An underrated tip for personal branding

Back in 2008, when it dawned on me that I had no conscious physical activity barring driving to work and back, I decided to start running around a nearby lake (Kaikondrahalli Lake, on Sarjapur Road, Bengaluru).

But given that I had to spend 1.5-2 hours every day, one way, to drive to the office and back, this meant that the only time I had to run was early morning. And that meant waking up at an unearthly 4:30 am!

As expected, the first few days and weeks were killing. Bengaluru’s weather already makes it difficult to wake up in the mornings, and at 4:30 am, the chill in the air makes it all the more painful to even get the blanket off you 🙂

Somehow, I woke up, got appropriately dressed in t-shirt, shorts, and running shoes, and walked up to the lake by 5 am or so. Ironically, the lake would be already teeming with 30-50 runners, walkers, and other nature enthusiasts, even at that hour!

Since I did not have any prior experience in running, for almost 5-6 months in 2008, all I could manage to do was a sporadic 5-7 minutes of running and the rest of the 30 odd minutes were just me walking briskly, huffing and puffing.

I persisted, relentlessly, till I was able to first run completely around the lake once, then twice, and then thrice, with very small breaks in between. By this time, I was thoroughly enjoying the runs too since I was listening to an audiobook while doing so!

The trick was in showing up. Every single day. Day after day.

I have already written about how thinking about personal branding is very, very similar to thinking about personal health.

Using the same analogy again, one of the most underrated actions in both personal health and personal branding is showing up.

In the case of personal health, it is showing up, for me, in that lake, every morning. It could be a gym, a cricket ground, a cycling track, or anything that works for you. But you need to show up, persistently, day after day, regardless of how good you are at what you are aiming to get done.

Personal branding is no different. You absolutely need to show up day after day, relentlessly. But where? With what? And how?

Allow me to explain the ‘showing up’ part of personal branding.

There are 2 types of ‘showing up’ that are relevant for personal branding.

The most obvious one, and one that people easily understand, is to start posting stuff online, on a platform of choice, like say, LinkedIn. But it need not be LinkedIn alone. It could be Instagram or Twitter/X. Or your own blog (which is then cross-promoted on LinkedIn, for instance).

But there’s another kind of ‘showing up’ that’s even more foundational than just posting/sharing.

As I always say, personal branding is,
– 10% sharing/posting stuff around your defined brand (How to define your personal brand? See the ‘3 concentric circles’ method), and
– 90% consuming content/information relevant to your brand.

With the 90% effort, you are equipping yourself with the right kind of information that can help you perform in front of strangers for the 10% effort.

So, the first type of showing up is to show up read, read, read, consume, consume, consume.

To do this purposefully, you would need to build your content pipeline to get information on the areas of your interest (based on how you define your brand). Without building your pipeline, you may tend to waste time meandering and looking for things to read, listen to, or watch. And the internet (and social media, in particular) is a vast place to waste time.

The more you show up to consume relevant information, day after day, the more you will be confident about showing up to perform in front of people with your intelligent, useful, and (personal-)brand-relevant takes or perspectives.

Both types of showing up are important. But, having said that, there is also value in starting with the 10% showing up (in front of people; that is, posting/sharing your views more often).

For instance, if you rarely post your original posts on LinkedIn, and merely comment on other people’s posts or Like/Share them, start by fixing a weekly schedule to post on your own – say, once or twice every week (preferably once during weekdays, and once during weekends).

Start by posting simple things – a piece of news about your industry that you have a point of view on, a fresh thought about your industry, a quotation that you like (make sure you explain why you like it; that’s what makes your post uniquely you), or your view on a quote on your industry by someone else, etc.

Don’t bother about how many other people would post the same news item, or may have a similar thought like yours – all that should matter to you is, ‘Am I showing up or not, with my perspective?’. This is the equivalent of me reaching the lake at 5 am not knowing anything about running, day after day. The more I did, the more things fell into place as I started asking questions to myself and getting curious about my improving routine.

Similarly, only when you start writing/sharing, would you understand the nuances – what kind of posts do people react to more, more often? What kind of comments come in, to which kind of posts? What interests you more often that you feel compelled to share? And so on.

