The term "personal brand" gets tossed around a lot these days. Heather Hamilton, Owner of Whiz Bang Solutions, breaks down what it means and how it can influence your professional brand…for better or for worse.

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Heather Hamilton on Personal Branding

How to Think About Your Personal Brand Like a Marketer

by Heather Hamilton

I have been talking to people about the concept of personal branding for over a decade. When I worked in the recruiting industry, and social media was just starting to become popular, I coached job candidates on representing themselves well online. You know, setting those keg stand photos to private and participating in conversations related to their professional field. When I moved into marketing, I worked with a number of entrepreneurs who needed my help creating an online brand footprint; their personal and professional brands inextricably linked.

It’s in my marketing work that I’ve evaluated the parallels between traditional branding and personal branding. And what has become more and more clear to me, is that the personal branding advice from “experts” that you read online is all wrong, or at the very least, woefully incomplete. It’s no wonder that people view this advice and still struggle to get started on a meaningful plan to develop and manage their personal brand.

The issue I have with all of the “expert” advice is that it focuses on execution, but it fails to connect the recommended tactics with any personal goals. Recommendations like “Google yourself” and “create a complete LinkedIn profile” or “build a website on your own domain” fail to take into account what the person is trying to accomplish and who they need to create relationships with to do so. Developing a strong personal brand shouldn’t be a vanity exercise, it should be a mechanism to help you get the things you want in life; career progression, new customers, and business or romantic partners (yes, I am serious; online dating is just a big personal branding exercise).

So the first step in working on your personal brand is to decide on a set of goals, some may be very specific (like to relocate to a Los Angeles, or book speaking engagements at specific tech conferences) and others may be more general (continued career progression, finding opportunities to give back). Identifying these goals give focus to your personal branding efforts. It also helps you define the audience for your personal brand messaging.  From there, you can make decisions about where you should appear online and what kind of messages to use to build your brand.

Let me give you some examples to illustrate. 

Julie is a software developer at a small company and she wants to take on more responsibility – bigger projects, maybe even manage some people. Those opportunities aren’t available at her current company, so one of the goals she has identified is to find a new position at a bigger company with more opportunity for growth. She’s got a few local companies in mind. She wants to improve her personal brand expression online to attract the attention of recruiters or hiring managers at some of her target companies. Knowing that these are two of her primary audiences, she decides to optimize her LinkedIn profile to attract recruiters, adding the kinds of skill keywords recruiters of software developers and managers for her target companies would likely search on (she can find these skill words in their job descriptions). To get the attention of hiring managers at her desired companies, she decides to increase her contributions on GitHub, with a focus on work in specific technologies these companies are involved in. She evaluates what each of her target audiences is looking for (domain expertise, accuracy, clarity and passion) to engage her in discussions related to a new position and works to demonstrate that she is a great candidate for them to consider.

Jim is a director at a mid-sized consulting firm. He’s interested in public speaking opportunities to increase his visibility in the industry. This will allow him to more easily network with people he could possibly hire, as well as potential clients. So some of the target audiences for his personal branding are employees at conference management companies and industry influencers who are frequently asked to recommend speakers for conferences.  With these audiences in mind, Jim has decided to invest time in blogging. This will allow him to demonstrate his strong communication skills – his ability to simplify complex concepts – and it will give him a platform to share his own unique point of view. He knows that having a unique perspective on existing problems is a quality that conference speakers embody.

As you can see, Julie’s and Jim’s goals have them each focused on different branding activities to attract different audiences. Their goals also influence how they communicate to their target audiences (for Julie, search keywords play an important role, for Jim it’s about presenting a unique point of view).If they were to follow the cookie-cutter personal branding advice they found online, they would be Googling themselves and building personal websites, but to what end?

Of course, really effective personal branding is more complex than I have made it sound. But even small efforts can have an impact. Since there is so much you *could* do to build your personal brand, a focused approach is required. You can’t do it all and most of it won’t matter. Identifying goals and audiences are a great first step in focusing your efforts on building a personal brand that helps you get to where you want to be.

Show Notes

Personal Brand should highlight aspects of who you are that others are interested in

Think of who you want to influence and how you want them to see you and how they will engage with you.  Determine what your goals are and this will lead you to specific actions to take. 

Consider how your personal brand shows up online

For people that are Job Seekers they should consider showing up online, on LinkedIn, technical be on GitHub, use the words that someone would use to find you.  For a broader presence to increase visibility could consider blogging or engaging in your professional community.  Know what is relevant in which mediums and make sure to keep it relevant.

Tips for Personal Brand

  1. Managing Personal Brand

    • Develop & Deliver your Pitch
    • Communicate this in a way that matters to people
    • Practice answering the question of "what do you do?"
  2. Monitoring your personal brand

    • Look at Feedback you got this year
    • Ask new people you have met
    • Schedule an annual check in to monitor this
    • When asking for LinkedIn recommendation you can prompt for certain areas to get feedback
  3. Be clear about the opportunities you are looking for
  4. Be sure you let people know how to contact you
  5. Help others
  6. To be successful on social media engage with others content