Grappling with personal brand: My voyage of discovery

Personal brand has become a bit of a buzzword, and I confess I wasn’t entirely clear about what it meant and its relevance. And I know I’m not alone.

Photo by Paul Skorupskas on Unsplash

The May edition of It’s A B2B Comms Thing LinkedIn Live was all about personal branding: What it means, what opportunities there are in B2B and tips on building a personal brand.

Watching the replay of the Live with regular hosts Ayo Abbas and Emma Drake and guest host Eimear Strong (who stood in for me) gave me some clarity. And it made me realise that I’d been building a personal brand without realising it.

The first question of the Live does a great job of answering what personal brand is, framing it as how your reputation and values are perceived in your industry or by your target audience.

It is also about personality and authenticity, and there is huge value in that. People do business with people – Ayo had some stats on just how that manifests in engagement on platforms like LinkedIn. (You can find the video of the Live at the bottom of the post).

Standing out

And given that no two people are completely alike, personal brand is an opportunity to have a point of difference and help you stand out.

In hindsight, my lack of understanding about personal brand is more about the particular label rather than the thing itself.

Over the four years, I’ve been running my own business, I’ve been establishing and building a personal brand – I just didn’t think of it in that way.

The first instance of this was when I did a career workshop before firmly deciding to set up a business.

Unique selling point

We were asked to come up with three unique selling points (USPs) for our services.

One of mine was the fact that I know and understand the property industry, having spent 20 years talking to people and writing about it.

That USP would become an important part of my personal brand, but it was two years before I properly highlighted it, changing my LinkedIn headline to ‘Nerdy property writer’. (More on that headline later.)

Other elements of my brand are also rooted in my years as a journalist. Not just the writing, editing and interviewing skills but the so-called ‘soft skills’ like how I work and communicate.

Again, I didn’t join the dots about how this impacted people’s perception of me until I was going through client feedback and testimonials with a view to editing my LinkedIn profile and website.

The word cloud experiment

I decided to paste everything people had said into a word cloud generator to see if there were particular words that were used more than others.

One dominant phrase was ‘pleasure to work with’, which was such a boost.

So that became another phrase I used on my LinkedIn headline. (Which I will come back to, honest).

The biggest struggle I’ve had has been showing more of my personality.

There is a lot of talk about ‘authenticity’, but the problem was, having worked for a magazine for 20 years, I didn’t know who the ‘me’ was now I worked for myself.

Hiding from individuality

Working for an established brand was my shield; I was part of something clearly defined, so no need for individuality.

Being self-employed, there was no existing brand to hide behind, and I felt exposed. Suddenly it was me posting on LinkedIn, not ‘Stacey the EG journalist’.

What should I talk about, how should I talk, and why would anyone care what I had to say? (Yes, there was a lot of self sabotage.)

Slowly I’ve built the confidence to have a viewpoint and share my experiences and expertise. It’s been a gradual process with a lot of experimenting. And the work is ongoing.

When I was a commissioning editor, one writer had a very distinct tone of voice. I was pretty sure I could pick out their copy in a lineup just by reading it, as it sounded just like them.

Sounding like me

Establishing a tone of voice has gone hand in hand with growing more confident in what I have to say and how I say it. It has happened organically rather than been a conscious effort.

I asked Ayo, who knows me well, if my LinkedIn posts sounded like me, and the answer was ‘yes’, which I take as a huge positive.

All of these things are part of what I now know as a personal brand, something I had inadvertently reflected in my LinkedIn headline.

When I decided to change it, it was about moving away from the ‘approved’ headline formula of some LinkedIn gurus. The problem with following a formula, I realised, is it’s harder to stand out.

The headline I’d been using didn’t properly reflect me and what I can offer.

Getting comments

Have I got it right? I’ve had comments about my LinkedIn headline and was even asked about it on a podcast interview. That never happened with the old one.

And people are noticing my posts on LinkedIn, which is helping my business.

But I see my personal brand very much as a work in progress. The next step is to get new headshots and photography that reflect me now, four years in, not the me who’d just left a job of 20 years.

I teach in my writing workshops to write using words you’d use in a conversation because it’s so much easier using what is familiar and natural than trying to think of a word you feel you should use.

And that is the thing about personal brand and being more authentic; aside from everything else, it actually makes work-life a lot simpler.

What do you think about personal brand?

You can watch a replay of the It’s a B2B Comms Thing LinkedIn live stream here:

Check out the It’s A B2B Comms Thing YouTube channel for more LinkedIn Lives.

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