Over the past 7 years, I’ve seen a very small handful of Product Managers learn, grow, and advance in their careers at an order of magnitude faster than their peers.
I’ve also seen many very talented PMs stagnate, burn out, and eventually search for new jobs, only to repeat that same process again at a new company.
One of the major differences I’ve seen between these two groups is the value they placed on investing in their personal brand.
The first group recognized the incredibly powerful impact of building and maintaining a strong personal brand, both inside and outside of their company. The second group thought that their personal brand didn’t deserve much effort or that it would take care of itself without deliberate, focused effort. As I’ll show you in this post, that laissez-faireassumption couldn’t be further from the truth.
Hold on, let’s slow down, what is a personal brand?
There are many definitions for a brand, but this is one of my favorites:
“Your brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room”
— Jeff Bezos (Amazon)
Bezos absolutely nails it here. Whether we’re talking about a company’s brand or a personal brand, this quote applies equally well. Now, take a minute to reflect on these three brand-related questions:
1. What do people say about you when you’re out of the room?
2. What do you want them to say?
3. How can you get from what they actually say to what you would like them to say?
Your Brand is Different From Your “Type” of PM
Readers familiar with my 5 Types of Product Managers blog post and talk may try to quickly connect the concept of a personal brand with their specific type of Product Manager.The 5 Different Types of Product ManagersWhich type of Product Manager are you (or do you want to be)? Author: Alex Mitchellblog.usejournal.com
While your personal brand certainly can be connected with certain attributes of your Product Management type, the two concepts are fundamentally different. Your “type” of Product Manager is largely focused on how your strongest skills and background pre-PM can help you find a company and Product team that is a strong fit.
Your personal brand is more representative of how you interact with your team, other teams, your organization, the Product community, and the world as a whole.
Pretty big difference, right?
Why Is Your Brand Important?
Your brand is your reputation.
As the saying goes “your reputation precedes you”, meaning that even before you have a chance to describe yourself, someone already has made a judgment on who you are. This is often based on what they’ve heard from others or what they’ve found from a variety of sources (i.e. the internet).
Your personal brand doesn’t need to be recognizable by the average person on the street, but if a prospective employer, investor, or other important potential connection search for you, what will they find?
You want them to find someone who has consistently invested in themselves, invested in leveling up, and invested in their personal brand!
Because a person who invests in and recognizes the value of a personal brand will invest themselves heavily into everything they do.
What is your brand like today? Does it even exist?
What do people find when they Google you? What do you want them to find?
Take a minute to open an incognito window in Chrome (or your browser of choice). Search for your name on Google and find your highest ranking search result. Is it what you expect? Is there anything negative?
If you have a common name, add a location or a career descriptor (ex. “Alex Mitchell Product” or “Alex Mitchell Washington D.C.”).
How You Can Continuously Build Your Brand
Now that you’ve taken inventory of your current brand, it’s important to understand that building a personal brand is not a one-time investment. Here are a few ideas on how you can start building your personal brand stronger today.
Write / Contribute to Blogs on Medium
You’re already on Medium right now and you’re already reading a post on Product Management! Start thinking of a few post topics that you would enjoy writing about. If you need inspiration, look for popular posts in topics that interest you and come up with a twist on them.
Whatever you write about, just start writing!
The exercise will challenge you to more deeply consider your own ideas and to organize them so others can understand them. Additionally, as you start posting, you’ll find that Medium articles are generally well indexed by Google and you’ll start seeing your posts and your name showing up over time.
Answer Questions on Quora
Quora is the most popular Q&A website on the internet, and it’s a
great way to do personal brand building. Here’s a step-by-step guide to getting started there:
- Visit www.quora.com and sign up for an account
- Find topics you are interested and knowledgeable in, and follow those topics (I recommend about 10–20 follows to start)
- Find questions that people have asked, and provide clear and concise answers to those questions. Answers do not need to be lengthy — in fact, sometimes short answers generate the most upvotes and views.
Track the views of your Quora answers over time and watch your brand on the site start to rise as you start delivering value to others.
Write a Book
After starting to write on Medium and answering questions on Quora, if writing starts to feel as natural and enjoyable as it does for me, I’d also strongly suggest writing a book. It’s easier than ever to publish a book with Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and if done well, it can be an immensely positive signal that you are serious about learning, growing, and teaching.
There are even several services, like Scribe Writing, that help first-time authors with every step along the journey of authorship. My first book, Building Digital Products both helped me learn about a career I was still new to (Product Management) and began to position me as an expert in the field.
Writing BDP also led to numerous opportunities and introductions that I never would have had otherwise, including both Meetup and conference speaking engagements (more on those in a minute!).
