A Recipe for Building a Successful Personal Brand From Scratch

Nancy Anderson
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A personal brand is essential for modern professionals in all industries; it guides the way you market yourself to employers, business contacts and clients. Although building a brand from scratch can feel challenging, it is actually an advantage ā€” it gives you complete freedom to shape your professional image. By taking your cues from time-honored business branding, you can develop a powerful brand that supports your career goals.

1. Identify the Endgame

A personal brand is nothing without a purpose. Before you do anything else, decide what you want the brand to achieve. Write down your short-term and long-term career goals. Identify your dream jobs and dream companies. Research the experience and education you need to reach each milestone. This information should guide each step of the brand-development process.

2. Understand Your Target Audience

Consider the people on the receiving end of your personal marketing efforts, such as your boss, future employers and potential collaborators. Examine your list of goals, and identify the people in power; add them to the target audience. Figure out what is important to each person or category of people. What experience do they look for in an employee? What are their primary concerns at work? What kind of people do they want to hire? These details can help you choose the key elements of your personal brand. If your ultimate goal is to be a marketing executive, for example, your audience must see you as someone who is both creative and business-minded.

3. Study Your "Competitors"

Analyze the way your industry peers brand themselves, and identify their weaknesses, both in terms of experience and their personal marketing strategies. Then, find ways to do better in your own brand. If your peers have overly informal Twitter accounts, for instance, make a note to create smart, thoughtful tweets. If others your age tend to have less experience in a key area, remember to emphasize your expertise. Then, look at people in the jobs you hope to hold. Examine their social media pages, blogs, company profiles and news mentions. Look for the things that elicit a positive response from important people in the industry.

4. Define Your Brand

Based on your research, define the things that set you apart from the crowd. Do not focus on the experience and skills that are expected from everyone at your level. Instead, find the things that make you different. What can you do better than your peers? Why are you a better hire? What unusual skills do you bring to the table? Brainstorm a list of everything that comes to mind. Then, pare the list down to the key points that are most relevant to your goals; these are the main elements of your brand.

5. Create a Story

Write an answer to the question, "What do you do?" Integrate the key points that you identified in the previous step. Don't edit yourself at this point; simply write a paragraph or two. Then, polish the text until it sounds articulate and professional. This text is your brand narrative: it explains who you are, where you're going and what you have to offer. You can use all or part of it on your website, social media profiles and other marketing materials. Finally, narrow down your longer story into a short, one- to two-sentence elevator pitch that you're able to say in 30 seconds or less. This statement, which is most useful for in-person communication, should summarize your brand.

6. Create Marketing Materials

Build a professional website that showcases your work and your brand story. Create social media profiles for professional use; choose only the services that are heavily utilized by people in your industry. Optimize each page with keywords that relate to your brand to make it easier for potential connections to find you. If you don't have connections, print business cards to hand out at networking events. Use the same colors, fonts and image styles across each item to create a unified visual brand identity.

7. Communicate Your Brand

With all of the elements in place, your brand is ready to be broadcast to the world. Share links to relevant articles on your social media profiles. Write guest blog posts for popular industry websites or your company's blog. Most importantly, take actions that support your brand. If you're branding yourself as an eco-friendly engineer, for instance, start volunteering for local environmental groups. Likewise, if you want to become an art director, ask for more project management experience at work. Over time, each small action you take should add up to support your overall brand.

Whether you're just starting out in the professional world or you want to reinvent yourself, a personal brand is a valuable asset. With a thoughtful, gradual development process, you can create an effective, memorable brand.

Photo Courtesy of everydayplus at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Terry thanks for your comment. So very true, too. Maybe we don't stop and think about it enough but we are always crafting stories - even when we apply for a job or are at an interview. Think about it. When you go on an interview, what is the first question that the hiring manager will ask? Ahh yes - the "tell me about yourself" question. What is the best way to tell about yourself - craft a story. Can't tell you the number of times I have been on an interview and struggle to really answer the tell me about yourself question. If you haven't prepared, game over.

  • Terry Lutz
    Terry Lutz

    I like the points you bring up in numbers four and five. I feel like the key to successfully branding yourself is starting with your strengths and what differentiates you from others around you. Taking these points and crafting them into your personal story is really what sets your personal brand up for success and keeps it from feeling contrived.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks again for the comment. @Tara I also love the idea of creating a story as part of my overall branding. @Lorri I, too, am in the same boat whereas I have a very diverse background including a career in the Navy as well as work in manufacturing, finance, banking, legal, EDI, hospitality and the list goes on. I think that the best way is just to pick one of those categories that interests me the most and is the area where I am searching for a job. Like Administrative Assistant would be for you. Just concentrate on that for your personal branding and see how it goes. Then you can modify your branding as time goes on so that you are displaying the real you today.

  • Lorri Cotton
    Lorri Cotton

    Branding myself is my greatest challenge. I have been an administrative assistant, a postal worker, a cryptographer in the US Navy, a firefighter and a registered nurse. I know that the administrative assistant work is what I need to focus on and promote, but those other jobs also imparted to me a very unusual skill-set. How do I incorporate those jobs into an administrative assistant brand?

  • Hema Zahid
    Hema Zahid

    I tend to change my pictures on social media quite often which makes it difficult to brand myself on the platforms I use for networking. Branding is very important though, and this article really drives that point home. Iā€™m going to work on creating uniform cover images for my social media accounts so I can still have the flexibility of changing my profile image without compromising my online brand.

  • Tara Avery
    Tara Avery

    Perhaps it's just my background as a writer talking, but I absolutely love the suggestion to Create a Story as part of the overall branding experience. I've never heard it put quite that way, but it makes so much sense. If a business/freelancer/etc has a story, it's so much more likely that will stick in the mind of potential clients. Fantastic ideas in this article, thank you!

  • CATHERINE S.
    CATHERINE S.

    I have never really considered myself a "brand", but in today's job market, we have to do everything possible to stand out in the crowd. I liked the advice on creating a personalized story for yourself and your journey. Even though the timeline of my career hasn't been perfect, through branding I can demonstrate to employers that my unique education and employment experiences make me a valuable candidate. Another good tip from this article is that social media profiles can be a valuable asset if we use them right.

  • Jacqueline Parks
    Jacqueline Parks

    Focusing on what I have to offer that makes me different than everyone else is a great idea. I am wondering how I can extend that concept to creating a cohesive personal brand that extends to the different types of positions I seek. I am going to try focusing on personality traits and seeing how I can interpret them as useful skills and qualities that employers want. Now, I'm thinking about making some advertising copy just for my own use to remind myself of my personal selling points. Thanks for all the ideas.

  • Jay Bowyer
    Jay Bowyer

    So many people think about "branding" as something only big companies have access to. When I started to think of myself as a brand as well, I became much more focused and able to sell my skills to potential employers. These seven tips are great, and certainly form a basis for successful brand creation.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. Yes, our world is changing - rapidly and, as job seekers, we have to keep up with what is going on. Personal branding is more important today than ever. And utilizing that personal brand, across all of our social media accounts as well as in our job seeking, seems to be the way to go. @Sylvia I see that even today. I can look at a person's resume and see their date of birth, height, weight, hair color and so on. Most of those applications are from those outside of the United States but I have seen it in the US as well. Unbelievable and then they are the first to complain when their identity is stolen. We have to use common sense when doing anything on social media. As a job seeker we become salesmen - selling ourselves. We are the commodity and one of the best ways to sell ourselves is by telling our story. If we were selling a product we wouldn't think twice about telling the story of the company or the product so why should we be any different when it comes to selling ourselves. @Katharine we should always have a plan - just like a company does. They will typically have a five year plan and we should do the same. It can't hurt and it's a good way to keep us on track. Since it's our plan, we can modify it on the fly and get right back on track.

  • William Browning
    William Browning

    I like how this version of a personal brand combines all three elements of a personality. You need a Web presence, business cards or paper literature for networking events, and then you can memorize a short blurb about your company when you speak to people. That's well-rounded and covers most of the types of communication available to solopreneurs and employees.

  • Sylvia L.
    Sylvia L.

    The importance of recognizing your audience can't be stated enough. As a former hiring manager, I was baffled by the people who either would misspell my name, completely omit my name, or write as though they were applying for a dating site. When applying for employment, please know that unless it is an acting or modeling (or similar) job, the hiring manager doesn't need (want?) to know your weight, height and/or breast size. Unbelievable how many people, especially women, include that info.

  • Jacob T.
    Jacob T.

    As somebody with a lot experience in sales and marketing, it is fantastic to see the principles we typically apply to generating interesting a service or product used to create awareness of people. People who are willing to invest the time in themselves to have a strong plan, even with a developed personal brand, are already a step or two ahead in the job market.

  • Katharine M.
    Katharine M.

    The first item on the list, "Identify the Endgame," reminds me of Stephen Covey's advice in "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People": "begin with the end in mind." Makes a lot of sense and I wish I had followed this advice more in the past. A lot of people I know who went to law school went without knowing what they wanted to do after graduating: not a good idea. It's always better to have a plan.

  • Shannon Philpott
    Shannon Philpott

    The idea of 'Creating a Story' is really innovative and something I wish I had known years ago. Employers want to be engaged and an applicant who can tell a story within a cover letter definitely captures interest. I never thought of our stories as a way to brand, but you've definitely shown that it is a huge part of who we are.

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