Part 1: Developing your brand
This blog is the first of a 2-part series focused on personal brand building. Use it to start thinking of yourself as one in a million, not one of a million, and build your personal brand to match!
Brand building is no longer an exercise devoted solely to big and powerful companies. In today’s world, where anyone and everyone (including your next door neighbor’s Great Dane) is online and sharing, everybody is a brand. No, not the type of brand sitting on the top shelf at Costco, but a brand that is the representation of you to the rest of the world.
Even if you don’t want to have a brand in this sense, the opinions (and let’s not forget how rife the Internet is of opinions) and perceptions of others shape the way they see you regardless. In the absence of you taking control of your brand, one will be formed for you. It may sound kinda ominous, but actually it’s a GREAT thing.
That’s because if you’re in the business of building a career online, or developing yourself as a freelancer of any kind, it presents a real opportunity. A well-defined brand means that people looking to employ your services will have little trouble in knowing what you’re all about. Here’s an example to illustrate:
Austin and Rika (our VIPKid brand experts) are both equally talented at grooming ferrets. Rika’s Instagram account is nothing more than a collage of ferrets with hairstyles that would leave Boy George feeling plain. While Austin’s is mostly just photos of the beach, sunsets and the occasional plate of sushi. If someone looking for help with their disheveled ferret came across these two Instagram accounts, who do you think would get the job?
While it’s a silly example, and will no doubt leave you wondering endlessly if there’s something going on with ferrets in the VIPKid offices (there isn’t), it illustrates the power of public media in impacting your job as a freelance worker. Remember, building your brand is not about trying to compete with Kellogg’s, it’s about shaping what you want the world to see you as. And by ‘world’ we mean anything from the 7 followers on Instagram, to your 1300 students on VIPKid.
Ok, so we’ve convinced you. What now?
Step 1: Be A Storyteller
It’s time to tell the story of you. Think of it as recreating yourself, except this time it’s not for the kids in high school and the goal is not to sit at the top of the bleachers. This time it’s for your clients.
First identify the values that define you
You already have beliefs about yourself. Who you are as a person. What your identity is made up of. What you believe in. And so on. The very first step in building your brand, is identifying these aspects of your personality and aligning them to how you represent yourself. This does not mean explicitly telling people you are “honest and open” when you meet them. No. This means that in your role as a [insert whatever awesome thing you do here], the way you interact and behave to the outside world should be consistent with those values.
The easiest way to go about this, is by creating a list of values you believe define you. Print the list out, and make sure you can see it every time you engage in your work. Constantly reminding yourself of what you stand for will have a huge impact on how you interact with clients. And the result will be a natural strengthening of your “brand”.
Develop your story
While your values guide you, your story is your context. You have to have a story in order to confidently speak about yourself and your trade. Let’s take our beloved ferret example from before to illustrate.
If you ask Austin how he started grooming ferrets, he’ll say he’s not sure, and that he “sort of tried it out a few times and kind of liked it”. While Rika will launch into a detailed account of the first time she saw a particularly shabby ferret which, after she whipped out her own comb to give it a quick grooming, went on to win the local ferret beauty pageant the very next day. From then on she knew she had a lifelong calling.
Which story was more compelling?
Write down your story, and don’t try to be concise. Get it all down. Then have a friend read through it and tell you which parts stood out as particularly strong, unique and funny (at least one funny anecdote is always good). Take this input and rewrite the concise version. Craft your story, for you.
Step 2: Be Communicative and Engaging
Having concrete values and a Hemingway-like account of your personal story is all fine and well. But for a brand to take hold in people’s minds, it must be communicated well. It needs to be out there.
To achieve this you don’t need thousands of followers, or to be on every social network. All you need is to communicate consistently and well. There are two parts to this:
If you’re an online English teacher, be sure to talk like one. Typos and sloppy use of language may not totally derail your brand, but they sure as heck won’t help it either. But over and above simple grammar, think about ways to share your brand and story through whatever platforms you already use. If you are an avid reader of medium.com, why not share something important to you in the context of your trade? If Twitter is your thing, make sure you are tweeting and retweeting content relevant to you. For Instagram, great photos of you engaging in your work are an easy way to communicate what you are all about. However you engage with the world online, there will be opportunities for you to weave your brand in, you just need to look!
Being credible and active
Online content moves faster than your kid in a supermarket. Never forget that. It is also full of fake content, dodgy promises and uncertainty. For you to navigate this world successfully, you need to stay active and stay true to your brand. Credibility comes over time, and as you continue to post and interact with followers and friends, they will come to trust you and the brand you are building. This doesn’t mean you need to post a new “something” every six hours, but you should at least try to engage on some level (a retweet, a like, a comment) frequently. This will keep you relevant and strengthen your brand.
Finally, staying passionate is your lighthouse. If you are passionate about what you do, it will immediately show in how you develop your brand.
Stay tuned for part 2!