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Interview with Elina Koivumäki, the chief organizer of “Henkilöbrändäys”.

(Cover photo by Osmo Lassila)

Today we have the huge privilege of having the “singing lawyer” Elina Koivumäki with us. Outspoken and vivacious, Elina is a well-known lawyer, writer, blogger and speaker in Finland with 17 years of expertise in the legal, marketing, entertainment and social media world.

Up until September 2016 Elina was a partner in one of the largest law firms in Finland (Eversheds) but then resigned and chose to hop into an unknown future. Currently, Elina operates via her own firm Lexperience and is fully booked with legal work and speaking engagements. In this interview, she shares with us the motivations behind organizing the upcoming event Henkilöbrändäys 2017. Enjoy!

IKIGUIDE: Hello Elina! Thank you for accepting our interview. We hear that you are the chief organizer of the event Henkilöbrändäys 2017. What inspired you to organize it?

Elina: I want to help people to understand that they all have a brand already. So why wouldn’t you want to make it stronger to the way that you want?

Therefore, I want to create this event and get the best possible people from all industries to speak on this topic of personal branding, from many angles. The focus is not just to give advice or tactics on how to do it, but to really look at this topic from all perspectives.

You see, Finns tend to be really humble, so the term “personal branding” might have negative connotations. It might even be slightly touchy as an issue here in Finland. The consensus is that “personal branding” might be seen as some form of “fake image building”.

So with this seminar, I’d like to clear that up. I hope more people can see that it is completely okay to build your personal brand. It doesn’t mean that if you build your personal brand, you are putting up a fake image.

Of course if you do your personal branding “wrong”, then it could somehow be misconstrued as a fake image. For example, if you overpromise in your online presence and then fail to deliver when someone retains your services.

IKIGUIDE: What is “personal branding” to you, and how is it different from a “reputation”?

Elina: I would say that you have more active control over “personal branding” than a “reputation”.

Reputation seems to be something that naturally occurs, whereas personal branding is something you actively control or at least try to control. So you decide your goals and how you want to achieve them through the personal brand.

Personal branding is largely about knowing yourself—you know who you are, what your strengths are, how you can make these strengths even stronger, and how you can communicate these strengths to other people in a way that helps you.

So in a lot of ways, I think personal branding is a journey into yourself. It is knowing your strengths and knowing what people think and say about you. It is important to understand that your actions need to be in line with the personal brand you are aiming at. Otherwise your reputation might be different from what you would have wanted it to be.

IKIGUIDE: It is often said that people who “overdo their personal branding” can come across as “fake”. What is authenticity to you, and how do you think people can come across as authentic via their personal brands?

Elina: Indeed, in this age of social media, many can be “larger than life”. Anyone can set up impressive websites and be really active online. Yet when you meet them offline, there is an online-offline gap.

Or, people might be able to talk a lot in the digital space. However, after a while, you realise they do not really know what they are talking about.

Therefore it is important to substantiate your personal brand with good skills and expertise. For example, recently I have gotten so many positive comments about my own efforts in personal branding. People are saying positive things about my YouTube channel, and that is because I have a law background and expertise to substantiate any content I post online, combined with ability to deliver the message in a clear and understandable form, which is not always so obvious with lawyers.

In other words, I am not a bubble that can burst anytime—there is substance inside.

This is why I wanted to do this personal branding seminar: To give back to society by encouraging more Finns with high professionalism to show their expertise to the world. We have a lot of them in Finland!

In addition, I feel that a good personal brand is having an interesting, human aspect to the brand as well. It is not just about the business aspect. For instance, I am known in Finland as “the singing lawyer”—and I have carried this element of the “singing lawyer” with me for the past 17 years, in most interviews I gave.

It is authentic and easier for people to remember, like “Oh that is Elina, the singing lawyer.” And really, my goal is also to improve the image of lawyers in the industry!

elina lawyer
Photo by Osmo Lassila.

To make lawyers seem more humane and less frightening. ☺ We are normal people too!

IKIGUIDE: What do you think is the number one fear or mental barrier some people might have against investing in their own personal branding?

Elina: In the Finnish context, it probably is the fear of being judged.

The thought process goes like this, “If I post this online or say this, what would people think of me if it is wrong? Will people think I am stupid?”

So many Finns I know think like that, and then they decide to keep their mouths shut. The logic is that they would not fail if they do not say anything out loud.

So the biggest issue of personal brand in Finland is that there is a challenge of people not being able to present their strengths in public.

