Illustration by José Luis Merino
There’s so much buzz right now about the importance of creating your own brand that it can feel overwhelming if you don’t have a shiny website and the “right” number of followers. But rest easy. Whether you’re a full-time employee, an entrepreneur or a side hustler, simply ensuring that your brand reflects your true character will inspire the trust you need to be successful. There are three key questions to ask yourself if you want to use branding to your benefit.
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1. What is my brand?
One of the biggest mistakes people make when building and promoting their brand is not actually understanding what a brand is, says Luvvie Ajayi, best-selling author, blogger and cultural commentator. “Your brand is not your logo or your number of Facebook followers. It’s what people think or say about you when you’re not in the room.” This means that all of us already have a personal brand, whether intentionally created or not. And the first step to taking charge of it is to figure out what it is. You can get insight from things like your performance reviews and the adjectives people choose when introducing you. Ask a bunch of people to share three words that describe you. After you’ve collected some feedback, reflect on whether or not your current brand resonates with you and how
you’d like to strengthen or alter it. If you want to pivot it entirely, be careful. Your brand must be authentic in order for you to maintain it and for people to trust you.
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Once you have clarity about how you envision people talking about you, pore over your digital profiles—from LinkedIn to personal websites—and ensure that your brand is messaged consistently through your style, voice, visual assets (like photographs and fonts) and endorsements from credible people in your realm of influence. In her book, Build Your Dream Network, J. Kelly Hoey offers a list of “networking activities” that are also important for brand building. They include your email signature line, your out-of-office autoresponder and voicemail message, your invoice and the music that plays when a client/customer is on hold. Any experience someone has with you, both online and offline, should reflect your brand.
2. What’s my ultimate objective?
I connect with a lot of women who find it difficult to build a personal brand because they are averse to self-promotion. “It’s not bragging if you’re stating the facts,” says Meredith Fineman, communications and professional development expert. One of the reasons women struggle with tooting their own horn is because we’re scrutinized more than men. “Women are policed from their ankles to their voice,” she says, “and conditioned to be seen and not heard.”
Women can overcome their reluctance to promote themselves by developing a strategy with the end game in mind. Want to turn your gift for creating beautiful floral arrangements into a side gig? Start posting them on Instagram accompanied by inspirational quotes. Hoping for a promotion? Find out who’ll be in the room when the decision is made and make sure they’re armed with talking points about why you’re a superstar. Have dreams of authoring a book? Consider becoming a contributor to a publication or website in your area of expertise. How you amplify yourself and your work will depend on where you’re headed. Start with your goal and work backwards so that you can envision the results.
3. How will my brand endure?
The most valuable brands have longevity because they’ve established a track record in meeting a need—and so should you. In his book Perennial Seller, Ryan Holiday writes about the importance of creating work that lasts. When you achieve this, you won’t need to promote your work indefinitely. After you’ve amplified it, you’ll be able to move on. You’ll maintain your relevance based on what you produce next.
As you develop your personal brand, you should consider a few other core questions to ensure its endurance. What problem does my audience have and how do I solve it? Who else is solving this same problem for my audience and how is my solution different? What are my values and do they align with the values of my audience? What do I do extraordinarily well with very little effort—in other words, what is my superpower? Answering these questions will lead you to developing a brand that is genuine. Anyone can buy Twitter followers. Fewer people take the time to leverage the best version of themselves.