Do you have to be a large enterprise like Apple or Coke to utilize branding? Absolutely not.
Today, businesses of any size are realizing the importance of branding. And, that’s also the case for individuals who are looking to expand their business and reputation.
Whether you’re a recent college graduate, freelancer, or working professional, personal branding defines who you are in the workforce. It’s a lifelong process that will require frequent maintenance and evolution, but it’s essential if you want to stand out from the crowd.
But, how do you get started on your personal brand?
This guide will describe what personal branding is, how you can uncover your personal brand, and a number of strategies that you should employ in order to grow and manage your personal brand.
There’s little doubt that you’ve heard mention of ‘personal branding’ throughout the years - Tom Peters first coined the term in 1997. And while this shouldn’t be a complicated term to define, it can be a bit challenging. Some would argue that personal branding means the professional image that you’ve created and maintained during your career. Others believe your personal brand is reflected by your online reputation. Your personal brand could also be the clothes your wear in public. In other words, personal branding can be a broad and vague term that can describe you as an individual or a professional.
"A personal brand is what you stand for and what makes you special. [It's] composed of values, a mission, and a positioning statement that depict what you do and who your audience is. [It] is an indicator for how valuable you are to employers and customers at every stage of your career."
Because personal branding also includes how to market yourself to other professionals, there is at least some influence based on how you dress. Would you take financial advice from an individual who looks like they spent the last several decades reliving Woodstock? Or, would you be more likely to trust the well-groomed person with your finances?
Personal branding is also reflected through your resume, online portfolio, and LinkedIn profile, since those are ways for you to sell yourself professionally.
Keep in mind, though, that personal branding isn’t just an ad campaign or clever tagline. It’s a combination of skills, talents, values, interests, and beliefs. In short, your personal brand should be the descriptive words that you’re known by in order to make you stand out and be more memorable. For example, when you think of Eric Ries you think “lean”. Tony Hsieh is associated with “culture”.
Personal branding then, will assist you in marketing yourself, as well as help define who you are both personally and professionally. Throughout this guide, we’ll discuss how to identify, define, build, and maintain an unforgettable personal brand.
Research conducted by McKinsey & Company found something most of us have long-suspected; strong brands are extremely beneficial for organizations. In fact, in a 2014 study, “strong brands outperformed the market by 73 percent, up from 62 percent in 2013. “ Furthermore,” brand relevance is back to levels from before the economic crisis.” But, how can personal branding be beneficial for entrepreneurs and freelancers?
One of the most important, and obvious, benefits of personal branding is that it can help you stand out in the marketplace. Since you’re not able to hide behind a corporate logo, this is a necessity. If you’re able to develop a strong persona, you’ll have a competitive advantage over the individuals and companies that have similar products, since you can focus on what make you unique.
As you develop your personal brand, you’ll gain a better understanding of what makes you unique, as well as bring attention to your strengths and weaknesses. This can help you realize what makes you different from the companies that sell similar products or services. For example, if it wasn’t for founder John Schnatter, could you tell the difference between Papa John’s, Domino's, and Pizza Hut?
As already mentioned, your personal brand helps you stand out from the competition. Another way that this is accomplished is giving your brand a personality. If you’re an energetic and exciting young web designer, your values might align more with an exciting new startup. If you happen to be more relaxed and can explain design easily, then maybe a local mom and pop shop whose owners have little experience with web design would be more interested in hiring you.
Personal branding can also help make you an expert in your field because it can prove that you're an industry leader. When you think of Warren Buffett, you probably associate him as being a marketing and financial guru. In fact, even when political leaders seek investing advice, they turn to Buffett.
Since personal branding involves you being crystal clear on what you want to achieve, then you already have a head-start on the professional goals that you want to reach. By being aware of these goals, it will help make you more prepared when you’re ready to start your own business.
Make the decision for your customers or clients easier. If you have a bland LinkedIn page with a profile image of you at a fraternity party, then why would they be willing to trust and hire you? If you have a professional headshot and create valuable content that is relevant to your industry, then you’re effectively selling yourself.
Anyone can purchase a pair of shoes online. But, they won’t get the experience that a company like Zappos provides. If your personal brand differentiates itself from the competition, you’ll attract top-notch customers without having to do much other than maintaining your reputation. And, if you’re delivering a one of a kind experience, you can charge a premium price.
You know what personal branding means and you realize how important it is. But, how do you uncover your specific personal brand?
