The Epic Post on How to Create Your Personal Branding


While most of us spend our day jobs building the brands of the companies we serve, we also have a personal brand of our own—whether we pay attention to it or not. This post starts from scratch to cover everything from how to win at search, crafting a tagline, deciding what to feature, to identifying personal messaging.

It doesn’t matter if you are freelancer, solopreneur or serve as part of a larger firm, you can create big impact by building your personal brand.

What is your personal brand?

A personal brand is the image people associate with you. While celebrities and starchitects have crafted personal images for years, the digital world has made it more essential for each of us to craft our own.

Why?

Because pragmatically, our personal brands are whatever a Google search turns up.

Want to know your current “brand”? Google yourself.

Open an incognito window in your browser [CTRL + SHIFT + n] so that the results aren’t colored by your location and browsing history.

What came up in the search for your own name? Was there anything about you on the front page of the search listing? Did you show up in the images? Does a celebrity own your name eclipsing you from the search entirely?

What would someone who didn’t know you think about you based on what they found?

What if you could shape that?

Improve how you show up in a Google Search (4 quick fixes)

If our personal brand is determined by what shows up when people search for us, then we need to do everything we can to influence it. Here are four quick-fix ways to improve what shows up when someone searches your name.

1. Control Your Headshot.

One of the most immediate influences you can have on your personal brand is to get a single great headshot (or 3-4 related headshots) that captures the image you want to communicate and use it everywhere—for every social media platform you have a profile on, for your website, whenever you have to submit a headshot professionally.

Ideally, you would get this taken professionally, but with some good lighting on your face, you can often get something that works from a smartphone.

When crafting your headshot:

  • Consider the mood of your clothing, hairstyle or any accessories you wear.
  • Consider your expression—is it warm and friendly, cool and serious, whimsical?
  • Consider the backdrop—what associations does it have?
  • Consider what the overall shot communicates to someone who has never met you before.

In order to have the image come up in search, it matters what you name the file. By consistently using firstname-lastname.jpg (or png, or tiff), you improve your chances of having your image come up in organic search. After all, search bots don’t look for images. They see names of files.


2. Buy your name domain and put something on it.

In a perfect world, you would be able to get firstnamelastname.com. But the world isn’t perfect. You may have to settle for .me, .net or any other list of extensions. Search engines prioritize keywords in domain names because typically it means the whole domain is about that topic.

You can purchase your domain through a service like GoDaddy, Google Domains, Host Gator, SquareSpace or another service.

Then, because this is a “quick fix” exercise, you can start with a one-page website. Wordpress, Blogger, SquareSpace, Wix and a few other services are easy-to-use ways to launch your site.

Here are some ideas for great one page websites:

Strong header image with a paragraph linking to the clients or projects you’ve worked with: vikramgandhi.com
Powerful statement, personal image and a list of current and previous projects. http://www.erondu.com/
Your name and a single paragraph with no images: http://jasonbriscoe.com/
Simple and unexpected (use scrollbar to see full design) http://baddesigner.by/
Lighthearted illustration http://redrussak.com/
Large image, call to action and a CV https://rafaelderolez.be/
Custom header, a headshot and some bullet points http://www.cathyhutchison.net/


3. Maximize your LinkedIn profile

Because LinkedIn is such a linked-to site, it will often be the first site that comes up when someone searches for your name. Build out your profile and grab your custom URL so that your name is prioritized. For more advice on how to maximize your LinkedIn profile, sign up for 8 Ways to Maximize Your LinkedIn profile to get a Job You Love.


4. Do something with your Google+ profile.

I know that you probably aren’t using Google+ as your dominant social media profile, but it doesn’t hurt to create your profile since there is a good chance your favorite search engine thinks it is important.


Craft Your Tagline

Most strong brands have memorable taglines that captures the essence of who they are:

  • Apple. Think Different.
  • L’Oreal. Because you are worth it.
  • BMW. The Ultimate Driving Machine.
  • De Beers. A diamond is forever.
  • Lays. Betcha can’t eat just one.

But they also spent a lot of money with agencies crafting those memorable taglines. If you can’t think of a phrase that embodies who you are, you aren’t alone. Luckily, there’s an exercise that can help. The 3 Word Exercise.

You can craft a “for now” tagline based on three words that help communicate what you want people to know about you.

Scan the lists below to see if you can find 3 words that might work well on a social media profile to communicate either who you are or what you do. They can all come from the same list or different lists to craft a 3-word descriptor. (This isn’t an exhaustive list, but is intended to help get you started.)

