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#62: Building & growing a (digital) reputation
A mini-playbook I've used over and over again during the good times (and the bad)
With all the anxieties and fears about the current job market situation, I thought it’s best to release this essay I wrote last year. I am privileged enough to be on the other side this time around for currently I am happily employed. That’s not a reason to be complacent and safe, though. I am aware that things could change anytime, and like many of you, I’d like to be prepared, as much as I reasonably can.
Which is why I wrote this - it’s a playbook for me as well. Another goal for this is to help out by spreading the lessons I’ve learned the hard way so people can—maybe—use them. Please enjoy this piece. I feel really proud publishing this.
I hope it reaches the people I wrote it for.
The beauty about the internet is its scale. You rely on no one but yourself to build something new. It is permission-less. Unlike the real world, you are not bounded by your limitations and the things that are outside of your control. Some of which are:
Where you were born
Which family you’re born into
What type of parenting you had
What religion you were raised in (or lack of)
How big (or small) the house you grew up in
This is a tremendous opportunity to design your destiny based on your future and not your past. It is not without hard work and grit, no question about that. If you really want to, you can make things happen, even the hard ones. I didn’t write this to help you find a job. I wrote this to help you find your unfair advantages and use them as assets whenever you need to, most especially in an incredibly tough job market.
We are all born with the cards that we are given. It is up to us to leverage that. We all have a myriad of experiences but more importantly, we all have solved problems in the past before. Whether it is for yourself or for someone else, at some point, you’ve used your brain to come up with solutions.
Positioning yourself as a problem solver is the first step to all of this. Grab a piece of paper, or a laptop, open up a notes app and start listing out the problems you’ve solved in the past and present. Don’t overthink this. Just start with the basics. You can always revise this later on.
When I was just starting out, my list looked a bit like this:
Helped small businesses / startups grow their business by providing freelance marketing and creative services (i.e: Product Photography, Social Media Management, Low-budget Ad Campaign Art Direction)
Contributed to the development of an innovation team inside a big ad agency by being one of the first Interaction Designers
Led local and international digital-driven campaigns
Established best practices, at that time, alongside the Group Creative Director
In college, served as a visualizer to a veteran Executive Copywriter to assist him on the Art side of the business
Trained as an assistant video editor and operator for a scrappy media company, learned how to operate industry-wide cameras etc
Remember, this is not a test. You already have done this. It is just a way to help you identify your place in the market, locally and even internationally. The goal is to gather as much assets1 as you can, no matter how small or feeble. Once you have a good grasp of what those assets are, channel all your energy towards dangling it in front of the people who might be interested in buying what you are selling.
Build a reputation around the problems you’ve solved and have that as the foundation for your online profiles. Put yourself out there, preferably as soon as possibly, especially if money is tight. The sooner you do so, the sooner you will get the feedback loop2 you need.
Side note: If you don’t like what’s on your list, that’s totally fine. Start from scratch, but do so with the work you are proud on. Work on side projects that are parallel to the projects you want to get paid for. ‘Show, don’t tell your way’ to employment.
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What does it mean to ‘put yourself out there’?
I define this as acting like a product, and marketing yourself (skills, experiences, academic pedigrees and achievements) equally as a product — to people who will reward what you have to offer in ways where you can be satisfied (financially, morally, emotionally etc).
Advertising can come in so many forms. This is where creativity can come into play.
Find a digital homebase. This is a place online where you can store and display those assets for people to see. If you have the time and the capacity, a customizable personal website is best. You can do anything you want with it and you are not at the mercy of some algorithm too.
Use social media for business. You will need a damn good bio, to start. The best one I’ve seen lately is from David Heinemeier Hansson. Owning the experience of telling your story is MASSIVELY IMPORTANT. This is the sum total, the elevator speech, the culmination, the screenshot of what your reputation sounds like to you. It is a living thing and must constantly be iterated and cared for, just as you do with your own body. Have it ready at all times, for the right opportunities to use it. More on this here:
Create content that’ll do the bulk of the advertising for you, if you do it right. Learn how to write well, and succinctly. In a world where it’s getting increasingly more connected through the internet, it’ll be a challenge to get anywhere with poor writing skills. Use writing as a tool to:
Display your creativity
Build your credibility
Promote your work (without sounding like you are promoting your work)
Meet like-minded people
Get ideas out — ideas that may or may not attract the right people
Write, don’t just share. Vulnerability is power. (and the internet has a way of rewarding that, somehow)
Work on side-projects… and tell the world about them, including the failures. I wrote about this even further here:
Repeat this cycle but starting from 4 - 1. Expand beyond social media. Do talks, pro-bono work that matter, sign up for meetups with likeminded people. Be interested in the industries you want to join into. Be interested in helping people with the unique set of skills, talents and work ethics that you have.
Put yourself out there. (and I don’t mean your personal life)
Carefully curated as a strategy
In terms of digital reputations, impressions are everything. Don’t squander your future by misusing this in the name of self-expression. Say less. Move quietly. If you have to talk, make sure it’s something you won’t regret in the future, or — realistically speaking — regret less, at least.
You’ll never really know who is reading or listening behind your every word. Make sure it’s one you can stand behind with dignity.
Just because nobody talks about the idea of building yourself in public doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. It does work, especially given the right environment, some grit and a tiny bit of luck. Luckily for all of us, this is what the internet is great for.
And the upsides of doing this is too good to be ignored. The only downside is the paralyzing fear that comes naturally with creativity: ‘What would people think?’
This fear is completely valid. After all, this is all new. The internet is a baby.
Instead of worrying what other might think, worry about your future. This is your chance to make something of yourself, given the skills you already have and are about to have.
This is your time. Start building yourself in public. Put yourself out there and bet on it, BIG. If you don’t, who would?
Thank you for reading working title,
If you feel like someone can benefit from this post, please feel free to share this post:
Things that you own and acquired that no one can take away from you: skills, personal projects, academic and work achievements… anything really that proves you’re capable of what you say you are capable of doing (and so much more)
The impressions you and your assets make on people who’ve seen them