The most important thing to always remember when uncovering your personal brand is know who you are. As Lida Citroen explains on Social Media Today, “The foundation of personal branding rests on authenticity: The ability to tap into your genuine, humble, and individual human qualities from which your identity, personality, and character stem.”
As Roger Daltrey has asked so many times throughout his career, “Well, who are you?”
Your personal values are the central part of who you are as an individual. Whether it’s family, friends, the community, or knowledge, you turn to your values when you make decisions. For example, an attorney may want to defend a client who has been charged assault because it goes against his or her values. Accepting a job across the country may interfere with your values because it would force you to relocate and be further away from your family.
Need help setting your values? Remember, these are the things that make us happy and matter most to us.
Even though all of your values are important to you, they’re not all of equal importance. For example, you family might be the most important thing to you in the world. And, because of that, you’re willing to turn down that lucrative job opportunity that’s across the country.
At the same time, you could have all of the money in the world because you’re extremely successful, but still be happy because you’re not in a creative position or living thousands of miles away from your friends and family.
If you prioritize your values from the most to the least important, you’ll be better prepared to develop your personal brand. If you need some assistance, give this nifty exercise a try. It will help you rank and reflect on your values.
Your passions are the things that you enjoy during your downtime. For example, maybe you love the outdoors and are passionate about hiking, mountain climbing, or canoeing. However, there are times when your values and passions can actually overlap, such as hiking with your friends or family.
What’s interesting about passion is that it can be personal and professional. You could have a serious interest in web design. So, during your free time you take some free online classes and learn how to properly design a website. You’re doing that because you want to. That new skill could also be used professionally when it’s time to build your personal website.
By identifying the things that interest, intrigue, or excite you, you can become more motivated and work harder to achieve or reward yourself. Passions can be used to help guide us towards the future.
How? Because passion can help us figure out which professions to pursue and can give us the inspiration to fulfill that goal.
Being passionate about baseball is one thing. Becoming a professional baseball player is another thing. Maybe you don’t have the skill level to play major league baseball, but maybe you have an incredible broadcasting voice that leads you to a career in calling games.
Maybe you’re a statistician and a GM like Billy Beane hires you because of that talent. Being skilled can set you apart from others, as well as showcase your expertise. Sometimes you may even be able to use those skills and apply it to your values and passions.
Besides the skills that you possess, you also have to consider the personality traits that help shape you as a person. The big five personality traits include:
Discovering which ideal traits you have will also help shape and guide your personal brand. If you’re open to new experiences, then you would want to tap into that trait to help expand your personal brand as someone who is adventurous.
Don’t know which personality trait you possess? Here’s a handy quiz to help you out with that.
Your passions, skills, and traits are what make you unique. Embrace these differences because these will make you stand out and become more memorable.
Once you've determined your values, passions, skills, and personality traits, don’t hesitate to get feedback from those who know you best. Even though you may think you’re open to new experiences, your friends and family may think otherwise. The last thing that you want is having the wrong perception of your personal brand.
Once you have this feedback, you can have a better understanding on how to align your personal brand with your goals.
At this point you should be completely aware of who you are and how you can use that knowledge to create your very own personal brand. But, how can you use those values, skills, traits, and passion to create a personal brand?
The first step is to identify what makes you stand out from everyone else. What makes you unique? How are your products or services different than the competition? Be sure to go back and visit your core values, passions, skills, and traits to help you determine what makes you stand out from everyone else.
Another great way to stand out is by having an awesome trademark, logo, or color palette. As Amy Feezor notes, “Color is the very first thing that communicates your brand to your audience. Right off the bat, it sets the tone and the energy level.” Freezor suggests that you stick with two key colors and one accent color. For example:
Remember, your color scheme needs to be consistent across the board. It needs to be the same on your logo, website, business cards, social media accounts, and even in less-obvious locations like your invoices from Due.com so your brand can be recognized.
While you may want to consider having a logo created, you may not need one since you’re not a company. A color scheme or even your initials in an interesting font should be enough to help set you apart from everyone else.
You know where you excel and how to use that to your advantage when creating your personal brand. But, who exactly are you selling those skills and values to? Identifying your target is needed if you want to know the best possible ways for you to position yourself.
Determining your target audience begins with knowing who exactly could use your products or services. For example, if you’re a surfing instructor, then you probably wouldn’t want to market your services to retirees in Calgary. Instead, you would want to target more active people in warmer climates near bodies of water that have waves, such as in southern California.
