When the Brand You’re Selling Is You

WALL STREET JOURNAL – When a friend suggested that he write a blog, Joel Backaler saw it as a good opportunity to share some of his most interesting stories about working as a consultant in China. One of his clients, for example, was the chief executive officer of a state-owned chemical company who lived in a province renowned for hand-pulled noodles. The CEO had a passion for noodles, so he ended up opening a chain of fast-food noodle houses that would offer jobs to laid-off factory workers.

“I was surrounded by so many great stories to write about, but I never had an outlet to write about what I was learning through work. It was a passion project,” says Mr. Backaler, who would regularly wake up at 4 a.m. and post new articles to his blog “The China Observer,” before going to the office. He’d also blog on weekends and on holidays.

His hard work paid off. Within months, Mr. Backaler became a quoted authority on business in China. His articles were linked to by well-known industry blogs, and he was asked to write on international business topics for Forbes and BusinessWeek. He was also offered a full-time job in 2011 to start up Asian-Pacific operations for the Frontier Strategy Group, a Washington, D.C.-based advisory firm. Mr. Backaler is now working on a book about the rise of Chinese companies in overseas markets for Palgrave Macmillan entitled “China Goes West.”

In the current competitive job climate, hard work alone doesn’t always get noticed, say career experts. Good employees are getting passed up for new opportunities because companies may not be aware of their full capabilities. That’s where branding can be used to promote your value to your busy bosses, peers and anybody else that can help you from inside and outside the company. Through a coordinated networking, social-media and blogging effort, you can become the go-to specialist in your field.

First, think strategically. How do you want to be perceived by the world? You should choose a unique specialty to promote that is not based on any other brands, says Dan Schawbel, a workplace expert from Boston and author of “Promote Yourself: The New Rules of Career Success.” “Instead of being a LinkedIn expert, you could become a LinkedIn expert for baby boomers. It’s important to find your own niche that sets you apart from your peers.”

Fill any knowledge or skill gaps. Especially if you’re looking to advance, ask for honest feedback from co-workers. You may find that you need to shift to a different functional area within the company, for example, to get that international assignment that you want, says Dorie Clark, a branding and management consultant from Somerville, Mass., and author of “Reinventing You.”

Don’t be self-conscious. It’s OK to promote your accomplishments. Bragging can be a good way to increase visibility. Just don’t make self-promotion the only thing that you tweet or blog about, says Mr. Schawbel. You want to attract new readers by becoming a resource or mentor for colleagues and by reaching out and participating in online discussions in company forums or in LinkedIn groups.

Blog regularly. It may seem old-fashioned when compared with Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, but blogging is the best way to showcase what you do and how you think—especially if you are a knowledge worker known for your ideas.

If you make the effort to blog, you are setting yourself apart and showing that you are a thought leader in your company or your field, as opposed to being just a commodity, says Ms. Clark. “You don’t want to be a commodity, since there’s somebody out there, literally, that’s willing to do your job for $3 an hour. You have to provide a compelling reason why you’re worth the money. Otherwise, it’s a race to the bottom.”

It’s important to establish your brand outside of your company since that can help you get recognized from within, says Ms. Clark. “So if you’re being asked to speak as an expert by media and winning awards for your blog, that may compel the powers that be at your company to re-evaluate you.”

Writing credibly takes research which keeps you on top of trends. It’s also is an opportunity to mention blogging to your boss at key moments. If something that you blogged about is mentioned in a meeting, you can drop in that you wrote about that topic, which would highlight mastery of the strategic elements of a job that you want.

Don’t stagnate. Be proactive with your brand. You may need to reinvent yourself multiple times to keep up with shifting industry trends and changes to your career fortunes, like recovering from a layoff.

Make the best of your situation. Even if you’re in a job that you don’t like, you can continue to broadcast your expertise through social media and your blog and use that experience to flush out new opportunities.

No surprises. Tell your boss what you plan to do. You don’t want him or her to stumble on your blog accidentally and find that you’ve been posting 1,000-word stories throughout the day when you should be working, says Mr. Schawbel. It helps to get your boss’s sanction. He or she may even make it part of your job. Otherwise, do it outside of work.

Illustration by RALPH BUTLER. You can see the full story here: https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304744304579248122219811370