A View from the Alley: Building a Personal Brand that Differentiates What Is Uniquely You

Teresa Schwab, LMSW, is an Instructor with the KU PMC.  She is also a Trainer, Coach, and Facilitator.  She partners with individuals, organizations, and communities that are interested in making progress on issues that matter.  She lives in Lawrence with her husband and three young sons.  Teresa can be reached at teresa@arnavonstrategies.com.

My husband and I grew up in a very small town in rural Western Kansas.  The town has been slowly losing population for years, but after their school closed a few years ago, about all that remains now are a library, grocery store, one café/bar, and a post office.

This past weekend, we took our kids back there to spend Spring Break with their grandmothers who still live in the area.  While we were there, we took a walk around town to share memories from our childhood.  We started our walk through the alleys of downtown, which revealed something that we couldn’t have seen had we taken the sidewalk—almost all of the remaining buildings, emptied long ago of their businesses, were caving in.  I felt overwhelmingly sad realizing that in the not too distant future each of these buildings, remembered so fondly from our childhoods, would be reduced to rubble.

What does our small town have to do with your personal brand?  Basically, a brand is your identity, the way that you differentiate yourself from everyone else.  In order to create your brand, any brand really, you must first understand who you ARE and who you want to BE in a way that it influences what you DO and subsequently, how others see you.  Getting this kind of clarity gives you a blueprint for your future, informs the kind of tools you’ll need (skills, expertise, etc.), and allows you to make decisions about what kinds of materials you’d like to use (what you really need vs. what you can let go of).

Had our small community developed its identity consciously, perhaps defining that it wanted to always be a vibrant community, these buildings would never have been allowed to deteriorate and crumble.  Taking the time now to build your personal brand will prevent you from climbing a career ladder, only to find years down the road that your ladder has been propped up against the wrong wall.

Here are a few steps to get you started building your own personal brand:

Step 1
Understand who you are, especially your strengths. Make a list of what you perceive to be your strengths, then add any feedback you’ve received over the years from supervisors, colleagues, friends, family, and even strangers.  Pull out annual evaluations and/or any assessments you may have taken and re-read what they say about you.  This step helps set the context for the next few steps.  When you’ve got a pretty good combined list, you’re ready to move on.

Step 2
Define who you want to be and what impact you would like to have. Ask yourself, what difference do I see myself making in this world?  By the end of my career, what impact would I like to have had?  You may not completely know the answer to this yet, but you should feel okay about making a “best guess” based on where you are in your career path.  For some people, this is an evolutionary process.

Step 3
Define what you want to be known for. Ask, what do I want people to see when they look at me?  What do I want others to say about me to other people?  Articulate the value that you uniquely offer to others.  This step is important because this is the outward expression of your brand, i.e. what others see and experience as your unique value.

Step 4
Define for yourself why what you want to be and what you want to be known for are important. Values drive behavior, so make a list of values that are important to you.  This step is important because it keeps you focused on the most important priorities when you meet the inevitable barriers along the way.

Step 5
Get clear about what you need to do and how you want to do it. It may be helpful to limit your timeframe to either the next 12 months, or perhaps a little longer, like 3 years.  Ask yourself, what do I really want or need to do in this next year (or next 3 years) that will set me on a path to making the difference I ultimately want to make?  What projects do I want to initiate or complete?  What new relationships do I need to establish?  What additional training do I need?  Think not just about what you yourself would like to do, but also about what your organization or other stakeholders need or want you to do—you may not be able to control every project you take on, but you can certainly control how you carry it out.

One final note, just as a building built in the 1950’s needs to be updated and remodeled, it is important to understand that developing your personal brand is a process–you’ll need to revisit it periodically.

After you’ve had a chance to develop your personal brand, I would love to hear how you’re using it to move forward in your life and career!

One thought on “A View from the Alley: Building a Personal Brand that Differentiates What Is Uniquely You”

  1. Alecia Gray

    Teresa, thank you for this article. This message is so needed in today’s world of running from place to place being whatever someone else tells us to be and do!

    One question you asked in Step #3 resonated with me, “What do I want others to say about me to other people?” Recently I received a compliment in a back door way – my friend Sandra told me what another friend had said in praise about my son to Sandra. Yes, it would have been nice to hear the praise directly from my friend, but the fact that she had said it to Sandra instead of me made it all the more meaningful. How often to we get to hear that someone is talking positively about us behind our backs?!

    (And yes, because the praise was about my son, I took it as praise about my parenting skills. Now if he starts to misbehave, that’s totally him!)

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