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This chapter is from the book

The Five Universal Objectives of Personal Branding

Whoever you are, whatever techniques you use, whomever you want to reach, five basic ideas, five universal objectives, are the same for everyone who wants to grow their personal brand.

1. Discover Your Passion

Passion is fundamental to achieving your goals.

What do you love to do? What gets you out of bed in the morning, fires your imagination, and revs you up? What do you think about when you’re daydreaming? How do you spend all of your free time?

Some people are passionate about their work. They love what they do, and that’s where they focus their time and energy. These people—usually entrepreneurs—have found a niche that makes them happy, and they want to find a way to make money from it. They wake up early, stay up late, and spend every waking minute thinking about, talking about, and actually doing the work.

In his book Crush It!, entrepreneur and social media celebrity Gary Vaynerchuk talks about how he spends hours and hours leaving comments on other people’s blogs about wine. It’s not because he enjoys leaving comments or because he wants to boost his web traffic. It’s because he loves wine. He loves selling it, talking about it, and writing about it. His passion for wine has turned him into a celebrity and helped him sell plenty of wine for his family’s liquor store.

Others are passionate about their hobbies. Whether it’s painting, playing in a band, fixing up classic cars, analyzing baseball statistics, or collecting vinyl records, some people love their hobbies and pursue them with an obsessive fervor. They view their day job as a means to an end, which lets them fulfill their passion.

And still others haven’t found their passion. Or they have no passion at all. They go to work, they come home, they eat dinner, they watch TV, they go to bed. And then they do it all again the next day. The idea of enjoying life has been drummed out of them.

These people are dead inside, whether they know it or not. The only thing that gets them out of bed in the morning is the alarm clock and the fear that they’ll lose their jobs if they don’t. They eat for fuel, not pleasure. They have friends out of habit, not because they love being around people. They watch TV not because there’s anything good on, but because they’re afraid of what they’ll learn if they’re left alone for too long with their own thoughts: Nothing in their lives is truly exciting or enjoyable.

You need to have at least one passion in your life. It can be something you are known for, something you build your personal brand on. Or it can even be something you never tell anyone about, preferring to do in private. But the great thing about sharing your passion is that you get to know people who share your interest and create some beneficial relationships.

All this is our way of saying you need to find your passion if you want to achieve your professional goals. More important, your goals need to tie into your passion because that’s how you will achieve them.

If you want to be fulfilled and enjoy earning a living, make sure your goals are achievable through your passions. For example, if your long-term goal is to own a million dollar home and drive an expensive car, you probably won’t get there providing knitting lessons to at-risk teenagers.

We won’t tell you to change your passions. Don’t give them up! If you love giving knitting lessons to at-risk teenagers, by all means pursue it. Just understand that there’s not much money to be made giving knitting lessons, so getting an expensive car this way is probably not feasible. If that’s what you love to do, make sure your goals align with your passion.

However, if your passion is to create a new social networking tool, and you devote every waking hour to programming and promoting it, you have a better chance of getting the mansion in Silicon Valley and Tesla Model X.

It’s a matter of making sure your passions and your goals are in alignment and that you can achieve the one through the other.

We hope you have already found your passion because this book is based on you being passionate about at least two things: (1) yourself and (2) something else.

2. Be Bold

It’s okay to talk about yourself.

Despite what your parents and teachers told you, you can tell people about your accomplishments. Actually, we want you to do that.

We understand that it’s hard to do. You’ve been taught that talking about yourself is bragging. You’re supposed to be humble and quiet about your accomplishments and let your actions speak louder than words.

Think about the past several times you saw somebody boasting about his success, his money, his love life (at networking events, parties, nightclubs, and high school reunions). We can imagine some of the words you used in reference to that person, none of which were flattering, and none of which our editors will let us publish here.

In the movies—like Mallrats, Karate Kid, Gladiator, and The Princess Bride—the braggart always gets his comeuppance at the end, receiving some cosmic justice. “See?” you tell yourself. “This will happen if I brag about what I do.”

The problem is that we associate self-promotion with bragging. We believe telling others about our accomplishments is the moral equivalent of bragging about how much money we make. We associate letting people know we published an article or are giving a talk as the equivalent of showing up at our high school reunion in a $200,000 red Italian sports car.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Self-promotion seems to be especially hard for people from the Midwest, where we live. We’re your typical Midwesterners, only we got over it. We realized we had to be bold without being arrogant. We knew if we wanted to make a name for ourselves, and earn reputations to attract bigger clients and bigger opportunities, we had to overcome this Midwest shyness and be willing to talk about ourselves—a lot.

Self-promotion is just letting people know what’s going on in your lives, keeping people apprised of your special events, occasions, and accomplishments.

Table 1.1 shows a few key differences between bragging and self-promotion:

Table 1.1 The Difference Between Self-Promotion and Bragging

Self-Promotion Bragging
A Twitter message that says, “I just published my book.” A vanity license plate that says, “Gr8 Writer.”
Announcing the birth of your child. Announcing the birth of your eight children at a national press conference.
Telling your friends you’re engaged. Telling people how much he spent on the ring.
Telling your colleagues about your promotion. Demanding undying fealty from your underlings.

The biggest difference between self-promotion and bragging is the motivation behind why you’re telling people. If it’s something you’re proud of, something you’re excited about because you just gotta tell someone, that’s self-promotion. If it’s something you want people to do, see, visit, or even buy, that’s self-promotion.

If you announce something so other people will be envious or think you’re cool, that’s bragging, and people won’t like you.

Creating your online personal brand means showing the best parts of your personality so people do like you. What makes you unique and interesting? Why should they want to spend time with you? Why should they care what you have to say? If you’re a fun person, show it. If you’re interested in a lot of different things, share them. If you like to create new relationships, seek out other interesting people.