Even after you have figured out your demographic, you have to continue to narrow down your audience by understanding which customers are willing to pay for your product or service. In other words, you need to address how you’ll ease a customer’s pain point. The surfing instructor then could focus on helping first-time surfers because not only are they skilled and passionate about surfing, they’re also patient and a great teacher.
While discovering your audience, you’ll probably also come across competitors. And, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, if there are absolutely no competitors out there, then you can be pretty sure that there isn’t a market for your product or services. Besides validating your idea, you can investigate your competitors to see how they brand and market themselves, how they achieved success or failure, and how you differ from them.
Create a one to two word sentence that you can use as your brand statement. This statement should encompass who you are, what exactly it is that you do, and how you’re different from the pack.
Additionally, you should also come up with a mantra. This is similar to your brand statement, but it should only be about three to five words that describe the essence of your brand.
The difference between a tagline and mantra is that the mantra is used for you as a guide internally, while a tagline is what is used to attract customers. For example, Nike’s mantra is "Authentic athletic performance," while us customers are familiar with the company’s tagline “Just do it.”
Be specific and clear on what exactly it is that you want to achieve by defining your goals and objectives. Do you want to become known as the greatest surfing instructor in SoCal? Are you aiming to become the Creative Director of a leading advertising agency?
A website is absolutely needed. After all, how else can you let the world know who you are and what you have to offer? A personal website is the perfect location to share your resume, online portfolio, knowledge, and links to your social media accounts. Don’t worry if you keep your website simple at first. You can always expand on it over time. For the time being, it’s a place for others to learn who you are, give them a glimpse of your skills, and allow them to get in touch with you.
Your website is a great way to start building your online presence. But, if you’re just getting started out you probably don’t have much that will show-up on Google search results. To counter that, you should create profiles on sites that rank high on Google, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and any leading networks that are relevant to your industry. For example, Zerply is a leading network site for professionals in the entertainment industry.
Your game plan is going to include everything from your physical appearance, such as hair and clothing, how you communicate with others online and offline, what type of content you create, and what channels you’re going to market yourself. For example, the surfing instructor probably should have photos of him or her in their wetsuit and in-action and shared on social media sites like Instagram, as opposed to professional headshots and a LinkedIn profile.
No matter what industry you’re involved in, always keep in mind that you always need to deliver quality on a consistent basis. Your brand’s reputation relies on you being a trustworthy and talented expert in your field. You want your name and personal brand to become synonymous with quality.
We touched upon many of these components in the previous section, but now it’s time to get down to brass tacks and explore the essential components of each and every personal brand.
If you have previous experiences with sales, then you’re already familiar with position statements. For those who don’t have a background in sales, the easiest way to define a sales position is a “written description of the objectives of a positioning strategy. It states (1) how the firm defines its business or how a brand distinguishes itself, (2) how the customers will benefit from its features, and (3) how these benefits or aspects will be communicated to the intended audience.”
When writing your position statement, always keep in mind that while your statement is about you, it’s for your customers. Therefore, your statement should inform your audience on why you're different from the competition.
Here’s an example of Amazon’s positioning statement from 2001:
“For World Wide Web users who enjoy books, Amazon.com is a retail bookseller that provides instant access to over 1.1 million books. Unlike traditional book retailers, Amazon.com provides a combination of extraordinary convenience, low prices, and comprehensive selection.”
Your position statement should:
Even though you know what makes you different, you still have to find the keywords that could be associated with you. Why? Because that’s how Google is going to find you when people conduct a search inquiry. For example, if you’re a baker in New York City, then you would consider keywords like chocolate chip cookies or vanilla cupcakes.
Once you’ve found a couple of different keywords that are relevant to your brand, then you want to place them into your resume, website, blog, social media profiles. Remember, keyword stuffing is a big no-no for Google. So make sure that you insert these keywords naturally.
Unlike a company, you generally can’t change the name given to you. While you can legally change your name, let’s say that you’re completely happy with your birth name. How do you claim that name so that your website and social media accounts all have your full name?
After you’ve settled on a domain name and registered, you can start building your personal website where you can showcase your work, share content, introduce yourself, and have the best ways for others to get in contact with you.
