In the world of personal branding, the winning and losing is definitely unbalanced. The top 10% of earners in your field are likely making more money — and having greater success — than anyone in the bottom 90%, you included.
Despite this lopsided equation, a personal brand is essential to your business. And in this article, you’ll not only learn about what a personal brand is, but how to craft your own so you can sell more, grow your business, and even join that coveted 10%.
But first, let’s go over who’s at the winning table, and who’s at the losing table when it comes to personal branding.
In music, for example, superstars and legacy acts like The Rolling Stones can sell 60,000 tickets to a single show at over $700 each, making over $42 million in one night. Meanwhile, local bands and artists who are just starting to establish their careers can struggle to get even 100 people to pay $5 to see them.
In film and TV, established stars like Robert Downey Jr. or Meryl Streep can command salaries in the millions for a few weeks or months of work on a single film. At the same time, the aspiring actors working in restaurants all over Los Angeles will be waiting tables, spending money on lessons, and trying to land roles, most of which will pay less than minimum wage.
You may be thinking that the rules are different for established talent. You may say that rock stars and actors are “famous” in a traditional sense – that they rely on industry machinery and huge teams to take their talent to new heights – and you’d be right to say so.
However, in the last ten years, hundreds of people have taken less conventional career paths to achieve massive success not just in the arts, but in business and in thought leadership.
To name a few: finance guru Ramit Sethi, yoga teacher Adriene Mishler, and digital marketer Gary Vaynerchuk. They’ve all become experts in specific fields, achieved a degree of unique fame, and done it in less time and often with considerably less conventional ad spend.
Even if you don’t want to become a “famous” person in any traditional sense, if you want to know how to take your business to the next level or demand the fees you want to charge, you need to play by the same rules.
So, what’s the difference between the haves and the have-nots?
To keep it simple: many of the most successful entrepreneurs are masters at cultivating a personal brand.
In the era of online businesses and social media, if you’re a founder, creator, and or even a freelancer, you now need to do more than just good work; you need to build a real audience, position yourself as an expert, and use the connections you create to build a steady stream of qualified leads willing and ready to pay a premium for your insights and services.
In this article, you’ll learn all about what a personal brand is, why it’s so important, how to craft your own personal brand, and how to use your newfound audience and authority to start closing deals and making things happen for you, your business, and your life on a scale like never before.
What is a personal brand and why is it important?
Your personal brand is what makes you “you” in the eyes of prospects, employers, and potential clients or collaborators. Your personal brand strategy can be shaped through your website, portfolio, blog posts or news writing, promotional videos, projects, speeches, and more – and they should all work in tandem to help establish you as someone people don’t just need to know, but want to do business with.
Furthermore, your personal brand sets you apart from other people in your industry, differentiates you from your peers, and gives people an easy way to quickly get to know you and what you’re all about online.
Let’s take a moment to think about what this means in practice:
- An author like Tim Ferriss stands out from the many other people in the self-help and physical fitness space because of his 4 Hour series of books, his podcasts, and his blog.
- There are tens of thousands of copywriters in the world, but Neville Medhora has built a career for himself through his unique teaching style, his hastily drawn stick-figures he uses to explain concepts, and the unconventional subject lines he uses in his email marketing.
- Lots of people try to make money using online freelancing networks like Fiverr and Upwork, but entrepreneur Danny Margulies made himself an authority on how to succeed on these platforms – and enjoys a robust business showing people the tricks, tips, and tools he used to earn six figures on platforms where most people struggle to earn even $10.
These are just a few examples of entrepreneurs with strong personal brands. The personal brand makes them immediately recognizable in crowded fields, allows them to work at a larger scale (as opposed to solely 1-to-1), makes their speaking and podcast appearances much more valuable to event promoters and advertisers, and prompts other people to bring opportunities to them – not the other way around.
However, none of these people were overnight successes. While his breakthrough book may be called The 4 Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss certainly worked over 80-100 hour weeks relentlessly promoting the book to bloggers – something few had done before him – to achieve his sales breakthrough. Danny Margulies, who holds no formal training in copywriting, spent years learning how to best utilize freelancing networks and writing copy before he ever sold his first course. Even Oprah Winfrey, whose media empire is vast (and largely built around her), had a number of local and regional TV appearances long before The Oprah Winfrey Show premiered in 1986 and became the most popular daytime talk show for over two decades. All of these people took months – or years – to position themselves for massive success through personal branding, with plenty of trial and error, setbacks, and challenges along the way.
