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Personal Branding Checklist

Personal branding is a continual process just as knowing yourself is a continual process

13  Mentor
Every great warrior had a mentor. Daniel LaRusso had Mr. Miyagi. Plato had Socrates. Riker had Captain Picard. Albert Einstein once said he was not great, but stood on the shoulders of giants. Great teachers have great disciples. Great students have the aptitude to be great. Someone who can remove obstacles to your learning, who has valuable experiences which can be passed on, and can proficiently convey them to you are mentors. They guide you along your chosen career path, nurturing you, and warning you of common pitfalls.

Surrounding yourself with people who are better than you ensures you will be positively influenced. You want to be surrounded by people who raise you up, not drag you down. I quit smoking, not by my willpower alone, but rather the support group I had surrounded myself with. In the software industry, you have ample opportunity to be confronted with people who are insanely smart, have multiple degrees, and/or are brilliant in some fashion. This industry is extremely hard and changes often. By its very nature, it ensures that only reasonably smart people can stay successful for any length of time. From day one your skills are marginalized. Every day your knowledge becomes out of date. Our brains are a depreciating asset that we can't write off.

Collectively, however, we flourish amidst no or competing hardware / software standards, varying economic climates, and an overall young industry still finding its way.

The same can be said for you. Your personal brand should allow you to be surrounded by people of similar mindset. They should be better than you. Together you positively grow.

That's slow, though. The best way to become better, quickly, and with less hardship and wasted time is a mentor - someone who has "done this before" and "done it well." Mentors are naturally hard to find. Some do it out of philanthropy, or by circumstance. They just happen to be a lead on a project, and end up becoming someone who you learn a lot from. Depending on how the management structure is set up, they may even have an opportunity to do a form of MBOs, or management by objective where they allow you to do learning exercises dictated by them that help you grow, quickly. Having an expert accessible for questions and support while you're doing something new is invaluable when the early first steps can be intimidating, anxious, and downright frustrating.

Transformational leadership is the best kind. Making another a better person is one of the coolest gifts you can receive in your professional life. If you find someone who can be your mentor, you don't need to be formal about it, just find some way to work with him or her. It can be a risk on new jobs where you have no guarantee the person even has any desire to fulfill such a role, or that they won't quit and you'll be left wondering what's left for you at your current position now that your mentor is gone. I personally think it's worth it. The number one reason for turn over in companies is because of changes in management. If you don't click with your leader, you won't be able to perform at your optimal ability, nor will you grow.

Find a mentor, and become a groupie.

14  Networking Outlets
Most of my jobs nowadays come from referrals. Meaning, someone I know knows someone who needs my skills. They act as a liaison to connect us. That friendship, whether genuine unconditional or purely business rapport, is generated from networking events. These are basically anytime where you can meet people. They don't have to be applicable to your industry, but that's typically where I've had success. I go to local industry meetings because they are fun. A lot of times, however, I meet someone new. They could be another developer like me, a designer who does similar work, or a business owner looking for talent. All of these people have value in multiple ways, and you have value to them.

They can tell you about their work, and thus their real-world experiences. Since we're all in the same business, you can learn new things, challenge old beliefs, and merely reaffirm the current ideas. You can identify the person by name and skillset. If he or she has a skillset similar to yours, you can later leverage that when you cannot take anymore work and someone is looking for help. I'd love to say yes to all the work I get, but I can't. Still, clients are ultimately looking for someone to perform the job, even if you were their first choice. They will be happy to get someone to perform the tasks. If you refer a good candidate to them because you are currently unable to do the work, that makes you look valuable in their eyes... and you didn't even code anything, you just sent them an e-mail!

The same goes for someone of a different skill set. One of my weaknesses is that I know too many people like me. I don't know enough designers or server-side coders beyond a blog I read regularly. That doesn't allow me to make a personal recommendation, which makes the referral not as valuable, nor can I guarantee the quality of the referral's work. That could make me look bad.

Both allow you leverage on bigger projects. If you are involved in an initiative where you need a multiple amount of talent, you suddenly are looked at as an extremely valuable member if you pretty much hand pick the entire team...that also gives you more control over who you work with on projects. Both are great things.

This works both ways. People refer me, both contractors and clients, to those in need of talent.

I make this easy for them. My personal brand is clear: Jesse Warden is a Flex Developer.

