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The one thing that could make or break your career in 2015

Have you engaged an estate agent, a mortgage broker, a personal trainer or a health professional lately?

If so, think back to the type of research you did before making your selection. Did you research the company they work for? Or did you research the person you ultimately engaged?

Even if you researched both, my guess is that you invested more time learning about the individual. And I bet you relied on sites such as Google, LinkedIn and Facebook to do that.

In other words, you wanted to learn more about their ‘personal brand’.

Now you may have once assumed that ‘branding’  falls exclusively in the domain of big companies and advertising agencies. But today, every individual has a brand too – even if they don’t realise it.

But first, I’d like to share an amusing story

Last week, I was invited into an organisation to run a business writing workshop. I wasn’t there as ‘Vikki Maver from Refresh Marketing’. Instead, I was representing another training provider that regularly engages me to run sessions on their behalf.

About half an hour into the workshop, one of the participants, Greg, announced that he really enjoyed reading my website. But because I was representing another company, I had assumed he was referring to their website, not mine.

I was wrong.

You see, a few days before the workshop, Greg received an email from the HR Department about the training he was about to undertake. Among other things, the email included the name of the training provider as well as the name of the trainer (i.e. me).

Contrary to what I would have expected, Greg hadn’t bothered Googling the training provider. He only Googled me. The trainer.

That’s when he found my website. And my blog. (Hi there, Greg, if you’re reading this now.)

It soon became clear that Greg had arrived at the workshop knowing more about me than some of my dearest friends. He even knew about my 40th birthday party last year.

By now, you’re probably thinking that Greg either has too much time on his hands – or that he’s some kind of stalker. But I think there’s another explanation.

Although I was a little shocked at first, Greg’s motivations now make perfect sense to me. He is a professional who wants to learn as much as he can about the people he engages with. And before he takes advice from just anyone, he wants to be convinced of their credibility.

Smart guy, hey?

So what is a ‘personal brand’ and why care?

Personal brands are communicated through websites, LinkedIn profiles, Twitter accounts and Facebook pages. In fact, they include any mention, photo or video of you on the world wide web.

They are accessible and visible to the world and have huge implications for everyone – the employed, the self-employed and the unemployed.

I believe that, these days, building a credible personal brand is critical to success. It’s more important than any form of proactive advertising or promotion that you might be considering. Strong personal brands can lead to better jobs, stronger networks and more opportunities for employers.

So how come so few of us consciously cultivate our personal brand?

Three tips to get you started

Building a personal brand takes time – and maintaining it is an ongoing commitment. But if you’re wondering where to even start, these three tips will help.

1. Define your personal brand

Shift your mindset and start thinking of yourself as a brand – even if you’re already working for an Apple, Coca Cola or McDonald’s.

Ask yourself how you want to be perceived by colleagues, prospects and employers. What’s your expertise? What personal qualities make you special or different?

Once you answer these questions, you can formulate your personal brand strategy.

2. Google yourself. Regularly.

No, this is not a self-indulgent exercise for bored, narcissistic professionals. Auditing your online presence is an important early step to building your personal brand.

Does the Google search produce results that communicate how you want to be perceived as a professional? Does it reflect your personal brand strategy?

You can’t do much until you know what you’re dealing with.

3. Review your LinkedIn profile

Although you will need to review your complete digital footprint, your LinkedIn page should take priority. It’s your public resume, testimonial and personal website rolled into one.

Is your LinkedIn profile written clearly and correctly? Or is it riddled with meaningless jargon and spelling or grammatical mistakes? Is it detailed enough? Is it too detailed? How many recommendations do you have? How often do you share relevant content and ideas to reinforce to your personal brand strategy?

And if you don’t even have a LinkedIn page? People might wonder whether you really do exist!