What is a personal brand? If you are like me, you feel like your “brand” changes every day (and maybe even multiple times a day). You have your professional self, parenting self, side-hustle self, bestie self, hot mess self (oh, just me?), and so on. I have spent many years of my career showing up one way at work and then creating outlets for the more casual, authentic me who has flaws and scars. While there are many definitions of personal brand on the internet (and they have evolved over time), I want to start by saying something important to you. Ready? Personal brand is NOT about the perfect version of yourself. Say that again. One more time and slowly for the insecure self in the back of your head…she needs to hear it.
In the age of the influencers, social profiles, and the pressures of keeping up, it’s sooo easy to immediately associate personal brand with those amazing humans who have their stuff together in every post and who appear to have the most fantastic life no matter what moment, what room, or on what platform you find them. Raise your hand if you know what I mean. I see you!
When I started my career, personal brand was solely about how I physically showed up at work- my appearance (can you say pantyhose and a Blackberry??), my presence (sound like an expert as a consultant who was fresh out of college…what?), and my performance (my ladder-climbing-self slayed it!). Nowadays, personal brand is far more fluid as it transcends personal and professional boundaries, thanks to our 24/7 digital lives, the pervasiveness of working from home, and the gig economy (side hustles are new avenues for “showing up”).
Ok, so if it’s not about perfection or just how you physically present yourself at work, then what IS personal brand, and why should I care? At the most superficial level, personal brand is how you present yourself and others perceive you. Cynthia Johnson, author and personal brand expert, explains, “Personal branding is about being yourself out loud.”
Personal branding is a non-negotiable; if we don’t tell the story about ourselves, others will. Sure, you may say, “Whatever… I don’t care what people think.” The truth is that we may not want to have to keep up with others or display a veneer of perfection, but we do want others to take us seriously when it comes to the matters of our deepest emotions and dreams. Suppose you are passionate about turning your talents into a revenue-generating activity. In that case, you need others to be aware of your expertise and have confidence in your ability to deliver without you walking around with a neon light above your head. Suppose you are driven to manage a significant project in your career. In that case, you want others’ guts to instinctively know that you are the right person for the job based upon how you show up in your understanding of the work and how you physically represent your leadership style. To reinforce that, entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk shared this wisdom about why you should care in a 2021 article: “Your personal brand is your reputation, and your reputation in perpetuity is the foundation of your career.” (I would argue that we can replace “career” with “career/side hustle/passion project.”) In a nutshell, your personal brand is the subtle marketing you do for yourself every day, consciously or subconsciously.
This is about the time where you are thinking, “Ok, Brandi… so I hear you, but I don’t really know where to start.” Don’t worry… I got you. Here are eight foundational steps to take as you begin curating your personal brand:
1. Know who you are, where you are, and where you want to go. Your brand should reflect your authentic self with a hint of the aspirational version of you. Personal branding is an art, not a science. To help you, open a journal and write down notes on who you believe you are today and how the world sees you. Are you a maker, creator, thinker, leader, analyzer, doer, helper? What is your style? (Laid back? Type A?) How do you communicate? (Formally, informally, potty-mouth?) Observe where you are in your life and on the spectrum of achieving your personal goals. It is also essential to acknowledge and note your responsibilities (aka. the many hats you wear) as they factor into your timeline, energy, and paths to pursue your dreams. After you’ve spent some time journaling about who and where you are today, create a new journal entry to capture your goals and dreams. Don’t limit your thinking to what you believe you are capable of today, but rather those grand visions for all you hope to do, be, become, dream of, etc. As busy adults, we rarely take time to think about our own lives in this way. If you are more creative, create a vision board using tools like Canva, PicMonkey, or even Pinterest to bring those ideas to life and serve as a reminder along your journey. Important note: Be sure to fling open the proverbial doors to all of your identities and bring them together under one brand- the professional version of you, the passion project creator in you, the active parent, the hobbyist, side hustler, etc. This is the time to break the cycle of compartmentalizing our identities for fear of being judged if one shows up in the wrong room.
2. Identify others who inspire you and take notes. Who are your role models, and what can you learn from them? Admittedly, I haven’t always valued role models as examples in my own life. However, in my 40s, I have been a sponge soaking up wisdom from many different sources and learning from some incredible humans that are one (or many) step ahead of me. For example, I follow Marie Forleo, Jenna Kutcher, Rich Litvin, and Adele. They all offer me inspiration around different aspects of my life, and seeing them in my social feeds reminds me of the journey I am on to achieve another level in my life despite obstacles, lack of knowledge, and health setbacks. I also have role models much closer to home (literally and figuratively) in friends, family, and mentors.
