How much should you put yourself out there when you’re starting a business?
Should you develop a personal brand?
I think creating a personal brand and deciding whether or not to putting oneself out there is very much a personal decision that is up to the individual.
The first thing you’ll have to consider is whether or not you even want to have a personal brand. Many successful CEOs, founders, and businesspeople do not have personal brands and you’ve likely never heard of them. That’s a totally respectable and fair way to go about it.
Many people balk at the term “personal brand.” Some (usually older or more conservative folks in the business world) object to the term or the entire concept of a personal brand because they think it sounds narcissistic and phony. In their minds, a personal brand is something reserved for wanna-be gurus and charlatans or those “crazy millennials” walking around with their selfie sticks making silly Snapchat videos on their phones. There is a modern-day phenomenon of people who monetize an entire business off their personal brand. Unfortunately, some of these people create personal brands that are based on a false image they are trying to project through social media filters.
However, a personal brand is not a bad thing at all. If you don’t like the term personal brand, Vayner Media CEO, and branding expert, Gary Vaynerchuk suggests referring to it as managing your personal reputation. We can all agree that maintaining one’s reputation is important. All the more so in the age of the Internet. Even if you’re not saying anything about yourself or your business, it doesn’t mean others aren’t.
What is a personal brand? Contrary to what many people believe, a personal brand isn’t an excuse to shamelessly self-promote. Doing that is a quick way to turn people off. Successful personal brands are built on providing value and sharing quality content that engages the audience. Depending on your topic and audience, your content should educate, entertain, or inspire. Sometimes you can do all three!
It’s also very important to respond to comments and reach out to people who have greater influence or audience attention than you about collaborations. The one with greater influence has the leverage, so make sure to offer them something of value in exchange for whatever it is you want them to do for you.
A personal brand is your story. We all have a story to tell and even if you don’t think so, you can find a way to tell it in a way that is interesting to others. First, pick your area of expertise or your topic. It might be about your business or your field or it may be centered around a hobby or area of interest. Next, figure out the way you communicate best. It may be audio (e.g. podcast, audiobooks), written (e.g. blog posts, ebooks), or video. Then, find which distribution channels are the best way to reach your intended audience (e.g. Instagram, YouTube, Medium, LinkedIn, Soundcloud etc.).
I’m not saying that having a personal brand is for everybody. Not everybody wants to put themselves out there, be in front of a camera, have their writing published, or create content that is about who they are or what they do.
However, if it’s something you think you can get comfortable doing, then I strongly recommend trying it. Having a personal brand will be an increasingly more valuable asset in a 21-century world where content creation is democratized and the competition is fierce.
Alongside your company brand, you should consider developing your own personal brand as well. People have an easier time relating to other people than to entities or organizations (surprise, surprise). Sometimes the content from your personal brand can be the hook that reels people in and gets them interested in your business.
If you’re a freelancer or a solopreneur, having a personal brand is essential. It’s what sets you apart from the rest and prevents you from becoming commoditized in the marketplace. A strong personal brand will get you picked for lucrative gigs. Not only that, but developing a personal brand can ensure that leads will come to you rather than you having to chase after them. If you’re an introvert or on the shy side, having a personal brand online that attracts people to come to you rather than the other way around is a G-dsend and this is probably the greatest time to be an introverted entrepreneur.
Let’s say you’re NOT an entrepreneur or a business owner. Is it still a good idea to have a personal brand?
In a competitive job market, it’s those with a strong online presence and establish thought leadership, competence, and credibility through their online content and published work that will get the job over equally qualified candidates who choose to rely solely on their resumes. When you apply for a job, one of the first things your prospective employer will do is look you up on LinkedIn. Are you going to have a blank, gray, faceless avatar staring back at them or a profile that hasn’t been updated in years with none of your recent work?
If you’re interested in developing your personal brand, but aren’t sure how to go about it, then I recommend this fantastic book by blogger and business consultant, Mark Schaefer: KNOWN: The handbook for building and unleashing your personal brand in the digital age.
In this handy guide, Schaefer takes you by the hand and walks you through the process of figuring out what to talk about, where to talk about it, and how to become known in your space or area of interest. There is also a supplemental workbook available with helpful exercises to get you started. Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing him and that interview will soon be published in the Huffington Post and on my upcoming podcast.
If you decide to create a personal brand, be forewarned that it does involve some risk and vulnerability. You have to have the stomach to handle occasional negative comments. You also have to decide how much of yourself to expose. To a certain extent, being raw, real, and authentic will help you win attention and a following like never before and much of the business world is becoming less stuffy and buttoned up thanks to the Internet and startup culture. However, you have to figure out where to draw the line between what you feel comfortable sharing and what is too personal or NSFW.
Also, keep in mind that colleagues who think having a personal brand is unprofessional or self-indulgent might poke fun or criticize you for doing it. Some companies have strict guidelines about what you can or cannot say publicly, which you should be familiar with if you’re concerned about losing your job. Consider that now may not be the right time in your life yet to do it and that’s ok. Have an honest conversation with yourself about whether or not you are ready to start building your personal brand.
Have you developed a personal brand or are you interested in doing so? Do you communicate best on audio, video, or in writing and what channels do you prefer to use? Do you have any questions or tips you’d like to share?
Please let me know in the comments!