That way, when whomever, wherever is talking about how they need a Flex developer, I want to make sure I'm the first person they think of. I don't want them thinking, "Oh yeah...that Jesse guy, I wonder if he's a Flex dude." That would be a failure on my part of clearly not articulating and selling my brand. You want to be the first person they think of for a particular job, whether it be as precise as a Mach-2 ColdFusion developer or a "dude who knows server-side technology."

It's really nice having people get you work so you don't have to stress about it!

15  Wardrobe Style
Business is a game - you either play it or get played by it. Part of that game is knowing when to dress for success. When it's 2:00 am and I'm deep in debugging some jacked code, there is no way in hell I'd be wearing a tie, nor shoes for that matter.

When I'm in an interview? Suit, tie, and a haircut. You cannot be overdressed to an interview, only a club or party. While I've heard of some successful sales meetings done by those not following the norm, they are an exception to the rule and definitely unique edge cases. Like good hygiene, you want people to perceive you as confident, have a rudimentary recognition of style, and overall like you have it together. You do that by looking good.

There are times when conforming to play the game is good. Suit to an interview, tux to a wedding, sensible hiking boots on the trails; you dress to the occasion where it is reasonable and generally appropriate to do so. You look hot at da club, comfy when chillin' at home for the weekend, and your normal attire while in public for nothing special.

The style you choose reflects you. Times, fashions, and the attitudes toward them change over time. There is a wide gamut of clean cut and unkempt. Do what feels right when it's appropriate. When you are at an industry event, interview, or other occasion where you may have an opportunity to make a professional encounter, dress to impress. If you can't do that, dress so you feel confident; preferably the first, but the second is a great plan B. Looking good is part attitude; the clothes can only do so much.

Wear the clothes, don't let them wear you.

16  Multiple IM Accounts
Communication is a flawed process. That said, being accessible makes business easier. Easy to reach helps contribute to "easy to work with." Your brand wants to be perceived that way. Yes, I hate being called on Saturdays too, but that doesn't mean you have to answer the phone, just that your message is cordial and you sound professional, and you actually do return phone calls.

Instant Messaging accounts have a few pros and cons. You can have multiple IM accounts easier than you can have multiple e-mails with multiple services, all for free. Spam is easier to controll than with e-mail and text messages. There is less security risk, more context to your online status for others to see in real-time, and you can carry on many conversations with many people simultaneously. There are a few minor cons like people not respecting the status, giving the impression you are there but not answering IMs, and not being online. There are a few others, but overall, instant messaging, whether by PC, phone, or some other device, is a great way to be connected, with more control.

Just about everyone is on IM. That is a good thing; you want your brand to be known and thus accessible by everyone when you deem it appropriate. Again, we're going for reach here. That can also be a bad thing. I sign on IM at random times because when I do, I get swarmed. I can spend an entire afternoon and evening just IM'ing. Therefore, at least one professional IM is good to have in addition to your personal one. This way, you can control access.

The more accounts you can get, the better! The most common are AOL Instant Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger, and Microsoft's MSN Messenger. Trillian is a decent, free client for the PC that allows you to use one program to sign into all three versus three programs at the same time. Adium is one of many equivalents for the Mac.

17  Alias
An alias is a nickname. One or more is useful. Some are bequeathed by co-workers, childhood friends, or other associates. Usually, they are meant to identify and thus label a personality quirk that uniquely identifies you. You can utilize that to develop a subculture for you. Those who know you identify you by that alias.

Lucky Number Slevin's "Happy Cat," Scarface, Borris the Bullet Dodger; all add a mystique, identify a strength, and/or clearly set a tone and style. You want something that is positive in some way. While negative ones do have sensationalism and sometimes garner attention, you want to be able to have it come up in a client meeting and not get too nervous trying to explain it. Like what you do, the reasons behind it should flow off the tongue.

"Why is he called Borris the Bullet Dodger?"

"Cause he can dodge bullets."

These are useful in a lot of areas, some non-professional, which can draw ties to your professional life. E-mail address prefixes, IM names, signatures... or you can just keep it on the down-low. There is nothing wrong with your given name. There is everything right with building a club that "knows" your alias.

You can develop a subculture for your brand via those knowing your alias.

