I don’t know about you, but in this time of quarantine, I am taking full advantage of all the new online learning and coaching that has been made available by various experts. Yes, it’s a time of stress and anxiety, but it’s also a time when folks are brushing up on professional development skills – and for many, that means developing their personal brands.
What is a personal brand? Simply put, a personal brand is an individual’s reputation in their field. And the context of professional services, the strongest personal brands are those that have not only a reputation for, but also high visibility around what the B2B marketplace prizes most: differentiated expertise.
At Hinge, we write almost daily about company brands and personal brands. We counsel to develop a personal brand as an industry expert and leader, you must have one master skill above all others: an ability to translate complicated material into easy-to-understand language. While not all experts are teachers, all Visible Experts and thought leaders are. What I mean by this is that as you develop your personal brand, your success will be strongly correlated to the extent to which you educate your audience. Your driving impulse is to be helpful. You will be a teacher first and sales person a distant second.
So what skills help you educate? I’ve noted 6 skills below, and some may be able to tackle this list on their own, personal brand coaches can be of huge value here. Enlisting the help from outside professionals or members of your team – a personal brand coach in other words – can save you not only time, but also money, depending on where your natural skills lie. Either way, here’s what you will need to get started:
Six critical skills for developing your personal brand
Writing. You may be a good writer or an indifferent one. But if you want to be an effective teacher and build a compelling personal brand around your expertise, you must be able to produce clear, nontechnical prose that’s a pleasure to read. If you aren’t an excellent writer already, you have two options:
- Learn to write clear, plain English. There are many readable books and online courses that will get you up to speed relatively quickly. (One of my favorite books is The Plain English Approach to Business Writing by Edward P. Bailey, Jr. — it’s a quick read and very practical.) Learning to write in plain English can be one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do.
- Work with an experienced writer or editor. If you don’t have the time or inclination to work on your writing, that’s okay! You can always hire a writer or editor to turn your subject matter expertise into sparkling prose. Experts work this way far more often than you might think — in fact, at Hinge, we provide this service to many of our own clients. Just think of all the successful ghostwritten books out there. It works for blog posts and anything else you need to write, too.
Public Speaking. Not all experts are comfortable speaking to their target audience and fellow professionals. In my experience, this is where a personal brand coach can be immensely helpful. If you have a fear of public speaking, you should at least try to conquer it, given that speaking is a top technique of high-growth firms and the Visible Experts within those firms. If you are new to public speaking and a coach isn’t your cup of tea, start by addressing small groups — at the local chapter of your professional association or chamber of commerce. Or try a peer support group, like Toastmasters. You’ll need to build up a speaking resume before most national conferences and trade shows will consider you.
Blogging. Writing is one part of building your personal brand, but the other part of the equation is getting your posts online. It’s not difficult to learn, but this is another skill you will need to master, nevertheless.
SEO. Search engine optimization is an entire discipline in itself, but you can learn the fundamentals in a day or two — enough to begin thinking more strategically about what you write. While there are technical aspects to SEO that may be beyond your capabilities (for instance, building your website and blog in a way that Google can easily discover your content), the basic mechanics are very straightforward. The most challenging part will be learning how to research keywords that are relevant, attract enough search volume to be worthwhile and not too difficult to rank for on the first page of Google’s search results page. It’s as much art as science. Hinge University and can be a good place to learn the basics, though there are many valuable online resources.
Outreach to blogs and publications. There’s more to SEO than keywords. To get the most from your blogging and SEO investments, you’ll need to generate outside links to your posts. A common way to do this is to write guest posts on other people’s blogs — or articles for online publications — that include one or more links back to your blog and/or website. To find these opportunities, you will need to research these online publications and reach out to their owners or editors. There are techniques you can learn that will make this process more efficient and successful. A personal brand coach can be instrumental here as well, helping manage the outreach functions.
Email marketing. Email marketing is very different from sending personal emails. First of all, you will need to subscribe to an email service provider. You may have heard of MailChimp or Constant Contact, but there is a long list of other providers offering different features and price points. More sophisticated marketing platforms such as Salesforce or HubSpot also include email delivery services. Whatever service you choose (and, please, do not use Outlook or any other desktop email client), you will need to learn how use this tool to send out a basic email broadcast and understand its analytics. Later, you may want to try out more advanced features, such as personalization, segmentation and automated drip campaigns.
If you have the resources to enlist personal brand or marketing coaches, you may not necessarily need to master all of these skills. That said, the more you know, the more likely you are to grow. So it would be wise to at least familiarize yourself with the fundamentals of each. It’s a time of opportunity!