Cait Flanders was wrestling with a common life question: Who am I?
Not in an existential sense, but a professional one. The popular personal-finance blogger had worked for six years on developing a recognizable name for herself as “Blonde on a Budget” as her website name and social media handles. She passed along tips on how to spend less, save more, and build a successful financial future.
But then Flanders decided that her brand just did not work for her anymore because it sounded immature and pigeonholed her.
“So many people warned me that I would lose traffic for a while,” says the 31-year-old from Vancouver, Canada.
It is a problem facing many professionals. In this era of “Brand You,” a sizable chunk of the workforce is comprised of freelancers and contractors, marketing themselves and their skills on a near-constant basis. By 2020 an estimated 40% of the American workforce will be freelance or non-permanent workers, according to a study by software firm Intuit.
Brands – whether corporate, or personal – do not stay the same forever. Sometimes they need to be tweaked, or refreshed, or even thrown out altogether, says Dorie Clark, author of “Reinventing You” and an adjunct professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.
“You need to adapt and move forward, to remain professionally relevant,” Clark says.
When you have been known for years by a particular handle, you have essentially been spending time and money building up brand equity. Changing that handle is similar to a company relaunch. And that can come with costs.
True to her budget-conscious background, Flanders was able to pull it off on the cheap: She kept all her Twitter followers with a renamed account, reserved a new Web domain for $15 a year, did the design herself, and paid a techie friend $100 to redirect traffic from all her old posts to her new site.
Here are a few tips for making that personal relaunch both successful, and seamless:
1. Go all the way
If you are going to rebrand, then commit to it. If your new website says one thing, but your Twitter account says something else? That is the kind of marketplace confusion you do not want.
“You need to take inventory of all the ways your are presenting yourself, from business cards to stationery to social media,” says Clark. “You want people to find only current information, rather than someone who is half-in and half-out of an old identity.”
2. Explain the shift
Set the tone yourself, spelling out for clients why you are making the shift.
Handy places to do that, suggests Clark: The “About” page of your personal website, or the “Summary Statement” on popular networking site LinkedIn. “If you don’t provide that narrative, people just get confused.”
3. Be patient
If anyone knows about the personal rebrand, it is Gary Vaynerchuk. For years the CEO of Vayner Media was known primarily as a wine commentator, making energetic and witty videos for followers.
So when he decided to pivot towards his current status as a marketing and business guru, it was a jarring shift for some fans.
“People will struggle with it, because it is difficult for them to wrap their heads around,” says the author of the new book “#AskGaryVee.” “Just know that it will take 24, or 36, or 48 months for people to look at you in a different way. It requires a lot of humility and patience.”
4. Play to your strengths
Often people will rebrand themselves based on whatever business trend is hot at the moment, and not what they are actually good at, Vaynerchuk warns. That is a recipe for disaster.
“We all want to be something we’re not,” he says. “These days everybody wants to be an expert on entrepreneurship – even if they have never sold anything in their lives.”
5. When in doubt, stick with your own name
Cait Flanders thought about another clever moniker, but went with a simple solution that would not leave her rebranding again in another couple years. “Your interests will change every few years,” says Flanders. “But your name is something that is not going to change.”