When you think of personal branding, superstars come to mind—icons such as Oprah Winfrey, Mark Zuckerberg, Kim Kardashian, and Ellen DeGeneres.
With such giants in the public sphere, it’s easy to forget that personal branding doesn’t always result in national news coverage, a multi-million-dollar TV show, or a personal clothing line. Sometimes, the result can be getting a new contract for your freelance work, collaborating with an influencer in your field, or standing out to a potential employer.
Perhaps not as sexy, but still important.
The following four steps will help you begin to develop yourself into a brand, with the goal of getting you to the point where potential customers and employers immediately associate your name with your service and/or product.
Step 1: Envision yourself as a brand.
The first step to building a personal brand is to think of yourself as a brand. No, this doesn’t mean you’re some lifeless product; this simply means you must think about how you can market your skills, services, and/or products to others, using your own name.
Ask yourself what your area of expertise is (or what you want your name to be associated with), and consider what you have to offer that others are willing to pay for, either as a customer or as an employer.
Be specific here, and don’t worry about limiting yourself to just one area. Marketing expert Jayson Demers firmly believes in the value of deciding on a specific niche within your field. Although you’ll have a smaller audience, it will be a much more valuable audience: “Specificity is a trade of volume for significance.” In other words, quality is better than quantity.
Step 2: Build an online presence.
As soon as you’ve defined your niche, you need to create an online presence. A good place to start is by googling your name. Do you appear in the search results? Are the results positive? What is the nature of the top results—are they your social media accounts, customer reviews, or your work? Assess your immediate online visibility, and build on it using the steps below.
As you move forward with developing your personal brand, google yourself regularly (or set up a Google Alert) to monitor your presence. It’s also worth noting that, if your name is John Smith, you may want to use a middle initial to make your name stand out.
To boost your visibility, consider buying a domain name; typically, it will look something like www.FirstnameLastname.com. Depending on the site you use for your purchase, the domain may only cost a few dollars each year. Buying a domain that includes your name will greatly increase the control you have over what people see when they google you. If you’re not convinced, check out Harry Guinness’s breakdown of the importance of owning your own domain.
Adding a social media presence will also help build your online presence. You can link to your accounts on your website, and since so many people use social media, it can be an effective alternative method to reaching and communicating with people.
However, remember that this requires you to be professional with your social media accounts. Keep your presence professional and avoid posting inappropriate content.
Another step you can take to boost your online presence is writing articles that are related to your specialty. Publishing these articles online (whether through a blog hosted on your website or a third-party publisher) will increase your internet footprint and position you as an expert in your field. Offering your opinion and expertise for free will signal to others that you are passionate and knowledgeable about your field.
Step 3: Learn, learn, and keep learning.
The third step is to continue developing your skills. Think you know everything there is to know about your profession? You’re (probably) wrong. Industries are constantly changing, and you need to stay as up to date as possible, considering that your presence is competing with the entire online world.
Take courses online or at a local college or university to continue developing your expertise and to learn from other experts. The upside to this is that tuition fees are often tax deductible!
Join associations that represent your profession. Often, associations will offer workshops or seminars, which will give you another expert’s perspective and experience in your industry. With your experience, perhaps you can consider leading a seminar yourself, which will further build your personal brand as a leader in your profession.
Follow bloggers and writers who give their opinions and updates on current trends; engage with them on their websites and social media.
Taking these steps, quite fortunately, gives you a head start on the next step.
Step 4: Make friends and network.
The downside to focusing on building your website and social media accounts is that people need to somehow find or be shown them. Networking brings you into direct contact with other experts and potential employers in a face-to-face setting. Real-world networking makes a great companion to your online presence because if no one in your field recognizes your name, your online content won’t carry as much weight.
Here is where you can benefit from being in contact with professors, classmates, colleagues, and fellow members of your profession’s association. These people might have special insights on current or future trends in your field, and they might be acquainted with potential employers or clients. Either way, by establishing connections and introducing yourself to others, you’re building your reputation by word of mouth.
These four steps are probably enough homework to keep you busy for a while. If you can see yourself as a brand, build an online presence, expand your knowledge, and network, you will have made an excellent start on developing your own personal brand.
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