Advice Beyond the Classroom  Professional ABC’s Workshop Series 

Advice Beyond the Classroom 

Professional ABC’s Workshop Series 

SESSION 1: Building your Brand/First Impressions  


Building Your Brand 

Building a personal brand has never been more important. Anyone with access to the internet and social media can build an audience, position themselves as an expert, and start attracting clients to their business. And that’s exactly what a lot of people are doing.  

A recent study by Upwork revealed that the freelance workforce is growing at a rate 3 times faster than the overall workforce in the U.S. By 2027, freelancers are expected to make up the majority of the U.S. workforce.  

While it’s great to see that so many people are embracing their entrepreneurial spirit, this also means that every self-employed freelancer, independent contractor, and entrepreneur will soon face even more competition. The key to differentiating yourself from your competition is building a personal brand.  

Your brand is what distinguishes you from your competitors, helping to form a lasting impression in the minds of your audience and customers. Without a compelling personal brand that attracts your target audience, you may find yourself struggling to build a sustainable network.  

Most people are more interested in following other people than they are in following specific companies. Therefore, building an audience for your personal brand can actually help increase exposure for your company.  

Elon Musk, for example, has more Twitter followers than three of his companies (Tesla, SpaceX, and  SolarCity) combined. The same is true of Richard Branson (Virgin Group), Arianna Huffington (Thrive Global), and countless other highly successful entrepreneurs. They all have strong personal brands that they leverage to increase exposure and attract more customers for their companies.  


Steps to Building your Brand:  

  1. Build your foundation 

The first step to crafting your personal brand is to lay a foundation that you can confidently and  authentically build upon. The key principle here is authenticity.  

There is a misconception that building a personal brand means crafting a persona. But a persona, by  definition, is a facade. It’s not a true reflection of who you are, and therefore, it’s inauthentic.  

Your personal brand should not be an inauthentic persona. Branding is not about positioning yourself as  something that you are not. It’s about purposefully and strategically showcasing your authentic self to your audience and your customers. Your personal brand should be a true reflection of your skills, passions, values, and beliefs.  

  1. Take inventory of your existing brand assets: 

To build a strong brand foundation, start by taking inventory of the branding assets that you already  possess. The intersection of these assets is where you should build your personal brand. 

  • Your skills & credentials: What skills have you acquired throughout your life? What training,  credentials, certifications, or awards have you received?  
  • Your passions & interests: What industries and topics are you most interested in? What are you  passionate about?  
  • Core values & beliefs: What are some of your most important core values? What do you believe in?  What do you stand for? What do you stand against?  
  • Goals & aspirations: What do you want to accomplish? 
  • Perception & image: What do you want to be known for? If you became known as the world’s go-to expert on XYZ topic,  what would that be? Do you want to be perceived as very polished and professional, or perhaps more  quirky and adventurous?  

It may seem counterintuitive, but if you try to be liked by everyone, you will attract no one. You must be  polarizing in order to stand out. Not everyone that is exposed to you or sees your message will like you or resonate with you, and that is perfectly fine. You don’t need to reach everyone to build a successful business. You just need to reach your perfect clients.  


First Impressions  

You only get one chance to make a good first impression. Like it or not, we live in the golden age of a technologically advanced world that allows for massive information flow between people. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Tinder, and Yelp are all social media platforms that allow for people to make rapid judgements on what they deem to be acceptable. If you are lucky enough to appeal to another  person through one of these mediums, you are rewarded with some variation of a “like.” “Likes” have taken on a form of social currency that does not carry any monetary value (unless you are a social media  celebrity that garners the attention of millions), but does provide a different type of return that cannot  be used to purchase goods or services: psychic income.  

In today’s fast past social media driven society, you have seconds to make a strong first impression.  There are many do’s and don’ts of how to make a good first impression. In this article, we will filter all of  the advice floating on this subject into 3 key points. Here’s the formula for a good first impression:  

Appearance + Engagement + Interaction = First Impression.  

To ensure a positive outcome, one must strive for success on all three variables. However, without being  successful in appearance and engagement, it will be a tough hole to climb out of when trying to close  with Interaction. Interaction is where a person “closes the deal” on a positive first impression.  


1) Appearance: The old saying goes, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Unfortunately, the reason why marketing consultants exist is because they want you to judge the person or product on a surface level. Humans instinctively will make an initial judgement about a person based solely on how they are   

groomed, the clothes they wear, the posture they hold, and the eye contact they maintain, without a word ever spoken. It is vitally important to dress the part when attempting to make a good first impression. Are you going to a business-networking meeting? Then wear soft colored shirts with a cleanly pressed suit and tie. A kempt appearance will demonstrate discipline and motivation. Stand straight, head up, with feet shoulder width apart. People will associate good posture with confidence and good health. Eye contact is one of the more difficult things for people to implement over long  periods. It is important to connect visually, however, one does not want to give the appearance of over  dominance by holding eye contact for too long. 3-5 seconds is adequate before a breakaway is appropriate. As the conversation progresses, staring at your counterpart’s forehead is a good way to  ease any personal uncomfortableness from direct eye contact.  

2) Engagement: Next up, it’s time to move in for a handshake to formalize the greeting. By now, your counterpart has probably come close to making up their mind about how they initially feel about you. In the 1-2 seconds it takes for someone to look you up and down, a strong opinion is being formed. The handshake and initial physical engagement will either make or break the first impression. So what is considered a “good” handshake? The first thing a person should do is know when to hold the hand up for a handshake. You do not want to take more than 1-2 steps with your hand reached out for a greeting. Wait until you are within shoulder length of the counterparty and then raise your hand up with the right elbow tucked at the side. Once the hand is outstretched, turn the palm up towards the sky at a 45 degree angle. This gives the counterparty a “landing strip” for them to place their hand. Most handshakes go bad when both parties are holding vertically and can’t make a smooth connection due to the inability to see where the hand is positioned. As the counterparty’s hand sets down on yours, spread your fingers slightly. If you have smaller hands this will enlarge the surface area of the hands and help potentially minimize a misconnection. Ideally, you want the webs of your thumbs flush against each other. Also, make sure your feet and shoulders are tilted at a -45 degree angle away from your right hand. When people go in for a handshake with their shoulders square, they look like a cowboy from an old western movie about to draw his gun in a duel. Close the body off slightly to ensure the right elbow is tucked into the side. Now, the most important and talked about part of a handshake: firmness. As Aristotle once said: do everything with Positive Moderation. That means you do not want to be soft like a “limp fish” nor too firm like a “gorilla.” No one wants to feel physically inferior to someone on their first meeting. Squeeze the counterparty’s hand firmly but not too hard. Practice makes perfect so find a friend or someone you trust to work on your technique. 

Pre-Covid, Americans initial engagement activity was always the handshake but now, almost two years later other forms of engagement have made their way into the business world. The world is transitioning back to normal, and the handshake is returning to our daily lives; however, be aware that people may not be comfortable with this still. Be prepared to adjust to the level of engagement initiated by the other party.  


Advice Beyond the Classroom, Beverly Area Planning Association and Beverly Arts Center are partnering to present the Professional ABCs Workshop Series to help students prepare for successful careers. Learn more at  



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