3. Package your messyness and scars into your brand. Many of us walk around with a lot of life experiences, some of which are pretty ugly and very defining. However, this doesn’t mean we have to hide our imperfections. Being real about all aspects of who we are allows others to connect with us in ways that extend beyond what we serve up in a more polished manner. This instills trust and removes the burden of having to hide the icky parts of our identity. It also provides life-changing opportunities to share wisdom born out of lessons learned. Gabby Bernstein, former alcoholic and #1 New York Times Bestselling Author, is a fantastic example of how to successfully weave your truths into your brand to inspire others.
4. Own (dare I say flaunt?) your superpowers. Did you ever sit back, reflect on everything you have done, and think, “Damn! I know some stuff!” We don’t do this often enough. Refreshing your personal brand is an excellent opportunity to appreciate and call out what we do really well and what others value in us- the tangibles and intangibles. If you struggle with identifying your superpower(s), ask people around you what they believe your gifts are. We often know our superpower deep down in our gut but feel awkward about owning it due to a lack of confidence, insecurities, and impostor syndrome. You can also find inspiration by taking strength-finders tests like those listed in this article by Positive Psychology. Listen, I am handing out superpower t-shirts, and you’re gonna get one, so what’s it gonna say? It’s sure as heck not going to be blank, ‘cuz you are AH-mazing if you are on this journey! Seriously, owning your talents is a critical piece to pursuing your goals since our inherent gifts are what drive us to achieve things in life and even feel fulfilled while failing.
5. Determine your focus. Once you identify your goals and own your superpowers, determine what you want to be known for more tangibly. Is your focus around non-profit work? Entrepreneurship? Parenting? Accounting? Real Estate? Spirituality? Fitness? Narrowing your focus allows others to recall your name when they are seeking support in an area. You become an expert in their mind. Your focus also becomes one of the themes you weave into your social profiles, professional development objectives, and personal growth plans. More importantly, your focus is what you lean on to achieve your goals and understand what to invest in to get there.
6. Understand the story you are telling. Open up your social profiles, especially LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Google yourself. Read feedback, performance reviews, awards, and articles. What do the results say about you? Does the story they tell align with your goals? Or do we have a clean-up in aisle three? This step is crucial because people will fill in the blanks, piece together, make assumptions, and spin versions of your story if you don’t take the time to craft it for them. Taking that a step further, it’s important to note that many recruiters and human resource professionals will do these same activities as part of the hiring process for you. Yup, it’s true. Whether we like it or not, our stories are more accessible than ever. After you review your profiles and search results, take time to update your profiles with a current photo (consider investing in professional headshots or lifestyle photos), updated activities, and posts that speak to who you are today and a nod to where you are going. Share yourself through interactions with others to let them know you and the brand elements you identified above (i.e., goals, talents, focus). Equally important, be mindful of posting and sharing things that may inhibit progress towards your goals in some way.
7. Invest in yourself. Once you take stock in your personal brand and align it to your goals, you may find areas that could use some bolstering to really reflect the message you want to convey. For example, when I left my corporate role and started my consulting firm, I realized that my education and formal credentials didn’t speak to the type of consultant that I really was with years of experience. So, I invested time in pursuing certificates and joining associations that enhanced my credibility in the areas where I had expertise. As a side benefit, I expanded my network by connecting with many new people in my training classes who now knew me in the light I was moving to with my brand. If formal, professional education is not needed, you may appreciate the wealth of educational resources you can get through YouTube, Coursera, online self-help courses, and networking events. (Tip: local coworking spaces, Chambers of Commerce, and Facebook groups offer great opportunities to network with others, even before membership.) Therapy, coaching, and mentoring are also valuable tools to adjust and improve your mindset and approach to life. Another way to invest in yourself is through your physical appearance. Yes, I said it. It may be time for a wardrobe refresh, a new hairstyle, or a skincare routine. I rotate through all of these and will also throw manicures and pedicures in there. (While I’m obsessed with sweatpants, slippers, baseball hats, and leggings, I like to look more put together when I meet with others or am on camera. It fits my brand and allows me to feel my best.) I also invest in myself through activities that improve my physical appearance and mental health, such as walking, lifting weights, and coaching. I have learned that my personal brand includes aspects of self-pride and self-care that have evolved as I have matured in life.
8. Live your brand. Your personal brand is not a “set it and forget it” thing. Once you establish or refresh your brand, you live it every day. Remember, your brand is based on your authentic self, so it’s not as though you are wearing a costume every day. Sure, some days and in some circles, you have to fancy up a bit or lean in with a particular aspect of your expertise, but living your brand is about embodying all of the attributes that make you YOU in a way that instills confidence and enables progress towards goal achievement. As you live your brand, remember that it’s ok to evolve it. As we move through life, we all grow, and change, so periodic refreshes and tweaks are acceptable and necessary as our goals change and values shift.
Personal branding is an essential tool in our life-potential toolbox. It facilitates reflective thinking and allows us to revisit who we are and what kind of life we want to lead. It’s a tool that can also help get us unstuck when we find ourselves in a rut between opportunities or transition points. What is your personal brand, and how will it enable your dreams?
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All my best and more,
Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash