How to build a personal brand (without looking like a p***k)

Personal branding: feels a bit weird, right?

I remember reading about the idea years ago in a magazine article illustrated with a woman wearing giant Marmite, Persil and Cornflake packages. Or maybe I dreamt that bit. Any-hoo, unless you’re a Kardashian, the whole idea does sound as ludicrous as dressing up as a store cupboard item.

Or maybe it’s not?

Lately I’ve been looking at the ways others seem to get ahead in corporate-land. Unless I am severely deluded, I don’t think it’s because they are significantly more intelligent than me.

I’m coming to the conclusion it’s because they are way better than me at three things: networking; office politics; and blowing their own trumpet.

And if personal branding is anything, it’s blowing your own trumpet. It’s the: “Hey look at me, over here.” *Waves*. “Wearing my a-lluring packaging; telling you who I am and I’m exactly who you need.”

I’m trying to shake the feeling that it’s all so contrived. All some game-player-ee. So bloody self-indulgent.

Maybe this is just fear in disguise?

So I’ve been doing my homework. There’s plenty available online and quite a few books (Jennifer Holloway’s is great one), so I’ll keep it snappy(ish) here:

Personal branding is ‘the practice of people marketing themselves and their careers as brands.’ It’s the ‘ongoing process of establishing an image or impression in the mind of others about an individual’.

All the world is a stage

Goffman’s theory suggests Self Presentation is the identity we create for ourselves based on how we want to be seen by our peers (or managers, or clients). He coined the term Dramaturgy to refer to treating our actions as if an actor in a play.

A bit too theatrical sounding maybe, but it’s all about purposely shaping your image or persona. I guess most of us do this less purposely anyway; there are things most of us say and do at home that we wouldn’t do at work, and vice versa.

Doesn’t seem quite so weird when you look at it like that.

So how do we start developing a personal brand?

Personal branding starts with understanding what makes you unique – your values, drivers, skills and strengths. I used some lists of values that I found online as inspiration and wrote down all the ones that were important to me.

I whittled this down to 20 or so by combining ones that were similar and thinking about whether if the value was crossed off the list, would it feel like a major part of me was missing.

Looking at my list again, some were far less relevant to the ‘work’ me. For example ‘outdoors’ and ‘nature’. So I moved these aside for now.

I then looked at the list again and took out the ones that felt more like drivers than values and added these to my drivers list. Things like success, money, problem-solving, and challenge.

The next step was slightly easier, listing out my skills, strengths and achievements, including qualifications, projects, and awards.

But does this only matter if you have your own business?

Once you have your list of values, drivers and skills/strengths. You can then check these are reflected in your outer image, from the way you dress, your CV, LinkedIn profile, the emails you write, your voicemail message and across social media. After all, will people believe what you say about your cracking attention to detail if your LinkedIn profile is littered with mistakes?

In the  corporate world, these are the things that will help you stand out. They’ll help build your reputation so that when opportunities for promotion come around, you’re a formidable competitor.

My personal brand is still very much a work in progress, but I have to say, so far it’s not been as painful as I imagined it might be. I encourage you to give it a go!

Here are some quick ways to boost your personal brand:

Polish your LinkedIn profile
First up, check your photo reflects the best ‘work’ version of you. Unless you’re an adult film-star, then a fish-face pout isn’t going to do. And neither is that picture of you with a gin in your hand.

Next, update your summary section. Jennifer Holloway’s personal branding book suggests including three key things:

  1. What makes you credible – targets you met, profits you increased, awards you’ve received, clients you work with, or projects you’ve worked on.
  2. Personal brand – what is it about you that makes you achieve these things? Try to think of qualities you have in spades; the things that you really are better at than your peers.
  3. Relationship hooks – include a bit about who you are to add personality. People buy people and some carefully chosen hobbies or interests can work as great conversation starters (Here’s where I wove back in my values of ‘outdoors’ and ‘nature’ by mentioning I like heading to the mountains at weekends).

Then, of course, make sure your education and experience sections are up-to-date.

Smarten up your email signature and voicemail message
I have to say, I’m guilty of leaving my voicemail message as the standard pre-recorded one. But I know I’m less likely to leave a message on someone else’s voicemail if they do the same. Stand up and smile when you record your message to help you sound warm and confident.

Your email signature is also an important clue to your brand, and don’t forget to add one to your mobile email too.

Think about your outward appearance and make any changes necessary
It’s an old adage, but dress for the job you want. Think about what your clothes, shoes, bag, hair, nails, notepad, pen etc. say about your brand. It’s human nature to make judgements about people in just a few seconds, and whether we like it or not it’s those visible signs people will be judging you on first.

I’d love to hear how you get on with your personal brand. Drop me a line or comment below.