One of the easiest, and most popular, ways to build a website is by installing WordPress. It’s free, easy-to-use, and has so many plugins that you can easily develop whatever type of website you want. After you have downloaded and installed WordPress, don’t forget to purchase a host. You can use Hostt for life for free as long as you purchase a domain for $13.95/year.
Don’t forget to download a theme for WordPress as well. There are thousands of free and premium themes out there that can fit with your personal brand. Try and stick to legitimate and trusted sites to avoid any security issues. You can find a theme at WordPress.org, ThemeForest, or Elegant Themes.
Your site is pretty much ready to go. Don’t forget to add an about page, contact page with a professional email address, and a page dedicated to testimonials or references. You’ll also want to have a blog so you can begin to start writing content that your audience will find helpful or entertaining.
You also need to setup your social media profiles. Once again, you may not need to be on every platform because your audience isn’t there. But, chances are that you’re at least going to need a Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn profile.
Since LinkedIn is probably the most important social media channel for professionals, here are a couple of pointers when creating your profile.
While every social media platform has different rules, guidelines, and audiences, you can apply most of those LinkedIn tactics to your Facebook or Twitter account. No matter which platform you use, make sure that you share content that reflects your brand and that your audience cares about. And, always make sure that you maintain a sense of professionalism so you don’t tarnish your reputation.
Just because you have a stellar blog and completed a social media profile doesn’t mean that people are going to flock to your website or social media account. You also have to do a little legwork, which means doing a lot of networking and reaching out to influential individuals in your industry.
In this day in age, there’s a lot of buzz surrounding social media and why social media is necessary. Nothing beats face-to-face interaction. If you aren’t familiar with any local networking events, don’t get overwhelmed. It’s not as difficult as you might think.
In fact, you can probably find more than enough local events simply by searching Google with “(your city) business event.” You can also discover networking events by browsing your local Chamber of Commerce, Meetup, or Eventbrite. If you’re part of an email newsletter, you’ll probably also be notified of any upcoming events that may be relevant to you.
When you do attend events, whether it’s just an informal networking cocktail event or a trade show, make sure you represent your brand professionally - which is something we’ve discussed multiple times. Attending an event like you just rolled out of bed won’t do much to help your image. And, don’t forget to bring your business cards. How else do you expect people to contact you after you make a great first impression?
While meeting someone in person can do wonders for creating and strengthening your network, you also have to be actively networking online. And, here are some of the best practices for networking online.
Whether it’s online or offline, being associated with the right group can help your personal brand appear stronger. For example, if you’re a restaurant owner, then being a member of a well-known and respected association like the National Restaurant Association can give your reputation a little more credibility. However, being associated with a group that has poor reputation can do the opposite. Would you want to eat at a restaurant that is associated with other locations that have had a history of food poisoning?
To make sure you get associated with the right groups, stick to the three C’s: company, college, and colleagues. For example, become a member of your alumni association. Sign-up for a colleagues newsletter. Contribute to these groups by asking or answering questions on a forum. Write a guest blog article for a leading publication relevant to your industry or on the company blog. Join a LinkedIn group.
One of the least enjoyable parts of networking is sending out cold emails. It’s tedious and can be just a tad embarrassing. But, it’s a necessary evil. To help make this process as painless as possible, here are some effective tricks that you should employ when sending out those cold emails.
Finally, make sure that you’re using the right subject lines. MailChimp suggests you avoid using sales words and use localization. The company also recommends you keep subject lines short and try out different terms.
You’ve done some networking and have reached out to influential members of your industry. But, that may not be enough to get you some much-needed publicity. Here are some suggestions on how to get publicity, often times for free.
Help A Reporter Out is a service that connects experts with journalists. In this case, when a reporter is working on an article they can use quotes from experts. How does this help your personal brand?
You sign up for an account, select the criteria that you want to answer, and answer the questions as soon as possible. If the journalist uses your quote, you’ve just gotten some free publicity from a well-known publication. Not only does this prove your expertise, it gets your name out there to an audience that may have never known of your before.
This strategy involves you writing about a local story, which you then trade up to larger sites. After you’re story is written, you want to identify smaller blogs that are related to your industry. You can browse sites like Technorati to discover these types of industry blogs. Once you’ve found these smaller blogs, reach out to them and see if they’ll publish your article.
Next, work your way up to larger sites, preferably local media and news affiliates. You can share the same article, but attach the coverage that you already received from the small blog post. Finally, use that coverage to get you featured on a larger publication, such as a national publication. If you were able to get featured on ABC, you could use that take in your emails or on your website. That’s some serious cred!
