Become a Master Biscuit Maker

2014 Bojangles Master Biscuit Maker Challenge winner Travis Squire (

A serving tray liner at a Bojangles restaurant was the last place I expected to get a personal branding lesson. But, I have come to realize that learning is possible in the most unlikely situations. On a recent breakfast visit to Bojangles with my youngest son, my chicken biscuit came with a side of personal branding. More specifically, the tray liner featured winners of the company’s biscuit making competition. At first, I thought the “competition” was a witty means of persuading diners how delicious Bojangles biscuits can be. I quickly realized it was no joke; there are skilled employees practicing the craft of biscuit making at Bojangles.

A Master Biscuit Maker- Really?

The information on the tray liner about the Master Biscuit Maker Challenge intrigued me, so I researched it further. First, the name Master Biscuit Maker is not just something made up for a contest. Bojangles certifies employees as Master Biscuit Makers. The process includes passing a written exam about the company’s 48-step biscuit making process. Second, certified Master Biscuit Makers compete at the store, area, and regional level for a chance to go to company headquarters in Charlotte for the finals. The 2016 competition included 17 finalists representing  a mix of corporate owned and franchise locations. Each finalist received $250 while vying for a grand prize of $2500. Two grand prize winners included one employee one from company stores and one from franchise stores.

Perhaps I am too easily impressed, but the concept of a Master Biscuit Maker kept crossing my mind in the days after my breakfast visit to Bojangles. Could it be envy? After all, my definition of achievement when it comes to biscuit making is successfully popping open a can of biscuits. No, I don’t think it is envy that attracts me to this story. I think it is awesome that Bojangles elevated the process of biscuit making to something akin to a craft. The significance of biscuit making in Bojangles’ brand experience is reinforced by the Master Biscuit Makers certification program.

Working on Skill Set

A takeaway from learning about the Bojangles Master Biscuit Maker Challenge is that skill development is indispensable to personal branding. One of my favorite sayings is “you can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig.” This idea applies to personal branding, too. No amount of tweets, blog posts, or slick web pages can conceal an under-developed skill set. Skills are central to your personal brand Makeup. They are at the heart of your “product” offering.

In the book Me: How to Sell Who You Are, What You Do, and Why You Matter to the World, Colby Jubenville and I devote a chapter to skill set development. A blend of hard skills (i.e., measurable competencies or knowledge) and soft skills (indirectly measurable abilities like critical thinking and communication) are essential to differentiate your brand. Bojangles Master Biscuit Makers invest in strengthening their hard skills by elevating biscuit making from task to craft.

Do the Work

A Chinese proverb says “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is now.” When it comes to enhancing the skill set of your personal brand, it could be argued that the best time to develop expertise has passed. The good news is that the next best time is now, followed by tomorrow, and the day after, and so on. Too many people aspire to be the pro or expert. They forget to plan for the 10,000 hour rule that Malcolm Gladwell discusses in his book Outliers. To be among the best in your field requires work… a lot of work. Consistent practice and repetition is where you build your “muscles” in the skill or job you have chosen.

A fierce commitment to skill development can have another positive impact beyond getting better at what you do: It can fan the flames of passion. Despite all of the calls to “follow your passion,” you are more likely to experience a passion awakening by becoming better at what you do. You can be energized by successes, recognition, and especially realization that you are creating value for others.

I am impressed by the commitment and ability shown by Bojangles Master Biscuit Makers. Their story illustrates you do not have to be in a high profile environment to perform at a high level. The kitchen of a quick service restaurant might seem like an unlikely place to find people sharpening skills, but that is exactly what is going on. Bojangles biscuits taste even better knowing the commitment of the company to the skill of biscuit making.

