This is the second installment of a partnership we've formed with Fortune 100 executive coach, Forbes contributor, and psychology professor Melody Wilding (view our first collaboration on how to "Communicate Beautifully" here).
For this project, we asked Melody to help us master the art of "personal brand." She developed an 8-step (free!) training manual titled "Your Personal Brand Plan: The Ultimate Guide to Creating An Authentic Personal Brand That Elevates Your Career." Read on below or click to view the video webinarof this course instead.
Note: This presentation was created using Beautiful.ai — cloud software that designs your presentation for you in real time.
As an ambitious person, you don’t want to lose traction in your career. You’re always looking for ways to grow and improve. But, let me ask you: Do you ever feel like you have to hide your true self in your business or at your job? Or are you sick of being passed over for new opportunities while other people get ahead?
If you answered Yes to either of these questions, then, hey—no judgments. Trust me, I have been there, and felt exactly the same way at points in my career.
What changed everything for me was developing my personal brand. Establishing a reputation, expertise, and credibility has transformed my life, income, and confidence. Today, new opportunities come to me because I’ve worked hard to create a name for myself.
I’ve also seen the power of personal branding work for my clients who have achieved results like:
- A senior systems analysts who earned a triple bonus and award as the top 1% in his field
- A professional organizer who went from zero clients and 3 side-jobs to supporting herself in her business in just 3 months
- A VP of Operations who positioned herself for a role in the C-Suite
These clients achieve great results because they’re intelligent, hard working top-performers. But differentiating themselves and building expertise helped them stand out and soar higher than the rest. In other words, they created strong personal brands.
The truth is, if you want to stand out in today’s noisy world, you have to know how to market yourself. Personal branding isn’t a “nice-to-have”––it’s a requirement to grow your business, get a better job, build the right network, or take your career to the next level.
In this guide, you’ll discover:
- What is “personal brand” and why it matters
- The 3 elements the best personal brands have
- How to overcome insecurities holding you back from building your personal brand
- An 8 step action plan to create a personal brand that elevates your career
- Best-in-class tools to help you bring your brand to life
By the end of this guide, you will:
- Understand the importance of personal brand
- Know what actions you can take to elevate your brand
- Discover lots of free tech tools you can start using today
WHAT IS A PERSONAL BRAND?
Let’s start by understanding what it means to have a “personal brand.” Simply put, your personal brand is the intersection of how you see yourself and how others see you. Or, in other words, matching your inner values to the perception that people have of you.
It’s so much more than your job description. It’s your reputation in your industry; It’s a persona that follows you around. It’s the public image you portray to the world.
Simply put, your personal brand is the intersection of how you see yourself and how other see you.
Presenting the total package of who you are, what you stand for and the value you provide is what makes up your personal brand. It’s the combination of your strengths and experience.
But your personal brand also has a tangible, visual component. It’s the tone you take, and the “look” of how you present yourself to others, whether that be employers, your colleagues, or potential customers. Much like the brand of a company or product, your personal brand is the emotional reaction or impression you leave someone with after you interact with them—be it personally or digitally.
Let’s consider at a few quick examples to illustrate how branding, at a high level, can be:
Take two popular hotel chains: Motel 6 and The Four Seasons. What comes up for you when you think about the difference between the two? What words do you associate with each. It’s likely that when you think about The Four Seasons, you think about full-service luxury, wealth, high-profile guests. When you think about Motel 6, you may think budget, convenience, low maintenance.
Or consider the difference between Apple and Microsoft. You might associate Apple with white, sleek, clean designs and innovation. And Microsoft with blue, corporate, and even clunky software.
Even celebrities have personal brands. Just think about the difference between Kim Kardashian and Oprah Winfrey. When you think about Kim Kardashian, you may think about chic, hollywood socialites, Calabasas California, or even the signature black-and-white style of the Kardashian household. Oprah, on the other hand, may bring to mind spiritually, personal development, or even Christmas gift-giving.
We all have a tendency to fall into something called The Halo Effect, which means we judge a person based off one quality or attribute.
The power of personal branding really comes to down to human psychology. Our brains like to save energy, that’s their job. In order to do that, we make snap judgements about people, not because we’re bad or stupid, but because it’s a mental shortcut. We all do it. And we all have a tendency to fall into something called The Halo Effect, which means we judge a person based off one quality or attribute, and extrapolate the rest of their personal characteristics from the one quality.
