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Marketing, sales, content marketing and personal brand. None of these buzz words feels right anymore. They seem to overlap, they are vague and they sound like clichés. They feel like things that we do to others, to cajole and convince them to buy our stuff. The reality is that the way we do business now involves a power balance between the buyer and seller.

New terminology is required and I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

The term personal branding, in particular, winds me up. Yet it is what many people use to describe how we might influence perceptions of us, there are endless books and papers telling you how to do it. I’ve used it myself over the years to describe what I do. It’s what people understood. Any alternative sounded quite pompous. Why reinvent the wheel?

Yet to me, “personal branding” always brought to mind the cruel act of cattle labelling. It represented something you do to others without their consent, it is contrived, inauthentic and a one way channel of communication.

So I am over it. I am in personal branding recovery. Please help me as I keep slipping up.

What’s really happening in the world of work?

We are all making the shift to a new working paradigm. Free flowing career paths. AI. Automation. The gig economy yet a war on talent. The end of retirement. Working until you drop. Indeed, most of us will be working for a very long, long time.

We’re in a world of individual humans doing the hustle. We can no longer hide under the umbrella of a corporate brand. There are half a billion of us on LinkedIn alone. A sea of humanity doing the necessary to get a job, stay in a job, win new clients and pay the bills – senior executives, mid-managers, newbie graduates, lawyers, accountants, rookie entrepreneurs and rock-star business folk. We are all at it.

Who is in charge of your reputation?

The reality is that none of us is charge of our reputation. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It’s others who decide on their view of us. Yes, we can ‘package’ ourselves and there are clever tricks, for example behavioural economists can teach us, to increase our influence, but a reputation can be destroyed in a second. Because our reputation involves the receiver. The audience. The buyer. We are not alone!

So does that mean sit back and don’t bother putting yourself out there?

Having a strategy to increase your reputation has to be a good plan for anyone looking to have commercial longevity. And despite my views on ‘personal branding’, the very first step on that ladder is to take positive action to ‘put out your stall’. This creates an asset for you and your current business (whether yours or someone else’s). A great reputation means servicing more clients and making more money.

The difference now in how the best people win business and cultivate a great reputation is in using the approach usually now referred to as ‘permission marketing’. You earn the right to get people’s attention. And whether you keep it is also up to them.

Is it really worth focusing on my reputation if I am just a…?

We have some models of excellence. Some business people seem to be doing very nicely thank you in the magnificent, unblemished reputation sphere. A few business people have become full-blown A list celebrities. Think Richard Branson. The septuagenarian entrepreneur’s entrepreneur with over 13 million LinkedIn followers hanging on his words. Blimey. There are many thought leaders in just about every expert niche. Some well-known. For instance, Seth Godin. God of marketing. He of 7,000+ blogs and millions of fans. Others are less well known. Cara Mackay of Gillies & Mackay. Makers of “the best sheds in the world.” Making a dent in her world. A family business driven by one person with a big mission.

There’s room for us all. It’s about being ‘available’ to the people who might find what you’ve got to offer helpful to them. It’s about becoming known for something that is absolutely at the core of what you do best. It’s about creating a sustainable future. Whatever that is for you.

Reputation building is a necessary top 3 career, employability and entrepreneurship skill for the next 30 years. There!

I can only suggest what the other two are. Perhaps resilience and flexibility? Maybe these skills haven’t even been invented yet!

But in an increasingly transparent world if you are not at the party (in print, on video or audio), you’re Billy No Mates.

A brilliant unpublished blog post is worth far less than an average one shared.

So how do you build your reputation?

Getting serious about your reputation is scary. It probably makes you cringe. It’s also really exciting. This is not about creating an artificial ‘personal brand’, it is about presenting the real, authentic you for others to work out if you’re someone they want to engage with. After all, great ideas kept to yourself are useless.

Cultivating a reputation and being more visible is also quite crucially NOT about talking about yourself most of the time. In my social media community of professional social media experts we use the 80/20 rule. Talk about yourself only 20% of the time. The rest of the time is reserved for getting into the conversation, being generous and interested in what others have to say, sharing useful stuff published by others etc.

Just being the kind of person you’d like to spend time with at a party.

When it comes to your reputation management there are only 3 things you need to do.

  1. You need to be clear. Clear about who your buyers are. Clear about your offer. Clear that there is a potential match between them and you.
  2. You need to have a communications strategy and produce relevant, consistent messaging and collateral and you need to get seen in the places that matter to your audience.
  3. Then it is ALL about engagement. You need to get into the right conversations, be of service, showcase your talents and let you raw, real character shine. If things go wrong, have a strategy for that and move on.

It’s about taking the RIGHT audience on a journey with you over a period of time, so they can get to know you, understand what you offer and be clear about what you can do to help them. And you need to be in a cycle of continous improvement. So have your ears on stalks, watch, ask and refine.

Forget personal branding. Welcome to the new world of reputation building for everyone.

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