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Personal branding is a pretty hot term right now. Take a look at bookstore and you will find countless of books on this subject. Rather than writing another post on how to build a personal brand, I decided to share with you some thoughts about creating and keeping personal brand and branding in general. If you are looking for shortcuts and cheap tricks, this post is nothing for you. On the other hand, if you want to create deeper connection between you and your brand, continue reading.
Your brand is your weapon
Have you ever though about brand as a weapon? If not, maybe you should. Building a strong brand can give you a big advantage over your competition. You probably know my opinion on competition, wasting your resources on loser’s game such as this and other business mistakes. In today’s world, when more than one fourth of Earth’s population have access to the Internet, competition is almost everywhere. The threat is not just local, it is global now.
One thing I learned from Zero to One by Peter Thiel and more recently from Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable by Tim Grover is that you should never compete with anyone. Instead, you should force them to compete with you. Meaning, don’t be that person watching and analyzing every step of your competitor. Make it so your competitor will be constantly watching you. Reason? When you are trying to catch two rabbits in the same time, odds are you will catch nothing.
This is why I think about competition as a loser’s game. You will have a hard time keeping one eye on your competitors and second on your customers while providing them with excellent products or services. Simply said, if you want to be the best, you have to narrow your focus. Also, if you are constantly watching what your competition is doing, and adapting to situation, you will never get ahead. You will only catch up with them.
This is where your brand enters the game. Let’s take a look at some examples first. Do you think that Apple has to care about what its competition is doing? Sure, they will do some research for better marketing and products, but their brand is so strong they don’t have to worry about it so much. People will stand in front of Apple stores waiting for new iPhone model anyway. The same applies to personal brands as well.
Take Dieter Rams, Stefan Sagmeister, Paula Scher, Ethan Marcotte, Chris Coyier, Andy Clarke, Dan Cederholm, Sarah Parmenter, Jeffrey Zeldman or Rachel Andrew. If you are not just starting out at design (web, graphic, etc.), you probably know some of the names I mentioned … If not all of them. This is the power of personal brand. Although you might never see those people, you know who they are. You might even be able to recognize samples of their work. Would you rather hire one of them or someone cold-calling you?
The is how personal brand can be used as a weapon. People will want to hire you or work with you because they know you have established a reputation. You will no longer need to lower your rates, negotiate or explain to your client why he has to pay that price. With personal brand covering your back, people will understand that they pay for quality.
Burn your business card?
Do you carry business cards when going somewhere? Have you ever been in situation when you and your partner exchanged your business cards to stay in touch? Some of you, the younger, may know this only from movies. The subject of business card is a bit of difficult. When you ask group of people on their opinion, half of them will tell you that the business card is ancient and has nothing to do in the era of Internet while the other half will consider it as the best networking tool you can have.
What is more interesting, the majority of experts on networking will tell you the same thing. No matter how fast your Internet connection is or how many devices you have, business card is still great tool for doing business and spreading the word about your brand. From my personal experience, business card can be valuable helper to create new business relationships (network). So, decide for yourself whether you want to implement business card into your brand toolkit.
However, keep in mind that business card says a lot about you and your business. In case you want to use business card to strengthen your brand, make sure it conveys the same message as the rest of your brand. Business card have to be a direct extension of your brand. Meaning, use your brand colors, typography and elements as you do elsewhere. Remember, stay consistent.
Brand, honesty and consistency online and offline
The same thing about consistency you read above applies to social media as well. When you are building and living your brand, your presence on all social media channels must mirror it. You cannot afford to say one thing or act in one way and then go on social media and behave differently. The only thing you will achieve doing this is a confusion and right after that distrust or even suspicion. There is one thing that needs to be addressed.
We are often afraid to tell what do we think because it might hurt someone or seems inappropriate. In a business, this is happening even more often … You are afraid of losing a deal or not getting a recommendation so you rather keep your mouth shut or agree with your client. Does that mean saying what you have on mind? You will not like the answer. Yes, it does. When you decide to build a personal brand, you had better get used to being honest and transparent about what you think and want at all costs and situations.
Keeping this level of honesty and transparency might mean you will need to sacrifice some deals and break up with some clients. On the other hand, it will also give you credibility and even recognition. By the way, this is the reason that some people are making new deals no matter what jerks or how arrogant are they. Understand that people will rather suffer working with confident jerk knowing everything about his trade than with inexperienced yes-man.
Building your brand, sharing and teaching
One of the most powerful tools to build personal brand is to share your work and teach what you know. These two advices are the most important things I learn from the book Show Your Work!: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Getting Discovered by Austin Kleon. Sharing pieces of your work every day on social media can get you more recognition that any PR or social media expert could. By showing your work, you are putting staying true to your word and putting your money where your mouth is. Share your work and do it often.
The next thing you can do in order to build a strong brand is to teach what you know. By teaching other people and sharing your knowledge you are establishing yourself as an expert. Another benefits of teaching your trade is increasing your love and passion for it and also meeting new people interested in the same subject. Creating your own platform for teaching can mean something as simple as starting a blog, creating a slideshow, a video course or publishing an eBook.
Don’t get me wrong here. This does not mean looking for another source of income, although it can help you that way as well. When I’m talking about teaching other people, I mean something volunteering. Doing something without expecting any other reward than personal satisfaction from sharing your passion with the world.
Your brand and your portfolio
When you think about your portfolio (in case you are a designer), do you think about it as an extension of yourself? Does your portfolio mirror your personality style and taste? When people are confused after meeting you in-person because they expected someone different based on what they saw on your website, you are doing something wrong. You know you are successful in branding when people will tell you that you look exactly like they expected (hopefully in a good sense). This means your brand is consistent with your personality.
As a designer, you might are in doubt whether to follow the latest trend you might not like or go with your gut. I advise you to follow your gut even if it means your web will look like something from previous century. Will you loose some clients because of it? Maybe. Will you love your job and be happy? Definitely! Choose what sounds better to you … Following your gut and working with style you like or selling yourself out and hating what you do. Personally, I prefer the first option and would go with it any time.
From the lines above you may think that having and maintaining a brand, at least for me, means much more than working from 9-5 job or doing a business and you are right. Having a brand should not be anything you do only during your business hours. It should not be something you can switch from when you return home to your family in the evening. Brand should be part of you, your philosophy, your core values, your identity, your legacy. In this sense, having a brand means living it twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, three hundred sixty five (six) days in a year. There is no off button you can push. It is your life.
Closing thoughts on building a brand and getting ahead
The final thing I want to leave you with is simple and straightforward. If you are interested in building brand because you don’t want to chase clients anymore or you want to have more free time, it will not work. You are only going to burn yourself … A lot. The reason that only small number of people where able to build brands from their names and personas is that it is hard. Building a successful and wildly recognize brand takes a lot of time and effort.
Some people will need couple of months to achieve this feat, other ones will need couple of years. Building and maintaining a brand means living it. It is something completely different from regular job or business. Your brand needs to stay consistent no matter what. Keep in mind, that your reputation depends on this consistency.
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