18  Mantra
Mantras, sayings, and quotes are all good to associate yourself with. At the very least, you can gain inspiration from them in times of need. Many have come before us, and as Carl Sagan said when referring to the 0.12 blue pixel that was earth in the last picture Voyager 1 took 4 billion light years from our planet: "Earth is where we make our stand." Like a mentor, a lot of great authors and poets exist that you can garner good lines from that represent your attitude toward life, or just situations in general. They can give you purpose, put things into perspective, or just garner a light-hearted laugh. Whatever matches your style; it should enhance your brand (say, on your not-so-concise signature), and help some get a better context of who you are by who inspires you.

"Live long and prosper." - Spock

"Just do it." - Nike

"Nuts!" - 101st Airborne Division, Brig. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe in response to the Nazis asking for their surrender at Bastogne, France

19  Speaking and a PowerPoint Template
If you are building a brand, it is best if you go out and speak about what you do. This builds the perception that you are an expert in your field. You typically do this via good ole' PowerPoint presentations. They get a lot of flak but it's how things are, like it or not. Therefore, to make the most of it, it is best to have one that has a design that is loyal to your brand. If you have the dough, hire a designer to create one for you or get a networking contact to do so for free, perhaps in return for a favor or future referrals, or as a portfolio piece for them. You could show their name on their design in your intro slide, for example. Exposure for artists is a good thing so play on that.

Speakers can speak at 120 words per minute on average. Audience members can listen to and comprehend 500. Therefore, there is no way you can retain all of their attention via words alone. It helps to have a consistent brand image that they associate with you to help keep their attention. If they've read the slide for the third time, at least they are viewing the composition and associating its positive design with you.

Get a branded PowerPoint Template, and go speak about what you do.

20  Passion
This makes or breaks a lot of people. Without passion, all of the above really doesn't work. People can see if you have passion on a subject. When you speak about something you love, that glow comes through. Even if your audience doesn't love it like you, there is no denying when someone is passionate about something. It is what drives you, and everything you do in building your brand should erupt from that passion. When you give your elevator pitch to someone, the words will be strong with confidence, emboldened by love. You dig this stuff, and people will hopefully be as excited about it as you are.

Some people don't know what they want. They have a will to find it out, though, and that is just fine. In that case, you fall back to what you are good at; what you bring to the table. Everyone has something to bring to the table, unless you are a C or D. In that case, find out how to become a B or A.

Some know what they want, but aren't there yet. This could be a position, a new job, or they are just learning. This is fine too. Personal brands change and grow just like people do. Just stay on top of it as you transition, and you're good to go. I marketed myself as a Flash Developer in the past, and now I'm a Flex Developer.

Life is short. Follow your dreams. Love what you do. If you don't know what it is you want, see #1.

More Stories By Jesse Randall Warden

Jesse R. Warden, a member of the Editorial Board of Web Developer's & Designer's Journal, is a Flex, Flash and Flash Lite consultant for Universal Mind. A professional multimedia developer, he maintains a Website at jessewarden.com where he writes about technical topics that relate to Flash and Flex.

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Most Recent Comments
rampersad 08/23/09 11:40:00 AM EDT

Have You Created an Authentic Personal Brand?
In life, as in business, branding is more effective, powerful and sustainable than marketing and sales, and an effective way to best the competition. It’s about influencing others, by creating a brand identity that associates certain perceptions and feelings with that identity....READ MORE

Wendy 06/30/09 01:36:00 PM EDT

Mostly good points.

I disagree with your last statement, "Even taste tests are meaningless; it's the brand that sells it."

Taste does matter and buying decisions are not always based on how the product is being marketed. Taste tests have a place in product development as well as marketing and advertising.

Branding and marketing can be important, but they are not the ultimate basis for all buying decisions.

Yakov Fain 12/25/06 10:56:05 AM EST

Nice article, Jesse!

After reading it online, I noticed a short bio under it, which reads:

"Jesse R. Warden, a member of the Editorial Board of Web Developer's & Designer's Journal, is Flex, Flash and Flash Lite consultant for Universal Mind. A professional multimedia developer, he maintains a website at jessewarden.com where he writes about technical topics that relate to Flash and Flex."

If some hiring manager will read one of your other articles followed by this BIO, s/he may be wondering, "Is Jesse a Flex dude, Flash consultant or a journalist writing for WebDDJ?"

What do you think? Should you brand yourself just as "Jesse Warden Flex developer"? Should you have just one blog that presents you as such? What if you also like biking and would love to blog about it? Are you allowed to have another, personal blog where you will use different (street) language or it may hurt your main brand?

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