This is a rant. I will admit it right off. I have been hitting a lot of new folks in various writing and social media communities recently and they are driving me nuts. I go to an author’s site or maybe their twitter profile or a fellow blogger, what they are saying interests me, and then I try to find out more about them. Dead end. These folks, as well meaning as they may be, are trying to present themselves as professionals without taking the basic time to create a professional online presence. I am not talking about stuff that costs a lot of money, but stuff that has a big impact on how easy it is to find you and how you are perceived when people do find you. In marketing speak part of this is branding. In business speak a lot of this should be common sense.
Branding and consistency are what help your customers, readers, users, fans or even friends find you on the web, find what you are doing and what pertains to you, and also know that the you they find really is you! Think of it as not trying to convince people what an honest reputable person you are while selling watches out of the back of a borrowed car in a vacant parking lot. Also think of it as not handing out business cards that are missing your phone number, address or email.
So, with very little money, how can you clean up your act? Well, here are ten cheap and easy steps.
1) Make sure you have your own website. Yours. Not part of Facebook or LinkedIn or Google+ site (though you do want those). WordPress.com is ok for now, but only because they let you export everything in the future. This site will be your home base. You want somewhere that you control and that the Lords Of Facebook can’t change the look and feel, and advertising, of without your input. (Cost: $0 to $10 a month – or somewhere in between. Your choice!) [Recommendation – WordPress.com if you want to go free, DreamHost if you want a bit more control and are willing to pay a small amount for it.]
2) Get your own domain name that points the website above and that you can also use for email. (Cost: $10 to $15 per year) [Recommendation – Hover.com if you want to register the name separately from the site above, or just use the service you use in step #1, like DreamHost, who will give you a nice discount.]
3) Set up your email to use the above domain to send and receive. This is a bit more complicated, but not much. Wherever you got that domain in step #2 can help you do it. Works very well with Gmail from Google. (Cost: $0 unless maybe you pay a support person to help you.)
4) Set up your website (remember #1?) to actually use the name you established in #2. Much like the email part, not complicated but you might need a few minutes help. (Cost: $0 unless you need paid support like with email.)
5) Use those addresses! Send and receive your email from your personal email, not email addresses labeled “Yahoo”, “Hotmail”, “roadrunner” or anything else. This is called branding yourself. Those other services just look bad, you are advertising them not you, and are also hacked more often. (Cost: $0)
6) Continue to use those addresses! Use your website address. Put it on business cards. Put it in your email signature. Make a bumper sticker out of it. Well, maybe not that far…. But again, this goes back to branding yourself. (Cost: $0)
7) In your Twitter account, you do have one don’t you?, make sure your website is listed. And hopefully that your twitter name is the same or similar to your email and your website. And your twitter theme should reflect your website theme. Again, think branding. (Cost: $0)
8) At Gravatar.com, if you haven’t already, register for an account. Gravatars are the things that help identify you when you comment on other people’s blogs – which you will be doing because you want to participate in the community and you want the community to participate with you. In your Gravatar account settings make sure that you website is listed correctly, your email is listed correctly with your personal email, and the bio and picture are completed and echo back to the brand you are building. (Cost: $0 – detecting a trend here?)
9) Go to your accounts on Facebook, GooglePlus, LinkedIn and all the other social media services you use and make sure, like in #8, that your website address and email are listed correctly and that your picture and bio reflect this new branding of your identity. (Cost: $0)
10) And this is the biggie – test it all. Load up another browser or have a friend get on another machine, and without you logging it to these services, test them. When a non-logged in user hits your profile on Gravatar can they figure out quickly who you are and how to get to your website? Do the same thing with Google+ and the rest. When someone who is not you – not logged on – hits your profile page, can they figure out quickly and easily how to get to your website? Without any prompting from you? If not, go back and fix it. (Cost: $0 unless you owe your friend a beer or a glass of wine for helping you.)
Hopefully you will have figured out by reading down over this list that #1 it is all about branding yourself as a professional. Consistent branding. And #2, it doesn’t have to cost you much at all. The domain name and site will cost you somewhere between $15 to maybe $130. If you get rich and famous you can pay more. But right now, you can get away with free services and $15 a year for the domain name.
Now sure, I did not add anything in for a good graphic designer, theme help for your blog, or consulting help to establish your email or domain name correctly. There are folks who can help you get started quite simply and you can build as you go along. This help is not, and should not be free, remember that professionals have to pay rent and feed their families too. But the more work you can do yourself the less it will cost and the more control you will have over the process. There are also user’s groups, like the WordPress user group here in Charleston, that can help you with this stuff. There are also books, videos, and workshops.
The key here, and the end of my rant, is that if you want to be taken seriously then take yourself seriously and do a professional job on your online appearance. Branding is important – no matter how much some of us may joke about marketing – branding, especially personal branding, is the foundation of identity.