Interview with Sarah Clay on building a personal brand

We chat with Sarah Clay, a seasoned LinkedIn specialist who has helped countless individuals craft and elevate their personal brands.

Why do you believe LinkedIn is the best platform for essentially building a personal brand?

The thing that I love about LinkedIn is that it is about people. As you quite rightly said, people work with people. And, you know, we all know how much LinkedIn has changed over the years, and especially since we all fell into lockdown and nobody knew what, really loads of people didn’t know what LinkedIn was then. And they kind of discovered it and it changed, it turned into this wonderful place where people talk to each other and communicate and make friends and build relationships and it’s such a valuable platform for doing that.

What do you feel is the difference between building your personal brand and also thought leadership?

Thought leadership is not just taking other people’s content, copying it and reusing it. It’s your original thoughts. It’s somebody’s original thoughts, how they’ve put them together. And it’s not just, this is what I think, it’s about how they’ve constructed the thoughts, how they’ve manufactured them, and how they’ve presented them to their audience.

And that’s thought leadership. And I think people can understand that people can get their heads around that. Whereas personal branding is much more thought leadership. I think thought leadership is part of personal branding for sure. But personal branding is who you are, what you do, what you say, what you think, what you feel.

I mean, it’s the classic phrase that people say about you when you’re not in the room. And personal branding is everything and it has to go through the heart of somebody in the same way that it goes through the heart of a company. If a person wants to be their own personal brand, which we all are, actually, although as I say, people find the term very scary.

Yeah, it’s who we are. It’s our thoughts. It’s our ethics. It’s our very being actually, it is what our brand is. And I almost feel like for me, I think it’s that nice balance of like thought leadership is the step on the way to building the personal brand, I almost feel like.

What challenges have you faced in building your own personal brand and how important have you found it in your own business?

I’ll explain how I came to mind, but since I’ve established my personal brand, yes, it’s about my colours, about purple and orange, and, you know, everybody who knows me knows I’m purple and orange. But as I say, it’s not just your colours, it’s everything about you. And if somebody could establish themselves as having a really strong personal brand, when they meet somebody in person, if they’ve established their brand online, that person feels that they know them already.

And there are no surprises when they meet them in person and the trust is established and we need to establish trust before anybody’s going to buy from us, you know, the whole journey of no life. Nobody’s going to buy from you unless they trust you. And if you can get somebody to know you, like you and trust you before you even meet them, that’s powerful, really powerful.

I think a lot of the time it kind of resonates with people’s values, isn’t it? A lot of the time, it’s. People resonate with people who have similar values or who at least are portraying those in all of their brands as well. And I think that’s really important.

And you talk about struggles. So I work with clients all the time and yes, I’m a LinkedIn trainer. I train people how to market themselves on LinkedIn, but when people come to me, I have to make sure that they know what they’re marketing. They know what it is they’re selling before I can get them out there.

Unless somebody knows what it is that they want to say, and how they want to say it. And who they want to say it to, then there’s no point. And also why are we doing this? Why am I out here trying to be an engineer or whatever it is? It’s important that people understand that.

And that I see is the biggest challenge, which is definitely the first challenge that people have to face. And until they’ve established that, it’s the same for an individual or a company. You’ve got to have direction. You’ve got to know why you’re doing this. So that’s the first issue I would say.

The second thing is consistency. People aren’t always consistent with their branding. Not just the colours, as I say, but what they’re saying, the kind of posts that they’re engaging with, the kind of conversations they’re entering into.

It’s really important to be very targeted because you’ll waste a lot of time faffing around. And also you won’t align yourself, you won’t strengthen that brand. And it’s not to say that you can’t change your brand or your ideals or what it is that you’re selling or giving away or whatever it is.

What if you were to give people your top three tips on LinkedIn at the moment to build their personal brand, what would you say that would be?

Well, the first thing is you’ve got to build your profile. Make sure that you’re maximising the opportunities LinkedIn are giving you this stuff and people just aren’t using it. So go through your profile with a fine tooth comb and make sure all of the sections are filled in that it’s all aligned and it looks that it reads well, and that it says what you do.

Create content that is aligned with what you’re talking about and what you want to say. Occasionally you might want to go off-piste a little bit and talk about something else, but don’t do that too often, if at all, because you will confuse your audience. So make sure that you’re creating content that is relevant to what you do and is, you know, valuable to your audience.

And just keep being there, keep arriving on LinkedIn, keep popping onto LinkedIn. Comment on relevant people’s posts – and that’s when people make the mistake of scrolling through their feed and just commenting on posts that just pop into their feed and being active about their activity on LinkedIn. It’s really important on LinkedIn to be proactive, to find the people that you want to engage with, to find and actively look for the right content and the right people to engage with.

How would you say balancing your personal and professional content on LinkedIn?

I do recommend talking about personal stuff because your USP is basically what separates one brand strategist from another brand strategist is their personality. It’s how they deal with the client, and how they approach things. It’s all part of your personality. So it is important that we show our personalities in our posts and the way we communicate. I’m not a huge fan of talking about what we have for lunch or breakfast, you know, those kinds of things. And I do share a little bit about personal stuff as in what I did at the weekend, but I always do try to tie it back to work to try and make sure that it’s relevant in some way.

So I think it’s about timing as much as anything else. And I think weekends are quite nice times to be a bit more personal.

Have you got any particular emerging trends that you’re starting to see, which is shaping the future of personal branding?

LinkedIn made some changes to the algorithm recently. There were a lot of very, very personal posts popping up on LinkedIn, and LinkedIn did clamp down on these with some algorithm changes, which we did notice a difference.

And the way that the other changes that I’ve seen on LinkedIn and the way that LinkedIn is valuing certain types of posts, they’re definitely valuing value posts more, rather than the sort of just bland chit chat, if you like.

And what the algorithm does, is it looks for keywords, it looks for engagement on content. And it’s pushing out better quality content to more people.

Watch the video here.

A big thank you to Sarah Clay for contributing to our series of interviews with industry experts.

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