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May 25, 2010

How to Build Your Brand Working For Someone Else

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This is a guest post by Lisa Barone and part of a series of guest posts that will be featured on the Bruce Clay, Inc. blog all week long. Lisa outlines the benefits and how-tos of personal branding within an organization. Read on and enjoy!

Fearless Climbing
Photo by vauvau, CC-BY

Don’t adjust your monitors; Lisa really is back blogging on Bruce Clay, Inc. If you listen closely you can almost hear the sounds of Bruce having a heart attack. Weee!

If you’re new to the Bruce Clay, Inc. blog or me (hi, I’m Lisa), you may not know that this blog served as my stomping grounds for nearly three years. It was my baby and where I formed my own personal brand, a brand that allowed me to move from LA to New York, write for some well known marketing blogs, and eventually, start an SEO consulting company called Outspoken Media.

That’s right. My name is Lisa and I built my personal brand on someone else’s dime. And you can do it, too.

Branded employees sometimes get a bad rap for being time-wasting job hoppers, but the truth is forming a strong personal brand while working for someone else benefits both the employer and employee when done correctly.

How?

  • When there’s more interest in you, there’s more interest in the company as a whole.
  • Your personal success and connections can be leveraged by the company you work for.
  • You become a more efficient worker thanks to quicker access to information and contacts via your network.
  • A company with two (or three. Or four!) A-listers is more interesting and worth more than a company with 1 A-lister.
  • Today’s market place is social. Users want to connect with people, not logos.

How can you go about building your personal brand while working for someone else? Here are a few suggestions.

Get permission.

Before you start a campaign to create a personal brand, talk to your employer. You don’t want to start putting yourself out there only to accidentally brand yourself “unemployed”. When you have “the social media talk”, you want to show how building the Brand of You will directly benefit the company. Stress how it doesn’t make you a flight risk, but instead will allow you to bring more value through increased brand awareness, speaking opportunities, press mentions, and a larger network that the whole company will be able to utilize.

When you get the okay, you also want to have in writing who the owner of the social accounts will be. You’re going to be building your name accounts (at least partially) on their time, but you want to make sure you own it, if possible. Stress how much more authentic this will make it feel for your audience. Obviously you hope to be with your employer for a really, really long time, but things do get messy when you break up. You want to prevent mess down the road.

Work like an asset.

When you’re building a personal brand, you stop being an employee. You’re now an asset, both to the company and to yourself. This realization changes how you work. It’s not about being there 9 to 5, it’s about figuring out how you can bring the most value to the company you work for and then putting that idea into action. For me, it meant working overtime to create an engaging blog that the search community wanted to interact with. It meant differentiating myself at conferences by NOT being the drunk girl at the bar, but instead being in the front row of a session an hour before it was even set to start so I could liveblog. It meant responding to comments at midnight if that’s when people were talking. It meant working like an entrepreneur even when someone else was still signing my paycheck.

Whoever you are, you have some skill that no one else in the organization has and something that you can use to build a name and provide value back to the company. Figure out what that thing is and change how you work to leverage the hell out of it.

Pick your character.

I’m of the mind that you shouldn’t be basing your personal brand off exactly who you are. Your personal brand should be a heightened, slightly exaggerated version of who you really are. This will help you to exaggerate the trait and qualities in you that will attract others. Because you’re basing the brand off traits you actually possess, you don’t have to worry about it not feeling authentic. Remember that entrepreneurs (and brands) are created to be respected, not loved.

Putting yourself out there is going to expose you to people who want nothing more than to kick you in the face. It may sound harsh, but it’s a truth we need to accept. There’s a dark side to being the face of a community. The character you create becomes your shield. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows out there in personal brand-land. You’re going to need it.

Be it.

What you do is just as important as how you do it. So once you get your character figured out — start being it. Start that exact moment.

One of the biggest mistakes I see people make with personal branding is that they wait for permission. They know what makes them different and how they can stand out, but they convince themselves they “can’t” act that way.

  • No one’s watching yet.
  • They don’t have enough authority to say that.
  • They need more followers first.
  • No one challenges that Social Media God.
  • They don’t have the readers they need to write that.

Listen: You find your readers and your following by BEING your brand, not by waiting for permission to be it. Or, as Justin Kownacki once wrote: Don’t wait until you’re popular to start being relevant. You don’t become popular asking for permission and you definitely won’t attract an audience that way.

Create opportunities.

If you want to create a brand, you’re going to have to work for it. And that may mean setting aside otherwise good sleeping or TV watching time to put things into action, because personal branding is more than just building an active Twitter account. It’s about differentiating yourself by busting your ass.

