As I consider myself an “old” millennial, I was relatively new to the term “personal branding” when I first heard it.
It sounded so… technical. So contrived. The word “branded” made me feel like a Perdue chicken, waiting to be stamped with a barcode. Like corporate jargon was being forced on me against my will, stamped on me in the form of a unique, metaphorical barcode that I would apparently develop myself and present to the world. Every post had to be… “on brand,” not to mention every Tweet. Every article. Every single thing that I would utilize to promote my entrepreneurial endeavors. The irony of it all is that the very concept of personal branding felt very… well, impersonal. But also strict, and limiting of creativity.
Personal Branding (for Those Who Hate Personal Branding)
If this sounds like you, as well as your own perception of the idea of “branding” –whether personal or otherwise — I have bad news and good news for you.
Bad news first: if you’re in an entrepreneurial space of any kind, you’re going to have to develop a personal brand.
The good news: it’s not as awful, dry, corporate and impersonal as it sounds. And don’t worry… if you’re anything like me and you absolutely detest corporate jargon, you can absolutely make that line of thinking into part of your brand.
Here are just a few lessons to help get you through your personal branding journey –and hopefully, they’ll make the journey a bit more tolerable, and even fun!
1. Break the Rules… But, Don’t Break YOUR Rules
So, you see other millennials posting Instagram captions using all lowercase letters, but you can’t stand not using proper grammar? Go for it and write those captions the correct way. Do you want to use those lowercase captions after all? Do it. Want to make your captions all emojis? If that’s your audience, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Just be consistent.
Break the traditional rules; but, don’t break your own rules. Once you’ve set a rule that breaks the rules, stick to it, unless you sense the need for change and have evidence to back that up. Once you make the change, give it a good chance before going back to the old way, or before making a change again.
2. Be Creative
So, you see other millennial entrepreneurs posting inspirational quotes? That’s really cool, right? You “get it,” and you want to post inspirational quotes, too — especially considering that when used with the right hashtags, inspirational quotes get a lot of likes.
But… you don’t like the fonts that other millennial entrepreneurs use. You don’t like the colors being used. Or, you like the idea of using quotes, but you don’t like the same old inspirational quotes that every other entrepreneur in the Instagram space posts (I mean, how many “The best way to plan your future is to create it!” type quotes do you see over the course of a day?). Use different quotes. Make quote graphics with bright colors. It’s your brand, after all. And it shouldn’t be “just like everyone else’s.”
3. DON’T Create Your Own Hashtags
You want your stuff to be viewed, right? While the idea of creating and utilizing your own hashtags sounds like it could fall right under “Be Creative” above, the unfortunate truth is that, unless you’re Beyonce, your content or advertisements won’t be seen if you hashtag your name, your company name or the name of your dog.
That’s not to say that you can’t get creative with your hashtags! Spend some time scrolling Twitter and Instagram for hashtags that pertain to your product, service or type of content. Additionally, search the hashtags that are regularly used in your area of service. The hashtags that you decide to use will become part of your brand… even though you’re also sharing them with other brands.
4. Utilize Your Story and Your Style
In every article that I write, I draw on my experiences — both personal and professional. I have accepted the fact that I am rather old-fashioned in many respects, as millennials go, and if other millennials can relate to that particular life circumstance and personality trait, why not make it part of my personal brand? In other words, the fact that I previously hated branding (and, if we’re being candid, still can’t stand some parts of it) has become part of my brand.
5. Remember, You’re Not Bragging When You’re Talking About Yourself
When marketing yourself and cultivating a personal brand, don’t be shy. Take all of the rules that you learned in kindergarten about “not bragging,” and throw them out the window — in the nicest way possible!
To be clear, I’m not suggesting that you diminish the accomplishments of others; however, to announce your own accomplishments does not diminish the accomplishments of others! Earned your M.B.A.? Make sure that’s on your Twitter and LinkedIn bios. Your local paper gave you a write-up? Post that all over social media — Facebook groups included. Published work? Tweet it out. Promoting yourself is part of cultivating your brand, and serves as advertising for your entrepreneurial pursuits.
6. Forge Relationships With Brands Like Yours
What’s better than one brand? Two brands that can help each other grow an audience! To my point above, rather than diminish the accomplishments of other brands, there is nothing wrong with celebrating accomplishments mutually.
Not only is there nothing wrong with it — it’s great for promotion. Their followers also become your followers. Offer referrals when there is a good or service that you don’t necessarily provide, but the other brand does. More than likely, that brand will return the favor when the situation is reversed.
Sure, you want to continue to be unique and stand apart from other brands, but forging relationships with other brands helps you, and adds a personal aspect to personal branding that doesn’t feel so cold and corporate. Not only will you help each other, but you could even make some new friends!
Find Your Voice, Be Unique, Grow Your Brand
Now, that wasn’t so bad, was it? When you break down the inner science of personal branding, it is only as jargon-filled and, ironically, impersonal, as you make it. Part of the beauty of entrepreneurship, as well as working on a freelance basis, is that you have an opportunity to exist in a unique space that doesn’t have to answer to corporate rules and regulations. You have a chance to truly make your brand yours. And if that isn’t personal, I don’t know what is.
What does personal branding mean to you? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!