Branding isn’t just for big corporations. It’s arguably even more important for small businesses, where there is often less marketing budget but building and maintaining relationships with their customers is still critically important. I talk a lot about that on this blog. But we can go smaller still — personal branding.
If you’re a freelancer or some sort of entrepreneur who works 1-on-1 with clients, you essentially are your business. So, on the topic of branding your business, what it can come down to is branding you (particularly if you run your business using your own name).
Developing a personal brand strategy is something anyone can do. It isn’t limited only to people who run a business. In fact, personal branding is something you can work on to further your career no matter what it is. Lawyers, real estate agents, and business professionals can build personal brands independent of the firms, agencies or companies they work for.
In this post though, I’m focusing on those of us who offer client-facing services as solo business owners. Personal branding is incredibly beneficial to us. Remember: people buy from people. Okay, let’s get into it.
What is a personal brand?
Your personal brand is the impression that other people have of you. When they hear your name or see your face, what do they think? What do they associate with you? What kind of traits do they use to define you?
As with any sort of brand, because you don’t have control over other people’s thoughts and opinions, you alone can’t decide what your brand is. However, the way you act, speak, dress and interact with others will influence the kind of brand you build and those are all things you do have control.
Another way to think of your personal brand is to see it as your professional, public image. It’s probably a little different than the version of you that exists in a private setting. That’s not to say you’re not being authentic when you’re building your personal brand — on the contrary, I definitely believe you should always strive to be genuine. But just like how you would talk to clients differently than you talk to your closest friends, you need to be thoughtful in the way you present yourself as a brand.
But we’re all complex, multilayered individuals, and for the sake of being targeted and focused in the story and message we share, we need to be choosy about the sides of our personalities, values and ideas that we promote as a personal brand.
Personal branding vs business branding
If you go down the personal branding route, you’re making yourself the business. We can compare this to branding your business separately and making a clear distinction between you as an individual and your business. It’s the difference between operating your business under your own name, or creating a business name.
In the case of one-person businesses, it often makes a lot of sense to build a personal brand. Even if you do create a name for your business, you’ll likely find yourself focusing on building your brand as a person. After all, it’s the idea of working with you that the business has to sell to prospective clients.
Working under your name might feel limiting if you’ve got plans to eventually build a team and grow in size. However, don’t forget that there are plenty of examples of big companies that are named for their founder.
Some pros of running your business as a personal brand:
- It puts you front and centre — great for solo entrepreneurs.
- It’s a way to instantly make your business unique. No one else has you!
- It gives you flexibility. Your business is clearly about you, and not about what you do. Your services may change, but the brand doesn’t have to.
Some cons of running your business as a personal brand:
- It won’t be clear what you do, just from your name.
- You’ll have to put in the work to stand for something and become known for something (i.e. it means you’ve got to build strong branding that has a clear message).
- Even if you do scale up and grow your business to include more people than just yourself, your business name may give the impression that your company is smaller than it is.
Establishing your personal brand strategy
Personal branding, like any kind of branding, is a long-term strategy. You start by defining your goals. (What do you want to achieve? Why do what you do?) You also need to identify who exactly your audience is. (What do they want? How can you give them value?)
You want to align these two things — your goal and the needs of your audience — with the core, foundation elements of your brand. I’ll get into those a bit more later, but essentially, these elements represent who you are as a brand. They’re the things you believe in, stand by and are associated with.
As you develop your personal brand strategy, you want a clear message and story that you stick to consistently. Make sure you’re sharing a message that aligns with your goals, gives your audience what they’re looking for, and is true to your brand. It should specifically address a problem your target market is struggling with, and demonstrate how you uniquely offer a solution. By maintaining to a consistent message, you can build recognition and memorability, and become known for what you do.
Related post: What is brand strategy and why is it necessary?
