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Branding Room Only Interview with Sonya Olds Som: Only Connect

Branding Room Only Interview with Sonya Olds Som: Only Connect
Sonya Olds Som is the Global Managing Partner at Diversified Search Group, a leading executive search firm. As the leader of the group’s Legal, Risk, Compliance & Government Affairs practice, she leads searches for C-Suite and board members with compliance expertise across industries. Sonya is a member of several significant organizations, including the American Bar Association, National Bar Association, Hispanic National Bar Association, Metropolitan Black Bar Association, and the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association. She is a visionary leader committed to creating a more inclusive and equitable future for organizations across industries.

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • What is Sonya Olds Som’s elevator pitch?
  • What is a personal brand, and how does it work?
  • How Sonya defines herself in one phrase
  • Sonya’s approach to branding across different jobs
  • How social media is changing recruitment and diversity landscape
  • Common mistakes people make when branding 
  • Why servicing attorneys should also care about business development
  • The fundamental steps for developing a personal brand
  • One authentic element that Sonya will never compromise

In this episode:

The legal profession often fills with people who are laser-focused on their practice at the cost of personal branding. It is not until much later that they realize their mistake, missing out on valuable time they could have spent building their brand. The other common mistake is a lack of authenticity. This combination can lead to underdeveloped, uniform legal professionals that fail to stand out. Sonya Olds Som is an experienced attorney who works with multiple organizations and search firms. Her work brings her into contact with budding legal professionals and established veterans. It gave her a unique personal brand and a keen perspective on how to develop others as well. Let’s dive into Sonya’s valuable insights on personal branding and the legal industry. In this episode of Branding Room Only, Paula Edgar sits down with Sonya Olds Som, a Global Managing Partner at Diversified Search Group, to discuss personal branding and the legal profession. They touch on common mistakes many people make and why business development is important for servicing attorneys. Sonya also talked about the crucial dos and don’ts of networking and brand development, emphasizing the importance of authenticity and one element that should never be compromised.
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Resources mentioned in this episode

Articles by Sonya Olds Som

Sponsor for this episode

This episode is brought to you by PGE Consulting Group LLC.

PGE Consulting Group LLC is dedicated to providing a practical hybrid of professional development training and diversity solutions. From speaking to consulting to programming and more, all services and resources are carefully tailored for each partner. Paula Edgar’s distinct expertise helps engage attendees and create lasting change for her clients.

To learn more about Paula and her services, go to www.paulaedgar.com or contact her at [email protected], and follow Paula Edgar and the PGE Consulting Group LLC on LinkedIn.

Paula Edgar: Hello everyone, I am Paula Edgar, your host of Branding Room Only, a podcast where we discuss how people build their brands and their talents and experiences they’ve used in order to become industry leaders and influencers, and today my guest is Sonya Olds Som. Sonya is a Global Managing Partner, Legal Risk Compliance and Government Affairs Practice Group Lead at Diversified Search Group, combining her extensive executive search experience in the legal industry with a proven track record of understanding the importance of diversity and inclusive leadership. Sonya leads searches and advises clients in recruiting chief legal officers, general counsels, and other C-Suite and board members across industries. And most importantly, Sonya is my friend and she is fabulous. Welcome Sonya!

Sonya Olds Som: Thank you so much, Paula. It’s so great to be here. Thank you for having me.

Paula Edgar:You’re very welcome. I’m excited for our conversation. So the first question that is up is this: What is your elevator pitch, Sonya?

Sonya Olds Som: So my elevator pitch is obviously my title and those things that you said. And I explain to people that organizations – both for-profit and nonprofit – retain me exclusively to assist them in recruiting top talent, especially diverse talent, for executive roles at their organizations. I’m particularly sought out to conduct general counsel, deputy general counsel, senior counsel, chief diversity officer, and board searches. I’m paid by organizations, not by candidates. While candidates are very important to this process, of course I’m not officially a coach or a career advisor. I do the best I can to advise candidates when I can on their career paths. But my first priority, which pays my mortgage and allows me to prepare to send my son to college, is identifying candidates for my paying organizational clients, not assisting candidates with their job searches.

Paula Edgar: Which is an important distinction because I think when most people think headhunter or somebody who’s doing search or anything like that, they think about the candidate experience, which obviously is a part of it, but that in terms of the way that you work, because you have such experience and the work that you do in terms of providing impact, it is really the organizations that you connect with, and obviously having such a network like you do helps because then you’re able to bring together the benefit of having the searches and knowing all the people, to success. And so I’m glad you made that distinction and it’s an important part of your elevator pitch. So thank you. So tell me, we always talk about personal branding as a core part of our discussions. How would you define a personal brand to somebody who’s not familiar with the concept?

Sonya Olds Som: Yes, I’ve actually written an article or maybe more than one about this topic, but I think the short answer is your personal brand is how you are known, what you are known for and what you want to be known for. And I think it’s important for people to understand that every single one of us has a personal brand. Whether you recognize it or believe it or really know what it is or not, people have a point of view on you and it’s up to you to decide whether your brand helps you or hurts you. It’s up to you to decide how you want to shape that brand.

