The phrase “personal brand” has become increasingly more important in our lexicon. Whether you are a bootstrapping upstart or a college graduate looking to distinguish yourself in a sea of applicants, developing your personal brand strategy is crucial to your success.
Even as personal brand awareness has become more mainstream, the phrase still holds a certain amount of mystery for most people. We’re all accustomed to hearing about corporate brands — but branding oneself can often be a daunting task.
In working with clients to develop their brand strategy, I hear the same questions asked time and time again:
- Do I really need a personal brand?
- What do I use to define my brand?
- Is this going to cost me a fortune?
- Is this going to be difficult to upkeep?
Let’s tackle these one a time.
The answer to the first one is an emphatic yes. If you plan to conduct any type of business on-line, you have to be willing to invest the time and energy to package yourself effectively. Branding yourself is a necessary activity in order to turn perceptions into profits.
We all know that consumers will conduct business with those whom they know, like and trust. The more effectively you can communicate your brand, the easier it will be for you to build that relationship with potential customers.
In most cases, you already possess the assets that you need in order to begin developing and refining your personal brand. You distinguish yourself with such things as your personality, work ethic, processes, tools, knowledge, and experience — and these factors help you to convey your uniqueness and competitive advantage.
How many times have you heard commercials that tout a company’s “proprietary process?” You can utilize this same concept in your personal brand. By developing your own terminology, procedures, and processes, you begin to differentiate yourself from the competition. Reinforce these differences with repetition — use them in your website, your marketing materials, your social media profiles, and your interactions with clients.
Branding doesn’t have to cost a fortune. There are plenty of steps that you can take that won’t cost you anything except your time. Reformat and repackage tools and content that you already have, and leverage them to showcase your talents and your competitive advantage. Use tools such as articles, white papers, audios, videos, and testimonials to illustrate expertise and to offer social proof. The key to making these tools pay off is the manner in which you employ them…and I’ll get to that in just a moment.
Maintaining your personal brand isn’t a difficult process, but it will require a bit of time and discipline. First, be sure to keep your materials current. If you have a new podcast, get it out there and share it. Keep your social media profiles current — making sure to update not only the content, but also your photo. If you often appear at industry events, make sure you post your event or travel schedule. You may find that doing so will lead to opportunities to connect with members of your network that may be attending, or live nearby.
Now that we’ve addressed the biggest objections to getting started, let’s talk about five simple steps you can take today to begin building your personal brand:
Setting up a free Google profile is an excellent way to control information that appears in the Google search results. Your listing will often show up on the first page when your name is entered, and your supplied photo will also appear with the listing. Your listing can include such information as a bio, places you’ve lived, employers, and a list of your website links and social media profiles. It will take you about 15-20 minutes to set up your Google profile, depending upon how much information that you decide to share — but it will pay long term dividends. Take a look at author, speaker and marketing strategist David Meerman Scott’s profile here.
Recently, I took a LinedIn webinar from speaker, trainer and advisor Kevin Knebl. When Kevin speaks about LinkedIn, people listen. Not only does he have a huge LinkedIn network, but he has over 800 recommendations — more than ANY other user on the network. His 90-minute webinar is a distilled version of a much larger presentation that he gives to companies all over the country — and it will leave your head literally spinning with the possibilities. LinkedIn can not only help you make invaluable professional connections, but it can be used for competitive intelligence, job search, and lead generation as well. Among the nuggets shared in his dynamic presentation, Kevin urges users to fully complete their profiles, and list employment going all the way back to your college days.
As detailed on their website, “Quora is a continually improving collection of questions and answers created, edited, and organized by everyone who uses it. The most important thing is to have each question page become the best possible resource for someone who wants to know about the question.” This website offers you the ability to showcase your expertise with warm prospects who are expressly asking for the information you possess. As anyone who has ever cold-called can tell you, it doesn’t get any better than that, folks!
When you set up your profile at Quora, you’ll be asked to specify your areas of interest. This helps the site identify questions you are best suited for. As your network of connections grows, you can also expand your areas of expertise. When you log in, the site notes any relevant questions that you may be interested in, and also suggests that you provide questions for any of your new connections.
Quora is on my radar for a number of reasons. First, there’s the obvious one of being able to submit questions and having them answered by experts. Second, it enables users to showcase their knowledge and potentially gain new business. Quora can also be used for content generation purposes — both on the question and answer side of the equation. Looking for a topic for your next blog post? Head over to Quora and check out some of the most recently-asked questions. Better yet, ask one!
Do you see a pattern among the questions in a specific topic area? Use that knowledge to your advantage, and build a white paper or ebook around it. For those inclined to think much bigger, use Quora as a market research tool to help you develop content for your next book as well. For a great example of someone who’s using Quora well, check out author, consultant and speaker John Jantsch’s profile here.
I often hear folks say that all the best domain names are already taken. I respectfully disagree. When you are in the process of setting up your new website’s domains, there are plenty of elements you can utilize to help you generate a great name. Don’t limit yourself to thinking only of your business name — consider using a keyword-rich phrase that potential customers may be using to find you. Are you a plumber in Houston? If you’re Pickett Plumbing, you could go with the obvious, or you could leverage the local nature of your business and use HoustonPlumber.com. Their website reinforces this brand prominently in the header, and multiple places in their keyword-rich homepage.
You can pick up affordable, recently dropped domain names by subscribing to a newsletter like the one offered from Just Dropped. You can even perform a limited-response search right from their home page. If you are a site developer, it might be cost-effective to purchase an annual membership to a site such as Deleted Domains.
Branded Social Media Hub
A branded social media hub is a central location where browsers can gain immediate information about you, your business, experience, expertise and presence on the social networks. Think of it as a bit of a cross between an on-line resume and a media room — it’s a place where you can show off your design portfolio, link folks to your book on Amazon, provide information about your background, offer copies of your white paper for download, share links to your audios from CinchCast or iTunes, and samples of guest posts you’ve done.
When you set up your social media hub, you’ll want to have an easy to remember URL that you can then use to cross-promote across your other sites, as well as your social media profiles. It could be a keyword-rich domain that helps you to dominate your niche, or it can be something as simple as ConnectWithTraci.com. Regardless of what you choose, the content that resides on that domain is what’s most important.
The concept of developing your personal brand may be one you’ve relegated to the back burner for awhile, but I hope that you won’t leave it there. Gather your text and URLs ahead of time, and put them into a single Notepad or text file for easy cutting and pasting. Collect any images you want to showcase, and drop them onto your desktop. The time you take to do these two steps beforehand will significantly increase your efficiency in setting up these profiles.
With a small time investment and a bit of creativity, you could be well on your way to developing the brand you call “you” in 2011.
About the Author:
Traci Hayner Vanover, aka The Promo Diva®, is a business consultant and coach that specializes in the unique marketing and promotional needs of small businesses, authors and startups. Drawing on over twenty years of Fortune 500 experience in the fields of marketing research and promotion, Traci’s blog, Propabranda, utilizes pop culture and trends to illustrate business concepts and principles, and blends helpful tips and resources with a healthy dose of humor. Traci is the founder and publisher of Everything Small Business Journal. To connect with Traci, visit her on Facebook or Twitter.