No doubt many of you will have recently heard talk of the importance of having a good personal brand. And probably many more will think that this is a new concept. But in fact, it’s not. Personal branding has been around in the US since the 1990s. In 1997, the American writer Tom Peters published an article under the title The Brand Called You, where he argued that in an increasingly competitive market, we should learn to manage our own careers in the same way that large corporations manage their product brands.
However, it is true that here in Spain the concept has only come to the fore in recent years. With the onset of the economic crisis, many people who had mistakenly established a direct link between what they were and the job they held, have been forced to think again about who they really are and what they can produce.
Before setting out some of the steps that will help you improve your own personal brand, we should perhaps start by defining what exactly we mean when we talk of personal branding.
What is personal branding?
Everyone has their own specific personal brand. Maybe it’s almost imperceptible, low-key, even pernicious… or perhaps it’s very powerful. Andrés Pérez Ortega, an expert on personal branding who has published several books on the subject, defines personal branding as a life project, both personally and professionally, and believes that managing this personal brand is a planned and orderly way of making sure that we leave behind us our desired footprint. Basically, what we want to achieve with our personal brand is that people think of us as experts in our particular area when looking for a person with a similar profile.
7 ways to improve your personal brand
Now that we have a clearer idea of what the concept means, here are the 7 steps we can take to improve our personal brand:
Analyse our current footprint. Is it a fair representation of the professional or personal image we want to project? Before we do anything else, we should analyse ourselves internally, observing what we are now and defining, based on our experience, what it is we want to achieve, what we are good at, and what field we want to be recognised in.
2. Setting objectives
This is another essential step for defining what it is we want to achieve with our personal brand. It is important to recognise that a personal brand isn’t achieved overnight. If you are already an expert in a certain subject, you should develop a specific communication plan to help make yourself known in that field. But remember that you have to be persistent to achieve this.
Personal branding is linked directly to specialisation: you cannot be an expert at everything. Despite the fact that in some areas, such as journalism for example, being knowledgeable in a variety of skills (writing, photography, social networks, graphic design tools, languages, etc.) is a plus, being a generalist usually works against your personal brand. If we want to be unique and stand out in a certain profession, we must focus our discourse on that which makes us different, something we have or something we can do that very few others have in that field. To use the same example, an all-purpose journalist is not as valuable as one specialising in international relations in the Asia-Pacific region, or in a specific country within the region. If someone was looking for an expert on that particular subject, then it is highly likely that the name of that particular journalist would be one of the first to surface. If you are really an expert in a specific area and your name is not yet known in the relevant circles, our advice is that you get to work straight away to make your personal brand stronger and better known.
It’s no good just being a specialist on a certain subject: you need to create platforms through which to make the largest possible number of people aware of that fact. To do this you must work both online and offline.
Within the online field, the use of personal blogs deserves special attention. If you don’t yet have one, now’s the time to get one. There are many who say that paper CVs are a thing of the past, and that our new CV will be whatever appears about us on the first page of the Internet. A blog focusing on your area of expertise is an excellent tool with which to show that what you say in your paper CV is really true, an excellent platform for showcasing your work. It’s not so much a matter of what you say you can do, as of what you actually do. Writing a specialised blog about your area of expertise will give you the perfect opportunity to show off your knowledge of the subject, in addition to generating confidence amongst readers who could very well turn into clients.
6. Social networks
Social networks are another excellent tool for expanding the scope of your personal brand. You must start by analysing which of the social networks on offer best meets your needs, depending on the sector you want to target. It is better to use only a few, and update them frequently; the opposite would generate a negative image for your brand. Generally, there are three main social networks you should aim to have a presence in: Twitter, which will help you reach people you don’t know (potential clients) who are interested in what you have to offer; LinkedIn, which is highly recommended for increasing your contacts and exchanging valuable content relating to your work amongst the groups in this network; and Google+, because, though perhaps the least user-friendly of them all, Google rewards contents shared on its network with a better position in its search engine. And better positioning equals greater visibility, and therefore greater promotion of your personal brand.
TIP: One of the recommendations generally given by personal branding experts is to use the same photographs on all our social networks, and, in general, whenever we feature on the Internet, so that our personal brand can be linked to a single image. Obviously, it should be a quality photograph, in keeping with the professional image we want to convey. Take advantage of all the opportunities provided by social networks to include dynamic images in which you are working or carrying out an activity you would like to highlight.
[Personal Strategist. Author of Marca Personal (ESIC), Expertología (Alienta) and Te van a oír (Alienta) and Personal Branding for Dummies.]
The opportunities for creating or promoting our personal brand beyond the Internet are many more than you would think. Amongst the many things you can engage in offline to create greater impact are talks and conferences. Take the plunge and become a conference speaker: word of mouth is one of the best ways to help consolidate your footprint as an expert in a certain subject. Giving a talk will gain you supporters who will recommend you as a specialist, and will in turn increase your digital followers. Before starting out in the conference world, we recommend that you read Carme Chaparro’s 10 tips for public speaking. Similar to the example of a blog as a showcase for our work in the online world, an offline option would be writing a book, although this will probably only happen at a higher level of specialisation, when our personal brand is rather more consolidated. And never forget the traditional methods for networking. In addition to increasing your reputation as a conference speaker, you should also go to as many events as possible in your chosen field, where you want to become known. Be an active listener, ask questions, introduce yourself to dfferent groups, get into conversation with the speakers. The aim is to start leaving your mark on as many people as possible.
And finally, remember that the footprint you create both personally and professionally extends to the smallest details. It’s not only about what you can do and your area of expertise: the idea others have of you is influenced by other, more personal, details. In the end, as human beings, our actions are driven by emotions and the feelings that others trigger in us. That is why your attitude and how you behave towards those around you is almost as relevant for your brand as your expertise. Don’t underestimate each and every opportunity you have to create a good impression upon someone else: when having a coffee with your boss; when out for lunch; during a conversation in the lift; the attitude and speed with which you reply to certain emails or requests; your hobbies and likes and dislikes… these are details which have a strong impact on what your personal brand says about you.
Inspiring quotes from personal branding experts
We have listed here a collection of statements by experts in personal branding which you should always bear in mind:
“Your personal brand is there for others to find you, it’s not there for you to sell yourself” – Eva Collado Durán
“It’s better to be yourself and make mistakes, than to play at being somebody else and become a nobody”- Andrés Pérez Ortega
“To succeed, we must stop being normal”- Tom Peters
“Identity isn’t genetic. It’s something we have a say over. Never let others decide what your personal brand is”- @soymimarca
“Your identity (self-knowledge) marks your destiny”- Francisco Alcaide
“The longer you take to define yourself, the longer it will take others to find you. Defining yourself is not about setting limits, it’s about telling the world what it can expect from you”- Alfonso Alcántara