It wasn't until the last few years that I realized the importance of personal branding in this digital age. When I was in school, I was never taught it and just plain old didn't think about it. After I graduated and started work, I didn't see the importance beyond building my directly-related professional network. You see, I had a great job at a company that I idealistically thought I would grow old with. Flash-forward six years, I found myself making a career transition, weaning off a corporate e-mail address that everyone had as my main contact (luckily I got to transfer out my corporate cell phone number), adjusting a LinkedIn page that highlighted my ex-company more than myself, and began trying to establish my personal brand. I suddenly became very aware of how and where I was showing up in Google searches, what my public profiles said about me, and oddly enough, the number of other people named Ben Larson (including what they did in their life and what they looked like).
Looking Back: Lessons Learned
Plain and simple, I didn't start early enough and I didn't have a unified vision. Additionally, that unified vision should have been Ben-centric and not first-job-out-of-college-centric. I'm sure the loyalty was greatly appreciated, but a healthier balance could certainly have been achieved. The founder of LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman, goes into this in detail in his book The Startup of You (a fantastic read if you want to get deeper into personal branding). Below is what I would do if I took another crack at everything.
E-mail Addresses & Domain Names
Instead of having a simple and manageable e-mail inbox, I was juggling several different addresses, all of which were dependent on the viability of the different hosts (Yahoo, G-mail, etc). What I wish I would have done was acquire a personal domain name and an associated e-mail address early on and use that as my main point of contact. There's a little bit of a learning curve in setting this up, but the time and approximately $15 a year are definitely worth it. Of course, it's always useful to have a free account to sign up for all those subscription and daily digest sites that you don't deem important. If you have questions about this, please feel free to ask in the comments section.
Social Networks & Usernames
Had I established a domain name early on as described above, it would have made selecting usernames and vanity addresses a no-brainer when joining various social networks and web applications. If I had a single naming convention, it would make me very easy to find and the consistency would help build my brand. Of course, this may bring up the discussion of availability. To that, I can only respond with one of two answers: 1) uniqueness, and/or 2) early adoption. Unless you are filthy stinkin' rich, then the third option is to go around acquiring the profiles, but even that isn't a flawless approach.
Blogging & SEO
I'll keep this one much shorter than it could be as volumes of books and websites are dedicated to both blogging and search engine optimization (SEO) separately. After acquiring my personalized domain name and associated social networking accounts, I wish I would have done the following:
- Started a blog and linked it to my domain. You'd be surprised at how well a blog helps your personal SEO, no matter the content. You can always change/grow/evolve the content over time.
- LinkedIn profiles get great rankings on search engines. I should have been developing this all along and linking to it from my blog. Of course, LinkedIn hasn't been around all that long, which is why I'll talk a little bit about early adoption below.
As I said before, I could go on and on about this; but instead, I'll simply recommend reading SEO Made Simple. It's a comprehensive explanation of SEO and it's a quick read.
Looking Forward: Early Adoption
As I indicated above, there are
benefits of being an early adopter. Signing up for a service early on
allows you to choose your desired username and establish your presence. A
very basic approach to this takes little effort and time investment.
I've made a habit now of signing up for services soon after hearing
about them. In some cases, I never return to them; but in others, the
services explode in popularity and I bask in the glow of my highly
sought-after username (nerd alert!). For instance, I'm very proud to be
the owner of foodspotting.com/Ben. Imagine if I had that kind of foresight when Twitter was launched (or the WWW for that matter).
Now, to thwart any backlash from readers who do the slightest bit of investigatory work on my consistency in naming conventions as discussed above, I'll just preemptively respond by saying that I myself am still a work in progress in this department.
While I may have introduced some tangential topics, my main goal here is to recommend that you start your personal branding as early as possible. Heck, I've even started thinking about how I'll be reserving domain names for my children when they are born! (BTW, to my parents chagrin, they're not even on the radar at the moment.)
It's actually all quite simple, just keep these three things in mind:
- You-centric: build a personal brand that can stand independent of external factors. Website, e-mail, blog, Twitter ... it's up to you how far you take it.
- Consistency: choose a convention and stick with it. It may require a unique approach considering there are about 2.5 billion people that use the internet (and growing).
- Early-adoption: sign-on early and stake your claim. No harm in doing so, even if you never use the service.
You do this and you'll be on your way to building a strong personal brand! Please leave a comment if you have any questions or comments.