The Way We Work

“We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You.”
Tom Peters, business author and speaker
Fast Company, 1997

Before Tom Peters published The Brand Called You in Fast Company in 1997, branding seemed primarily the realm of big companies and celebrities.

It took a while to truly spread, but “personal branding” has become a buzzword that is regularly tossed around in numerous contexts, from social media and career development to small business marketing.

The question is: What does it mean, and how do you do it?

Chances are you have at least heard of personal branding; you may have read about it in the past, or even done exercises to help determine your own brand.

It is never too late to figure out what your personal brand is, but if you still need a place to start, now is a good time to give it some thought.

“Your personal brand is a promise to your clients… a promise of quality, consistency, competency, and reliability.”
Jason Hartman, entrepreneur

At its most basic, your personal brand is how your market yourself to others. Think of job applications you have sent in the past: You may have called yourself motivated and adaptable, or said that you have an “eye for detail.” Think about your online profiles — how have you described yourself?

The words you choose to introduce yourself to other people help create a framework for your personal brand. Here is where it gets a little more complicated.

In many ways, your personal brand is not about you at all — it is defined by what other people think of you. In other words, it is defined by your reputation. If you say you deliver excellent client service, but your clients can never reach you and you regularly miss deadlines, your reputation and your brand will be out of sync.

Defining what you stand for

Social business expert Chris Brogan used a superhero to help explain personal branding. “Batman is defined by the goal to seek never-ending vengeance on criminals,” he writes. “That’s his promise. You’re a bad guy? It’s going to hurt. Batman is vengeance. And if someone else started being Batman, they’d pretty much have to own up to that promise, as well, or the brand would dilute.”

Start by asking yourself what you want to be known for — think of three nouns or adjectives that you feel describe who you are professionally.

One way to do this is to look at what you are already known for. “Most of us have little sense of our talents and strengths,” said author Marcus Buckingham in his book Now, Discover Your Strengths.

  • Look at feedback from past clients, or recommendations you have received in the past. Do you notice any themes in what has been written?
  • Ask your clients and colleagues. A quick email to clients, people you work with, or classmates asking for feedback can help — but it is important to get objective feedback, not just what people think you might want to hear.
  • Use an anonymous survey. If you think objective feedback might hard to get via email, there are tools available like 360° Reach – Personal Brand Assessment, an assessment tool that anonymously surveys your contacts for input.

Defining these core values and attributes is not easy, but investing time to understand yourself can have an impact on both your career and your personal life.

Have you already defined your personal brand? What personal branding resources have helped you through the process?


Amy Sept

Managing Editor

As the managing editor of the Upwork blog, Amy Sept works with regular and guest writers to share information that helps freelancers and businesses navigate the future of work. She owns Nimbyist Communications and helps non-profits, startups, and small business owners get their content marketing on track.