Expert job search advice.

Unleash Your Personal Brand: A Curated Career Conversation

Unleash your personal brand in conversation with Ashley Dodge

In the fast-paced world of personal branding and career development, gaining insights from experienced professionals can be a game-changer. I share my interview with startup growth leader Ashley Dodge in today’s edition of Curated Career Conversations where we discuss how to unleash your personal brand.

Ashley is the mastermind behind “Some Startup in Colorado,” a boutique marketing firm specializing in propelling startups, small businesses, and creators into the spotlight. With a knack for collaboration and co-creation, Ashley empowers her clients to refine their messaging and forge meaningful connections with their audience. She intimately understands the uphill battle startups often face – the struggle to break through the noise on a shoestring budget. Throughout our conversation, Ashley shares valuable strategies and lessons on marketing yourself effectively, just like a startup product.

Ashley has been working with startups and small businesses since 2016. With a BA in International Studies and an MA in International Affairs from Washington University, Ashley leverages her knowledge and expertise to help entrepreneurs navigate the globally connected world. I’ve known Ashley for a long time. We used to work together at Washington University. She’s got more grit and determination than just about any I know (read her story)

Let’s get started…

Defining and Refining Your Unique Value Proposition

Sarah Johnston (SJ): How do you define and refine a startup’s unique value proposition, and how can individuals apply this concept to their branding efforts?

Ashley Dodge (Ashley): Ask yourself, what sets you (a person or venture) apart? On a practical level, the clearer and more concise your answer, the less likely you’ll trip over yourself in interviews, pitches, or networking.

It’s as much about knowing what you do well as it is about knowing what you want to do.

A lot of my work centers around the phrase “Know thyself,” which really requires a concerted effort to examine one’s strengths and opportunities for growth. It’s as much about knowing what you do well as knowing what you want to do.

Once you’re clear on that, you must discover how that overlaps with what someone (an employer, client, or strategic partner) is looking for.

The best way I’ve seen this broken down is the Japanese term ikigai or one’s purpose. It’s the intersection of what you love, what you’re good at, what makes money, and what the world needs.

Everyone has something to offer; you just can’t forget product market fit!

Ikigai is ones purpose - Ashley explains how this can help you discover your personal brand.
Diagram explaining Ikigai was created by British community activist Marc Winn in 2014 from a TED Talk on Longevity by writer Dan Buettner.

Targeting the Right Audience with Your Personal Brand

SJ: I always tell job seekers that if you want more eyeballs on your LinkedIn profile, you must proactively share content and ideas. The more places that you engage with content or share new content on the platform, the more others will see your more people will see your photo, name, and headline (what you do). 

How do you identify and target the right audience for a startup’s product or service, and how can individuals identify and connect with their target audience in their personal branding efforts?

Ashley: Most startups and small businesses are still refining who their ideal audience is for a product or service. Similarly, if you’re looking for your next career move, you may want to appeal to a broader audience to build more social proof. 

Your personal brand can be super simple. Just make sure it aligns with how you show up in person!

Start by liking and resharing relevant things you think resonate with others. But ensure you follow people or companies you admire, even if they’re not in your industry. 

This vastly improves your feed and thus allows you to engage meaningfully with trending topics. 

I know some people develop with specific branding colors, fonts, imagery, etc.. Still, Sarah, you’re a great example of someone who regularly posts long but skimmable narratives and gets millions of views and consistent engagement. I admittedly use a lot of photos from Adobe Stock because I have a subscription for my design work. 

Your personal brand can be super simple. Just make sure it aligns with how you show up in person!

Leveraging Digital Platforms and Social Media

SJ: How can individuals leverage digital platforms and social media channels to amplify their personal brand, mirroring startups’ tactics to gain visibility?

Ashley: Keep track of what gets likes, comments, and even private messages. Lean into more of that. Startups call this social listening, and if you’re looking for inspiration, Netflix is great at this because it engages with users in clever ways, even on LinkedIn. 

Being kind is always more important than being clever. If your personal brand is irreverent, save that for other platforms. 

One caveat is to remember on LinkedIn that being kind is always more important than being clever. Your activity shows up on your profile, so keep in mind that prospective employers and clients can see your activity and think twice about working with you. If your personal brand is irreverent, save that for other platforms. 

The Power of Mentorship

SJ: Mentorship plays a crucial role in startup success. Small business owners who receive mentoring are 70% more likely to survive for twice as long, reaching a notable milestone of five years, compared to those who do not have access to mentoring. How do you help startups find mentors?  Can the same mentality be applied to job seekers?