Look for opportunities to promote your company by bringing what you bring. If you’re a strong writer, then that may mean picking up some extra guest writing opportunities to portray you as an expert within your company. If you’ve got the verbal thing down, maybe it’s speaking or providing training services to people inside and outside your organization. Maybe it means going off the beaten path for what your company typically does, creating something new that you can use to go rogue. Virginia created Bruce Clay’s SEM Synergy podcast. Susan co-authored the SEO for Dummies book. It’s up to you to create opportunities to build your brand and the company. The more opportunities you create, the luckier you become, and the bigger your brand grows.

[If you’re seen working your ass off, you’re also likely to get less resentment from your coworkers who haven’t hopped on the brand wagon and actively hate their lives. Actually, no, they’ll probably still hate you.]

Be everywhere, loudly.

This is the part of personal branding everyone always thinks of. It’s when you’re on Twitter during the day and afterhours talking to people. It’s when you’re sharing what you’re up to, the problems you’re facing, what you’re working on, what you love, and answering their questions to help lighten their load. It’s when you’re making connections by having real conversations and showing the person behind the company. It’s the chatty side of brand building.

This step is important. It’s important that you’re visible, accessible and that you create as many touch points as you can for your brand. The more out there you are, the more you help yourself become the “go to” person for a specific topic. People have to know that you exist to care about you, but don’t get stuck here. Twitter can only help your personal brand if you have something else to bring to the table. Remember that.

You can build a personal brand while working for someone else and you can do it in a way that benefits not only yourself, but also your employer. Focus on that value.

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29 responses to “How to Build Your Brand Working For Someone Else”

  1. garethjax writes:

    Bruce Clay Inc looks like a terrific environment to grow and improve.
    You may feel an incredible wave of jealousy coming from my direction…

  2. Bronson writes:

    Awesome post Lisa, welcome back.

    Building a personal brand on someone elses time can be very tricky, I know this from 1st hand experience. I agree that it’s better to educate your employer first and also ensure that everything is out in the open & documented / signed.

    Your tips in this post are invaluable and I’m Fav’ing this one for future reference and sharing, I especially like the part about being a magnified version of your authentic self and using the persona as a shield, after all, if you ain’t making waves, you’re not kicking hard enough.

    Thanks again & all the best for Outspoken Media & Bruce Clay in 2010.

  3. Bronson writes:

    Awesome post Lisa, welcome back, tons of seriously useful advice in here.

    I removed the rest of this comment as it turned into a blog post, so I’m leaving a trackback rather. Rock on.

  4. Lisa Barone writes:

    It definitely is. I was more than fortunate to fall into a work environment that not only gave me permission to find my own voice, but really demanded that I do so. I’m still in constant contact with Bruce and I think it’s a great testament to the whole BCI organization. They’re great people. You should be totally jealous. ;)

  5. Lisa Barone writes:

    Thanks, Bronson. Rock on right back atcha! :)

  6. Chris Miller writes:

    Lisa! This is what I was talking about earlier, this is (my perception of) the real you. Smart, together, Social Media writer and all around nice person wanting to engage your fans (as a means to gain customers later by reputation), who does not having time to follow everyone on a personal level, because you’re so busy working for [Bruce Clay / Outspoken Media].

    IMHO (well, somewhat humble anyway), I think you could have explained it more like this than labeling yourself an arrogant elitist “Twitter Snob”, but that’s just my two cents.

  7. Lisa Barone writes:

    Hey Chris,

    See, we can have a real conversation here :)

    I don’t think this is post is much different than the impression I’ve giving off elsewhere (maybe on Twitter. I’m a little nutty on Twitter). What I said in that Twitter Snob post is that it’s just not feasible for me to follow 11k people and not miss everything EVERYONE is saying. Instead, I follow a smaller number and engaged when people reach out or whenever I see something cross my stream. I don’t think that makes me a snob, but I do get a lot of posts like the one you wrote calling me such things. I think we’re all trying to figure out how to make the most out of social media and how to engage as often as we can, while not completely dying from overload. That’s really all I was trying to say in that post.

    Glad you found this post useful, though. See, I do have my moments. ;)

    Lisa

  8. Maranda Gibson writes:

    Great post Lisa. Seems to me the most important thing that can push someone is a healthy, warm, and encouraging working environment. Nice to see someone who truly feels that is out there — and is fortunate enough to have found that place so early!

    Lots of useful goodies here — building a character? Never even thought of it.

  9. Randy Stuck writes:

    Wow! What a great article. As a young pup starting out in the SEO/SM world, this is exactly the type of article I need to see.

