I have been freelancing as a software developer and architect for almost two years now and I have got a lot of valuable experiences from it. The reason I was able to start being my own boss was a combination of things, but it was in large part due to a personal brand I have built up. I had for a long time been doing several things to build a brand that is me, but is also recognizable and opens doors in the right places. In this article I will describe some of the things that enabled me to do what I love and significantly propel my career in a direction of my choice. All of these topics might not apply to you, but they are part of my journey. Take what you can use and leave the rest.
I do many things. Sometimes, actually all the time, I get told by friends, family and colleagues that I "do too much" or "should probably quit a few things" or something to that effect. I enjoy doing all of them and I never say I am bored, and I am always open to new projects and opportunities. However, I am acutely aware of the brand I want to build. For many years I was "The Windows Phone Guy" and it was a brand and perception I nurtured and maintained (despite much ridicule and heckling) because I loved the platform (still do!) and I was passionate about it. It was a brand that got me into presenting at large conferences and ultimately becoming a Microsoft MVP. At the moment I am heavily involved in the HoloLens space and again, it is a brand I encourage and nurture. I write about it, I share news and articles on social media, I present at conferences, deliver webinars, teach workshops and much more.
A brand is more than what you do, it is who you are. In fact it is who others perceive you to be, and a brand is the combined opinion of these people. In that sense you don't "own" your brand, but merely maintain it. The fact that I also love classic cars, Jeeps, run a bed & breakfast, am involved in motor sport, provide mentoring and other things are all part of my brand, but to a lesser extent.
Find out what you are good at
No one is good at everything. Except maybe Elon Musk. Find your strengths and then play to them, feed them, encourage them. I know I am terrible at replying to forum posts and contributing to open source repositories on Github. However, I also know I am great at talking to people, understanding their issues and requirements, writing engaging articles, public speaking and being persistent. I play to my skills and that forms part of how I maintain my brand. I don't try and do the things I know I wouldn't be good at, and they either wouldn't help my brand, or possibly even damage it.
For anything to have a compound effect and continually grow, you need to be consistent; consistent in message, consistent in timing, consistent in everything. Because a brand is the perception others have, sending a clear and consistent experience is important. I co-host a podcast called The Dane & The Pain, and initially Joel and I recorded whenever we could find time. This meant our shows were published every week, month, two weeks, whenever. Our listener base didn't grow and we had very little interaction around the show. We weren't consistent and the show suffered. We then made an agreement that we would release a show every week, no matter what it takes. Having done this for the past 4 months, our number of listeners have doubled every month. We marry that up with a consistent message on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, where we engage with listeners as well. This consistent experience means that the brand of The Dane & The Pain is also growing consistently.
Don't cheat, be trustworthy
Cutting corners an be very tempting. It can seem like a shortcut to promoting your brand and getting more exposure. Especially if you are freelancing and this may mean you can pay the next lot of bills easier and reduce the stress, or whatever reason you might have. But don't. Just don't. If you start copying content, claiming things with no proof, posting excessively about things your brand isn't about or doing any other activity that isn't your complete self and in line with your brand, you will be found out. I will talk about this later, but damage to your brand is very hard to repair.
Don't try to be someone you aren't when building a personal brand. Unless you have a split personality, it is extremely difficult to be consistent about being someone else, and it will both look artificial and contrived. Your brand is meant to build trust in those who come across it and follow it. This trust hopefully will open doors and show opportunities you otherwise wouldn't have.
Make every situation a win-win
The old saying "what goes around, comes around" is very true. Whatever you put out there will come back 10-fold. If you take advantage of every situation to only benefit yourself, people will get annoyed, offended and in the end not interact with you. If you keep giving, then people will start taking advantage of you and expect everything from you all the time. Both of these scenarios will hurt your brand and not grow it in a direction that is valuable for you.
Instead focus on giving as much as you get. If you get a meeting with a potential new client, make sure you provide value the very first time you meet. Leave them with a sense of value, a feeling of being ahead and by inviting you in, they have instantly made good on their investment of time. In the same way you should expect clients, associates, colleagues, user group members and anyone else you meet to give something back to you. If people aren't willing to go into an unwritten relationship of win-win, then perhaps the relationship is not worth pursuing.
Stay down to earth
Invariable if you follow the steps about, you will start to get traction and this will lead to more and more exposure over time. People will start recognizing you, or your work and this will invariable lead to conversations where you are the expert, or the brand you have built up, and the opposite side want to hear what you have to say. If you let this go to your head, or you start to think that you are better or higher value than others, this could damage your brand. Every single person you interact with deserves the same respect and attention, until proven otherwise. You never know who is the next colleague, opportunity or even Einstein. Even if you have nothing in common with the person you are interacting with, still give them the time and politeness they deserve. This is equally important in person, as well on social media and online interaction. Don't be a jerk.
Grow thick skin
The more exposure you get, the more like you will bring out the nutters. There is not really any way to avoid it. Some people can be looking to pick a (verbal) fight, some people just like antagonizing others, and a few just won't like you. You can't please everyone, so it is okay not to. Instead grow thick skin and learn to shake off the the idiots. Don't ever engage in destructive behaviour, because that is exactly what they want, and who knows, they might just be having the worst day of their life. If you make sure you always take the high ground, this becomes part of your brand and it has huge value.
You can lose it in a second
One bad tweet, one outburst, one stupid comment. It takes very little to destroy the brand you have worked so hard to build up. There have been situations where people have tweeted something inappropriate before going on a flight, and when they landed they had already lost their job.
If you are serious about your personal brand, follow the advise above and go from strength to strength. Have I left something out? Comment below to start the discussion.