Paula Edgar: It’s up to you to decide whether the brand helps or hurts you. So I have so many times where people are like, I don’t have a brand. And I’m just like, yeah, you do, right? As soon as you say you don’t have a brand, it’s like, well now your brand for me, is you don’t care about your brand. So it definitely is problematic and I’m glad again that you made that distinction. And I always tell people, your brand is your magic. So yes, it’s all the things that you say they say, but it is what just makes you distinctive in the market. It makes you distinctive in terms of how people think about you. And so it’s all of those and we will definitely include your articles in the links for the show notes for this show. Okay. So describe yourself in three words or short phrases.

Sonya Olds Som:You know what, I’ll do you one better and tell you in one phrase: I am a connector.

Paula Edgar: I mean yes and yeah, I was about to challenge and be like, no, there’s more. No, nope. Yep, that’s correct. And I will say as somebody who knows you, you are not just a connector in terms of the work you do, but you are a connector in terms of people and content and opportunities and interest. And so you really are a connector in all of the senses of the word, which I think that is a perfect word to encapsulate how you add value. And so good job. I’m going to steal that one. Thank you. Okay, so tell me what your favorite quote is.

Sonya Olds Som: My favorite quote, and I gave this a lot of thought because I was an English major and I love to read and I love a lot of quotes, but for purposes of this conversation, my favorite quote is the beginning of a longer quote, but I’ll just use the first two words of it, only connect. And that is a line that appears in the novel, Howards End by E.M. Forster. And then it has a lot of additional pretty words about how great connecting is and how it brings everything together. But I always think, I always come back to that, only connect, always connect. I think that there are people over here who have great things to offer and people over there who have great things to offer. And if they could only connect, there would be so much that could open up in the world for each of them and then for everybody else by extension. And I think about those sort of misconnections and those misconnection opportunities. And like I said, it’s kind of my life’s work now to try to help bridge those gaps.

Paula Edgar: I’m glad you gave it more context because when you just said the words, I went a different way with it in terms of context, but I also thought when you explained it that only connect is also a diversity and inclusion imperative. So much of what disconnects us is our inability to get to each other that we think we’re so different, and then once we actually connect, if we only just connect, we find that there’s so many more similarities than there are differences that keep us apart. And so I love that in multiple ways.

Sonya Olds Som: And you can connect with people in very unexpected ways that you would never think you have something in common with someone. Quick story, when I was a law firm associate, there was a client who seemed to only give us business because he hated us and wanted to torture us. An older gentleman. And one day as the immigration lawyer for the law firm, I was told that I had to discuss a matter with this very, very scary client. And I was maybe late twenties, he was a white man in his seventies. And of course this started out with him yelling at me about how I was an idiot and my whole firm was an idiot and blah, blah blah. And he talks and talks and at one point he says something and I kind of mumble under my breath, Touch of Evil. And then he stopped and he said, what did you say?

And I said, Touch of Evil. The thing you just said is a line from the movie, Touch of Evil. And he said, you know Touch of Evil? You know Orson Welles? And I’m like, well, not personally, but I’m a fan. And it was like a light switch. He went from, y’all are all terrible, may you die in flames, to you, Sonya are my favorite person and now I want you to handle all my business. I only want to talk to you. I don’t want to talk to the rest of them. And we would try to stump each other with Orson Welles quotes. And until the day he passed, God bless him, he was a wonderful client and I so enjoyed my relationship with him. So if you can just find out what the thing is, there can be these ways to bridge what seem like insurmountable gaps with regards to increasing DEI. Like you said, there’s more that we possibly have in common than what separates us.

Paula Edgar: I love that. We have to make sure we pull the whole quote for the show notes too. Okay. So I’m really excited about what you’re going to say next. One of the things that I like to incorporate into pretty much everything I do is music. And I find that music is something like the connection pieces that we use for each other. And so my question for you Sonya, is what is your hype song? And let me just define hype song for folks who are listening who may not be familiar with the term. So your hype song is two-pronged, it’s either a song you use to hype yourself up when you’re walking into a room or you’re doing something that you want to kind of get pumped for, or it is, I always say the song where if you are in a bad mood, you know what’s going to bring you up. So either definition that you choose, what is your hype song, Sonya?

Sonya Olds Som: Hard to pick one. I might have said, Baby I’m a Star, but I know that’s your song. I’m going to go with Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen.

Paula Edgar: Oh, ooh. So the best part about this is for those of you who are listening and watching Sonya and I know each other well and I was like, I don’t know what she’s going to pick. And one of the things that I love about you, Sonya, is that you have such an eclectic music and pop culture knowledge base. So I literally was like, I’m not sure what she’s going to say, but you’re right. Mine is definitely always Baby I’m a Star by Prince, but Queen I did not expect and I love it. Awesome, thank you for that. I feel excited in that I got what I was expecting, which was the unexpected.

