More than ever, having a personal brand is vital, especially as people continue to become entrepreneurs, create small businesses, and promote their work. Because the overall goal of branding is to differentiate yourself, stand out, and be chosen from the masses, you need to do it if you want to make a name for yourself both personally and professionally. But since branding can negatively affect your character, business, and overall image, it’s imperative that it’s done correctly.
"For a personal brand to be effective, it needs to be authentic, truthful and relevant," says Diane Domeyer, executive director of The Creative Group. And because your brand includes both a visual identity – logo, web site, business card, resume, and social networking profiles – as well as a verbal identity – bio and elevator pitch – it all needs to be right, tight, and so in sight.
Let’s explore eight ways to self-brand like an expert.
1. Research and extract
Children learn by what they see and hear. They also repeat everything, often to a fault. And when they make mistakes, they get punished or chastised and advised to do things differently the next time. But why do we so often forget those lessons as adults? If we sit back and watch for a while – no speaking, no interrupting, and no leading – we can learn so much about what works and what doesn’t about a lot of things, including business practices. To best compete in your chosen market and stand out, check out your competitors. Go to their websites and social media pages to view their mission statements, prices, and logos. Call their offices to get a feel for their customer service and how they treat clients.
By researching first and creating your brand second, you can better gauge what clients need and want before providing things they already have and/or already hate. "Would you ever sit down to market a business when you’re still unsure what the product is?" asks Ryan Erskine in an Entreprenuer.com article. "Of course not. A company must first determine what benefit it offers and how it’s different from the competition. In other words, it has to determine its unique value proposition."
2. Determine your target audience
"A good way to nail down your personal brand is to create a one-page brief on yourself," suggests Domeyer. "This exercise forces you to craft a targeted message based on your skills, qualifications, passion projects, accomplishments and career aspirations." This one-page bio is almost like your personal mission statement. By listing everything you have to offer an employer or client on a sheet of paper and then prioritizing the two or three most important things, you’ll be able to highlight exactly what you want to get across to hiring managers, prospective clients or industry leaders. "Once you’ve defined your brand, you want to apply it consistently across all channels, including your resume, social media profiles, portfolio or website, and elevator pitch," says Domeyer. "Consider the look, feel, and content of it all."
3. Package and manage a plan
To effectively self-brand, you have to have a game plan and ask yourself some serious questions. Which social pages do you want to use? What kind of website do you want to have? What’s the look of your brand – everything from colors and fonts to voice and behavior – and how do you want to communicate that look across all platforms? In a Forbes article, Lisa Quast explains: "For example, your LinkedIn picture should look similar to the in-person you, your Tweets and any social media posts should stay within your market niche and your in-person behavior should be representative of how you want others to perceive you. And if you’ve branded yourself in social media as a creative fashion diva, then make sure that extends to how you come across in person (attire, hair, makeup, etc.)."
After your brand is created, you need to manage it. Make sure all outlets – both online and in real life – are in sync. If you mismanage your brand and convey different or opposite messages across various platforms, your brand, credibility, and business will all be compromised. An extreme example: don’t own an anti-animal cruelty marketing company and then post a picture of yourself hunting while donning a fur coat.
4. Be truthful
Ever tell a lie and try to keep it going for a while? It’s almost impossible. Over time, you forget the lie (or pieces of it), who you told, and how it began in the first place. Lying is a lot of work! Because of the headache of maintaining a lie – not to mention the problem in telling it in the first place – it’s important to be honest, especially in business. You need to be truthful with yourself and others, says Bryan Boettger, Principal and Lead Strategist at Estate Four: "If you’re not truthful, not only are people going to catch you trying to be something you’re not, but it’s going to be ten times harder to maintain an image that isn’t true to you."
5. Find your unique voice
There are websites solely dedicated to everything – from dog training and juggling to bartending and gardening – so there’s a good chance that your business idea has already been done. But just because it already exists doesn’t mean it’s off-limits. "Try to figure out what ‘sharing value’ you can bring to others and where you are going to share," suggests Boettger. "Do you attend unique events or read unique information? Do you have access to certain information earlier than others? Don’t just add to the noise of your community. Instead, figure out what unique sharing value you can provide to your community."
6. Google yourself
Googling someone is easy, isn’t it? With one search, a person can decide whether or not they want to know you, work with you, or recommend you to others based on a few social media pages. Because of that, it’s so important to make sure your brand is clean. (It’s also smart to create a Google Alert for yourself. That way, anytime your name or brand are mentioned on the Internet, you’ll receive a notification.) If someone finds you on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter, what do they see? And since your social media page is supposed to promote your brand, in addition to what they see, what do they not see (i.e. work accomplishments, portfolio, or logo)?
"Google yourself and if you find something that you believe will hurt your professional image, delete it or contact the owner of the site to have it removed," says Katherine L. Garcia, Digital Marketing Expert for Web Marketing Therapy. "View your social media settings to see if they are private or open to the public and remove any profanity and inappropriate images that are viewable to the public."
What’s more, Googling yourself allows you to find out what people think. And while constructive criticism is never easy to receive (online commenters can be especially brutal), it can help you better understand how you’re currently perceived and how it’s affecting your brand. Although painful, reading and hearing what others think can bridge the gap between unsuccessful and successful branding.
7. Perfect your LinkedIn page
One of the best, free ways to professionally brand yourself is by creating a LinkedIn profile, says Garcia. LinkedIn allows you to elevate your professional credibility and access professional opportunities. However, if your profile page is done poorly, it can hinder your ability to gain clients or find a job. Garcia says it’s important to create a page the right way by doing things like filling out every section of the LinkedIn profile with complete sentences and connecting and engaging with others by commenting and liking their posts.
To make the most of your LinkedIn page, it’s also imperative to invest in a professional photographer for the headshot (or at least upload one that looks professional). "But before you upload your professional headshot, save the photo as your name and use dashes," says Garcia. "For example, my headshot would be saved as Katherine-L-Garcia.jpg. By doing so, my photo my might end up in the image section of Google search results, which will support my personal brand if I'm ever Googled."
8. Follow up
When it comes to providing good service, it’s all about the follow-up. Because to me, there is nothing worse than having bad service or trying a faulty product, complaining about it to someone, and never hearing back with either an apology or rectification. When I don’t hear back after filing a complaint or even inquiring about the company via website or phone, it makes me feel like my opinions don’t matter, my wants and needs don’t matter, and, ultimately, my business doesn’t matter. Mark Montinin, CEO of marketing technology company Promio, agrees. In fact, he suggests automating your follow-up process so you can follow-up on phone calls or emails quickly. "It is important to have a lead follow-up program in place," advises Montinin. "Customers should always be contacted by someone personally from your business within fifteen minutes." Valued customers are repeat customers.
While there are countless ways to brand yourself and promote your company, these eight tips are a strong start, especially if you’re just beginning. By researching and extracting and determining your target audience prior to creating your brand, you’ll know exactly who you should cater to and how you should do it. And by consistently managing and promoting your brand by staying truthful and unique and always following up, you’ll be able to ensure its success from beginning to end.
Image: Camila Cordeiro