Wouldn’t it be nice to be in demand? To not have to hustle, pitch and sell so much? To be the go-to girl for your industry? To pick and choose among countless fantastic opportunities? You can, if you build your professional reputation.

Building your professional reputation is an essential component of building your career, whether you’re employed, self-employed, or building an empire. As Richard Branson puts it, “My most valuable possession is also my most valued possession. It costs nothing, and everyone has one: my reputation.”

Your reputation not only attracts business and opportunity to you, it enables you to request a higher fee and assert your desired terms and conditions. Your reputation is literally a bankable asset – by investing in your reputation, you’re investing in your future earnings.

We often hear that word-of-mouth is the best form of marketing, and this is at the core of reputation building. So how do we build our own professional reputation, to position us to attract the work and opportunities that we most desire?

Build your professional reputation by sharing stories

To build your brand, you need articulate what it is and share it widely. You need to have a media machine – not simply to disseminate media releases and spew out social media updates, but to create original content. This is most easily and effectively done by blogging for business.

Brand journalists work inside businesses to write and produce blog posts, whitepapers, videos, podcasts, photos, webinars and teleseminars, infographics, e-books and more. Although this content is designed to draw people in, it is not simply marketing. First and foremost, it must deliver value if it’s to be of any use at all.

In the years I worked as a public relations consultant, I quickly learn what media was quality, which paid no heed to offending or upsetting, and what was ‘filler’ – fluff regurgitated from press releases by lazy copy editors.

To put it plainly – customer-driven content is useful, valuable and relevant to the audience while corporate-driven content is thinly-veiled sales copy.

This is where the cynics will object that brand journalism is not real journalism. But journalism has rarely been truly objective; up to 80 per cent of news articles are derived from, or influenced by the public relations industry. All media has a political agenda and bias.

So take a leaf out of a journalist’s book – never take your audience for granted. Don’t assume people are hanging out to hear from you. Earn their attention by creating original, valuable, relevant and useful content that benefits your brand.

Play the long game

In the last seven years since I’ve been consulting with, training and coaching sole traders and small business owners, the number one thing I’ve seen that hinders the growth of a reputation is lack of commitment. By lack of commitment, I’m talking about a failure to repeat oneself over time.

To build your reputation for something, you need to repeat yourself. And you need to do this again and again and again over several years (and then some). There’s no getting around this.

For creative people, this is oftentimes incredibly difficult to do. Creative people thrive on creating new things. But the downside is that lack of repetition and reiteration makes building your reputation so much more difficult.

Now this isn’t to say that we shouldn’t continue to learn, evolve and create – nothing of the sort. What I suggest is that we apply our creativity to our key mission statement and make it engaging and relevant in a thousand different scenarios – that’s true creativity.

So repeat yourself. And repeat yourself again. In the process, you’ll likely become really good at explaining who you are, what you do, and why we should care.

Deal with criticism carefully

Mishanding of events or ungracious handling of criticism can follow you for year. And no brand or personality, no matter how big, is immune. As Branson puts it: “These days the Virgin brand is trusted globally, so if we set up a venture in a new country, progress is swifter than in the days when we had to win over customers one transaction at a time. But improved communications also mean that any negative story about a Virgin company anywhere can become a global event with the click of a mouse.”

In public relations, best practice is to be proactive – if a company is at fault, own up quickly and apologise. Don’t ever attempt to cover up or deny a wrongdoing. With a quick, compassionate and proactive response, your PR disaster could just turn out okay. In fact, handled compassionately, skillfully and quickly, a disaster can be turned into a positive reputation-building exercise.

Your story is part of a far larger story

It’s highly unlikely that anyone is lying awake, unable to sleep, thinking about your business and what it can do for them. Most businesses aren’t thought of unless something goes wrong and someone needs help – that’s when you’re top-of-mind.

While you may well be excited about your business, it’s important to recognise that your business is only relevant to people as part of a larger story. The skill of content marketing is recognising that larger story, and making yourself relevant to it – and here the art of the humble brag really comes to the fore.

The latest evolution in business is all about collaboration and collectives. We want to feel like we’re part of a bigger, more important picture.

A skilled marketer makes their clients and fans the stars of the show. From client case studies, to social media promotions requiring people to hashtag themselves and, thus, become visible to the companies’ followers, it’s all about the whole being larger than the sum of its parts.

Too often, business people get lured into thinking they can build their business around their personality. But the likes of Branson, Zuckerberg and Bill Gates had a cult around their personality after many long years of difficult, disruptive, cutting-edge work.

Word-of-mouth can’t be bought

Working in a small niche in a small country through my former business Yoga Reach, I was privy to a lot of information about people in the sector which is sometimes quite scandalous. I didn’t always take this information at face value, and it goes without saying that I would never pass this on. When I hear something negative about a person, I know there’s always two sides to every story and try to give the person the benefit of the doubt.

But if I hear a second or third negative remark, it influences my opinion of the person or business and I’m extremely cautious of doing business with them. Your integrity can’t be bought, it must be earned. And in these days of increasingly flakiness and narcissism, good manners, graciousness and generosity counts for so much more.

Remember, your professional reputation isn’t just about being seen – that’s only one tiny part of it. There are plenty of people with high profiles and zero credibility. Being known and recognised is only useful if you’re known as a smart operator and recognised for remarkable work. You don’t have to be a ‘type’ to excel building your profile, you just need to be congruent, articulate and persistent.

Are you ready to build your professional reputation? Check out Hustle & Heart.