In today’s digital-first world, it is absolutely crucial to understand the importance of building your own personal brand, whether you’re an executive in a large company, or a scrappy entrepreneur building a startup. I would even go so far to say that building a brand is important if you are an employee, like a teacher, engineer or a construction worker. The fact is that people have problems that they need solved. And they will turn to those people who first pop in their minds as someone who can help them out. The better you are at branding and creating content that results in digital brand-crumbs, the better chance you’ll have of being found for your product, service, or skills.
If I Googled your name right now, what would I find?
If you don’t know the answer to that question, then here’s an opportunity for you to take control of your public image. It all starts with what you want to be known for, in comparison to what people already know about you.
You need a website
Many people think that because they are gainfully employed or aren’t selling products that they don’t need a website, blog, or social media content. I’d argue that it doesn’t matter what your profession is; you will want favorable content available online for Google’s algorithms to find. That way, when people Google you (which they will), you have some sort of control over what they see. You might not be in the same job in a year, or you might need to impress your stakeholders if you own a business before even meeting them.
People will look you up, whether that’s before a company meeting or a potential first date. Why not make things a bit easier for the world’s most popular search engine by feeding it information that you’ve vetted and know to be true of who you are as a professional, and off-duty? Why not have a website that includes your name? If a dot com is taken, consider a dot online. If you find one, you can use the code word GINGER for a big discount. I have the domain ryan.online, and I love it so much, that I represent the dot online brand as an influencer. It is so easy to direct people to my site. I just say, “You can find me online at Ryan dot online.” This comes in super handy when I give keynotes, webinars, or when I’m a guest on someone’s podcast.
People want to be able to find information about you if they haven’t met you before, and find it quickly.
And what will they find?
They’ll find pieces of content that I call “brand-crumbs”, which add up to being your personal brand. And that personal brand is just you! Yes, you have a brand whether you are on Google’s radar or not.
Your brand is the information that people can find out about you, when compared to what they know about you. If you’re not coming up in search results, that means you may not have many existing digital brand-crumbs.
Personal branding is a unique balance which requires your participation. You can help shape the narrative that people make sense of that is in line with who you are, what you want to be known for, your skills, experience, and ultimately, expertise.
If you are not creating content on social media platforms, when someone searches for you online which they inevitably will, whether it’s to check you out before a date, an interview, or a business deal, it just means you are not participating in the narrative.
If you’re aware that you have a personal brand and are creating content that supports a favorable narrative, know that having some control is empowering. You can’t necessarily change negative things people have said about you online in the past, but you do have narrative control on your social channels and website.
The reality is that Google’s algorithms will dig up information for those who want it. The more you are actively and intentionally involved in letting Google know who you really are, the quicker people will be able to get to know you. And when people get to know you, they can make a decision for themselves of whether they like you or not. And if they do like you, then that sets the foundation for building trust.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. You cannot download trust.
But you can upload content to help people know, like and trust you.
Your reputation is everything. When you post content that is current and accurate that reflects the whole you, people will be able to get to know you, which starts off the whole process!
Your personal brand is the intersection between what you want to be known for and what people think of you.
But I understand that it is overwhelming to know where to start, if you don’t know how people perceive you. I see plenty of people doing the right things in the wrong order. I can teach you how to identify your personal brand without having to do all the guesswork. In fact, you’re not guessing during this exercise at all, because you will have your family, friends and colleagues to help you!
I call it the Rapid Reflection Discovery Process. The nice thing about a process is that if you follow it, results will show up.
I share it in my book Ditch The Act, with my clients, in my keynotes, and in my workshops. And now I will share it with you here in this blog! It is a fun and insightful activity that will ultimately lead you to your personal brand. I have included a copy of the worksheet here that you are welcome to print and fill out as you go through the process. I describe the process below, with some excerpts from my book to help you fully understand the steps!
Step 1. Decide what you want to be known for.
This can often be a difficult question to answer, which is why so many people get stuck at the starting line when they want to build a brand. Let’s say they admit that they do have a brand, but then they’re stuck with not knowing what that brand is. And the default when you don’t know what your brand is, is to do nothing. That means people will go months, if not years, wanting to build a brand but not knowing where to start.
Write down a list of the things that you want to be known for. Don’t feel the pressure right now to pick the one or two or three things that you want to be known for. Write a list of things that you want to be known for in general. Do you want to be known as a speaker? Do you want to be known as somebody who’s funny, outgoing, caring, loving, professional? You name it.
Write down as many traits, qualities, talents and skills as you can think of that you want to be known for. I like to use sticky notes to write them down, with one trait, talent, or skill per sticky note. This comes in handy later when you will compare these answers to ones that others give about you.
Step 2. Ask others to describe you in a few words.
Have 10 people write down how they would describe you, but keep it anonymous. You want truthful answers from those you ask. You are essentially asking people, “If you were to describe me to others who didn’t know who I was, how would you describe me?”
Have them write down both positive and negative traits. You may need the help of a friend with this step—they can collect the answers digitally or on paper and send them to you. You want the people to be sharing how they see you anonymously. That way you will get honest answers. Pick the 10 people from different social groups, i.e. work, family, extracurriculars, etc. so that your results do not get skewed.
Give people you ask about a week to complete the task and follow up to make sure people submit their answers.
Now you have two different data sets to work with: things that you want to be known for, and what people at this point in your life think about you.
Step 3. Collect all the answers.
Gather your answers as well as the answers from the others. Group similar traits and qualities together. Optional: Transcribe the traits onto two different colors of sticky notes—one color for your answers and the other for the answers of others. Make sure that you are putting one item per sticky note. If you collected a lot of data you should have quite a few sticky notes, which will give you better results. Then affix them to a wall, mirror, whiteboard etc. and cluster your sticky notes that are similar into groups.
Step 4. Take a look at the traits you said you can work on, and compare them with what others say.
Use the information you glean here to improve yourself. Some ideas: take courses; read books; learn about privilege, diversity, and inclusion; and make other efforts to minimize the negative effects that these traits could cause to your brand. Keep in mind actions you can take over the short and long term to make your weaknesses strengths, and set goals to achieve them.
Step 5. Step back and look at the assortment of traits.
- Some boxes have similar traits that you and others identified. These are traits congruent with your personal brand.
- Some boxes only have traits that others mentioned about you. These are traits that others see in you but you don’t see in yourself. If there is only one person saying you have a particular trait that you didn’t see in yourself, don’t incorporate it into your brand.
- Some boxes only have traits you identified and others didn’t mention. These may not really be your strengths.
For example, somebody says that you are good at public speaking, and you have identified that you want to be known as a speaker. You could gather those two sticky notes and put them next to each other. Repeat this process until all sticky notes are either matched or are outliers.
Step 6. Remove all the boxes that only have one color.
Remove boxes that are outliers. For the clusters that have traits that both you and others see in you, name these groups as one trait that best summarizes the words within it. Try to choose a word or set of words that best captures a group.
Step 7. Categorize your responses.
You should have three or more cluster categories that you are now looking at. These are clusters where what you want to be known for, matches what others already think about you! They should fit into one of the following categories:
Pick one cluster from each of these three categories. Choose ONLY three of the clusters. These three overall traits or qualities will be the foundation for your brand. You have now found the intersection between what people think about you and how you see yourself.
Look back at the name you gave each group (Step 7) and make sure you like it.
Why did I have you go through this activity? I did it to help you take control of the narrative. Now, your brand may change over time, and that’s OK, but it’s best to start with a focus on these groups. Why three? People will more easily remember three things about you—it’s just enough to hold their interest without being overwhelming!
And the best thing is that people are more likely to believe what they already know, and since you’ve done the research to find out what people think and match against what you wanted to be known for, it enables you to take action.
There is no such thing as a perfect brand.
You should not be aiming for perfection. In fact, if you present yourself as perfect, you will quickly push people away. I learned this years ago when I was trying to launch my personal brand, thinking people would find all my success attractive, but didn’t gain many followers from those efforts. On the contrary, when you gain the courage to become vulnerable and share more than just the good, that’s when people are able to relate to you.
For some, building a brand will help them share their message as a speaker to audiences locally or even globally. For a real estate agent, building his or her personal brand might help them land new clients through organic searches from people who are trying to buy homes in their area. For a young startup that’s trying to work towards their first round of funding, focusing on elevating the profiles of the founders may help add credibility in their investor meetings before even meeting with investors. And a personal brand might benefit someone who wants to launch a podcast, to help them build awareness around the topic of their show.
Your brand will not be built overnight, but if you continue to leave digital brand-crumbs that people can find, which reinforces what you want to be known for, then they can get to know you.
I hope that the Rapid Reflection Discovery Process makes sense to you and that you find it useful in building your personal brand. If you have any questions about the steps, feel free to Tweet me @RyanFoland.
If you found this article helpful, I encourage you to share with your network. The more we help each other learn how to start building our personal brands, the more we can all learn how to create brand-crumbs that will help others get to know us through our content. And if you have any tips about starting a brand, or processes that helped you, please share as a comment!