How do you create a personal brand?
Creating a personal brand takes time. Here are some steps to take as you embark on your journey to make your marketing – and you – as effective as you can be, on and offline.
- Find your people – and serve them better than anyone else
Very few people have any success trying to be everything to everyone.
There’s a good reason for this, and I want you to take a moment to think about it.
When you’re looking for advice, do you want to turn to an expert, or to someone who is casually knowledgeable about a number of different things?
If you need a job done – say, a new roof installed on your home – do you go to a general contractor, or would you rather hire someone who works exclusively on roofs, ensuring that you won’t end up with leaks, cost overruns, or unpredictable expenses?
Successful people find a niche – and build a personal brand in service of that audience.
What’s truly remarkable is the fact that almost anything can be a profitable niche. People have built thriving personal brands by becoming go-to resources in many different fields, including:
- Personal development
- Beauty and hair care
- Animal training
- Education and child development
- Business and entrepreneurship
To name just a few paths taken by unconventional entrepreneurs to six and seven-figure companies – or at least help them land high profile jobs with major brands and big businesses.
As you shape your personal brand, ask yourself what fields you excel in, what makes you excited and motivated to work on, and what you feel like you could work on forever – and use this to start narrowing your focus. Conversely, figure out what you struggle with, what exhausts you, and what you’d like to never do – and determine which of these are necessary evils and which you should avoid at all costs.
If this sounds daunting at first, know that this process doesn’t need to happen immediately, but it’s something that you should be thinking about as you refine your business into what you want it to be.
As you write blog posts, produce videos, and provide insights on social media to your followers, start looking for a broad topic you’re knowledgeable about, can add value to others’ lives by sharing information on, and that people will want to engage with.
This doesn’t have to happen immediately – for many of the most successful people, this was a process with some trial and error, early successes, and the occasional setback. Simply start creating, and what resonates will reveal itself to both you and your audience over time.
If you craft a consistent message about who you are and what you do, it becomes much easier for people to remember you as the person to reach out to the moment they need an expert on that subject, or in that field – and they will be willing to pay you significantly more for your expertise as well.
- Take inspiration from others – and do it without trying too hard to be somebody else
Many of the most successful entrepreneurs and online personalities look to peers, mentors, and coaches for inspiration, using what they learn to find unserved and underserved audiences and potential growth opportunities.
Often, people find their audience or the specific focus that comes to define their work by reading the work of other writers, entrepreneurs, or producers they admire. You can dive into Facebook groups, YouTube comments, and social media to see what people need help, and find areas where you can provide unique value. In the process, you may very well stumble upon a massive opportunity to connect with underserved groups of people – some of whom may become paying customers if you can serve them well at this stage and continue to cultivate these relationships.
Don’t worry that you might be poaching someone else’s business or stealing their ideas; when you build a personal brand in service of yourself and others, you aren’t copying – you’re simply using their work as a springboard to carve out a unique path and strategy of your own. Even better, when you do it right, you’ll likely have the opportunity to share stages and make connections with others you admire, as the value you add will be more complementary than similar.
Take a moment to think about some of your favorite businesspeople, writers, bloggers, YouTubers, artists, and other creators. Watch or read some of their work and you’ll quickly get a sense as to what resonates with you, as well as what doesn’t. Remember, it’s not about copying. It’s about using the process of elimination to find the skills and talents you can use to best serve others – as well as how others are having success doing the same.
- Be authentic
More than ever before, social media gives your personality an opportunity to shine, differentiate yourself, and forge meaningful connections with viewers, readers, and prospects.
This has also changed the rules of professionalism. You don’t have to be all business all the time, and, in fact, depending on your field, you may benefit from making yourself seem more normal, approachable, and “real.”
Many hugely successful people take time in their video presentations, podcasts, and even articles to go “off script” for a moment. They tell jokes, share stories from their own lives and experiences that might not be exactly about the topic being discussed, and let people get to know them better along the way.
By doing this, you can help to cultivate a voice for your personal brand that’s uniquely yours, that helps people get to know you, and can help you achieve organic growth with audiences you may not otherwise be able to reach.
