6 tips on how to build your personal brand
How’s your brand? Maybe you think you don’t have one, in which case here’s a follow-up question: who do you think the last person to Google
you was? Blind date, potential employer or professional headhunter, they’ll have come away with a certain impression of you – and anyone who meets you offline will have even more to go on.
“Jeff Bezos once said that your brand is what people say about you when you’re out of the room,” explains personal development consultant Kenny Cruz. “It’s not just who you are, but what you’ve done, and what you do.” It’s also your style, mindset, posture, wardrobe, and the people you spend most of your time with – and whether you’re actively curating all of those things or not, you’re leaving an impression wherever you go. In an always-on world where you’re as likely to have a portfolio of gigs as one long-term career, you never know when an Insta post or a LinkedIn recommendation can lead to the next big thing: so how do you make sure you’re not missing out? Here’s your six-step guide to building a better brand.
Step 1: Check your status
First, it’s time to take stock. “Ask five people – not just friends, but colleagues or acquaintances – for an example of something that makes you unique,” says Deborah Ogden, a Professional Impact Specialist who works with lawyers and financial professionals to help them with their first impressions. “You want to see how you’re currently being perceived, but also what you can build on.” Google yourself to see what comes up, and consider setting up a Google Alert to email you a notification when you, or your business, gets mentioned online. This is also a good time to take stock of your social media biographies and feeds: it might feel like you keep things on-message on Twitter, but if you’re drowning out the good stuff with rapid reactions to news, dial it back a touch. “If you’re doing a lot on Insta, take a look at your grid,” says Lesley Bambridge, founder of We Mean Business. “Does it give an overall impression or is it a bit fragmented? If you’re not getting an overarching theme – colour-scheme, content, subject matter and so on, then it’s time for an overhaul – try linking your posts back to the overall impression you want people to take away to give you a more cohesive presence.”
Step 2: Work out your values
Before you start to build, you need firm foundations. “Almost everyone could do with questioning themselves more,” says Russ Powell, head of marketing at digital specialists Red Hot Penny. “People steam off in all kinds of directions doing random things and if you were to ask them “why?”, most of the time they won’t really know or will give some business-speak mumbo-jumbo answer. Answering the question why – in both the sense of having an overriding purpose but also in the literal sense of “what are you trying to achieve” – is the absolute nucleus of all branding and marketing activity. Without that clear ‘why’, you’re aimless. The foundation of a brand is a solid value proposition that communicates your why, so create your own and give yourself some guiding principles to work to.” Work out a sentence-long version of what you stand for, then a paragraph-sized version for anyone who wants to hear more. Then strip anything that sounds like business-speak out of both, and rebuild them from scratch. “Don’t try and be someone you’re not,” adds Bambridge. “Be authentic and share what you’re doing, working hard at, and people will be genuinely interested. Even better if you can share it in a creative, individual way.”
Step 3: Think physical
Until we’re all fully wired into the Matrix, hand-to-hand contact’s still the best way of getting most things done: and it’s never too late to change the way you make a first impression. “People buy people,” says Ogden. “And I’m amazed by the amount of people who never take the time to consider the way their handshake, body language, or the amount of eye contact they make.” Don’t agonise for hours over the perfect handshake – as long as you’re not hitting the extremes of dead-fish-flopped-into-the-palm or simian-power-squeeze, you’re fine. Smiling and making eye contact are basic, but worth practising – for the other stuff, it’s a good idea to ask yourself what sort of image you’re trying to present.
Step 4: Hit the launch button
It’s easy to put off, but getting started and working out the rest as you go can let you build momentum, where otherwise you’ll stall. “Don’t get too hung up on details,” says Simeon de la Torre, owner of branding agency SIM 7. “Yes, you need brand consistency and clear messaging and all that other important stuff, but you cannot control everything all the time. Some things will slip and that’s just part of your brand. Own it. It’s a personal brand, right? So it needs to have some personality. On a related note, don’t try and hide your human ‘quirks’ or perceived weaknesses. If you’re going to make a success of what you’re doing, people are going to get to know you and they will spot them. Be upfront about them, and then move the narrative on to what you do best.” Oh, and if you’re thinking of blowing through your savings for the big relaunch: don’t. “Loads of people think photo content, for instance, needs to be beautifully and professionally shot, and not everyone has the skills or the budget,” says Bambridge. “Create a style that’s yours, and use it consistently, and you’ll build your brand just as well – look at Ugly Drinks for a great example. Instagram stories are much better when they’re off the cuff and you’ve got all creative with gifs. Be real rather than perfect, and go out there and start trying it out. You’ll soon learn what works for you and what doesn’t – the great thing about social media is that you get instant feedback.”
Step 5: Find connections… but be genuine
It’s easy to get into the old LinkedIn connections trap – just mindlessly clicking for hours, watching the numbers pile up – but it’s more worthwhile to connect with a few key voices. “Be part of a community that’s bigger than one,” says Joanna Wilmot, PR Director at The Think Tank, praise other people, celebrate their achievements, and be genuine. And remember: self-praise is no praise at all.” Tweet or email useful or interesting links to new contacts – that way, if you come to them asking for a favour, it won’t come out of the blue. As for collaborations, though: approach with caution: “Everyone else out there doing what you’re doing? They’re your competitors,” says de la Torre. “Yes, it would be lovely to work together on different projects and try out new avenues and share tips and all the rest of it, but it would be even lovelier to be rich or successful or whatever it is that flicks your switch. If you’re going to get to where you want to be, you need to get your elbows out and work on your own. Oh, and you know that ‘rule’ about not following more people than follow you? To quote an old film: that’s just pride messing with you. Get your numbers up in any way you can.”
Step 6: ...And settle in for the grind
It’s going to take a while. “The most important thing to bear in mind at all times is consistency,” says Gareth Bull, founder of Bulldog Digital Media. “It can be easy to get ahead of yourself and experiment with lots of different ideas at once, but I’ve learnt that my personal brand has always seen the greatest success when I focus on regular, repeatable actions. Take LinkedIn, for example. I’ve put time and effort into being consistent on there for the last six months, and the traction my personal brand has generated because of it is incredible. You could make the best content in the world, but if you disappear for three months after publishing it, your brand will get left behind.” There are dozens of apps that offer to auto-post content daily, but making your social efforts a part of your routine will keep your mind on what you’re trying to achieve: “Every day, remind yourself of the image you want to project or the overall message you want people to take away,” says Bambridge. “Posting with purpose should be your mantra. Don’t worry if you have nothing to say one day, skip it and try again when you see something that you really feel like you have to post. Authenticity all the way.” Remember: the next year is going to fly by whatever you do, but by taking charge of your brand now, at least you’ll have something to look back on.
And if it all goes wrong…
Things gone out of control? In need of some reputation management? Time to hit the hard reset. First, get your feeds under control. Start with Facebook’s labyrinthine privacy settings: head to the settings menu and check which apps can access your data. If you haven’t always been squeaky-clean on Twitter, consider a mass cull using TweetDelete.com – you aren’t going to miss them. Do be aware, though, that Google cache will keep everything online for at least a while. Next: bury the bad stuff. ‘When I was a young journalist, I was involved in a piece that I’m not too proud of,’ says de la Torre. ‘Nothing illegal or unethical – just poor taste, and, because it was published in a huge tabloid, it was my name’s top result on Google. So, I spent a couple of months churning out masses of fresh online content – blogs, articles socials, etc. – to ‘bury the evidence’. It worked. Slowly, the offending piece slid down the rankings and it was eventually forgotten. Sometimes, you’ve just got to pick up a spade and dig yourself out of trouble.’ Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose!