If you’re like many PR people and other professionals, you’re treating the boosting of your personal brand like you’re treating the filing of your tax return: putting it off. Barbara Findlay Schenck, co-author of the latest edition of "Branding For Dummies," says that’s a massive mistake.
“With more people than ever checking out people online and within their business and social circles before ever arranging in-person meetings or even considering personal contact, a well-projected personal brand has ever had a bigger impact on personal success,” Schenck says.
Quit thinking it’s somehow self-centered or unnecessary to work on your personal brand, she says, and commit to doing it.
With that mission in mind, here are nine tips to get your personal brand in gear.
1. Do some self-examination.
Amy Segelin, president of Chaloner, an executive search firm for PR and related arenas, says PR professionals are skilled at promoting their clients’ brands, but promoting their own brands doesn’t always come as easily.
Segelin recommends auditing your brand to see where it can be enhanced. For instance, does the content on your social media accounts, particularly LinkedIn, accurately reflect your brand? Is it up to date? Is it professional? Is it detailed, rather than vague?
“If you can project a consistent image that is entertaining, current and instructive, you can tell a story that makes others want to keep reading,” Segelin says.
2. Work the Web.
Your employer or your business touts itself via a website, doesn’t it? But do you have a website to promote your own brand? If you don’t, you’re throwing away a personal branding opportunity, experts say.
Branding and career expert Lauren Holliday, founder of freelance marketplace Freelanship.com, points out that a shockingly low 7 percent of job seekers have personal websites. Therefore, having your own website can set you apart from other job candidates. Holliday says that at a minimum, your personal website should include an “about” page, a page featuring your work portfolio, a blog, a contact page and front-page links to your social media accounts.
3. Don’t spread yourself too thin.
Karen Leland, president of Sterling Marketing Group and author of eight business books, says most people feel pressure to maintain a presence on every major social network, but in social media, less may be more, she says. Carefully choose which networks deserve your time and energy, based how each site’s demographics align with your personal brand.
“It doesn’t do you any good if you are everywhere,” Leland says, “but there’s nothing of value there when people arrive.”
4. Get the picture.
Richard Storm, a photographer in New York City, says you should invest in professional headshots—not hastily taken smartphone photos—to complement your online presence.
“You’d be surprised at how many people use out of focus, grainy or inappropriate photos to represent themselves,” Storm says. “I specialize in professional and corporate-style headshots, which give any individual a great photo to add to their...brand. It goes a long way, especially if you want to make those highly valued connections.”
5. Walk the walk.
Like it or not, the way you look speaks volumes about your personal brand. Personal image consultant Marian Rothschild, author of "Look Good Now and Always", recommends making a head-to-toe branding statement through appropriate grooming and clothing.
“Our appearance sends an immediate, nonverbal message of who we are to everyone with whom we come in contact. So ask yourself what message would you like to send to whomever you are going to be with,” Rothschild says.
6. Pay it forward.
Tech PR veteran Brenda Christensen, a consultant for Apple, says she’s managed to elevate her personal brand by not trumpeting it. While that approach sounds counterintuitive, Christensen says it’s served her well.
“I have achieved my success by building a bridge for others and being a valuable resource at all times,” Christensen says. “It’s amazing how quickly you can go from obsolete or obscure to overnight sensation when you help others.”
7. Rattle the cage.
You can’t be the nice guy or gal all the time, can you? Michelle Stansbury doesn’t think so. Stansbury, CEO of Little Penguin Public Relations, says it’s fine to ruffle a few feathers.
“Don’t be afraid to piss people off. In fact, be excited by it,” Stansbury says. “With any business, if you try to serve everyone, you will serve no one. Your personal brand is the same. There will be times when you say something a bit controversial to certain people. You need to deal with that with professionalism, but authenticity.”
8. Add some spice.
Brittany Berger, digital content supervisor at online advertising company eZanga.com, suggests that you infuse your personal brand with your personality. Don’t be robotic.
Frances Reimers, director of corporate visibility at marketing agency PCI, says that if you’re witty, you should display that wit on social media without being inappropriate. If you’re passionate about a cause, then express that passion without turning people off. Embrace whichever persona you want people to know, she says.
“A lot of people think that your brand should consist of evidence of your expertise, and that’s all,” Berger says. “Yes, that's important, but there will be thousands, if not more, of other professionals with the exact same qualifications.”
What makes a personal brand stand out, she says, is the person behind the brand.
“No one will remember your expertise on its own, because it’s not unique,” Berger says. “It will be the combination of expertise and personality that will make your brand memorable.”
9. Woo your contacts.
Branding and social media expert Olivia Omega views online branding like online dating. Omega, author of "The Girls Guide to Personal Branding", says you must invest in building a relationship with your online contacts before you ask them to invest in you. Too often, she says, people and brands hop on Facebook and Twitter and immediately aim for the “ask.”
“Would you ever ask someone to marry on the first date? If you’re like some of the men I’ve dated, maybe,” Omega says. “There has to be a courting period, a time where you woo the other person — sharing stories about yourself and asking them to share stories in return.”

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John Egan is editor-in-chief at SpareFoot, an Austin, Texas-based startup that helps people find and book self-storage units. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnJEgan.

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