People Don’t Like You and That’s OK

Your brand is not for everyone. The sooner you stop worrying about being liked and focus on the people you can best serve, the sooner you will create a distinctive personal brand.

crying child

Acceptance is a basic human need. Psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed love and belonging (i.e., having relationships with others) as being one of five types of needs we strive to meet. In Maslow’s hierarchy, these social needs sit squarely in the middle, pursued once physiological and safety needs are met. When we are satisfied with relationships and acceptance from others, we are freed to pursue higher level needs: esteem (feeling of accomplishment) and self-actualization (achieving one’s full potential). Please don’t leave; the psychology less is now over!

I share a brief review of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs with you because it has implications for personal branding. Our pursuit of fulfilling the need to belong and feel loved could lead us to try casting a wide net. At an extreme, you want everyone to like you. Forget that extreme—everyone will not like you or me. Once we embrace this marketing fundamental we can focus on creating value for the people who matter most.

Hit the Target

Identifying a target market is a default marketing strategy. That means targeting is not a question of should you do it but rather how should you do it. If that is disheartening to you, think about it— a brand cannot be all things to all people. When it comes to product brands, even highly successful products and services do not appeal to everyone. For some people, the price is too high. For others, they do not see the brand’s image as being compatible with their self-image. Yet others do not like a brand because of negative information held in memory, whether it be from first-hand experience or word-of-mouth. I could go on to create a lengthy list of reasons people do not buy a particular brand, but you get the point.

Free yourself from trying to be a brand for everyone. Instead, focus on serving a target market. By definition, a target market is a group of people most likely to be interested in what you have to offer. Knowing your target market is important because it enables you to make two important decisions:

  1. How to best utilize your talents to create value through your work, content creation, volunteerism, and other ways you have impact.
  2. Gives direction on how to allocate two precious resources, time and money, to serve other people.

When you embrace serving a specific target market, it will give you clarity in how to use your resources. More importantly, you will feel less pressure to try to please everyone.

Finding Your Target

Understanding the benefits of serving a defined target market is one thing, figuring out what that market is can be a more daunting task. My favorite approach for determining your target market is to ask three questions that give insight into the people you serve. They are:

  1. What benefit or unmet need can I help people realize or fulfill?
  2. What are the personal characteristics of people I can help (i.e., age, profession, geographic area, life situation, etc.)?
  3. What are the best communication channels to reach and engage these people?

Effective marketing involves asking questions, lots of them. Defining your target market is no exception. Ask questions about the people you serve, and you shall receive clarity on your target market.

Take a Stand

Creating a distinctive brand entails taking a stand to be the real you. It is this choice that will turn off some people from your brand. For example, Gary Vaynerchuk is known for having one of the most powerful personal brands in marketing and social media. His direct, sometimes profane delivery at the same time attracts and repels. People turned off by his style can go elsewhere to consume and learn. Gary will do just fine without them. Why? He has clear answers to the three questions about the people he serves. Gary creates value for those people; his message resonates with them.

Taking a stand means you will have non-fans, detractors, and even haters. The alternative is indifference because your brand does not elicit reaction. The former is preferred to the latter. Don’t let a quest to gain acceptance dilute your convictions. Stay true to your brand.

Three Questions Behind Your Personal Brand

question marks

Many of us have a love-hate relationship with instructions. Sometimes, we follow instructions for a while but stray from them when they become too complicated or vague. Other times, we forgo instructions altogether under the belief that we can “figure it out.” And, we may be able to figure it out with some success. Ultimately, the choice not to follow instructions can leave us with a less than ideal outcome, like assembling a piece of furniture with a couple of screws left over. We do not know what to do with the screws because we did not follow instructions and hope that the unused screws do not come back to haunt us later.

Your own brand is too valuable to be left to chance or following only those instructions that you find easy or comfortable. Instructions can answer questions you do not even know you have. You may want to transform your personal brand. Or, you may come reluctantly to personal branding because someone has made it a requirement- a teacher or boss has given you an assignment to complete.