Skill-Based

Accounting, Aerospace, Analytics, Agriculture, Architecture, Brand, Business Development, Client Experience, Communication, Computer, Connection, Construction, Content Creation, Creative, CRM, Design, Digital, Education, Emotionally-Intelligence, Engineering, Event Planning, Financial, Graphic, Healthcare, Illustration, Influence, Information, Language, Management, Manufacturing, Mechanics, Medical, Ministry, Operations, Photography, Productivity, Programming, Promotions, Proposal, Public Relations, Publishing, Pursuit, Revenue-Generation, Programming, Repair, Research, Sales, SEO, Social Media, Software, Team-Building, Technology, Transportation, Troubleshooting, Visualization, Web Development, Writing


Attribute Based

Accurate, Achiever, Adaptable, Adventurous, Analytical, Aspiring, Athletic, Big-Picture, Candid, Caring, Cheerful, Confident, Connected, Consistent, Cooperative, Courageous, Creative, Delightful, Devoted, Direct, Disciplined, Dynamic, Empathic, Energetic, Enthusiastic, Flexible, Focused, Friendly, Funny, Futuristic, Generous, Gregarious, Hard-Working, Harmonious, Helpful, Honest, Hopeful, Imaginative, Inclusive, Individual, Insightful, Intellectual, Interesting, Intuitive, Involved, Joyful, Kind, Loyal, Mature, Motivated, Objective, Observant, Optimistic, Organized, Patient, Perceptive, Persistent, Personable, Positive, Practical, Professional, Quirky, Realistic, Reliable, Resourceful, Responsible, Self-Assured, Strong, Strategic, Systematic, Tenacious, Tough, Trustworthy, Truthful, Upbeat, Vibrant, Warm, Wise


Persona-Based

Actor, Adept, Administrator, Advisor, Advocate, Agent, Analyst, Artist, Associate, Attorney, Blogger, Catalyst, Cheerleader, Chef, Commander, Consultant, Curator, Creator, Designer, Director, Entertainer, Entrepreneur, Evangelist, Executive, Expert, Extrovert, Facilitator, Farmer, Geek, Genius, Guru, Hacker, Ideator, Introvert, Jedi, Journalist, Leader, Learner, Maker, Maximizer, Negotiator, Orchestrator, Planner, Producer, Programmer, Speaker, Specialist, Storyteller, Strategist, Teacher, Technologist, Trainer

Some examples based on these lists:

Jane Doe
Creative Digital Design

John Doe
Tough & Trustworthy Attorney

Joe Schmo
Medical Operations Geek

Sally Sixpack
Athletic, Motivated, and Disciplined

The most important part of selecting your tagline is to not worry about perfection. Get something that is close, then one day—when you have a moment of brilliance and something pops in your head—you can update it. Everywhere.


Develop your Differentiation

Have you ever gone to a conference where you met a sea of people, only to get back and not remember anyone? Well wait. Anyone except that one woman in the hat. Or that man who was a Navy SEAL. Or the one from your hometown.

While we all have difficulty remembering names, some details are remarkable because they stand out.

Seth Godin is famous for saying, “Be remarkable or be invisible.” In his book, the Purple Cow, he tells the story that no one talks about brown cows. They are common. But if you are driving past and see a purple cow…well, that you might comment on and remember.

Here are some places you can look for personal differentiation:

Physical Characteristics. Consider how both Danny DeVito and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson are known for their stature. Painter, Bob Ross for his afro. Sarah Jessica Parker’s curls. Marilyn Monroe for her bleached blonde hair and mole above the lip. (I didn’t say you had to be born with the characteristics). If you have a physical characteristic that is different from the norm, don’t play it down. Celebrate it and feature it as part of your brand.


Dress and Accessories. Madeline Albright is known for her lapel pins. Michael Jackson for a glove. Prince for the color purple. Elton John and John Lennon for their glasses. The reason they became known for these items is the consistency of use. Even well-branded people who don’t align around a single accessory can often claim a consistent color pallet or style of clothing such as Tilda Swinton’s androgynous neutrals.

Unique History. Jane Goodall is always associated with gorillas. Loretta Lynn was a coal miner’s daughter. Bob Marley embodied Jamaican culture. Jennifer Lopez sang about being “Jenny from the Block.” Sometimes the best place to look for differentiation is in something in our history that defines us.

Personal Quirks. Comedian, Eddie Izzard often has a nod to cross-dressing in his publicity photos. Ellen DeGeneris is always dancing. Miley Cyrus repeatedly sticks her tongue out. Stephen Colbert raises one eyebrow. Quirks can very easily become a trademark.

