It’s all very well to market your business and your product – but what about marketing yourself? It may feel “icky” to think of yourself as a brand, and to promote yourself as such, but there are many benefits to doing so.
Establishing your own personal brand online allows you to tell your own story as you want it to be told; to establish yourself as a thought leader (a little bit icky again?) in your industry; to create something bigger than the business and the product; and to produce real value for your followers. It can be a critical component of your business ecosystem when you’re an entrepreneur but also when you’re applying to a job, and recruiters are likely to look you up online and see what they can find. Rather than wait until you're looking for a new job, get a head start today – so that when you need it, it's already there.
Here are 7 first steps to get you started in establishing your personal brand online:
1. Define your story
Before telling your story, you’ll need to work out what that story will be. Try asking yourself these questions:
- What are your core values?
- What are your personal strengths and skills?
- What do you want to be known for?
- What are your unique personality traits?
- What will make you stand out versus your competition?
Choose the key elements from your answers to these questions and craft a short paragraph that you can use as a basis for all your communication online.
To get really crisp and concise about what it is you do, you can try the following “elevator pitch” formula: What do you do? For whom? For what purpose? E.g. I do x for people who y so that they z.
2. Audit your online presence
Now that you have the story you want to tell, let’s take a look at what story you’re actually telling today. Start by Googling yourself and see what appears first. Is it your personal Facebook profile? Click on the image tab: which photos of you are listed here and are they the ones you want to come first? You can set up Google alerts to monitor new mentions going forward.
Next, go through your various profiles and platforms and see what story you’re telling there. Note down any areas that need updating. If you have lots of inappropriate photos on Facebook then visit your privacy settings and make sure that all photos and posts are restricted to your friends.
3. Review (or create!) your LinkedIn profile
There are so many different social networks out there but for the professional world the main one you want to worry about is LinkedIn. I could write a whole post just on optimising your LinkedIn profile but here are some quick tips:
- Get a professional photo
- Customise your headline
- Write a clear summary
- Describe each of your past and current positions
- Get recommendations from past employers
- Add your key skills
4. Claim your other social media profiles
They say Twitter is dying but for those of us who use it the benefits can be huge, including staying on top of the latest news but also publishing our blog posts and, importantly, connecting with our peers and with potential clients in our field. When selecting the right social network(s), you need to think about who you are, what your business is, and who your clients are. For example, there’s no point in setting up an Instagram account if you hate taking photos and don’t like sharing aspects of your lifestyle publicly. Likewise there’s no point in getting into Periscope and Snapchat if your target audience isn’t on there.
You may also want to claim your handle (your name) on new networks to make sure that you protect your own brand and prevent other people from using it, even if you aren’t yet active on there.
5. Create a personal website
A LinkedIn profile, along with other social networks, can be a great start but if you want to get serious about building your brand online you really need a website. It doesn’t have to be fancy, it can be just a couple of pages with a short bio, your CV, and your contact details and links to your social network profiles. You can create something quite nice just on Tumblr or you can try something like WordPress, Wix, or Squarespace. Get a custom domain name (johnsmith.com rather than johnsmith.wordpress.com) and get someone to proofread all the copy for you, especially if you’re not a native English speaker (that goes for all online platforms, in fact).
6. Use a professional email address
Please, please, PLEASE don’t use a Hotmail address for professional contacts. It’s embarrassing. Really. Gmail is the standard these days so at minimum you should get something like firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s even better if you can secure your own domain name. You’ll get this automatically if you have your own website, email@example.com or why not firstname.lastname@example.org. Eventually you can even add other email addresses to reflect the size of your business, for example, you can have email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, and so on.
7. Produce valuable content
It’s nice to have a presence on different networks but if you stop there no one’s actually going to know that you exist. Start by commenting on, and sharing, other people's content; but then you need to be creating and publishing valuable content for your peers to read and engage with. It’s completely up to you which format you choose here. If you enjoy writing then adding a blog to your personal website could be a good idea; this will also get you appearing higher in search rankings. If you’re more of a verbal person, why not try podcasting or vlogging? The medium will also determine which platform you choose, for example, YouTube might be interesting for video, or maybe Periscope. Whichever format and platform you choose, be purposeful: each blog post you write, each tweet you send, is adding another piece to the puzzle that is your personal brand so make sure you’re building something cohesive and effective.
A note on business cards
Do we still need business cards in today’s online world? It’s always so exciting to order beautiful business cards and letterheads but think about when and how you’ll actually use them. If you plan to go to a lot of events and networking is an important part of making contacts in your business, then it may not be a bad idea to have something tangible to hand out to people. If so, you should include your name, a meaningful job title that tells people what you do, and key contact information such as your website (and/or LinkedIn profile), email and Twitter handle. Don’t spend a load of money on fancy cards that your contacts are simply going to throw in the bin – unless your business is a creative one and having an “out-of-the-box” card could be part of getting clients.