Skipping Cliches: Advice on Your Personal Brand


On principal, I hesitate to give advice for a few reasons.

  1. I recognize I’ve only even been alive for 32 years and
  2. I also recognize that I don’t know anything, really.

What I do know, I know from trying too hard, failing at a lot of things in rapid succession and letting myself ride an emotional roller coaster when I should have abandoned the ride a lot earlier. However, people still ask for advice from time to time. I distribute it freely, even if I’m not sure I’m right. Which, in fairness – I do say as a caveat to advice-giving most of the time.

Last week, I was lucky enough to spend an hour on the phone with two people who want to build a personal brand. No, they did not utter the words “HR famous” (thankfully). They want the personal brand not to satiate some giant ego but because they’d recently been turned down for a promotion. The reason? The company wanted to hire someone “well known in the industry.”

I have to say that concept of hiring someone HR famous instead of an internal person who knows the job hurt my head, but that’s not the point of this post. The point and reality (exhibited by this exact situation) is that there is a value to creating a personal brand. However, everything I’ve seen written on how to build that brand is a pile of cliches that advise people to do a lot of work for a very (very) small return on investment. So, here’s the advice I offered.

  1. Want more time to put toward reading, learning, being social and building relationships? Stop checking your e-mail so often. If an e-mail is really important, I can almost guarantee someone will call you. In fact, your team should know that they should call you if there’s a fire that needs to be addressed. Two or three times a day where you stop to scan subject lines and address important things should (hypothetically) suffice.
  2. Use a scheduling tool. This is advice that one of the cliche pieces would share but I don’t care. It saves me a ton of time so I can spend one hour after work reading and putting things into my queue instead of trying to set a reminder every 3 hours to check Twitter. And yes, I tried that. I really love Buffer. For $10 a month (that I can write off as a personal expense), I can schedule all the tweets I want with an easy to use Chrome extension, look at analytics for topics to write about, optimize the time of day when I interact to get the most eyes, etc. Part of a brand is people seeing you everywhere. Use automation to show up.
  3. This is going to be a hard one for all of you anti-phone, gen-whatever googlers who think you can do anything you want with WiFi. If you really want to build some kind of capital with your personal brand, you have to talk to people. So, when you come across tough, nuanced problems – I want you to phone a friend instead of building a case study in your own silo. Call two people. They don’t need to be good friends, just people you respect on a topic. And no, you’re not inconveniencing anyone. In fact, you’re probably stroking their ego. Plus, the next time those people who travel the country to go to conferences are trying to remember an example, they might think of you. They might talk about you. A referral is everyone’s best source.
  4. Don’t write about shit you don’t care about. Look, if you’re going to spend your personal time writing on your personal blog – write about topics that you actually have a strong opinion about. Don’t write to keep up some stupid content calendar or because you think it’s “relevant to the market.” If that’s your driver, I can almost guarantee whatever you write will suck. I’m Type A and hear me on this: don’t Type A your writing. I’ve heard stories of people writing about Viagra at work. Talk about a job that’ll keep you up at night. (rimshot here). I get it, you have to write things for work about topics that you don’t like. But in your personal time, write about what makes your brain tick or your heart hurt, if you’re really brave. The proof is right here on this blog. I started writing around 2007 (if I remember correctly) about social media strategy. I wrote about what I thought people wanted to read instead of what inspired me and it amounted to 20 views a month and a lot of wasted time.

That’s it. Start there and see what happens. Know that you’re lucky – it took me 10 years to figure this stuff out and all you have to do is read a blog post.

If you don’t listen to any of this advice, just don’t fall in the trap of telling the story you think people want to hear. There are enough half-assed blogs and terrible conference presentations out there, we don’t need yours too.

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