A lot of personal branding advice is about putting yourself out there so that others to see you as an expert on a subject.
But what do you do when you’re just starting out in your field and don’t feel that you have a ton of expertise or unique information to share? What if you’re not a MIT professor on behavioral economics, or a CEO of a wildly successful start-up, or someone who has spent 15 years excelling in their field? What if you’re just a perfectly ordinary person who happens to be interested in a particular industry and wants to get a leg-up on others who are competing for the same job?
The beginning of personal branding
Simple – spend your time learning about what is going on in your field. Read books and blogs, subscribe to scholarly journals (or go read them at the library), listen to webinars, and go to learning events, especially conferences. Do everything you can to stay up to date, and find relevant information.
Then, use that to start branding yourself. Here’s how:
First, write about what you’ve learned.
Every time you read/learn/see something interesting, take an hour or so afterwards to write down your take on it (on a blog is best). Share what you found most thought-provoking, or a lesson that you’ll apply to your own life, or a personal story about a time you saw what you learned about actually happen. Pass on good information that you’ve learned, while adding your own personal touches.
That’s how a business expert I know got her start. She knew a lot about her field, but was completely flustered about starting her own blog. She had no idea where to even start. So she started off her blog by combing the Internet for other experts’ work, and then responded to it. Doing that for the first couple months helped her find her voice and then she was off. Now she’s a respect business speaker, with a popular book and a booming business.
This works for newbies in the field as well. Even if you don’t have expertise to share, you’re sharing that you are a passionate learner.
Then, use what you find as a connection tool.
When you’re spending tons of time learning about what is going on in your field, you’re probably finding some interesting stuff! So use that to advance your personal brand. Keep a database of interesting resources AND a database of people whom you want to impress with your personal brand. Make sure you keep track of what they’re interested in – and what their concerns and needs are. Then, when you see something in your research that you know they’ll find interesting, email them a link to it with a short note. This works especially well after you just met someone at a networking event, especially if you can find something relevant to the conversation you had with them.
For example, if you were talking to someone about leadership, you might send them a link to a recent TEDx talk by behavioral economist Dan Ariely about what motivates people to take action. Or to an recent article in Fortune about how exposing employees to the actual customers who will buy a company’s products can be a powerful motivator to get employees more engaged in their work.
Do this for a couple reasons. First, if it’s an interesting article that is relevant to the person you want to connect with, they’ll probably be glad to receive it. And, judging by how busy most people are in today’s workplace – it’s highly likely that they haven’t had the time to spend time browsing through current articles about their field. So, not only are you demonstrating that you are someone who is paying a lot of attention to that field, you’re helping them by sending them articles they probably wouldn’t have seen otherwise. And finally, it’s a great way to signal to that person that you’re someone who is bringing something to the relationship (instead of just being concerned about “what’s in it for me?”)
If you’re just starting out, people don’t expect you to have the expertise of someone who has spent decades excelling in their field. But what they want to see is someone who has a lot of passion for that field, and who is doing whatever they can to learn as much as possible.
Employers want to hire people who are passionate about their work and who are eager to learn. So brand yourself as someone who is enthusiastic about the subject you’re interested in and work on gaining the knowledge that will make you an expert (in the future). And in the meantime, use the knowledge you’re gaining to cement relationships with the people who can help you get where you want to be.
Katie Konrath blogs about creativity, innovation and “ideas so fresh… they should be slapped” at www.getfreshminds.com. She works for leading innovation company, Ideas To Go, and attributes her job to personal branding.