Regardless of where you are coming from, reflect on three important questions that inspired Colby Jubenville and me to share our instruction set for personal branding in Me: How to Sell Who You Are, What You Do, & Why You Matter to the World: 1) Why me? 2) Why not me? 3) If not me, then who?

Why Me?

It is possible you are taken aback by our book’s title: Me. If you are a millennial (often defined as persons born between 1981 and 2000), you are tired of labels associated with your generational group of “self-centered” and “self-absorbed.” A book about “me” seems to play to those labels. Contrary to that notion, a decision to proactively market yourself has positive connotations. First, no one else in this world has the incentive or urgency to manage your brand that you have- not parents, spouse, friends, or boss- only you. These important people in your life can support you as you build and maintain your brand, but they cannot do it for you as well as you can do it for yourself.

Second, managing your personal brand creates value for the people with whom you interact or serve. The personal benefit to you in terms of professional growth, income, and satisfaction are by-products of the value you add in others’ lives. So, far from being a venture in self-indulgence, personal branding is an ongoing process of creating benefit for the world around you.

Why Not Me?

Personal branding is an ongoing concern just as brand management is an ongoing concern for companies and products. However, do not look at managing your brand as a burden to bear or price to pay. Rather, you will enjoy the fruits of proactively managing your professional and personal identity. You should not be excluded from the potential growth that managing your personal brand offers. As you observe others who have “made it,” consider that they most likely earned whatever success or status they have attained- it was not handed to them. Similarly, you can be that person other people notice moving up and ahead because of your commitment to nurture your brand. Give yourself permission to grow through building a distinctive personal brand.

If Not Me, Then Who?

It is not surprising that many people hold themselves back through fear of failure. They cannot fathom what will happen to them or what others will think of them if they do not land their dream job, do not get the promotion, fail at a major project, or lose their job. Some level of fear is natural and can even be motivational, driving you to overcome limiting fears to achieve goals. But, another fear that may be more surprising is fear of success. “How will my relationships change if I am promoted?” or “What will my new goals be if I reach my current ones?” Yes, we can be afraid of what we will encounter if we actually get what we want.

The combination of fear of failure and fear of success can serve to sabotage our growth plans, ensuring we do not get hurt… except that is exactly what happens when we limit our own growth. Could someone else step up? Yes, but do not shortchange yourself. Do not defer to others at the expense of your own growth and advancement. A clearly defined personal brand will give you confidence and direction to deal with and overcome the dual threat of fear of failure and fear of success.

The Only Dumb Questions…

You have heard the expression that the only dumb questions are the ones never asked. This timeless saying applies to personal branding, too. You should be asking “why me,” “why not me,” and “if not me then who” daily. These questions keep us oriented as to why our brand matters and how proactively managing it can create value for others.

Personal Growth Requires Small Thinking

small small small

It’s easy to associate growth with big thinking. You have to imagine possibilities that stretch previous accomplishments. It requires higher aspirations in learning, relationships, and personal accountability. In short, it is assumed that to get better we must think bigger.

I came across a different way of looking at personal growth in a quote from Pope Francis. Instead of thinking big to grow, Francis suggests we must think small. At face value, the idea is counter-intuitive. To do, have, or be more wouldn’t you have to reach for more and see a “bigger you?” Not according to Pope Francis.

No one can grow if he does not accept his smallness

What Does It Mean to be Small?

The words of Pope Francis were constantly on my mind for days. Accept my smallness? What does it mean? What must I do? As a marketer, I advocate for brands and people to stand out. Is accepting one’s smallness counter to brand building? While the question of what does it mean to be small has branding implications, it is a much larger issue.

What does it really mean to be small? Three ways of looking at it:

  • Estimates of today’s world population run about 7.5 billion people. I imagine a circle containing 7.5 billion dots and realize I am but one of those dots. My smallness comes through loud and clear in a visual way.
  • The dots in the circle are interchangeable. We will all die and replaced by new dots. The world can get along just fine without any one of us. My important brand is not so important after all.
  • Most accomplishments do not come from grand performances or events. They accrue from daily interactions with the other dots in our own world with whom we serve, teach, or love. It’s the life equivalent of “small ball,” a strategy in baseball of focusing on singles and base-running to score, not relying on belting home runs.