However, it’s also easy to overshare. Elon Musk, for example, has both reached an audience beyond fans (and detractors) of Tesla Motors by building an irreverent personal brand that has included talking about his love of the TV show Rick and Morty and releasing songs on SoundCloud, but has also damaged the value of his company (and opened himself up to federal investigations) by discussing his plans to take Tesla private on Twitter and smoking marijuana on-camera with Joe Rogan. There’s a fine line between what works and what doesn’t, and you will likely very quickly learn when you’ve gone too far. For a detailed history on reputation management check out our definitive guide here.
There’s also no reason to leave embarrassing, insensitive, or inconsiderate posts on social media, where they could scare off a prospective employer or cost you a major opportunity. Photos of college parties on Facebook rarely kill job prospects the way they might have a decade ago, but you also don’t need to make them available for public consumption, either. If needed, you can bring on a specialist to determine what to keep and what to delete, something that might be worthwhile if you’ve been active on platforms like Twitter and Instagram since your teens.
- Use the power of storytelling to truly connect with people
Joan Didion famously said “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” She’s not wrong. From early human history, we’ve always relied on stories to make sense of complicated ideas, teach our children how to behave, and connect with each other.
Almost everyone with an effective personal brand has a story, or at the very least, a “hook” – a way that you can explain who they are, what they do, and why it matters in less than a minute.
As you start to study people with effective personal brands, you’ll likely realize that many of them repeat their “elevator pitch” version of themselves often. They’ll mention these key points on stage, during podcast appearances, on their website, and in almost any piece of writing they do, at least briefly, to remind people who they’re connecting with in this moment.
You’ll want to develop an “elevator pitch” version of yourself as well – the ability to communicate, in just one or two sentences, who you are, what you do, and what makes you unique compared to everyone else in your space. As you continue to develop yourself, your pitch will get better – as will the opportunities it can help lead to.
Additionally, cultivating your skills as a writer – or working with a talented ghostwriter to help turn your great ideas into high quality, publishable pieces – is extraordinarily valuable. By writing for high-quality media outlets, building a following across social media platforms, and keeping your own personal blog or mailing list, you can forge direct connections with your prospects and inspire them to take action.
Your writing doesn’t entirely need to be “sales-y,” either. By simply sharing anecdotes from your life that tie intelligently into your professional experience or line of work, you can build trust, gradually “warming up” your prospects for when you’re ready to offer your services as a coach or consultant – or if you’re simply looking to land the kinds of jobs only offered to high-profile, powerful individuals.
- Use outlets and earned media opportunities to build your audience and bolster your credibility
Though some people get lucky and experience viral success when the right person sees something they do online, this isn’t how most people launch their careers. Instead, developing a personal brand is slow, steady work – and it involves a lot of networking, collaboration, and starting small.
However, there are many ways to get in front of someone else’s audience:
1. Guest Posting
A guest post on someone’s website is a highly valuable and sometimes very easy way to introduce an established audience to you and your ideas. Look for personalities and personal brands that are in line with the readers you want to reach, then pitch either the author or their team on a piece that brings a new perspective to their work.
If you do this well, you’ll likely gain new followers, get asked to write for them again, and get asked to contribute to other sites as well.
When you offer your services to clients, be sure to ask them for reviews, which you can then use as testimonials and cosigns. These endorsements, especially from higher-profile people, can serve to generate leads on their own, helping to associate your personal brand with prestige, luxury, and quality – no matter what industry you’re in.
3. Podcast guest appearances
Podcasting is a fast-growing industry, with approximately 22% of Americans – 103 million people – listening to at least one every week. There are also likely dozens of podcasts in your niche, no matter what it is, and there’s likely at least one that would love to have you on as a guest. Much like guest posting, podcast appearances get you in front of a new audience, give you an opportunity to show off your expertise and add value, and give you valuable practice being interviewed without the stakes of being live on-air.
A podcast appearance also helps to develop your personal brand by giving listeners the ability to hear your speaking voice, to go “off-script” from time to time, and reveal things about yourself that neither a blog post, nor a 3-5 minute television or radio appearance, ever could. This makes it a highly valuable, unique outlet and opportunity.
When you find a podcast you’d like to appear on, it can be as simple as writing the host or their producer with your elevator pitch, some information about what you’d like to discuss, and any past clips or media appearances you have.
4. Local television
People rarely land appearances on TODAY or other national talk shows straight out of the gate. However, local television morning shows are often within reach by simply reaching out to networks and their producers – and can be an excellent way to promote an event in that area.
