Your Professional Brand Development

Steve Adamjee USI Insurance Services

Everyone wants to work smarter not harder, and when it comes to building your professional brand, networking offers that exact opportunity. Networking allows you to establish yourself as a helpful resource to others, not only professionally but also personally. Networking is good for meeting potential clients but it is just as effective for building key mutually beneficial connections that might serve you well in the future. And even if someone cannot offer you anything in return, it is in the best interest of your brand to help them anyway since it contributes to a positive reputation. Talking to strangers and putting yourself out there do not come easy for everyone, but by challenging yourself and practicing the soft skills of interpersonal communication and speaking, you will grow in confidence, meet new people, and begin to add value to others, and this will stand you in good stead to take your professional brand to the next level. Joining us today to share his expertise on the topic is Steve Adamjee, a vice president with USI Insurance Services.

Key Points From This Episode

  • Learn what a personal and professional brand involves and how they are built.
  • How networking can be leveraged for brand development.
  • Understanding that networking is a long-term game of serving and helping people.
  • Why building relationships and knowledge sharing are such important aspects of networking.
  • Seeking mutually beneficial relationships versus helping those who can’t help you.
  • How your unwillingness to help others will be reflected in your brand.
  • Finding better results by seeing how you can be of service to others.
  • Establishing yourself as a trusted resource regardless of the industry you are in.
  • Thoughts on the value of being part of associations and participating in speaking opportunities.
  • Getting involved in associations that are meaningful to you at both a personal and professional level.
  • Growing as a professional by practicing your interpersonal communication skills.


[00:00:01] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to Branch Out, a Connection Builders podcast. Helping middle-market professionals connect, grow and excel in their careers. Through a series of conversations with leading professionals, we share stories and insights to take your career to the next level. A successful career begins with meaningful connections.

[00:00:20] AD: Hey everyone, welcome to Branch Out. I’m your host, Alex Drost. Today’s guest is Steve Adamjee, a vice president with USI Insurance Services. Steve and I discussed developing your personal and professional brand and how networking plays a fundamental role in this development. Hope you all enjoy.

[00:00:41] ANNOUNCER: Connect and grow your network. We are on LinkedIn. Search for Connection Builders.


[00:00:48] AD: Steve, welcome to Branch Out. Excited to have you here today.

[00:00:51] SA: Thanks for having me, Alex.

[00:00:53] AD: So Steve, you and I have talked a lot about the idea of your professional and personal brand development. And talking to our listeners for a minute here, we all know that our professional or personal brand is a critical component to our career and to our success. And Steve and I have had a lot of conversations around this and I think Steve had some really great insights, and I’d love to first have you, Steve, just unpack some of your thoughts around, one, what is your professional brand? And then, two, how do you focus on developing out that brand?

[00:01:23] SA: I love it, Alex. And I first off want to say what you’re doing here with this podcast is amazing. I’ve listened to the episodes and I support everything you’re doing. And thanks again for having me. But echoing what you just said is I think being in risk and insurance or any professional service for that matter building your personal and professional brand is extremely important. At the end of the day we’re all in this to meet people, build our business and enjoy doing it. And I think personal brand goes hand in hand with networking. I know you and I have talked about that in the past and everybody kind of has a similar spin on it, but with their own personal experience they have a different view.

But my opinion, people ask, “What is your personal brand? What is someone’s personal brand? What does it mean?” And I think it’s basically how colleagues, how your centers of influence, even your competition, but most importantly how your clients and future clients view you. And I think things that can kind of affect that view is the value you bring to those relationships. Obviously your expertise and the results you provide to your clients, and of course your personality, because being authentic is always really, really important. And obviously the number one best way to build your brand, I think everybody, all your listeners can agree, is to have a good reputation amongst your clients and kind of help all of them find that win-win scenario. So once they talk to each other, your brand is out there. And the only way to do that is make those outbound calls, right? I think people kind of underestimate the amount of time it takes for networking to really kick in and see results. And everybody kind of has a different spin, but my opinion is networking is one of the biggest pillars under building your personal brand.

[00:03:13] AD: No. I agree with you there so much, and I do believe networking is fundamental to that. Let’s talk a little bit about where networking does help with your brand development. And you and I have talked about kind of your pillars behind this, and one of them being both your technical knowledge, but also your industry and market knowledge. Can you share some thoughts around, one, why those are important to your brand? But then, two, how networking has helped you develop out your expertise and your knowledge in both of those areas?

[00:03:46] SA: I love that. Yeah, absolutely. And like I said earlier, outbound calls are really – They’re just something – If it’s necessary to building your business. I think everybody can agree on that. But networking is up there with one of my favorite things of what I do every day. And just like anything else, it takes time. People underestimate the amount of time it takes to really see results from networking. And at the end of the day in professional services we’re all here to educate ourselves so we can better help our clients.

