As consumers, we all understand the importance of good branding when it comes to products, services and companies—but what about the importance and value of building a strong personal brand that is uniquely associated with you as an individual? Personal branding has become ever more critical to success—on both a personal and professional front.
Let’s start with the basics… what is personal branding? Personal branding is more than just what you do or what your LinkedIn and social media profiles look like. It is you – all of you. Personal branding is what shapes the perception of you in the minds of others. This includes building your reputation, creating an image, showcasing your strengths, effectively communicating your unique attributes and being able to market yourself as an individual. In its simplest form, your personal brand is the story that’s told about you when you’re nowhere around.
Why is personal branding important? The value of developing a strong personal brand is multifaceted. The first being that a well-developed personal brand will help clearly and consistently define, express, and communicate who you are and what you stand for while making yourself known for your unique skills and talents.
I realize it may feel a bit awkward and pretentious to think of yourself as a brand, but the reality is that everyone already has a personal brand whether you know it or not. In fact, your story is being told every day by what is being said about you behind closed doors, on social media, and throughout the broader community. Whether you’re an entrepreneur, employee, or student, taking control and being intentional about how your story is told will allow you to position yourself as a valuable connection, leader, and subject matter expert in your field. This will not only bring added value and credibility to your professional profile but also to your company’s and or employer’s bottom line. So, where do you start?
Figure Out Who You Are
It all begins with figuring out who you are. This requires the ability to be introspective – being able to compile a list of your personal strengths and weaknesses, honestly and objectively. Questions you should ask yourself:
• What motivates me?
• What characteristics have I consistently been recognized or complimented on?
• What areas have I struggled or required consistent support?
• What areas of work or engagement do I excel in?
• What gets me excited?
• When do I feel overwhelmed?
If you find yourself struggling to answer these questions, don’t worry, you are not alone. This is common and quite frankly may feel a bit overwhelming and exhausting the first time around. I would encourage you to enlist your family, colleagues, and friends for their input as to how they would describe you. Once you’re acutely aware of the varying facets of your personality, you’ll be better able to decide how to best brand and position them. It is also important to remember that your personal brand, like many big corporate brands will evolve as your career and life experience grows. Thereby, be prepared to adjust your persona as you meet different people and find new networking opportunities. If it authentically represents you, don’t be afraid of the evolution and the prospect of reinventing your personal brand as you grow and the ecosystem changes.
Define Your Audience and Expertise
Who are you trying to reach? What do you have unique knowledge about and a point of view? Why are you doing what you do? Set aside some time to thoughtfully write down the answers to these questions. You will find this exercise extremely valuable when it comes to formulating your narrative.
Determine what you want to be known for
As much as personal branding reflects who you are today; it is also a roadmap to where you want to go. Thereby, assessing your strengths and weaknesses as they relate to where you want to go is important. By doing this, you’ll unearth the skills and traits that make you distinct along with where you need to improve or gain knowledge and credibility to advance within your desired space. Bottom line, projecting where you want to be and the attributes you want to be known for – can help you better define and the steps you need to take to get there.
Study your desired industry
Take stock of who’s at the top of the industry. Identify the thought leaders in the space, explore their profiles, read their blogs and articles, and follow them. In building a personal brand, your goal is to stand out, but you need to know who’s at the top to adequately assess and position your personal brand.
Craft a winning personal pitch
As you begin to hypothesize your personal brand, spend some time crafting an elevator pitch – A 45-second compelling story about who you are. This is a MUST have for every entrepreneur, employee, and student. Having a prepared elevator pitch makes it easy to describe succinctly who you are, what you do and where you’re going (or would like to go). Your personal pitch should be brief, concise (focusing on key points you want to emphasize) and highlight your attributes in a unique and memorable fashion.
Network, network, network
Regular and effective networking is essential to the growth and strength of your personal brand. The more connections you make and the more value you can provide in your interactions – the more likely it is your personal brand will be recognized and valued. For example, attending industry events, socials, and panel discussions will help you not only build your personal brand but also potentially elevate your status as an SME in your desired space. Use such events (virtual and in-person) as an opportunity to garner additional knowledge, strengthen relationships, and cultivate partnerships within your network.
Ask for endorsements
There is great power in endorsements, just ask Amazon and any other e-commerce site and major brand that promotes customer testimonials and reviews. Reviews and endorsements are highly influential and drives brand recognition and bottom-line sales. The same rings true for personal branding – Enlisting endorsements from current and former colleagues, superiors, and industry leaders (SME’s) is one of the simplest and most effective ways to define your personal brand by allowing others to tell your story and express your value for you. Social and professional networking sites such as LinkedIn are great places to ask for and highlight endorsements.
Develop an online presence
Given there are so many differing social media sites and tools available today, your online presence will look different depending on the medium you choose. That said, your story (brand essence) should match across all platforms (including personal and professional).
In fact, when it comes to personal versus professional platforms, you may want to consider an exclusive site for friends and family by adjusting your privacy settings to ensure that potential professional contacts don’t stumble across information or photographs that could adversely harm your personal brand.
A strong LinkedIn profile is crucial to any entrepreneur, employee or student. LinkedIn serves as a professional social networking tool and an excellent platform for helping to define your online presence. As you begin to create your professional web profile here are a few tips.
- Focus on your key industry skills and the use of keywords throughout your profile
- Quantify your accomplishments – Don’t be afraid to showcase your accomplishments with actuals.
- Feature a complete profile (leave no sections blank) – Tell your full and complete story
- Use a properly lit, professional headshot – The key is to look friendly and approachable
- Build your connections
- Ask for endorsements and provide endorsements
Your personal brand is you – ALL of you. It’s the way you carry yourself at home, in the office or socially. It’s about the reputation and story that you create for yourself. It’s how you embrace opportunities to speak, create content (i.e., blogs and columns), collaborate, volunteer and even assert leadership.
The bottom line is that personal branding is no longer an option. It’s time to take control of your PIE (performance, image, and exposure). Using these tips and insights to build an effective and strong personal brand for yourself will have a positive, long-lasting impact on both your personal and professional life.