How (and Why) to Build Your Personal Brand in 5 Steps
What comes to mind when you think of the term “personal branding”? Is it an image of an influencer standing in front of an expensive car? Or do are you thinking of the term from a pre-social media age when business cards and custom logos were the height of personal branding?
Since the rise of social media, personal branding has come a long way. I bet if you asked around, you’d find that one of your neighbors or coworkers even has a personal brand for their dog. But it’s not all influencers and product placement. Every person, regardless of your industry or level of experience, can benefit from developing a brand.
If you’re an entrepreneur or a business owner, a personal brand is key to attracting clients and customers who share your ideology and an interest in your product or services. If you’re a traditional 9-5 employee, a personal brand can help you network and connect with career advancement opportunities.
Your brand is an extension of who you are as a person and as a professional. It’s a balance of expertise in your chosen niche and your ability to present that information in a way that showcases your personality. This mix of skill and personality is what draws people to you.
Now that we’ve talked a little about the “Why” of personal branding, let’s examine the “How”:
Step 1: Find Your Passion
Unless you’ve got the acting chops of Meryl Streep, if you’re not passionate about what you do, it will show, so your first step is to zero in on something that gets you excited.
Here’s a scenario: You have to give a one-hour lecture to an audience of over 100 people…tomorrow. You can choose any topic you want. What do you choose?
Depending on your goals for this personal brand, this topic could be something related to your work or just something you like to do for fun. Popular topics for personal branding include health and beauty, fitness, entrepreneurship, and music, but that doesn’t mean you have to follow in those footsteps. It’s okay (heck, it’s encouraged) that you narrow your niche to make your brand stand out.
Don’t try to be everything to everybody. Focus on your personal experiences, and don’t be afraid to show your personality. Sure, that may turn some people off, but it will draw in many, many more.
Keep in mind that your brand WILL evolve over time. It’s not just a representation of who you are today but also where you want to go.
Step 2: Add Value
It’s not enough to just do what you love. You have to give others a reason to love it too.
For example, we’ll say that you’re trying to launch a brewing company, and you want your personal brand to revolve around beer…somehow. Cool, we can make that happen, but first, we need to figure out how to connect that to something that your potential audience will find valuable. What can you produce through your content that is going to add value to someone else’s life? Maybe you can develop a YouTube series that discusses the history of beer, and you can post historical or regionally inspired recipes each week to your Instagram. Or, maybe you can develop a series of social posts that highlight some of the common mistakes home brewers make.
Basically, your goal with this step is to figure out what people want and how you can give it to them. Do some research into what type of content people are searching for within your niche, and then blend that into your content.
While you’re considering what type of content your brand will feature, you’ll also want to start developing a schedule. What are your “cornerstone” pieces of content (long-form pieces from which you can create smaller social posts, microblogs, etc.), and when will those be posted? How can you break down those bigger pieces to fill out your content schedule? (Check out our article on Content Repurposing for a step-by-step guide.) How will you promote that content? Via Instagram? Twitter? Facebook? Again, when will these be posted for maximum impact?
Step 3: Develop Your Brand
Now comes the time to dig into the nitty-gritty of your personal brand. This includes everything that goes into building a brand, including values, aesthetics, language, general themes, etc.
These decisions will shape your brand identity.
Start by thinking of five words to describe the tone of your brand. For example, I could describe my personal brand as educational, inspirational, approachable, casual, and honest. Basically, my content is meant to educate and inspire people in an approachable, casual way, while also being completely honest about the hardships of business and entrepreneurship.
That is the general guideline that I use to determine whether or not a piece of content fits within my brand. That’s how you take a topic and carve out your own niche within that field. Posting things outside of your niche or that don’t speak to your intended audience dilutes that mission statement and makes it more difficult for your audience to identify and relate with who you are.
So, stay on brand. Unless you’re a health and fitness blogger, no one cares what you ate for breakfast, and even if your brand revolves around food, you still need to find a way to make it valuable to people (for example, by breaking down the recipe, macros, and overall nutritional benefits of your meal).
