If you’ve spent more than 30 seconds on LinkedIn recently, you’ve probably noticed: having a personal brand is in. Entrepreneurs, business owners, and creatives are marketing not just products, but themselves. Job postings ask for your social media handles and interviewers are checking out your web presence before they meet you.
If you’re not sure where to start, we’re here to help. Maybe you’re starting your first business and wondering if you should promote it under your own name. Maybe you’re excited to build a personal brand, but wonder how to get from your first professional headshot to Tony Robbins status. Maybe you’ve always kept your professional and personal life totally separate, and realize that’s hurting your potential.
In this piece, we’ll introduce the basics of personal branding and help you lay the foundations for your own. With these principles, you will be well on your way to creating and growing a sustainable, successful brand!
No matter what you’re selling or whom you’re serving, the most important thing to market is you. Creating a personal brand will both attract potential customers to your business and keep them coming back for the authenticity you radiate.
What is a personal brand?
The term “brand” is thrown around a lot in the business and entrepreneurship world. It brings to mind famous corporate logos with a certain reputation attached to them. Nike, Vineyard Vines, Carhartt…that’s what “brand” means.
Alternatively, you might associate “brand” with the nitty gritty design aspects of how a business visually presents itself. A “brand kit” usually includes colors, fonts, and design elements for website and marketing materials. Doesn’t it take some kind of niche marketing expertise to build a brand?
Not if the brand is you! A personal brand certainly involves some of these same associations, but it is much more than a recognizable logo or a color scheme. While those things are important elements of a personal brand, they aren’t really the #1 priority.
The personal brand is built around you. That means it encompasses far more than whatever business you’re starting, product you’re selling, or message you’re spreading. Even your “off the clock” activities contribute to your personal brand. Your personal brand includes your personality, voice (on and offline), visual message, and suite of products.
A personal brand is what sets you apart from the crowd. It’s the reason your target market looks to you as an expert. A personal brand lends credibility to whatever you sell, even if it’s a bunch of totally unrelated products (think of Gary Vee’s wine company).
Personal brand vs. business brand
The shift from marketing a third-party product to marketing yourself is often a tough one. Even the most enthused entrepreneurs sometimes feel uncomfortable selling themselves. Before we get into the steps to branding yourself, let’s review how it compares to branding a business.
A personal brand typically requires using your own name as much as possible. Your website, social media profiles, and any content you create should be attached to your name. Individuals tend to trust other individuals, not soulless companies. You could have the cleverest, coolest business name and people would still prefer to hear from “John Snickerstooth Smith.” It’s just how humans work!
Here’s one huge advantage of developing your personal brand early on. A personal brand makes it much easier to pivot your business. Say you start out as a freelancer, then offer coaching and consultation, and eventually write a book and go on a speaking tour. Retaining customers through each of those pivots is pretty hard. You could find yourself marketing each new initiative all over again.
But if people are attracted to your personal brand first they are far more likely to trust in everything you have to offer. In short, you want them to buy the product (or subscribe to the service or hire you etc.) because you sell it.
One caveat about personal branding is that you have to be pretty comfortable putting yourself out there. You don’t have to reveal every detail of your personal life on your website or social media. Nevertheless, building a following of individuals requires acting like one. That means being relatable, personable, and showing the same authenticity whether you’re making a sales pitch or running into someone at a coffee shop.
Building your personal brand: the foundations
Developing a successful personal brand from scratch doesn’t always come naturally. Fortunately, there are some systematic ways to approach the process that will help you establish your “expert status.”
The first step to a compelling personal brand is identifying your personal story. Your story matters whether you’re a speaker, salesperson, or mechanic. Your story is what makes people listen. It humanizes you and initiates a relationship of trust. Establish the story that led you to create your passion project early on. When people ask you why you’re doing what you do, tell them your story, don’t just describe your business plan.
Everything you do should tie into your personal story, but the connection might not always appear explicit. After all, no matter how compelling your journey to starting your business was, customers still come to you to solve a problem. Your story should serve as a point of connection with people who encounter your personal brand. It’s something that adds to the great first impression that will turn them from prospects into paying customers. Remember, a personal brand is all about setting yourself apart. A unique story will do that far better than a sales pitch!
So how do people learn about your story? Where do they encounter your personal brand?
The next foundational step is creating an online platform so you can leave a digital footprint that echoes your personal story. There is no one-size-fits-all approach for this. But this step is absolutely vital to positioning yourself to customers in a way that reflects your uniqueness and authenticity.
