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Personal(ity) Branding – 5 tips from a newcomer

Standing out in the crowdI know it’s hard to believe, but personal branding did not start with Seth Godin, Dan Schawbel or William Arruda.

According to Wikipedia the concept of personal branding was first introduced in 1937 in the book Think and Grow Rich by Napolean Hill in which he spoke about the “ways and mean of marketing personal services”. It was later discussed in the 1981 book Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind by Al Ries and Jack Trout.  They talked about how one can advance their career by using positioning strategy. Their key point was: “don’t try to do everything yourself. Find a horse to ride”.

Yet, even though the concept has been around since the US was just the “lower 48”, it’s really picked up steam in the last few years. To me, in the simplest of terms it means finding your voice to stand out from the crowd…whatever your reason for wanting to stand out from the crowd may be.

I recently had the good fortune of being able to spend a fair amount of time with Gareth Jones, Craig Fisher, Trish McFarlane, Bill Boorman, Maren Hogan, William Tincup, Matt Charney and others during the combo weekend of the social recruitment event Talent Net Live and SXSW. Partly because of my work with HireMatch.me and partly because I live in Austin. To say I learned a few things from these folks by just being around them and listening, is like saying Grasshopper picked up a few self-defense tricks from Master Po.

These people are the masters when it comes to personal branding, whether or not they call it that. Directly or indirectly, most of them make their living off their brand, themselves. What I found most fascinating was how their actual personalities match what I perceive as their brand.

  • Gareth: feisty, knowledgeable, helpful
  • Craig: fun, crazy knowledge about all kinds of things, helpful
  • Trish: kind, extreme HR knowledge, helpful
  • Bill: crazy (in a good way), knows everyone, knowledgeable, helpful
  • Maren: super smart, wide digital footprint, helpful
  • William: cool as the other side of the pillow, takes it all in, helpful
  • Matt: knows his onions, very savvy, helpful

I mention all these people not to name drop, but to point them out as people who have figured it out and have set great examples about how to do personal branding right…by, I believe, being true to their personalities first and foremost. It struck me that their offline personalities matched their online personal brands pretty much to a “T”.

Like most people, I learned finding your own voice can be difficult. Especially if you are in a situation when you want your opinion and thoughts to be heard, but don’t want to come across as being a Negative Nancy or offend the wrong people. Like when you are looking for a job. You want it to be apparent that you are knowledgeable in your field, but not at the expense of others. At times you need to choose your words carefully, especially in today’s digital world. Think twice before hitting send or submit. Once it’s out there, it isn’t going away very easily.

For me, this is why LinkedIn Groups has lost its appeal. It once was the go-to destination to share your knowledge, connect and learn from others. However, it’s now a cesspool of spam, ads and irrelevant content. Often, even valuable posts turn into squabbling and people using it as a platform to push their wares.

I am by no means an expert in this. I’m learning as I go, but here are some things I suggest:

1) Write – everyone has things to say and there are people who will listen. It’s tough getting started. It’s even tougher to keep at it. Today’s devices make it easier to write when inspiration hits. You can even use apps like Dragon Dictation for voice to text and then copy and paste. I use the Evernote app on my iPhone quite often if the writing mood strikes while mobile.

2) Use your own voice – write like you talk. If you don’t use seven syllable words when speaking to your friends and family, then don’t use them when you write. You won’t sound authentic and sooner or later you will be found out. You’ll lose credibility.

3) Don’t be negative in your responses – inevitably when you start getting out there people will call you out. My advice is to stick to your experiences and what you absolutely know first. Do your homework. Opinions can come later once you gain more knowledge on a subject. When someone challenges you on something simply say that you’ve based your thoughts on your experiences. Opinions can be challenged, experiences most likely cannot. But, admit it if you made a mistake. Always.

4) Read more – the best way to gather knowledge on any subject is, of course, experience. The second best is to read about it. Again, in today’s mobile world there’s no excuse not to read more. You always have a few minutes here and there (I have two kids under age five so I can say this). This is a bit of social media 101, but I like to set up hashtags or mention columns for Twitter using either Hootsuite or Tweetdeck (although Tweetdeck has lost me). This is like a custom filter for the content you want. LinkedIn Today is another great way to keep updated. The Harvard Business Review is my favorite source.

5) Be helpful – if you notice above, when talking about the people I mentioned, the last thing I said is that they are helpful. Knowledge is a given, being helpful makes them different. Being helpful first, then asking for help is the most important thing you can do when making a name for yourself as it makes people remember you. Half the battle is getting people to think of you when a need arises. From an outsiders view, I firmly believe it’s why they all succeed.

Start slow. Dip your toes in. Find out what works for you. Soon you’ll be standing out from the crowd. At least that’s my hope.

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