For example, the halo effect causes us to think attractive people are more intelligent and friendlier. But it also extends to our personal brands too. If you present yourself in a professional, put together way, people will come to regard you as more successful, capable, and competent. It builds trust. Most people fail to consider how they can control and direct these perceptions to make them more positive.
WHY YOUR PERSONAL BRAND MATTERS
Beyond managing people’s perceptions of you, there’s many others reasons you should invest time in creating your personal brand.
Having a personal brand can help you distinguish yourself and:
- Get a promotion or be tapped for new projects at work. Becoming an expert helps position you for more leadership opportunities. People will take you more seriously because you have authority and credibility.
- Attract more ideal customers to you. Your personal brand creates an instant emotional connection between you and your audience. People will feel like you instantly “get them” and can help them, and they’ll want to work with you.
- Gain confidence and permission to be yourself. When you have a clearer understanding of who you are and where you want to go, you can be the director of your own career instead of letting it happen to you. You’ll have more focus and be more intentioned with the career decisions you make.
- Create a strong network of people around you that you can rely on. A funny thing happens when you start being true to yourself. You start to attract other like minded people who want to help and support you.
The bottomline is that it’s no longer enough to simply be good at what you do. You can’t put your head down and expect people to notice you. You have to differentiate yourself and explain your value to others. Because if you don’t, it’s too easy to be overlooked with all the other noise going on out there.
That’s what your personal brand helps you do. It allows you to position yourself so you can attract new opportunities that are aligned with what you’re best at and what you enjoy doing the most.
3 ELEMENTS OF A STRONG PERSONAL BRAND
Now that you understand how a personal brand elevates your career, let’s explore the three elements that the best personal brands have in common.
- Clarity – The first is clarity. That means you are clear about who you are and what you offer. This is important because if you try to serve everyone, you end up being too generic. Strong personal brands are based on differentiation, not blending in.
- Consistency – The second elements of a strong personal brand is consistency. Consistency means that you deliver on what you say you will. You have the same message, each time. Consistency means you also present yourself in a consistent manner online and off, across all platforms.
- Constancy – Constancy translates to making your personal brand visible to the right people who need to know you. You can’t disappear for months on end and hope that people remember you. You need to build and nurture relationships and find tools that allow you to communicate with your audience or target market regularly.
OVERCOMING INSECURITIES WITH PERSONAL BRANDING
Whenever we start talking about branding and getting visible, it can trigger insecurities. It brings up all sorts of "fraudy" feelings like:
- “I’m not an expert”
- “If I talk about myself, people will think I’m bragging”
- “What if I don’t live up to expectations?”
Sound familiar? Fear, insecurity, anxiety, worrying about being rejected or having a constant need for approval are all very personal. And these emotional issues can get in the way of putting yourself out there if you let them.
In my experience, there are two key mental barriers that get in the way of building a powerful personal brand:
1. You don’t think you have any strengths, or that your strengths aren’t notable.
Right now you may be thinking, “Melody, this sounds great. But I have nothing unique to offer.” And you’re not alone! If I had a dollar for every time a client said this to me, I’d be a very rich woman. It’s normal not to be aware of your strengths because they come so naturally to you. In just a moment, I’m going to show you how you can learn to articulate your strengths, but I want to say that the things that come easy to you don’t come easily to other people.
2. You feel like self-promotion is sleazy.
Another belief that gets in people’s way is believing that promoting yourself is somehow sleazy. I want to reframe this thought right here and now, and encourage you to see self-promotion as "service." If you’re like most of the people I work with, then you have a huge heart and you know you were put here to do great things. You have a responsibility to share that.
Promoting yourself isn’t sleazy; it’s part of your job and doing your duty to help as many people as possible. Promoting yourself isn’t off-putting to others. In fact, it’s the opposite—it makes it easier for people to work with you, refer you, etc.
YOUR PERSONAL BRAND PLAN:
8 ACTION STEPS
So far, we’ve talked about what it means to create a strong personal brand and how it can grow your career. You’ve also seen how to shift two of the biggest mental hurdles that may stand in your way. Now it’s time to dive into Your Personal Brand plan, 8 strategies and action steps you can take to elevate your personal brand today.
