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Personal brands for everyone

2014 will be the year of the personal brand. Do I dare make that prediction?

(Do not confuse this with the “year of the selfie.” That was 2013. Thank you, Oxford Dictionaries.)

To be honest, the “year” of the personal brand has probably come and gone – or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that we’re smack in the middle of the “decade of the personal brand.”

More than 16 years after Tom Peters penned “The Brand Called You” for Fast Company magazine (in print!), his message is perhaps more relevant than ever.

Your Online Resume Template: a personal brandi...
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A personal brand is a basic requirement for both freelancers and entrepreneurs. And both groups are booming: Today, one out of every three workers is estimated to be a freelancer; and by 2020, if predictions are correct, freelancers will make up half the workforce. Things are looking good for entrepreneurs, too. Richard Branson has anointed 2014 as the “year of the entrepreneur.”

But it’s not just freelancers and entrepreneurs who must continue to sell themselves. During this last recession, job seekers learned – sometimes the hard way – that a robust digital presence is an essential job-hunting tool. Not only are companies using LinkedIn and Twitter to find employees, but they’re also conducting background checks by checking the results that turn up in Google for a candidate’s name.

The recession changed things for employees too. The lean corporation is here to stay, and the promise of lifetime, secure employment is a thing of the past. Workers need to be prepared as organizations become more agile and willing to make bold moves, including letting some of their star players go.

In other words, everyone needs a personal brand to survive.

I used to work for a big media company, so I might be a bit more open to the idea of a personal brand. After all, journalists and editors have an easier time establishing their own brands because their employers provide a platform and a built-in audience.

Media personalities, even in small, local markets, have long existed. But it’s interesting to see how many journalists with well-known personal brands have parlayed their followings into new or better gigs recently. Think Brian Stelter moving from the New York Times to CNN, or David Pogue to Yahoo.

But perhaps the most interesting shift, I think, is the split between the Wall Street Journal and its longtime technology mini-empire All Things D. Led by Walt Mossberg, the All Things D team established remarkable authority in the technology industry and a strong, loyal following. Through his Personal Technology column over the years Mossberg established himself as the people’s tech guru. His personal brand has clout, which certainly smoothed the way for his next venture, Re/Code.

The WSJ is hiring a new team of 20 journalists to replace Mossberg and All Things D, so it will be fascinating to watch how this all plays out. (My guess? It works for everyone, but especially the Re/Code team.)

But not everyone is a Walter Mossberg or a David Pogue. So what about the rest of us?

Technology has leveled the playing field since 1997, when Peters suggested “try contributing a column or an opinion piece to your local newspaper.” Today, the barriers to building a kickass personal brand have been substantially lowered. Blogs, social media, podcasts, and videos are within reach of everyone.

And yet, many still don’t take advantage of this digital forum. Admittedly, blogs and podcasts require dedication and a time commitment. But I still discover people who have only a bare bones LinkedIn profile, and there are still many others who have no profile on the network at all.

I think there are three reasons that people don’t bother.

  • They don’t believe they need it. Perhaps they feel secure in their job or all their business comes from referrals. In fact, in today’s world, not having a personal brand can be the least secure thing a person can do.
  • They don’t feel they have the time. Building a digital platform for your brand is a lot of work, and if you’re already running a robust business, it can become a low priority. But no brand is built overnight, and surely everyone can find 5 or 10 minutes a day to send a few tweets or draft part of a blog post.
  • They fear controversy. Trolls and haters have given the Internet a bad reputation. It’s true that it’s risky to put yourself out there, but building a loyal tribe will mitigate the risk.

I’m often asked where to start when building a personal brand. LinkedIn is a logical first step, but people with expertise to share should consider starting a blog or – even better – a podcast (this medium is undergoing a resurgence, making it a good place to establish first mover advantage).

No matter the medium, the time is now to build a personal brand. Do it before the decade ends.

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