Small Thinking and Personal Branding

From a personal branding standpoint, a question that arises is whether accepting one’s smallness in order to grow clashes with personal branding practices. If an aim of personal branding is to rise above competition, is it possible if I am just one of 7.5 billion dots? The answer is a resounding “yes.” A brand in general and personal brand in particular is vulnerable. It is not a programmed machine but rather a living being influenced by emotions and relationships. Those vulnerabilities, emotions, and relationships contribute to the stories that are your brand.

Accepting smallness does not diminish the potential impact of a personal brand. The value of a personal brand is not found in vanity metrics of likes, followers, and connections. It resides in the value you provide others through daily encounters… the “small ball” of life, if you will.

The Humility of Smallness

Smallness is not a personal brand weakness. Rather, it is a default setting. A closer look at personal brands associated with being successful, distinctive, and big usually reveals someone who consistently creates value for others. They entertain, inform, support- to serve and benefit their audience. A common trait that can be found in most distinctive personal brands is that a sense of smallness has never been lost.

It is humbling to accept our smallness, but it is also essential for preparing to grow.

Embracing a Personal Branding Mindset

Open Sign

As a college professor, I love the first day of a semester. This reset is a time of great anticipation and excitement. It is like New Year’s Day. Many students embrace this new beginning with energy and optimism. However, the shine of newness soon fades and the grind of classes, assignments, exams, and other tasks can overtake the big picture goals of learning and growth.

The struggle to keep focused on goals is not limited to the journey of college students. We often become sidetracked while on the road to personal growth. It is not deliberate self-sabotage. Rather, losing focus tends to come from a combination of competing demands on your time and others making their priorities your problem. Your focus shifts from managing your situation to putting out other people’s fires. The next thing you know, months have passed and you have not even begun that project or started working toward a personal goal.

Always On

When it comes to managing your personal brand, you cannot afford to let competing priorities consume you. Why? Think about it, no one else in the world has as much motivation or urgency to care for your identity and reputation as you. Even the people who love you most— parents, significant others, or close friends— have less vested in your success.

What I am about to share with you is not meant to scare you; I merely state fact when I say once you embrace a personal branding mindset, you have made the decision to be “always on.” Your brand is not active Monday-Friday 8:00-5:00 only.

A brand is an ongoing concern. Nike cannot afford to take a day off from caring for its identity, and neither can you. This call to be always on is not intended to be a burden. You will not be working at 3:00 a.m. (unless you choose to work at that hour). But, for best results you will always be mindful of how your values, thoughts, attitudes, and actions impact personal development and how you are perceived.

What Is Personal Branding?

Before embarking on a journey to build a better personal brand, it will be helpful to establish what we mean by personal branding. One of my wife’s co-workers said she equated personal branding with tattoos that have names or symbols of loved ones. If you are averse to body ink no worries, personal branding does not require getting tattooed!

In the book Me: How to Sell Who You Are, What You Do, and Why You Matter to the World, Colby Jubenville and I define personal branding as “a process for identifying, developing, and communicating your unique value.” The process of personal branding is the ongoing, always on approach to fine tuning and improving the unique value you offer.

Reinforcing a Personal Branding Mindset

Details on personal branding and suggestions for fulfilling the awesome responsibility of managing the world’s most important brand are the focus of a book I just published titled Brand New Year52 Ways to Create a Distinctive Personal Brand. In Brand New Year, you will find 52 ideas for implementing a personal brand mindset.

Brand New Year cover

I suggest reflecting on one idea each week over the next year and follow through on the Brand Builder recommended action at the end of each chapter. Some ideas will have significant positive impact on your brand. You will scoff at other ideas as being so not you. That sentiment is fine, but even if you feel that way about a particular idea reflect on how it could help build one’s personal brand.