STRATEGY 1: UNDERSTAND HOW YOU’RE PERCEIVED
Your first step is to understand how people already perceive you. In other words, what is your reputation right now? What types of qualities do people associate with you with? This is the first strategy because you need to take a baseline and find out more about how other people see you. As I mentioned earlier, we’re so close to our strengths that we can’t see them, but other people can. Sometimes we need other people’s help to point out what we’re best at and help us put words to our best qualities and strengths.
Action Step 1: Conduct a 360 Survey. Your first action step is to do Personal 360, which is designed to give you a better idea about how people perceive you. If you’ve ever done a 360 survey at work before, then you understand how it works, but essentially, it’s a process where you get well-rounded, anonymous feedback from the people around you that you can use to improve yourself. You want to aim to get feedback from 5-10 people in your life. This can be co-workers, your boss, direct reports, or business partners or colleagues in your network.
If you’re interested in going really in-depth with this, that’s something I can help you with through coaching, but to start I suggest doing a simple version. You can put together a free Google form and ask people these three questions:
- What is your general perception of me?
- What do you think are my three best qualities?
- What could I do differently that would have the greatest impact on my success?
After you receive feedback, look for patterns. What skills or traits come up over and over again? How does the perception others have of you line up with how you wish to be perceived? What needs to change?
Getting feedback can be scary, I know, but it’s also incredibly valuable. The awareness you’ll gain from this will help you refine your personal brand going forward.
STRATEGY 2: PICTURE YOUR BEST SELF
Your personal brand is about what you aspire to be and who you aspire to help, not necessarily what you do today. So the fundamental question you have to answer is, “what do I most want to be known for?”
Sometimes we get so caught up in the “urgent” and getting things done now that we fail to think about the longer-term view of what we want for our careers and our lives. Self reflection and thinking about how to align your values and strengths with your work is key to creating a personal brand that’s true to who you are.
One way I help my clients get in touch with who they want to become is through an exercise called “Your Best Possible Future Self.” This is actually a heavily researched psychology intervention that’s been proven to help you reach your goals and feel happier while doing it.
Action Step 2: Complete the Best Self Exercise. Your action step is to complete the following “Best Self Exercise.” It’s very simple and easy to do. In a nutshell, you picture yourself thriving at your absolute best during some point in the future. It’s most effective when done as a journaling exercise. Even if they’re just fragmented thoughts, it’s important to commit your reflection to paper.
- Pick a time frame in the future.
To make the exercise practical and immediately applicable, I suggest narrowing the frame to pick a date six months to two years from today. Imagining your life five or ten years from now is often hard to wrap your brain around.
- Imagine a bright future, as if a magic wand is waved.
What goals have you accomplished? What dreams have become a reality? What’s happened in your career, relationships, or for your health?
- Identify specific attributes of you at your best.
Do your best to describe your vision in great detail. When you are your best possible self, how are you spending your time? What are you working on? Who are you spending your time with? How do you feel? What are you thinking? Visualize it in detail.
Before you walk away from this exercise, identify one small thing from your Best Self vision that you could start implementing today. Small steps add up over time and if you’re consistent, you’ll be surprised by how quickly you can make your best self a reality.
STRATEGY 3: KNOW YOUR NICHE
We’ve been talking a lot about doing inner work to discover and embody your personal brand. But it’s also important to realize that your personal brand isn’t 100% about you. I know that sounds counterintuitive. Your personal brand is also about conveying what type of value you bring to your company, customers, or other people. You have to know yourself, but you also have to understand what other people need and be very skilled at explaining how you solve their problems.
In others words, you have to have a niche. Having a niche means you concentrate your efforts on serving a small but specific segment of people or a specific problem. For example, in my coaching practice, I don’t work with all types of people. I specialize in coaching intelligent, high-achieving people who also tend to be more sensitive. I have a client who started a communications consulting company and she specifically helps technical people in IT or engineering communicate in a way that the average person can understand.
If you’re unsure about where to start with figuring out your niche, you need to get out there and talk to people to understand their problems and needs. My suggestion is to set up 3-5 coffee chats with people in your target niche. These can be potential customers or people within your network to understand what their biggest challenges are and where they need help. You don’t know what people need until you talk to them. And the best way to get to know your audience is by researching them and having direct conversations with them.
