How to Make Your Work Matter

fistWhether you work for yourself or someone else, there’s one thing I know about you: You want your work to matter.

Even, or especially, if you’re afraid it doesn’t. Maybe your boss or clients heap praise on you. Maybe they don’t say a damn thing.

But you want it to be good, and you want people to notice it.

I just spoke at How Design Live (#HowLive), the largest design conference in the country. Five hundred people came to my session, entitled “Build Your Personal Brand On the Job,” most of whom were sent to the conference by their employers. But while that’s a catchy title, what the talk is really about is how to get your work to matter. Because when you do that in a way that’s uniquely yours, bam. You have your brand.

Because the point of having a ‘brand,’ a word that’s becoming annoying even to me, is so that people know what you stand for, what to expect, and why they should bother with you. Your brand connotes meaning, that is the point. And one way to make sure you mean something is to make what you do matter to other people.

Three ways to starting doing that:

1 – Think like an entrepreneur.

And by that I mean, stop making someone else responsible for what you do. Stop checking boxes with the hope that it’ll all add up to something, and decide to take the reins of your career. An entrepreneur, by definition, doesn’t wait for someone to say ok. They just DO. What can you go out of your way to do that would create more meaning, more value, where you are? You decide how you’re going to make things better around here, and be the one to make it happen. What are you waiting for? Initiators get noticed.(More about what makes a true entrepreneur.

2 – Give gifts.

Go above and beyond to give things you don’t have to, and you will delight, impress, and show that you are more than your job description. I don’t mean a fruit basket. I mean a piece of added value, an extra thing, a bonus, a bit of insight. Something of value to the receiver.

Ken Carbone, co-founder and Chief Creative Director of the Carbone Smolan Agency said that when he’s bidding on a client, he always gives them something valuable for free—in his case, he says, “$100K worth of branding advice,” and it’s something so valuable he had it trademarked: His “unify, simplify, amplify” approach to creating a more powerful brand. Would you forget that guy? Not me.In his book Linchpin, Seth Godin writes, “The gift represents effort. Effort is separate from money, separate from job description, separate from capitalism itself.” You achieve the goal of being indispensable, he says, “by giving selfless gifts, and those benefit everyone.”

3 – Don’t wait until your next job interview to figure out what you were doing there.

How many times have you scrambled to cobble together a great answer to use the next day at an interview? Because you know they’re going to ask about your last job. Or maybe you’re struggling to update your Linked In profile, and aren’t sure what to say.

Don’t wait until your ‘done’ with a job or role to figure out why it mattered. Think about it now, while you’re doing it. The beauty of the Linked In profile is that it’s fluid and evolving, unlike a resume, which is outdated the moment you print it. You should ALWAYS be updating your profile—with new projects, new insights, new skills.

Here’s a tip: If your profile or resume reads like something I could post on a job board tomorrow, then you’ve written a job description, not a record of your contribution. Make sure that you show not just what you did, but what effect it had, and how what you did mattered. After all, if you don’t know, how will anyone else?

…Not sure what your brand is or why what you do matters? Maybe you need some help. I’m launching a live, online workshop this summer called “Why You” — it’s not up yet but it will be. Be the first to sign up (and get a hot seat, which means you’ll be in the spotlight) by adding yourself to my list here.)