Personal Branding: Creating Your Mark

Personal branding isn’t taught in schools.

Which is a good thing for me, because I would’ve failed.

Most people like talking about themselves. When it comes to job applications though… many of us fall miserably short – myself included. Most of us aren’t great at highlighting our strengths and literally selling ourselves on paper. Again, this is something I fall victim to. That’s despite being quite good at writing sales copy.

The good news is there’s plenty of information about it on the Internet. The even better news is that creating a personal brand for yourself isn’t difficult! The majority of us just want to find a job. Even a bit of quick, slightly-better-than-average personal branding can make you stand out from the pile of CVs sitting on your potential employer’s desk.

kitten
There’s also plenty of information about cats… which may distract you.

All marketers (digital or not) are familiar with branding. A brand is the mark of a product or service. It’s instantly recognizable. It has its own style and flow. Logos are the ultimate example: many of the most successful logos are simple and can be recognized even during sunset, against the skyline. Just take a look at McDonald’s…

mcdonald's logo

Even if lights malfunctioned, the outline of Ronald’s Golden Arches would still be recognizable. There are very few people in the world nowadays who don’t know what McDonald’s is or where to find one. Pretty much anyone who has ever been anywhere know exactly what that giant M is pointing to.

So that’s just branding. Now it’s time to get personal…

What is personal branding?

With this type of branding, the product you’re advertising and selling is yourself. Or, more specifically, your experience and skill set. That’s what often gets a lot of people: it scares the shit out of most of us. It means we have to examine ourselves, recognize our weaknesses and really dig deep to find strengths that employers want to use.

The truth is, it’s not really that scary. You simply package what you’re good at then give it a bit of a “brush up”. Put it in front of the right buyers, and they’ll salivate all over it.

cake and fork
If you try offering them cake, be prepared to deliver.

In my first blog post, I talked about shameless self-promotion and mentioned that I disliked it intensely. Many people are awful at marketing themselves (myself included), primarily because they feel it to be embarrassing/icky. What’s helped me in this situation is to create an emotional disconnect and view my brand as a product, a project.

Personal Branding Tips – Building the foundation

I could give you stock personal branding tips like “Start with what you like most”, “Be honest but no too honest” or “Don’t brag but don’t hide your skills”. These have a lot of truth in them – but they tell us nothing about how to actually build your brand. Zilch.

You already know what you’re good at – if your job history is anything to go by. Since most personal brand builders are aiming to snag employers/clients, it shouldn’t be too difficult to list your skills. The trick is finding a starting point for “publishing” this list, making it look attractive and -ultimately- ensuring that the right people see it.

Your CV already does that. But it’s crap. Because all CVs are boring.

In most industries these days (outside of online-based ones), it’s still a very good idea to have a website. Failing that, a blog is better. Most tips regarding personal branding sometimes overemphasize the beauty of a blog/website. It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece. It has to be a showcase, something that clearly displays everything you can do – as well as your greatest achievements.

cupcakes
For example, bakers can well display a portfolio of the beautiful cakes they make. Yes, I think I’m slightly obsessed with cake this evening.

If you’re floundering and looking for a myriad of personal branding tips to get you going, stop. Gather your best work: bakers, get your cakes ready. Copywriters, compile your portfolio. Candle-makers… Get pictures of your lovely candles.

  • Create a portfolio site. With the countless free website builders around, this is pretty easy. WordPress it up, Joomla the crap out of it (or try Wix… very slow, but useful if you’re scared of HTML).
  • Do try to make it look nice. Like I said, it doesn’t have to be masterpiece. However, it shouldn’t be an eyesore (and no flashing/spinning/undulating images… this isn’t Geocities in the 90s).
  • Blog about it! You don’t have to, but it helps. You also don’t have to blog often… Once a month should do.
  • Promote it: Put the link to your portfolio in your CV. Link it to whatever social media accounts you have (personal branding definitely calls for the likes of a LinkedIn account!).

So, when getting your personal brand off the ground… That’s pretty much it. Personal branding tips will also dictate that you actively promote it. How much you do this, however, depends on you. Freelancers who are always on the lookout for new clients should dedicate a little time to getting their voice out there.

delicious cake
Megaphones probably aren’t the best way, though…

Personal Branding Tips – A few ideas

Once you have a solid basis, you can take a look at a few tips to bring your personal branding further. Sharing your knowledge is a great way to get interested parties reading your blog. Twitter it, Instagram it, Facebook it. If you’re a writer, use your own unique voice (and establish the “voice” of your own brand first). SEOs can optimize their sites and track the analytics.

When it comes to discussing professional topics, I’d actually recommend LinkedIn and Twitter. Sure, Twitter’s not as “serious”, however I’ve found it to be a valuable source of knowledge and insight… All while letting you have a little fun. While LinkedIn is more “stiff” – it is actually a brilliant place to craft your professional persona.

Thoughts on Freelancing and Stability

I originally became a freelancer because I didn’t like working in a kitchen. The only other skills I had besides cooking were speaking English and being able to write. Since work as an English teacher was scarce, I turned to “writing for the Internet”.

old lady welcome to the internet
My first day on the job.

This really meant content mills – Textbroker, The Content Authority and MediaPiston (who were actually pretty decent, but it’s dead now so don’t get any funny ideas).

There was no guarantee of work, but I turned the computer on every day. I wrote most days – sometimes very little, sometimes far, far too much.

I read many resources on freelancing. How to get clients, where to find them and new places to find work. As time went on, I managed to pick up a few of my own who paid better and delivered more consistent levels of work. At the end of every month, however, I was still living hand-to-mouth.

peanuts
In being paid peanuts, it was sometimes all I ate (this may or may not be true).

