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Personal branding guide: Product Manager edition

Personal branding guide: Product Manager edition

Product managers may arguably have the hardest time when it comes to positioning themselves online. Why is that the case?

For starters, product managers come from all kinds of backgrounds — sales, marketing, or outside of the corporate world all together. When executed well, a strong personal brand opens up a massive opportunity for product managers to carve out their niche, become more influential in the community, and score their dream side projects and full-time jobs.

That said, an important question remains – how can product managers create a personal brand that stands out?

For this guide, we spoke to several product managers that have built their online presences to help you bolster your personal brands online. Here, we’ll cover:

  • The benefits of having a personal brand in product management
  • How to position yourself to stand out in your specific niche
  • How to set up and optimize your website
  • Why you shouldn’t let your personal brand run wild
  • The real power behind providing value above all else
  • How other product managers are nailing their personal brand

Let's get started.

What are the benefits of having a personal brand in the product management space?

Having a strong personal brand can provide many benefits for your product management career growth and success. Some key advantages include:

  • Increased visibility and credibility: This is by far the most important advantage for PMs as people recognizing you as an expert on a particular topic/niche can help you stand out in your industry.
  • Better job opportunities: Prospective employers will see you as a valuable asset who can bring expertise, knowledge, and even an established network to their organization.
  • More influence: Thinking of launching your own product? Or maybe you just want to start a newsletter like Lenny Rachitsky. As your personal brand grows, you gain the ability to influence conversations within your industry and maybe even pave the way for new trends and best practices.
  • Access to a larger audience: Many PMs start building an audience as they're looking for a support network themselves. In time, you can find mentors and even future partners or just use online channels to showcase your work to your target audience.

A great place to start is in your positioning or personal value proposition.

Deciding how to position yourself in your specific niche

Before getting into your personal positioning exercise, it’s important to answer the following questions:

  • What can you bring to the industry that others will have a hard time replicating?
  • What are you most passionate about? What’s something that comes easy to you and has others turning to you for help?
  • What’s that one thing that makes you stand out in your niche?

The questions above, while keeping both your best skills and your target industry in mind, are good launching points.

Ken Savage, otherwise known as The Product Launch Guy, suggests developing a unique approach, style, and aesthetic alongside your positioning. This will ensure your personal brand will always make you memorable to people who come across you:

“You understand perfectly well the strengths you have to offer, so it's all about finding a way to highlight those strengths with a unique style and aesthetic,” he says. “If you’re like me, you might want to consider hiring a graphic designer for some personalized graphics, like logos, banners, or avatars, or just choose to go another direction that helps you stand out. Either way, it's all about figuring out what makes you YOU, and highlighting that.”

How product managers can set up (and keep up with) their personal websites

A common problem with personal branding among product managers — and a great place to set yourself apart — is in personal website upkeep.

Most PMs build a website when they want a new role or if they want to break out into full-time product consultancy. They set up their website, write one or two things about their past roles, and that’s it. No follow-up posts. No portfolio. No engaging with their audience. Nothing.

Just like everyone, I had packed it with irrelevant data just to fill in the spaces.

Michał Zmysłowski, Product Manager at Alphamoon, notes how important it is to keep optimizing your online profiles. Besides simply making sure you’re active at all times (not just when you’re looking for a new opportunity), he advises on keeping your online presence polished.

“Few years back I gave my profile a good refresh. I went back and removed any past experiences that didn’t add any value to my professional background,” he says. “Just like everyone, I had packed it with irrelevant data just to fill in the spaces. Now, it’s only career-related information that I packed with important highlights and bullet points that show my role and contribution to the projects.”

Michał says he also opted to get some help from his fellow colleagues to boost his credibility from the start.

“I reached out to my team members from said projects and asked them to endorse some of the skills they see me display. Some even wrote recommendations,” he says.

These few changes helped him to get more job opportunities and grow an audience for his non-profit project.

Don’t let your personal brand run wild

Sure, your positioning can change over time. It’s perfectly fine to switch directions if you’re planning on entering a new industry or you simply want people to focus on a different project you’ve got going on.

However, you’ll still want to maintain some kind of control over the way you come across to your ideal audience. Lorenzo Espinosa, Head of Product, B2B Solutions at Ada Health, says that when it comes to personal branding, it’s important to continuously monitor your online presence.

Lorenzo's four recommended steps for conducting and maintaining an audit of your online presence:

1. Google your name in Incognito mode and check the results.

2. Assess what results come up and whether they’re in line with the brand you want to portray as a product professional.

3. If you’re not happy with the results (e.g. the way people perceive you, the terms they use, the projects they reference), take action. Create content and online profiles consistent with what you want to be known for.