So networking with those people who have an overlapping clientele, catching up with them, listening to their webinars almost like they would want their buyers to listen. I think it just helps us round out our own professional brand when we’re bringing solutions outside of what we focus on doing every day to our clients. I think that’s one of the biggest things. But networking in itself, some people have different views.

And going back, I got into risk and insurance through my dad with him in high school and college, so dipped my toe on it at an early age. And one of the things him having his own business, one of the things he left to me was you really have to love helping people. It sounds corny. It sounds obvious, but if you’re always thinking outwardly without expecting things in return, I think naturally people similar to yourself will see that. And what goes around comes around. And yes, continuously looking forward and thinking outward is always something you want to do. But there’s still the other side of it. Well, I’m not getting anything out of it. And I think as someone in the professional services industry, we have to take that off the table. What’s the value in networking? People get caught up in that piece, I feel like.

[00:05:31] AD: I think that’s so true. And what I want to say to our listeners here, I think a lot of people look at networking as a way to go out and meet new and prospective clients or centers of influences that can introduce you to clients. And yes, generating clients is a fundamental aspect of that. But as you just said there, there’s a level of industry knowledge and technical knowledge. And yes, you’re going to get some of that in your organization and in doing your daily job and dealing with the day-to-day technical issues, or participating in different whatever industry events or webinars or whatever it might be. But a big chunk of networking value all the way back to building your brand here can come from building those relationships with other people that are in your industry today. Other people that you can ask questions, who you can bounce ideas off of that frankly might be a competitor to you. Might be someone that is never going to send you a client because they have their own clients they’re serving. And if someone that was a prospect for you was probably a prospect for them, but that doesn’t mean you don’t build that relationship there. It doesn’t mean that there’s no value there, because ultimately by having those different relationships with different people in your exact case and in the risk business, if you know people in a handful of different brokers or carriers and people that, again, probably aren’t going to be referral sources or clients for you, but what is the value to you in being able to know what’s going on and to be able to speak and talk intelligently? Because that’s a direct reflection of your own brand.

[00:07:11] SA: I couldn’t agree with you more, Alex. That’s amazing. It’s so funny because you have these conversations with others who might do similar things that you do, and granted it seems obvious to us, but to others they’re saying, “Why am I networking? I’m not getting anything out of it. I’m busy. I’m finding more results and outbound calls, cold calls.” There’re still people who are doing these things every day and they’re yielding results and they’re happy with it. But everybody wants to work smarter, not necessarily harder. And I think that’s kind of the basis of networking.

And going back to what you were saying, is people are still having success in other ways, in other fashions. You got to have different venues, different avenues to where you can find your success and where it can come from. But even those listeners who are actively networking and doing it on a regular basis, I think people think about just how they can network better.

I know right when I got into the broker side of the world, I got out and I started networking because I knew deep down that’s how I’m going to learn more about my clients. That’s going to teach me more about their needs, more about what they’re seeking, the solutions that they’re seeking. And in addition, and even most importantly, I’m going to make great relationships that will last hopefully a lifetime, right?

We all think about those connections we make and we think about those people. There’s going to be some, who help you who can help you who might have similar clients to you, but just won’t necessarily do that. There’re others who want to help you but can’t necessarily help you. And then we all want to find those who can help us and will help us at some point in time. And I think that when we take that off the table and that pressure off the table and we just start to think outwardly, we learn naturally. I think subconsciously we learn that the people that we drift to and have that overlapping clientele just kind of naturally show themselves throughout our career. You start to help each other. And when those things come back to you, it just becomes a very well-balanced relationship. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t help the person who cannot help you. I think we have to continue to do that, and I think that’s just part of your personal brand again, because your personality, your authentic personality is something that resonates with most. And that’s kind of what adds to your success.

[00:09:24] AD: Steve, that’s so well said there, right? I mean, again, the entire topic today is around your brand and developing your brand. And if you as a person or as a professional say, “I’m only going to help those people that can help me.” And if that’s really how you think inside, I know very few people that will run around and advertise that, but you’ve got to really ask yourself internally. Is that really the thought? If someone reaches out and asks for something or you’re meeting someone and networking with someone and you kind of realize, “Hey, they’re probably not going to be able to help me.” So if your mindset flips too, “Well, they can’t help me. So why should I help them?” That comes out. That becomes blatantly obvious. And in may not in the specific moment, but if that is fundamentally the mindset and the thought pattern that you’re having, it will come out, and that’s part of your brand. And I don’t think anyone sitting here talking about it would say, “Yeah, I want my brand to be the guy that’s only willing to help someone who’s willing to help me.” And that’s, again, where you have to ask yourself who I am and what am I trying to accomplish.

