Brand Yourself Or Die: 8 Steps To Career Longevity
Remember when you could land a job and camp out at the same desk for 15 or 20 years? Those days are not just fading, they’re gone. People are getting more freedom and flexibility in their lives by giving up the serial desk job and working remotely for many different companies at one time. Apps like Uber, TaskRabbit, Fiverr and hundreds of others are redefining how we work. New technology is changing our economy and the way we are doing business. Adapt or die.
Ok, “adapt or die” may be a little strong, but the truth is that we are moving from an era of full-time employment into an era of independent contractors. It has been happening gradually, so you may not have noticed it at all, but it is in full swing:
● In 2006, independent and contingent workers—contractors, temps, and the self-employed—stood at 42.6 million, or about 30% of the workforce. That’s more than 60 million people. (The last time the government counted contingent workers was in 2006, so updated numbers are not available)
● According to a 2014 study commissioned by the Freelancers Union, 53 million Americans are independent workers -- about 34 percent of the total workforce. This number is expected to balloon to 50 percent by 2020.
A Personal Brand: Your Job Insurance Policy
Even if you are a full-time employee and have great job security, the way people perceive your work is changing as a result of this macro-socio-economic shift. More and more companies are divesting themselves of full-time employees because of the high benefits cost. It gives them more flexibility, but it gives the freelancer or contract worker less security. So controlling your career trajectory is more critical now than ever before.
The professional climate is increasingly unstable even compared to a just few decades ago. Now, in the marketing world, when agencies lose a client there are layoffs. When a company takes a downward turn, there are layoffs. An acquisition? A restructuring? Layoffs. Corporate unpredictability means you can’t be overly dependent on your employer for your personal identity or for managing your career. Having a personal branded presence that's strong and independent of an employer is really preparation for the inevitable. It will assure your survival and success in your career, whether that’s working for another company, agency or brand, or whether it's developing an independent freelance or consulting career.
Job? No Job? A Personal Brand Can Help
Developing a personal brand will help you take control of your own destiny.
Branding is a shortcut for people to get to know who you are, what you do well, and how you can help them. Since you can’t tell everyone everything about yourself, a brand does the hard work of getting your main points across. For example, we know that Tim Ferriss celebrates high performance, Ira Glass likes compelling stories, and Rachel Ray is all about kitchen confidence, all from their own personal branding. We don’t know those people personally, but we do know a good deal about them because of their personal brands.
If you have a full-time job, a personal branding presence shows your expertise in your field. It demonstrates to others that you are up to date on your industry, category, and career. It also has the added benefit of lending you more credibility in the job that you already have.
If you don’t have a job or are a contract worker, a personal brand will make you more attractive to recruiters or your next employer. LinkedIn, social profiles, and maybe even a YouTube channel will help demonstrate your skill. Developing content and writing articles about your work and industry will elevate you in search results and therefore easier for recruiters and potential employers to find. It will also make you desirable to an employer looking for the top talent in their industry because your brand is connecting the dots; broadcasting your expertise so they can easily understand how you can help solve their problems. The critical thinking you do about what you stand for and the independent actions you take affect how you show up in the professional world. It’s hard work, but it pays off.
While working on your personal brand, I guarantee you will encounter many ah-ha moments. These are moments of understanding about your own professional (and sometimes personal) development. Developing and maintaining your personal brand will help you discern which skills you have and those you may need to learn.
As you develop your professional profile, for example, you may see holes in your skillset, or an uneven distribution of knowledge in one area. You will want to address these so you can truly stand out among your peers. You may need additional skills and may want to go to more conferences or make more network connections. But also in these ah-ha moments you may happily realize you have even more experience to leverage than you thought.
Fear is OK
You may be thinking, "I'm afraid. I'm afraid of putting myself out there. Self-promotion was never my thing. Plus, it's a lot of work. What are people going to think of me? What's my employer going to think of me?"
You are probably overthinking it.
These are all legitimate fears that everyone has before they begin. In reality, your employer probably won’t even notice. You may be surprised to find that your friends or your peers are not going to really care that much either. In fact, you're doing it for yourself. Your investment in your professional development shows a level of strength and interest in yourself and your career that I like to think of as professional self-care. Your friends, peers, and colleagues are more likely want to emulate you than criticize you.
