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Building YOUR Brand

Between teaching classes, attending community events, and participating in the local user group I get to have a lot of interesting conversations from a diverse group of people. Diverse in the positive sense. One question I get occasionally is along the lines of 'what can I do to grow my career', or 'how do I get to be a famous SQL person?'. It's a good question to ask, but a hard question to answer in a way that is usable - but I've worked on it some and thought I'd get it written down finally.

As the title says, you have to work on branding you. That means consciously thinking about your skills and which ones to improve/acquire, what you do with your professional development time and dollars, and deciding what things in your career are important to you. Having a strong brand is probably worth an additional $10-$20k per year on the low end, perhaps $100k a year or more on the high end. At some point you hit diminishing returns because people want you, not someone working for you. When that happens it's time for a new, larger brand - a talk for another day. To over simplify, your brand is a combination of what I can find about you professionally on Google and what you show me in your resume. To the extent you can you want to make sure that most of your effort goes into enhancing one or the other. Brands aren't sterile though; at some point they want to hear you talk and see if you live up to their expectations and needs.

I know, that's a long prelude and you want the secret formula!

  1. Start a blog. This isn't going to be a high traffic money generating blog, this is going to about things you do professionally that are interesting to someone that might want to hire you. Pick a blog service or get your own domain if you want, but start with the goal of posting on a regular basis (once a week is best, but at least every other week). Blog anytime you publish an article, speak at a professional event, or attend any type of training (free or paid). Blog if you solve something interesting at work, or if you read something really helpful (but don't just blog the link, talk about it a little). No posts about your dog, car, etc. The goal is to present an informal view of what you find interesting professionally and what you're doing to build your career.
  2. Find an online community and start participating - slowly. Learn the rules of the group, then start trying to answer a question here and there. Get used to checking the forums a few times a week in areas you find interesting. Answering questions is hard, but you'll learn from it and it can be a lot of fun. A good goal might be to check the forums twice a week and try to add a reply to at least once topic a week (and not a 'me too' answer).
  3. Write something professionally. Rather than put content in your blog that is less likely to be discovered, work on getting published on a community site. Not only will you get more traffic to it, but you will get a lot more comments. Read them carefully, take time to respond (politely), and build your style. Writing something that is hard? Good! Can't get to the top by just doing the easy stuff! Be sure to link to it from your blog, maybe with some notes about why you chose the topic, or what you learned from the writing part of the process.
  4. Participate in the local professional community. Not all cities have user groups, or a user group for your particular skill, but somewhere there is one and attending is a great way to meet people and build your people skills. It's ok not to attend every meeting, but try for at least every other one. Blog about it.
  5. Look for opportunities to do a presentation. Local user groups always need speakers, larger events like Code Camp and SQLSaturday are reasonably common. Speaking is hard, but the return is worthwhile, looks very nice on your resume. Plus, if you're not comfortable speaking to strangers this is a good way to learn, better than practicing on your clients.
  6. Write a book, or at least a chapter in a book. It's a lot of work and the only work I've listed that might lead to direct revenue (not that much, but some). For most people knowing that you have published a book moves you to the top of the hierarchy, whether you're really that good or not.
  7. Don't get so focused on your brand that you come across like a car salesman. Do some volunteer work, mentor someone, do some good just because you need the karma - and don't blog about it

Not sure that formula works? Take a look at anyone in the SQL Server community that's high profile and I bet they've done most if not all of those, and the same for MVP's (damned near a requirement for them). I've done everything except #6 (I did one chapter in a book last year) and it's something I want to do, just haven't seen the project that suited me yet. The nice part is that building your brand just takes a lot of hard work - up to you if you choose to pursue it. Just remember that you have to live up to the brand, so no cheating, no rushing, and treat everyone like they might be interviewing you for a job tomorrow.


I'm Andy Warren, currently a SQL Server trainer with End to End Training. Over the past few years I've been a developer, DBA, and IT Director. I was one of the original founders of SQLServerCentral.com and helped grow that community from zero to about 300k members before deciding to move on to other ventures.


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