Wednesday, January 12, 2011

+ Branding Your Life: Welcome To The Internet! +

On November 1st, 2010, I tweeted: "You are a brand. Treat yourself as such. Ground your product, visualize your identity, network your life. Be open to growth."

I want to elaborate on this.

After tons of meetings, coffee dates, emails and texts with guys and girls looking for advice on moving forward and becoming successful with their lives and passions, I'm realizing that most people don't view themselves as a self-contained force. And really, you are. This is excruciatingly important for people to understand.

If you're alive and kicking, you're a small business. The question is, have you sat down as head of the company and started getting everything in line?

Most people are looking for something that will catapult them into the position they want to be in. College is the perfect example. No, college will not catapult you into a successful life. It's an extraordinarily beneficial tool, but it isn't "the answer." It's a solid learning experience, and an irreplaceable opportunity for networking. This business that your personal self inherently owns? That will be around forever. College will only be around for a few years. Make college fit into your business plan. Don't make it THE business plan. A lot of people miss out on both the real learning and the networking in college because they don't understand this crucial difference.

Here's the hard truth: You fill every role in this business that you run.

You've got full control of what goes on, and what direction your business runs in, but you also are in charge of marketing, research, IT, public relations, training, social media, etc. That's a lot of work. But don't get overwhelmed. Realizing that you have control over all of these things is half the battle.

Now that you know you're a business, you hopefully know how important it is to brand yourself. The key to sales (and yes, that’s what you’re doing. Selling yourself.) is relationships. The doorway to relationships is recognition. And you get recognition with savage, persistent presence.

Presence.

You're in so much luck that it's stupid. You were born into a generation where the Internet has made presence as easy as it will ever be. But it's still your job to educate yourself, learn the tricks, and manipulate it into working for you.

I don't pretend to be an expert on this, but what I can do is tell you what I've done, and what's worked for me. So here we go!

Sign up for everything, but focus on your core. You want presence everywhere, but you don't want to be trying to fill up 100 glasses at once. For example, I have a profile on About.Me. Do I use it? Nope. But if someone else is on About.Me and goes looking for Lauren Lankford...yep, there I am. With links to everything else that I DO use. Got 'em. Just heard about something new that just came out? Sign up. Take 15 minutes and look around. You may never use it again, but if it comes up in conversation later on (which it will), you'll know what you're talking about.

Learn HTML and some basic CSS. It's easy. Go to www.w3.org and read through the HTML and CSS tutorials so you at least have a general understanding of how it works. This is worth gold when you find yourself fighting a life or death battle with the customize feature on your blog.

Get Twitter. Yes, it's worth it. This is 2011 and you can't network successfully without Twitter. Spend time seeking out people who are similar to you, tweeting at people (hint: this is the #1 way to build relationships at this point in time), and learning how to create valuable content in 140 characters or less. When you're on a blog you love, look for their Twitter link and tell them via Twitter what you like about their stuff. It's the equivalent of walking up to someone at a party and telling them you think their shoes are sick. New friend. If you don't know where to start, go follow me and just start following people I do. I'll be your springboard, I don't mind.

Get a blog. Just like Twitter will be your conversation-hub, this will be the content-hub for everything you do. I recommend Blogger or Wordpress. Blogger is run by Google (note: blogger & blogspot are the same thing), and extraordinarily simple to customize and navigate. If you're up for the challenge, Wordpress may serve you better in the long run. And now, ACTUALLY BLOG. Treat your blog as a social tool. Comment on other people's blogs. Throw your projects up and shamelessly ask for critiques and opinions. Talk about people and things you love. Work on writing and producing quality. Ask people to guest post for you. This is the easiest way to direct someone else's readers to your blog. Get an email subscription widget up from FeedBurner so that people can get your blog posts in their inbox. Be dynamic, not static.

Get Google Reader. Even if you're not familiar with RSS, Google made it easy. Go sign up here. Up on the top left corner you'll see a "Add a subscription" button. Click it, and cut and paste a blog URL. It will automatically add this to your list. All the awesome blog content you can find, put into one place for you.