Okay, so let’s jump into talking more about branding. You know, you mentioned just in the conversation what you do now in terms of how you help organizations to find candidates and folks to fill these very important high level roles. But you have come a long way baby, as they say, in terms of what you have done. And you just mentioned that you have been an immigration lawyer, you’ve been a partner and you’ve worked at several places. Tell me about, in all of those iterations of who you’ve been and what you’ve done and worked, how have you built your personal brand?

Sonya Olds Som: So when I was an immigration lawyer, obviously being a law firm lawyer, you know, you have to get clients, you have to build business. So I started with LinkedIn, I started with Twitter very sort of early on. I can tell you exactly when I started was 15 years ago, almost 16 years ago because I was pregnant with my son and I was put on bedrest and I couldn’t do panels and speaking engagements and networking events. I had to lay in bed for a month and I used that opportunity to get on social media. So my time on LinkedIn and Twitter and then of course added additional platforms, started like I said, almost 16 years ago. And then of course spoke on panels when I was able to and things of that nature. My switch to becoming a legal recruiter meant, again, in a very business development focused role and a very networking relationship building role, that over time, over the course of these last 15 years, I have really grown in terms of participating in bar associations and other associations in a different way. People want to hear from recruiters, people want tips about their careers and things. And so instead of doing every single one-on-one conversation, I try to participate in as many group discussions as possible. I write articles, I’m interviewed by the Legal Press on different issues. I’ve received some awards, I still speak on a lot of panels, I now organize a lot of panels for a lot of different organizations. And now apparently I do podcasts.

Paula Edgar: You do indeed. You are a well sought after podcast guest. Thank you very much. So that’s helpful because when it comes to branding, oftentimes I think people think, I don’t know how to brand myself as a person because I’m not a product. But really it’s like your experience, your skillset, all those things, they are tied into the product value and the value proposition that is you. And so how do you put it face front, how do you get people to understand the skillset that you have that is clear and then the skillset that you may not have that you have that people may not be having as much access to, which things like you mentioned, volunteering and putting together things can help to see some things that they may not attribute to you and your brand offhand just based on what they see in your bio. So I guess this question kind of leads into the next, which is how would you say your brand has evolved and changed throughout your career?

Sonya Olds Som: I think that it has evolved, frankly along with the rides of social media in terms of not just being a thing kids do and not just the thing tech people do, not just the thing that marketing people do, but over the course of, like I said, the last 15 years when I first got started, I have seen more and more lawyers get on social media. I’ve seen more and more executives get on social media. And so my own use of it has continued to sort of grow. Like I said, I’ve gotten involved with more platforms. I had to shift my focus to stop talking about immigration and labor and employment, and start talking about recruiting and diversity, equity, and inclusion. And even within my legal search career, I went from focusing exclusively on lawyer search into changing search firms and then there starting to focus also on DEI searches and DEI consulting and board searches and other executive searches, so I had to broaden in terms of my topics. The most recent article I’ve written is not about the law, it’s about becoming a board member. And so I’ve had to broaden my topics, I’ve had to broaden my networks and try to be more actively involved in non-lawyer organizations, have had to be more actively involved in writing and speaking and things on topics other than strictly lawyers, while remaining very true to my base, which is lawyers, especially diverse lawyers. But as if I have broadened into these other areas, I’m working to bring my lawyer community into these other areas as well. They’re increasingly interested in board roles, they’re increasingly interested in DEI and ESG and being board directors and all of these other things. So I’ve been growing and my network has been growing and our brands have been growing together over the years.

And also I think the thing I have done more now is I integrate a lot more of my personal self and my authenticity and my personal life. And it turns out that’s a distinguishing factor. A lot of recruiters out there, not a lot of recruiters who spend a whole lot of time talking about Star Wars and Hamilton and Prince and my cat. I think I’m probably one of the few recruiters who get on the phone with a CEO or GC and they’re like, how’s Malcolm? Malcolm is my cat and very popular on social media. So I have a lot more of an integration of myself in this process, which frankly I think makes me more relatable, it distinguishes me from other people and frankly gives me a lot more pleasure and enjoyment.

Paula Edgar: So I’m glad that you brought that up because I think people get the concept of authenticity often wrong. They think it’s an on and off switch as opposed to what I refer to as a scale that you have to think about the context and think about what your intentions are and access your areas of authenticity depending on where you are and how. And sometimes you can push a little bit to be more authentic and other times you retreat a little bit to be less, depending on what the issue is. But it’s never not you. It’s always some of you in that space and you just talked about it, right. That a CEO, you may not start the conversation with hey, this is my cat and this is how it is. But if they are bringing it and being open to that and understanding that we are people and people connect based on so many things, not just what we do or what we need from each other, but who we are and how we relate to the point of that only connect, if only we connected at the beginning, and so I’m glad that you brought that up and the authenticity piece of it and how you incorporate it is very sort of seamless, but I think it amplified more, and tell me if you think I’m right because of the pandemic, right? Because literally we were like at home, well let me go on and see what Sonya is doing with her cat because I’m home, I’m not commuting. But do you think that it helped that being through the pandemic collectively helped you to access your authenticity a little bit more?