Speak at Meetups
Chances are you’ve already been to a few meetups if you’re active in your local Product and Tech community. Now, it’s time to amplify your personal brand impact and deliver a talk at one of those Meetups.
Think about the topics you are uniquely qualified to speak on that would be compelling to the audience.
What would your audience learn?
How would you present the content to be most engaging?
Would you present alone or pair up with one of the organizers or a colleague?
Once you’ve brainstormed these details, reach out to the Meetup organizers and pitch your talk to them!
If the right Meetup doesn’t exist in your area yet, don’t be afraid to create one.
Speak at Conferences
After you’ve been a Product Manager for several years and you’ve presented at a few Meetups, you likely have at least one or two compelling talks to offer to conference attendees. I’d recommend starting small: look for Product or Tech conferences where you can host a workshop or participate in a panel discussion. Eventually, you can work your way up to a stage presentation!
Whatever way you engage with a conference, you’ll experience tremendous positive impacts on your personal brand as you help many others by sharing what you’ve learned.
Here’s a great list of Tech and Product conferences: 75 Product Management Conferences
Several years ago, shortly after writing my first book, I spoke at my first conference: Productized. It was an intense experience, but one that jumpstarted my Product career and my personal brand.
Here’s my 15-minute talk from Productized if you’d like to check it out:
Engage with Product School
Product School offers many different ways for Product Managers of all levels to engage and build their personal brand. Over the past few years, I’ve done AMAs, blog posts, and in-person talks for Product School and they’ve all been incredibly enjoyable.
Product School students are very leaned in and hungry to learn what it’s like to be a Product Manager and a Product leader and these students will be great connections for you to lean on in the future.
Learn how you can become an instructor here: Product School Instructor Application
Volunteer as a Mentor
One of the best ways you can build your personal brand is to mentor others! This can be very informal (either at your current job or in your local community) or can be more structured through a site like MentorCruise or GrowthMentor.
I recently started getting involved with these two companies after hearing great reviews from connections of mine. So far, I’m very impressed by the platforms they’ve built and how they’ve tapped into the immense power of the mentor/mentee relationship.
Check out my profile on MentorCruise here: https://mentorcruise.com/mentor/AlexMitchell/
Meet Tech and Product Leaders for Coffee
Building your personal brand doesn’t always require a massive effort. I’ve found that simply meeting others in the Tech and Product community for a coffee can have a massive impact. So much so that I even dedicated an entire blog post to this topic. Check it out below!My Secret Leveling-Up Weapon: CoffeeLooking back on my Product career, I see acceleration. But one of the key drivers of that growth was surprising……medium.com
Note: This is certainly not an exhaustive list of how you can build your personal and Product brands, but hopefully these ideas get you jumpstarted on your path to building a brand creation and improvement engine that unlocks many future opportunities.
Building Your Brand vs. Excessive Self-Promotion
Personal brand building doesn’t come naturally to many people and that’s precisely why so few people do it well. As I mentioned before, cultivating a personal brand can be easy to overlook and it sometimes isn’t even perceived as a valuable use of time.
Additionally, it can downright make some people uncomfortable, causing them to feel like they’re being overly promotional.
I can understand this sentiment.
I’ve seen a couple of cases in my career where someone has spent more time promoting themselves than learning or working with their colleagues on tough problems. Not good.
Although over-promoting is certainly a possibility, most people index so far on the other end of the spectrum (i.e. under-promoting) that I honestly wouldn’t worry too much about it.
Just the sign that you’re thinking about this risk means you’re highly unlikely to turn into an over-promoter.
My Favorite Brand-Tracking Product: BrandYourself
With your brand-building journey, it’s very important that you track your progress. I’d like to introduce you to my favorite brand tracking product and one that I’ve used consistently for almost 5 years: BrandYourself.
BrandYourself offers exactly what I needed when I began building my personal brand years ago: the mechanism to track the appearance of content that mentioned me in search results. As I mentioned earlier, search results certainly aren’t everything, but they are a strong proxy for personal and professional brand quality and they are very trackable.
The BrandYourself platform is incredibly easy to use and is the perfect complement as you begin to produce more content, speak at Meetups/conferences, and even write your first book!
Hard to Build, Easy to Destroy
“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”
— Warren Buffett
I’d like to wrap up this blog post with a few words of caution. As I’ve demonstrated, building your brand (i.e. your reputation) is a constant effort and one that takes place over years and even decades.
However, destroying your personal brand is much easier. It can even be the result of a one-time action.
This is not intended to scare you, but rather to be honest. Take Buffett’s words and this quote to heart and simply do the right things by your teams, your company, the world, and you’ll be just fine.
What Do You Do To Build Your Personal Brand?
I’d love to hear about the ways you invest in your personal brand and how this investment has benefitted you throughout your career.
Please share them with me in the comments or on Twitter at @amitch5903.