Brand New Year is not written from the standpoint of an expert or teacher as much as it is written from the perspective of someone who is grappling with the same challenges as you to build a meaningful brand. Embrace personal branding and enjoy the journey.

Personal Branding the Antidote to Crowds

Many people seem to have a love-hate relationship with crowds. I have no hard evidence to support that claim other than you can find crowds in many different settings- sporting events, concerts, amusement parks, and stores, to name a few. However, being part of a crowd does not necessarily mean you like being in crowds. You just happen to share an interest with all of the other people there.

I am not a big fan of crowds, but one characteristic of crowds I like is the ability to blend in among the throng of people. In some ways, it is as if I am not there. It is possible to enjoy anonymity in a sea of faces. While the freedom to get lost in a crowd might be appealing when shopping, it would be disastrous to creating a distinctive personal brand.

Be Found, Not Lost

This week, I am focusing on a quote attributed to leadership expert Lolly Daskal. She cautions against allowing yourself to blend in with the crowd. Simply put, when it comes to your professional identity you cannot afford to get lost in the crowd. You can be more educated, more competent, or more engaging than others who do the same work as you, but those advantages are negated if you are unknown.

The antidote to the harmful effects of following the crowd is personal branding. In the book Me: How to Sell Who You Are, What You Do, & Why You Matter to the World, Colby Jubenville and I define personal branding as “a process for identifying, developing, and communicating your unique value.” Personal branding does not allow you to reside in the comfort zone of a crowd. It leads you to focus on how you genuinely stand out by adding value to others.

Get on the Personal Branding Train

As a new year begins,  now is an ideal time to commit to managing your brand. A brand is a “name, symbol, or other marks that distinguishes one seller from another.” The phrase “distinguishes one seller from another” is a call to manage your personal brand. It comes back to Lolly Daskal’s suggestion that we must stand out.

In my upcoming book Brand New Year: 52 Ways to Create a Distinctive Personal Brand,  I share three reasons for taking control of your brand:

  1. A brand must have a defined meaning. Think about a brand you admire or that you connect with on an emotional level. It is likely that the brand resonates with you because of its values or priorities. Similarly, you will attract people to you when they can relate to the core of your brand that defines you.
  2. Differentiation is essential. Most businesses avoid at all costs finding themselves in a situation known as Commodity Hell. It refers to an inability to distinguish a business’s offerings from other sellers (the definition of what a brand is meant to do). Differentiation must be real and relevant. You could dye your hair purple or wear polka dot clothing every day and be different. Still, the difference would not be meaningful or add value to other people.
  3. You have competition. Differentiation would not be so important if the need to stand out was not so great. Competition exists to get a foot in the door to start your career, to move up in an organization, and to branch out into new opportunities.

To Be or Not To Be Known

Some people are reluctant to embrace personal branding because they see it as “tooting their own horn.” Yes, personal branding requires self-promotion (i.e., communicating your unique value). Why you? I’m not going to do it for you, nor will your boss, teachers, friends, or mother (OK, well your mother might but that does not count). Make branding about your value contribution to others to convey how you benefit others through your skills and abilities.

The good news is most people do not manage themselves like a brand, making your personal branding quest easier. The decision to manage your brand does not guarantee success, but it puts you ahead of many would-be competitors. The choice is yours to fit in with the crowd (and likely get lost) or stand out.

Forget Making New Year’s Resolutions

The calendar flips to a new year, and along with this milestone comes a tradition practiced by many people: making New Year’s resolutions. Evidence of New Year’s resolutions can be traced back as far as 1671, with more specific mentions of the practice found as early as 1813. A notable characteristic of New Year’s resolutions then (and still today) is they seemed to excuse or acknowledge undesirable behavior in the run-up to a new year. New year’s resolutions offer a fresh start… at least in theory.

