Developing Your Personal Brand

A few years ago, I helped branding guru Sally Hogshead edit her books, How the World Sees You and Fascinate: How to Make Your Brand Impossible to Resist. I’m coming around to thinking about my brand again now that I’ve got the book out on the market. Am I trying to sell Bart Leahy as a tech writing guru? As a communications consultant? As an aerospace writer? Quite frankly, I don’t fully know yet. The book is a rather elaborate business card–an attention getter. But for getting attention to do what? That’s today’s question.

Choose Your Own Adventure

When I was a kid, they used to sell–and maybe they still do–“choose your own adventure” books, where the story provided the reader with decision points for the viewpoint character–does Sally join Captain Kirk at the conn or Dr. McCoy down in sickbay?–and you would then turn to the page to read the outcome of that decision. We live like this every day, but we don’t always think of our lives as stories, unless you happen to be a geek with romantic notions about how the world works, like me. But really, you are the hero of your own, personal adventure. What choice(s) are you going to make today to move your story forward? How do you share that story with others?

This, in a fanciful way, is what branding is about.

Choose Your Words

So as the hero of my own story, I’ve got choices to make:

  • Do I want to become known as a subject-matter expert in the field of technical communication and ply my expertise as a guest lecturer for businesses beyond my current realms of automotive and aerospace?
  • Do I want to continue being a contractor–working on whatever tasks my customers give me–or do I want to transition into becoming a consultant, where customers are seeking guidance about what to do with some aspect of their communications?
  • Do I want to broaden my aerospace writing experience beyond engineering documents, proposals, and journalism? Am I seeking new clients?

Honestly, I don’t know. However, if I choose any of the above, the slant/focus of this blog–and possibly the next book–would shift so that I demonstrate my expertise in one of the above subjects.

  • If I want to become a roving tech writing guru/lecturer, I’d start giving speeches and promoting them, explaining which businesses I’m going to and what sorts of insights I’m sharing.
  • If I want to become a consultant, I would start talking about communication needs in the aerospace community, what I see that’s good, and what sorts of methods could be improved. This might require partnering up with a graphic designer to incorporate the visual part of “space rhetoric.” I also might start creating hypothetical test cases or discussing real-world communication issues in the aerospace industry and how I would go about solving them. (How would you like the job of helping Boeing improve the image of the 737 MAX, for instance?)
  • If I wanted to expand my customer base in aerospace, that can be tricky because I already have several clients, and any competitive situation means I have to focus on only one client to prevent a conflict of interest. Also, where else could I go in aerospace that I haven’t been already? Space science, perhaps; or political lobbying for space-related organizations might be interesting. I’d need to talk about or demonstrate my expertise in these fields.

In any of these situations, the words I use here and elsewhere in my business or online interactions would have to be to be slanted to demonstrate that I am a good fit for one of the above career choices.

How I Communicate My Brand Now

Any or all of the career options above will inevitably flow from who I am as a person, and what sort of image, persona, or brand I portray online could help or hinder my pursuit of them because in the end, I’m marketing myself. On this blog, to use Sally Hogshead’s terminology, I am an “Anchor,” a person who derives his appeal from the ability to engender trust plus an air of mystique as I can use the words I write to attract the interest of others.

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Image Credit: Sally Hogshead

The way I practice these behaviors is to try to be as honest with my readers as I can. This can include sharing mistakes, less-than-perfect personality traits, or honest limitations on what I’m prepared to promise. I am not promising lightning in a bottle or world-changing prose. I am not promising instant, miraculous, or life-changing results. Despite all the little bumps and warts, anyone hiring me is going to get a hard worker who will do his best to provide a good product that clearly explains a product or service.

How do you talk about your abilities or services online? That’s your brand talking.

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About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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