Get a portfolio. I recommend Carbonmade. You can look at mine here.

Get a Tumblr. You may or may not use this, but if you want to be an expert in your field, you'll try out everything just so that you know how it works. This is mine. Tumblr kicks ass for visual scrapbooking online. A couple clicks and you can upload an image, or hit re-blog from someone else's Tumblr and it will immediately appear on yours, for all of your followers to see. Don't know who to follow? Go to the Directory and see who is featured in the categories you're interested. Follow the ones you like. Keep your eye on who THEY are reblogging from. Follow those people too. I don't use Tumblr for networking, I use it for inspiration. Heavy content, 24/7. Free eye candy.

Get a profile on 20sb. It's probably the best way for bloggers to network on the inside. Here's my profile, go add me as a friend.

Get on LinkedIn. This is easy too. It's the most professional networking site out there, and the whole point is to have a persistent presence, remember? When someone signs up on LinkedIn, they'll have the option to search their email, Twitter & Facebook friends to find their friends and add them as a contact. Be on LinkedIn, and that's one more time that someone sees your name. Win.

Be in good company. One of the biggest lessons I've learned is that professionals are real human beings. Seriously. Don't be intimidated by resumes, numbers, reputations or accomplishments. That person you admire has a family, ex's, gets sick, has a sense of humor, and needs friends - just like you. I'm not promising that you can be their new friend, but place yourself in their life and do your best to learn from them. It'll rub off.

Move, shake, talk, interact, serve, offer, ask - be savagely present.

Also, consistency is important. Keep the same name/username/feel/style/photo/etc, everywhere you go. The whole point of being present is to be recognized, remember? Don't be afraid to change when you become better, but make your changes universal.

Remember that relationships work the same way online as they do offline. You don't make friends by squinting from a distance and thinking about how cool they are. Say hello, and start a conversation. Talking = Recognition = Relationships = Branding = Success. Get on it, and have fun!

Now, go sit down with a few pieces of paper and try to draw out your business plan. Pretend you're a company and decide what needs to be done in order for you to look smart and sexy on the Internet. Write down things you wish you were better at and figure out how to read up on them and practice them. Find the people who are already doing those things and stalk them like it's your job, because it is. Make a to-do list. I recommend TeuxDeux. Blog about it, and let me know via Twitter!

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6 comments:

Emmy said...

I struggle with this idea of "branding" yourself and your relationships. On the one hand, I think its awesome and it's how we need to do things. Especially with social networking and our careers and where we want to go in life. Or even if we just want what we write to be read. (Blogs for example. And also, I added you as a friend on 20sb.) I've started putting my twitter and my blog on my email signatures and my business cards. Because that's how it's going to get out there.

On the other hand... does that mean when you make new friendships and connections you treat them like a business relationship? Because then it all becomes about you, and not the other person. That seems to be the opposite of the example we have from Christ. Life and everything around us isn't about US. People aren't something that we should be treating like currency or businesses, because they are people.

So... I'm torn. But I love your blog and I really liked this post. It gets me to thinking. :)

eehornburg.blogspot.com and @ehornburg (twitter)

Stacey Kay said...

Great post. Good advice.

xoxo
Stacey Kay
“Runway Inspiration, Vintage Decoration”
www.goodwillhuntingg.com

My Vintage Handbag Line – now available on Etsy!

Michelle (michabella) said...

I am totally loving this Lauren!!! Thanks for sharing this! I need to learn some HTML stuff! :)

amberallenp said...

lauren, this is awesome. thank you.
I was just telling a friend today that I was feeling 'stuck'. your post reminded me of what I'm focusing on and I learned a lot.

thanks. found you via your MAD follower.
amber

http://amberallenp.wordpress.com/
(though I'm hesitant to share this yet. my rough draft in progress)

maria said...

awesome post. i really need to get google reader.

Bri Poster said...

I definitely come back to this post often, have it bookmarked. This is wonderful advice! Thanks for posting! :)

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