Sonya Olds Som: Absolutely. I think it helped all of us. I think it helped deepen all of our relationships and allowed us all to really see each other and not just transactionally and not just as fellow professionals but as humans who were all over the world experiencing this singular devastating experience together and talk about only connect, not being able to connect in the traditional ways, not being able to connect in person, not being able to see each other, being very isolated, each in our own homes, dealing with our own stresses and worries with homeschooling kids and worrying about relatives and all of these different things. I’m always telling people that the pandemic has been horrible, but it’s also been an opportunity for people to really see each other as people doing Zooms with people and having their kids pop into the Zoom or their pets pop into the Zoom, I think has been a way to really have a deeper connection and a more authentic and empathetic connection with each other.

Also, it’s been great for access. So many people did not have access to a lot of these different events either because they didn’t have the money, they didn’t have the childcare, the distance was too great, maybe they were too shy and too introverted or the scheduling just never worked out or frankly, maybe even people who are disabled who had not been provided an opportunity to participate in and couldn’t participate in things. So it became a bit of an equalizer frankly, especially for people who were not able to do a lot of this networking and things or business development or what have you. Men without children or men with wives who took care of their children had a competitive advantage that they could go play golf and go do whatever whenever. They already had a great marketing budget because they were already very successful in their firm.

And if you are say, for example, a younger woman coming up trying to raise kids, you may not have the marketing budget or the time, the childcare or frankly may feel a little uncomfortable doing some of the in-person business development things that men I think feel a lot more safe and comfortable doing. So it’s been a bit of an equalizer. I will also say that especially the early days of the pandemic, I was pulling together on Zooms, groups of general counsels, groups of chief diversity officers or whatever, and attendance was near 100%. And I mean it would be a group of Fortune 500 general counsels and I mean of course they’re going to be on there. Where else are they going to be, right? So people who you would have been lucky to get any three or four of these people in the room together at the same time because of how busy they were, you would have 25, 30 of them all in the Zoom together. And again, everybody’s trying to help each other through this unprecedented situation personally and professionally. And I hope we get to hold on to some of that even as life returns to whatever normal is because I think it really did create an additional connectivity more so than ever before.

Paula Edgar: I think you’re absolutely right. And when I think about those groupings of folks and they were doing wine happy hours and all kinds of things that people were trying to do virtually, I remember doing trivia and I was like, oh, okay, so the type A does not stop over Zoom. Oh right. Whew. It did help to feel less isolated and to feel connected still even though we weren’t able to be in the same spaces. And I laugh because each time I reconnect with someone, and we just were together last week when you were in New York, when I connect with somebody who I haven’t seen in a long time, I feel like it’s in a field and it’s that slow run to each other being like, oh my gosh, I haven’t seen you in a whole entire pandemic. And now we’re at three years. And so it literally has been a good significant time. And somebody said the other day that next year we’ll have gone through high school in terms of the time of being in the pandemic. I was like, oh my gosh, that is, it’s wild.

Sonya Olds Som: We’ve already been through law school…

Paula Edgar: We have done law school, we have a full degree in Pandemic-ing. [Shudders] So let’s get into something that you and I like to talk about often, which is mistakes we see people make when it comes to networking and building their brands. And so in the question that I sent to you, I specified in-house, but feel free to pivot this however you would like if you want to say law firm and in-house or what have you. But I think it’s really important and when I think about the things that you’ve seen, you’ve seen people make a lot of mistakes and so tell me some of the mistakes that stand out for you when it comes to people networking and building their brands.

Sonya Olds Som: I think the very first mistake that everybody makes is thinking they don’t have to do it, thinking that it doesn’t matter. And I think a lot of us were raised on a notion of meritocracy that says, if I’m just hardworking and smart, surely the cream always rises to the top. And it makes me laugh as a person who routinely interviews people just because somebody they knew had the power to say to me, and I also need you to interview X person. And sometimes I’m glad because maybe I wouldn’t have known about that person and they’re great. Sometimes they’re people where, wow, I would be better suited to this job than this person that I have to interview because their neighbor is a board director and said, tell the recruiter to interview him. So I think the first mistake people make is think that they’re somehow immune because they’re so smart and they’re so hardworking and clearly the world will just somehow sense that, and that’s all you really need to do when in fact people are getting jobs every day because their network is putting in a good word for them. And also multiple people may be putting in a good word for them.

And frankly as a recruiter, if multiple people all say your name, when I ask about referrals for a search, I call it the Ferris Bueller effect. If you saw Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, every person in the movie was like, there’s someone you can talk to, have you talked to Ferris Bueller? Have you met Ferris Bueller? And when I see candidates achieve a Ferris Bueller effect where multiple people all say I should talk to them, it helps to reconfirm what I was thinking. And also when I’m talking to the client about this person, I can say, well, you know, the general counsels of X, X and Y company all independently said this would be a good candidate for this role and that makes a big difference.