I loved the freedom of being able to work from anywhere. I enjoyed being able to shift my hours so I could meet friends who usually worked night shifts in bars. I had a lot of fun adventures disappearing off to another city and still being able to make an income. Yet at times, I was wondering if I could pay my rent next month.

Instability and freedom, or stability and being chained to a desk

At some point, I realized that experience in a company might be valuable. So, I managed to blag my way into a job where I became a full-on online marketing manager. It was nice to have a stable salary, regular working hours and my own desk.

carol beer at desk
I tried my best not to impersonate this person. It didn’t always work.

Unfortunately, the charm wore off pretty soon. I went into the office every day. I sat in the same place. While I still appreciated the stability and loved learning new things, the feeling of “sameness”, of being trapped in one room for forty hours a week, began to creep in.

I started to miss freelancing, or so I thought.

In truth, I wasn’t missing freelancing at all. I had diverse projects to work on (admittedly within a very niche industry). I was constantly learning new things and training my SEO muscles. I was making lots of money from our affiliate partners. What I was really missing, in fact, I was simply the lifestyle I had been accustomed to. While my hours were flexible, my presence was required in the office because it was the done thing.

When it comes to freelancing, people often make the choice for two reasons. The first is having their own business, trying their hand at being successful and seeing how much money they can make. The other is simply freedom. This kind of freedom is traditionally not thought to exist in most companies.

However…

…these days, the online industry has made full-time jobs as flexible as freelance positions.

Things are different now. If you’re adamant about the option of working in your underwear (or in the Sahara or eye of a hurricane or wherever gives you the most “inspiration”), you don’t have to go at it alone. Remote jobs are plentiful – if a little competitive.

In essence: Things nowadays are not as clear-cut as “freelancing = freedom” and “employment = imprisonment”. There are freelance positions which require you to be on-site, and permanent employment contracts that let you work from anywhere in the world.

If you are looking for that kind of freedom, the key here is your perspective. If it is easier to find a freelance job, it’s best to build up long-term partnerships which can similar to regular employment. Forget about security for a minute and focus on regular pay. After all, you can still be fired pretty fast on a permanent contract. Though you’ll most likely receive some “I’m sorry” money.

So, what to do?

Research!

Have a look at your industry. What are the most feasible options for you? Do you mind going into an office maybe only once or twice a week, but having partial location independence? If so, you may luck out on finding a local job. Are you so utterly fantastic that companies and clients will come to your door, begging for your services? Then maybe freelancing is the best option.

There are a lot of possibilities out there. How much money you make and whether you can live on it also depends on how in-demand you are. Those with programming skills will make more in a shorter amount of time – SEO experts fall somewhere a little lower in the pecking order. Unfortunately, writers tend to be seen as the grunts (unless you’re so fantastically good that you’ve written for Vogue, or something).

So, what’s my secret? Well, I mix it up.

I have freelance work which ebbs and flows. However, I strive to maintain some kind of “basis” income. Theoretically I could get a job in a coffee shop, though since I prefer location independence I went for a part-time remote job. Having at least a guaranteed coming in every month covers my bases – train ticket, health insurance, candle supply (I light a lot of smelly candles).

So, when it comes to flexibility there is a lot of wiggle room. It just means that you have to add a dash of creativity to your work strategy. Which shouldn’t be a problem… We are creatives after all, aren’t we?

Shameless Self-Promotion: Starting Off as a Digital Marketer

I’m not new to the digital and online marketing game. I’ve been doing it for over six years, beginning as a humble copywriter (at first working with content mills *shudder*). Eventually, I was taken seriously enough to work in what some might call a “grownup” job. I did SEO in the online dating industry. That being said, I believe any job that gets the bills paid on time is a grownup job. Though some might disagree…

There’s a lot to be said for self-promotion: and what I can is… I hate it. I don’t like writing about myself. However, in a professional context it helps to get the word out. It’s much easier to big-up dating sites, dental offices in random US towns I’ve never heard of and countless other products (even VoIP… though I had to research thoroughly into what VoIP was back in the day). So, the first step was creating my own site.

Building a Professional Website/Online CV: Where to start?

If you work in any marketing job, you’ll probably want to have your resume or CV out there for everyone (who is relevant) to read. So, it makes sense to have a website. Whilst my web development skills are currently still nascent, I do know my way around HTML and CSS at least. However, during the last week I’ve needed to get things done fast. So, I chose Wix.com to help me build a professional site – quickly.

wix homepage
Beautiful… But SLOW.

I must say I found it confusing at first, coming from a coding background. I eventually got the hang of the tools. Although you can’t actually code anything yourself, the Wix site builder does helpfully indicate what titles and paragraphs are (h1, h2, etc.) for SEO purposes (which, to be honest, would be ridiculous if they didn’t…).

The site actually looks quite nice. There are a lot of themes that you can easily customize and quite fast as well: the site was up and running in a few days, and all I had to do was add content, chop and change things until it turned into something I could bear to look at.

My biggest problems with the Wix.com website builder?

I live in Germany. The word “Wix” in German (pronounced “Vix” and spelled “Wichs” by Germans) sounds like something very indecent that you ought to do in the privacy of your own room. While potential clients and employers may or may not be German, there will probably be a few people who’ll have a good chuckle.

Practically speaking, the site is very slow when it comes to loading (it does have a ton of features to make the site-building process as easy as possible). It took a good few seconds. While I’m not expecting the site to rank high on search engines, it doesn’t look very good for a digital marketing strategist to have any site that takes an eon to load.

I do plan on leaving it for now, though. The site looks nice, clean and displays my work experience, portfolio and projects clearly and efficiently. However, I think I will be migrating it to a new provider in the very near future… Lessons learned!