Before you start creating an online presence around your personal brand, do some serious target market research. For example, if your customers are busy CEOs, they probably don’t listen to niche podcasts. But if your customers are marketing professionals trying to keep up with trends, they probably do. Figuring out the channels they use will help you with the consistency across web presence and content creation discussed in the next section.
While you’re setting up your online presence, position yourself according to your goals. Think about how you want your products and services to be perceived–as an investment? An affordable option that appeals to repeat customers? Think equally as much about how you want yourself to be seen–as a thought leader? A friendly, relatable coach? A guru? Establishing this early is key, because it’s hard to change those early perceptions if you raise your prices or pivot your offerings in the future!
When you’re developing a personal brand, you can’t separate who you are from what you do. We can’t reiterate enough: your entire platform should follow from who you are as a person. Don’t pretend to be passionate about something you’re not, because your inauthenticity will inevitably shine through in your messaging.
This is why getting clarity on your personal story has to happen before you expand your platform into the digital space and start selling products. You’re selling yourself first, and everything else follows.
With this foundation of a personal story and online presence in place, you will be well equipped to sustainably grow your personal brand. In the third section, we’ll cover two principles essential to that growth.
We discuss these foundational steps and more in our podcast with personal branding expert Mike Kim, which you can listen to here. In this episode, Mike and TSL founder Grant will walk you through the path to building a personal brand from start to finish–a must listen for sure!
Why consistency and content matters for your personal brand
Once you’ve established a foundation for your personal brand, you can’t just wait for people to find you. We can’t cover every step to developing your products, pricing them, marketing, and selling…it takes a lot of trial and error. But we can cover two essential principles that will help your personal brand grow into a money-making machine.
Consistency in personal branding
Theoretically, consistency should happen naturally if you ground everything in your personal story. If you’re honest about your passions, goals, and positioning from the start, that should shine through all elements of your brand.
Unfortunately, comparison is a tempting threat to your personal brand. If it works for your competition, it won’t necessarily work for you. Don’t change your tune to be like somebody else just because you see them succeeding in the same space! Remember: your personal brand is about setting yourself apart. People will only remember you if you do so consistently.
Brand consistency is especially key when it comes to the nitty gritty stuff like colors, fonts, and logos. If your website has lots of bright colors and funky fonts, people might guess you’re a graphic designer, motivational speaker, or someone who works with young people. They would be perplexed to find out if you’re an executive coach who offers expensive courses based on heavy academic research. This clash might be a huge turn-off to your customers!
If it isn’t “you,” don’t do it, even if it feels like everybody else is. Always design your visual messaging with your personal story and target market in mind.
Consistency will also do you many favors when it’s time for a pivot. If your brand (including visual messaging) remains the same going into your new business initiative, anyone who knows you from your previous endeavors will recognize you.
Content for personal branding
We can’t talk about consistency without mentioning content. Content produced consistently will teach people what your brand stands for and establish that coveted “expert status.”
Depending on your industry and your positioning, you have many channels to choose from for your content creation. Linkedin is popular for both content and community building with digital marketers, speakers, and tech professionals. Blogs, youtube channels, and podcasts are all great ways to exercise thought leadership and feature others in your space. Many creatives are going straight to instagram or even tiktok, where young people bookmark bite-sized advice.
Focus on one or two channels that align with your story and desired positioning. Keep in mind: consistency > quantity. It’s better to post a well-crafted SEO-optimized blog every 2 weeks than a slapdash mediocre piece every other day.
The goal of your content creation should be for consumers to become familiar with your personal brand and your niche of expertise. For more tips on staying authentic on social media, listen here.
If you keep consistency and content at the forefront of your priorities, your personal brand will thrive.
Personal branding is a long-term endeavor, and while we’ve barely scratched the surface we hope this piece helped you get started on that exciting journey.
If you found this breakdown helpful, you can listen to an even more in-depth discussion of creating a personal speaking brand here. This podcast episode includes some great inspirational examples of people who are killing it at the personal branding game!
And if you are still digesting all that information, here are some FAQs to summarize.
What is meant by a personal brand?
A personal brand is the public-facing persona you choose to communicate to the world & your customers.
What does personal branding include?
Your personal brand, unlike a business brand, includes just about everything about you–your personal story, passions, professional offerings, voice, and visual messaging.
How do I create my own personal brand?
Start by establishing the personal story from which your products or services flow. Then create a digital footprint that sends a clear message to your niche about who you are, what you do, and what you’re worth. Keep all elements of your brand consistent, and create content to build credibility and trust with your audience (and attract new customers)!