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Why Everyone Needs a Personal Brand and How to Develop Yours

Two pencils on a yellow piece of paper.

The term personal branding was coined almost 20 years ago in the article “A Brand Called You” by Tom Peters in Fast Company Magazine. Peters proposed that individuals take a lesson from consumer products (think Nike or Coca Cola) and be their own head marketer. Since a person’s brand is based on the perception of others, why not, as Peters suggests, take control of it?

What you choose to emphasize depends on the needs and wants of your audience.

For many, the idea of personal branding seems self-serving at best and cheap or cheesy at worst. The reality is that we all have a personal brand, whether we create it or not; it’s called our reputation. In the words of Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

Your brand should send a positive message about who you are, what you’re capable of. But how can you establish and foster something that seems so indefinable and subjective?

Here is a step-by-step approach to guide you through the process.

Know your audience

What you choose to emphasize depends on the needs and wants of your audience. If you’re a candidate for a nonprofit job opportunity, your audience is the committee that will make the hiring decision. They will want to know about your skills and accomplishments and how you will meet the operational, financial, or marketing challenges of the organization.

Focus on facts

There’s no bigger turnoff than using self-aggrandizing and empty language to promote yourself. Are you a major gift development officer that raised $5 million for your organization by building and expanding relationships? That’s a concrete example of your abilities. Are you a CFO who saved a university money by making recommendations on expense control and process improvements? That’s another example of your skills. The key here is, stick to the facts.

Pro Tip: Avoid vague phrases like “proven track record,” “recognized expert,” and “committed professional.”

Tell a story

Perhaps you started your career in the finance industry and only recently transitioned to the social-impact sector. Tell the story of how and why you made the change and how your skills in finance prepared you for your current role. The secret to a good elevator pitch is to keep it short and sweet, focused and compelling. In other words, say what do you do, who do you do it for, and what benefits you provide. Research has shown that the human brain is wired for stories. Telling your story will draw in the listener in a way that telling someone you’re “dedicated” or “hardworking” does not.

Seek feedback

You think you know yourself, but others may see you differently. Colleagues, managers, and even family members have seen you in action and can help you reflect on your capabilities. Ask trusted members of your network for an example of when they’ve seen you at your best and the strengths they noticed you using. You may find that you overlooked a quality that someone else recognized.

Create content

One of the best ways to establish your brand is to write or speak about what you know. There are many ways to share your passion and knowledge. Create a website, start a blog or visual portfolio on Instagram. “Even if you don’t have 10,000 social media followers, it’s an invaluable form of credibility when a colleague or prospective donor mentions a problem they’re having, and you can tell her, ‘I just wrote a piece about that, let me send it to you,’” says writer and speaker, Dorie Clark.

Personal branding can benefit you and your organization by assisting others in understanding where you shine, and ensure that your talents are used in the best way possible. It’s not about shameless self-promotion. As branding guru, William Arruda puts it, “Personal branding is not about you. It’s about putting your stamp on the value you deliver to others.”

If you start by following the steps above, you will gain confidence in your ability to tell your unique story and be seen for your knowledge and expertise. For more information on building your personal brand, download this free branding workbook. Happy branding!

Avoid vague phrases like “proven track record,” “recognized expert,” and “committed professional.”

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About the Author | Susan Peppercorn is a career coach and writer with a passion for helping individuals go from surviving to thriving in their careers. Through her knowledge of personal branding, hiring practices and social media, she enables professionals to realize their career goals. Susan is founder and CEO of Positive Workplace Partners and author of the soon to be published book, Ditch Your Inner Critic: Let Go of Perfection to Thrive in Your Career.

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