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A Brand New You

A strong personal brand separates you from the competition and helps you advance in your career.

Seven years ago, Leonard Kim was struggling. He made $16.24 an hour and couldn’t get a raise, year after year. He applied for nearly 100 jobs—to no avail.

So he began to rebrand himself. Kim asked dozens of friends, family members and colleagues about his strengths and weaknesses in both personal and professional interactions. He then worked on his trouble spots. He refined his online profile. And instead of focusing on his résumé, he worked on a brief autobiography that told a story of a man who went from near homelessness to a journey of self-reinvention.

Now, Kim is a personal branding speaker and operator at Influence Tree, a digital marketing agency, as well as the co-author of Ditch the Act: Reveal the Surprising Power of the Real You for Greater Success.

Kim believes anyone can achieve similar success through personal branding and that everyone—not only celebrities and influencers—should give it a shot.

It’s essential for you to have a personal brand, whether you’re managing a facility, leading an office or handling virtually any other area of responsibility. “As long as you start from the beginning and get your foundation right, you can massively succeed with your personal brand, fast-track your career or business trajectory and completely change the course of your life,” Kim says.        

To chart that course for yourself, follow these six steps.

1. Understand what a personal brand is.

Start with what it isn’t. A personal brand is not simply an accounting of followers on LinkedIn or Twitter, nor is it a product you’re selling, says Sean Gresh, adjunct professor of professional studies at Northeastern University. “It’s the whole of what you stand for, what you believe in, and how your values are reflected in your work and interaction with others,” he explains. It extends from the way you dress to how you present yourself on social media to what time you dial in to a video chat.

Think of your personal brand not only as a quest to better yourself but also as a way to bring more value to those you work with.
“Personal branding makes you an active partner in your career success and your company’s success,” says Catherine Kaputa, founder of SelfBrand.com and a personal brand strategist who has written two books on the subject: You Are a Brand! and Women Who Brand. “It entails being focused and strategic, having top-notch communication skills, a network of professional contacts and the ability to represent your company well.”

2. Get to know yourself a whole lot better.

Market research is an important step in the brand analysis done by major companies. It’s crucial for personal branding as well, says Talaya Waller, founder and CEO of Waller & Company, a personal brand consultancy. “Figure out what your brand is and what you want it to be—and realize that sometimes these are two different things,” says Waller, author of Personal Brand Management.

Your brand, as it stands today, is defined by those who have formed an impression of you and your work. What is that impression? Review the feedback you’ve received in annual reviews and other communication from managers and colleagues. Identify the common threads and language in those messages, whether they’re positive or negative.

Then, dig deeper. Kim suggests writing 10 to 20 descrip­tive words about yourself on sticky notes: “reliable,” “funny,” “swimmer,” for instance. Hand out sticky notes to others and have them write descriptors about you. The truth about who you are lies in where your words and the words of others overlap, he says.

3 Questions: How Others Can Help You Build Your Personal Brand

Author and branding expert Cynthia Johnson suggests asking friends and family:

  • What do you think I care about most?

  • What things would you ask me to help you with?

  • What is my superpower?

3. Improve your online identity.

Who you are online may not be who you want to be—and that can have serious consequences: 57% of employers didn’t hire someone because of what they found online, according to a survey by The Harris Poll for CareerBuilder. And nearly half of employers routinely check the social media activity of current employees.

“Check the security settings on all your public profiles so you’re certain you’re seeing what others can see,” says Cynthia Johnson, co-founder and CEO of Bell + Ivy, an integrated marketing communication agency, and author of Platform: The Art & Science of Personal Branding. “Decide what needs to be removed, improved and/or added to help you achieve your goals. Everyone wants to skip this part because it’s not glamorous, but it is imperative. I call it ‘foundation building.’”

4. Create a value statement.

A personal brand value statement has to be clear, concise and comprehensive. Waller likens it to a one-sentence summary of your unique value proposition within a specific industry or market. That’s not an easy thing to write, but big brands do it all the time.

“You need to be able to articulate your value in one sentence like marketers do in a brand’s tagline,” Kaputa says. “What you’re looking for in shaping your personal brand’s value statement is your differentiator, the value that you bring to your company.”

Think about what makes you different. “In a sea of silver fish, you want to be a red fish,” she says. The statement must also show how you’re essential to your company and your customers.

To start, fill in the X, Y and Z in this sample value prop: “I do/am X. And X is valuable to Y because of Z.”

What’s Your Top Strength?

Readers share the traits they could leverage into a personal brand.

My fine-tuned OCD. —Dale P., administrative assistant

I can see every situation from multiple viewpoints and understand why people butt heads. —Gianna R., receptionist

I try to be the example that shows kindness to everyone. —Amy C., administrative assistant

I can focus on one puzzle piece but can see it within the context of the bigger picture. —Mattea M., administrative assistant

My dedication to making sure everything I put out is perfection. —Briana R., business systems analyst

My honesty with customers generates long-term repeat business. —Jim W., store manager

I can always figure out a better way to do things to save time and/or money. —Patricia A., administrative assistant

My organizational skills are on point. Everything has a place (and that place is labeled!). —Rachel K., mailroom assistant

5. Tell your (short) story.

Next, build on that statement with a brief biography. It needs to tell your story—where you came from, what you’re doing now and where you believe you’re headed—in a memorable way, Kim says. “People do business or hire people who they can get to know, who they like and trust,” he explains. “And the best way for people to get to know, like and trust someone is through their bio.”

An “elevator pitch” is another way of telling your story. At its most basic, the elevator pitch is simply a great, concise answer to the question, “Tell me about yourself.”

“You’ll need that a lot,” Kaputa says, “including when you are interviewing for a job, pitching yourself for an assign­ment or making your case to your manager for a promotion or an increase in salary.”

6. Spread the word on social media.

Once you’ve developed your brand, it’s time to share it with the world.

Focus on LinkedIn, Kaputa suggests, because it’s often the first thing people see when they search for someone—especially in the business world. Get the basics right: a good headline, flattering professional picture (not a selfie) and interesting summary. When it comes to your headline and summary, be aspirational by focusing on the job title you want—not the one you have. And then take advantage of the site’s rich media options. “If you have a short video or pic­tures that are relevant, it can make your brand story more engaging and memorable,” Kaputa says.

Once you’ve nailed LinkedIn, branch out. Kim believes personal branders should tell their story and offer business content on a variety of sites, including Quora, Medium, Facebook and Twitter. “The more places you are, the better chances that someone will find you,” he says. The key is to know where your potential audience is and meet them there.

Developing a strong personal brand requires a time invest­ment. But by following these steps, you can set yourself up for future success that could help you get that dream job or earn a promotion.

Going Off Brand

The path to a successful personal brand isn’t always smooth. Here are two of the biggest pitfalls to avoid.

Don’t rush it.

Too many people launch their personal brands without first having fully developed stories they can tell about themselves, warns Catherine Kaputa, a personal brand strategist. “Stories are sticky,” she says. “People remember things better in a narrative rather than in a list of statistics or facts.”

She suggests you develop a bank of at least three positive business stories about yourself and practice so you can retell them at a moment’s notice.

Don’t expect immediate results.

“You can’t get up online right away and exude authority like Tony Robbins or passion like Gabby Bernstein and get the same result,” says personal branding expert Leonard Kim. “They spent over a decade working tirelessly to get to where they are today. But they started at step one.”

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