The important thing is to realize that (a) people are interested in what you have to say and (b) it’s perfectly all right to say it. Just don’t brag about it.

3. Tell Your Story

Your story is what makes you special.

This is the tricky part. We just told you it’s okay to talk about yourself, but now you have to do it without talking about yourself.

@kyleplacy: Huh?
@edeckers:  Be patient.

Effective personal branding isn’t about talking about yourself all the time. As much as everyone would like to think that friends and family are eagerly waiting by their computers hoping to hear some news, any news, about what you’re doing, they’re not. Actually, they’re hoping you’re sitting by your computer, waiting for news about them.

Believe it or not, the best way to build your personal brand is to talk more about other people, events, and ideas than you talk about yourself. That’s because if you talk about other people and promote their victories and their ideas, you become an influencer. You are seen as someone who is not only helpful, but is also a valuable resource. That helps your brand more than if you just talk about yourself over and over—that gets boring.

But there are other ways you can tell your story, without saying a word. You don’t tell people what you believe; you show it by living it.

The next chance you get, watch people. Study what they wear, what they eat, what they drive. Act like Sherlock Holmes to make simple deductions based on what you observe. You can get a clue to their personalities by noticing simple things like clothing and cars.

That woman over there wearing the New York Knicks T-shirt is probably a basketball fan. The skinny guy wearing the running shoes is a runner. The guy wearing a Green Lantern T-shirt likes comic books. And the woman who drove by in the Toyota Prius with the “Love Your Mother (Earth)” bumper sticker wants to help the environment.

You learned a small part of their personal stories, but they didn’t say a word. The symbols people wear and brands they support tell a story. They let other people know, “This is something I believe in, and I want you to know about it.”

It’s the same for telling your own story. Rather than wearing a sign that says “I love comic books” or sending daily emails to your friends about your obsession with comics, you could write a blog about the comics industry and your favorite titles and characters, or you could publish your own web comic. You could produce a weekly podcast about comic publishing news, cover the news from local and national comic conventions, and even interview other comic artists and publishers. By blogging or podcasting about your passion, you tell the world your story—“I love comic books”—without actually saying it over and over or being a pest about it.

Besides, the sign starts to chafe after a while.

4. Create Relationships

Relationships lead to opportunities.

What’s marvelous about social networking and real-world networking is that you never know what kind of opportunities are going to come your way. Without sounding too mystical or cosmic, you must leave yourself open to the opportunities that may arise because of your efforts.

Erik jokes that this is “faith-based networking”: You will meet the right person at the right time for the right opportunity. As long as you continue to put yourself in the situations where those possibilities can arise, sooner or later, they will come.

The creation of this book is a prime example of the right people meeting in the right place at the right time. We both belonged to a social network called Smaller Indiana, having joined within the first couple weeks of its creation. We met at the first event that the founder, Pat Coyle, organized on Martin Luther King Day 2008.

During our initial meeting, which was already filled with friendly teasing and Kyle accusing Erik of carrying a “man bag” (something Erik flatly denies even now)—

@edeckers:  It was a leather messenger bag, I swear!
@kyleplacy: Okay, whatever.

—we arranged to get coffee together the next week. In the following months, we continued to bump into each other, get coffee, get lunch, attend the same networking meetings, collaborate on projects, and refer speaking and work gigs to each other. Eighteen months later, Kyle asked Erik to help with another book he was working on, and that led to this one. But it all started with being at the same place at the same time in January 2008.

Whether you’re online or out in the real world, treat every person you meet as a possible future resource. You never know if the person you met at the last Chamber of Commerce meeting will become your next employer. The person you have coffee with one day (or even the one who serves your coffee) could become your business partner. And the person who connects with you on Twitter could end up hiring you to speak at an event two months later. (Just remember to be genuine, and do this without being creepy or seeming predatory.)

You need to treat each of these new relationships with care. Nurture them, help them grow, and tell people your story.

“But how will we have time to grow those relationships?” people usually ask. “We have work to do.”

That’s the beauty of social media. It lets you stay in touch with people in between the times you meet face-to-face. It lets you share your story without doing a big information dump in the first 30 minutes of a one-hour appointment. It lets you find out about a lot of other people all at once, without buying lunch every day. It lets you learn about the details of your lives so that when you do get together, you get to spend more time talking about deeper issues and bigger ideas. And that is where those opportunities are going to come from.

5. Take Action

Even a small step is a step forward.

There’s an old saying that if you hit a rock with a hammer 1,000 times, it wasn’t the 1,000th blow that broke the rock; it was the 999 that came before it.

All the plans in the world don’t amount to much if you don’t actually put them into action. If you want to be someone notable or be considered an authority in your field, you have to start somewhere.

Although you’re not going to become famous with a single blog post or YouTube video, you can’t start without your first one. It’s a matter of writing post after post, creating video after video. It’s publishing those 999 posts or videos that makes the 1,000th effective.

Ask how other people became successful. All of them will tell you that they worked hard—harder than anyone else. They got up earlier, stayed up later, and worked longer in between.

Earlier, we mentioned “faith-based networking” and the idea that you will meet the right person with the right opportunity at the right moment. Whether that meeting was divinely inspired, you also met the right person because you’ve been to hundreds of meetings talking to thousands of people and communicating the same thing: the kind of opportunities you’re looking for.

Just like the rock that took 1,000 blows to break it, you had to meet 999 people before you finally met that one person who changed your life.

We wish we could tell you the secret phrase or handshake that would let you meet that 1,000th person in the first 24 hours of your new personal branding adventure. Unfortunately, we can’t. There isn’t one. But if you follow even half the steps outlined in this book, you’ll eventually get there, and you’ll have fun doing it.

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