Step 4: Collaborate with Others in Your Niche
Now, this is where things are starting to pick up. You have a small audience. You’re creating valuable content. You’ve worked out the initial hiccups. Now it’s time to grow your audience.
The best way to expand your reach online is through collaboration with other content creators. By collaborating with others, you get your brand in front of their audience, a group of people who likely have never heard of your brand but who are open to seeing what you have to offer. When you appear on someone else’s YouTube video or IG post, it’s like getting an endorsement from that person, which primes their audience to trust you.
So, here’s what you do:
First, you’re going to want to create a spreadsheet of potential collaborators who use their platform to discuss topics related to your brand. Your brands don’t have to line up exactly. (Sometimes it’s better if they don’t) However, these creators need to be able to offer something of value to your audience. Let’s use the brewery owner example again. He could team up with others in the beer niche, but he could also expand his search by considering what else his audience may find valuable. Maybe he wants to film a series of videos about beer and food pairings. In that case, he could reach out to people who create and share recipes.
As you’re coming up with your list, keep an eye on your potential collaborators’ audience engagement metrics (YouTube subscribers, Instagram followers, average Facebook page likes, etc.), and compare your own engagement metrics to those of others in your niche, and figure out which content creators are equivalent to you in terms of audience engagement. Now, I don’t usually suggest comparing yourself to others, but this is where I have to make an exception.
If you have 20,000 followers, and you reach out to someone with 200,000 followers, chances are, you’ll be ignored. That’s because there’s nothing in it for them. You won’t be able to contribute as many potential followers to them as they will to you. You may, however, get a response from a person with 30,000 followers. Now, you have the opportunity to more than double your audience. (Not that we can hope for each and every one of their followers to subscribe to you and also have no overlap in followers between the two accounts, but we can dream, right?)
When you reach out, make sure to offer something of value to the other person as well. If you are asking for a chance to appear in one of their videos, for example, you should start by offering them a guest spot in yours. Don’t be afraid to talk yourself up a little bit here. Talk about your stellar engagement metrics. Talk about your positive interactions with followers. This is a business transaction after all, so although most of us hate talking about ourselves, you should get comfortable with selling yourself and your brand to others.
Step 5: Leverage Your Influence
Now that you’ve built a personal brand, it’s time to decide how you want to leverage it.
A personal brand can be a powerful tool, whether you’re an entrepreneur, an influencer, or even just a traditional 9-5 employee. With a brand of your own, you control a share of the most valuable marketing resource in the world: Attention. Attention is everything. Everybody wants it. It’s why huge companies pay millions of dollars to advertise during the Superbowl or why the sides of the highways are littered with billboards screaming for you to take a look.
However, these more traditional means of advertising tend to confuse attention with impressions. Yes, you got millions of people to watch your commercial, but did they care? Are they sharing it with their friends or tweeting about it to the company? Maybe, maybe not.
However, you can be confident that you have the attention of the people who actively take steps to engage with your brand—whether they’re regular commenters or just followers. In a way, they’ve invited you into their lives. You don’t need to force your way in with a giant billboard. You already have their attention.
Now, what are you going to do with it?
A personal brand is powerful because you can leverage it in countless different ways. Do you want to make money for your art? Cool, start selling off some pieces or set up a website to start taking commissions. Are you starting a business? Great! Let your audience know, and ask them to spread the word. Looking for a new job? Add a link to your content in your resume. Employers are much more likely to hire someone who has already proven that they can produce something of value. Even if you’re not interested in making or selling a product, your personal brand can be a great career advancement tool.
If, for example, you’re a hiring manager and you’re looking for someone to join your digital marketing team. You have two resumes in front of you. One has a traditional list of education and experience. The other has a link to the candidate’s website with educational blogs, case studies, and social media activity, all giving you tangible examples of her experience and how she’s used it to help others.
I know who I’d choose.
Think of it this way: Due to social media, most of us already have a personal brand. We post our opinions to Facebook, reply to news on Twitter, curate our professional accomplishments on LinkedIn. So, instead of wasting time scrolling, why not be deliberate about the way you present yourself online? Creating a strong message that you can market to an audience gives you a huge advantage over others in your niche and provides leverage you can use to accomplish your personal and professional goals.