Personal Branding Basics

March 19, 2012
Personal branding basics

As the world changes and its people become more social and connected, entire lives will be catalogued online. No matter your age, industry, or level of experience, having a personal brand can mean the difference between getting that job, gaining industry renown, and being just another somebody.

What is personal branding?

At its simplest, personal branding is the art of being known for what you do. This branding can be positive, negative, or really negative.

The importance of a positive company brand is a well-covered topic, but personal branding is often swept under the rug. Most people (myself included) prefer keeping their pubic and personal lives separate; for better or worse, however, this technological and social age is blurring those lines. Telling your own story is becoming more important, no matter your industry, and to do that you must tear down some of those walls you’ve built.

From a less philosophical point, personal branding is a great investment in yourself and your career. If you focus all your efforts on branding the company for which you work or the business you own, what happens if you change jobs or the business fails? You’re now out of a job and have to start from scratch.

If you spend time building a personal brand, it will always be with you. Be careful what kind of name you make for yourself.

Who needs a personal brand?

Everyone—whether they’ve been in business for 50 years, are fresh out of school, or anywhere in between—needs to develop and maintain a personal brand.

It used to be that your resume and communication and interview skills constituted your brand. The importance of these things has not diminished, but the advent of the Internet has changed personal branding forever.

When anyone—a competitor, potential employer, or client—searches Google with your name, the results which appear make up the pieces of your brand that a resume cannot. If a potential employer searches for you and finds those photos of you drunk in Malibu, or a client looks you up and finds you’ve been badmouthing them or other clients, that will affect your brand.

A quick experiment

What happens when you search for your name in Google?

When I search for mine, the first few results are always my LinkedIn profile, Twitter account, personal blog, and several links to profiles I’ve created in order to comment on marketing or tech blogs. The only reason my Facebook profile does not appear is because I’ve configured it not to.

Someone who searches for me can quickly learn about my business, see marketing blogs on which I comment frequently (and probably the comments themselves), links I share, places I’ve commented and written, and that my personal time is spent reading and blogging about books.

What does your Google search say about you?

How to develop a personal brand

Fortunately, you have a good deal of control over what results appear when someone searches for your name.

Think of Google (or any search engine) as your virtual resume. Make use of online platforms to give yourself a resume that showcases your knowledge, professionalism, and personality. There are lots of ways to do this, but I’d start with these four.

LinkedIn

Create a LinkedIn profile and keep it updated with your job title, description, and skills. Make valuable connections with other users (and introduce them to each other), join and participate in relevant groups, and make use of the update field to post interesting links, ask questions, and comment on industry news.

Twitter

Join Twitter and share industry-related news, links, and thoughts. Follow people in your industry and gain your own followers.

Blog

Create a blog and share your thoughts. Even if what you’re writing about isn’t necessarily about your job or industry, blogging will improve your writing and show potential employers, clients, and others that you can dedicate yourself long-term, and that you understand the power of blogging.

Visual resume

Use a service like VisualCV to create a resume that includes text, images, and video. You can mark you resume private or public, or share a link with anyone. There are a lot of people looking for jobs; creative resumes have become popular in certain industries as a way to stand out from the crowd.

Don’t knock tradition

Don’t forget that your personal brand extends beyond the Internet — who you are in person is just as important as who you are online.

  • Business card - Make sure your card contains correct information and is printed on quality paper. The card’s design is another opportunity to brand yourself.
  • CV/resume - Your visual resume may be great, but not everyone may be able to see it. Make sure your print resume is up to date, typo-free, and concise.
  • Portfolio - Have examples of your work available, whether it’s drawings, designs, writing or coding samples, etc.
  • References - Who are some clients, former employers, and colleagues you know will support your brand by speaking highly of you and your work? Keep their contact information handy.
  • Style of dress - Dress well. It doesn’t have to be Armani, but your clothes should be clean, pressed, and fit well; your shirt should be tucked in and your shoes shined.
  • Communication style - Have a firm handshake and good eye contact. Be confident, say what you mean to, and get to the point.

Final tips

Developing your personal brand is about showing what you can do by a.) doing it, and b.) letting your story and personality come through what you do.

  • Tell your story - If people don’t know who you are, they won’t care what you’re selling.
  • Be passionate - Love what you do, and let that passion show.
  • Trust is key - Make sure everything you do is honest, transparent, authentic, or whatever the popular buzzword happens to be.

I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of personal brand development. What tips would you include here? Let me know in the comments.

[Image: Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland”]