    One point that can be added (it was slightly mentioned, but not fully flushed out):
    If you are working harder to build your personal brand, you are also working harder for the company. Not only do you become an asset to the company and bring more attention to the company, you are also learning and growing and putting in more hours, basically everything a company could ever want in an employee. Why would anyone ever NOT want to pay you to do this?

    My 2 cents…

    -Randy

  10. Lisa Barone writes:

    If you’re interested in reading about creating personas, there was an AMAZING article that came out on Copyblogger last week on the topic. I’d recommend it to absolutely everyone. Unfortunately, it came out after I submitted this post or I would have included it here.

    http://www.copyblogger.com/johnny-b-truant/

  11. Lisa Barone writes:

    I completely agree. It’s funny, in this whole social media thing we always talk about how we engage consumers and give them power to make them invested in our brand and make them care what happens to us. Well, that’s exactly what you’re doing with a branded employee. You make them invested in the success of the company they’re working for. It changed how they work entirely and makes them far more valuable.

  12. Chris Miller writes:

    Lisa,

    I didn’t necessarily mean that I wanted the conversation to happen on Twitter, I just meant I didn’t want it to happen on my site. I can write content until I’m blue in the fingers, but it’s the links and social media profiles I need to build for my business to succeed – which was actually the point of my post! Online marketing conversations are only helpful if they revolve around online marketing goals which drive leads, not just who feels what way about what topic.

    In my case, I ditched all my webbyness when I moved to Alaska, so re-building branding for myself (and the company I now work for) is my top priority – so having conversations like this are helpful to my brand’s growth. If I was Uber Social Media Expert for Outspoken Media, however, I’d probably be trying to balance catering my content to my new client base (IE more @OutspokenMedia interactive-tweeting and more blogging about how great Outspoken Media’s services are) and *maintaining* my current branding. Lisa Barone didn’t get big by following a small Twitter-club of 20 people and leaving the rest of the line behind the red-velvet waiting to get in – Lisa Barone got popular by being an informative expert in her field who wrote fun, engaging copy and did her best to keep connected.

    I’d guess we probably share the same opinion on this topic (after all, I learned from you!) but where we may differ, is I think a brand should communicate online solely as a means to obtain and maintain leads. If you (any of us) want a personal life with no pressure of fans or clients, which can also be a brand in a sense, market it appropriately (such as a private Twitter and private Facebook via word of mouth).

    I see the Twitter Snob post as wanting your cake and eating it too (which I wouldn’t blame you for, I do love me some cake!)

  13. Jack Leblond writes:

    Nicely done Lisa.

    One sentence stands out more than the rest for me “You don’t become popular asking for permission and you definitely won’t attract an audience that way.” Not getting permission has gotten me in so much trouble over the years, but has not (yet) gotten me fired. However, what it has gotten me is results. Results I might otherwise have never seen while waiting on the “suits” to give me permission.

  14. Lisa Barone writes:

    Lisa Barone didn’t get big by following a small Twitter-club of 20 people and leaving the rest of the line behind the red-velvet waiting to get in…

    I think people have perceptions of me that I probably won’t be able to fix any time soon, which is fine. I’ve actually never followed a large number of people because I simply can’t keep up. I probably follow twice the number now than i used to. It’s really not a “velvet rope” thing in my eyes, it’s a “omg I’m human” thing. If I followed 10k people on Twitter, I’d miss everything everyone ever said.

    Interestingly, when I worked at Bruce Clay, I actually had a locked Twitter account and manually approved who I allowed to follow me. See, I think I’m way less snobby now. :)

    – Lisa Barone got popular by being an informative expert in her field who wrote fun, engaging copy and did her best to keep connected.

    …I try my best to still do that blogging on Outspoken, SmallBizTrends and in places like Bruce Clay.

    I think you’re right in that we agree on most aspects. I think where we do disagree is that you’ve made me completely a brand and taken away my right to also just be ‘lisa’ simply because my Twitter account is @lisabarone. I think the best part of my brand has always been that I AM still a human being. I think that’s why I can write in a way people can relate to and why they choose to follow me.

  15. Lisa Barone writes:

    Definitely. You learn by experimenting and by hopping off (or falling off) the plotted course sometimes. Did that get me dragged into Bruce’s office for a meeting every now and then? Maybe. But Bruce knew my goal was always to grow the BCI brand and help the blog grow and he was lenient with me when I took a wrong turn. And because of that, I wasn’t afraid to take wrong turns, which I think produced some great stuff.

