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Your personal brand: time to put your professional flag in the ground

Personal branding: why you need to put your ‘professional flag’ in the ground

I heard a statistic the other day that went something like this: By 2020, 40% of the US workforce will be freelance or in contracted roles. I’ve seen other research articles that indicate similar trends.

Of course, this is not news. The ‘freelance economy’ — for want of a better phrase — continues to gather momentum.

So where does that leave you?

Are you prepared for this ‘new’ way of work when it takes hold in your profession or industry? (And I’d be surprised if it hasn’t already. At this point, it’s probably a question of how prevalent — and therefore embraced and accepted — professional freelancing is in your work arena).

Two options

The way I see it, you have two options, with various degrees thereof in between.

You can muddle along without much direction, doing a good job wherever you work, yes, but ultimately going with the flow, swapping one permanent or contract position for the next, hopefully taking a pay rise along the way.

Or you can think a bit more strategically, including having an awareness of your personal brand — who you are (professionally), what you stand for, and importantly, what you want to be known for.

I call this putting your ‘professional flag’ in the ground, and while it has always been important in the world of professional work, it’s becoming even more critical as we move towards a freelance mentality in the workplace, where business professionals turn their grab-bag of skills into a portfolio of work and/or career options.

And if you have an entrepreneurial streak in you, maybe you’ll end up running your own business, in which case your professional flag is critically important because as the founder of a business, in all likelihood you’ll become the face of the business, particularly in the early days.

Putting your ‘professional flag’ in the ground works a bit like this

Firstly, you decide what you want to be known for professionally, even if it is at quite a broad ‘one-cut’ level i.e. your profession plus one key area of specialisation. For example, you might be a:

  • PR practitioner who specialises in digital communications;
  • web designer with a flair for online commerce sites;
  • brand manager with a penchant for experiential strategies;
  • data analyst who focuses on technology startups;
  • content marketer who specialises in seemingly boring business-to-business industries.

A ‘double cut’ is a bit more defined i.e. a PR practitioner who specialises in digital communications for the nonprofit sector, or a brand manager who focuses in experiential strategies for major food brands.

With every ‘cut’ deeper you go positioning-wise, the more focused and specialised you’re becoming, and the easier it will be for people to understand what you do.

Now this won’t work for everyone. Some people like to traverse across a number of specialist fields, but you get the idea. It’s about cutting through the clutter and becoming known for something; while this positioning may change over your professional journey, evolution needs a starting point. So what’s your starting point?

But let’s take things a bit deeper.

If you’re keen on elevating your profile and positioning yourself as a go-to informational resource on a particular topic with a view to speaking or writing — essentially carving out a thought leadership positioning in your field or maybe ultimately running a business around ‘brand you’ — then you might want to approach your ‘flag in the ground’ from a more philosophical standpoint.

Ask yourself:

What are your beliefs and values as they pertain to your professional knowledge, experience, and expertise?

By way of example, I believe in the importance of human connection in marketing. I believe in delivering value over and above products and services by publishing content that’s useful, helpful, and relevant to my audience. I believe in the power of relationships in business and the importance of cultivating a community, or ‘village of support’ that underpins your personal and/or business brand. I believe in not trying to ‘game the system’ or ‘knock it out of the park’ every time when it comes to the content you publish, but more so to build a serious body of work over time that comes to represent you as a person and a professional.

Everything I do reflects these beliefs and values: My writing (blog posts and media articles), my podcasts, the things I say and do on social media, whenever I speak publicly at a conference or event.  Over time, I have developed my own phraseology that further reinforces these beliefs.

People who connect with me or engage my services generally have a pretty good understanding of what I stand for professionally because I’ve been ‘out there’ staking my territory over time. In other words, I have very publicly put my professional flag in the ground!

What about you?

What are your are your core beliefs, values, and ideals? What professional territory do you represent? What does your ‘flag in the ground’ look like?

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