An Employee’s Guide to Building a Personal Brand

You don’t need to announce your bid to join the creator economy. You don’t need to sell templates or courses, or even start a podcast. And you certainly don’t need to quit your job. Because here’s the thing: focusing on your personal brand doesn’t need to mean becoming a creator.

Taking charge of your personal brand is a way to manage your reputation at scale. It’s the easiest way to expand and strengthen your network, differentiate among your competition (a.k.a. the other marketers who apply for the same jobs as you!), and create new opportunities for yourself. In fact, it’s exactly how Rand and I met in the first place. After several months of my tweeting primarily about content marketing, he followed me back, and we eventually met up for lunch in person. The rest was history.

But I get it. You can’t say, “I want to focus on my personal brand” without feeling kind of cringe or icky about it. So let’s not say that. Let’s call it something else. Instead, let’s try saying:

“I want to create leverage for myself. I want to make it easier to network with other people. I want my ideas to serve as a magnet for the people and opportunities I want to attract. I want to stand out from others and not need to rely on a traditional job hunt anymore.”

It’s not as succinct as the phrase, “personal brand,” but I think it gets the job done a little better.

Why do I even care? If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you want to get started but you have some hesitation. Or you’ve already started down the path of building your personal brand and you’re looking for an extra push. Either way, I was in your shoes once. And I was stuck in one place for a really, really long time.

It was seven years ago that I started noticing colleagues and peers posting on LinkedIn, blogging, or starting newsletters. I was jealous. Jealous that they had the confidence and clarity to publicly share their ideas, and I couldn’t imagine ever having a shred of that confidence. So I just… languished. On one hand, I’m glad I waited until I was more senior to publish online and put myself out there. On the other hand, I wish I did this sooner. I’d have created much more optionality for myself earlier in life.

The tipping point? I was tired from having been laid off, having been furloughed, having too-long of a job hunt, and being unhappy in a given role. It was during the pandemic and something needed to change. And that only thing I could change was my actions.

What I wish someone told me then was this…

Some informal rules to consider following…

Some personal brand rules for employees

Especially if you work in a well-known or large company, you might feel like you aren’t allowed to publish online. So here’s my advice: don’t ask for permission. You won’t get it. Not because your employer will forbid you, but because it’s not your employer’s job to help you build a personal brand. If you do this, you’ll risk having to field more questions than you will receive answers or support — and you yourself might not know the answers to these questions.

A reticent employer might wonder: Are you trying to job hunt in plain sight? What’s in it for me and the team? How many hours per week are you going to spend on this? Having to answer those questions might overwhelm you more than anything else.

Fortunately, there are a few proactive steps you can take that would quell initial reservations from your employer. These are:

Be mindful of your role within your company. Focusing on your personal brand doesn’t mean you’re suddenly the company spokesperson. If you work at a traditional company, you may already know that that’s the job for your media-trained senior leaders. If you want to, share the work that you or your team have done that you’re proud of. After a press release goes live, share the announcement with your social network. Just be sure not to position yourself as potential interviewee for a reporter.

Don’t say or do anything you wouldn’t do at work. No, it’s not because “big brother” is watching. It’s because you’re a professional person. If you view your personal brand as an extension of your professional self, this might come naturally to you. This guidance is not to stipulate that you only discuss work for your personal brand — it’s to encourage you to think holistically about how you might position your expertise and personal interests in a professional setting. On any given day in the break room, you might talk about a sporting event you’re excited about, a new restaurant you’ve been dying to try, or your struggles with potty training your toddler. If these are your interests, they can (and perhaps should) inform your online personal brand. They make you, you!

Give yourself topic guardrails. The constraints might make you feel safer and more creative. Let’s say you’re a B2B performance marketer who wants to share their ad and lead generation expertise with the world. Great. Write primarily about that. Don’t worry about the other aspects of marketing that you don’t know as well. This specificity works in your favor because as you continue to publish and gain traction, you’ll become increasingly top of mind for your skill among your B2B audience.

When in doubt, stick with what you know. And what you know best is yourself. When you share your knowledge, write from firsthand experience. Write about things you’ve tested, or events you know deeply well. Nobody expects you to be the perfect, all-knowing expert in your field — but you definitely are the expert in yourself.

Think big but act small (at least at first)

Throughout the focus in my personal brand, I’ve had a couple of changing goals. But the one that truly shifted my outlook was this: To never have to do a traditional job hunt ever again.

With that goal in mind, I started small: I began treating my Twitter account like my resume. I’d write about my hard-won lessons, sticking only to what I know well. I’d occasionally write about my interests as well (hey, it’s not uncommon for a hiring team to ask you about your hobbies in the job interview process!) which includes food and parenting. Fairly quickly, I began attracting the conversations that I ultimately wanted to have. I started meeting other creators, collaborators, hiring managers, and brands. I’ve picked up consulting work here and there, and I’ve gotten job opportunities.

I was able to do this by having one overall goal, and creating the stepping stones (or tactics) to reach that goal.

How might this apply to other goals?

Let’s say you want to move up the corporate ladder and lead teams. Think about what would make you a great team leader — the skills you already have, and the skills you need to continue honing. Then make sure all of that shines through in your personal brand. Think big but act small. Be the people manager for your direct report that you wanted for yourself. Now, think of how this informs what you say or do publicly online. Share your leadership advice, your career development tips, your strategies for getting promoted at work. These are all things that demonstrate your competency as a team leader, and by publishing online, you’re creating a magnet that attracts hiring managers and recruiters. Over time, you might see that you’ll create that upward mobility at your current employer or you’ll find your way to a different employer.

Maybe your goal is to keynote a conference one day. You’d (likely) need to hone the skills of public speaking, charisma, and storytelling. Create opportunities for yourself to practice all these things. Consider launching a limited-series podcast or YouTube show. A limited series might give you the helpful constraint to focus on a single story arc and conclude it — helping you to stave off potential burnout by having the finite time frame.

Or maybe one day, you want to have 20,000 newsletter subscribers. Start with your newsletter launch. Pick the path that offers the least friction — be it Substack, Beehiiv, ConvertKit, whatever — and just get started. Choose a publish day and stick with it. Ask your family, friends, peers and former colleagues to subscribe (then don’t take it personally if anyone ignores your mass email). Find other creators in your niche with a similar audience size. Then offer to do guest post swaps and/or promotional swaps. Always have a next milestone in mind, but don’t overwhelm yourself. Keep going.

The point is, you can dream big. You should. But you won’t achieve them until you go after them. So start with a plan of small tactics that pave the path to get there.