Sometimes it can be difficult to achieve a goal alone, and if people don’t know anything about you, they can’t really help you. While talking about your personal brand might sound cringe-worthy, it’s just a newer term for something we’ve been doing all along: letting other human beings know what we want them to know about us.
Building my personal brand is the equivalent of wearing my Good Charlotte shirt to school on the day of their show when I was in high school: I was ALREADY a super-cool punk, I wasn’t just buying the shirt at the show that night and everyone could see that. People have been doing this since the beginning of time (shaping their identity through their looks and interests, not wearing Good Charlotte shirts).
I would never claim to be an expert about personal branding. There are countless workshops, videos, courses, articles, and books on the subject. But something as easy as completing a personal brand worksheet and updating your social media bios is a good start. Try googling “personal brand worksheet + ____” and take a glance through them for a few minutes to find one that suits you. The ____ should be based off of your goals.
What is the overarching theme of YOU? For example, I compiled my own worksheet based off of ones that I found searching for “writer” and “development coach”. You can stick with one or cut and paste questions together from a few to make your own. Don’t let it eat up your entire day; poke around for ten or fifteen minutes to find one, put it together, and fill it out. It shouldn’t take that long to complete if you’re answering with your gut reactions. Then make a few tweaks to share your brand with the world.
Just updating my LinkedIn bio with my author info led to a co-worker buying my book. Figuring out a few key Instagram hashtags to add to my development posts led to subscribers to my newsletter. Creating my own mission statement about how I want to spend my days helped me help my boss create a new position at work just for me. These small changes build up and help you achieve your goals. But your personal brand is personal: it’s mostly about you. Having a clear focus will make you more productive.
The building blocks of your brand should still be generosity and community. Wearing my Good Charlotte shirt to school was a way to let cute punk guys know I was cool (yes, I thought this, gimme a break), but a band shirt is also how I met one of my best friends in high school: I saw her wearing a New Found Glory shirt at lunch, I walked up and introduced myself, and it started a friendship that lasted for years. So put your signal out and see what comes back.
I talk about networking a lot and I’m going to talk about it again, because it’s so important. Networking isn’t just about getting what you want or being sales-y; it’s about building community. It needs to stem from a place of generosity, otherwise your efforts will seem completely inauthentic. You can’t just wait until you need something to begin networking. Your community-building efforts should start today (if they haven’t started already). If you’re nervous about networking, in terms of going up to someone and talking to their face, why not start on social?
Do what works for you
I have a networking plan that I complete before every literary event I go to (it works before any event, but I go to more literary events than anything else). I find that if I don’t complete this plan beforehand, I get so nervous or distracted while I’m trying to network that nothing gets done. I’m launching a free webinar, How To Plan Your Networking Strategy for a Literary Event in Just 30 Minutes, on June 30th because I know that others feel the same way. It’s my tried and true strategy, which relies on doing research before the event, utilizing social media, and managing your time so you’re not spending more time prepping than actually connecting.
But maybe you don’t go to literary events. Or you don’t go to events because what you do or what you’re interested in doesn’t really have them. That’s the beauty of social media; most things you want to do can be done from the comfort of your couch. You might have to get out there and get face-to-face eventually, but you have to start somewhere (and you always need a plan).
So figure out your comfort zone and start there (but don’t be afraid to push your boundaries a bit)
If you’re a writer, try Twitter. Photographer, blogger, or artist, try Instagram. Looking for a job, try Linkedin. A quick Google search of “____ + tricks and tips” (people love the phrase “tricks and tips”) will bring up hundreds of articles about how best to use these different platforms. Do not read hundreds of articles. Pick 2-5. Grab a pen and paper or open a notes doc on your computer or print the lists out and highlight them, whatever works best for you. Set a timer for 30 minutes (I’m a big fan of timing tasks otherwise you’ll disappear into the black hole of Google and never return) and write down the tips and tricks you find. More often than not, you’ll realize that a lot of the tips are repeated from blog to blog and article to article. Pick a couple that seem the most relevant and helpful and try them out.
