(TNS) Many New Year's resolutions involve physical improvements, such as losing weight or abstaining from a vice. However, for 2017, you might want to consider investing in yourself instead by developing a personal branding strategy and creating new career opportunities.
Career growth doesn't have to mean a promotion at your job. Investing in yourself can lead to greater lifestyle freedom, more money or just a higher degree of fulfillment in your professional life. Here are seven strategies for investing in yourself in the coming year.
POSITION YOURSELF AS A SPECIALIST
"The best piece of advice I can give someone in any industry when it comes to personal branding is to become a specialist and become really good at the few things you do," said James Pollard, marketing consultant and owner of TheAdvisorCoach.com. "If you have a heart condition, would you feel more comfortable going to a general practitioner or a cardiologist? Also, who do you think gets paid more?"
Pollard recommends taking two steps to position yourself as a specialist in your field. First, decide what it is you want to specialize in and what you believe you can sell. Second, immerse yourself in that specialty. For example, if you drive trucks, don't promote yourself as a truck driver; instead, brand yourself as a refrigerated freight driver who specializes in transporting medical goods.
"I tell my clients to pick a few areas where they want to specialize," Pollard said. "Then I tell them to read as much as they can on self-improvement and to invest in themselves as much as possible."
REASSESS YOUR LINKEDIN PROFILE
LinkedIn is a career-focused social media site. With 467 million members, it bills itself as the "World's Largest Professional Network" and is used by people in a wide range of industries to learn, network and locate job opportunities.
If you haven't signed up for LinkedIn, 2017 is a great time to create a free account. And if you already use the service, make it your New Year's resolution to revisit your profile, update your information and remove anything that's dated or irrelevant.
"It's time to overhaul your LinkedIn profile so that it represents your personal brand, career story, accomplishments and successes," said Jessica Hernandez, president and CEO of Great Resumes Fast.
Additionally, you should dig deeper and exploit the various resources offered by the site.
"Once your profile is ready, turn on LinkedIn's newest feature: Open Candidates," Hernandez said. "It will confidentially alert recruiters who are signed up for the service that you are open to new opportunities without the worry of notifying your current company."
GET BUSINESS CARDS THAT ARE AS AWESOME AS YOU
Just because we live in a digital world doesn't mean physical business materials hold no value. You'll make a far better impression at your next networking event by handing over a professional-looking business card rather than a hastily scribbled note on a cocktail napkin.
"Your business card will be the first point of contact with any client," said Dennis Michael, branding expert and owner of Wake Creative. "You want to make a lasting impression."
Fortunately, you don't have to be a graphic designer — or spend a fortune — to create high-end cards. Sites like Fiverr let you hire freelance designers to create professional business cards for as little as $5, while VistaPrint offers low-cost, entry-level cards starting at $9.99 for 500. However, you might consider upgrading if you have the means.
"Spend the extra money to make your card feel and look amazing," Michael said.
DEVELOP A PERSONAL WEBSITE
Having a well-written, attractive and easy-to-navigate website can help position you as a professional among amateurs. Additionally, a professional website enables you to stand out, extend your reach and control your online image to a certain degree.
And you don't have to be a web designer — or independently wealthy — to create a website that turns heads.
"Today it is easy and realistic to have a website in just a few hours using platforms like Wix and Squarespace," said David Mitroff, a business consultant and founder of Piedmont Avenue Consulting. "With your own website, you are creating a central hub for all the people seeking to learn more about you."
VOLUNTEER YOUR TIME
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, roughly 25 percent of Americans perform volunteer work, with women outpacing men in this arena.
Donating your time, energy, talent and skills isn't just good for the community; it also boosts self-worth. Additionally, volunteering can help your career and personal brand.
"Volunteering lets you get more experience in areas that you might be curious about, and it can also help you deepen your skills," said Deidre Woollard of real estate public relations site Lion & Orb. "It also looks great on your resume because it shows you are community minded and dedicated to using your abilities as a force for good. A great way to start is to find out what business organizations in your area have opportunities where your skills can come into play or to find volunteer organizations that are relevant to your career."
FIND A MENTOR
Woody Guthrie mentored Bob Dylan. Maya Angelou mentored Oprah Winfrey. Investment guru Warren Buffett was mentored by legendary investor Benjamin Graham. In fact, some of the most noteworthy people in history credit their success to the relationships they built with their mentors.
When choosing a mentor, focus on the person, not the profession or position. It's also wise to look outside of your job or industry to find a person with a fresh perspective. Finally, be worthy of a mentor. Good mentees aren't seeking someone to lean on; they're looking to grow and are eager to put the guidance they receive into practice.
If you want to climb the career ladder in 2017, consider hitting the books.
"One of the harder, but usually most effective, things to do is to pursue further education," said Valerie Streif, senior advisor with career management and mentoring site Mentat. "Whether it is a continuing education course that gives you a special certification or taking university courses part time to earn another degree, usually more education translates to promotions and better jobs."
You can find affordable courses at your local community college. However, these days, you don't have to leave the house to improve your knowledge base. Many sites offer free or cheap courses, workshops and other programs that can help you grow as a person while growing your resume. EdX, for example, offers free courses from some of the world's most highly regarded learning institutions, including Harvard, Berkeley and MIT. Similarly, Johns Hopkins offers education to the public through its courseware site, as does Carnegie Mellon. Stanford University provides open classes on iTunes, and Coursera and Skillshare both offer specialized courses.
If you're looking for a New Year's resolution that you're sure to keep, resolve to invest in yourself in 2017.