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With the exception of marketing professionals and those whom they mentor and support, personal branding tends to be an exercise in “being yourself”. In principle, this shouldn’t be an issue, since it should help people get to know your charming, capable and trust-worthy self.

In practice, this will get quite dicey as your personality doesn’t come through as authentically in a 2,000 word-long document or a 2 minute video as it does when people get to know you in real life, through repeated and varied interactions. Not to mention, that some people aren’t really that likable, which doesn’t make them bad at their jobs, just least likely to win a popularity contest.

Personal branding is about turning your professional self into an aspirational product that potential employers and clients will want to rent. The better the opportunity, the more well-developed and influential your personal brand has to be to effectively respond to it. Let’s look at some of the very basic things every professional should be able to do to develop their personal brand.

What makes you matter

Ever since we were in diapers, everyone from our parents to Disney princesses have been telling us that each and every one of us is a super special snowflake. They’re right. Every single one of us is unique, just like everybody else. In the very public online professional arena this translates into an equal opportunity to market one’s skills.

Since everyone has something unique in their bag of professional tricks, anyone can promote that unique selling point, regardless of its actual value. Mediocre people, therefore, can often stand out simply because they’ve learned to effectively promote their skills, while more competent but humble people are trapped on the fringes.

Determining what makes you, as a professional, relevant and pairing that with a goal, will help you stand out from the maddening crowd and anchor your personal brand. You may, as a globetrotting social media manager specialising in travel agencies, want to improve people’s holiday experiences by revealing off-the-beaten-track things they can enjoy. As a former teenage model, you might strive to help others build a positive body image by helping them learn to love their bodies, like Taryn Brumfit.

I want every woman on the planet to experience the joy and and freedom that comes from embracing her body. And I will be spending the rest of my life on a mission to reach you all. X #embracethedocumentary #ihaveembraced #embrace #embraceitforward #globalmission #globalmovement #bodyimage #bodypositive #bodyimagemovement #love #woman

A post shared by Body Image Movement (@bodyimagemovement) on

It doesn’t have to be mind-blowing and it doesn’t even have to be public. It does, however, need to come alive through your personal brand and stay in the back of your mind as a purpose you have to stay true to in every blog post, video, social media post or talk you engage in as a professional.

Who you matter to

When thinking about why you matter, you inevitably think about who you matter to or, at the very least, whose life you’re planning to improve. Therefore, if your goal is to teach people to love their bodies, your target audience will inevitably consist of mostly women, of all ages. You can focus on a specific age group as well, which will allow you to tailor your message more effectively, or you can engage with the broader audience for a larger impact over time.

As you define your audience and write down their challenges, what they’re interested in, think about where they would nurture those interests online. Start with platforms and dig deeper to find specialised environments you can interact with your audience in.

Instagram demographics overview

Let’s say you’re concerned about the twisted body image young girls have. Understanding that over 30% of them are on Instagram, 90% of which are under the age of 35, gives you a good idea as to not only where to reach them but how – through powerful images. Knowing that more than half of them follow brands, also tells you that partnering with one of more of these brands, can help you expand your reach and enforce your message.

What you look like

No need to grab a mirror, that’s not the kind of image we’re talking about. As you define your personal brand’s goal and mission, certain traits begin to emerge. Going back to the previous examples, our traveler will likely want to come off as friendly, relaxed, entertaining and exciting and this gives you a starting point in defining a visual style for your personal brand.

Ideally, you’d seek the advice of a branding expert but, assuming you’re not into that, at the very least, you should choose a colour palette and a font for your blog, presentations, cards, etc. ColourLovers has a great selection of palettes you can fiddle with and using their categories will clue you into what might work for your type of brand.

One of my favourite personal branding examples is Peg Fitzpatrick. The clever use of colours, playful font, mix of personal and stock photography, definitely highlight Peg’s bubbly personality without overwhelming the insightful content she posts. In other words, when you read her blog, see her visuals and watch her videos – you know it’s all Peg.

What you sound like

Even if your main communication medium is video or audio, a lot of the online interactions you’ll have with your audience will be through written text. You’ll post social media updates and you’ll reply to comments and messages. Your personal brand’s voice has to be consistent and obvious in all of your communications.

Going back to being yourself – this might sound like a no-brainer. Speak for 5 minutes, jot down 5 phrases and voilà, I sound like myself. Uhm, no. First of all, not everyone is a born communicator and most of use need practice and quite a bit of thought put into how we get our point across. Then there’s the issue of differentiating between you as a person and you as a personal brand.

Giving your brand a voice

Human interaction is very fluid. In real life we adapt our body language, appearance and vocabulary to our audience. This doesn’t mean you need to develop multiple personalities to have a well-defined, effective personal brand, but it does mean that you need to make sure that when you explain, say the benefits of using organic cosmetics to a group of 15 to 25 year old fashionistas, you speak their language and steer away from overly-technical language about what compounds chemicals break down into to.

A lot of people and personal brands suffer from the TMI (too much information) syndrome. Either due to insecurities in their own expertise or just a lousy communication style, they tend to talk in way too much detail about a topic, as if to prove how well they know it. Don’t do that. It will make you look arrogant and bore people.

How you act

Behavior is one of the toughest things to define for a personal brand. In part because people identify with their own personal brands and, therefore, what we’d do in our day to day lives tends to be the go-to approach for our personal brand as well.

How many times have you evaluated a crisis after it had passed and realised how much better you could have handled it, if only insert bright idea. Your personal brand is your second chance to put those bright ideas to good use. As people, we react with a hefty dose of emotion in almost everything we do. Personal brands don’t have to.

You can, and should, predefine how you want to be perceived as a professional and deal with topics, issues, projects and feedback in a way that defines and strengthens that perception. You can pick and choose the topics you care about as a professional and decide to stand up for what you believe in.

understanding your audience

This also means that if you want to have a broader conversation with your audience, going beyond tips and advice, you have to weave that into your communication from the jump. It will seem weird and out of place if you suddenly start retweeting or replying to posts with travel photos if all you’ve been sharing so far are financial tips.

The Bottom Line

Personal brands have one leg up on companies because they’re the public image of a single human being. You don’t have to find an ambassador to put a face on it, don’t need to jump through millions of hoops to get approval for your branding but you do have to be very careful about trying to do too much at once, changing things up too often and ending up with an unrecognisable mush.

Sit down with your professional self and define what you’re doing at that table (goals and value you deliver), what you’re wearing (visual identity), what you sound like (brand voice), and how you interact with your audience (behaviour).

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