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What is a Personal Brand (and why would I want one?)

A personal brand is incredibly valuable. It’s portable, meaning it’s not tied to an employer but tied to you. The one thing you can count on with most companies is that they won’t last forever. Another advantage is the you get to shape it… you call the shots. You create the niche and you master it.

There’s an old Chinese proverb that says that the best day to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best day is today.

The trick though is that it’s not easy to build. Not at all. In fact it’s going to be one of the toughest things you ever do. If you really want to do it, it’s going to take a high level of commitment.

What is a personal brand?

First of all, you already have a personal brand. It’s the sum total of all of the images, interactions and your reputation that comes to mind when people think of you. You can control your morals, ethics, how you dress and what possessions you have and all of those are part of your brand but you can’t control what people are going to do with it. People are constantly judging you.
If you do ____ you must be _____.

It’s always happening and you can’t control it.

The brand you have today is completely limited to the people you interact with. Similarly, almost everyone who knows your brand, knows you. The point of marketing is to change that. This is going to sound funny but the goal is to get people who don’t know you to judge you.

You have about 5,000 people in your brain who you have never met, but whose brand is well-established with you. Donald Trump, Taylor Swift and George Clooney are all examples of highly branded people. You haven’t met any of them but you know everything you need to know about them. At another level, there are experts in every field who have strong personal brands. In marketing, Seth Godin, Gary Vaynerchuk and Jay Baer are three people you probably don’t know but if you’re in the marketing field, they’re as well known as Michael Jordan.

So what do they have in common?

In my last paragraph, I slipped in a word and I wonder if you noticed: “expert.” I said that there are “experts” in every field who have strong personal brands. A strong personal brand is all about expertise.

You may want to build your personal brand to help you meet your career objectives but I want you to turn the table and look at it from the perspective of everyone else. Why would a stranger go to you for help with anything? The only reason they’d come to you is because you are an expert. When we need help, we “turn to the experts.”

The answer to how to build your personal brand has two simple parts. First, you need to develop your expertise and second, you need to communicate your expertise.

Develop your expertise

Expertise starts by committing to becoming a student. You find your niche and learn everything there is to know about it. Whatever your subject is, study it.

Communicating your expertise is the second step and it used to be the hardest. No matter what Michael Jordan did on the basketball court, he would not be the brand he is if several king makers hadn’t come along and anointed him. He needed Coach Dean Smith to recruit him to play at North Carolina. Then the Chicago Bulls drafted him and Phil Knight brought him in to Nike. Without the king makers, Michael Jordan would have taken his geology degree and spent his life looking at rocks.

Today though, the Internet gives us all the amazing ability to circumvent the king makers. I have a friend who is building a successful music career by self-publishing her music. She crowd-sources the funding of her studio time and pre-sells her albums to pay for their printing. She promotes her own concert tours and handles all of her own publicity. I have another friend who is an author and she does the same with her books. I have another friend who is a photographer who lives in a big house in Seattle and travels the world. He built a following on Flickr and Facebook and now magazines like National Geographic and Outdoor come to him asking to show his work.

The point is that anyone can use the Internet to build a following. You don’t need to wait for someone to anoint you. You can communicate your expertise all by yourself.

How to communicate

The Internet is packed with tools for communicating your expertise. You should start with a personal website. Get a domain name that people will associate with you: your name is a good place to start!

As a part of your website, a blog is the next best way to communicate. Blogging is easy to start but it’s hard to keep it up. How committed are you to building your personal brand? If you really want this, you must blog at least once a week. I have some tricks I’d be happy to share with you that will make this easier.

YouTube is an amazing tool for building you audience. Video is taking over the Web and it’s a great way to get your message out.

The brand you have today is completely confined to the people you have interacted with. Almost everyone who knows your brand, knows you. The point of marketing is to change that.

Twitter is dying… they’ve been saying that for years but it’s still an effective tool for growing your audience. Same with Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat. Facebook is necessary but it’s hard to grow an audience on Facebook outside of your own sphere of friends.

Public relations (PR) is the intentional act of getting people to notice you, usually through free media channels. You do this through press releases. Also, make contact with the local media outlets letting them know if a story comes up in your purview, and they need an expert on the subject, you’d be happy to step up.

Advertise. Advertise online, advertise in print, advertise on park benches and in doorknob hangers… it doesn’t matter… just advertise. Everything else I mentioned is basically free but sometimes paid advertising in the right channel, can have a big impact.

Getting started

There’s an old Chinese proverb that says that the best day to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best day is today. You can sit around lamenting that it’s going to be a lot of work and you’re already behind, or you can just start. It’s true, it’s going to take a long time to get some traction and there are no shortcuts. Plant your tree today and see what grows.


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