And if, to your point, you said earlier that you learned from your father, your goal, especially in a professional services-based business, your goal is to help other people. You are paid by your clients to solve problems and help other people. And if you don’t genuinely approach that networking and relationship building from that standpoint, it’s going to be directly reflected in what your brand is.

[00:09:24] SA: Exactly. Exactly, Alex. And to that point, is in the professional services space, what we do every day and a lot of our success is a function of how we listen and how we learn. And if we do the same for those people who may not have an overlapping clientele, I think that resonates throughout everything you do. And if you’re looking to just think outwardly and help anybody around you, whether that’s you meet somebody and you heard that, know they’re looking for – During COVID, they’re looking for someone who may have used to be a teacher and is out of a job and they’re looking for help to kind of watch their kids. And, “Hey, I remember I might not be able to help this gentleman professionally or this woman professionally, but I might not know someone who can kind of help them at home and put them in touch.” I think if you kind of overlap the spectrum of professional and personal, I think you’re going to find a lot of better results and you’re going to feel better about it too when you help people.

[00:11:48] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, a Connection Builders podcast.

[00:11:57] AD: I think that’s so true. And listen, on the podcast in previous episodes we’ve absolutely talked about this idea that there is a major overlap between personal and professional life, especially as a as a professional service provider. There is a ton of crossover in a lot of gray zone that exists there. And to your exact point there, if your brand is you want to be a resource that people can count on, you want to be someone that people will call and look to as that trusted advisor status regardless of what your specific industry or services, right? In your case, it’s obviously risk management. Regardless of where that is, you want to be that go-to and you want to know who to reach out to and who to be able to connect someone else to to be able to provide value regardless of if you’re getting paid or not. Regardless of if it’s part of your business. And the only way you can do that, this all comes back, and it centers back to that you said, authentic and genuine. And those words get tossed around a lot here on Branch Out. But when it really comes down to it, what do you internally, as a human, how do you view it? Do you want to really just help other people? Do you genuinely say, “I want to help whoever I can.”

If that’s the case, and I think most of us in our rational minds will sit back and say, “Yeah, that’s who I want to be.” If that’s who you want to be, part of that – Again, coming back to building your brand out, part of that is getting to know people and getting to know people that can help other people and then making sure that it’s front of mind to figure out how to introduce people and how to be that conduit to bring people together and help them accomplish whatever problems they’re trying to solve.

[00:13:35] AD: Exactly. Exactly. And I think I’ve been doing this for about 15 years now and good advice has never been so prevalent especially during these tough times. Companies, supply chains are being disrupted, but what we’re finding is that I’m learning more about my centers of influence and what they do. Everybody, you find that you start drifting towards those people who care about their clients, care about their colleagues, care about their connections as much as you do and you start to learn more about what they do.

Like I said earlier, a function of what we do in our success is listening and learning every day. And I think now is the time. If those listeners aren’t networking now, now is the time where you better educate yourself to figure out what are my clients? What are my colleagues? What are my centers of influences experiencing right now? And how can I connect them or provide them a solution to help them in a better spot?

And I did want to kind of ask you a question, Alex, is as we’re talking about personal brand here, what are your thoughts on associations or speaking engagements, things like that?

[00:14:35] AD: Well, I think that’s a great question, Steve. I mean for myself personally, I am heavily involved in multiple associations. The one that we talk about here on the show quite a bit is the Association for Corporate Growth, ACG, but there are many other associations that I am involved in in one way or another into the exact point around brand development.  You need to go out and find those associations, get plugged in and use that as a way. Back to what we said, develop your industry and technical knowledge, your market knowledge, things that you can do by being part of that association. But then two, to the speaking question, if you have an opportunity – And listen, I want to be clear. Not everyone enjoys speaking. I’m someone that I don’t mind getting up on a stage or on a webinar in today’s world. I don’t mind doing that. Not everyone does. I would encourage people to step outside of their comfort zone. I would encourage people to give it a try and understand that we’re all nervous when we go do it and you’re not alone. But those things are very helpful in, one, when you are presenting like that and sharing your knowledge, you may be helping and informing and educating someone else, which is very valuable. That’s a huge component of building your brand. But I will tell you too, it’s a very important skillset.

Actually we have a podcast that’s all around communication and we talk about that if you don’t practice it, you won’t get better at it. So I think there’s so many reasons to go out and get involved in an association and to look for speaking opportunities and look for events like that where you can share your knowledge, demonstrate your skills, and frankly develop those critical soft skills.

[00:16:07] SA: Yeah, I completely agree with you. When I first heard about your podcast, when I first listened to those first few episodes, I knew I had to reach out to you. We knew a lot of the same people. I knew your background. I knew your professional background and I wanted to learn more. Coming out when you’re building your business, my first thought was of course the networking piece and get involved in associations that are meaningful. And what I found is you want to get involved in associations that aren’t meaningful just to your business, but meaningful to you personally.