Action Step 3: Craft your personal brand statement. Based on your knowledge about your niche, it’s time to create your personal brand statement. This should be a short, punchy 1-2 sentence summary –– an elevator pitch of sorts that encapsulates your personal brand. It should cover:
- The value you provide
- How you do it uniquely
- Who you do it for
So fill in the blanks: I am _____. I help_____understand/do _____ so that_____. Now let’s break this down so you understand each part:
- "I am" – This is who you are, your role, or the the title you give yourself. It’s best if you can have some credibility included.
- "I help" – Who do you add value to? This is your target audience.
- "Understand / do" – How you add value to your audience. What do you help them accomplish?
- "So that" – The type of transformation your audience should expect to receive.
Mine would sound like: "I’m a Melody Wilding, a licensed social worker and executive coach. I help sensitive high-achievers stop doubting themselves so that they can reach their potential and thrive in their careers."
Here’s another, for someone who is a digital marketer, for example: ”I am a digital marketer with eight years of experience. I help technology companies advertise their services using the power of social media so that the can acquire new customers”.
I hear from a lot of people who feel like it's hard to squeeze everything they do into one neat tidy sentence, and I totally get it. Which is why I wanted to give you a few other fill-in-the-blank formats to play around with while building your brand statement:
"I’m most passionate about_____, which is why I_____."
Example #1: "I’m most passionate about helping women look and feel their best, which is why I offer portrait photography for new mothers."
Example #2: "I wear a lot of different hats like producer, project manager, team lead. But they also have a lot in common and require a similar skill set. Each requires that I use my strengths in communication and organization to get things done."
You may be multi-passionate, just like I am. I’m a coach, writer, and professor. For a very long time, I struggled with these multiple identities. At the end of the day, the key is finding a central theme or thread that binds your multiple interests together.
The goal of your brand statement isn’t to describe everything you do or list your entire resume. That would be impossible. The point is to create a brief elevator pitch that is enticing enough to make someone curious and have them ask you to tell them more.
STRATEGY 4: FIND YOUR VOICE
Every brand has a distinct voice and yours should too. That is, they have a certain tone they strike based on the words they use. Take the airline JetBlue, which is very friendly and accommodating. Whereas, a brand like Nike is direct and inspiring. For example, saying “I apologize for the inconvenience” strikes a very different tone than “sorry about the mix-up,” but both statements essentially say the same thing. Which feels more like something you would say?
Similarly, your personal brand needs a recognizable voice. This is your vocabulary; certain words and phrases you may use; the way you structure your writing. Your brand voice plays an important role in making sure your message cuts through the noise, because you have a memorable personality that makes a lasting impression on people. One of the most effective ways to arrive at your brand voice is to think: “How do I want my brand to make people feel?”
Action Step 4: Pick 3 words to describe your brand voice. Your next action step is to pick 3 words to describe your brand voice. Maybe that’s "down-to-earth," "informative," or "authoritative." Perhaps you want to come off as more witty and funny, so you inject humor into your brand. In my case, I consider my personal brand voice to be "empathetic," "practical," and "informative."
STRATEGY 5: CREATE A VISUAL IDENTITY
It’s important you have a recognizable, consistent visual identity for your brand across everything you do online and off—from your business cards, your social media headers, and your email signature, to presentations you give and your website.
Your visual identity is made up of four basic components including:
- Logo – this could be your initials, your name, or a symbol for your business.
- Typography – this is the font family you use. Different fonts convey different emotions, so you want to be mindful about what you pick and make sure it’s easy to read. It’s wise to stick with something widely used, like Times New Roman or Garamond for a serif font, or Helvetica, a classic sans-serif font.
- Colors – Colors also have a psychology all their own. People relate red with excitement while they relate purple with authority and sophistication, for example. The colors you choose to use can have an impact on how your audience perceives you and reacts to your personal brand.
- Imagery – The photos you select alongside your brand can change how people perceive you. They create your brand aesthetic––modern or traditional, simple or complex, clean or edgy. Using lots of round shapes in your imagery can suggest unity and harmony. While using lots of straight edges can create a feeling of stability and strength.
