Personal branding isn’t just for CEOs, celebrities and politicians. Whether you realize it or not, you already have a personal brand. If you haven’t given it any thought, it might be bland, muddled or confusing. Maybe it’s not doing you any favors.
So... what is your brand? Your personal brand, simply put, is what people think of when they think of you. And the big question to ask yourself is: What would you like them to think?
While we don’t have complete control over others’ opinions of us, we do have control over what we emphasize and put out there. Giving some thought to the image you’d like to project to the world is the first step in creating a strong personal brand.
Being strategic and thoughtful about your personal brand doesn’t mean being fake or inauthentic. Never try to be someone you’re not. But, you do want to put a little more thought into it beyond “just being yourself.” Understand your strengths and weaknesses, and play up the former while managing for the latter. Think of it as doubling down on your best traits and making sure that what you do and say are in alignment with that. In other words, be authentic, but also be selective.
Then, the question becomes: How do you know if you’re doing it right? Here are three signs that will tell you if you’re on the right track.
1. People trust you.
Whether you’re the renegade who’s always challenging the status quo or the straight arrow who plays by the book, you’re consistent. And consistency breeds trust. You’re not one-dimensional, but people understand who you are at your core and they know what to expect from you.
When others have a clear sense of your skills and inclinations, they know which issues to seek your advice on, and which projects to ask your help with. And because they can rely upon a consistent experience with you, they’ll feel confident about referring you to others as well.
2. You pass the “Google test.”
When you Google yourself, what do you see? It’s likely one of the following four things:
- Links to about 100 other random people with the same name (some of whom, let’s face it, might be giving you a bad name).
- Some cringe-inducing stuff from your college days.
- Content that showcases your knowledge and is relevant to your industry and interests.
There's really only one good answer here (Choice 4, of course!). Choice 1 is a very, very distant runner-up, but it's better to have nothing pop up when you Google your name than have something that will detract from your brand in any way. If you're creating and sharing content that demonstrates your expertise in your brand competencies, and if you can feel proud of what a prospective employer or client might find when they Google you, your personal branding is on the right track.
3. You're known for something specific.
A powerful personal brand means you stand out, not blend in. If you've done a good job of zeroing in on what makes you unique, and you've done an equally good job of drilling it into people's minds through repetition and consistency, then you're going to be "known" for the right things. You're going to stand out from thousands of others in your industry, and the opportunities that come your way will feel perfectly aligned with your unique skills and interests.
If you've checked all three boxes, congrats! You're well ahead of the pack. But the work of building a successful personal brand is never completely "done." Once it's built, don't forget the upkeep! Just like a big flourishing garden that produces a bounty every summer, your brand will thrive with continual tending and nurturing.
Rebecca Horan is a brand strategy consultant who helps create enduring and differentiated brands that make people care. She loves helping business owners to find their voice and forge a meaningful connection with their audience.