So the first mistake that people make is thinking that networks don’t matter when frankly they may matter more than everything else. You can be moderately qualified, but if you’re well networked, I mean like I said, there’s some people out there. Every once in a while you see somebody get a job and you’re like, how the hell did they get that job? Probably the network, so that’s the first mistake.

The second mistake is either not doing it internally within your organization because yes, you have a brand and yes there are things that you are known for or not known for or should be known for or shouldn’t be known for within your organization, as well as externally. Because even if you are the happiest person in the world at your in-house job and don’t think you’re ever going to leave, child, people get fired, your spouse can get transferred to some other place and now you got to move. Companies get acquired, companies go out of business. Just because you happy doesn’t mean that maybe one day you won’t be happy and maybe one day they won’t be happy with you or maybe circumstances will change. And that’s when you’ll have to crawl out from behind the back of the bushes you’ve been in for 20 years and hope somebody remembers you from first year contracts class in law school and it’s not a good look and it looks very transactional, it looks very needy, it doesn’t look authentic, it doesn’t look like you really are interested in the relationship. It looks like you didn’t have any time for anybody until you needed something. And again, that’s not a good way to go about things.

So again, first mistake is not thinking you have to do it at all. Second mistake is to either not do it internally or to not do it externally. And the two things influence each other. Internal connections can refer you for external opportunity. The fact that external people think well of you can actually mean a lot to your colleagues. I’ve changed jobs a couple of times in the last few years and the fact that people could see on LinkedIn that I was connected to other people that they knew helped my new colleagues be like, oh, welcome to the company, so and so person at X or whatever, said you’re great and that we were lucky to have you. So that helps to influence your brand as well, internally.

Paula Edgar: Everything you just said! Like woo – cheering. I mean everything you just said, the not doing it as you were talking about it, I was like, if you stay ready, you don’t gotta get ready.

Sonya Olds Som: And I literally have an article with that title.

Paula Edgar: Which we will be linking in the show notes. I mean it is so a hundred percent true. And when I do stuff for folks who are in house, they feel like there’s this cocoon of safety, that they don’t have to do business development or what have you, that they don’t have to. But when you think about it, they have to brand themselves within their legal department. Folks have to know you do work well. They have to know that they can rely on you. And I would say people who are in-house are, they have to influence the business. The business has to trust them. But when they say no, that their no is appropriate or that they are going to help them get to yes and that they are partners in what they’re doing, not folks who are trying to get them to not do thing, so they really need to have a brand that is strong. And when they say that they don’t, it is infuriating to me. But to that end, to your point, we have no idea what’s going to happen.

Folks who were at that bank last week were like, I got a job and I’m fine, now they’re not. And so pivoting to the point about having a network, I love it when I see the people can pick up the phone and be like, Hey, my friend was just caught up in this thing, but they are fantastic. How can we help to pivot them and get them into another opportunity? What opportunities are there? Because it means that their brand is strong, it means that their value proposition is strong. And when you were talking, I was thinking about, you know, about being able to move from place to place and having folks being able to understand your value proposition based on your network.

And I thought to myself, how I know that your brand is strong is that, and maybe, well, let me pivot back. I know your brand is strong, but I was going to say I know your brand is strong because I’ve never been in a room where somebody’s not saying anything good about you, but I’m thinking to myself, they’re probably not saying anything bad about you no matter what because I’m in the room, because I don’t play that. But to that end, it is always, if you don’t know Sonya, here have you been? It’s always Sonya is adding this amount of value and she knows this and everybody needs to know Sonya because it’s true. And I remember even before I met you, people were saying that and we finally met each other, again it was that slow run through the field, like, how have we not met each other yet? And every time somebody asks how we met, I’m like, I don’t remember. But I just know that whatever it was, it took too long and thank goodness it happened.

Sonya Olds Som: Likewise.

Paula Edgar: So that seemed very in housey. Is there anything that you call out and specific to mistakes that people who are at firms that they make or if it’s the same thing, that’s fine too.

Sonya Olds Som: Again, not doing it, relying on being a servicing attorney and saying, I don’t need to do business development because somebody else is going to do the business development and then I will just do the work. Well, the problem with that is that when the market gets tight and there aren’t as many clients and there isn’t as much work, the rainmaker is also going to hold onto their work and do the work too. And frankly, when it’s time to lay people off, the first people to go are the people who are not bringing in business, because they know that they can just double down on having the rainmakers do their own work. And if you’re not the person who can help keep the lights on by bringing in the work, you’re going to have to go. The other reason why it’s a mistake is because if you spend your whole life as a servicing attorney, it’s frankly cannot be as lucrative, maybe it’s not as successful and it may not even be as satisfying and you don’t have as much control.

I love bringing in my own work because these are my clients. I usually have a long relationship with them. I understand them, they understand me. They don’t treat me like a vendor. If something goes wrong, they don’t say, oh, vendor did not perform – fired. They call me up and say, Sonya, we are going to have to figure this out and I trust you and I know that we will. So again, having the network and having the relationship so that you can move beyond the transactional into the trusted advisor is so, so important. So the other thing I’ll say is a big mistake is not stepping to people correctly and doing your business development when you’re at a firm. I have seen people fumble situations by going up to a general counsel, having a two second conversation and then being like, so when can we have a meeting?