Resolutions Fall Short

If you have made New Year’s resolutions for 2017, you need to know that the odds are against success. A study on New Year’s resolutions found that only eight percent of people who make resolutions are successful in achieving them. Maybe the low success rate explains why only 45 percent of Americans usually make New resolutions.

So what are we trying to accomplish when making New Year’s resolutions? Google search data are revealing about what we long to be, do, or have. According to digital marketing firm iQuanti, the top New Year’s resolutions based on search queries include:

  • Getting healthy
  • Getting organized
  • Living life to the fullest
  • Learning new hobbies
  • Spending less/saving more.

The goals are worthy; that is not the problem. New Year’s resolutions fall short of their intended outcome so often because of the absence of a plan to reach the destination. We would not get in a car and drive from Memphis to Miami without directions. Yet, New Year’s resolutions without an action plan is the equivalent of blindly making that long distance drive.

Set Goals Instead

Replace New Year’s resolutions with personal goals. In the book Me: How to Sell Who You Are, What You Do, & Why You Matter to the World, Colby Jubenville and I discuss how setting goals is essential to managing your personal brand. Setting goals offers two significant payoffs. First, goals align action with purpose. Pursuing goals is a way to to spend your time in ways that are consistent with the big picture you see for yourself. Second, goals give focus to how to spend time and energy. It is easy to fall into a trap of working on projects not aligned with your goals. Setting goals and identifying actions needed to achieve them can minimize getting sucked into other people’s priorities.

Set personal goals with two criteria in mind:

  1. Goals for different life parts
  2. Goals with different time horizons.

Life Parts

Pursuing goals could get you to the destination you want, but will you be happy once you get there? Colby and I caution against putting too much emphasis on a single area. Instead, we advocate setting goals for six different life parts:

  • Career goals
  • Relationship goals
  • Wellness goals
  • Spiritual goals
  • Financial goals
  • “Bucket list” goals.

The idea is setting goals in multiple areas can help create balance in your life. None of us is one dimensional; our goals should reflect the various roles we concurrently take on. For example, it might do little good to reach career goals if the actions taken to get there ruin personal relationships or damage your health. Setting goals for different life parts serves as protection against self-sabotage.

Time Horizon

In addition to setting goals for different life parts, we need to set goals with differing lengths to achievement. Why? Not every accomplishment we pursue requires the same amount of time. Set goals that are:

  • Short range- 12 months or less
  • Mid range- one to three years to achievement
  • Long range- More than three years to achievement.

Also, use short-range and mid-range goals as stepping stones to reaching long-range goals. A long-range goal might be that end destination you envision but requires a lengthy journey to get there. The relationship between short-range, mid-range, and long-range goals is evident in the question “What is the best way to eat an elephant?” The answer is “one bite at a time.” You are more likely to achieve long-range goals set when broken down into smaller “bites.”

Do Something

Despite the preceding discussion on the limitations of New Year’s resolutions, it is OK to set goals or make resolutions. The point is do something that will spur personal growth. If you are among the eight percent that can see resolutions through to achievement, then go for it. Keep in mind that resolutions are essentially short-range goals. Complement them with more ambitious, longer range outcomes. And, set outcomes in multiple life parts; do not zero in on a single aspect of your life and ignore others.

Good luck pursuing your goals (or resolutions) in 2017!

Act “As If” to Shape Your Personal Brand

Norman Vincent Peale quote: "If you want a quality, act as if you already have it... and as you act and persevere in acting, so you tend to become."

When you were young, did you ever dream of being the star pitcher, rock band lead singer, or teen idol movie star (or maybe you still do)? Perhaps you did not imagine yourself in one of these roles, but you may have envisioned yourself on a public stage in some other role. As you get older, the focal point of your imagination may change to your ideal occupation or organization or even the type of person  you want to have as a life partner. These dreams of a future state are common. What is less common is making dreams reality by making the choice to act upon them.