These 4 things are the building blocks of your visual identity. And when repeated consistently, these visual elements can make you memorable, as well as convey professionalism and trust. The consensus among psychologists is that people like what they know. So reinforcing memory with visuals—and helping create a positive connection between your visual identity and who you are—can go a long way toward building your reputation.
Action Step 5: Create a “Personal Brand Board.” In my opinion, the most fun part of building your brand is this step of crafting your identity. It’s tempting to want to dive in and start picking fonts and color. But before you do that, do some research and exploration. It’s important to take it slow.
Think about the personal, consumer and even B2B brands that appeal to you the most—you’ll find that there are certain visual cues, colors, themes, and elements they have in common. I suggest creating a Pinterest board to log images that appeal to you. You can pin images, logo, photos, and color schemes. As you do, ask yourself: "What do these visual elements have in common? What adjectives can I use to describe the common theme? How can I apply these adjectives to my own visual identity?"
STRATEGY 6: PRESENT YOUR BEST SELF IN PUBLIC
A picture really is worth a thousand words, so if you want people to take you seriously, then you need to look the part. People make snap judgements about your credibility and professionalism based on how you look, so you want to make sure you’re putting your best foot forward.
The way you dress and carry yourself should match up with your personal values and how you want to be perceived, both online and on a day-to-day basis.
Being conscious about the clothes you wear can make or break a person’s impression of you. For example, I once had a colleague who was known for her interesting necklaces. She always wore a funky, cool necklace to events, which made her memorable and helped her stand out. It was a core part of her brand.
Every interaction you have, whether in-person or online, is an opportunity to put your best “branded” self forward.
Every interaction you have—whether that’s in-person at a networking event, meeting or conference, online over a video call, imagery on your website and social media, etc.—is an opportunity to put your best “branded” self forward.
If you look professional, potential clients, investors, collaborators, etc. who don’t know you personally, are going to be more likely to agree to a meeting with you or accept your requests on LinkedIn, for example.
Action Step 6: Get professional headshots. This one seems obvious, but I see so many people overlook it or misunderstand what it means to have a professional headshot.
A picture of you from a company cocktail party, with your eyes flashed out and somebody’s arm half-cropped out is not a good look. Nor is a selfie. Get photos taken by a photographer if you can. If you don’t have the funds, have a friend take a photo of you in front of neutral background. And make sure to be true to yourself—if you’d never be caught dead in a suit, don’t wear one in your headshots.
Upload the photo to all of your social platforms, so that people see a consistent image of you. Your photo should be updated every two years, or sooner if you make drastic changes.
STRATEGY 7: OWN YOUR ONLINE PRESENCE
Speaking of social platforms, it’s time to talk about owning your online presence.
First and foremost, you want to make sure you pass the "Google Test". By that I mean, are you happy with what pops up when you Google your name? It might sound egotistical to Google yourself, but it’s the best brand insurance there is.
It might sound egotistical to Google yourself, but it’s the best brand insurance there is.
Today, the first place people turn to learn more about you is the internet. It’s critical to know what comes up when someone searches your name, and to start taking ownership of the results.
Action Step 7: Build a home on the web. The easiest way to do this is by building a website. You can build a basic website using a tool like WordPress, Squarespace, or About.me. For beginners, though, I suggest focusing on building your LinkedIn profile. Your LinkedIn profile is often the first thing that will appear when people Google you, so it's a valuable piece of real estate.
Start with the basics: get your professional headshot up there along with your personal branding statement. Create a banner image that has elements of your visual identity. Make sure that on every social media site you reserve the URL or handles of your name or your company name.
STRATEGY 8: CREATE ORIGINAL CONTENT
Think back to the 3rd element of a strong personal brand that we talked about earlier: constancy. In short, this means that you need to keep yourself visible so you stay top of mind with the audience you want to impact. By doing so, you not only build a following and expose yourself to new opportunities, but you become more familiar to people. And as humans, we trust things that seem more familiar.
The best way to both stay top of mind and deliver value to your network is by creating original content. This can be anything—blog posts, instagram stories, LinkedIn videos, a newsletter. If you work for a company, you might give a lunch and learn or speak at a conference.
After one of my clients launched a successful multi-million dollar project at his firm, he went around giving presentations to other teams about what they learned and how they could replicate the same model. This increased his visibility, and contributed to him getting a triple bonus and being honored as one of the top 1% of professionals in his field.
