Updated: Feb 7, 2019
It’s been said that 80% of success is showing up. But that’s not true. It isn’t enough to show up. You’ve got to be seen showing up. People need to know when you are going to show up. They want to know how you show up. So, how do you raise your professional visibility?
1. Define your brand.
Or you might call it your niche area of expertise. Possibly your value proposition. Your elevator pitch. Your passion. What’s important here is to identify the skills that are uniquely yours: things you love to do but others don't, things that come easy to you, but others find more challenging, and so on. Once you’ve defined these characteristics, you’ll find it much simpler to articulate what exactly you bring to the table. And once you have clarity on what you can bring to the table, focus on doing more of that. Become to ‘go-to’ expert, the ‘it’ person for a particular need. Only you can do you the way you do you! If you differentiate yourself, it doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing. Sasha Shillcutt is super at this. She’s galvanized serious professional visibility around the concept that scholarly presence and hot pink high heels are not mutually exclusive, and she’s focused much of her work on the concept of staying true to yourself in the hyper-conformist world of academia and medicine. It’s her brand.
2. Use Search Engine Optimization, or SEO.
Certainly, this includes actual digital search engine optimization, but it also includes your CV, the titles of your presentations and papers, and how you talk about what you do. I’m talking about adapting the principles of SEO to your daily communications, to make yourself easy to identify and be found for what you do. The goal here is to choose a set of keywords and phrases that represent the brand you’ve defined in step one, and sprinkle them liberally throughout any and all descriptions of you and your work. Do this in your social media bios, and in any bios you send to anyone else (to introduce you as a speaker, for example). If you are active on social media, be sure to use your keywords in your posts. Obviously, this needs to be authentic, but since you are already writing about content relevant to your keywords, it should flow naturally. Just be mindful to include your deliberate choice of words.
A great example of this is Nisha Mehta, the queen of ‘physician side gigs’. She writes about various ways that physicians can earn revenue from passion projects, passive income streams, and so on. She started a Facebook group with the same name that now has over 20,000 members. She blogs about physician side gigs on her own website, on KevinMD, on Doximity, and other major platforms. I'm fairly certain that if Oprah wanted to do a segment on physician side gigs, she’d be calling Nisha. Why? Because Nisha’s the one who gets ranked at the top of search engines for this term. I’m also fairly sure that SEO is how Captain Sully found and followed me on Twitter, which led to a piece in JAMA and some very rewarding (and career boosting) opportunities.
3. Start writing.
One of the fastest ways to make new connections and gain recognition for expertise in a specific area is to write about it. You do not need to write a book or even publish manuscript in traditional medical journals (though of course you can, and this carries importance of its own). Without anyone else’s approval or permission, you can start today and write a few blog posts. You can post them on your own website (which you can create in less than twenty minutes). You can post them on Facebook or LinkedIn. You can share them as guest posts on someone else’s blog. You can do all of the above. In doing so, you’ll create many little footprints across the web that link your great content with your name, and because you have also used good SEO and branding, Google and other search engines will soon begin to suggest you as an expert when people are looking for an expert in areas that align with your now- demonstrated expertise. I want to take a quick pause to clarify that ‘expertise’ need not be about you. Esther Choo is a super example. She’s an advocate. An advocate for people everywhere. Her enormous following and the subject of her writing is focused on inequality and injustice, both for patient issues and for gender bias in medicine. She’s been on CNN. Chelsea Clinton retweets her. Esther is the expert on those issues because she is genuinely invested in changing the world and she writes about it. So get to writing.
4. On that note, develop relationships with people up, down, and all around.
Do not limit your network to your department or your specialty or to doctors or to healthcare professionals. Do not limit your networking efforts to those who are ‘senior’ to you. Get to know people in other departments, and in other institutions. There are often a lot of synergies and opportunity for natural collaboration across disciplines. Identify those, and reach out. Most people will be delighted to connect with you, especially when you can crisply articulate the ways in which your work intersects with theirs. Thankfully, you didn’t skimp on the first step! This is important for a few reasons. The first is that you may find opportunity for collaboration. The second is that you will start to be known in domains outside of your own. This is a big boost for visibility and credibility. When you are identified as an expert by leaders outside of your sphere, you’ve really opened doors. The third is that you’ll learn new perspectives that you can incorporate into your work to make it better. Win/win/win.
I’m fairly certain that my cross-discipline work is what led me to be the physician expert on medical decisions at a behavioral economics conference in London, along with a few Nobel Laureates and other famous cognitive scientists. When I think about the major speaking opportunities I’ve had over the course of my career thus far – either the most prestigious, the coolest, or the most lucrative - they have all come my way because of my writing on the internet. I may not have actually been the most expert on the subject, but I was the most easily found expert. This, in turn, gave me an opportunity to increase my visibility as an expert. See how that works?
5. On the subject of winning…success is not a zero-sum game.
Stop viewing your colleagues as competition. They don’t have to lose for you to win. And when they are enjoying an achievement or milestone, that’s not a loss for you! There is no scarcity of opportunity. And each of us is unique. We really aren’t doing the ‘same thing’. Support each other, celebrate each other, fly each other’s flag.
Isn’t it great that other people feel passionately about making a difference in the world in the same way you do? Or at least in a way that overlaps? It is mutually beneficial to embrace this and leverage it. It’s fantastic that this seems to be a year in which we’ve reached a critical mass of enthusiasm around women in medicine, bias, burnout, wellness, and other important issues.
There are so many incredible conferences to help advance your career or wellness in some way or another – GRIT, SheLeads, TransforMD, Brave Enough, FemInEM, GirlMedLive, offerings from Women in Surgery and the American Medical Women’s Association, and more. Are these groups fighting for attendees, clashing with each other? Nope. Cheering each other on– just check out MedGirlMedia’s website for a great list. These women are smart enough to know that there is plenty of success and fulfillment to go around! Collectively, you’ll make a bigger difference, which is the purpose of your work. And, everyone will likely enjoy a boost in professional visibility as a result.
Be generous in recognizing and partnering with others. Dana Corriel does this wonderfully, and as a result, has had very rapid growth and success in her relatively new #SoMeDocs endeavor. And you’ve probably heard of PMG – the Physician Moms Group, which is an organization and a Facebook group over 70,000 members strong. Hala Sabry started it. Guess what it isn’t about? That’s right – it’s not about her. She is recognized for, and deserves credit for, the community building that she has done. If there’s going to be an interview or invitation about PMG, she’ll be on the receiving end. But the actual content and purpose of the group is to help others. That’s the very reason it is so successful. Win/win.
So there you go – five simple steps to fast-track and amplify your professional visibility. It’s more than just showing up.