Personal branding. As if the very concept of “branding” wasn’t tricky enough, they throw this other concept at you. Isn’t developing your business identity for your web site, business cards, e-mail signatures and voice mail accounts enough?
Even if it weren’t, just what is a personal brand? What makes it different from a regular old brand?
And – scariest of all – why does it have to be so personal? Isn’t just being professional enough?
As someone who’s making his first, tentative steps into the field of freelancing, I can tell you that I know what a struggle all this is, especially when you’re trying to do everything on a shoestring. It’s tempting to put it off until later.
But I reckon that working to identify your personal brand is one of the things you really need to tackle first, because it’s going to help the people you want to do business with realise just why they ought to do business with you.
Let me start off with some good news:
A personal brand is nothing new.
We know brands as big things. Logos. Icons. Nike’s tick, Qantas’ kangaroo or Apple’s… apple. These have been around for a while. What, then, is this new thing called “your personal brand?”
Here’s the thing, though. It’s not new.
A couple of days ago, my local vet Dr. Dallas McMillan invited me to a pre-work breakfast meeting of a local small business networking group. Dallas, as it turns out, runs his own brand management company, Influential, and he was presenting a fifteen minute talk on what he calls “The Sharable Brand;” in essence, how to ensure you got your brand out on the Internet properly.
During the talk, he explained the very basic concept of “brand” in a simple, yet (for me) eye-opening way:
Your brand is what other people think you do when they’re not looking.
Suddenly, the lightbulb went on. I realised why this personal brand thing isn’t new. We’ve been talking about it for decades, centuries; we just called it “reputation.”
As much as you might try to create and foster it yourself, it ultimately boils down to how others perceive you. And as much as it seems to be about presentation, it’s really about follow-through: What you do between sales pitch, intermediate contacts and product delivery. It’s about how you execute on your promises.
Which means, that when it comes down to it, when we’re thinking about how to present ourselves, we need to ask, “What do we do when no one else is looking?” Or, more to the point, “What do we do when the people we want to work with aren’t looking?”
Take Apple, for example.
There’s a TEDx talk by a gent called Simon Sinek, about what leaders do differently. In it he talks about the why, the how and the what behind everything we do. Apple’s “why,” as he explains, is that the company challenges technology status quos and encourages its people to “think different.”
So when we’re not looking at Apple – when we’re not actively perusing their marketing or visiting an Apple shop – we trust that Apple’s people are doing what they do, looking at technology and thinking, “What’s everyone else doing with this? What’s our way of approaching it, and how can we create something that does this thing in a simple, elegant way?”
Which gives us non-beige-box PCs. iPods. iPhones.
Which means that Apple needs to be hiring people who have that kind of status quo-challenging character. Mavericks. Ratbags. People whom it may even be a pain in the arse to work with (just do a search for some of the horror stories about the late Steve Jobs’ behaviour), but who can’t help it – because they can’t be satisfied with The Way Things Are.
But that’s a big company, even if it had a ratbag like Steve Jobs at the helm. Where does the “personal” in “personal brand” come in?
A personal brand helps you bring your most unique resource to your business.
This didn’t hit in one big lightning-bolt of ideaness; it came together during the hours that followed Dallas’ talk. A few podcasts helped it along, too.
As much as your brand is about how others perceive you, you can still take steps to cultivate a particular kind of reputation. And the best place to start is with that person who you are when other people aren’t looking.
Think about yourself for a minute. How do you fill your all-important “me time”?
- What’s the hobby that you can’t wait to do?
- What books, movies, albums do you wait eagerly for the release dates of?
- Which TV shows can you not wait for on TV (so much so that you’ll download them, you naughty, pirating type, you)?
- What do you write?
- What tickles your funny-bones?
- What do you dream?
Okay, so you’ve got your list. Maybe it’s short, maybe it’s long. Take a look at it and ask yourself:
Can you work these things into your branding?
Actually, let me revise that last: Can you stop resisting these things working their way into your brand?
Do you have the guts to get the hell out of your own way, ditch the thinking about presenting a professional, clean-shaven, sharp-dressed, suit-and-tie front to our businesses and just let your real self permeate your persona?
A personal brand… WORKS.
If you’re worried that you’ll look silly, weird and/or freakish – or, more to the point, that you’ll crash your business before it even starts by looking unprofessional, I direct you to the blog of my guest for Episode 15 of the Paid to Play Podcast.
There’s Kelly Gurnett in all her panda-hatted glory, the same panda hat she’s worn since starting Cordelia Calls It Quits a couple of years ago, and guess what?
Then there’s Catherine Caine of Cash and Joy (Paid to Play, Episode 20) who is never anything less than her unique, crazy self in everything she does. She’s silly. She doesn’t drop the F-bomb, she carpet F-bombs; there’s at least one in every blog post, every update. When she talks sex and sales pages, Catherine
enlarges extends the metaphor to positions, vibrators and orgasms.
And she’s got a full-time business helping people find their best businesses.
If that’s still not enough, I’d like to direct you to episode 129 of the Small Business Big Marketing podcast, wherein host and marketing guru Tim Reid (Paid to Play, Episode 25) speaks with Peita Dimantidis, the owner / manager of Caboodle Financial Services. Peita talks about how she changed her entire marketing approach for her firm, even down to its very name (which was formerly the dramatic and tough-sounding Delta Plan), and as you listen you can’t help but feel that the whole exercise let Peita and her people be more themselves and have more fun doing what they do than they did before.
Not only that, it’s drawn them more of the kind of people they like to work with: Not the folks who treat their finances with the utmost seriousness and expect their accountants to be utterly professional, but those folks who find the idea of dealing with numbers intimidating, frightening, and want someone who’ll help take away not just the complexities but also the fear.
Just go to their website. If you’re not the most numbers-minded person around, doesn’t that make you want to get in touch, just to get a hit of their energy and enthusiasm (and sense of fun)?
Make your personal brand about the you that you can’t not be.
Bringing as much of your self into your personal branding as possible will help you not only get business, but more importantly, it’ll help the people with whom you’ll find the most joy in working with, the people you’ll truly give a shit about. The more you can share about yourself, the more likely you’ll find those people you have something in common with.
In his TEDx talk, Scott Dinsmore talked about the work that we can’t not do. Maybe when we sit down to think “branding,” we need to first ask ourselves:
Who is the person I can’t not be?
Are you curious?
So just who are you when people aren’t watching you?
How can you reflect that in how you present yourself, online or off?