Most people understand the importance of a strong brand when it comes to a business. The importance of a personal brand may be less obvious, however, and the idea can even feel a bit “icky”.
But the fact is that you already have a personal brand, whether you realise it or not: your personal brand is what people are thinking and saying about you when you’re not there. How do others perceive you? What are they saying about you as an individual and what are they saying about your work? What image are you portraying by your actions and behaviour in the real world and in the online space? That image exists whether you want it to or not, and you now have a choice as to whether you actively manage it – or leave it to chance.
This is not about lying or creating a fake persona and, in any case, you can never have 100% control – that’s the point! It’s about doing what you can to be who you want to be and portray that effectively both online and offline so that the perception people have of you is more or less in line with who you really are and how you want to be seen.
Building your personal brand intentionally will allow you to tell your story as you want it to be told, to establish yourself as an expert and leader in your field and to connect with your customers and clients beyond just your products and services.
What is branding anyway?
When you start a business, it’s easy to obsess over the name and finding a domain that’s actually available. Then you get caught up in the excitement of working on your website, getting a beautifully designed logo and ordering fancy business cards. After that, it’s all about posting pretty pictures and inspirational quotes on Facebook and Instagram. And, for most people, that’s what they think of when they hear the word “branding”.
In a way, they’re right, because “branding” does originate in the old Norse word “brandr”, which meant “to burn” and referred to branding livestock. You need only think about brands like Nike, Apple or McDonald’s and you’ll find that you immediately associate them with the famous “swoosh” sign, apple logo or golden arches. A logo can be a powerful symbol of a brand.
But branding is so much more than just a logo (and, when you’re starting out, no one will recognise your logo anyway!). Your brand is what that logo represents: the bigger mission of your company, its values, the kind of products and services it provides and, yes, all the graphic and design elements that are associated with it as well.
So where does personal branding fit in?
Let’s consider Richard Branson. He has a massive personal brand, far beyond the brands of his businesses – as his Twitter bio declares, he is a “tie-loathing adventurer, philanthropist & troublemaker, who believes in turning ideas into reality” – and he uses that personal brand to support his different ventures and to get people to buy into his companies.
He has more than 12 million followers on Twitter, dwarfing the Twitter accounts of his companies, for example, Virgin Atlantic (<592k), Virgin Galactic (216k) and Virgin Media (266k).
As an entrepreneur, you’re likely to start more than one business over the years. Your current business venture may fail (although hopefully not!) or you may simply decide to sell your shares and move on to your next project – but your personal brand lives on.
No, we can’t all be as big as Branson; but we don’t need to be. We don’t need to be known in the entire world but only in our own little world, where our business is operating.
Personal branding – who needs it?!
Just one third of consumers trust messages from a brand but as many as 90 per cent trust messages from someone they know (Source). Okay, so you can’t become bosom friends with every single prospect, but what you can do is allow people to get to know you a bit better, give them an idea of who you are and what you stand for, so that they can “know, like and trust” you enough to buy into your message – and your offer.
People are naturally interested in other people and their stories. They want to know why you set up your business in the first place, what you stand for and what skills and strengths you bring to the table. Cultivating a strong personal brand will give a face to your business and allow you to develop stronger relationships with your prospects. And especially if you’re in a service-based business, you, your style and your personality are absolutely core to what the business stands for and delivers.
Even if you don’t think of yourself as an entrepreneur but, say, a freelancer who works on a project-to-project basis, a personal brand is absolutely critical for you too. It will help people find out about you and what you do and build credibility and trust so that more clients seek out your services. Ultimately, a strong personal brand means that clients will come to you instead of you having to hustle to find them – saving you both time and money.
And, by the way, personal branding is important to you even if you’re still an employee! If you want to be top of mind for interesting assignments or promotions, you’ll need to build your personal brand internally within the company. As I was taught back in my corporate days, you want to consider the three pieces of the professional P.I.E.: Performance, Image and Exposure. Performance is fundamental – of course you have to deliver quality results in your day-to-day work – but unfortunately working away in a corner isn’t enough. Image is what other people think of you – it’s really your brand! And the final piece, Exposure, is about making sure that people actually know who you are and are seeing what you do.
If you’re looking to change jobs or careers, you’ll also want to be building your personal brand outside of the company. Having a reputation as someone who “knows your stuff” in the industry will serve you well when you go for a role in a company where no one knows you personally.
Okay, so how do I create my personal brand?
Great question! This is a big topic, and one that we’ll be spending quite some time on. Next week, we’ll be looking at how you can go about crafting the story that you want to tell – your “why”, your core values, your unique set of skills and strengths, as well as the evidence to back it all up.