If you don’t try, you’ll remain hesitant. And remain cautious, about, ‘Why write something on LinkedIn and unnecessarily get into trouble?’.

But if you don’t show up, not only will you not be in trouble, but you will also not get to realize the potential of your personal brand. Which, in simple terms, means that you would continue to be known within a small circle of known people and remain completely unknown for a larger set of weak ties that are crucial when it comes to opportunities (and this is not just connected to work; it goes beyond work too).

There is no perfect post. Do not wait for it to come to you since it doesn’t exist anyway. Don’t wait for things to happen in your life or at work to craft them into a post either. That would mean far and few posts. So, make yourself visible at least twice a week on a chosen platform by forcing yourself to share something that is of value to you and to your imaginary audience. This is showing up to perform.

The more you do that, the more you will go in search of what to share the next time which adds value to your own mind and to an audience. That will accelerate your showing up to consume/read.

Take LinkedIn as an example. If you have not been actively posting on LinkedIn, take my word for it and start posting twice a week. Plan something… anything, and make it meaningful, useful, and interesting, as much as you can. But just start. Trust me – after 3-4 weeks, you WILL have people telling you (when you meet them), “I saw that post of yours, and…”! This has happened to every single person I shared this tip with (which is all the people I train on personal branding, in my corporate workshops).

Let me give you some examples.

During my personal branding training sessions with the senior leadership team at a bank, one of them asked me, “But Karthik, what do I write about, on LinkedIn?”. He had been consistently—monthly—posting something about his bank on his LinkedIn profile. So I suggested something practical and simple: start by thinking that you want to share something not about your organization (the bank), and about the industry in general. I asked him to go through that day’s Business Standard and The Economic Times, to tell me if he found any specific news or opinion piece to be useful to himself. He glanced through both the e-papers, picked an interview of one of his peers in another bank, and said that he really liked how his peer handled the fairly tough questions posed to him. I told him to say it in so many words, in a LinkedIn post, along with the link to the article, and tagging his peer. He did so, and within a day, he realized (and told me so) that the kind of comments (under the post, and via WhatsApp messages directly to him) far, far exceeded anything he had shared about his own bank. When he was sharing things about his bank, it was almost the default expectation from people – he was kind of acting as the employer’s brochure on LinkedIn. When he said something about a rival/peer, he was airing his view as an industry leader. This experience got him to completely change his idea of using LinkedIn beyond his own organization.

Another example. In another corporate workshop on personal branding for middle management (C minus 1 and 2) at a cloud services and networking firm, the participants were hardcore technology professionals with 15-20 years of experience. They are very used to talking to their peers at industry events and forums but totally do not care about the concept of personal branding (as they misunderstood it) or LinkedIn. So, after breaking something of the myths around personal branding, once they were convinced about its need (for their own sake, and for the sake of their organization’s employer branding), one of them posed the same question: “What exactly do I share on LinkedIn, Karthik?”. I asked her a couple of questions to understand her reading habits and within that context, she mentioned that she had just finished a book titled, ‘The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate’, by Peter Wohlleben. She also joked that if the book had been about her industry (telecom, networking, cloud computing) she could have gladly written about it. I asked her to tell me a bit about the book and she said it was a fascinating book about how trees communicate, feel, and live in social networks (I was so taken by the premise that I bought the book and read it too, eventually)! But even before I could point out the obvious, she excitedly exclaimed, ‘Hey, the trees communicating with each other through roots and the air, sounds quite like how we think of telecom networks!!’. And added, ‘But then, it’s from a different stream of science (biology). Could I still write about that?’. I encouraged her to, and she spent 30 minutes crafting a book recommendation post where 90% of the post was about how she found the book to be fascinating, and 10% was about how she saw the concepts in the book appeal to her chosen industry. Again, having not written anything in the previous 6 months on LinkedIn, this single post opened the floodgates to the kind of comments, and direct messages, unlike anything she had seen before.

Remember: showing up is the first step.

Take that step… today.

PS: I’m sure you have heard the famous quote, “80% of success is showing up”. It’s by Woody Allen, by the way.