Personal Branding: The Work Before the Work

Personal Branding: The Work Before the Work
Rene’ Johnston

Personal Branding is a powerful concept that you can leverage regardless of where you land on the
career spectrum.
Look at familiar brands and logos.  Those globally recognizable, even iconic brands in the world. 
When we see them, we are not only immediately familiar with the company, their products,
and services but they are so strong that we can recall how the product tastes, how much it
might cost, the type of service we might expect, and sometimes, even how that product might
make us feel.  But branding is not limited to products.
Consider some familiar faces.  Let’s start at the top—Oprah Winfrey—now we all know Oprah
right?  We have a pretty good idea that if we were to sit down with Oprah how that
conversation would go.  You and Oprah might have a discussion on philosophy, maybe even
spirituality, but it would be deep and meaningful. Now let’s take another example, Kim
Kardashian.  Now opinions aside, there is no denying a strong brand there.  There is also no
denying that the conversation we had with Kim K would likely be dramatically different than the one
we had with Oprah.  Okay, let’s look at one more—Richard Branson. Now if we sat down with
Richard Branson, we would expect to have a conversation regarding the importance of
providing exceptional customer service, building a strong organizational culture, and possibly
giving back.  These messages are not haphazard or accidental.  The values, and qualities we
associate with the people –didn’t just happen they have been crafted, honed, and intentionally
So what does it mean to build a personal brand?
“It’s more than a trademark; it is how you present yourself online and offline to potential
clients and customers. Your personal brand builds your business but still centers around you as
an individual.”  Laura Lake, The Balance

There are many definitions of “personal brand” out here.  I selected to share this one because I
think it really captures the concept and as I mentioned, this topic is important regardless of
whether you are a business owner or an employee because it focuses on the individual. The
concept of building a personal brand focuses on developing an understanding of who you are
and sharing it with the world.
Here I share a 5-step process for building a strong and successful personal
brand. There is a great deal of information available supporting each of these steps. This is
designed to offer a framework and give you something on which to build. 

Step 1—Understand Yourself
Your core values, passions, and purpose—What are yours? Give that some thought if you are
the business owner, you may have previously drafted a mission or vision statement.  This
reflection gives you a great opportunity to review that statement and make sure it accurately
reflects your passions, values, and purpose.  Perhaps it needs to be updated?  Perhaps
reviewing it serves as a powerful reminder of why you built this business, to begin with.  If you
are an employee, review the organization’s mission statement and determine where the
company’s values align with your own.  They may not be a direct match but should at the very
least not conflict.  As an employee, you want to be sure you are part of an organization in which
you share and support some common values. 

Strengths and challenges—What are you great at?  Where could you use some help? 
Sometimes admitting shortcomings can be difficult.  Often the solution to correcting or
compensating for shortcomings involves first recognizing them—followed by parting with some
cash and control—which involves risk, so we often shy away.  Ask yourself the question what
risk is involved in continuing to do something myself at which I am not great? What is the cost
of the missed opportunity because I won’t let it go? 

Authentic evaluation –This step is really about self-awareness.  One of the most attractive
qualities a person can have is self-awareness.  Often times we try to create and display a
version of ourselves that is less than authentic.  Often, we put out there what we think people
expect of us. Maybe the idea of being honest makes us feel too vulnerable, so we hide under a
layer of falseness.  This is destructive for several reasons—first of all, it is just wrong.  Secondly,
people with eventually see through it.  And finally, it would be exhausting to keep up the
charade.  People that are honest with themselves about their strengths and weaknesses just
seem to navigate business much more easily.  Focusing energy on their core competencies and
delegating and outsourcing where they need the support. Ultimately, this step involves an
authentic evaluation of who you are, producing an honest reflection of who you are. 

Step 2—Be a Student of Your Industry
Part of being a student of your industry is understanding your place in that industry.  What sets
you apart?  What do you do better than anyone else? What makes you unique?  What is your
Unique Selling Proposition? If you are struggling with his one, and sometimes we do have
difficulties patting ourselves on the back—think back to the feedback you have received from customers or peers.  Have they told you how impressed they were with your turnaround time
or your creative solutions?  It should come to you—it is what lights you up, it’s why you got into
this line of work in the first place. 

We are also living in a time of unprecedented change.  So it is more important than ever to stay current in our industry and take a progressive approach to our businesses. Value and actively invest in ongoing growth and education. Personal brands differ greatly but sometimes most of with aspire to is to be seen by our clients as highly competent and an expert in our field.  So again, we are looking at an investment of time and resources but whether you read articles or attend workshops or conferences, this will serve to keep you motivated, on the cutting edge, and give you the edge in business.

Step 3—Be a Student of Life
Okay, now this step might sound a little grandiose but what were are talking about here is
building relationships.  A critical skill set. No one is going to bother to try and understand our
personal brand unless we connect with them on some level.  We have to be willing and open
and put the energy into connecting.  Connecting can be as simple as expressing an authentic
interest in another person.  In business, this is a beautiful thing because expressing an authentic
interest in our customer’s or client’s needs often leads to a discussion about how we can meet
those needs.  People want to do business with people.

Step 4—Embrace Quality
If we have taken the time to build relationships, you then want to maintain those relationships
by embracing quality.  When I talk about offering a quality product, I don’t mean it has to be
the top of the line.  Perhaps you sell sofas that retail for $699 rather than $6999.  Embracing
quality means clearly communicating the value of the product or service you offer and ensuring
that it is a value match with your customer.  In addition, it is always a brand building to take the
opportunity to go above and beyond and exceed customer expectations whether possible. 

In my opinion, the concept of quality also involves the aspect of following through.  Don’t we love
the “follow-through” people in our lives?  Those people that when we ask them to handle
something, we don’t; think twice about it?  We know it will be handled correctly and we can go
about our day focusing on other things.  Be that follow-through person to your customers.  This
also pertains to internal customers. Are you a follow-through person to your co-worker or
employees? Your word is powerful. Following through and keeping your word is unfortunately not
commonplace anymore, so it is a great strategy to set yourself apart. And it is just the right thing
to do.

Step 5 Communicating Your Brand
Okay, you have done all of this work understanding yourself, your industry, building
relationships, and embracing quality—now we want to share it.  Be visible, be memorable. 
Different businesses will demand different strategies all based on your target audience.  But it is
time to get the word out and make an impact.  In communicating our personal brand, you want it to be a consistent message.  In other words, your actions, words, and marketing messages
should be cohesive.  You can use your personal brand as a barometer.  Prior to adapting an
image or posting to social media, placing an ad in the local newspaper, or uploading your blog
to LinkedIn—ask yourself, are each of those pieces of information in alignment with your
personal brand? 

Final Thoughts
As I wrap up, I thought I will share with you some words from someone who knows a bit about
branding—Jeff Bezos (Amazon) Bezos said: “Your brand is what people say about you when
you’re not in the room” What I hope I have shared here are some foundational elements
designed to help build and strengthen your personal brand.  So that when people hear your
name or the name of your company what comes across is that you are knowable, likable, and
trustworthy—in other words, someone they want to do business with.

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