When you live in the world of employment, you'll naturally worry about your job. Will it still be there 12 months from now? Or will you find yourself out on the lonely, tiresome road of unemployment? Will someone even hire you again?
If you lie awake at night, worrying about the unknown, then let me reveal one of the best survival secrets for your career – and that's building your own brand. Not to say you need to be paranoid or anything; just that you need to be prepared should anything suddenly change. The following five tips for building 'brand you' will ensure your survival:
1. Have a career plan in mind
How can you know where you're heading, if you have no idea what you want to do next? Sometimes it isn't so obvious, but we should all have a career path in mind. If you were to lose your job tomorrow, what would you do next? If it's promotion you're after, then what are the next steps?
Write down what you want to do and figure out how to get there. Consider whether you're able to achieve your goals at your current job or be pro-active and seek new employment to move forward. Have a think about whether you want to go freelance, work for another agency or go in-house. Don't wait for your employer to let you go or become stale in your job; always be considering your next move.
2. Network and build contacts
It's all too easy to become lazy and complacent when you've got your full-time job, but networking should really stay at the top of your priorities. You've got to keep your name out there to ensure people know who you are and what you're doing. Don't assume things will stay as they are; always be looking for your next step and understand the importance of building a solid network.
Find relevant events, talks, workshops, conferences, art gallery launches and exhibitions on your own doorstep – and be the face that people come to recognise. Smile, be engaging and be more interested in what others have to say, rather than taking the opportunity to talk endlessly about yourself.
Arm yourself with business cards – not to willingly dish out; just in case anyone asks for your contact details. And get your personal pitch right – know how to sum up who you are and what you do in a few concise sentences. Don't mumble; be bold and confident. You have skills and experience, even if you've just graduated. Never assume you don't belong – if you're young, you'll be considered exciting and fresh, full of energy and bursting with new ideas; if you're older, then you'll have experience on your side and offer a different perspective.
Remember, it's not what you know, it's who you know – so become friends with those who are well connected. Don't just stick to your own creative field either; branch out and seek new horizons. Is there anyone whose work you admire? Tweet them and ask if they'll let you take them out for a coffee to pick their brains. I've been asked to do this quite a few times, and it's lovely to be able to offer some advice.
3. Build an audience
If you really want to protect yourself and your career, then having an audience can be a powerful weapon. For example, if you've got 10,000 Twitter followers and people love what you do, then an employer is less likely to mess you around and forget about you aren't they? And if you're applying for another job? Then your reach and influence will only impress.
Let's face it, in today's digital world, nothing endorses someone more than having a strong online presence and a loyal social following. My own presence via Creative Boom opens up a world of opportunity for me, and yes, ok – I've been building my own audience for seven years, but I started from scratch and was patient. We all have to start somewhere.
However, 2009 was a different world. Today, there are new channels one should explore to quickly build an audience. For instance, those who are really making a name for themselves right now are on blogging platforms such as Medium. Yes, it takes time and effort to write eloquent thoughts about your work and your industry, but it will be worth the investment. Besides, if you haven't published any of your own content, what have you got to talk about via your other digital channels?
4. Launch a side project
Jane Bowyer is a talented Manchester-based illustrator and designer who has recently gone freelance. She left full-time employment in February to venture out on her own, and so far, so good. However, Jane makes her own luck. She is the perfect example of someone who understands the importance of building your own brand, even when everything seems to be going well.
This month, she has curated Women In Print, an exhibition to celebrate iconic women who've contributed to Manchester. Bringing together sixteen local artists and designers, Jane's side project has been a huge success with all proceeds going to local women's charities.
What can you do to get your name out there, make friends and influence people, and demonstrate that you are willing to go the extra mile to do something amazing and off your own back?
Employers and clients alike will always be impressed by those who lead extraordinary careers. In this day and age, when the jobs market is a risky place and graduates are fighting for the same positions, it's crucial to do something more to stand out.
Ok, you don't have to launch an exhibition but how about keeping your online portfolio fresh with self-initiated projects, such as rebrands if you're a designer – or how about demonstrating your copywriting skills with your own blog? There really is no excuse.
5. Keep your CV and online portfolios updated, and market yourself
If you're getting your name out there, networking with people and joining in with online conversation, you need to have all of your personal profiles, bios, online portfolios/websites – as well as your CV – completely up-to-date, and showcasing the very best of you right now.
Don't annoy people with a lack of information; be forthright with your skills and expertise, and include background on who you've worked with, where you've been and where you're heading. You never know who might want to look you up and discover more.
And finally, last but not least, push yourself and your work out there. Get savvy with Instagram, join networks like Behance or Tumblr, and understand the benefits of marketing. You don't have to go mad; just an hour every day to focus on 'Brand You' will suffice. Take Yinka Ilori as a great example. He isn't shy about sharing pictures of his beautiful upcycled furniture or shots of himself posing alongside his work. He understands the different requirements of Twitter, as opposed to Instagram, and he 'gets' how PR works. As a result, he's everywhere at the moment and in demand, with an exciting installation in store at London Design Festival's Design Undefined. Watch this space!
To conclude, if you're worried about your job and what might go wrong; be proactive and develop your own brand. Don't feel helpless because you're definitely in control – more than you realise. It's simply a case of protecting your future by raising your reputation, networking and building an audience. You do that, and your career will certainly go the distance.