A proactive approach to personal branding by Patti Rowlson, PR Consulting, Bellingham WA

It’s happened too often lately.

Someone you know has an unplanned career change—perhaps due to a new business opportunity or maybe they were laid off.  Suddenly they are polishing up a neglected LinkedIn profile, quickly trying to build a network of contacts and asking for recommendations that highlight their skills and experience.

Reacting to an unplanned career change can be stressful, but the good news is there is a way for people to plan ahead and set themselves up for success. It’s about being proactive instead of reactive, and consistently marketing yourself with something called personal branding.

What is personal branding?

It’s about building your reputation and making sure others know what your strengths and skills are. It’s about identifying and sharing core values that set you (and the work you do) apart from others. It’s also about earning trust and becoming a resource to others.

Think personal branding is just for job seekers? Think again.

It can also be used to launch a startup company or expand an existing business. Those currently employed may even be able to leverage the power of personal branding to secure promotions and higher wages.

Developing a personal brand does not happen overnight. People who are looking for a quick-fix with overnight results will be disappointed. The key to personal branding is to work on it before it’s needed. Again, we’re talking about a proactive approach, not a reactive one.

Here are seven tips for establishing your personal brand:

– Identify skills and core values. Write a short and sweet personal branding plan. Start with three to four sentences about your core values and what makes you (and your business) unique. Next, add three to four sentences about how you would like to be positioned in your industry in three years. Include words you would like people to use when they describe the work you do. Add a bulleted list of your top 10 marketable skills (what you bring to the table now) and lastly, another list of three to five skills you’d like to acquire in the future (what industry experts bring to the table now that you don’t have).

– Live the plan. If you wrote in your plan, “I want to be known for being compassionate and giving back to my community,” then you need to consistently seek out opportunities to make a difference. Volunteer at community events, support a local nonprofit or donate products or services to charitable causes. If you wrote the words, “I want my business to be known as a local leader in the widget business,” then study who is doing a great job with widgets globally and identify a few traits you can implement in your own company.

– Use LinkedIn. Yes there are other social networks you can use, but LinkedIn can be a personal branding powerhouse—if it’s maintained. It’s a great place to build a network of contacts, document work history, showcase experiences and build your reputation.  Develop a detailed profile that includes important keywords and highlights marketable skills identified in your branding plan.

– Become an expert. Write articles that can be shared in industry newsletters and on trade association blogs. Look for opportunities to teach free workshops that showcase your knowledge while being helpful to others. Consider partnering with local community education programs that can help market and promote your seminars.

– Connect in person. Sure you can use social media to network and to build your brand online but deeper, more meaningful relationships are formed when you spend time with people face-to-face. Attend networking events, go to coffee or lunch with peers; be sincere and let your personality shine in a positive way.

– Never stop learning. Work to acquire the new skills identified in your branding plan; remember to update your LinkedIn profile to highlight those new marketable skills.

– Evolve and Revise. Consider personal branding as something that will change and evolve over time. Review and update your skills and goals at least twice each year.

The end goal with building your personal branding is to be prepared for new opportunities and unplanned career changes. Remember, personal brands can’t be bought or acquired overnight, they are earned over time. If you prove to be reliable, knowledgeable and trustworthy, people will want to support you personally (and your business). They may even a join your social networks and share recommendations, without being asked.

Patti Rowlson of PR Consulting Services is a publicist and marketing consultant located in Whatcom County. Her columns appear on BBJToday.com on the last Thursday of each month. Connect with PR Consulting Services on Facebook and Twitter (@pattirowlson) for additional marketing tips.

This article originally appeared in the Bellingham Business Journal.

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