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As much as I don’t like to harp on the poor global economy, and as much as I would like to think that it doesn’t apply to me, I can’t be oblivious to it. And as bleak as we’re led to believe that our situation is, I can’t be completely negative about it, either. Even in the most difficult of times, there is always a way to make yourself stand out- you just need to find it. A lot of the most talented and experienced professionals are now finding themselves without employment. There are now roughly five applicants per full-time position in most fields. Sounds tragic, so I wonder, what these applicants are doing to set themselves apart?

When I moved to Washington, DC, I was a freelance graphic designer with little to separate me from all the other Craigslist postings. My design skills weren’t enough to set me apart. I had no clients, no money, and no idea of how I was going to get either before I had to resort to eating my pillows to stay alive. I had plenty of lemons, but no recipe for lemonade.

Then one afternoon, I was driving to the local Chamber of Commerce to try and drum up the least bit of interest and it hit me. I can’t just be in the business of selling design. I have to be in the business of selling me. It sounds simple enough, but I wasn’t really doing it. I had to figure out what traits of mine that people could identify with since it’s a lot easier to relate to a person than a portfolio. My conversation in the Chamber of Commerce that day wasn’t centered around the graphic designer. It introduced Patrick, the guy that loves to get involved in the community; the guy with a ton of funny stories, a business with decent work, a penchant for collecting Hanukkah paraphernalia, and a guy that had seemingly infinite free time. I ended up doing a lot more work with that organization than if I had bored them to sleep that day with a bunch of design talk.

I carried that to all of my other appointments over the next five years, and aside from being far more effective, it was a lot more fun as the brand of ImagineDesign and my personality became one and the same. I learned a number of ways to use personal branding to build a business, and that it’s not just for celebrities and politicians.

I can also happily report that my pillows weren’t devoured in the process.

Patrick King

Patrick is the Founder of Imagine and advisor to places on brand strategy and creative. His insights have been published in Inc. Magazine, SmartCEO, Washington Business Journal, The Washington Post, and Chief Marketer, among other publications, and shared at conferences throughout the US. He also has an amazing sock collection.

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