For example, I joined the Chicago Leukemia Lymphoma Society. I think everybody knows somebody who’s been affected and me personally know more than a few unfortunately, but I’ve made some very, very good contacts, very, very good friends from that. And in addition I noticed that on the professional side of things is the insurance industry is one of the older, for lack of a better word, more antiquated financial services industries. And we’ve all been thinking about it. At least those who have been in the industry long enough is what does the future look like? How are younger people getting into this industry?

And I saw a need and I got together with a few other individuals and we created this kind of a sister board to a much larger board called the Rising Risk Professionals. We work closely with the Risk Insurance Management Society. Every major city has one, but through trial and error, we’ve really grown this thing and we’ve really gotten a lot of traction and support from people from all different ends of the insurance spectrum. And our members are growing by leaps and bounds. We’re having speaking engagements, and it gives others opportunities to not only network, but do exactly what you explained, enhance your ability to speak in front of groups, or moderate panels, or be a panelist. And people at a young age, the more they get into that, I think the more doors it opens on so many different levels.

[00:18:07] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, bringing you candid conversations with leading middle market professionals.

[00:18:15] AD: I couldn’t agree with you more. And what I want to say to our listeners – And, right. You the podcast and speaking of panels and all sorts of things like that, right? Opportunities to go out and hone those skills. And I can only speak from my own experiences here, but my skillset, my soft skills my ability to communicate and to share knowledge and to share my thoughts in a coherent way that it will add value to someone else has dramatically increased in the last handful of years as I’ve put a much heavier emphasis. And frankly since we’ve kicked off the Branch Out podcast, I’ve seen that more and more. And again I’m not telling everyone go out and start a podcast, but go find ways to get on a podcast, or go find ways to talk on a panel. Go find ways to get plugged in. And if you’re someone that doesn’t like being in the spotlight and that makes you uncomfortable and, again, I encourage people to try it. But I want to be cognizant that not everyone feels the same way about it. Go get involved in a board and play a role where you can help grow the board or grow membership or execute on something where maybe you’re not in the spotlight. But again, this all comes back to your brand. People are going to start knowing you for who you are. What you do. How you act. How you behave. What your skills are.

And, one, you have to develop those skills where some of us are born with a stronger ability in those skills, but no one is born perfect. We all have room to improve in life. Go out and practice it. It will make you better. Number two, if you don’t go out and let other people see your skillsets and if you are not out in front of people and getting to know people, how are they ever going to know what your brand is? And ultimately, your career success does ride on what your brand is, especially as a service provider. You really have to be able to build that out. In my opinion, the earlier you start that, the better, because it takes time. It’s not something that just happens overnight.

[00:20:02] SA: Exactly. I love that you said that. And as you continuously develop yourself on the speaking engagement side and the panelist side, obviously you’re making yourself more of an expert. No one wants to just jump on stage and just kind of just start freestyling about something that they don’t know about. Naturally you want to become an expert. It’s another way to learn more about something that you didn’t know before or you’re already an expert you’re learning more from another panelist.

Not to mention that through all of this you’re meeting people. Naturally you have people come up to you, or naturally people are just curious of your career path, and that gives you opportunities to take it back to square one and network, help people make other connections. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people come up to me by being on this board in particular and said thank you for connecting me with this person. And that creates value to your personal brand. And people just naturally start to drift to you for solutions.

[00:21:00] AD: I couldn’t agree more. And to wrap up our episode here, what I will say to listeners, we led this off with talking about your brand development, again, professional, personal brand development. I think they’re very much intertwined. When it comes down to it, there is a multitude of ways that you can focus on it, but it really does come down to practice to get better. And two, knowing people, meeting people and getting out there and being value added to others, because no one really cares about you or who you are unless they know that you care about them. And you have to find ways to demonstrate that you care about other people, and a great way to do that is by giving to them. Again, whether that’s giving knowledge by sitting on a panel or that’s giving an introduction and helping them out or giving your time to volunteer for a cause, whatever it is, go find something to go give and serve and help others. It will come back to pay you in spade. I can assure you that. I’ve seen that in my own life. And you just have to keep that front of mind if you truly want to be successful in building out your brand.

[00:22:02] SA: I love that. I love that, Alex. As my dad used to say, be relentless in helping others and never stop learning.

[00:22:08] AD: That is some very powerful words to wind down our show on. Steve, I really appreciate being on here. Appreciate your contribution to the show here and hope our listeners enjoy everything we had to share today.

[00:22:18] SA: Absolutely, Alex. Thanks for having me, and I look forward to hearing future episodes.

[00:22:23] ANNOUNCER: Thank you for tuning in this week. Share this podcast with your professional network to help others connect, grow and excel. Like what you hear? Leave us a review and don’t forget to subscribe now.