The best way to both stay top of mind and deliver value to your network is by creating original content.
The key is to create content consistently. You notice I don’t just put out a blog post here and there. I write blogs consistently and I have for the past 6 years. I post on social media daily. I send newsletters weekly or sometimes email you multiple times a week if I have something important to share.
If you’re not sure what to share about, it can be stories about your career path, inspirational posts, helpful tutorials like how-to posts, blogs about industry trends. I usually suggest my clients start with curation, which means rounding up great blogs or content you have found elsewhere. Perhaps you round up interesting events happening or the five best blog posts you read over the past month. It’s an easy way to get started creating content, adds a lot of value to your audience and helps build your brand.
Action Step 8: Choose one social network to focus on and create original content there. Creating original content can seem overwhelming, so I want you to start small. Choose one social network where you want to work on building your personal brand first. Whether that’s Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter—just pick one to start.
You can use platforms like Buffer and Meet Edgar, which are both social media scheduling tools. You can load social media posts into Buffer or Meet Edgar in advanced and put your social media on autopilot. This allows you to meet your goal of achieving relevant, valuable information, and do in an efficient way that doesn’t drain your time and energy.
THE 8 ACTION STEPS
So there you have it: The 8 action steps of your personal brand plan. Let’s review:
- Conduct a 360 survey to understand how you are perceived.
- Choose one element you as your Best Self to implement.
- Craft your personal brand statement.
- Pick 3 words to describe your brand voice.
- Create your brand board.
- Get professional headshots.
- Build a home on the web.
- Choose one social network and start creating original content there.
TOOLS FOR THE JOB
Now that you have a solid playbook for building your personal brand, let’s briefly go over a few tools to help you take things to the next level.
First, we have Honeybook’s free email signature generator. This tool helps you create a custom email signature that stands out. You can brand it with your photo, logo, or colors, and even add links to your social media or a recent piece of content.
The next may seem obvious, but again, this is one I see people overlook, and that is having a professional email address. It’s best if you can set one up that’s connected to your website, like email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
At a minimum, you need a Gmail address. Many people perceive an email address at AOL, Hotmail, or Yahoo to be outdated, so it’s really important you try to get a professional sounding Gmail address. Not something like email@example.com but more along the lines of your first and last name @gmail.com.
GROWING YOUR AUDIENCE
There are tons of ways you can start creating free valuable content for people. It’s all about reaching your target market and positioning yourself as an expert.
One of my favorite ways to do this is by using Medium.com, which is a free blogging platform where you can create original content without having to create a website. Medium gets over 60 million monthly visitors, so it’s an excellent way to publish more content and reach more people. There’s also a service called Help a Reporter Out or HARO. HARO is a completely free way to get publicity and major press and PR easily. Getting featured in media is one of the fastest and most effective ways to position yourself as an expert and build your brand.
Finally, let’s talk about a few tools to make a positive visual impression when someone interacts with you. Moo.com is my favorite service for business cards. Beautiful.ai is perfect for creating amazing, professional presentations that look like they’re designed by a graphic designer. You can easily plug in your logo, brand colors and select imagery that aligns with your aesthetics, so as you share information with others—whether that’s presenting a plan to your boss, delivering a training, or sharing a proposal—you represent yourself as a total, cohesive package.
Last but not least, I really like to recommend having an online scheduler tool. There are lots of services out there––Calendly and Acuity are two great ones. You can set up your calendar to have your colors and logo on it, but more importantly, it sends a message to people that you’re legit, organized, and helps you create positive boundaries around your time, which is always important.
WHAT YOU LEARNED
Let’s review what we covered today:
- First we talked about what it means to have a personal brand and why that matters.
- We covered the key ways a personal brand elevates your career.
- We went through the three elements the best personal brands have—clarity, consistency, and constancy.
- I gave you two reframes to shift the main insecurities that may be holding you back from creating your personal brand.
- We then went through your 8-step personal brand plan.
- Finally, we talked about several tools to help you bring your personal brand to life.
If you’re ready to create a personal brand with simplicity, style and professionalism, then you have to check out Beautiful.ai. Today’s presentation was built using their software and it's hands-down the best way to create stunning presentation without having to be a graphic designer.
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