You going to send me some work or what’s happening here? And it’s like they already know people. They met you five seconds ago and you have no game. Have you ever heard of trying to develop a relationship outside the transaction? Maybe offering them some free advice, maybe offering to make introductions for them. And again, I have an article about what the outside counsel can do to build a relationship with inside counsel. I have seen people piss off general counsel so badly that that firm is not getting any more work from that company until that general counsel is no longer there. Just so, so bad.

The other mistake I have seen though is sort of the opposite. I knew a law firm partner once who had a very deep multi-year relationship with a general counsel that went back to when they were like 18 year old line brothers together. And when he made equity partner at his firm, we were at lunch together and I said, have you reached out to X person who is a Fortune 100 general counsel? And he said, well, he emailed me to congratulate me and said we should get together sometime. I said, well did you get together sometime? And he said, well, I know he’s so busy and I don’t want him to think that I’m just trying to use him to get work. I almost had a heart attack in the middle of a restaurant, Paula. I was like, what are you talking about? I was like, y’all have been friends for 20 years since you were 18 year old line brothers. Do you really think he thinks you’ve been working a 20 year long con him in the hopes that maybe one day you could get his business? Are you crazy? And if anything he wants to help you. You’re his boy, you’re his boy, he wants to help you. And it helps him to have an outside counsel who he can trust is not just out for themselves. I’m like, if you don’t call him today, I’m calling him. Like, what are you saying? What is happening?

And so I think the mistake of saying my personal life is here and my professional life is there and never the twain shall meet, when in fact your main distinguishing quality from other equally qualified providers could be the personal relationship. So again, you can’t overindex on it like, hey, I assume you’ll give me work, so you can’t overindex on it. But on the other hand, you can’t completely discount it as being a part of how you build relationships and get business.

Paula Edgar: I mean it’s so true because when you think about building relationship capital, I think of it like a bank account. So I just opened my account, we just met, you put in $5 and you’re trying to withdraw $20, you got to get the interest in there, you got to keep doing more deposits. And then the flip side, what you’re just talking about is that you have years and years of deposits and you’re like, I don’t know if I should pull out $20, it’s going to mess with my balance. And it’s like you’ve got a billion dollars in there, $20 is not going to hurt. And really thinking about that, you’ve put the work in. And I often hear general counsel and of other folks who are in house say that they are often waiting for people who are at firms to ask and that they never get asked.

And so yes, they will sit and go have these dinners and yes, they will go and get all the things because that’s a perk of being an inhouse person, but that they’re not going to force the person to ask or offer if that’s not a part, you have to be able to kind of go get it. And so your brand needs to be somebody who understands what your value proposition is. People will see what they may be struggling with, what they need, looking at the news, et cetera, so that you can be there to support what it is that they need at the time that they need it. And that’s all being sort of strategic and thoughtful and all that, which also all goes into your brand. But to that end, not asking or not asking well enough, it also can hurt your brand. So I’m glad that you brought that up. So tell me what advice you have. So if I’m new or maybe not new, I’m seasoned as they say and I’m trying to figure out what can I do to start building my brand, what would you tell me?

Sonya Olds Som: Well, I would say first before you do anything else, have some reflection, have some self regard. What is your brand? What would people say is who you are and what you’re known for and what you’re good at. What do you want to be known for? Maybe ask some people, when you think of me, what are the first three things that you think about when you think of me? You can’t assume that people are going to memorize chapter and verse about you. You have to assume that maybe people will remember two or three things about you. So what do you want those two and three things to be? And you can’t be all things to all people. And so you got to kind of double down on what you’re passionate about and what you’re really good at and what you want to be known for so that if somebody has just a couple of minutes to think about who could be a good fit for this board or this panel or this job or whatever it is, that immediately you come to mind because they have memorized the one or two things about you that are important to know. So I think that’s the beginning of the process.

And then like I said, it starts small. People look at me and they’re like, wow, you’re doing so much. It’s like, yeah, I’ve been doing this 15 years, I’ve been ramping up for 15 years to all of the things that I’m doing now. And I think people get intimidated thinking they have to run out tomorrow and do all the things. Start small, just start spending a little bit more time on LinkedIn, start sharing some articles, start commenting on other people’s posts, start re-sharing other people’s posts if you can get in a regular habit, a consistency of putting yourself out there. That’s the other thing people will tell me, I tried LinkedIn once and it didn’t work. I’m like, okay, let’s unpack that. You tried LinkedIn once and it didn’t work so A you got to be consistent and B, you can’t think that any one thing is going to just magically cure all of your life.

I’ve gotten opportunities and candidates from so many different angles. So part of it is that again, over time kind of mixing things up, switching things up because like I said, I get opportunities through panels, I get opportunities through things I write, I get opportunities through all of these different things that I do. And so I try to on a regular basis, do some of all of it. And of course, like I said now podcasts, which is a whole new fun thing to get into the mix. So again, I’ve written articles about it and also if you really feel like you’re stuck, consider hiring a coach. There are people who make it their business to help lead you through this stuff.

