Whether you work for yourself or someone else, it's important to establish and maintain both a strong personal and professional online presence. Given the uncertain economic times, you should be actively engaged in how you present yourself to the world (wide web). When prospective employers or clients Google your name, what do they find? If it's nothing or next to nothing, then you have a great opportunity. If there',s a lot of junk, then you also have an opportunity to turn that around to your advantage! Either way, you have some work to do. Get out the calendar and resolve to tackle one of these items every couple weeks as you polish your image.

  1. Register Your Own Domain Name
  2. When branding yourself on the web, there's no better place to start than registering your own domain name. If your name is somewhat unique, chances are it's available. If you have a more common name, then try lots of variations. For example, johnasmith.com is taken, but john-a-smith.com is available. If it weren't, you could try more combinations or see if any of your top choices are open as a .net, .info, or .tv address.

    Use a domain registrar like GoDaddy to find out what's available. When you've made your selection, buy it for several years at a minimum. Search engines will sometimes take the registration period into account in factoring how valid an address is.

  3. Start a Blog
  4. If you don't already have a personal website, using a blogging platform is a quick, inexpensive and flexible way to make one. You could opt not to take advantage of the actual blogging features of a blog, but that would defeat the purpose. If you can commit to posting interesting and intelligent observations or articles on a regular basis (ideally at least one of week), then a blog will go a long way toward helping you establish a “voice” on the web.

    I recommend using Wordpress. Read previous articles about setting up and using Wordpress.

    I also highly recommend using Feedburner once your URL and blog are ready and working. It will help you maximize your RSS feed, which is essential for getting well indexed by search engines and blogging directories like Technorati.

    If you're a business owner, instead of (or in addition to) a personal blog, you might also consider a professional blog for your company. I've heard some businesses argue, “Customers in my industry don't find [our type of business] online (or on blogs).” To which I say, are you nuts? If that were actually the case for any given industry, it would make an even more compelling case for using blogging and other online resources to your advantage. The fact is, many companies in “boring” B2B and B2C niches have realized how effective blogs are at establishing thought leadership and credibility. A favorite example of mine recently is a commercial and residential fencing company in Raleigh, NC, that installs fencing. The are effectively using a blog to spotlight jobs, discuss challenges and educate consumers on things like how to get permits. The strategy is a good one, especially since it lands their blog on page one of Google's natural results for raleigh fencing.

  5. Hire a Professional Photographer
  6. You know a picture is worth a thousands words. So why settle for using your own cheap, red-eye riddled, poorly lit and badly composed photos on your website and other places on the web? Pay money and sit down for a professional photo shoot, with someone who can make you look like a million bucks. Be sure to get the rights to use your photos anywhere, and obtain digital files.

  7. Write a Professional Bio
  8. Spend time sprucing up your biography. If words don't come naturally, sit down with a friend and a tape recorder and talk about the things that make you unique. Or hire a copywriter to craft the story for you.

    When you have it ready, paste it (along with one of your sharp new photos) to sites like VisualCV and LinkedIn.

  9. Improve your LinkedIn Profile
  10. Speaking of LinkedIn (you are on LinkedIn, right?), now's the time to fully complete your profile. Replace your photo. Flesh out every job description you have. Connect with former co-workers and clients. Search for and join groups related to your professional interests. Seek references from former co-workers, clients, teachers and friends. Better yet, write references for others first; they will likely return the favor. Use LinkedIn Answers to search for topics you're well versed in, and post well-written responses.

  11. Launch (Or Clean Up) Your Facebook Page
  12. It's not just for the college kids anymore. This was the year Facebook really took off, hitting 100 million users in August 2008. So if you've been sitting on the fence (my apologies to the above-mentioned Raleigh company), get on it!

    If you're starting with a blank slate, treat it with respect and build your profile carefully using your professional quality photos and bio. Listen and learn before you start posting a whole lot of nothing. Remember this crucial point: anything you post there can help you or hurt you. Several public school teachers in my hometown of Charlotte were fired or reprimanded this year for inappropriate posts on Facebook. Take this and other social networking channels very seriously, unless you don't care about the possible consequences.

