As much as we’d love to have the pulling power of a Simon Cowell to promote our L&D business, brand development for independent practitioners inevitably swings on a different hinge. Darryl Howes shows us how we can approach personal branding and project ourselves on a budget without the big bucks.
In September last year, a cash-strapped London council spent £86,000 on branding. Despite the bill, the project included a new logo design which an expert in communications criticised as ‘childlike’. For L&D freelancers, big marketing budgets such as this are just not realistic. And, as this example illustrates, spending doesn’t guarantee success. But does this mean that brand development for independent practitioners is not important? In this short article we’ll examine what a personal brand is and what options are available for promotion on a tight budget and with a small ‘p’.
What is a brand?
“A personal brand is a reputation. It’s not something you create. It’s something you earn.” So says Walter Akana, a US-based commentator on personal branding.
It’s interesting to consider how this statement is sensibly at odds with the practice of big name media personalities who may employ an army of PR specialists to first create and then develop a brand.
For someone running a small business one of the keys to personal branding is social capital; in other words, what people say about you when you are not in the room. In this context reputation is not bought, awarded or assigned – instead, it needs to be won by the things that you say, and do and deliver upon.
Taking this idea on board, it’s easier to conceptualise a personal brand as having a kind of emergent property. It won’t be created artificially. Instead, it will surface as a result of action and behaviour on your part, and often in unexpected ways otherwise unrelated to overt attempts at promotion.
All things to all people
However, this doesn’t mean that your personal branding project should avoid key messages about who you are and what you do. It’s clear that you can be a global expert in your field, but if no one knows this you’ll have a hard time making your business pay.
So the artistry lies in having a front-end message on how you uniquely deliver value, regardless of all those ancillary talents that make you useful but don’t necessarily provide differentiation in the market place.
This message around your specific skillset needs to be set out using concise copywriting and then woven into all your brand assets – for example, what you say during networking conversations, the copy on your website, your email sign-off, Twitter description, LinkedIn profile etc.
Concise copywriting means employing the techniques of all great writers and journalists, such as:
- honing the message down to key words;
- communicating in simple prose, avoiding technical jargon;
- being concise and employing the Rule of Three;
- memorability techniques such as alliteration (as in budget, big, bucks above), use of humour and rhyme.
The first step before communicating to others is to get the message clear in your own mind. It will help if you can trial the language with friends or family as a sense check.
Keep the message focused and unique to you. As professional speaker and change expert, Susan Luke Evans says when advising those in danger of spreading their net too wide – “Pick a lane.”
So let’s say you’ve decided on your message and identified your key markets. How do you ’get known’ on a budget? How can you entice and engage your audience?
Part of the answer lies in letting loose your creative gene and, despite the temptation to follow the herd, do something different.
Here are some examples:
- L&D specialist Sukh Pabial decided that simply connecting on Linkedin was not enough (and I agree!). Sukh therefore advertised the opportunity for a one-on-one Skype call with no agenda other than to talk.
- I’m not advocating that everyone dresses up as their favourite pop star, but video producer Simon Twilley certainly feels his LinkedIn photo adds to memorability!
- Blogging is free and easy to set up. Apart from anything else, you’ll get to hone your writing skills (and hence those essential copywriting chops). All the time you’ll be practicing in a risk free environment and developing an eye for great content.
- Similarly, webinars and virtual platforms such as Blab allow you to take part in discussions, have your voice heard and engage with what’s now and happening. Again, this is low level projection of your personal brand for free. Blab also gives you valuable camera time – perfect preparation for more high profile media events.
- Start to think and act like a marketer. A really great learning tool is the HubSpot Academy which offers free accreditation to the Inbound Certification, an on-line marketing course which takes about 4 hours to complete.
Share and share alike
Overt promotion isn’t always welcome in a small business context. Think how often you have been talked at or sold to at a networking gathering.
Rather, the internet-enabled social world requires us to be in tune with the art and practice of sharing. Being a conduit that allows quicker, more efficient access to knowledge provides a winning edge for the time-poor client. It also provides us with a valuable opportunity to project our personal brand.
Our value today lies not in what we know, but how we communicate our expertise and curate associated resources. Curating is not telling. It has more in common with guiding and sign-posting. You don’t have to be in teach mode, simply aim to provide interesting and useful content and deliver it in a memorable way.
The storytelling analogy is perhaps overused these days, but in this case it’s appropriate. Consider the professional curator of an exhibition of art, who seeks to arrange pieces in a way that flows and allows the individual viewing visitor to make sense of them.
Likewise, the ability to communicate complex concepts in everyday language will become increasingly valued and sought after. This remains one of the best and most cost-effective ways to project your personal brand.
About the author
Darryl Howes is a Strategic Business Networking specialist. He teaches, speaks, writes and consults on people networking challenges in business. Visit ddnsconsulting.com Contact Darryl via email firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @DarrylHowes