A ‘personal brand’ is in many ways synonymous with your reputation. It refers to the way other people see you as a business owner or representative of an idea, organization, or activity. Are you a genius? An expert? Are you trustworthy? What do you represent? What do you stand for? What ideas and notions pop up as soon as someone hears your name?
When you have a personal brand, people recognize and care about your name, what you’re working on, what you offer, and what you’re about. This article will help give you the tools to build and improve your personal brand. Just get started with Step 1 below.
Part 1 of 4: Changing Your Image
- Stop reaching for any and every bit of publicity. Yes, there is such a thing as bad publicity. Yes, sometimes bad situations can make you come out looking stronger, but a lot of the time it will end in a ruined reputation. You want people to take you seriously and you want to have a clean reputation. Avoid doing publicity stunts with obvious risks, or doing bad things in order to get attention. When bad things do happen, work actively and harder than expected to make the situation right. People that overcome bad publicity do so because they have a strong basis of good publicity to start with.
- Decide and lay out your core values. How would you like potential customers and clients to think of you? Because your personal brand is built from the thoughts and words and reactions of other people, it’s shaped by how you present yourself publicly. This is something that you have control over. You can decide how you would like people to see you and then work on publicly being that image. Values are the easiest thing to present and have people identify with, so start there. Are you the sort of person who puts ethics above everything else?
- Become the best. If you want to sell an expensive course in watercolor painting you’ll need to be seen as someone with the authority to teach others on the topic. If you want to get work for high-end design clients you’ll need to be seen as a runaway talent with a professional attitude. Every good brand involves the notion of expertise. Nike brands itself as an expert in creating quality and fashionable sportswear. Jeremy Clarkson (host of Top Gear) is an expert on cars. Even if you’re not interested in marketing your advice, you need to create the perception that you are very good at what you do.
- Continue learning and updating your knowledge, especially if your expertise is based around the online world. The web changes drastically from month to month. If you were an ‘expert’ two years ago but have since stopped learning and challenging yourself, you’re not an expert anymore.
- Market your personality. Personal branding is basically selling someone your personality. You need to think hard about HOW you act. You should have a clearly identifiable personality so that people can easily feel like they know you personally, even if they’ve never met you. Your style of delivery should be as unique as any other aspect of your personal brand. This doesn’t mean you need to sit down and brainstorm how to be different. If you don’t actively imitate anyone else, it will happen naturally.
- Are you kind and unusually enthusiastic, like Stephen Colbert? Are you wittyand raw, like Rachel Maddow? Are you confident and crusading, like Glen Beck? Hopefully you’re none of these, or at least, not in the same way. You want to be you, not someone else.
Part 2 of 4: Communicating with People
- Communicate with people openly and constantly. Embrace this age of social media and let everyone into your life. Run a blog or website that is all you. It doesn’t matter if it’s not your first priority, or even your second priority, but it gives people a place to develop a stronger connection with you.
- Network all the time. Try to build relationships with as many people as possible. Constantly be figuring out what you can do for other people and what they can do for you. Make lots of friends and make sure those friends are diverse people who are really doing things. The next time you need an expert or help on a project, you’ll have someone you can call.
- You should also really get to know people: learn their real or full names and remember details about them. This changes how people see you (into someone who is friendly, earnest, and cares) and leaves a strong impression on the people who interact with you. The ones who you know best and who feel most connected to you will talk about you to others – this is how your personal brand grows stronger.
- Find your allies. Look for people with an audience that you want to reach, the movers and the shakers, the big names. You want to get in their inner circle. Comment on their writing, keep track of them on social media, help them when they ask for it, if they have a blog try to guest-post (it must be your best stuff!). Not only do you have plenty to learn from people like this, but they are also the people who can give you that killer testimonial when you launch your product, who can tweet your links to thousands of followers, who can share the best opportunities with you.
- That being said, don’t pester them and don’t ask for more favors than you give them. If you are useful and not overbearing these influencers will remember you. View this as a long-term process. You can’t expect to become friends with influencers in a week. It takes months. Try to use non-intrusive forms of communication. Don’t write things that require a response in blog comments; that’s what email/Twitter is for.
- Communicate even when you’re not. If you only have the time to answer 1/4 of the emails you get, why not mention this (with apologies) on your Contact page? The greatest source of negative feeling in these situations is disappointment. If you make it clear that you intend to behave in a certain way, people have little right to be disappointed when you do so.
