I used to think that ‘personal brand’ was a dirty word (or two).
Until I woke up one day and realised I had become one and it wasn’t so bad. In fact, it wasn’t bad at all – it was great!
It all started in June 2014. I was almost three years into my career and I was caught in the middle of a hiring freeze. I was a junior designer at a government department and was eager to advance to more challenging roles. But like everyone else working in government, I was stuck. In order to grow as a professional, I had to get creative.
At the time, I had just completed my first remote test of an information architecture using Optimal Workshop’s remote tree testing tool, Treejack. My very supportive manager encouraged me to write a blog post on my experiences to share my tips and advice for using the tool. I was sceptical at first but I did it anyway, and one day in a moment of brazen audacity, I decided to tweet my blog to Optimal Workshop.
Three days later I received an email from them – they loved it. Even better, they wanted me to write for them! Everything snowballed from there. Doors opened, opportunities flourished, and I discovered things I had never imagined possible.
In less than twelve months, I went from having zero presence in UX to experienced UXers referring to me as a ‘highly respected industry thought leader’. This was followed by speaking engagement offers, conference appearances, an eBook and several articles. My whole world expanded exponentially and to this day, that growth isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.
Whether we like it or not, every single one of us is a brand. What we do with our brand enables us to shape our UX careers in ways we may not have considered. I built mine by accident, but along the way, I learned how to apply my thinking in a structured way. Here are five ways to build a successful personal brand in UX and create your own career destiny.
Know what you stand for and live it
We have to talk about this one up front, because the other four points will fall over if you don’t address this first. Who you are and what you care about lie at the very heart of your personal brand. Your values and how you live them affect the way you see the world and the ways others see you.
Take some time out today to jot down what matters to you. Brainstorm as many values as you can, then choose 4-6 that you feel closest to. It’s not about coming up with buzzwords or changing who you are – it’s about unearthing what’s already there so you can ensure that your blogs, social media presence and your other actions reflect who you are.
To help you get started, here are mine:
They’re really just labels of what I’ve been living these past 30 years, but putting names to them helps me stay focused. As life happens and your career (and thinking) evolves, your values and perspectives may change. That’s ok too, so don’t feel like you’re stuck with them forever.
I’ll let you in on a secret. When I’m writing, I’m mostly just scribing exactly what’s bouncing around in my head. There’s no formula or structured approach to it, I just record what I’m thinking in words and I write the way I speak.
Once all my thoughts are out of my head and on the screen, I edit. That’s when the real magic happens. I organise and structure the information in a way that makes sense and tells a story – fundamental UX skills we all have. You don’t have to be an amazing writer to start blogging. All you need is an idea or an opinion, and you know what they say about those!
Write about things you’ve learned, people you’ve met, bad UX, great UX, UX that isn’t digital. Whatever makes you happy, sad or annoyed: write about it. You could start your own UX blog or you could publish posts as part of your online portfolio. Publishing to LinkedIn or Medium are both easy entry points.
Go to meetups and networking events
Get your face out there and meet other awesome UX people. Networking is not about using people or making it rain business card style at every event you attend. It’s about connecting with other human beings, giving back and learning along the way.
Every new introduction is a chance to grow and learn. You never know what opportunities will come your way or how you might be able to help them. The UX community is an ecosystem, and as cliched as it sounds, every little ripple helps us all.
Develop a social media presence
A meaningful social media presence is a must when building a personal brand in your UX career. It’s your digital professional voice and it must be heard – Twitter and LinkedIn are my top picks platform-wise.
By meaningful, I mean a social media presence that’s relevant to your personal UX brand. You can still be a human being who tweets pictures of exceptionally well-plated food and those shoes you bought on sale for an absolute steal, but try to keep at least 75% of your content in the realm of professional publishing. Share and start a discussion about the latest book or article you’ve read or strike up a conversation with someone you admire.
Actively putting your hand up for UX volunteer opportunities is one of the best ways to try something that you might not get to do in your regular job. A few years ago, UX Mastery was running a UX Careers Panel discussion at UX Australia Redux 2014 in Melbourne. They were short a panel member, and when they put out a call for help on social media, I jumped at the chance.
I was working in that junior role I mentioned earlier and I had no public speaking experience, but I didn’t let that stop me. I saw it as a nice safe environment for me to practice my speaking skills, spend time with my UX Mastery friends, meet new people and have my voice heard.
The exposure I gained through that panel appearance led to two conference talks (one was overseas) which in turn, led to even more talks. Put your hand up and you never know what will happen.
Know what you stand for, blog, network, use social media wisely and put your hand up for UX opportunities are the key elements to building a strong personal brand for your UX career. Not exactly groundbreaking stuff, but when applied together and in the right way, can result in a lasting positive impact.
What tactics have you used to build up your UX personal brand? Leave a comment or let us know in the forums.