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When business becomes personal

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In today's crowded job market, having a strong personal brand may be what will land you the job

It seems every man and his dog has a "personal brand" these days. Depending on who you ask, it is regarded either as a shameless self-promotion tool or a necessity to stand out in today's crowded job market. Or both.

It is a concept that is especially familiar to millennials who grew up with social media.

Thanks to a certain family who gained infamy from a reality TV show, personal branding - described pejoratively as the Kardashian syndrome - has become synonymous with the search for fame and fortune.

But this is one of the biggest misconceptions, personal branding advocates told The Business Times Weekend.

If done right, it helps build your reputation and creates trust with potential clients or recruiters you have never met.


If you are still flummoxed, you are not alone.

Personal branding is the practice of people marketing themselves and their careers as brands, according to Mr Joe Escobedo, director of marketing at Happy Marketer and self-professed "brand builder".

A strong personal brand usually equates to a strong online presence. It tells the world your story - who you are, what you do, and what you stand for. It is still in the early stages in Asia compared with places like the US, said Mr Escobedo.

One challenge Asians face is the cultural stigma of putting oneself out there, he said.

"More Asians are taught to be humble so the idea of talking about one's achievements doesn't always come naturally."

But he observed that this is slowly changing.

One local business owner who has taken personal branding seriously is Ms Melissa Lim, co-founder of start-up BiTS and co-founder of LadyBoss, a female entrepreneurship social enterprise.

While it is essential for potential clients to find out more about her company's products and services by searching online, it is not enough.

She said: "They need to get an idea of who is the person running the company, and the team members too… People have to trust you and like you in order to purchase something from you."

Creating a strong personal brand makes it easy for others to form an outline of her professional strengths without meeting her personally, said Ms Lim.

Like Mr Escobedo, she takes great care with her LinkedIn profile. It is kept up to date with all the events, articles and interviews she has done professionally. She also shares her experiences and knowledge on digital marketing through weekly posts at least once a week.

If that sounds like a lot of work, you are probably right.

One of the biggest myths of personal branding is that it is easy, said Mr Escobedo. But he believes that with time, discipline and effort, anyone can be successful at it.

In a competitive labour pool, it could make the difference between landing the job or not.

"So if you want to build a bulletproof career or business, build a strong personal brand," he said.


There are cases of employers who get intimidated when their staff build their own personal brands, especially on LinkedIn.

Some worry that staff may use it as a platform to jump ship or even ask for higher pay. On the contrary, Ms Lim said she would be "very grateful" if her team members put in the effort to build their own personal brand.

This is because these employees become advocates for the company as well, which could potentially attract more clients. Her advice for those trying to seek a job through personal branding is to focus on how they can value-add to the company.


One oft-heard criticism levelled against personal branding is that it is artificial.

Ms Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, is not a fan of personal branding.

In an interview with Wharton professor and best-selling author Adam Grant in June, she said: "If you think you are building your personal brand, please don't. You do not have a brand. Crest has a brand. Perrier has a brand.

"When I hear anyone talk about building their personal brands, I know that is not right."

Both Ms Lim and Mr Escobedo concur that people are not meant to be packaged as products to be sold, but insist that personal branding is about authenticity.

There are months when Ms Lim is too occupied with work to write articles or post status updates - and that is perfectly fine.

"For professionals in my industry, I don't think they aspire to be Kardashian and I certainly don't aspire to be a Kardashian."

This article was published in The Business Times over the weekend.