Ashley: Locally, I host a coffee or happy hour monthly for entrepreneurs at any stage, and participants range from twenties to their seventies. It’s at a local golf course clubhouse, and I joke that at least half are in the back nine of their life but still have a lot to offer from their experience. Additionally, I work with many coaches, creatives, and speakers, so I put them in touch with others I’ve worked with when appropriate because no matter what phase of your career, we all face challenges. 

Whatever you do in life, surround yourself with people rooting for your success.   

If you’re looking for a mentor, remember that they could be younger than you or less experienced in other ways and still add value to your career. If you have a vast network of people you admire, I highly recommend coming up with a reason to bring them all together for a casual gathering. 

Sometimes, it’s hard to reach out and say, “Hey, I’m looking for help with your startup or the job hunt,” but it’s a lot less daunting to have it come up naturally in conversation in person. Whatever you do in life, surround yourself with people rooting for your success.   

Promoting Others and Building a Positive Network

SJ: You do a great job of “tooting other people’s horns.” What motivates you to prioritize this practice, and have you found any personal benefits or rewards?

Ashley: This is just a reflex. I’m genuinely excited when someone takes a leap and decides to invest in finding their next move in life, whether personal or professional. I spend a lot of time on social media going, “Omg, I know her!” in my head and then finding a way to be a bit more eloquent in the comments. 

You wouldn’t believe how many people have told me I should follow this wise influencer on LinkedIn named Sarah Johnston, who regularly shares insights. I’m like, “Oh, I worked with her at Washington University in St. Louis when she was a fundraiser. She is indeed as fantastic in real life!!!” Seeing your meteoric success and knowing that it is born out of consistency and perseverance has been tremendous. 

I try to offer people a nudge of hope and self-belief. The world is full of detractors, and I’m not paid to be one of them. But I am often lucky to witness the success of others close to me and sometimes share in that success. Winners love winners, so you are more likely to be associated with wins when you celebrate with others.  The converse is also true. If you’re only complaining or tearing down others online, people take note of not wanting to work with you.

Overcoming the Discomfort of Self-Promotion

SJ: How do you recommend job seekers overcome the discomfort –or ickiness– often associated with self-promotion?

Ashley: That Sunday School song “This Little Light of Mine” comes to mind. Generations of kids sang about how they would “let it shine” no matter what. Then we became adults, and suddenly, it was taboo! 

Life is short. Don’t shrink yourself to make others comfortable.

There’s this book (pardon my language) called F*ck Being Humble: Why Self-Promotion Isn’t a Dirty Word. Too often, business books rely on filthy language to get attention for an otherwise dull topic, but this book by Stefanie Sword-Williams made me realize that NO ONE is keeping a tally of my successes or failures. 

This freed me from fear of future failures but made me diligent about having a list of successes ready. Most of us aren’t going to work at the same job for the rest of our lives, so the sooner we can point to specific examples of “why you want to work with me,” the more rewarding our careers become. I’ve worked with a handful of influencers, and they’re excellent at this. 

Life is short. Don’t shrink yourself to make others comfortable. You could be leaving hundreds of thousands of dollars on the table in salary negotiations.

SJ: Last question… I’m a student of careers and job search. I’m curious to know how you landed YOUR job. I know that you are your own boss, but tell us more about your journey to entrepreneurship. Did you seek it out, or did it find you?

Ashley: I do NOT recommend going about it the way I did. I was at a company for four years after working past the point of burnout, and when they were acquired, my role was redundant. Instead of waiting for a severance or something, I just gave my two weeks and launched an LLC. Someone asked me, “Where to next?” and I said, “Some Startup in Colorado” to sound vague or mysterious. Given the work I’d done with so many different industry partners, I got a lot of referrals early on from people seeking similar growth trajectories to be bought out. 

Starting a business is not for the faint of heart. There is so much to be gained from the season of introspection that comes from the job search. 

Over time, I’ve refined my work with folks and find it much more fulfilling and rewarding to build something to last rather than a flash in the pan. That work can be exhausting. It now is more like “Some start-up in Colorado… some start-up other places all over the world. Wherever you are, I’m just proud of you for starting. Now, let’s keep going!”

Starting a business is not for the faint of heart. There is so much to be gained from the season of introspection that comes from the job search. 

About Ashley

Ashley’s insights provide valuable guidance for individuals seeking to unleash their brand. By adopting strategies startups use, such as defining a unique value proposition, targeting the right audience, leveraging digital platforms, and embracing mentorship, you can elevate your personal branding efforts and pave the way for success.

Interested in chatting with Ashley? She offers “office hours,” inviting you to meet with her for a FREE 15-minute meeting to discuss personal branding, improving what happens when someone Googles you or your next big idea. Her April hours are here.

Ashley invites you to connect with her on LinkedIn and visit her website for more insights on her blog and schedule of events.

Click here for more of Briefcase Coach’s career conversation.



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