By now, most professionals recognize the value of having a strong personal brand. After all, if you’re not associated with particular concepts or strengths or characteristics or viewpoints, then you’re probably invisible inside your organization. That might be fine for where you are now, but if you want to advance, you need to distinguish yourself in some way. Conversely, if you have a strong personal brand, people often seek you out for opportunities or want to work with you, specifically. A strong personal brand is a form of career insurance.
But many of us feel way too busy to give sustained thought or focus to cultivating a strong personal brand, even if we know it would be beneficial in the long-term. Amidst the crush of meetings, emails, and other obligations, how can we carve out the time to make progress in this crucial area?
One solution is to apply the principles of project management to your personal branding efforts. Drawing from Dorie’s work in how to reinvent your personal brand and Antonio’s background in project management, we’ve developed a framework that may be useful as you embark upon the important work of getting recognized for your expertise.
Not every element of project management transfers perfectly to personal branding — for instance, in personal branding, your “project sponsor” is almost always yourself! But here are six key project management tenets you can follow to make it far more likely your personal branding efforts will succeed, despite the distractions and busyness almost every professional experiences.
Identify your purpose.
Developing and honing your personal brand takes time — and it’s almost never “urgent.” So why bother? It’s essential to get clear on your purpose before starting, or your motivation is likely to flag quickly when time pressures emerge. An easy method of finding the purpose of your personal brand project is to ask several times, “Why am I doing this project?”
The answer might be: to be recognized for my expertise. Then ask yourself again: Why do you want to be recognized for your expertise?
You might answer: To have more impact in the field of sales. And again — why? The answer might be anything from providing for your family to getting your product or service into more people’s hands. There are no wrong answers, but it’s important to understand your motivation and how much it matters to you.
If after the exercise you don’t reach something relevant — something that will motivate you to work on it — then we strongly recommend that you not start the project.
Decide on your investment.
How much will the project cost? If we’re talking about a corporate project, the cost might be measured in staff time, advertising spend, research and development, prototyping, software, manufacturing, and more.
When it comes to your personal brand, even though there may be some investments (you might decide it’s useful to create a personal website, for instance), the majority of your investment will be in the form of your time. For instance, you might decide to focus on building your network, creating content (such as launching a blog), or cultivating social proof. It’s important to recognize that building a strong personal brand is a project that will take years to accomplish in the form you’d like. Antonio has been concertedly working on his brand since 2012, for instance.
In her book The Long Game: How to Be a Long-Term Thinker in a Short-Term World, Dorie observes that it often takes two to three years of effort to attain even minor recognition for your work, and five years or more to attain meaningful recognition. It’s a long road, and you may decide it’s not worth it for you, or at least not at this time. But it’s also possible you may decide that time will pass anyway, so it’s important to get started now. Either way, it’s important to recognize and proactively choose the investment you’re committing to.
Get clear on the benefits — and how you’ll track them.
Here’s an essential question for any project manager to ask: How will you know that you’ve been successful? What will have happened, and by when?
For instance, you might be seeking benefits such as revenue (more clients seek you out because of your strong brand); impact (you’re offered the chance to write a book or a column for a high-profile publication); or career progression (in a crowded field, you’re decided for the coveted promotion).
Building a strong personal brand is a process that plays out over many years. The benefits rarely accrue in weeks or even months. But in order to keep yourself motivated during the process, it’s essential to develop a hypothesis (perhaps through conversations with colleagues whose career path you admire, or researching the biographies of people you don’t know) for how long you suspect your project will take . Equally important, you should identify small signs of progress to monitor along the path (Dorie calls this “looking for the raindrops”) so you can periodically check your progress against your goals — and your celebrate wins.
Identify your stakeholders.
Building a strong personal brand may seem like a project that only affects you — but actually, it’s worth thinking expansively about the stakeholders that may be impacted. Your boss, for instance, may feel threatened or worried that you’re plotting to leave your job if you suddenly start to get active on social media or take steps to raise your profile. Where possible, it’s important to keep them apprised of your goals and enlist their support.
Similarly, it’s useful to identify whom you’d like to reach with your newly robust personal brand. For instance, you might decide that you’d like to become recognized for your expertise not just inside your company, but also within your field, so you might think about ways to gain notice, such as applying to speak at conferences or writing for industry publications. (Of course, it’s essential to be aware of your company’s communication guidelines and policies upfront.)
Lay out your resources and deliverables.
Here’s the (frustrating) thing about project management: Projects are delivered by people, and they can’t be automated. So ensuring that you have enough time to dedicate toward building and managing your personal brand is key. In most cases, before starting the project, we recommend that you stop one or two activities that you are currently doing. Maybe that means reducing your volunteer activities, or quitting your sports league, or recognizing that you won’t actually learn Italian this year. But giving yourself sufficient resources — ie, time — to commit to the new project is an essential starting point.
It’s also important to understand the deliverables you’ll be responsible for. All projects exist to develop something — often something new — in the form of outputs and deliverables. In the case of bolstering your personal brand, this may take the form of launching a podcast, starting a networking group, beginning a side gig teaching at a local university, etc.
Nail down your plan.
Finally, you need to ask: How and when will the work be carried out? Every project manager will tell you projects have a natural flow. There is a relaxed feeling at the beginning of the project, as the end seems distant. Stress starts to hit as the project moves toward the midway point and teams realize that deadlines are coming quickly. Toward the end of the project, everyone is in a mad scramble to get things done. A key job of project managers is breaking projects into smaller deliverables with deadlines to lessen this effect.
By breaking the work into the most important things that need to be completed on a weekly or biweekly basis and then having honest conversations about what they accomplished during those periods, teams hold themselves accountable, focusing on what they need to do. Instilling the habit of making and reviewing commitments each week is a great way to focus on what’s important and get a clear picture of what’s getting done.
Developing a regular schedule is important for your personal branding project, as well, because it ensures that even if you get busy, the most important tasks won’t fall off your radar. For example, establish a weekly status check on your personal branding project, on the same day and time of the week. Or release your new blog posts at the same time each week, on the same day. Or schedule a networking coffee every Friday afternoon. These small habits will help build habits (in you) and expectations (in others), leading to faster recognition of the brand you’re creating.
We can never fully control how others view us. But when you manage the cultivation of your personal brand like a project – replete with a compelling purpose, ambitious objectives, a realistic timeline, and clear deliverables – your chances of success in developing a reputation you can be proud of will be much higher.