The elements of your personal brand
I like to break the concept of branding into bite-sized pieces that are easier to understand and implement. And just like with business branding, the elements your personal brand should start with are the following:
Personality — This should be your natural personality, though possibly boosted somewhat to make it stand out. Don’t be afraid to push that personality forward so it really shines through in your brand voice, messaging, and visuals. Take the brand personality quiz.
Values — These are your beliefs, philosophies, the things you stand for. What kind of promises can you make about the way you act and run your business? How do you deliver on the things that are important to your ideal clients? Define your core values.
Purpose — Unlike your goals which are about your own desires of achievement, I believe your purpose needs to be linked to the desired outcomes of your clients. How do you help them? By delivering the results you promise, what are they able to go on to achieve? How are their lives improved by working with you? Helping them gain their dreams should be your purpose; the thing that drives your business forward. Discover your “why”.
As you build on these foundational elements, there are plenty of other considerations that add colour to your brand. What do these things mean to you?
- Passions and things that interest you.
- Strengthen and also weaknesses (don’t be afraid to show vulnerability — you’re human, after all).
- People and ideas you’re inspired by.
- Connections and affiliations.
- Your style, which might be anything from the way you dress, the way you deliver your work, to the way you speak.
Always be true to yourself; it’ll only exhaust you if you’re putting on an act. Besides, people are quick to spot an image that feels fake. So, stay genuine and remember that it’s the very best way to be unique and original.
Do you need a brand identity?
A brand identity refers to the visual components that represent your brand. It includes your logo, of course, but also colours, typography, other graphic elements like patterns, textures and icons, and the style of photography or other images you use in association with your brand.
If you run a business, you should have a brand identity. It not only gives your audience a way to recognise you and promote brand awareness, but a well-designed brand identity also sets a clear, professional tone. It ensure that people see you as not just an individual who happens to offer some services, but as a business owner and an expert.
Your brand identity helps you to:
- distinguish yourself from your competition
- communicate your personality
- build brand awareness
- improve your trust factor
Read all about it here: Why brand identity is important for your business
Building your personal brand
Once you’ve got your foundation in place, you know the message you want to share, and you have a visual language (your brand identity) to support it, you need to get the word out. Building your personal brand means gaining visibility. Fortunately, it’s never been easier to be seen and to gain and audience than it is now, in this digital age.
Choose a platform (or platforms) to put yourself out there. You can use social media, like Facebook and Instagram, you can start a podcast, you can blog on your own site. Start creating content that brings value to the people you want to serve. Make it sharable. Be a conversationalist. Invite people to interact with you, or if you’re starting out, go out and interact with them first.
Be patient as you grow your brand. As I said before, branding is a long-term strategy. It takes time to gain traction and time for people to develop trust in you. The longer you stick to it, the more you’ll find your voice and be able to narrow your focus down to the things that really matter to you and your ideal clients.
Being the guide
If you’ve ever read “Building a StoryBrand” by Donald Miller, you’ll be familiar with the idea of your business being “the guide” in the story of your brand. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept, I first of all recommend the book (it’s got great ideas about messaging) and in the meantime here’s a quick run-down.
In your brand story (like any story), there is a hero and guess what? Whether it’s a business brand or a personal brand you’re creating, the hero is not you. The hero of the story is actually your client. The role you play is that of the guide. You’re here to help the hero.
Remembering this concept will really help you understand what kind of content you can create and value you can offer to your audience. Building a personal brand is not about putting yourself on a pedestal and asking your audience to bow down to you. Instead, you’re trying to help lift them up.
Use this concept to work out what you can offer to your audience that they’ll genuinely find useful. Give them advice that they can immediately put into action and gain quick wins with. It’ll position you as an expert and as a person who can really help them, which in turn encourages them to hire you.
People are always looking to make connections, so making yourself more available and visible is an amazing strategy to push your business forward. Building your personal brand and marketing yourself is extremely doable when you leverage the online space — you just have to stick to it.
For more guidance on establishing your personal brand, check out my free guide to developing your brand foundation: the Core Brand Pillars Workbook.
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