    If you're already on Facebook and have embarrassing information, get rid of it. Lose any bad language, drunken or half-naked photos, rambling diatribes and anything else that paints you in a negative light. The same goes for information on any other social networks you actively use, like MySpace or Bebo.

  13. Learn and Apply Best Practices for Search Engine Optimization
  14. A common misperception is that search engine optimization, or SEO, is out of the realm of non-techical mortals. Actually, some essential best practices can be learned fast, and are surprisingly easy to implement.

    One of the best books I read this year was Radically Transparent: Monitoring and Managing Reputations Online(Andy Beal and Dr. Judy Strauss). Among the many tips in the book are specific ways to find out what's being “said” about you in search queries, and more importantly how to use SEO techniques to make positive changes in how you rank.

    If you're in the Charlotte area, my friend and SEO specialist Corey Creed of Hippo Internet Marketing teaches outstanding classes on SEO as well as pay-per-click advertising (which you can use to more quickly direct links to your personal or professional sites). Another excellence learning resource (courtesy of Corey) is Michael Campbell's Internet Marketing Secrets. Michael's free podcast interviews of SEO experts are packed with useful tips. Yet another fantastic resource is Aaron Wall's SEO Book.

  15. Twitter Your Way To The Top
  16. Twitter is service that took off like wildfire this year. Millions of people are now sending short text messages or “tweets” of 140 characters or less. More importantly, they are using Twitter to learn about news and trends instantaneously (often before mainstream media reports on it, like during the Mumbai tragedy), get fast customer support, seek advice and connect in unprecedented ways with others.

    For many (myself included), Twitter is initially puzzling and frustrating. A common question early on is, What's the point? However, if you stick with it, Twitter can lead to amazing things like meeting fascinating people where you live or who work in your industry, creating lightning fast business contacts and uncovering resources you never knew existed.

    I suggest following power Twitter users (some of my favorites are Chris Brogan, Wayne Sutton and Lisa Hoffmann) to learn the secrets of this powerful tool. Hint: it's about giving information freely and acknowledging others, before tooting your own horn.

    There are now dozens of third-party sites that tap the power of Twitter for various purposes. Use sites like Twitter Search and TweetBeep to look for keywords important to you, Twubble to find people to “follow,” and Monitter or TweetGrid to watch “real time conversations” happening on Twitter. Get hip to the strange Twitter lingo and keep exploring!

  17. Hire A Professional Image Consultant
  18. Chances are the image you think you're portraying is not what is coming across to others. Are you unknowingly hurting your chances in business and personal settings due to deficiencies in your visual appearance, your verbal or nonverbal communications? Believe it or not, these shortcomings also manifest themselves online, through poor language skills and other ways.

    It might be time to engage with a professional image consultant. He or she is trained to help you present yourself to your best advantage and to express your highest potential. An image consultant can teach you how to polish your professional image in three areas:

    • Your physical appearance
    • Your behavior
    • Your communication skills

    To learn more about the benefits of working with an image consultant and to locate one near you, visit the Association of Image Consultants International.

  19. Get A Real Life
  20. Face(book) it, you can—and should—focus just so much of your attention on your online profile and your virtual life. You also need to make a concerted effort to unplug and engage with living, breathing people in the Real World 1.0. Your virtual life should compliment your physical one, not the other way around.

    If you're starting or already have your own business, join your local chamber of commerce or an association specific to your industry. Can't find a chapter in your area? Then start one! Or use Meetup.com to invite small groups of like-minded people to informal gatherings. Even on Twitter, lots of users are fond of starting nearly spontaneous “Tweetups,” where people get together for events. Another emerging concept, especially in larger cities, is the concept of casual co-working, or more affectionately known as Jelly. There are lots of opportunities to mingle with and develop great relationships with others, especially if you work alone.

Do you have other ideas to improve your personal and professional brand, both on and off the web? Leave your comments below. Happy branding!

Photo credit: Cogdogblog


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