To get your name out there and gain publicity, also use the following tactics:
Running your own brand takes some additional work - even after you’ve uncovered, built, and established your personal brand. One of the most important tasks that you’ll have to continue working on is managing and monitoring your brand’s reputation. And here are the best ways to achieve just that.
This should be something you’re already familiar with, as knowing who you are has guided you to this point. When it comes to brand management, however, you need to be honest with who you are.
Before writing a blog post or updating your Facebook status, ask yourself the following questions: What is your voice? Are you informative? Are you quirky? Why are you on social media? Who are you trying to reach?
Being honest with yourself won’t just help guide you as you promote your brand, it will also build trust with your audience.
You’re human. Mistakes will be made. But instead of trying to avoid or deny these mistakes, own up to them and admit you were wrong. It’s better for damage control to face any mistakes head-on and attempt to correct them as best as you can.
Instead of waiting for a mistake to happen, you should have contingency plans for several various scenarios so you’re prepared to handle the situation without causing much collateral damage.
Did you recently complete a training course in coding? Has any of your contact information changed? Did you swap out that old headshot for a more recent image? Have you written a blog or sent a tweet today? Keep your brand relevant by keeping it updated. If your phone number changed and a potential client tries to reach you, then you’re probably missing out on a huge opportunity. You don’t want to let you brand get static. Make sure that you stay active, continue to expand your brand's presence, and have all of your relevant professional information current.
Managing and monitoring your brand will take some time and effort on your part, but there are plenty of tools that you can use to make this task easier.
Want more? Social Media Today has more than 40 other suggested tools to help make your personal brand a success.
Warren Buffett once said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently.” That’s why it’s of the utmost importance for you to monitor your reputation. If you notice that there are some negative things being said about your brand, then you need to be aware of this information and take action to prevent this from getting any worse. But, it takes more than a Google Alert to protect your personal brand.
We all have those days when we’re just fed-up with everyone. Maybe we go out and have a couple of drinks and then let the world know exactly how we feel. That’s a huge mistake. All it takes is just one angry tweet to tarnish your reputation.
Of course, that doesn’t just apply to Twitter. Before you share anything on social media, make sure that it’s appropriate and something that won’t come back to haunt your image. For example, posting that embarrassing college photo on a Throwback Thursday may seem like a fun idea, when in reality that’s probably not going to help you get taken seriously as a professional.
There have been so many brands who have embarrassed themselves because they’ve outsourced their social media accounts or content. Avoid this mistake by posting your own information. Even though you may be extremely busy, it’s easier and safer for you to manage your own social media accounts or write your blog post content. Remember, you can schedule your content in advance. The last thing that you need is a questionable tweet from an intern who’s having some fun at your expense.
In the workplace, there are 3 sets of procedures used to protect corporate images. These include:
In the 21st century this should be common sense, but here are a couple of security reminders to ensure that your accounts aren’t hacked.
In most cases, using a platform like Buffer or Hootsuite can help prevent many of these security issues.
Finally, make sure you don’t share too much personal information, such as your home address, full birth dates, or pictures of your family. This is the kind of information that can be used against you.
While it is acceptable to give you audience a glimpse into your personal life, you need to keep your brand professional and limit this information to a minimum.
Need some inspiration as you construct your personal brand? Here are several individuals who have perfected the art of personal branding.
1. Jamie Oliver
Jamie Oliver is known for his food revolution and you’re reminded constantly of that since his website and social media account share healthy recipes and ways that you can support his community foundations.
2. Marie Forleo
Marie Forleo offers priceless business advice in an energetic and simple way. Why do so many people turn to Marie? Because she’s always herself.
Jonathan Fields is an entrepreneur and award-winning author. Check out his about page and you’ll quickly see where his values are: being a husband and father. He also shows his love of writing and fun through his informative content.
Normally someone who calls their target audience “bitches” would be frowned upon. But Erika Napoletano totally makes that work because that’s her personality.
5. Pat Flynn
Pat Flynn is a popular affiliate blogger who isn’t afraid to share his success with his audience. Like Fields, Flynn also doesn't shy away from his values, which include his family and friends.
If you’re a bit overwhelmed with all of the information that has been thrown at you, keep these essential do’s and don’ts when building your personal brand.