiving payments. Because pensions are increasingly uncommon and Social Security is facing uncertainty of its own, having the certainty of an annuity in your retirement strategy can provide a lot of peace of mind at any age.