Personal branding’s missing link

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By Aaron Templer

trainschedule
If you’re on the wrong train, it matters not two wits that you’re going somewhere.

There’s clearly a personal branding gold rush. People and firms willing to take your money to tell you how important it is and how to do it. And of course the blogs, mainstream media, new media, Wikipedia, and even a magazine buttress the rush. Wherever we look we’re told we must brand ourselves.

Without commenting on whether or not there’s value in all of this (plenty of others have already chimed in, like @carlosmic’s common-sense insight) I believe there’s a big link missing from the dialog.

In essence, there are four key areas for brand building at the enterprise level that can easily be leveraged toward building a personal brand. In my experience with personal branding, too little attention is given to the first while there’s a flood of advice on the other three:

  1. Strategy
    1. Where I’m going and how I’ll get there
  2. Identity
    1. What I do well, how I do it differently, why it matters, and how I articulate it
  3. Management
    1. Where and how I’ll facilitate the telling of my story and how I’ll integrate it all
  4. Experience
    1. Measuring how successful am I in authentically telling my story and adjusting

Like an enterprise brand, before building a personal brand (the development of your identity and  managing the facilitation and experience of your story) it helps to understand where you’re going and how you’re going to get there.

This isn’t to say you can’t experiment and change along the way. But the less your tolerance for and recovery from mid-course corrections is, the tighter your personal strategy must be for successful execution in the other areas.

Before you choose your train—let alone the seat on it and who’ll you’ll travel with—you have to know what your destination will be. If the destination changes, you need the time and acumen to get off, re-rout, and make good to those who were on board with you.

Before starting this process, I’d suggest thinking hard and long about Jim Collins’ notion of confronting the brutal facts. You have to be honest in your process of defining your personal strategy, or you’re just cheating on a test. You’re building a house of cards.

Reserve judgment and be willing to honestly confront issues like:

  • How much do I value money? Really. Do I want nice things for myself and my family? Do I enjoy the finer things in life, or do I need them?
  • What am I really good at? Not what do I wish I was good at, but what do I do well time and again with extraordinary results without hardly trying?
  • What gives me energy? Not what I hope gives me energy. But when I go home, high with energy and talk with a friend or partner about a really good day, what did that day look like?

A personal strategy (like a business strategy) begins and ends with your values—your non-negotiables. All else revolves around them. Creating your values is a highly personal exploration (and deserves much more attention than this blog post). But sometimes you can get at your values from a negative perspective:

  • What will I not do to succeed?
  • Who will I not associate with to get where I’m going?
  • What will I not sacrifice to move ahead?
  • What doesn’t matter to me?

Your values will inform six essential elements to your personal strategy. (But in my opinion, these elements are all but impossible to define honestly without a clear sense of your values.)

1. Vision and mission

It’s easy to make Vision and Missions unnecessarily complicated. So keep it simple:

• Vision: where am I going and what difference will I make in the world?
• Mission: what’s the work required to get there?

Depending on your personality, you can write them down, you can keep them in loose in your mind. But give yourself a north-star vision (something you may never attain and is larger than yourself) and a real-world mission (a few sentences or thoughts about the work required to get there.)

2. Economic Logic

This is another highly personal exploration, but critical. Do you need financial stability for a large family? Is a high salary necessary to support the kind of lifestyle you desire? Do you want to retire early? Can you afford a few years of lean revenues to build something of your own design?

Getting to those answers sometimes involves some smaller issues. Can you walk and take the bus or must you drive and park? When you go to a networking event do you care that your clothes aren’t the nicest in the room? Do you cook? Is a gym important to your health or will a YMCA do? Can you pack a sandwich? Can you say “no thanks” to those that lunch out regularly?

Then there’s the cash flow issue. What is my debt load? Have I saved enough to live paycheck-free for two years? What is my invoice strategy? Will I pay contractors, vendors, employees on credit or in cash?

Your Economic Logic defines your direction in many ways. Career path within a large organization. Taking risks with a startup. Working for yourself. Office-ing from home. Long expensive commutes. Overhead of a professional vs. a plush office.

3. Employment Logic

Will you be pursuing a career with an organization in well-defined industry or will you work for yourself? These two paths involve different stakeholders (those who you must consider when crafting your branding plan). Engaging potential clients for entrepreneurial growth is an entirely different matter than engaging supporters within an organization or industry for career mobility.

Here are the next three areas to develop when building your personal strategy. If there’s interest, I’ll blog about them in future posts:

4. Core competencies
5. Market and competition
6. Stakeholders

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