You know that nightmare we have all had, the one where you have been laid off, or fired, or you quit in a fit of passion? I am not talking about the dreams where you sexually harassed someone, or embezzled, or punched your boss, just the normal run of the mill lost your job dream. I almost had that dream recently, I got into the office last year and despite exceeding my boss’ expectations in every way was removed from my position. Oh wait, that wasn’t a dream…
When you wake up in this situation, out of a job, you have to do what you have to do, go and look for a job. So I looked. Given my performance history and background I expected, as many of you probably do, I could just walk out and get another job, 5 minutes right? Wrong. While I was at work diligently busting my ass, the way careers worked had changed dramatically. And I’ll be damned if anyone told me. While I was spending the last 10 years delivering great products, the way people build careers changed. It used to be simply keeping your resume up to date and some occasional networking got you your next great position. You are the accumulation of your entire online presence, its the union of what comes up when you are Googled, Facebooked, Linked in, etc. The first thing a prospective employer does is skim your resume for 10 seconds deciding if you are worth researching for 5 minutes. If 5 minutes of web research does not turn up anything engaging they round file you and your antiquated resume / CV. Today, building your career is a continuous exercise in building your brand. When I went out looking for a new job I learned I had no brand. Not exactly, leadership, vision, delivery have been my hallmark for years, I definitely had a brand. The problem was my brand was not packaged in any way it could be sold, as a result I had no effective brand. The harsh reality today, no brand, no meaningful job.
You are unemployable because you have no brand. You are just another low cost, non-differentiated product like this one:
Finding your brand
Finding your brand is not as simple as coming up with some cool name like Google. Good thing, my parents named me Todd, not cool, that is why I gave my kids cool names like Slater, that’s a name you can build a brand around! Your brand is about your passion, its about the unique value you bring to not just your job but life. I don’t care what industry or role you want to talk about you can make anything your brand. Brett Victor gives a great talk about inventing on principle, its his brand. James Altucher, redefined his brand after a 15 year career. I have spent my career building high performance teams that accomplished great things, I thought my brand was Leadership, Vision Delivery, what I learned talking to people, I am an idiot because everyone else knows my brand is People First. Putting the individuals first is an ideal I have put into practice throughout my career and it has delivered exceptional results without fail.
Defining your brand
Simply knowing what you stand for and the value you bring to the table does not define a brand. That is like saying all Apple had to do was build cool products, they had cool products for years before they developed the brand they have today. If you look up brand on Wikipedia it says the elements of a brand are things like the name, the logo, colors etc. While those are critical for a product these external branding elements, your personal style, are not durable elements of your personal brand. That is not to say “hipster” cannot be a portion of your brand, its just that trends come and go and your brand must be durable for years.
Your brand is made up of your aspirations, your brand is the impact you hope to have on the world. By its very nature it will be focused around an industry, subject, values, approach, etc but even those aspects of your brand can evolve so much like your outward appearance these aspects of your brand can come and go like the temp worker down the hall. The only thing that is permanent is the impact you have on the world around you; that is the definition of your brand. Think about McDonalds, their brand is not the golden arches, that is merely a visual queue for the fact that you can get a hamburger and fries anywhere in the world and they will taste the same. Their brand really is fast, consistent, American food. There brand is the value they bring to the customer.
Marketing your brand
As with any product, distribution is everything. Unless you are Billy Corgan, you are not going to generate brand awareness by taking out a full page ad in the Chicago Times, so your problem is not awareness but distribution. To build your brand you have to distribute your brand and this will vary depending on the focus of your brand. Work on delivery every week. Spend 1 hour or better yet 2 hours delivering your brand.
Common brand awareness and delivery vehicles today:
Linked In – if you are in the tech industry you have to have a profile, your profile has to be complete and you have to actively build your network through the features they offer like endorsements and referrals. Your chosen field will have its parallel, join it, keep it up to date.
Blog – one of the most common ways to build a brand is writing a blog. One of the most interesting brands I have seen is Sal Nunziato from Burning Wood. His posts about music have turned me on to some cool stuff.
Twitter – your brand has a focus and that focus needs to add value to people. Twitter is a great way to provide information on your focus area with minimal effort and maximum impact.
Local meet and greets – in your city there are people regularly meeting and talking about your chosen focus. It might not be exactly the same thing but it is close enough, find them, attend, join in.
Speaking engagements – as you develop your brand you will be sought after to speak about your brand, do it, be interesting, be informative, make a difference.
Self-published books – one of the greatest disruptors of the internet has been the development of self-published books. Now that you are an expert in your field, publish something. Even if your mother is the only person to buy the book, publish something. James Altucher from above has several posts on this.
Read – this one is counter intuitive but reading is all about building your inventory. If you do not read you will not have anything to write about, or tweet about, or anything to brand. Read, it is your ultimate distribution vehicle.
When I woke up this morning I decided I was going to start building my brand. While I got lucky this time, I was not removed from my position, I was moved to a problem where they needed my leadership, vision, and delivery more but who knows when I will need to change companies or why. I am not going to get caught unprepared. That is a dream I regularly have, meeting, no pants.