Personal Branding: Weapon of Mass Disruption
A suggestion for the building of a personal Minimum Viable Product
French Version ► Here
“What about you, what is it that you do?”
Have you ever struggled to provide a direct, short and meaningful reply to this question? Whether the answer is yes or no, it is safe to say that Henri David Thoreau simply got it right when he stated “Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves”.
On the threshold of a DIY generation staffed by self-made-men, find-yourself-coaches, dizzying technology breakthroughs, fragmented identities as well as a certain inclination to metamorphosis, one might grapple to choose amongst the numerous fast-changing possibilities. In such a context, what if feeling lost was the new normal? After all, how can you expect to find your way if you haven’t searched for it in the first place?
“Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves”
Henri David Thoreau
If we consider that the journey is more important than the destination, then there might be a deep sense of greatness in that time in our life when we feel disoriented, provided that the feeling is properly nurtured. It is about considering that time as an exciting venture where everything is possible, rather a plain-dark sky of doubtfulness. It is about seeking constant challenge and truthful sense of fulfilment, instead of chasing a starry-eyed impression of perfection. It is about cultivating genuine personal branding, instead of imagining oneself in another person’s shoes.
All in all, it is about using that time to experiment and trigger opportunities, which will need to be fueled on a daily basis.
Thus, what if a freelancing experience was a way to do that?
Accounting for 20 to 30 % of both the American and European workforce(1), freelancing seems to be having the wind in its sails. Worn by startup ecosystems’ growing needs, as well as by the unfolding of a dazing digital transformation, the share of independent workers is aimed to double in 2040(2) . According to McKinsey, “The growing prevalence of independent work could have tangible economic benefits, such as raising labor-force participation, providing opportunities for the unemployed, or even boosting productivity”.
“The growing prevalence of independent work could have tangible economic benefits, such as raising labor-force participation, providing opportunities for the unemployed, or even boosting productivity”
Beyond its positive macroeconomic outcome, freelancing can also be considered as a powerful personal branding tool.
See it this way, it is, by nature:
It focuses on the deepening of one’s knowledge of the market’s insights, while tackling the capitalization on sales-related skills;
Highly competitive, it requires strong differentiation along with a meaningful value proposal, either through hyperspecialization or consistent diversification;
It fosters the deepening of straightforward business relationships, based on both trust and accountability.
Let’s break down the idea into 4 simple steps:
Follow the white rabbit
Let your curiosity take you exactly where you need to be
Instead of focusing on blurry job positions, concretely observe the demand and connect the dots. What do companies need the most? What projects are they working on? Is there a problematic that stimulates you? Is there something that you know how to do or an issue you might know how to solve? How frequently does this need seem to emerge? Whether the project is law, design, business or development-related, get a grasp at the market’s current situation and choose a questioning that resonates in you.
Leave your background aside for a moment there and simply prototype the ideas that emerge. Offer your services, observe your results and test your hypothesis. Experience the very definition of experimentation.
Nobody said it was easy
Clients are challenging, the offer exceeds the demand, your service is probably unscalable and your pay is quite unstable.
And that is precisely why the experience is so enriching. In the midst of such hostile market forces, you simply owe it to yourself to deliver, differentiate from others and induce value. As Mike Ryan — owner of Brazilian Jazz Club TribOz — once said to me, “In the face of adversity, we create or we kill”. I do believe that you can either choose to foster creativity or to kill it. In such circumstances you are inclined to access resources which might not have been suspected otherwise. Ultimately, “All failure is failure to adapt, all success is successful adaptation” (Max McKeown).
Ain’t no mountain high enough
There is no such thing as too ambitious, as long as you keep learning
Don’t be afraid to upscale your skills. Independent work can easily become a never ending experiential training course. Where there is a client to please, there is always something new to learn, as well as a synergy to be created with your current knowledge basis.
Ultimately, as curious and eager to learn as you might be, it is all about prompting opportunity. You learn it because you have to do, which still one of the most effective ways to memorize complex information.
If it ain’t a box it’s your box
“Become a product” — Oussama Ammar
According to neuroscience, our brain is similar to a fingerprint, complex and unique. Consequently and rather strangely enough, being “special” ends up being quite ordinary. So how does one differentiate?
While we all have thin lines on our fingertips, it is not the lines that differentiate the fingerprints, but rather the way they are traced and interlaced to form a unique shape. Similarly, it is not about being special, but about finding your very own specialty. A far cry from simply fitting into an existing standard box, it is about building your own shape through the weaving and connecting of your set of skills, vision and experiences. After all, creativity is nothing less than “the power to connect the seemingly unconnected”(4)?
As such, the exercise will push one to become a recognizable and valuable product(3), that clients will choose over another for:
│ (Why) Your purpose
The vision that drives you and that people acknowledge you for
│ (What) Your core value proposal
The precise projects and issues you are able to tackle and handle
│ (How) Your features
The concrete skills that enable you to handle the projects you endeavour
Similar to a functional prototype that immediately confronts itself to a market, in order to grow both organically and exponentially, freelancing can be experienced as a career’s Minimum Viable Product.
A sea of possibilities to experiment, handset to a nomad spirit, with no strings attached.
Appealing, isn’t it? So just give it a try.
1 McKinsey “Independent work: Choice, necessity, and the gig economy”, 2016
2 Roosevelt Institute “A vision for the economy of 2040”, 2016
3 Oussama Ammar Join Lion Opening talk, 2017
4 William Plomer