Developing a Personal Brand is a Sign of Strength and Independence
Your personal brand is going to show that you have a life outside of your corporate umbrella and your employer will be less apt to take you for granted or feel that they have a controlling degree of leverage over you.
Fear sneaks up on you in unexpected ways when doing important work like this, especially in the form of excuses. One of the most common excuses? “I’m too (insert: old/young) to create a brand.”
I can guarantee you never are too old to start creating your personal brand. I began developing my own personal brand in 2014. Before that, I had lived entirely under agency and corporate umbrellas and had only a LinkedIn page and a meager personal portfolio site. Now, I have a 14k person email list, publish an industry-recognized newsletter, written over 80 articles and have a YouTube channel with 150 videos and 170k subscribers. Going deeper into my brand development has reaped incredible benefits for my business. Over 60% of my new business for my agency comes exclusively from my personally branded content marketing.
Fear is natural, but don’t let it stop you from enhancing your career and stopping short of success.
Freedom is Inevitable
I like to reframe it and characterize fear as harness-able energy you can use to break through to the next level. You’ll find that your success is greatly enhanced by your ability to view fear in that way. The benefits of facing your fears, putting a stake in the ground and declaring your value are both subtle and profound. Here are just a few benefits that I think are important:
You will feel less physiologically enslaved. Having a personal brand that's independent of a job will make you feel freer so if job insecurity occurs down the line, you won’t feel like you are totally exposed and are taken by surprise without any idea of what to do next. You'll be more apt to feel that you have more control over your life and that you can more easily architect your next steps.
You’ll have more self-worth and confidence. You can get a level of emotional fulfillment and sense of personal identity from full-time employment. But when you have a presence outside of a full-time job and a strong commitment to that presence, your self-worth and confidence are independent of your employment status. And that's always valuable.
It will keep you sharp. Developing a brand persona keeps you on your toes. It forces you to stay up to date with your industry and core competencies as you develop your opinions, create your content and deliver your brand message. A personal brand is one of the best ways to stay motivated and strong
It will work your creativity muscle. Challenging yourself to define and develop your own brand is a challenging project and whenever you face a challenge, you up your level of creativity. Consistently maintaining a personal brand, whether that's content, social media, website, branded assets, etc., will force you to consistently work that creativity muscle. This will keep you focused - on top of your category and on top of your career.
How To Create Your Personal Brand
I have organized a systematic, step-by-step way to approach building your brand. As someone who has created and developed hundreds of brands, I have been a student of brand building methodology for decades. I’ve succeeded at scaling some of the most effective branding processes used by global agencies and Fortune 100 clients so they can be leveraged by an individual in building their own personal brand. Each brand and its development is a little different, but if you follow these guidelines you’ll be well on your way to having a beautiful and exciting brand presence in no time.
#1 Current State
You need to start with a really clear picture of the current state of your personal brand. It’s a little like taking an inventory that will help you understand where you’re covered and where you need to develop. You need to know where you already have a presence, so ask yourself these simple questions:
● Do you have a robust LinkedIn profile?
● What social media platforms are you truly active on?
● Do you have a website?
● Do you develop content of any kind?
● What is the extent of your network or audience?
● Have you employed any visual design assets that identify you?
Your answers will give you a good understanding of your current state, your starting line, which will provide context for determining what you are missing and what you need to create.
#2 Your Future State
The future state of your personal brand may be a bit foggy when you first start out, and that’s okay. Like anything else, your professional and brand goals will evolve and change over time. But if you're ever going to get there, you have to start. Ask yourself these questions:
● What do want to be?
● What do you want to do?
● What do you want to accomplish?
● Who can you help?
Capture all your answers so you can plan how you will get there. Building out your future state can be a big undertaking and is way too much to cover in this article, but just getting your initial thoughts and ideas down is the end goal of this exercise. Begin with your most obvious goals and others will show up as your brand develops.
If you are having a hard time trying to find out where you want to go or discovering your passion, What Color Is My Parachute? is a classic book that will walk you through the many ways your career can go. You can also check out my video on how to find your passion.
You’ll want to capture the current state of the skills you have so you can assess which skills you're going to need to get to your desired professional future state. Some questions:
● Which software applications do you know? (e.g., MS Office Suite, Photoshop, Illustrator, Premiere Pro, other industry specific applications)
● What specific skills do you have? (e.g., finance, customer service, account management, budgeting, media planning, promotional or sales/marketing experience. The list can go on and on.)
