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The Truth about (building your) Personal Brand

Personal Brand Building is not really about Self Promotion. It's about you becoming and showing up as a valid option for your audience.

What you’re about to read is a version of the talk I gave during the panel discussion organised by Women in Tech Western Australia on the topic of Elevate Personal Brand.

I share my unique approach in personal brand building in the perspective of an introvert.

Like most professionals, you understand having a strong Personal Brand is important for your career and business. But I know some of you have a bit of trepidation. One part of your brain (neocortex) might be saying “your Personal Brand is important for your career etc”, but another part of your brain (limbic) is telling you otherwise.

How many of you secretly think that you shouldn’t have to worry about this Personal Brand mumbo jumbo? Or have to worry about the photos needed for your Brand? And I know a lot of you reading this think that you are not photogenic and you look awkward in almost all your photos. And your photo on LinkedIn right now is cut out of a family portrait or holiday photo or a party snap.

And what does it remind you of when you consider building your brand? Does it remind you of self-promotion and does that make you feel a bit funny or self-conscious or just not-quite-right?

Let me share my story.

When I turned pro as a photographer, I noticed many technically great photographers in my niche. But, I also noticed that they were not great at capturing natural expressions – I think of it as capturing a subject’s essence. I was quite proud of the fact that my photos did just that. And my clients’ feedback consistently proved it. That was awesome but at the same time everyone’s mobile phones started getting smarter and smarter and optics got better each year with new-beaut extra lenses and with snazzy computational photography – No less. That meant fewer and fewer people were looking for professional photographers.

While all that was happening, I was still of the opinion that my work should speak for itself. Well, to cut a long story short, it actually didn’t.

And I started seeing these other photographers in my niche doing seemingly really well, not because their work was great, but because they were good at branding and marketing themselves.

They were running circles around me and I became frustrated. I wanted to change all that.

The problem was that I had a fear of becoming visible. I insisted that my clients’ images should represent my brand, rather than my own face representing my work, my brand, and my business.

I’m a photographer and I had a phobia of getting photographed.

Of course, I’ve overcome that and I’m writing this to share how I changed all that and how I help others with similar challenges of personal brand/marketing.

So this is how it’s done. It starts with questions.

How do you want to be seen? Do you know how you’re currently being seen by others? Is there a gap? If there is a gap what change should you make? Are there areas where we need to reframe?

For example, when I gathered feedback on how I was being seen, there were some surprising words. One of them was a “rockstar”. That word came up quite consistently but I didn’t see myself that way. But my audience and my colleagues thought that way. You might think when you hear that, oh great, why fight it?

But of course, I did fight it (I’m an introvert and “rockstar” didn’t quite fit with my self-concept). I ended up realising that when it came to branding myself, I had to leverage what was already working. In other words, I learned to acknowledge and stop deflecting. I was able to simply embrace the image, which was already there in other people’s minds, and use it to brand my work.

You might have a different gap! Knowing where you are and where you want to go with your brand, and assessing the current baseline is a great starting point for making any changes. Of course, this is only viable for you if the work you are pursuing is meaningful for you – intrinsically valuable. You wouldn’t do this willingly simply to make some cash.

That leads to the second question. Who is it for? It’s about learning to empathise with those you seek to influence (and seek to serve). Herein lies the secret – Personal Branding work is not about you. It’s about the people you seek to influence and serve.

How much do you know about them? What are their hopes and desires? What is it that they struggle with? What do you have that could be the answer to their problems? If you have the answer they want/need/desire … and you’re keeping it to yourself in silence (as in hiding), then I say you’re being selfish. You’re doing a disservice not only for your career but also for the people who need to hear from you.

The third part of the process is reframing the notion of self-promotion. I often tell my clients that having a brand is like putting your hat in the ring. But you don’t put any old crappy hat in the ring. You put a hat that is uniquely yours. It doesn’t have to be flashy or rainbow technicolour. That may not be for you. But your hat will be a useful, attractive and compelling option for someone. Who is that someone you may ask? It is someone you understand and someone you can empathise with regarding their hopes and desires, their struggles, and their problems. This is why I call branding yourself a community service. Because you’re showing up as a valid option for those you seek to serve. By being selfish and not showing up you’re robbing them of the option that otherwise might be perfect for them.

To summarise, you want to emotionally connect with “being you and the mission/the change you want to create for the people you serve” and consider what it means to do the work you do and what you stand for.

Knowing all this now, how do you feel about your photos? What kind of image are you projecting with your current brand?

If you do feel that you need to upgrade your images, make sure to hire someone who has the capacity to understand and empathise with you and your mission.

Not having a great photo or image to represent your brand is like running a marathon and stopping a kilometre short of the finish line.

You’ve worked too hard not to have a great brand for your career. Your work deserves better.

Did you like what you see here?

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