Before diving into my position at Cleveland Design Firm Go Media, I knew the basics of personal branding.
My understanding went something like this:
1. Figure out who you are
2. Package it up nice and neat
3. Show it off to the world
How to do all those things, I must admit, was a little vague — until now. Let’s just say, I’ve just been enlightened by Michael Cavotta, certified personal brand strategist and professional headshot photographer. As it turns out, there’s more to it than a shot in the dark and a nice photo.
“Personal branding,” explains Michael, “is the external expression of the authentic self, which is by definition a unique and powerful commodity. It’s the ability to tell someone else—to show someone else—in words or an image—what it is that simultaneously sets you apart and draws others to you.”
Whatever your role within an organization, Michael emphasizes without an authentic personal brand, your success is on the line—both as a business and an individual.
“In my former life as a venture catalyst, I learned no one invests in business plans—they invest in the people behind it,” Michael recounts, making a strong personal brand a fundamental element of entrepreneurial success.
But personal branding isn’t limited to the world of business. It’s for anyone and everyone who wants to walk a little taller in their own shoes.
“No matter if you work for a company or you’re out on your own as a musician, an artist, a designer…everybody is their own salesperson—their own branding agent.”
“Some people do a really shitty job of branding themselves,” Michael chuckles, “or worse, they’re completely unaware there’s a job to be done. Instead, they’re out there floating, confusing their function—what they do for a living, with their fire—who they really are.”
What kind of fire? “It’s that thing that gets lit up and effortlessly erupts when someone’s allowed to just be themselves, in their element—without friction, without limitation and without a sense that they need to be something else in order to succeed.”
From Function To Fire
Michael’s process hinges upon the idea of freeing yourself from an external sense of self driven by what you do for a paycheck. It begins with a deep drive to find the authentic you, the exceptional person people are drawn to both in business and in life. Accomplish this, and you’ve got the core of your own personal brand.
3 Words Exercise
Addition by Subtraction –
Michael recommends an exercise he calls 3 Words, clients are asked to identify the three words that “unmistakably, irretrievably, undeniably” describe themselves. This process isn’t one to be taken lightly, and if done right, can take weeks or even months. Michael notes, “Start by writing down words that describe someone in your profession. In the case of a designer, these could be words like creative, visual, passionate. When you’re finished, go ahead and cross them off the list. What you’ve just described is a brand tied rooted in function, rather than fire. You can’t set yourself apart by saying me too.”
Build Your Tower
Michael is big on imagination. He’ll ask you to “think of yourself as a Jenga tower, where each block is a facet of you with a word associated with it.”
You start by building your tower with blocks/words connected to your powers, your passions, and your purpose—the things that make you extraordinary and set you apart from the rest. “Don’t worry about what I do; let me tell you about me.” Suddenly, the conversation is no longer about the mundane expectations we have about someone in your field, it’s about activating the things that are most engaging about you.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, so take your time building your tower. “You have to see the whole before you can touch what is essential.”
Pull the Pieces
Just like in the real game of Jenga, once you build, you start pulling pieces. Except in this game, your job is to figure out which three blocks are the keystones that can’t be removed without the entire thing falling apart. You’ll know when you’ve found them when you get to the point where no meaningful conversation about you can happen without them.
OK, Now What?
Finding your 3 Words is really just the beginning—the point where a process becomes a practice. “The only way to work, live and love authentically is to be mindful of where you stand. Whenever you’re presented with a challenge or an opportunity, stick your finger in the air and check which way the wind is blowing. Ask yourself, ‘is it taking me closer to or further away from my authentic self?” If the answer is no, Michael asserts, “the result will be neither lasting nor exceptional, since any effort engaged in the absence of authenticity is doomed to mediocrity.” But the converse is decidedly more optimistic. “When approached from a foundation of authenticity, there’s nothing that you can’t do.”