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Even after the more than 13 years since I founded what is now Advantage|ForbesBooks, I am still sincerely gracious and humbled when I am called the “authority-building expert.” I am self-aware enough to know this is a not a distinction that has been haphazardly bestowed on me. It is a personal brand that I have strategically and intentionally worked at over many years.
And that’s my dirty little secret: that successful business leaders must understand that their personal brand can be (and needs to be) manufactured.
At an aspiring entrepreneur, I studied the careers of such icons as Henry Ford, Walt Disney and Warren Buffett. They all knew that a carefully modulated and tightly choreographed personal brand would reflect back on their businesses.
By finessing their personal brands, they were attracting like-minded audiences who, as consumers, would fuel their businesses’ success. Look at Tony Robbins, Richard Branson or Oprah today – they all have calculated personal brands that feed their businesses.
I still find a 2003 interview with Hugh Hefner quite amusing, in which he admits that his whole silk pajama-wearing, martini-drinking persona was a self-created exercise in personal branding.
“It was something that I thought would be fun that would also work as a marketing ploy. All that was quite a conscious decision,” he said.
That’s what I call successful personal branding.
The lesson I learned was that personal branding is business branding. The work you do and the person you are are very connected. Personal branding is understanding that consumers spend their money with people who they trust. As I like to say, “People buy people. Not corporations.”
So now that we’ve discussed the why, let’s look at the how:
Related: 4 Elements of a Great Personal Brand
Discover and distill
I find that the single biggest mistake aspiring entrepreneurs make is that they don’t put the time and energy into discovering what their unique brand is. Brand discovery isn’t just about figuring out what makes you you, but also what makes you not them. I hate to break it to you, but chances are that the idea or business you’ve come up with, which you swear has never been tried before, has, indeed, been tried before.
Your goal is to discover how you’re doing it differently. Do you bring a different set of skills to the table? Unique experience? Special customer service guarantees? (And if you’re not doing it differently, maybe you need to twist your business model around a bit so you are doing it differently).
A well-defined personal brand will stand out. It’s easy for your voice to become drowned in a sea of competing voices. Don’t let that happen.
Take time for research and self-reflection. Ask yourself some questions:
- What are your biggest passions?
- What makes you somebody people would want to work with? Creativity? Perseverance? Humor?
- What kind of impact do you want to create in your work? Social impact? Creative fulfillment? Business results?
- What is the one thing that everyone says you rock at?
Now, write it down. Create a branding statement. Keep it short and simple. Boil it down to a cocktail party conversation and an elevator speech. Summing up your personal brand in a nutshell will set you apart and illustrate your distinct personality.
There’s a quote by Oscar Wilde that I swear by: “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.”
Communicate and sell
Define your niche and meet them where they live. Not literally, of course, but think about who your customers are.
Are they your peers? Moms-to-be? CEOs? Foodies? These groups of potential customers, these “tribes,” generally get their information from the same sources, whether it be Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, or any other social media platform. Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to be on all of these platforms. Figure out where your tribe is and create a presence there.
While social media is an integral part of any personal branding campaign, you cannot rely on it exclusively to grow your brand. There is nothing more powerful than time spent face to face.
Speaking, bar none, is the best way to share your brand and grow your reputation. Your audiences can range from local Chambers of Commerce to PTA meetings to peer conferences. If what you say is competent and professional, it will feed into your personal brand and you will feel the effects of that reputation boost.
If you aren’t ready to speak at a conference, attend. Shake hands, exchange business cards and follow up. On a local level, think about creating an event of your own, which can introduce you to a new world of potential patients. Educational, fun, hands-on, kid-friendly, whatever works for your specialty, your community will embrace you. Holding annual events is one of the best ways to expose people to you and your business.
Write a book or guest blog posts or articles in media. Write Op-Eds in your local paper. Offer your expert opinion to the media on appropriate and timely happenings in the news. These things count a lot for your personal brand.
At its heart, every business has the essence of its founders’ personal brand, and every entrepreneur’s personal brand lives through their business. Make it truthful, and make it exceptional. It will be the driving force that will propel you and your business to success.