5 Things I've learned about building a personal brand and why everything you've heard is bogus

A question I get asked a lot is how I built a successful personal brand. How did I build 10,000 Words from a rough-around-the-edges personal blog to a popular and well-trafficked resource?

Usually when people ask the question they lean closely in and expect me to mention social networks like Twitter, reader engagement, cross-platform integration, and all the other social media guru-isms floating around the web. While those are a part of the equation, building a strong personal brand transcends technology and tools. A successful “personal” brand requires you to be a “person” and sometimes to think outside of “thinking outside the box.”

Be nice

There are many talented people out there competing for work and the attention of online readers and communities. What separates the talented from the equally talented but successful, is a good, genuine, likeable personality. You don’t have to be Mr. or Ms. Smiley Face, but people appreciate kindness and humanity. Being arrogant, antisocial, cliquish, or rude will turn many people off and damage your personal brand.

Think of your favorite restaurant experience: you likely told other people about that restaurant not just because the food was great or the decor was beautiful, but because you perhaps received great service or the waiter or host was especially kind or accommodating.

You can only tell people how great you are, but the true test of a strong personal brand is what others think of you and how likely they are to sing your praises.

Show don’t tell

Many of those who have strong personal brands are not necessarily the most knowledgeable or the biggest experts in the field, but those who share a bit of themselves with others. Instead of just telling people what they should be doing, share your personal experiences and why certain strategies or techniques have worked for you. Make your work available online and tell other people how you did it. Be open and honest.

The reason many blogs are successful is because the blogger has shared their personality with readers and based their posts on personal experiences. My career took off when I stopped hiding behind the big orange 10,000 Words icon and started putting my face out there figuratively and literally.

Say Yes!!

I’m tired. Between work and 10,000 Words there are nights when I just want to crawl up next to the TV and eat Oreos in my PJs. But if I receive an invitation to an event, social gathering, or some opportunity for professional development or to meet new people and I have the time and the capacity to do so, I will attend. You never who you’re going to meet and, by doing so, when you’ll have an opportunity to share your work and yourself with others.

Not too long ago, I was at a conference and after a long day of workshops I faced the decision of either going back to the hotel room or attending a post-conference networking session. Suffice it to say I would not have my current position if I hadn’t opted to attend the session. Follow the example of Jim Carrey in the movie Yes Man and learn to say yes to new and unique opportunities… you never know where they may lead.

Do a favor for someone

There’s a running joke/mantra in the design community that real designers don’t do favors. This means no missing cat posters, no websites for friends, nothing that won’t put a dollar in your pocket. Despite this prevailing line of thought, it’s the occasional favor that helps people remember you and your work. If you do them a solid now, they are very likely to remember you down the line. And though the benefits may not be immediately tangible, I cannot put into words how many times a small favor has turned into a big professional reward.

I know I’ve advocated before for getting paid for what you do, but if you love what you do enough, you will be willing to share your time and expertise with others without expecting something in return. This doesn’t mean you should do every favor you’re asked to do, but often those most in need of a favor are the most likely to help you later down the line.

Ditch the “rules” and follow your passion

There are a million social media experts, online gurus, media mavens, and the like who have a million rules for what you should do to grow your personal brand. Forget what the experts say and follow your own plan.

Don’t tweet because you have to, do it because you want to. Start a blog because you have something to say, not because you are told to do so. You will find that your message will be stronger and you will be more passionate about your personal brand if you forge your own path.

Also on 10,000 Words:

15 Journalists’ outstanding personal portfolios
What exactly is a social media editor/manager?
25 Things I’ve Learned About Journalism