Paula Edgar: Yes, I always say hire a coach and get a therapist. They’re not the same.

Sonya Olds Som: Amen.

Paula Edgar: Get rid of the stuff that’s holding you back and figure out how to amplify the things that can propel you forward. That’s fantastic advice. I love thinking about it in the assessment place, but when you were talking about it, I thought about something that people often will push back on me on. They are like, oh well I introduced myself to that one person that one time. Sort of like what you were saying about LinkedIn. And then it’s like, well I don’t want to be braggy and I don’t want to be self-promotion-y. And I’m always like, if you don’t do it, who’s going to do it? And how are you going to get the benefit of having done it? And it doesn’t have to be icky, it can be in your authentic space. But what are your thoughts about people thinking about branding or even using any of these tools we’re talking about as self-promoting or braggy? What are your thoughts?

Sonya Olds Som: Well again, I think we need to move beyond the negative conception of talking about what you do in a positive way in terms of calling that bragging. Making sure that people are aware of who you are and what you do and being proud of what you do and being passionate about what you do is not bragging. It’s conversation and it’s people getting to know you and you should listen to what other people are doing as well. So it’s a conversation. I think also being consistent about the spaces that you show up in and how you show up. I don’t have to run around telling everybody that I’m a connector. I spend all my time connecting, so people see me connecting so they know that’s a thing I do. So it’s not always that you’re running around. People think it’s very stilted that you walk up to someone at a party and say, hello sir, I would like to have your business. These are the things that I would like to business with you. Won’t you let me business with you? And actually it’s talking to someone, Hey, what do you do? What are you interested in? What are you passionate about? What’s top of mind for you? And again, natural icebreaker is, how are you doing? How have things been for you? Because the last three years have been a thing for everybody personally or professionally. It’s been a challenge. You can icebreak with anybody on the earth by saying, how you doing? How are you holding up? How have these last few years been for you? And either personally or professionally or both. That is a good way into a conversation. It’s again, a great equalizer. We’ve all been in this situation and again, listening to people and what they’ve got going on and what they need and what they’re thinking about, and then maybe you might think, you know what? I know a person I can introduce you to that could help you with that. Or I read an article recently that I thought might be of interest to you and then now you naturally have a way to follow up with the person by making that introduction.

You got to do what you say you’re going to do as well, right? And of course, before you start introducing anybody to anybody else, always ask both parties if they wish to be introduced to each other. And yes, that includes me. I know I’m a recruiter, but I am also a human being and a very, very busy one at that. So when you go out there and just kind of do email introductions between me and other people, you may end up looking foolish, because I may or may not be in a position to talk to that person.

I may be too busy. I may have stuff going on in my professional or personal life. I have to admit, my grandmother died from COVID at the beginning of the pandemic. And people were like, Sonya do this. Sonya do that. It’s like Sonya’s about to jump off a building so you’re going to have to leave me alone. So again, I’m a person and not a robot. And so if you try to connect me to somebody without asking me first, you’re going to get what you’re going to get depending on what the day is. And that’s what I do. I do not connect people without asking each party first if they wish to be connected. Very, very simple common courtesy as a thing to do.

Paula Edgar: We’ve had this conversation many times. So I’m sitting here raising the roof. Yes, please tell them. But I want to pull up for that. That is also a brand killer for some people, because, if I introduce Sonya to somebody without the preface, she might be annoyed at me, but it’s not going to kill my brand because we have relationship with each other. But when you think you have relationship with somebody and you don’t and you do those things, literally one of the things speaking of therapy I tend to say I need to work on is, I hold a grudge for years. I’m telling you it is so easy just to check in as Sonya mentioned versus to do it and perhaps not be there where you think you are with the person and to ruin what you might have invested in the deposits you have made in that relationship bank by doing something that is triggering or not happening at the right time, or annoying – all of the things that nobody has tolerance for anymore or never did. It’s really, really important. This is a crux piece that I’m so glad that you brought up because I started actually writing an article about it and I’ll hyperlink this part of this conversation into it because I’ve seen it ruin folks’ perception of somebody else. And I’ve seen it ruin the person who they were trying to introduce to the other person’s perception of them and their power and influence because they didn’t have it. It really is problematic if you don’t do it right.

Sonya Olds Som: And let me pull out a couple of additional pieces. There are a short list of people who are very, very dear to me who they can introduce anybody they want to me at any time. They don’t even have to ask me because if they want me to do it, I will absolutely do it. Those people never do it. The people who actually do have the right in my mind such as yourself, if you introduce me to somebody, even if we have had no conversation about it, I know that you have my best interest at heart. It must be very important to you. What’s important to you is important to me. So I will talk to anybody you want me to talk to. There’s a short list of people who have that access to me. The reality though is that people like you absolutely never do that. You always ask me first and you rarely ask me, which is very funny to me. I’ll get these emails from people that says, Sonya, so-and-so person told me that I could introduce so-and-so to you. I don’t know any of y’all. What are you saying, what are you talking about?

