One of the most valuable things a person can do for their personal and professional lives is to create what I like to call a “digital paper trail” of things that they want associated with their name.
Going to a date?
A job interview?
Chances are that you will be Googled, and while a “no show” on the results might not hurt you if all else goes well, a group of 5 or 6 positive results can do 80% of the work before you even walk in the door.
When I dropped out of college, one of the first things I did was to focus on establishing some kind of paper trail for myself. In the two years since, it’s worked wonders for my career, led to personal travel opportunities and chances to help people all over the world pursue alternatives to college themselves.
What follows are a few steps that anyone can take to take control of their digital brand and start leaving a valuable paper trail, but first, here’s a general operating principle for establishing this paper trail early on: documentation.
It’s easy to get focused on particulars but when you’re getting started, a good rule to follow is to simply document your activities.
Read a book? Do a short writeup about it and put it on Facebook and Amazon.
Learn something new? Answer questions on Quora each time.
Travel somewhere interesting? Put it online.
At Praxis, we like our participants to start off by blogging for 30 days about their work experiences and the things they’re learning in their education modules. It’s a low barrier to entry way to get started.
With that in mind, here are a few specific things you can do:
Own Your Name and Set Up a Website
The best thing you can do is to simply own your name, or a variant of your name, in url form. While you don’t need to be a blogger, having a site that appears on the first page of Google and has an updated about page, contact page, and perhaps a few posts and a reading list is worth the small time investment. I didn’t write on my blog for months when I got started and still the amount of people who I connected with because of my personal site was staggering. A website ensures that you’ll always be one of the top results when your name is searched and it sends a valuable social signal that helps you stand out from the masses.
Pick 1 or 2 Topics to “Specialize” In and Create Some Content
Figure out a few things that you know you’d like to be known for. They don’t need to be the ultimate goal when you’re getting started, but they need to be things that accord with a very general vision for yourself. The easiest way I’ve found to get started is to simply use your career as a starting point. A friend of mine, for example, is in commercial real estate. For him, I’d recommend he started answering Quora questions on the topic and putting each answer into a one page archive on his personal site.If you don’t like writing, create a resource page with links you’ve found valuable, make a video or two, get yourself interviewed on a podcast where you talk about getting started in your field.
The step that few people very take with their online brands is actually one that I think is the most important: turn yourself into product that people can buy or borrow. Even if you don’t intend on having a career as a freelancer, consultant, or contractor, the signal that you send by advertising that people can reach out to you for paid or free assistance in the areas you specialize in are huge.A good place to start is to set up an “Ask Me” or “Hire Me” page on your personal site. Here’s an example.