These local opportunities also provide you with practice being on live television, quickly telling your story, and sharing what you have to offer the world. Be sure to practice off-screen as well, running through your presentation or formulating a game plan for exactly what you want to do. It may not go exactly according to plan (and you won’t necessarily know what interview questions you’ll be faced with), but the more you prepare, the better.
This may all appear to be intimidating, but don’t worry. The help you need to cultivate a winning personal brand and build the career you’ve always wanted is available.
10 Easy Steps to Manage Your Personal Brand Online
by Darius Fisher, President
As an executive or a business owner, what shows up in your search results affects your bottom line. According to a recent study from Moz, companies risk losing 22% of business when potential customers find one negative article on the first page of their search results. Although you can’t completely control your digital footprint, you can positively impact your online presence. Below are ten easy steps to manage and protect your online brand.
1. Google Yourself. Search yourself and analyze what shows up online. Anything you want to improve? Immediately tackle and correct areas of vulnerability. Speed matters. The longer something negative appears online, the more damage it causes. It’s natural to be concerned with negative publicity or unflattering photos. But be equally concerned if nothing shows up in your search results. If you have no digital footprint, create one today.
2. Build a Personal Website. Buy your name domain (i.e. JohnDoe.com) and make an online resume website that highlights your career and accomplishments. Google’s search algorithm values fresh, relevant content and will naturally think your personal site is important when anyone searches your name online.
3. Get Social.The big social media sites usually show up on Google page one. Plus social media platforms make it easier to connect with your target audience and establish relationships. When selecting a platform, consider your brand or business goals. You should also understand which platform your target audience uses and how it works. For most professionals, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, and Facebook are an absolute must.
4. Take Professional Photos. Hire a photographer to shoot headshots for your personal website and social media properties. Make sure to dress in business attire and smile. People judge you within the first second of seeing your photo online. So you might as well look your best!
5. Content Is Still King.Content is the foundation for any successful online brand management campaign. Consistently create content that’s helpful to your target audience, and you’ll become an authority. Plus you’ll boost your organic search rankings. Also take advantage of opportunities to become thought leader by guest blogging on websites in your niche. Guest blogging increases the credibility and exposure of your brand. Not only will you build your online portfolio, you’ll strengthen your presence by speaking directly to potential customers and clients.
6. Public Relations to the Rescue. If you have negative press on the first page of Google, part of your strategy must include getting new, positive press mentions. So how do you do that? Learn how to write a press release and hone your pitch to journalists. Before pitching, consider the five factors that make a story newsworthy: timing, proximity, prominence, significance, and human interest. Apply those factors to your pitch and create a fresh angle for the editor.
7. Learn From the Pros. Managing your personal brand can be daunting, especially when taking the first steps to controlling and curating your personal brand. Deep breaths. The good news is that you don’t have to start from scratch. Identify personalities that have developed a strong personal brand and observe best practices. What are the most successful influencers doing that sets them apart from others? What can you learn from exemplary personal branding that you can apply to your own practices? There’s a ton of great information at your disposal once you start looking for it.
8. Make a Content Posting Calendar. It’s easy to tell yourself to create content and just as easy to post sporadically or infrequently. The name of the game with content is concise, useful information, that is produced on a regular basis. Making a content posting schedule is an essential step in becoming organized and developing positive habits for your personal brand. You will be rewarded with SEO authority and building an engaged audience. The fastest way to lose engagement is being all over the place with what you post and when. Make a posting schedule and stick to it.
9. Take It Offline. While most of your legwork will be done online, don’t forget to put yourself out there in the real world. Attend seminars, lectures, networking events, and everything else related to your field where you can soak in professional advice, make connections, and learn from your peers. Once you really get in the groove, think about even sponsoring an event or giving a presentation in your relevant field. While leaving digital footprints, don’t forget to make actual ones as well.
10. Bring in the Experts. While the steps above seem easy, coordinating a campaign, especially if you have bad publicity on Google page one, is daunting and time-consuming. Professional online reputation management firms have experienced staff and processes in place to improve your online reputation quickly and easily. When hiring a firm, ask for references. And avoid firms that have very low pricing. Low prices indicate outsourcing overseas, which can lead to embarrassing and ineffective results on your online reputation.
Think you need some help managing your personal brand? Contact us today and let’s talk about how we can help improve your online image.