Personal branding is a hot topic. In the last 10 years we’ve seen a steady growth in the subject, and the number of self-proclaimed personal branding experts and strategists is continuing to multiply.
Soon there’ll be more people offering opinions about personal branding than there are hipster guys with moustaches making coffee.
This is both a good and a bad thing.
The workplace is changing rapidly, which means in 5 years’ time people who don’t adapt with the times will find the job search market a thorny, unfamiliar and unfriendly place.
Personal branding is one of the solutions to the problem because it allows professionals to navigate the changes successfully and position themselves as candidates of choice.
Since there's no professional standard required to become a personal branding practitioner, anyone can start offering you advice. Not all of it is useful and a lot of it is harmful.
The rise of personal branding "experts" reminds me of the explosion of life coaches in the late 1990’s. While there were many practitioners who genuinely helped people, the profession also became a refuge for those who didn’t have their own life in order, yet were eager to tell other people how to live their lives.
The Cost Of Getting Your Personal Brand “Wrong” Is High.
Personal branding will be an essential ingredient in the career of tomorrow’s successful professional - especially if you’re aiming for a management or an executive role.
A misguided strategy could tarnish your reputation, wiping years of your hard work.
Because of that, I suggest that you hold all personal branding advice you see online to the highest level of scrutiny.
You wouldn’t investigate a pain by cutting yourself open with a scalpel, just because an online “medical expert” told you to. So why would you “operate” on one of the cornerstones of your career’s future without thinking twice?
Take Personal Branding Advice With A Grain Of Salt (Including Mine).
Use your wits to evaluate merits of each argument. Lean on the side of skepticism rather than acceptance.
The personal branding industry is very much in experimental mode, which means there are few established standards or truths - the things you read are just opinions.
Your job is to find an opinion which you find most empowering. Listen to your gut and ignore the bling - if someone has been on TV it means they paid for a publicist, not that they have your best interests in mind.
To ensure that you don’t waste months of your time building a brand which does nothing for you or - worse - damages your career, here are five mistakes I see people making when they start toying with the idea of improving their personal brand.
Let me know your thoughts and if you know of any others, please drop me a line.
1. Personal Branding Is NOT Image Management.
Having a certain “look” can be a part of your personal brand (e.g., Taylor Swift’s red lips, Richard Branson’s aversion to neck ties), however it is the icing on the cake - not the focus. It’s definitely not the starting point.
Personal branding, done properly, defines who you are and what you stand for as a professional. To achieve that, it must begin at the deepest level, by putting under the microscope your:
If your personal branding expert doesn't start there, move on.
2. Personal Branding Is NOT Online Reputation Management.
When people search for you online, do you like what they see?
If you don’t (e.g., you or your company have had some negative press, you have a name-sake who is a criminal), there are companies which can help you manage your online appearance.
Since removing something from Google’s index is nearly impossible, they achieve this by creating a number of Web 2.0 entities (social media accounts, blogs, etc)on your behalf, thus pushing existing “bad” results past the first page (where less than 5% of people ever look).
This process is also often claimed to be personal branding and - as in the point above - it doesn’t go deeply enough. Your personal brand, if it is to add a tangible amount of value to your life and to the lives of people your work touches, must have its origins firmly in your inner world, not the digital one.
3. Personal Branding Is NOT For Everyone.
Personal branding is best suited for people who have a reached a point in their career where they view their job as an opportunity to serve.
Alternatively, they have a yearning to build something they believe in.
At the very least, they have a passion for building and work presents them with a highly enjoyable opportunity to do what they like doing the most - connecting dots in ways that produce results.
(I know these people very well because they are the only people I take on as clients).
Their basic financial needs have mostly been met. More importantly, they have experienced first hand the hollowness of status-seeking pursuits. For them seniority and titles are less badges of their own importance than signs of their responsibility to others. They typically serve - or aspire to serve - in leadership positions.
There’s nothing wrong with having more ego-centric motivations. In the context of personal branding, however a misplaced drive can take you down the path of building a brand to feed your own ego. Which is not the point.
4. Personal Branding CAN’T Be 100% Outsourced.
A friend of mine was starting a business and asked me if I know anyone good web designers. Apart from basic aesthetic input, he said that he wanted the process to be as hands-off as possible.
I explained to him that a website is just a tiny visible tip of the giant iceberg that is a business and it’s impossible to create one without intimately knowing what the business. My message to him was that he’d have to work very closely with designers, developers and copywriters to make this happen; being hands-off would lead to a waste of his money and other people’s time.
The same applies to your personal brand - it’s not something you can order in the same way as you do takeaway dinner. A completely hands-off personal brand won’t work for you because there’ll be no you in it.
You’ll need to work with your personal branding strategist to define the boundaries of your brand and craft a strategy that’s a fit for your career. Expect the person you hire to work with you on your personal brand to know you better than you know yourself.
5. Personal Branding Is NOT Only For Millennials & Digitally Savvy Types.
At its core, a personal brand is other people’s total experience of you. If you don’t define and - most importantly - live what you represent as a professional, you’ll be living other people’s perception of you.
When you take into account that the future workplace will be more mobile, more flexible and more transient, personal branding emerges as the essential, obvious element in the career of a person who takes their career seriously and wants to make a mark on the world.
Think of it as an opportunity which can empower you to create a more remarkable career, not an obstacle that you must take care of.
Irene McConnell runs Arielle Careers, Australia's #1 executive personal branding agency.
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