4. Link to your online profiles and articles to bring more traffic and increase your chance of ranking higher on Google.

“With a consistent personal brand, you’ll become a magnet of opportunities,” he says.

If you’re not toggling between different value propositions and directions, you’ll gain the trust of your audience. After all, that’s what your main goal should be: Getting people to remember you for the thing you’re best at, so you’ll be top of mind for them whenever they need support in your area of expertise.

“It’s not about me” approach to creating personal brand value

Above everything else, you want to focus on being intentional about creating value in your industry of choice.

Scott Baldwin, Head of Community and Product Evangelism at Productboard and head of the Product Makers community, says he’s confident that everyone has something they can share with others about their product craft and practices.

“We each might be at different places in our product career or journey, but being transparent about what you are doing, how you are doing it, and sharing that with others is a great way to build an audience,” he says. “Generally speaking, more people pull than push value, so you can stand out simply by giving. Set up a regular cadence, share it on social and across other communities, and build a following.”

It’s all about them. What are they getting out of the interaction with me? How do they feel in that particular moment? Did they learn something new from me?

Product Leader Sanja Zakovska echoes that sentiment, finding that it’s important to remember that it’s not all about you when interacting with people.

“It’s all about them,” she says. “What are they getting out of the interaction with me? How do they feel in that particular moment? Did they learn something new from me?”

Sanja says you can approach people online the same as you approach products — from a first principles perspective.

“If you’re talking to a hiring manager, you’re not only applying to fill a role for that company. You’re offering to solve a number of problems this one person has as well,” she says. “They have limited time, energy, and also leniency from their own management. If they can’t fill this role, that’s on them. If they hire the wrong person, that’s on them as well. So how can you start from your personal brand to help this person have less anxiety in choice, and also make the process as efficient as possible?

If this hiring manager truly values your work, they’ll feel accomplished for choosing you out of hundreds of potential candidates. Unfortunately, you’ll rarely hear someone tell you ‘I’m so grateful you decided to join our team, you’ve 10xed our velocity’, but there will be a lot of conversations behind closed doors going ‘I’m so glad I decided to hire her, it’s 10x-ed my velocity’.”

This same “It’s not about me” principle can be applied to almost everything in life, she contends. Interactions on social media, job interviews, networking events, to name a few — just keep in mind you should always try to understand the challenges people are facing personally, and think about how you can bring solutions to them.

Product manager personal branding examples

So, how can product managers put all of the pieces we’ve outlined above together into a stronger online presence? We’ve assembled a few examples from the Polywork community to offer up some inspiration below.

Tom Bilske

Tom's Polywork profile

Why this profile works: Tom has all of his relevant information – bio, personal website, and current projects – displayed front and center above the digital fold of his Polywork page.

Takeaways: Start your personal branding strategy with a core goal in mind. For instance, if your goal is to bring more attention to the projects you’ve got going on, highlight those. This main target will help you with secondary goals as well like showcasing your expertise or landing a new gig. Remember to not be too strict. One of the current projects Tom highlights on his profile is learning Dutch.

Laurens Kersbergen

Laurens' Polywork profile

Why this profile works: On a single page, Laurens manages to sum up what he’s all about: from his current and past roles to every achievement and contribution his made. Note he’s also making it clear that he is open to collaboration (e.g. mentoring, writing, speaking). This lets him make more connections and start building an audience.

Takeaways: Walk people through your achievements. You can list these as a simple timeline like Laurens does or opt for a complete portfolio.

Conor Dewey

Conor's Polywork profile

Why this profile works: Conor uses just two paragraphs to clarify exactly why you should follow or get in touch with him. First, he highlights the type of companies he works with: startups. Next, he’s clear about his transferable skills: growth and data science. We also love how instead of listing down a bunch of skills or traits, he lists the actual things he can help with: breaking down complex problems, building useful things, and experimenting with new ideas.

Takeaways: Don’t be afraid to niche down. Sure, you won’t land every project out there, but you’ll be able to strengthen your thought leadership in the industries that matter the most to you.

Where to start with building your own personal brand as a product manager?

Let's quickly recap the ways product managers can set up their personal brands in a way that feels authentic and impactful:

  • Find the positioning that can help you stand out in your industry
  • Set up and optimize your first online profile
  • Keep an eye on what people are saying about you to tweak your positioning as you go
  • Start providing value to your audience (e.g. articles, courses, mentoring, speaking at live events)