Whatever you want to call the business of being yourself, chances are you’ve already taken steps to enhance your individual brand. There’s no shortage of “how to brand yourself” advice on the web, and most of it boils down to this: Put yourself out there—online and in person. So why aren’t more of us branding gurus by now?
Sure, you’ve printed up business cards. And you’ve dutifully joined Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, which you visit regularly and update at least occasionally. Yet opportunities still aren’t flowing your way.
Why? Well, blame the overcrowded interwebs.
“The reality is, the internet is a global talent pool,” says Dan Schawbel, founder of Millennial Branding and bestselling author of Promote Yourself. “If you want to compete in this economy, you have to have the right online presence. It’s do or die.”
So what is the right online presence? How can you leave competitors eating your digital dust?
Avoid these six common self-branding mistakes, and you’ll soon stand out from the pack.
Mistake #1: You Haven’t Clarified Your Purpose
First, ask yourself what you want to be known—or hired—for. In a time when jobs are scarce, it feels smart to boast about your broad range of skills. After all, you never know if someone will ultimately hire you because you’re a video-editing wizard or blogger extraordinaire—or because you can bake a killer rum cake.
“Don’t try to be all things to all people—that’s like applying for 1,000 jobs, which just doesn’t work,” says Schawbel. “Pick a specific subject matter and an audience, and focus on that.” Not sure what your focus should be? Look at your career highlights and decipher the common thread. Maybe you shine in front of a crowd and want to promote yourself as a winsome emcee for weddings or special events. Maybe you’ve always been incredibly organized and are looking to take your side business of wedding planning to the next level. Or, maybe you have a gift for picking out the next interior decor trends and can gain a following on Pinterest.
The thing about the internet is that there’s a lot of noise. First, decide exactly who you want to be, then start your self-promoting. As soon as you’re able to explain your specialty, both online and in person, and can demonstrate your experience and aptitude for it, the right opportunities will start finding you.
Mistake #2: You’re Not Sharing the Right Things
You’ve pitched a tent on LinkedIn and do your due diligence on Twitter, but you don’t exactly feel like you’re building a following. Well, might you be committing any of these branding faux pas?
– Overpromoting: Not every status update should bleat about the VIP you sat next to or new gig you scored. One successful social media strategy is the “rule of thirds.” In other words, a fraction of your posts should be about you, the human person, another fraction should be you sharing interesting information from a third party, and the last third it’s OK to devote to promoting your “brand.”
– Underpromoting: Good for you: You’re one of those rare humans who knows that not everyone finds what you eat for lunch each day fascinating. Just be careful, because you can actually hold yourself back if you don’t do a little bragging online due to modesty, shyness, or privacy concerns.
– Carelessness: This no-no is widespread online, but don’t be that person who’s too quick to slap up any old thing—from shots of yourself in a too-revealing bikini to off-color jokey conversations with your BFFs.
The social-media sweet spot? A mix of career accomplishments and personal interests, plus a dash of your dazzling personality—without entering the embarrassing realm.
[Tweet “When in doubt, share value.”] Post links to interesting articles you’ve found online, pass along fabulous opportunities, or point people to helpful resources. Friends and followers will quickly identify you as someone who always has something to offer.
Mistake #3: You’re Caught Up in the Career You’ve Already Had, Not the One You Want
Your current branding efforts should be about where you want to go, not where you’ve already been. “Focus on the long-term,” says Schawbel.
Play up the projects and experiences that you’d most like to replicate. If your dream is to do fieldwork in a developing country for an international nonprofit, highlight the vacation you spent volunteering in Guatemala. If you’re looking for a consulting gig in marketing for e-commerce companies, talk more about the successful promotional campaign that you devised for your friend’s crocheting business on Etsy.
Then, whether it’s through a mission statement on your website or in your casual tweets, when you speak up about the kinds of opportunities you’re seeking, “people will try to offer them to you,” he says.
Mistake #4: You Don’t Have Your Own Website
You probably think your profiles on the big three—Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter—are enough. “They’re not,” says Schawbel. “Everyone in the world should have their own website. It can capture who you are and what you’ve accomplished.”
Your website—ideally at yourfullname.com—is where you can best control your message, because it will dominate the results that populate a Google search of your name. Think of your site as your giving visitors a snapshot of what you do best. There needn’t be tons of bells and whistles. But, at the very least, your site should have a great photo of you and samples of your work, along with a personal mission statement or bio that highlights your experience so far and the kind of work you hope to do.
You can also use your site to blog about what you’re working on or care about right now. But only include a blogging function if you’re actually going to use it. “Your online presence has to be consistent,” says Schawbel. So, if you’re not actually going to manage a blog daily, or pretty regularly, then don’t include one.
Mistake #5: You’re Hiding Behind Your Computer Screen
Don’t forget to be the spokesperson for your personal brand. It’s hard to overstate the impact of meeting people in the flesh. It makes for deeper relationships, more cooperation, and more progress toward your goals. So keep your business card handy, and get yourself out there—a lot. Set up tea breaks, drinks, hiking, movies, or meals with people who work in your field. Go to industry events and parties. Each face-to-face communication will pack a bigger punch for your brand than any Facebook chat or Twitter conversation.
Mistake #6: You’ve Let Your Profiles Go Stale
We get it. You got sidetracked, life got busy, and you haven’t been spending much time keeping up your e-appearances. But that next potential client sniffing around your web presence is wondering why you haven’t updated your blog in nearly a year or posted on Twitter since early June. Have you died? Changed careers? Ditched traditional work for a yearlong round-the-world jaunt?
If you’ve fallen off with your diligent e-upkeep, it’s not too late to pick things back up from here. Write a lively blog all about the great things that happened in the time since your last post (it needn’t be overexplanatory or apologetic). The other thing to keep in mind, however, is that maybe yours isn’t the always-updating brand. In which case, that’s OK. Just know that if you leave your accounts and profiles sitting too long, unused and un-updated, that you might lose work. Daily activity is the gold standard, but strive for weekly check-ins, at least, when things get busy. Warns Schawbel: “If your name isn’t out there, someone else’s will be.”