For example, I’m trying to grow my Instagram following. There are thousands of resources out there for how to do this, but I set a 30-minute timer, read only two articles, saw that I needed to be using hashtags more effectively, took a photo, set up a keyboard shortcut on my phone, posted a photo (which became the second-most-liked photo on my account), and got four new followers in a couple of hours. It’s not groundbreaking, but in 30 minutes, I learned something new, implemented a strategy, took action, and reached my goal.
Give it a try and see what goals you can achieve. And if you want some more “tips and tricks” about planning your networking strategy, you can pre-register for my webinar here.
I first attended the Granger Leadership Academy (GLA) in March 2016 after Jackson Bird, Director of Wizard-Muggle Relations of the Harry Potter Alliance, mentioned it to me at the Harry Potter Conference in Chestnut Hill in October 2015. I had approached the Harry Potter Alliance table at a Harry and the Potters show because I wanted to introduce myself and had just gotten involved in the NYC chapter of the HPA, the NYDA. In December 2015, I became the Chapter Organizer for the NYDA and an active and adoring member of the Harry Potter Alliance. So I figured I’d check out this GLA thing. It was inexpensive and in Providence RI, which I could reach on the train (I will take any excuse to get on a train). I asked for 1.5 days off work and off I went.
Well, it was magical. I was deathly ill the entire weekend and still had the time of my life. I learned SO MUCH and met so many awesome people and finally began to own my label of SJW (Social Justice Wizard).
I attended eight workshops:
Wit & Bravery, Ambition & Loyalty: Finding Your Values with Paula Neiweem and Heather Murray, which, among other things, gave me the idea for my “10 Things” list in my Humblebrag workshop
Being Your Own Hero with Sam Ducharme and Emma Hollier, where I got a much-needed introduction to self care (obviously necessary since, as previously stated, I was deathly ill for the conference from weeks of burnout)
Turning Sign-ups Into Squads with Janae Phillips, which helped me in my struggle to find (and retain!) NYDA members
Once More with Logic Models: Campaign Planning for Vampire Slaying Success with Anna Dardick, which is where the NYDA’s major 2016 campaign – #dontthrowawayyourvote – was born
Transgender Advocacy with Jackson Bird who gave us a crash course in trans terminology, pronouns, gender dysphoria, transition, and sex vs. gender
From Charity to Change with Becca Simpson who explained how we can take our philanthropic energies and enact actual change
Narrative Placemaking in Clubs and Classrooms with Nia DeCoux who helped us discover how, as leaders, we can put diversity and representation at the forefront of our approaches
Showing Up For Racial Justice with SURJ where we learned how to recruit and engage white people in racial justice efforts (my first step into active allyship)
We heard keynotes from Jackson Bird about his transition journey, Swapna Krishna about representation, and Meghan Tonjes about body positivity. We watched Girl Rising about breaking the circle of poverty by ensuring that girls are educated worldwide. I learned the term “three before me”, which I try my hardest to use in group conversations – three other people have to talk before you talk again. I sketched out my “hero identity”: that I stand up for others, that I am strong, and that I am always learning. I made a commitment to myself:
“I want to have an active chapter with members who feel like they are important and making a difference. I believe that the Harry Potter Alliance deserves the respect to be discussed without embarrassment. I am committed to making change that you can see that ripples so strongly that its impact extends beyond my vision.”
By the end of that weekend, I knew I wanted to not only attend GLA 2017, but I wanted to run a workshop. So I did.
On Wednesday 3/8 I took my tush up to LaGuardia for my flight to St. Louis. GLA didn’t begin until 4pm Thursday, but I added an extra day onto my trip to schedule a reading for my IT WILL SET YOU FREE book tour. I don’t love the airport nonsense part of flying but I love to travel, so this trip was ideal: an empty airport (how???), a tupperware full of avocado on toast, and a vacant seat next to me so I could spread out all of my work on the plane.
As an added bonus, the HPA put out a bunch of posts on social media recognizing some of the women who volunteer for the HPA and/or who were taking the day off of work to travel to GLA on International Women’s Day. Katie, the Campaigns Director, asked if they could post about me. I was super flattered and pleased to see my post go up as I was waiting for the train to leave for downtown St. Louis from the airport. Definitely gave me the warm fuzzies!