Paula Edgar: Who are you?

Sonya Olds Som: Who are any of you people?

Paula Edgar: How did you get here?

Sonya Olds Som: And then the other thing that really gets me is that sometimes a candidate will try to get access to me, will try to get into a search, perhaps I’ve already told them no or perhaps I’ve already had a conversation with them relatively recently and helped them all I could. And now all of a sudden some unsuspecting person is trying to introduce me to a person who knows damn well we already know each other.

Now people shooting their shot, I actually don’t mind that. When you shoot your shot, it’s like showing up at somebody’s house without calling first. Maybe I’m home, maybe I’m not, maybe I want to talk to people, maybe I don’t. So actually I don’t hold no grudges on that. Oh, okay. Well when you shot your shot without asking me, you get what you get.

But people who let other people introduce themselves to me trying to forum shop and try to, I don’t know, influence or I don’t know, whatever they think they’re doing to try to make me talk to them. I have to admit I have a different reaction to that. And it’s not positive because I don’t have to do anything but be Black, pay taxes and die. Those are literally the only three things that anybody can force me to do. And I don’t care who you have contact me. Stay Black, pay taxes, die. I literally don’t have to do any other things.

Paula Edgar: Got it. You’re so right and when you said shoot your shot and show up at somebody’s house, I have looked somebody dead in the eye through my peephole and been like, I’m not home. You cannot come in here.

Sonya Olds Som: My mother used to do that, we would be sitting up in the living room with the curtains open and I’ll be like, somebody’s at the door. And she’d say, I know somebody’s at the door. They didn’t call first.

Paula Edgar: That’s correct. I use your mother’s rules of visiting my home. You don’t get to show up. And that’s people who are related to me and not.

Sonya Olds Som: Again, a very short list of people can do that. And those are the people who generally don’t do it.

Paula Edgar: All good. Idris Elba, you can come to my house whenever you want.

Sonya Olds Som: Likewise.

Paula Edgar: Now to that end, I want to close out our conversation with two questions that I ask all of my guests. And one is this one, it is called your Stand by Your Brand. Tell me what is the authentic aspect of your personal and professional brand that you will never compromise on?

Sonya Olds Som: I will never compromise on the fact that I am unabashedly devoted to helping my people. I am unabashedly devoted to going the extra mile to help Black people, to help other underrepresented groups. I am unabashedly on that particular mission. Not that I don’t help other people, not that I don’t care about what happens to other people, but I think marginalized people don’t have as many specific champions for them. They don’t necessarily understand the roadmap. They don’t necessarily understand or have the same sort of relationships. And it is my, I think, mission to really focus in that area and I’m not going to ever compromise on that.

Paula Edgar: I love that. Which is a perfect segue to something that I know that you did deliberately for today’s podcast, for those of you who are watching any of the clips, it is that you are wearing a beautiful outfit. Will you tell us a little bit about where you got the outfit from?

Sonya Olds Som: Well yes Paula, thank you for asking. So I am wearing a top from a Black clothing store, Black clothing designer called Dressed in Joy, website, dressedinjoy.com. I love to support Black businesses like Dressed in Joy, like Harriet’s Bookshop in Philadelphia, which ships nationwide, like Gallery Guichard in Chicago that provides Black art, like PassionEats Catering in Chicago. So just a few. I love supporting Black businesses and wearing Dressed in Joy was something I thought was an easy thing to do to show my support for that company.

Paula Edgar: Fantastic. And I’m glad that you did. Dressed in Joy is a company that I have been supporting for a while. Anybody who’s seen me traveling in the airport knows I wear Dressed in Joy exclusively when I’m traveling. I love their florals, et cetera. And I included them in my Black History Month challenge this year in terms of supporting a Black-owned business. So if you have not checked out, Dressed in Joy, do that and tell them that I sent you. So thank you Sonya. The final question that I have for you is this one. What is your Branding Room Only moment? What’s your magic? So tell me, what’s your special gift, skill, experience, something that people would come and stand in a room to see or experience about you?

Sonya Olds Som: So I’m a theater person by background. I have done standup and because I was an immigration lawyer and doing trainings on immigration law, the regulations of it can be quite boring. Somebody once fell asleep during one of my presentations and his head fell and thwacked the table really hard and I was like, wow, that man might have died. Like I’m going to have to try to infuse some fun into these presentations before people kill themselves passing out from boredom of what I’m talking about. So I think if you come into a room where I am or a podcast where I am, I try to invest some fun, some realism, some authenticity into the discussion along with the substantive content.

Paula Edgar: A hundred percent. A hundred percent. Well Sonya, my friend, I want to thank you for being a guest on Branding Room Only and bringing your special magic to the podcast. It’s been a pleasure. I hope that you will come back and visit me again and we can talk about more stuff that get on our nerves. Anyway, thanks for joining and thanks everybody for listening. See you next time. Bye!

Sonya Olds Som: Thank you Paula. Bye!