Brand (You)
This blog captures Mark's thoughts, feelings, observations and rants on business strategy, brand development, customer service and social media. Mark is a massive fan of innovative start-ups and big ideas. He detests the status quo.

For any fellow Apprentice fans, you will no doubt remember the infamous Stuart Baggs gracing our screens during series 6 of the award-winning TV show back in autumn 2010.

Baggs entertained viewers with a blend of relentless enthusiasm and humourous remarks, but above all a referral to himself as a “brand”. He was constantly ridiculed by Lord Sugar for this self-styled reference, and was completely shot down by Sugar’s sidekick Claude Littner during the interview round.

Who was right? the ageing businessmen, still ruling with a 1970’s management style or plucky Baggs, who recognised the importance and benefits that creating your own personal brand can bring?

Like him or loathe him, Baggs has a point. Personal brands are everywhere; think Oprah, Donald Trump, Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Paris Hilton, or Gordon Ramsay. Sure, these guys are famous, but you don’t have to be a media-hungry celebrity to have a strong personal brand. At it’s core, personal branding is simply the way that we present and market ourselves to others.

For anyone that know’s me, you will be familiar with my thoughts surrounding the demise of the Curriculum Vitae. In my view, the CV has had a good innings, but I firmly believe it’s days are numbered. It’s replacement rolled into town a while ago. It’s called LinkedIn.

For those of you who have been living in a cave, or refuse to put yourself online, take a piece of advice from someone who has hired tons of people. Create a LinkedIn profile – today. And I don’t mean spending 5 minutes creating a piss poor career list, put some thought and energy into it. See, the reality is, for anyone who thinks Twitter or Blogging is for kids, or simply “doesn’t have enough time for all that stuff”, LinkedIn is your only hope.

The value of a recruitment consultant used to be in their little black book – AKA their candidate database. Not anymore. Most recruiters now share the same little book – LinkedIn. This thriving social network for business professionals recently hit an epic 100M registered users, with unique monthly visits currently standing at an eye-popping 82M.

LinkedIn is the new recruitment hunting ground; if you are missing, then your invisible. Personal branding of course isn’t just about having a LinkedIn profile; otherwise 100M people already have an awesome personal brand. Personal branding is about showing the true you; your passions, your personality, your beliefs, your opinions, your expertise. And done right, you will never need another CV, or need to register with another recruitment agency again – I guarantee it.

When starting to create brand “you”, there is one key rule; be true to yourself. There is no point positioning yourself as a zany, wacky, crazy extrovert when deep down you are a shy, introverted wallflower. A good tip is to ask friends, family or co-workers their opinions on you – your personality, your traits, your positives, your negatives. Be sure to take criticism well – after all this is about learning to present your authentic self.

Next, start to think about your work – and be honest. Is this really what you were born to do? Do you love every second of it? If you don’t, it will be hard to create a strong, authentic personal brand around it. If you hate it, don’t worry. Many people end up taking jobs, or simply fell into them because of family or friends suggesting a specific career path.

I left school excelling at English and Drama, but being pretty mediocre at the rest. My Dad convinced me that “a job in computers” is where I should head. He was partly right. I enjoyed working in motivated teams and I enjoyed learning new technology, but a systems programmer I was not. Deep down, I was fascinated about business leaders in the public eye; people that had started from nothing and through a mix of sheer passion, grit, determination and personality they built companies out of nothing. To this day, my personal choice of book, film, TV show, or Blog will centre on business – anything from start-ups, to growth strategies, marketing, employee motivation, and culture – OK, I’m mocked pretty regularly by my friends, but hey, it’s me – it’s who I am.

When I started my IT consulting business back in 2003, what drove me was the thrill of the start-up – not a deep interest in technology. Sure, I love gadgets like the next guy (I’m an Apple freak!) but the software which we sold didn’t set my world alight – brand building and marketing did. It took me 6.5 years and a successful exit from my company to realise that my passion didn’t specifically lie with the inner-workings of software, but what made it compelling to the customer.

Only once I really understood what drives me – start-ups, brands, advertising, marketing, image, and team building, was I able to really feel that I had found my calling. The consulting work that I’ve picked up as a result of writing my Blog, building connections on Twitter and LinkedIn is testament to the fact that people see that I believe in my field – I have true burning passion for what I do.

Do I think I have a strong personal brand? I’d say I’m work in progress – but I’m clear on how I can improve. Right now, I’m building a new website for my personal brand, I’m doing the very best work I can to gain LinkedIn recommendations and I’m looking at creating regular Podcasts and video clips to help others – using the knowledge and experience I’ve built up over 15 years of installing, configuring, selling and marketing enterprise software.

So how do you get started, and more importantly what difference will having a strong “personal brand” really make?

Let’s imagine you are Abigail Walters. You are a passionate, self-motivated accountant, with 8 years experience under your belt. Your interest in all things numerical has got you a fantastic position at a top 5 firm, but you long to work with smaller clients rather than powerhouse giants. You sometimes struggle with the fact that your work doesn’t allow your true personality to shine through.

You do a quick search on GoDaddy.com and realise that “abigailwalters.com” is available. You register it, along with @abigailwalters on Twitter. You set-up a simple WordPress Blog on your site, and start to write about what you love; you’re so passionate you are creating at least two Blog posts a week.

Your posts contain tips, tricks, advice and know-how, gathered from your real-world industry experience. You Tweet extracts from your Blog and people start to follow you. You begin commenting on other people’s Blogs and Tweets – engaging in conversation and helping others. Your on-line presence grows. Over time you embed video into your posts, allowing your true passion and personality to shine through – you share on YouTube, and followers and fans flock to your site.

Before long, the AACA (the Global Body for Professional Accountancy) advise that they are a fan of your content, and ask you to be a guest contributor to their Blog. You gladly accept. As your brand grows, so do the invitations – you have created such a buzz around work which you truly love, you are soon invited to speak at industry events, in national press and even on TV.

Your employer benefits from your success, but you are no longer tied to them. The strong personal brand you have built has attracted a large on-line following, as well a very well connected network. Your brand gets you noticed as an expert in your space, and you are confident that you would receive numerous offers of employment or consulting should you ever wish to leave the comfort of the giant corporation.

Easy huh? Well, not really. This takes effort. Tons of effort – and the only way you will ever put the effort in is if you adore your chosen subject. Just like a strong company brand attracts consumers which share in it’s vision and purpose, a personal brand attracts fans and followers that recognise it’s a self-styled leader in its space. People with a strong personal brand very rarely have to look for employment – and if they do, they stand a much better chance of being noticed in the crowd than someone with a lame two page CV and no online presence.

There is no doubt that we are in the midst of a revolution, where social media tools such as Blogs, Twitter and LinkedIn have leveled the playing field and have enabled anyone with a passion to reach previously unreachable heights – the cost? Time – lots of it.

Storytelling for Sales

Like it or not, personal branding and the impact of social tooling is not going away. It’s only going to get bigger. The sooner you start sharing your ideas, and showing others where your passions lie the better. No matter whether you are an accountant, a web developer, a lawyer or a software salesperson, as long as you have passion, belief and commitment in what you do, you can start to create a personal brand which will transform how you are seen in your chosen field.

Just remember personal branding is about authenticity – showing your true self and standing for something. Your brand is the personification of your passion and values that make you who you are. Build a strong personal brand and you will never have to follow the masses. The masses will follow you.

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