New Year – Same You. Why You Need a Personal Brand in 2016!

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If you’re not selling a product, then you are the product. Words to live by.

Being able to sell yourself is a useful skill to have no matter what your goals. If you’re starting a blog, getting a job, changing industries or starting a business — maintaining our personal brand can make the difference between success and failure. With a new year upon us, there’s no better time to start taking control of your personal brand for the better!

Social media has fundamentally changed all the rules. The double-edged sword can be your best weapon and your worst enemy all at the same time. On one hand, you have access to information and a greater reach than any generation in history. Let that sink in for a moment. Right now, while sitting in traffic, you have the ability to strike up a face to face conversation with people who are, quite literally, on the other side of the planet. You can get up to the moment driving directions on how to get around the traffic provided by the very people who are actually doing it. The possibilities are unbelievably unlimited.

On the other hand, that entire online world has access to you. To your status updates, your tweets, your Instagram posts and your geo-tagged check-ins. That can be a scary thought! Luckily there always privacy settings that are there to add the desired level of protection to your digital actions. If you want to, you have the ability to completely drop off the digital grid — although I’m not going to lie, you’ve got your work cut out for you.

Privacy and invisibility, however, are not the same thing. In my humble opinion, you’re much better off taking these tools and creatively making them work for you in the manner that best serves your goals. Herein lies the concept of personal branding. No matter what your end goal is, the overarching theme is controlling the flow of information to the desired users — in other words, making yourself look good to the right people!

If you’re brave enough, you can take the first step right now: Google yourself. You may want to brace yourself, because these results can definitely be less than ideal. These results are the first line of information that you should be paying attention to though because this is the quickest way that users will find you.

  1. Decide What You Want

Track & Field athletes are some of the most peculiar athletes you can find. I’ve run in middle school, high-school and college and I swear, it just gets weirder. From lucky socks, pre-game rituals and tiny Godzilla figurines to mark a location there is no shortage of oddities. If I had to take a single thing from a decade of in-season practice, off-season practice, injuries and varied levels of competition it’s this: Always be specific.

Every runner, jumper and thrower I’ve ever spoken with had a specific time, height or distance they were aiming for on that day. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no better way to approach growth than this.

Setting goals for your business, your career or your life can be managed in exactly the same way. There are a handful of successful entrepreneurs out there that will preach to you that your goals should be pie in sky with a timeline of yesterday. So let’s cut through the bull right off the bat — you will NOT make a million dollars tomorrow. That being said, there’s no reason you CAN’T make a million dollars if you plan it right!

Start by asking yourself the right questions:

  • What do you want? More clients? A promotion? A new job?
  • What do you need to get there?
  • What will you need to invest to reach those goals?
  • How small can you break down the steps to reach the end game?

2. Clean Up Your Search Engine Results

Creating your brand is largely about managing information. You need to be able to control the perception that others have of you as often as possible. The easiest way to start the process is by seeing what others see the first time they look you up. Google yourself and prepare to be amazed at what shows up. With very few exceptions, you’re going to get mixed results on the first page of Google. If you’re lucky, there will be varied results from social networks, articles and other types of content that may or may not relate to you. If you’re unlucky, there can be things like criminal records, NSFW content and a whole host of less than reputable content.

Take a good look at not just what the results are for, but how they are displayed and where they come from. Sites like Linkedin, Facebook, About.Me can carry lots of weight when they’re set up correctly.

3. Be Private, not Invisible — Social Privacy Settings

Privacy is a huge buzzword in the last few years. As social networks and marketers continue to gather more and more information about us everyone feels the need to hide as much as possible. Any brand though, your personal one included, can’t afford to be invisible. An invisible brand isn’t a brand at all.

First and foremost, your goal should be to control the type of information that people can find about you online. Social Networks are high-value content for search engines. Reputation sites fall into this category as well, but depend on a handful of other factors like relevance and quality score which we can go into later. Next you can look into specific domain names and listings that contain your brand name.

For the social networks that you can control, do a little digging on the current privacy policies that exist. Facebook allows you some rather impressive customization features regarding who all can see what you post. Custom audiences can be used to your advantage in the case of your personal branding efforts. Most of your audience will not have much use for your holiday photos, updates about your choice of morning coffee or pictures of what socks you’re wearing today. They will however, be very interested, in the type of content that they follow you for — your new blog posts, sales information and so forth. Make sure that when you post you designate the audience that you want that content to be accessible to.

Overall settings can also the tailored to make sure that when you are searched for you within the network you show up in the right capacity. Think carefully about where and how your audience will be finding searching for you and what type of information you want to present to them. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that you should be either completely transparent or completely invisible to manage your brand. Relevancy is the key to striking the balance between these two.

4. SEO Research

Search Engine Optimization: don’t let the term intimidate you. This is just a fancy title for setting yourself up for the best results on a search engine like Google. The truth is, most of it is a relatively simple concept — place the right keywords in the right place, create strong backlinks (sites that like to you) and create valuable content. Before you ask, yes, there’s a little more too it than that, but those are the broad strokes of this exercise.

Google, luckily, has a couple handy tools that are completely free of charge that will let you get a rather solid picture of what keywords you need to be using. For the rest, you’ll need to use your good old fashioned detective skills to track down the right information for the job. The Google Keyword planner can be your bread and butter for tracking down keyword information. You’ll need an Adwords account to get the project going, but you can use any gmail address that you currently have to sign in. High value keywords are important, but don’t neglect the low-competition keywords. They can incredibly useful in the long-term. They key here is still relevance. Make sure you have a good handle on who your audience is, what’s important to them in relation to your brand and how they are going to be searching/finding you.

For those of you looking to boost your career with your brand, the best place to start are job boards like Indeed and professional listings on LinkedIn. Within these two sites is the greatest collection of relevant data around. Here you can quickly gather information on specific job titles, job skills and day to day requirements for nearly any career. What you need to be on the lookout here is for common keywords, skill sets, certifications, experience levels and job requirements. These are going to be your bread and butter for creating a brand that screams “qualified.”

Branding, fundamentally, comes down to three things:

  • Your Goals
  • Your Message
  • Your Audience

If you can line up your goals with the right message for the right audience you can bend the system to your will. 2016 has officially started. Decide what you want out of this year!

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