Developing your Personal Brand

We want youChatting to my good friend Mark Williams (LinkedIn trainer extraordinaire) the other day, I came to a realisation – all the work I’ve been doing over the last couple of years to develop my business can be categorised under one umbrella term: Personal Branding. It’s a term I came across again recently in a fascinating article (Fast Company Magazine) by one of the giants of business guruism, Tom Peters.  Now 67 years of age, the former McKinsey man and author of ‘In Search of Excellence’ talks about the concept of Brand ‘YOU’, a lesson to be taken from big business by all of us, whether employee or business owner.

I’ve included the link to the piece below, but as it’s several pages long I’ve taken the liberty of summarising the main thrust. As a concept it’s very much at the forefront of modern marketing, particularly in the age of on-line social media. But the Peters article actually pre-dates the likes of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube. Published in August 1997, it’s as valid today as it was then, underlining Peters’ reputation as a visionary business thinker.

So what is Brand YOU?

Essentially, Peters’ message is that whether you run a company or work in one, you’ve got to get noticed as a person and start marketing yourself as if you were a brand. And of course as a brand, that means your audience knows what you personally represent, what beliefs you have and what value you bring to others. In his view, you have to think of yourself as your own CEO…of Me Inc!

Whether you’re an employee or an owner-manager, you’re operating in a crowded market and you can’t afford to be anonymous. You have to get noticed, but you’ve got be aware of A) what message you wish to put out there, and B) how to become visible using intelligent self-promotion. And unlike big brand corporations, most of us have to do this with little or no budget.

Let’s deal with the message first. What do you want to be known for? Well, for a start you want to be seen as an expert in your particular field, but it’s got to be something that brings value to people. Remember, there’s lots of suppliers out there, so you have to develop trust and a reputation for creating tangible value – that’s what makes people want to keep coming back to you. Your brand is the promise of the value you create.

Peters suggests we ask ourselves a key question – what is it about my product or service that makes it different? It’s the question brand managers in huge companies ask themselves. And if YOU’RE not excited about it, why should anyone else be? This is so important when delivering your elevator pitch – both the script AND the way you put it across. Some people just don’t sound enthused by what they do. And that pitch is every bit as important in an interview as it is on the networking circuit.

These questions are key to establishing what our personal brand is. It’s about what others would say about us. What would they say is our greatest strength or trait? What’s distinctive or remarkable about what we do, and how we do it?

Is it your speed of service, the way you identify cost savings, your creativity, the way you get the best out of fellow team members, complete projects on time and on budget, raise morale, anticipate problems before they arise and fashion solutions?

Note that these are examples that span both the self employed AND employed arenas. As an employee, a strong personal brand might get you promoted OR discounted for redundancy – you’ve made yourself indispensable. And of course it’s true that many buying decisions are made on the basis of personal relationships, rather than faith in a corporate brand. Indeed, the corporate brand IS the individual in the eyes of the buyer.

On line personal branding

Now developing your brand might seem tough with no budget. But there’s some good news – it doesn’t have to cost anything!

The growth of the internet, Web 2.0 (the self-publishing blogosphere) has been a truly levelling force. It’s enabled us to punch above our weight, to reach people in a way never previously possible. Anyone can set up a simple web site, write a blog, post a YouTube clip or publish articles on line.

Only this morning, there was a piece on Radio 4 which included expert commentary on an economics story from a blogger. Not a professional journalist with a JOB – a self-publishing blogger probably operating from a bedroom!

On-line platforms abound, and LinkedIn for one provides a free opportunity to develop and communicate brand YOU to a worldwide business audience.

Non-technological methods

But there are countless other more conventional methods. As an employee you could contribute to the company newsletter, start a social group, offer to chair a meeting or mentor a new member of staff.

As a business owner, you could get on a panel, run some seminars, publish articles, make presentations or form a networking group. All these initiatives help you get credit for being an expert, but you’re also perceived as a pro-active member of the business community.

Your brand should also be about HOW you do things. Perhaps it’s your writing style or the way you come across? Maybe you’re just really helpful or a ‘knower of things’. Become known as a connector and nurture your network through media like LinkedIn. In this way you develop what Peters terms ‘influence power’. It’s not power that’s judged by the size of your office or the value of your company car. It’s power that comes from being talked about in positive terms by decision-makers.

A real example

An example from my own experience – I recently volunteered my services to run a Speakeasy workshop at the forthcoming International Women’s Day (IWD) celebrations on 8th March in Manchester. Speakeasy is a new product of mine, a networking group who meet to improve their presentation and public speaking skills. I’m told by the organiser Claire-Marie Boggiano that loads of people are talking about the Speakeasy concept at IWD, and I’m delighted it’s attracted such attention.

The power of Projects

The role Claire-Marie is playing in organising this huge event (500 people expected at Gorton Monastery) sits well with one of Peters’ other core themes, namely the power of developing your personal brand through PROJECTS. They enable you to show what you can do. They “exist around deliverables, they create measurables and they leave you with braggables!”

I really believe this personal branding message that Peters espouses is CRITICAL to our success in the modern world of work. It’s as relevant to employees as it is for entrepreneurs. And the wonderful thing is that it’s virtually free and therefore an empowering concept.

As the great man says, start now or else!

To read the full piece by Tom Peters, click here.

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