It’s about Congruence

How do you prepare for accomplishment later? You must first have the mindset of someone who expects to accomplish. We often hear of athletes visualizing success- draining clutch free throws, blasting the game winning slapshot, or making the game saving tackle. Athletes that achieve those moments don’t just show up and do them; they practice countless hours and prepare mentally by envisioning success in crucial situations.

These achievement examples suggest that actions are congruent with expectations of our actions. Zig Ziglar was quoted as saying “you cannot perform in a manner that is inconsistent with how you feel about yourself.” In other words, you cannot make the game winning shot if you do not see yourself capable of succeeding in that pressure packed situation. Similarly, if you do not allow yourself to envision being an effective salesperson, you may lack the confidence to engage in a difficult negotiation or have the persistence to deal with a stubborn prospect. Act “as if” becomes a prerequisite for success rather than a whimsical idea.

It’s about Reality

Another quote associated with the notion of act in order to become is “fake it until you make it.” This statement possesses a certain amount of liberation- you do not have to be an expert or perfect in what you do before attempting to do it. And thank goodness that is the case! I have been a college professor for twenty years. Every time I go to class I realize that I know only a minute fraction of what one could know about being an effective professor. Yet, I am able to go into the classroom and do my job. After twenty years on the job I still am faking it because I will never know everything about my chosen profession.

However, we must be cautious not to use “fake it until you make it” as a free pass to be unprepared. An act “as if”  mindset grounds us in reality, encouraging us to adopt the practices and governing behaviors of someone in the role we aspire to have. Act “as if” has many implications for personal growth. We must answer questions including:

  • What is the most effective use of my time?
  • What books, magazines, websites, or blogs should I read?
  • Which organizations should I follow or join?
  • What skills must I develop or strengthen?

Act “as if” is not daydreaming. It focuses us on reality by directing our thoughts, feelings, and actions.

Act “As If” and Your Brand

Dr. Norman Vincent Peale’s quote on acting as if you already have a quality can serve you well in all three dimensions of your personal brand: Meaning, Makeup, and Message. If you want to be viewed as a person of integrity and unwavering values (Meaning elements), you do not wait for others to compliment you on showing these traits, you embody them in your daily actions. When you want to “speak the language” of your chosen field (a Makeup trait), you simply dive in to the works that people in your field consume- you do not need permission! If you feel ready to join the conversation about topics and trends in a field (brand Message), then join conversation. You will invariably make a misstep… and that is OK. After all, you are a human, not a machine. Humans act; machines run. Thus, take advantage of the freedom to act “as if” to position your brand to compete.

Why ‘Get a Job’ is Excellent Personal Branding Advice for Class of 2016

Jon Acuff quote

Late spring is an exciting time of year for many people as graduating college students experience a rite of passage into the next phase of their lives. The National Center for Education Statistics projects 1.8 million students will receive bachelor degrees during the 2015-2016 academic year. Throw in master and doctoral degree recipients, and an estimated 2.6 million people will  celebrate reaching an education milestone. Their graduation begs the inevitable question: What’s next? For the sake of personal brand development, the best answer to that question could very well be “get a job.” It’s time to move from the classroom to the front lines of your career, sharpening skills that are at the heart of the value you offer others.

Get Job Experience- Literally

A professional career is more like a winding road with unexpected turns than a straight line. Many people find themselves in a fulfilling career that is removed from their field of study in college. I make this point to bring out the importance of getting a job… any job to launch your career.

In his book Do Over, author and career expert Jon Acuff says the purpose of your first job is to learn how to have a job. Reflecting on my first professional job thirty years ago, I see that Acuff’s message is spot on. Your education exposes you to concepts and knowledge in the discipline of your major. But, when you take your first job you realize there are many situations and tasks that were never covered in Chapter Eight or on the final exam. How do you resolve conflict within an employee team? What is the best approach for soothing an irritated customer? Why do all project team members  not share your focus on meeting the deadline? You will not know the answers to those questions until you gain experience dealing with them. Heck, you may not even realize those questions exist until you face them on the job.

