On personal branding and being a business on two legs

This is one out of Groundling’s archives – May 2007 in fact – but it’s worth a face wash and a review. I’m gone from academe but I see the need more and more to ‘become your own mouthpiece’ as an freelance artist. Greenroom was established (in part) to introduce people to the power of digital networking.

You know how the old saying about mothers goes …. they’re sociologists, counsellors, tutors, managers, chauffeurs (add your own personal favourite). So it is these days that I find my role as a university lecturer diversifying in the oddest ways. Now this has probably got more to do with the nature of the discipline field … theatre, and preparing young artists for a professional role in the entertainment industry. Most of my classes are involved with training students for careers as actors. Yes, I teach and direct, but also (and for nearly 10 years now as the industry has changed its face) I’ve been training them to think about themselves and their work in a business-like way – empowering them to engage in what the economists like to call disintermediation and which, in the arts industry, means extracting yourself from the middle man and the control they can have over your work (aka agents of all kinds). The jury’s out on whether or not it’s a good thing to cut the painter entirely, and let’s face it, actors wouldn’t be actors if they didn’t have an agent to blame for most things.

Which brings me to something I’d never have thought about even 3 years ago (make that 5 7 now!) but which seems pretty important right now. I’m finding that I talk a lot more about the importance of establishing and taking care of your online-identity. Now this was not even vaguely on the horizon until a year or so ago, and nor was that ghastly ubiquitous term ‘branding’ … that was something stockmen did to cattle as I recall. Now it’s everywhere. Anyhow, it seems that personal branding is also something a start out professional needs to tackle. Want to know more? Try the discussion on a post from Michele Martin on the issue of online identities. There’s also a great slide stack from R. Todd Stephens on professional personal branding, and whilst I might find the term distasteful, the advice is sound.

There are some other fairly basic things that anyone in business or the public eye should consider: a professional-looking email address … ditto a voice mail message on the phone. It’s also smart to take care what appears on your Facebook or Twitter accounts. Embarrassing tweets, apps and messages under your name on any site may never go away. It’s also getting almost mandatory to consider a personal webspace or at very least an e-portfolio to promote your work.

The bottom line is that artists and creatives more and more these days act as producers and freelance agent-distributors of their own work. They need to start treating what they do as a business and to think of themselves as CEOs of their own companies. I coined the phrase a small business on two legs years ago, and it pretty much still holds up. The days of the disempowered ‘artiste’ are on the way out.