I’ve long been an advocate of building a “personal brand.” I use the quotation marks here because, unfortunately, the phrase has come to mean a lot of things over the last few years and not all of them mean what I mean when I use the word. To me, your personal brand is a distilled version of your reputation. It’s the topics and expertise associated with *you*. It may or may not have anything to do with running a business — and it certainly doesn’t need to have anything to do with you even being on social media.
(The association between a “personal brand” and social media gurus is one of the most lamentable developments in the last few years. I’m only a fan of social media if it works for you. Unfortunately, most people work for the social media companies. More on what I mean about that here.)
Even Employees Can Benefit from a Personal Brand
You can, and should, develop a personal brand even if you’re an employee and comfortable being an employee. The personal brand helps bring interesting opportunities to you because people associate you with the issues at hand.
I wrote about this at length in my book.
This personal brand helps you land new opportunities at work as people in your organization come to associate you with being the “go to” person for that issue.
Outside of your organization, it helps make your career more robust. Getting laid off is only particularly frightening if you don’t have any new opportunities to pick up. Those opportunities could be other companies wanting to hire you because they discovered your personal brand. Or it could be the opportunity to start or accelerate some consulting gigs.
Regardless, if you haven’t started building out a personal brand, start now.
Here’s what that might look like in as little as 60 minutes every week. These 60 minutes could be all at one time or spread out between a few days. The first few weeks would focus on building out a personal site (which you absolutely should have). If you already have a site with a blog or media functionality, skip to Week 4.
These are also just beginner-tier recommendations. If you want to move to more advanced material, pick up my book and/or email me.
Week 1: Website Prep
- Buy your name domain. This means something like ZakSlayback.com. If your name is Joe Exampleton, go buy JoeExampleton.com. My recommendation is to use Namecheap for this. Turn on auto-renew.
- Sign up for Webflow. Unless you’re already experienced with WordPress, Carrd, or some other tool, Webflow is going to be the easiest-to-use and fastest-to-get-running site builder for you.
In *How to Get Ahead*, I recommended using WordPress for a few reasons. WordPress is good and it is robust because there isn’t one single company behind it that could shut down and put you out of a site BUT it is a big pain in the butt to use if you’re not familiar with it. Ceteris paribus, go with Webflow. It’s a visual site builder that is far easier to use than WordPress.
- Choose a few Webflow templates you like. I recommend looking for blog website templates, but if you’re some kind of visual creator you may want to consider a different category. Don’t worry about choosing the exact one you like right now. Choose a few you like and sleep on it.
Week 2: Website Prep
- Choose a Webflow template from the list you set aside and buy it.
- Spend at least 45 minutes familiarizing yourself with Webflow 101.
Week 3: Website Basics
- Finish your Webflow 101 studying. You really don’t have to take the full course, but it’s good to understand the first 3 or 4 modules. You can use the others as-needed.
- Build out a very simple site from your Webflow template as you progress through your Webflow 101 studying. The site should have these pages:
- Home – Your home page should have a quick statement about who you are and what you do.
- About and/or Contact – Your About page should answer the question of “why should I care who you are?” for your visitors.
- Blog and/or Media – This will be the heart of your site.
Week 4: Brand Basics
- Set up your career-specific or domain-specific personal brand tools.
- GitHub if you’re a software developer.
- YouTube and/or Vimeo if you create videos.
- Your blog if you’re a non-technical person who doesn’t regularly create collateral as a function of your job.
- Link to these on your homepage of your site.
- Brainstorm at least 10 ideas of content you can create OR find at least 3 pieces of previously un-uploaded content to upload.
(I would strongly suggest adding an email capture on your site and collecting email addresses, too, but if this catches you up, you can skip that step.)
Week 5: The Act of Creation
- Choose a medium to create on and stick to it for idea generation. Choose a medium that is A) relevant to your personal brand/career trajectory; and, B) something that you’ll stick to. Don’t pick video as your main medium if you are a writer and it takes you weeks to record, edit, and publish a video. Make the rules of this game EASY for you to win.
- Choose 1 idea from the brainstormed list and create that piece of content. Publish it.
Week 6 – 10: Create, Create, Create
Most people need to worry about creating more content before they need to worry about creating better content. The reality is that nobody is going to hold your early content creation against you — but your perfectionism may do more to hurt your brand development than anything else. Commit to creating at LEAST one piece of content every week for a month. If you really want to put your brand creation into overdrive, commit to creating one piece of content every single day. I did this years ago and it was the biggest boon to my personal brand of anything I’ve done in a single month.
Week 10 – 14: Branch Out
People won’t just find your content because you create it. You have to point people to your content. You do this by sharing content to and on what I call in my book “brand builders.”
Brand builders are places where people who are the targets of your brand hang out. This may be a subreddit community, a YouTube community, a LinkedIn group, Quora, Medium, a Twitter community, podcasts, a Facebook group, etc. It doesn’t really matter what it is — what matters is that you contribute there and get people moving to your site based on your contributions.
My suggestion is to brainstorm a list of places where people who may be interested in your content hang out. Organize this list by size and by how “on brand” it is for what you’re working on. Then experiment with sharing content there and building a name for yourself there.
Different communities have different norms about self-promotion, too, so take that into account. For example, Reddit and HackerNews are notorious for responding poorly to self-promotion. Tread carefully with how you share content.
Keep a list of which brand builders perform best. Filter out the ones that perform poorly and double down on the ones that perform well.
As you build a bigger audience for your personal brand, you can ask them where they hang out online and what content they consume to learn about new brand builders.
(Also a good reason to build out your email list.)
Week 15 – On: Double Down on Brand Builders
Keep at this process of creation-sharing-listening-creation. The worst thing you can do is stop too early. You want to be regularly creating for at least 6 months — I would recommend a year — to establish yourself as a voice in your space.
ADVANCED: If you really want to stick out from the crowd, combine your preferred media with another media you like.
A good example here may be video and code. If you’re a software developer, you want to make sure you’re regularly pushing to GitHub (or your preferred tool). I would also recommend occasionally writing about what you’re working on at your blog so that there’s some cross-pollination between these two hubs of your personal brand. You can take this further, though, by doing video walk-throughs of your process. Here’s how you may do that:
- Sign up for a Loom account. (Full disclosure: 1517 Fund, where I work on the investment team, is an investor in Loom.)
- Take some code samples that you think are particularly interesting or were particularly challenging for you to figure out. Alternatively, take some examples of your planning process and feature those if you don’t want to show off your code.
- Record a Loom video of yourself walking people through your processes. Show how the sausage is made and give some of those tips and tricks that would be difficult to otherwise communicate over text.
- Embed this in a blog post. If you want to go a step further, create bumper audio and video and upload it separately to your YouTube channel as standalone content.
This is all an example of “talent stacking,” a concept popularized by Scott Adams that I discuss in my book. In short, it’s combining two or more skills that most practitioners of any given single skill don’t have the opportunity to combine.
The biggest thing you’d need to do to build out a personal brand in 60 minutes a week is brainstorm ideas, schedule time to act on those ideas and create content, and publish and share that content. This can be harder than it sounds — there is what Steven Pressfield calls “Resistance” working itself against you any time you sit down to create. Fight through it. Make your systems make it easier for you. Brainstorm ideas separately from acting on them. Schedule time to act on those ideas and stick to it. Share and publish separately.
That will build out you personal brand better than any gimmicks or courses ever will.
(H/t to Joe Petrich for the article idea.)