Skills Development and Your Personal Brand

Skills are a key component of the Makeup dimension of your personal brand. While certain abilities or competencies are obviously important to one’s professional success (e.g., a web developer’s knowledge of relevant programming languages), other skills are not necessarily taught formally like hard skills but are important, nonetheless.

Jon Acuff calls these abilities “invisible skills.” They tend to be skills applicable regardless of your position or industry. Examples include critical thinking, resolving interpersonal conflict, and empathy. These “soft skills” are more difficult to teach using formal methods than hard skills. Yet, soft skills are essential to effectively working with others.

Beat Your Competition

Enhancing invisible or soft skills in your brand Makeup is a prime way to set yourself apart from other early career professionals. Differentiating yourself through strengthening skills can accelerate advancement in an organization or make you more marketable if you look for opportunities elsewhere. Remember those 2.6 million graduates this year? They represent competition. So do the graduates from 2015, 2014,… not to depress you, but you have a lot of competition.

If you are a member of the Class of 2016, accept my congratulations. You did it… now get a job! Not for the same reasons your parents might have for you to be gainfully employed (although paychecks can come in handy), but for the sake of developing skills and ultimately, your brand.

The Fine Line between Determent and Determination

Tommy Lasorda quote on determination

This post represents the first time I have hit “publish” in nearly three months. It is the longest period of inactivity since I began blogging in 2007. I wish I could say I am returning from a planned hiatus, but that would be fiction. Looking back, I realize that feedback from a person I was talking with for the first time took the wind out of my blogging sails. The feedback itself was relatively minor and to the person’s credit, was spot on. It was not meant to shoot me down. However, it (along with work stress) led me to question for the first time why I bother blogging.


Merriam-Webster defines deter as “discourage; prevent from acting.” If you think about sources of determent in your life, it is likely that more of it comes from the former than the latter. It is possible someone or something forcibly prevents you from acting, but in more cases a sense of determent is psychological. We feel someone has imposed limitations on what can be done. Write a book? Do you know how hard it is to publish a book? Start your own business? Do you know that more than eighty percent of new businesses fail? I could go on, but you get the picture. The feedback or “advice” we receive from others may be sincere and well-intentioned, but such input can unwittingly discourage us from chasing our dreams and goals (i.e., deter us).


Determent is a belief that usually comes from within us, as do feelings of determination. As a college professor, a trait that I observe and admire in many students is being free of determent. Students are not bogged down by beliefs about what they cannot do or accomplish. I am not suggesting we live in a fantasy world in which we believe we can do or have anything. But, realistic thinking can become deterring thinking if we blindly accept limitations packaged as conventional wisdom.

Embracing a determination mindset requires being realistic, with that realism being an understanding that bumps in the road are inevitable. Sometimes, the bumps will be huge pot holes that make the ride on our success journey more than a bit uncomfortable. A bumpy ride on the road to personal growth should be accepted; being deterred by limitations others want to attach to you should not be accepted.

On the Possible

To get out of my blogging inactivity funk, I went in search of a quote that gave hope and energy. The quote by Tommy Lasorda on the role of determination grabbed my attention. As I reflected on Lasorda’s statement, it became clear to me I used someone’s candid feedback against my own growth efforts. The result was it stifled my determination and in turn, my potential to achieve what is possible. The unfortunate reality is the person was trying to help me, yet I twisted the feedback to have the effect of harming my personal brand. Moreover, I was too dejected to act on feedback that would undoubtedly benefit my brand.

After two months of brooding and inactivity, I have clarity that I must cultivate determination, not determent. Determination and determent originate from the same source: Me. It’s not the boss, the economy, or the competition that is impeding my progress; it’s the dude in the mirror. He and I are going to work together daily, driven by determination to make the difference between the impossible and possible.