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The foundation

Now that we’ve looked at the reasons why some people neglect their personal brands, let’s explore how you can build your personal brand. In this section, you will learn how to de-commoditize yourself and start earning a premium.

The Foundation

Which Playground?

When you think of personal brands what typically comes to mind are mega personal brands. These can be celebrities in the entertainment or sports world, religious leaders, politicians, leaders of very large companies, famous authors, thought leaders or people who have accomplishments that can be achieved by a very small number of people (for example: Nobel Prize Laureates).

Wherever you are currently, the gap to reach out and become one of them may look daunting. In fact, the gap may be so big that it may prevent you from taking the first step towards the personal branding journey.

Remember the famous quote by Lao Tzu – “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.” You got to start somewhere.

Even the big brand names that we talked above did not become big brand names as soon as they were born.

  • Elon Musk did not become Elon Musk of today on day one.
  • Gary Kasparov did not become Gary Kasparov of today on day one.
  • J.K.Rowling did not become J.K.Rowling of today on day one.

They all started somewhere and they paid their dues over a long period of time before they made it big.

Please remember that, for you to make the most of it, your personal brand need not be one of the mega brands. There can only be so many mega brands. You can see the benefits of personal branding even when you create a unique and memorable presence in a particular industry, geography or a discipline.

The first step is to know (as clearly as you can) what game you are playing and in which playground you want to play that game.

  • Do you want to be an entrepreneur (game) in the field of healthcare (playground)?
  • Do you want to be a speaker (game) on the topic of social capital (playground)?
  • Do you want to be an author (game) on the topic of science fiction (playground)?

Whatever be the game and whichever is the playground, it is not sacred. As you grow, you might play a different game and you might choose a different playground. You’ve got to start somewhere.

A word of caution: How do you know what you have chosen is the right thing?

The answer is tricky. There is good news and bad news.

The bad news is that there is no way to guarantee a perfect answer. The good news is that there is an approach to “almost” get there. The approach is to test your choice with the following two criteria:

#1. Will you be in the “flow” when you are playing in that game and in that playground?

Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has researched and written extensively on the topic of Flow. He describes flow as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, every moment, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

Now check your decision with the above. Will you be in “flow” when you are engaged in the game and at that playground?

If yes, you passed the first test. If not, you can go back to the drawing board.

#2. Will the marketplace find this game at this playground valuable?

If you are collecting pink toy cars or matchbox covers, it may be hard to make it relevant and valuable to the marketplace. You may say that you will be in “flow” when you are collecting pink toy cars or matchbox covers.

If you don’t pass the second test, the first choice can be categorized as a “hobby”. You may hit it big with your hobby, but that depends on your luck.

If you pass the “marketplace relevance” test, you are ready to make a leap to the next step. If not, you are back at the drawing board again.

Positioning Yourself

When Venture Capitalists (VCs) meet with entrepreneurs, they expect to hear short elevator pitches that describe the businesses’ core ideas. Often, these pitches only last two or three minutes. Many entrepreneurs rehearse their elevator pitches for weeks or months, because they know that VCs hear about thousands of business ideas but only fund a precious few. The elevator pitch serves as a great filter. Busy VCs can hear about many different business ideas and choose which ones they want to explore further. Most VCs will want to hear a compelling elevator pitch before they will even agree to invest their time reading a business plan.

When you go to a networking meeting, remember that the people you meet there are similar to venture capitalists. VCs have money to invest. That’s their currency. At a networking event, people have attention to invest. Both money and time come in limited quantities. People will want to get the highest return for their investment. When you meet someone, you should try to catch his or her interest in the first forty-five to sixty seconds. If your initial pitch isn’t compelling, your new-found acquaintances may soon decide to invest their assets (attention) somewhere that offers a higher Return on Investment (ROI).

So, before you go to your next networking event, think about your elevator pitch. What are one or two things that you want someone who meets you to remember about you? When I ask “What do you do?” or say “Tell me about yourself,” I want you to catch my attention with something interesting. However, people often reply with bland responses. They say “I am a project manager” or “I am a software engineer.” These people have almost no passion in their voices when they give these replies.

How do you expect me to remember another “project manager” or another “software engineer”? So many people offer the same skills. Why should I remember you? What could you do or say to “stand out” from the crowd in a short time? What can you do to catch my attention and encourage me to want to know more about you?

In a nutshell, you are your biggest asset. Take time to craft a compelling elevator pitch for yourself. You will see people take greater interest, and your effort will pay back big-time.

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