Building your Personal Brand without Getting too Personal

There is a scene from Kate and Leopold where Kate (Meg Ryan) is using Leopold (Hugh Jackman) to sell a fat-free butter spread for her firm.

Leopold (to Kate): You know it’s revolting, yet you have no qualms enlisting me to endorse it?
Kate: … What’s the problem?
Leopold: The problem is that, for no reason beyond my affection for you, I find myself peddling pond scum to an unsuspecting public.
Kate: … Sometimes you have to do things you don’t like…. It’s a part of life.

This scene has always stuck out to me as a perfect example of how to maintain your integrity (and how to lose it). If you put your name on pond scum, then your name becomes linked to pond scum.

Don’t be like Kate

Building your personal brand should not have you ejecting every thought and feeling out into the internet like a teenager who just got her first iPhone. It should be a cultivated effort to present your values and your talents out into the world.

If you cannot fully endorse what you are saying, then you shouldn’t post/share/send it.

Using social media to regurgitate everything you see or hear will only cheapen your brand. Having a successful brand means having a successful filter.

What is a personal brand?

In my research, I have seen the term “personal brand” used extensively, but have never seen it clearly defined.

For the purposes of this article, I will use this definition:

A personal brand is the picture you present to the world about your talents, skills, and values through the use of social media, networking, and story-telling.

Start with what you value

It’s easy for me to say that you shouldn’t post what you don’t believe in/support. It’s much harder to be able to determine how to decide what to put your name on.

So…start by being honest with yourself. What gets you out of bed in the morning? What keeps you up at night? What do you really care about?

For me, it’s my family, finding a creative outlet, learning a new thing and helping other people. As I build my personal brand, I try to focus on posting and sharing things that will allow others to know what I value and what I care about.

Decide what you want your brand to do

There is a strategy in education called backward design. The idea is that, when planning your curriculum, you need to start with your end goal and work backwards. If I want my students to be able to argue effectively in writing, then I need to teach them what a good argument looks like. I also need to teach them how to write.

It’s a simple concept, but one which transfers nicely to the idea of the personal brand.  Instead of thinking of a personal brand as a way to get your name out there, think of it as a way to get your name to do something for you.

If I want my personal brand to be able to help me transition to a new career path/ build my business/ attract investors, I need to do x. 

Whatever is will be determined by a combination what you want (and need ) professionally and what you value. Why you do things mixed with how you do them. Once you know the purpose of your brand, it will be a lot easier to nurture and cultivate it.

Tell Your Story. Leave out the boring parts.

When you are formulating your personal brand, you should think of it as a story you are telling. Just like a company sells it’s brand, you need to sell you. Just, a better, more concise you. 

Elmore Leonard’s 10th rule of writing is to “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”

Give your clients and employers the Cliff’s Notes version of yourself: the combination of skills, history, and personality that will leave them with the impression you want them to have.

Go read “The Complete Guide to Building Your Personal Brand”

Seriously, it is incredible. Lengthy, but a genuine resource to help you in your career.


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