  16. White Label SEO writes:

    Another great article by Ms.Barone. You’ve made s great point about getting permission. Personal branding is just taking the professional relationship you have with your employer to the next level. Thank you for pointing this out. It is a simple concept in itself, but often forgotten.

  17. Chris Miller writes:

    I’m not taking away anything – nobody can take away your right to be just Lisa! I think you’re giving it away though, by trying to incorporate both personal and business. I did it too – I would talk to you, Michael, Brian and sometimes Danny all day long on my old Chris_Miller account, then go home and, well, get back on Twitter and talk some more. I thought I was being super productive making tweet-buddies with the SMX crowd – but I bet none of you remember me, let alone the company I was attempting to represent. You weren’t my clients, I should have spent that time *at work* talking to people in Los Angeles looking for diamond jewelry.

    Now that I’m working for Directory One in Houston and running a side business in Social Media under my name, conversations like this are productive to building reputation (and links) for both – but when I go home tonight, if I don’t feel like working, I’m going to turn Twitter off and watch a movie. If I want to talk to a friend, I’ll call them or meet up for dinner (without letting my Foursquare profile optimization plan dictate what I feel like eating). If, at some point (unlikely) I’m crazy enough to want to play with social media at home, but not have leads and clients on my mind, I’ll make a separate profile so I can be “Chris” online, without the pressure of maintaining my branding.

    For the record, I can’t imagine following 400 people or managing the level of communication you do – I know that I would manage that amount of communication poorly; but I do know that I would replace focusing on my brand with communicating with potential leads and repeat customers though, and I certainly wouldn’t take time to complain about having *too much* business, as many in our industry seem to do.

  18. David writes:

    Ok so I understand your tweet after reading this, but the post is on the right path for branding so thanks for helping encourage others to build a personal brand.

  19. Ty Carson writes:

    Welcome back Lisa!

  20. David Temple writes:

    Wow, dejua vu! Companies need to learn to encourage and leverage personal brand builders. As you say, companies fear the employee will run to the greener grassier other side. It’s the same argument companies use to deny the best training to their employees. Personal branders and well trained employees do add value to any company. It may be difficult to quantify but if you can, it will help companies see the light.

  21. Erica writes:

    Large, engaged networks make valuable employees. I imagine a day when the quality of your network is on your resumé (or IS your resumé), and you’re compensated accordingly!

  22. Hudson Valley SEO writes:

    Hey Lisa. You write about an interesting notion, but it seems a little overly optimistic to me. I think the potential scenarios you depict are all possible, but only under some really unique conditions. It seems like it worked for you, but between the prospect of convincing your boss to give you the OK and busting your ass while remaining on civil terms with the very co-workers you are making look inefficient by the very nature of your personal branding efforts – yours doesn’t seem like a terribly viable outcome for most people. I don’t doubt that an employee successfully developing a personal brand can be a huge boon for a company. I’m just skeptical that your average work environment would provide the right opportunities to make this happen (y’know – a boss with vision and colleagues willing to take the backseat, so tp speak)

  23. Andrew@BloggingGuide writes:

    I was thinking that this could be hard. But then with your insights it made it sound simpler. I was struck with this phrase: if you have something else to bring to the table. Yes, one should have something to offer so that people can really accept you and trust you. It’s not the receiving but the giving.

  24. Darryl @ NetHosted writes:

    Really an interesting read and something that I’ve pondered on myself, I’m not sure that I’m really ready to have my work and personal life so interconnected just yet. It must be difficult to really relax, I can find this already having all my contacts and email at my fingertips whether at the office or not, the temptation to just open it up and fire off a few mails can be strong. There has to be a healthy balance between work and personal life though and I’d hate to neglect either, perhaps in future I’ll find the right harmony to be able to blend them without feeling as though I’m working 24/7.

    Thanks for the great read!

  25. Lisa Barone writes:

    Ty! :)

  26. Richard writes:

    Pick your character.

    I found that section particularly useful. Not a mirror of our qualities, but rather an amplification.

    In the business world, respect is more durable than love (whatever that is in the business world).

    Finally, don’t wait for people to pat you on the back on a daily basis.

    Thanks for the article Lisa.

  27. Marty writes:

    …and then there’s the companies like ours, where it’s our GOAL to support our employees in building their personal brands. Great post Lisa. Be easy on Bruce :). See ya’ in Seattle at ‘Advanced.

  28. Lisa Barone writes:

    I think Bruce Clay operates the exact same way.

    And I am! Bruce knows I love him. :)

  29. Anthony Piwarun writes:

    Lisa – I like the point you made about picking your character. It’s a topic I personally need to work on and the advice you’ve given will be a good starting point.



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