Brand yourself to get the most out of networking opportunities
Quick question, have you ever considered yourself a brand? You know, like Apple, Nike, Coca Cola, or Starbucks? If not, read on.
We live in a digital era where information about you or your company is a click away. We have all at some stage created a profile on a social site like Facebook, or professional site like LinkedIn. Without knowing it, we have already taken the first step to personal branding. According to Shama Hyder (Founder & CEO of Marketing Zen) “the question is no longer IF you have a personal brand, but if you choose to guide and cultivate the brand or let it be defined on your behalf”.
What is personal branding, anyway?
Peter Montoya (author of The Brand Called You) defines personal branding as a set of skills, personality and unique characteristics that set you apart from others. It is a clear idea that comes to mind whenever people think of you and it should represent what you stand for – your values, abilities and the actions you want to be associated with. Montoya says that “a personal brand is an alter ego designed for the purpose of influencing how others perceive you and turning that perception into opportunity”. Ultimately your personal brand should tell your audience who you are, what you do and what makes you different. The last point is really crucial and is the key to creating a distinctive identity.
Don’t confuse a personal brand with a corporate brand. If you own or run a company, you have probably already gone through the branding exercise. However, branding is just as important for you as it is for the company. In this digital age, it can be quite hard to separate your personal life from your professional life. That does not mean that you cannot have a personal life or be yourself, much to the contrary. Jonathan Long (founder of Market Domination Media) says that nowadays people want to know the story behind the founder – the failures, struggles and the success, because it makes you more human and authentic.
But why build a personal brand?
There are several reasons why you should build a personal brand. Maybe you want a better job, want to attract clients for your company, or you want industry recognition (Neil Patel & Aaron Aguis). Whatever the reason, it is important to define what you stand for to avoid people doing it for you. This allows you to make the most out of first encounters you have with people, especially in networking occasions where you build contacts and are exposed to sales opportunities. First impressions do last and you need to make sure that every first encounter is impactful. Having a personal brand is also a good way to ensure that others make the right association when they think of you and it helps to clarify exactly how you can add value.
So how do you build a personal brand?
Branding expert David Aacker says that building a brand starts with a vision, this can be applied to personal branding as well. Where do you see yourself in five, 10 or 20 years and what steps will you take to get there? Great brands have a clear vision and a unique selling point. Brands such as Apple, Nike, Starbucks or Coca Cola started with a clear vision and have used their unique selling points consistently. Coca Cola has been associated with having a good time for many years and will be for many more years, that is why it is such a strong brand.
You need to define what makes you distinctive and how this is going to help you get to where you want to be in future. Go ahead and do it now, take a pen and paper and write down a short vision for your personal brand. Then, write down a short paragraph on what makes you distinctive, what do you have to offer that nobody else has? I really like Neil Patel and Aaron Aguis’ guide to building a personal brand. They have done a good job at articulating the steps to creating a personal brand vision. You can read more about it here, but below is a summary of the key points:
- You need to know who you are: this includes your values, passion and traits. Be true to yourself while doing this, because your personal brand will be a way of life, you want it to be based on reality.
- Then, you need to figure out where you want to be: this is basically your personal brand vision and what steps you need to take to get there. Do not discard your past achievements they have gotten you this far and you can build on them.
- Think of people who can help you get to your vision: mentors, colleagues, key professionals or family. You can take lessons from people who inspire you to achieve your vision.
- Be consistent with your brand vision and practise it diligently.
Network, network and network!
Now that you know what your brand vision is and what makes you distinctive, you need to get the word out there. “No matter how beefy your set of skills, no matter how tasty you’ve made that feature-benefit proposition, you still have to market the bejesus out of your brand – to customers, colleagues, and your virtual network of associates” Tom Peters.
You need to become visible and networking is a great way to start. Attend and participate in events, take a class, volunteer, keep looking for opportunities to grow the network of people who will help you achieve your personal brand vision. Make sure your brand vision and unique selling point is clear not only in your physical life but also on your digital sites such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, blog etc.
The good news is, you already have a pitch and because of that, you will only attract people that fit in with your personal brand vision. I can’t think of a more powerful way to build a strong network. Can you?
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