IKIGUIDE: Just curious, are there consequences in Finland if someone thinks that another person is stupid?

Elina: That is a very good question! You know, I have made a personal decision to allow myself to make mistakes.

Finns are quite strict with themselves when it comes to mistakes. When I was 23 years old, I started to teach at a particular legal seminar because my boss bravely just put me to the stage.

At the end of the first year, I was always so afraid when it comes to the Question-and-Answer sessions. What if I didn’t know the answers? That would be so horrible!

And then after three or four years of doing those seminars and teaching, I realised that it doesn’t matter. I simply do not need to know the answers to everything–I don’t have to be perfect.

So nowadays I actually love it when somebody in the audience makes a question that I don’t know the answer to. Because I can then say, “That is a great question—I do not know the answer. Is there anybody in this room who can help me with answering?”

So by doing this, I kind of crowd-source for answers and let others show their expertise in front of the audience. And knowing that not everybody has to know all the answers is such a huge relief, isn’t it?

And this relates back to our point on personal branding. Even if you brand yourself as an expert—in real estate, investing, law– you do not need to know all the answers.

Don’t be too strict on yourself! I think Finns are usually too harsh on themselves. They think, “I can only go out to say that I am an expert at this and that if and only if I know it completely.”

Of course there are gender differences too. Assume that you are applying for a job in Finland and there are ten criteria you are expected to fulfil. In Finland especially, Finnish men would apply even if they fulfil just one or two out of ten! The logic is that he would first put in the application and then think, “Okay, I will learn it.”

However, for Finnish women, they will not put in the application even if they fulfil nine out of ten of the criteria. They are like, “I cannot apply because I don’t know the tenth thing they require.”

It really need not be like that. So in a way, I hope to change the mind-set of women through this seminar as well.

IKIGUIDE: What advice or tips would you give to a young person who says– “I don’t know what I want, can or should I still do personal branding?”

Elina: I have this advice to young people.

If you don’t know what to do, take this piece of paper, sit down, write 25 things or words in your life that you like. Then when you have written them down, you put five stars to the words that are most important to you.

Just read the list back and forth, back and forth, then you decide on the five things that are most important to you.

Those five things are the things that you feel most passionate about. They are the things in your life that makes life worth living.

So it is from this exercise that you can have a better idea of who you are, what you are good at, what you are motivated by and what you are passionate about.

I have done this exercise for myself, and I think it is a very interesting introspective journey to knowing myself better! ☺ I have a personal coach Maaretta Tukiainen with an excellent personal brand of being warm, intelligent, intuitive and happy, and I’m so excited she is also speaking at the seminar.

So do attend our seminar, it will be good!

Also, I recommend that young people start first with a small area in their chosen field of expertise. So you can start to take one tiny piece and start to build on and around that. ☺ Young people should also realize that they are the “digi gender” and have a huge advantage compared to us 40+ year olds as the younger ones are completely fluent in using all kinds of digital applications and channels.

IKIGUIDE: How do you distinguish between a narcissistic person and a person with an excellent personal brand? Is there any particular litmus test you would employ?

Elina: Personally, I will check their social media presence.

For example, if a person simply constantly shouts out their personal message and does not interact with others, then there is a high chance that the person can be narcissistic. By interacting with others I mean replying to tweets, sharing the content of other people, and so on.

It is important to give back, or to interact with other people. Personally, I make sure that I very often share great online content created by other people, because it is all about contributing to the ecosystem.

It is very important to me to also give my audiences to people who produce great content! It is all about sharing.

IKIGUIDE: Sometimes when we do personal branding, we might offend people. What do you say about this?

Elina: I think before anyone were to do personal branding, they have to accept that they cannot please everyone. Or, in case you want to please everyone, you are likely to brand yourself as somewhat boring, without any “edges”.

Before you start to build a strong personal brand, you will have to accept too, that you will have people who dislike you or your content.

In the Finnish context, people tend to be humble. So when you put yourself out there, people might indeed start talking. Sometimes the conversation might go like, “She’s always talking about herself and doing this and that.”

I think an important part of personal branding is also to realise the cost and benefit of building a more public and stronger personal brand and to understand the motives of people who will try to pull you down.

For me, personally, it is so important and rewarding to see if someone gets inspiration from what I do. If I can encourage even one person to do something new by showing an example, that overcomes the possible negative effects of a more visible presence.

IKIGUIDE: On a parting note, do you have anything else to add?

Elina: Come to our personal branding seminar in Helsinki live or via web stream! ☺ Get your tickets today!

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