Hobbies You Are Into. Whether you are obsessed with Bullet Journaling or weekend circus arts, you have the option of wrapping that personal passion into your branding whether it is in the photos that you post, the stories you tell or the descriptors you use on your personal bio.

A niche of people you relate to. Yogis, runners, slam poets, food truck owners and fly fishermen create tribes around their interests. Professionals connect in organizations. You can also have a more serious group you relate to like recovering addicts, survivors of abuse, or people connected by overcoming a disability or disease. There is power in belonging to a tribe and making that part of your personal branding.


Craft a personal message

While differentiation may make you memorable, you have the opportunity for people to associate that memory with a message. You can pick a signature issue—but it has to be authentic to who you really are in order for it to ring true as a personal message.

Look for your personal messaging in:

What you are committed to. Kenneth G. Williams became America’s first vegan bodybuilding champion and Alicia Silverstone also aligned her brand to animal rights. Rapper, Common seeks to empower underprivileged youth to be strong citizens, and Patricia Arquette is focused on equal pay for women as evidenced in her Oscar acceptance speech.

Pain you’ve overcome. Three-foot-tall, Sean Stephenson built a brand around ‘ridding the world of insecurity.’ Monica Lewinsky speaks about the price of shame. Robert Downey Jr, broke the serious drug addiction that kept him from being cast in movies in his younger years.

Challenge that shaped you. Professional surfer Bethany Hamilton-Dirks never hides her missing arm in publicity photos—it is a badge of proof that it is possible to keep doing what you love even after an unthinkable setback.

Way that you help others overcome their challenges. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg (aka. Notorious RGB) broke through glass ceilings at every level of her career inspiring several generations of young women.

Why develop your personal messaging? Because people love stories of possibility and accomplishing good in the world. Besides, we can’t resist a good origin story. We tend to remember them.

If you are having a hard time with this, think back to the stories and ideas you share often that people tend to respond to and connect with. Let that be a clue for where your personal messaging starts.


Work for alignment

The thing about brands is that they are created through consistency. You don’t know the Nike swoosh or “just do it” because you were exposed to it once. You’ve heard that phrase and have seen that swoosh hundreds if not thousands of times.

You will get tired of your photo, tagline, differentiation and message long before it has fully taken hold as a brand.

How to get alignment:
  1. Use the same headshot (or series of closely related headshots) everywhere.
  2. Create a tagline and/or short bio for yourself and use it on every profile you ever create online.
  3. Develop your differentiators and make them part of every image of you.
  4. Decide on your messaging and post around it frequently. Bonus points if you boil it down to a phrase and it either becomes your tagline or shows up in your bio.
  5. Make sure that whatever you post to yourname.com captures your image, tagline, differentiators and messaging.

Examples of normal people with strong personal branding

While it is easy to identify the personal branding of celebrities, to be fair, most of them have stylists and publicists who help. The best examples of “normal” people who are rocking personal branding are the podcasters, bloggers, and new media gurus.

Here are some examples:
  • Seth Godin – note the bold glasses, consistent color pallet and fun expressions
  • Kris Carr – note the natural settings, pink swatch in hair and consistent color pallet
  • Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus (The Minimalists) – the brand embodies the message
  • Jeff Sanders – note the consistent tagline, message and images
  • Drew Canole– note the consistency of personal image and a brand aligned around vibrancy
  • Kara Benz (aka BohoBerry) – note the consistent color pallet and the simple tagline "get inspired."

Inspired to upgrade your personal brand? Get started!

Actually implementing your personal brand is the place where many of us get stuck in “paralysis by analysis.” The beauty of the digital world—however—is that you can do this incrementally. Best of all, getting started is easy.

  1. Sit down with a piece of paper and write down some ideas.
  2. Test drive the ones you like.

The thing about personal branding is that it doesn’t have to stay static. You can shift it over time.

And the best part? If you try something you decide you don’t like, changing it is only a click away.


So what's the point of all of this? Why do we need to shape our personal brand? 

Because if you don't.  Someone else will do it for you. You are at the mercy of the search engines.

Owning your own image gives you more control over the impressions that people see and consequently, the opportunities that will come to you in your career.

  • Your personal brand can make you attractive to potential employers. 
  • Your personal brand can make you known in an industry. 
  • Your personal brand can make you a better business developer. 
  • Your personal brand can shape how much clients will pay for your services. 

So what are you waiting for? Upgrade your personal brand.

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