Personal brands are having a moment. But what does that actually mean, and why you should care about building one?
The objective of a strong personal brand is to align what you stand for with the perception others have of you. For example, if you're introverted and only speak up in meetings, when you have something valuable to say, wouldn't you want your coworkers to think of that instead of assuming you're "just shy"?
Crafting and managing a personal brand in its purest form is reputation management. But how can you tactically do this?
What is personal branding?
Your personal brand is how and what people think about you when you’re both right in front of them and not in the room. In its most basic form, your brand is your reputation.
While we can’t always control how people perceive us, it’s important to have a vision for who we are and what we stand for. Only then can we work hard to make this come to life in our words and actions so that others perceive us this way. By making sure people see you the way you want to be seen, you're bettering your career for the long-term.
1. Decide what you stand for.
From the get-go, this may be too broad of a topic, so start with these three questions: who do you want to be? What do you stand for? When someone talks about you (go back and think about our scenario) how do they describe you? This is the first step in personal branding; you don't need to be a brand expert to answer these questions. For now, focus on simple answers that feel true to you. In order to build your personal brand (whether it's your business brand or just for social media), you need to have a strong foundation. These questions provide that foundation.
Pro Tip: I encourage individual clients and groups I run personal branding workshops for to put this to paper — there’s tremendous power in writing something out!
2. Be very clear and specific as to what your brand is.
Jumpstart your brand process by determining what qualities define you — both as a job seeker and as a human being. Start with a few adjectives (ideally three to five) that you want to be associated with. Not sure where to start? Go back to the earlier scenario; what are the words you’d want someone to use to describe you?
Now, think of how to put that into a short sentence or two. Let’s say you choose authentic, results-driven, people-focused and fun. If you want to make this into a short statement it might read: I am an authentic, data-driven people champion who values fun and humor.
Pro Tip: This can also be handy when you’re asked to describe yourself! It can serve as the basis for an elevator pitch when you need one in a pinch.
3. Commit to living your personal brand on a daily basis.
The point of clarifying your brand statement and how other people see you is so that you can show up this way as much of the time as possible. Once you decide what you stand for, you actually need to stand for these things!
Make it a game; each time you show up within your personal brand, make a note of it. Set a weekly goal of showing up in each brand tenet as much as possible. It’s also important to note when you don’t show up this way. Don’t get down on yourself, but do explore what was going on and why you didn’t prioritize people, authenticity, results or fun. Then, commit to avoiding falling into that trap again.
4. Do a social media audit.
Your personal brand has huge relevance IRL, but how you show up in social media has increasing importance as well. Since you laid out what you stand for already, you’re a step ahead. Confirm that these same tenets are what you want to stand for and be perceived as by your audience online.
After you know what you want to stand for online, the next step is to do an audit — are your social media posts or original content aligned or in conflict with what you stand for? If they're aligned, great. If your posts are in conflict, your social media profile may need a bit of cleaning. Don't hesitate to delete old posts that don't align with your social brand; our social media profiles aren't meant to document everything in people's lives. Think of it as a scrapbook — it should only show the best of you, not the worst.
5. Get an outside perspective.
Once you've identified and zeroed in on your personal brand, run it past people you trust, such as friends, colleagues, family members, partners and so on. This will allow you to better understand how others see you and your brand. It will also give you pointers to improve and hone it even further. That's because even the most well-adjusted and self-aware people aren't necessarily able to see themselves objectively and clearly, and an outsider can offer a fresh take.
6. Learn everything you can about your industry or desired industry.
Brands will vary by industry and niche. In order to ensure that yours aligns with top performers in your field, research the industry, learning everything you can about the ins and outs. Find out what makes players successful, as well as pitfalls in your presentation that you should avoid. Talk to others — managers, mentors and colleagues — to discover more about the particularities of the industry.
7. Craft a compelling narrative.
A personal brand is all about presenting yourself in an easily digestible package. It's not just about your work experience, social media accounts and publications you have to your name; it's also about your story. Think of your narrative as a more personal and reflective elevator pitch. It's not something you need to bust out every time you meet someone in your industry, but it is a tool that can help you humanize your brand, something to have in your back pocket, to post on your website and so on.
8. Search for yourself.
It's always a good idea to Google yourself on a semi-regular basis so you can see what's out there. Since others will be Googling you in a professional context, whether for a job interview, to accept or pass on a submission or in a networking context, it's essential to know what the outside world sees and knows about you.
If you find things you don't like, do what you can to scrub them (this is possible for items like pictures on social media, although it's not always feasible for what others post) or bury them with better content. If you find gaps, try to fill them.
9. Be your own advocate.
Self-advocacy is an important part of having a strong personal brand. If you can't count on yourself, you can't count on others to see you the way you way to be seen. Sure, many of us struggle with self-esteem issues, whether on occasion or frequently, but a huge part of having and nurturing your brand is managing to put aside your insecurities to present your best self.
Does that mean you can never falter or struggle with your confidence at times? Of course not! We all have our moments. But to thrive in your career, you need to accept these low points as what they are — just blips — and move forward.
10. Have patience!
Whether refining your brand statement or building your personal brand online or IRL, it takes time. Amazon’s brand wasn’t built in a day, nor was it refined by one social media audit. Yours won’t be either, so it's okay to witness small victories over a long period of time as opposed to immediate results tomorrow. Your personal brand is always going to be a work in progress, and that's okay.
So whether you want to be the most considerate people developer, a take-no-prisoners negotiator, or the hire manager who loves her job but loves her family more, decide who you want to be. Then, go be it!
Jane Scudder is a certified coach, facilitator, and workplace & leadership consultant based in Chicago, IL. She helps individuals and group navigate their careers, teams, and personal lives. Find out more at janescudder.com