As I mentioned in my last post, I have been doing a lot of soul searching since selling my company. And one of the things I have been struggling to figure out is my (new) personal brand.
If you are strategic you can cultivate a personal brand that can work for you. It can open doors to new opportunities, garner you job offers, and make it easier to command more of what you want in any role you take (more money, more freedom, more flexibility, etc.). This was certainly true for me…
For the last 15 years I have worked to build my brand around technology leadership. I believe you should try to be the best in the world at something, and technology management was my schtick. I built (and sold) a company around that specialty. And I was even paid $10,000 per day to teach workshops on the topic.
But now, I am not sure that brand makes sense anymore. I am working in a new company where software is only a small part of what we do. I don’t want to be a CTO or VPE anymore, and instead I want to round out my resume with out C-level roles in different areas, and maybe one day in the future, I will try my hand at CEO again.
I believe you should strive to be the best in the world at something – but if I am not leading technology and software teams anymore – can I continue touting myself as an expert on the topic? And thus my big question – what should my personal brand be now? With my new roles and responsibilities what should I strive to be the best at?
And so, I wrote this blog post as an exercise to help me think through my own brand, but also to help you think through yours! I know I am not the only one struggling with what they should focus on, and what area they should choose to be their personal brand.
Creating a Personal Brand That Will Work for You
The first step to creating a useful personal brand is you have to think about the end-game. Where are you going and what sort of reputation, or brand, will help you get there?
If you have the end in mind then you can work backwards and come up with a reasonable plan. In the past I saw myself becoming a founder, and starting my own thing. Everything I did was to help me build skills in that direction. The roles I took (CTO, VPE in startups vs. a director in the big company), the ways I tried to stretch myself in those roles (learning marketing and sales vs. getting deeper in the technical details), and even what I wrote about on this blog (leadership vs. deep technology) – everything was building towards a purpose.
Then I did it. I started my own company. I sold it. And now, I am doing something new. I have to start over and think about the end game. What will come after this?
This is hard to answer, because I don’t have the clear end goal I once did. In my new company, I don’t see myself taking on a different role. This very well could be my last job.
Therefore my thoughts on my brand are different than they once were. Instead of being a leader and founder, I want to be an expert in my new field. I want to share the lessons as I learn them and I want to contribute to people around me.
If you aren’t sure what your brand should be (and I have been doing this same exercise), ask yourself:
- What do I want my next job to be?
- Where do I want to live?
- What do I want my life to be like?
- How much money do I want to have in the bank?
- How do I want to spend my free time?
The answers to these questions are your desired outcomes. They are what you are working toward.
The Steps to Get There
Once you have the end in mind, or at least you know what your desires are for the future, the next step is to craft your plan.
What are the things you need to learn?
What are the experiences you want to have?
Are there things you need to accomplish first?
Who are the type of connections you need? Who do you want to know?
What do you need to do to be truly amazing and the best in the world at what you do?
Try to identify the big things.
I find mind-mapping really helps me with this process. You can start off with your desired outcomes as the big bubbles and then use the branches to break things into more manageable pieces.
“It takes a village to raise a child.”
I love that quote (which I understand is an old African proverb) because it is so true. And you are that child. In your life you have been touched, shaped and moulded by so many people. And no matter how successful you are now, chances are you could use help.
As I am going through this struggle to define my new brand and figure out what is next for my life, one of the first things I did was reach out to an executive coach I worked with in past.
If you aren’t sure where to start, try seeking expert feedback. Hire a coach. Find a mentor. Or even just talk to one of your most successful friends (you are like the company you keep, after all). Ask them for feedback and use them as a sounding board for all your great plans.
Here are some fodder questions to get you started:
- What do you think I am best at?
- What are my greatest strengths?
- When have you seen me be really successful?
- I am trying to decide if I should do x, y, or z – which one do you think would be a better fit? How do you think I should choose?
- I want to achieve abc but I am not sure how. Do you have any suggestions?
The key to good questions is to give the other person options and ask them for feedback. If they say something, try to drill in. Make sure you focus the questions on their expertise, though (if they know you well they will be able to help with more introspective questions; if they don’t, then they will be able to help you make decisions with your own information, etc.). Just be prepared and use their time efficiently and effectively.
Journal and Brainstorm
Writing this post is actually part of my process. By reflecting on the steps to create a new personal brand I am going through them myself. Journaling and writing things down is a powerful way to collect your thoughts and get some of the ideas out of your head and on to paper.
Plus, just like you reading this post, when there is something you don’t know and are trying to figure out – chances are there are other people in the world facing those same obstacles and challenges. By sharing your journey you make the world better, but you also help push your brand down the path you are headed. Smart, right?
Even now as I am finishing this post, I don’t have all the answers. However, I am getting started and making progress. And that is a big part of the battle – getting over the inertia and moving forward.
So instead of reading more articles and doing whatever you were doing before you got to this article, I challenge you to pull out a sheet of paper and start writing. Make some progress and be sure to let me know how it goes.