○ “Hard” Skills? (Technical Skills, physical skills)
○ “Soft” Skills? (People skills, communication, writing, negotiation, salesmanship)
Plan which new skills you can acquire now, and which ones you’ll learn at a later time. Mastering a new software program can feel like a big task, so I suggest breaking it down. Consider taking a class from reputable platforms like like Udemy, Lynda, Skillshare, Coursera or start where most projects begin: Google it. If you are really stuck, this article from Forbes can help you work through the rough spots.
#4 Grow Your Network
You can't do everything yourself, so you want to make sure that you know who’s in your network and who can help and teach you what you need to know. Start by getting your LinkedIn connections up to date; think of everyone you work with, socialize with and even enjoy recreational hobbies with (think: your basketball league or your kid’s soccer team parents). Once you’ve reviewed your network and have begun to consolidate them into LinkedIn, look for people who can assist you in getting to your future state.
● Who you can you bring into a mastermind group?
● Who can be a mentor?
● Who can help you get an introduction to your top employer pick?
● Who already does what it is you want to be doing?
● Who could provide you an informational interview?
Figure out what you can do for yourself, but then also, who you might need to employ, or interact with in order to help with things that aren't necessarily within your skill set.
#5 Audience Definition
Your target audience is the group of people that will be interested in hearing what you and your brand have to say. To narrow this group down, ask:
● Who are the people that can benefit from the information you have?
● Who will be interested in your point of view and who will benefit from your knowledge and expertise?
These people are your target audience.
Once you know who your audience is, learn where they “hang out”. Think about how and where your audience consumes information, and that's the place you want to be. For example, you may be more comfortable in Snapchat or Twitter, but if your customer watches videos, is in the blogosphere, or in an industry Facebook Community or Group that's where you want to show up. Interact, join the conversation, ask questions, solicit feedback, build relationships, provide real value for free.
#6 Get In The Right Channels
Take another look at all the social media channels you listed in your initial “Current State” audit. Why have you chosen those channels? Is it because that’s where your audience is or because that's where you're more comfortable? Examine all your channels through the lens of your audience and weed out what doesn’t match up with their preferences.
Also, consider if all your chosen brand touchpoints or channels are supportable. Most people make the mistake of trying to be everywhere. They post on Snapchat, Instagram, LinkedIn, Medium, Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook, oh, and of course a blog. They drive themselves crazy trying to develop content or interact on way too many channels. They don't go deep enough to develop relationships and conversations within the channels where their customers show up. Think about how deep you can go into each of your chosen channels. Keep your list focused, your content interesting and your interactions truly engaging.
#7 Brand Design
From logo and color palette to messaging and graphics, these are the things people commonly think of when they think about brand design. Start with a good checklist so you can mark off the items you have and begin developing which assets (that’s design speak for different parts of your brand) you need.Do you have an identity? A color palette? Have you made choices around fonts or imagery or iconography? There's a broad range of elements that you need to have for your personal brand. Take stock, do an audit of what brand assets you have, and then you'll know exactly what it is that you're missing and what you may need to develop.
Start with this free pdf: “9 Design Elements Your Brand Absolutely Positively Needs”. It is a very thorough list that will help you take a quick and easy audit so you can move ahead with certainty.
There's a saying, “You have to plan the work and then you have to work the plan.” It is true for putting together your brand. By going through this assessment, you have developed a valuable map of where you are and where you want to go. You know what you have and what you need. You know your target audience and how to deliver your brand. You have a clear idea of how to get to the next stage in your personal brand.
You have all the information you need.
I know, it’s a lot. But ignoring it is not an option. Don't be afraid to start. Get out there. The possibilities are endless, so try not to get overwhelmed. Just take one step at a time. If you put in consistent effort, you can get there. I guarantee you it's going to be an inspiring journey. Best of all, it‘s going to create in you a strong sense of security and control over your professional life.
The first step is always the hardest, but it's also the most satisfying. Once you take it, you're going to feel a tremendous amount of self-accomplishment. So look back over this list and get started today with #1. Take your “Current State” audit and after you do, make sure you take a moment and congratulate yourself. Every step that gets you closer to your new personal brand is a job well done.
Remember; be consistent and never quit.