Upon arriving downtown, I met my college roommate Chris for lunch at Porano Pasta, which was super yum (Negroni slushies were a great way to kick off the long weekend). Afterward, he gave me a quick walking tour of downtown St. Louis, including the Arch, which is the only thing I remember about St. Louis from the last time I was there (we went up in it and it swayed in the wind and that felt weird so we went back down). It was nice to have an extra pair of hands to get a snap of IT WILL SET YOU FREE!
After a while I decided it was probably time to head down to The Loop, drop my stuff off at my friend Jessie‘s house (one of my many great friends from GLA 2016), and get ready for my reading at Subterranean Books. The bookstore was adorable – they had a STORE DOG – and a small but enthusiastic crowd gathered in the loft to hear local author Debbie Manber Kupfer and me read from our novels.
Afterward, we were starving so Jessie, Debbie, and I headed to Three Kings Pub for food and (v. necessary) beer and then Jessie and I headed home to get a good night’s sleep.
On Thursday 3/9 I had a conference call for work in the morning and then Jessie and I went to the zoo for a bit. The St. Louis Zoo is free, which is amazing, and located just down the road from the St. Louis Art Museum in Forest Park. I wish we could have spent more time there, but on our quick visit we saw African painted dogs (which I love), hyenas, dwarf mongoose, and hippos (which I had never seen swim before – they were very graceful!).
Then it was off to GLA! I headed there just before registration for a presenters orientation where Janae, the Chapters Director of the HPA and the conductor and creator of GLA, gave us a rundown of the rooms and an overview of how the weekend would go down. Then it was time for check-in and to meet our table! GLA attendees are split into groups that work together over the weekend, sit together for morning meetings, and share experiences about programming during breaks so no one misses anything. GLA has tons of great programming and it’s almost impossible to choose between workshops. They each fall into different categories: Personal Leadership, Communication, Teamwork, Quests, and World Changing, although there is obviously tons of overlap with the topics covered. I wanted to go to every single one, but could only choose six (+ mine). If only timeturners were real!
One of my goals of GLA was to track down anyone from NYC who wasn’t already active an member of the NYDA and invite (harrass) them to join us! I had MJ Bradley on my list and, as luck would have it, we were in the same group and sat next to each other for the welcome feast! After dinner, she invited me up to her room to meet her friend Rachel and hang out. As is the case with most HPA folks, we were fast friends. You can’t escape me, MJ!
To close out the night, we headed back down to the ballroom for a wizard wrock concert where Tonks and the Aurors serenaded us with her Springsteen-esque anthems, clever raps, and general wrocking goodness. And she played Charlie Weasley, which is my fave and gets stuck in my head like once a week.
Pumped for the weekend, Jessie and I met up with our friends Grace and Amanda (who were also staying with Jessie), hit up the grocery store to stock up for the weekend, and headed home to prepare for the FIRST FULL DAY OF GLA! (up next…)
It’s a new year and time for some new reading goals! I love using the tracker in Goodreads. I’m actually terrible at the social aspect of Goodreads (but I’m trying to get better!) and I mainly use it for my own rating/records system. Fifty books is my normal goal most years, which I totally failed last year since I was up to my eyes in Harry Potter research for my Quidditch paper at the Harry Potter Conference and also editing my own book, which I read about five thousand times. So if that counts, I crushed my goal.
I’m actually more excited about my reading goal this year than any other year because I’m definitely reading with a purpose. Aside from whatever my book club at work chooses (which tends to be pretty diverse), I’m only really reading diverse books and nonfiction about entrepreneurship/professional development/business as I start working on a side project about professional development for young creatives and begin my new novel, which has two POC protagonists.
What are diverse books? For me, it’s reading about women/POC/people with disabilities/LGBTQ+ people as well as books by those authors. Growing up, most of the books I read were written by white women or men and had white, female or male, able-bodied, middle class, straight protagonists. Some books assigned in school were diverse, but the majority were written by white men. When I was younger, I loved reading books about tall, brown-haired girls who were confident and funny and liked horses, unicorns, and other dorky things, because they were just like me. And there were so many of them!
As I started to write, I created similar stories; my mind ran wild with plots but the characters essentially stayed the same. I have always believed that the best way to improve your writing (and empathy, and education, and worldview, etc.) is by reading, so that’s what I’m doing. Bring on the diversity!