- Have an FAQ on your website covering the most common messages and questions you get.
- Let people see you. People need to feel like they know you, especially if your online presence is your main business. In order to help them feel like they know you, they need to be able to see you. This means pictures and, if possible, videos. Get some high quality headshots taken for your profile on your website. Get great actions shots of you doing what you do best. Put out some YouTube videos where you hand out some of your expert knowledge or tell people about what you’re working on now. This will allow you to invite yourself into people’s personal spaces.
Part 3 of 4: Promoting Yourself
Have a website. Everyone has a website now. It’s an important part of getting taken seriously in the business and general work world. Make a website that functions as a sort of long-form resume, showcasing what you’re about and all of the cool things you’ve done.
A good thing to have on your website would be a blog, where you talk about your ideas and the latest developments in your industry. This shows employers that you take your job seriously and you’re invested in what you do.
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Be present and active on social media. Social media is crucial in terms of giving people the ability to feel like they know you. Keep your personal social media accounts under a slightly different name (your first and middle, for example) and attach your real name to public social media accounts. These will come up when employers or contractors look you up, so make sure the content and ideas that you post are relevant and good.
- Get a unique business card. Business cards can still be very useful, even in this digital age. But you need to have one that stands out. Get a professional, unique looking business card. Many sites sell these online and even offer customization services. These are not as expensive as you’d think! Make yourself a card that no one will forget!
- Get a great head shot. You want people to be able to picture you and feel like they really know you as they read about you. Don’t look like some second-rate wanna-be with a blurry picture of you on your last vacation (complete with sunburn and embarrassing shirt).
- Put a lot of work into how you look. When we put a lot of work into how we look, we tell people two things. First, we tell them that we believe in taking this professional effort seriously. Second, we tell them that we believe they are worth making an effort for or that they’re worth impressing. This shows respect. Between the two, you make people much more willing to take you seriously. Dress like you mean business for your industry, wear clothes that fit and compliment your body, and work on getting nice skin and a flattering hairstyle.
- Sometimes this might mean updating your style a bit or moving outside of your comfort zone. This is okay! Change is good for you and it will help you start a new chapter in your life. Find a way to make this new style more “you” and everything will be fine.
- Get a good bio written. This will probably mean hiring a professional to write it for you. When we write about ourselves at any length, we tend to write about what’s important to us, rather than what’s really interesting or valuable to someone else. This is why it’s a good idea to get a helping hand. How your bio reads will depend on the nature of your industry and your particular “brand”, but a little humor and a smidgen of humility are usually valuable assets to a bio.
Part 4 of 4: Succeeding Long-Term
- Create your content. A strong personal brand is not going to provide much benefit unless you have valuable output to pair it with – a great service, a great blog, a great app, great public speaking skills, or something else. You need to spend as much time creating your ’stuff’ (whether that’s blog posts, videos or artwork) as you do building relationships.
- Create change. You need to be an active force in your field. You need to be changing, innovating, and making a significant contribution to your field at all times or else your brand will die out over time. Find what your role is, what you do best or that no one else is doing, and find ways to change the direction of that field for the better.
- Speak up. Take any opportunity you can to give speeches or present your work. When in meetings or discussions with people, take the initiative and speak up for your ideas. People need to hear you, as well as see you. You need to be an active participant in the events around you and in your own life.
- Just make sure that you also value and ask other people’s opinions too. They need to feel that they are a part of your success.
- Keep your brand fresh. You don’t want people to see you as dated, a one-hit-wonder, or boring and repetitive. No matter how good your content is, you’ll risk seeming stale and repetitive if you don’t continue adding new elements to your brand or take on new challenges. You can’t ride one idea forever. Keep adding new layers to what you represent.
- Play the long game. Look at your personal brand as an investment: your personal brand has the potential to last longer than your own lifespan. While the projects you’re working on might get sold onwards or shut down, your personal brand will persist and (hopefully) add value to each new project you create. People will follow your brand from project to project if they feel connected to it. When launching new projects, your personal brand has the potential to guarantee you never have to start from scratch again. If you consider yourself to be in this particular game for the long-haul, whether it’s an online business, art, or selling cars, a good personal brand is an invaluable investment.