Tattoos are Easy. Branding is Tough.

Start with the "Why" and end with the "How"“Simply brand yourself,” I’d told Cheryl when we first met over coffee.  “And more importantly, exhaustively, brand yourself.”

She’d sought me out, offered a latte in exchange for some career advice.  A true caffeine aficionado (some have labeled it an addiction), I had no power to reject her offer.

Now, four months later, as she walked back into the wine and coffee shop, I was eager to hear how it was going.  My excitement was short-lived.

She sighed and scrunched up the corner of her mouth.  “I’ve really tried, but nothing seems to be happening,” she stated.  She proceeded to fill me in on her attempts.  She’d attended every networking event she could find.  She had added nearly 100 contacts on LinkedIn.  She’d even taken up jogging (don’t ask…I’m also not entirely sure how she thought that was branding).  She was clearly frustrated.

“Okay,” I started.  “So, help me understand what successful branding looks like to you.  How will you know you’ve succeeded?”

Thus began a fruitful discussion about her career goals, her desire to find passion on a different career path than she’d been on for the past decade.

So, what does career branding mean to you…and I mean you personally?

Start by asking “Why?”

For each of us, the answer to this will likely differ significantly.  Is it fame that drives you?  Is it to be viewed as an expert in your field?  Or is it for greater financial benefit, for job promotion or career transitions?  Or is your goal simply to expose yourself to other incredibly interesting, wise, and fascinating individuals?  All are valid reasons, but only you can determine which best fits your goals.

For me, it’s always been a little of several things.  Yes, to be recognized as a thought leader in my field is important.  I’m always looking ahead at my career and my life goals, so developing in ways that take me down that path is important.  And without a doubt, I love to meet and interact with people who engage my intellectually and challenge my own perspectives.  But just because those are the reason that I am driven, does not mean they will work for you.  So, figure it out for yourself.

Only then, move on to the “How?”

Armed with an understanding of “why” you’re pursing a particular goal, you can then develop a strategy for getting there.  No one strategy works equal well for every person.  Make it personal and completely aligned with the “why.”

For me, blogging and sharing articles, books, and video clips allows me to develop a brand as as a thought-leader, but not merely along any lines.  Rather, it allows colleagues and followers to understand the underlying theories, perspectives, and passions I have toward organizational development and leadership.  I gain a following of two types, those who want to learn more because they relate to my perspectives, and those who want to challenge my viewpoints.  Either way, it enriches my professional brand as someone who believes and lives particular principles, but who is also open to continuous reexamination of my stances.

Similarly, I do grow my networks, in person and on the “interwebs.”  But I don’t focus on gaining followers merely for the number’s sake.  Rather, I want to build not a larger network, but a stronger and wider-reaching network.  This too builds my brand in an ever larger circle.

And I do pursue personal development….not piecemeal, but deliberately and aggressively.  In the 20 years I’ve been in the working world, I’ve spent roughly half of that time actively earning advanced degrees, all but one year of which was accomplished while working full-time.  I’m also constantly reading professional books and seeking out online resources (from TED talks, blog rolls, and scholarly articles).

So, over our second cup of coffee, Cheryl and I talk about her “whys” and only eventually came up with her personalized “hows.”  Will she be successful?  I hope so, but really, that’s only up to her.  Part of self-development is coming to the realization that it’s hard work.  And only when that hard-work seems worth it to you individually, will you carve out the time in your busy life to do it.

Repeatedly over my career, I’ve heard co-workers lament that I’ve just be so lucky to get so many great opportunities.  And indeed I have…..had many opportunities, that is.  Luck had very little to do with it.  I’ve worked my tail off to brand myself.  So, can you.  Just get to it, already!

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