Everything is supposed to be easy these days. Losing weight, getting rich, finding true love. All the answers are delineated and broken down into digestible chunks. Want to learn how to play guitar? Easy. Replace the filter on your air conditioner? No problem. Search for the clip on YouTube, follow the steps and voila! problem solved and guitar solo mastered.

Given the deluge of information today, it’s no wonder we’re looking for easy answers. We’re are busier than ever. We’re constantly looking for techniques, devices and software to save time and simplify our lives.

There are, however, things that cannot be accomplished without concentrated effort. Malcolm Gladwell’s ’10,000 hour rule’ is a popular expression of this sentiment. True mastery of anything, he suggests, can be only achieved with 10,000 hours of dedicated practice.

Building and growing your personal brand, and giving it a truly professional sheen, will certainly not take 10,000 hours—but it will take more than ten minutes.

What do we mean by ‘personal brand’? We discussed in a recent post how your CV is actually packaging for a brand. It’s a key opportunity to tell the story of your skills, your experience, your goals—all of the things that constitute your brand as a working professional.

But it goes way beyond the CV. Your brand has any number of touch points. If you want to make them meaningful and accessible, you’ll have to put in some hours. You may even have to leave your comfort zone. But make no mistake—if you take the following three difficult steps toward professionalising your personal brand, you will see results.

1) Organise a professional photo shoot

A few years ago LinkedIn posted an article on the professional headshot, calling it the “first impression of the 21st century.” Much like your CV (and perhaps even more so), the image you choose to represent you is an outward representation of your value in the professional realm.

It’s obvious that a Halloween selfie will not deliver impression you want, but a vibrant professional portrait may seem like a step too far. Are we all supposed to be models and actors, now? Of course not—but whatever your field of expertise, you’ll benefit from an image that says ‘professionalism’ and ‘confidence’ before the viewer reads a single word.

Finding a good photographer is a relatively small investment, and if the budget is tight, photography students and beginning professionals can be hired for a fraction of the cost. While they may not have mastered the craft, they still deliver results that soar above what most people can achieve with a camera, even with the latest three and four camera phones!

What really makes a photo shoot difficult is the process of actually doing it. Being photographed professionally is notoriously uncomfortable for most people. Staring into that lens might be the scariest thing you do all week. The important thing is to think about what you want the image to convey, be yourself, and simply do your best. A good photographer will be able to evoke natural, confident expressions that help you say what you want to say. Most people are pleasantly surprised with the results, and consider their professional headshot a valuable asset for building brand recognition.

2) Leave thoughtful comments

Few modern professionals see education as something that has a beginning and an end. Education is constant, and staying on top of it means reading blogs and articles in your field. It also means jumping into the conversation and engaging others in comment threads—but there are ways to go about it.

For example, “interesting article!” and “great insights!” are an instant way to make your presence known—but do they give others the impression that you’ve carefully considered the material, drawn your own conclusions, and formulated meaningful questions?

Shameless self-promotion isn’t the best approach either. If you use the comment areas of other professional sites as a vehicle for your own advancement, people will take notice. Some sites will flag your comments as spam and block you from commenting in the future.

This leaves only one option: Do your homework and deliver insight. This takes time and energy, but you’ll quickly realise what a powerful brand-building tool your comments can be.

3) Demonstrate interest in professionals and companies you admire

You shouldn’t walk into a job interview without knowing a fair bit about the company, its structure, its past accomplishments and future goals. Everybody knows that. But what if job interviews were going on all the time without you knowing it? What if networking were a constant, never-ending process?

That’s exactly what networking is today. The more you learn about the companies and professionals that interest you, the better your ability to learn from their successes and mistakes. Pay attention to the details—how a company’s press releases look, how a talented professional markets herself to the world. The more you do that, the better your own brand will naturally become. That’s when the companies and professionals you admire will end up interested in you.

There you have it…three difficult steps toward building your personal brand

Your next career move might be within your current company. It might be with another. Either way, you can’t build the momentum you need at the touch of button. No app or device can accomplish it for you. As professionals, each of us must grab the reins of our personal brand and guide ourselves to the destination we seek.

Some might even say that losing weight and gaining wealth, despite opinions to the contrary, work on the same principle!

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