These days, a strong personal brand can serve you better than any resume or degree. There are plenty of examples of successful people who built empires on the power of their personal brands, including Oprah Winfrey, Gary Vaynerchuck, Elon Musk, and Seth Godin, to name a few.
Keep reading to learn what a personal brand is, why you should care, ways to build your own brand, and tips to help you succeed.
What Exactly Is a Personal Brand?
“Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” – Jeff Bezos
In the original sense of the word, a “brand” referred to the identifying marks ranchers burned into their cattle with hot irons to mark their ownership. Over time, these identifying marks became more widely used to represent businesses’ products and services, evolving into the logos of today.
These days, we associate brands not only with easily recognizable icons like the Nike or Apple logos but also with the philosophy and ethos behind these famous companies. A brand does more than simply identify a product – it tells a story about the quality you can expect and what the company stands for.
Branding is an indispensable aspect of marketing, and it doesn’t happen by accident. Successful brands have invested a lot of resources in crafting their identity and establishing the reputation they are known for by deliberately – and consistently – creating specific associations in the minds of their audience by telling stories and making memories.
That’s how a logo, or a name, or a sound (shoutout to Netflix), can instantly convey trust and a thousand specific connotations. It’s how we know that Red Bull means “energy,” Patagonia means “sustainable,” Zappos means “great customer service.”
A personal brand is no different, except that it’s applied to an individual instead of a corporation. Celebrities, politicians, and PR specialists have long understood the importance of a personal brand, but in the age of the internet, personal brands are no longer the sole domain of the rich and famous. Today, personal branding is considered essential for entrepreneurs, influencers, and job-seekers alike.
Why Do You Need a Personal Brand?
Effective personal branding makes you stand out from the crowd by making you familiar.
Think about it. Would you rather hire someone whose work you’ve read, whose podcast you’ve listened to, whose TED Talk you shared, or someone you know nothing about aside from what you’ve read in their resume and what they said in an interview? An established personal brand lends you credibility and gives prospective clients and employers a basis on which to trust you.
According to a 2018 CareerBuilder survey, some 70 percent of employers now vet candidates using social media. That means that being on top of the image you (and your online presence) convey to the world is crucial. We’ve all heard stories of people who lost out on an opportunity because of a badly-aged Tweet.
On the other hand, having an established personal brand – and, ideally, an audience or “following” – makes you an asset to the company that hires you, because your brand helps to strengthen theirs. It’s why stock prices soar when a company announces a new CEO with a solid reputation.
A strong personal brand is more important than a college degree because it actively promotes your expertise and past accomplishments, which is a pretty solid indicator of what you are capable of achieving in the future. Your brand also conveys your attitude or personality and qualities like your work ethic and personal values, making it easy for prospective clients and employers to decide that you’re the kind of person they want to do business with.
Building Your Personal Brand: 10 Ways to Do It
There are countless different ways to build your brand, and they all have one thing in common: you need to consistently create content that is interesting and/or valuable to your audience. Below, we’ve outlined 10 ways you can do this.
1. Start a Blog
One of the best ways to build your brand is to blog regularly on your site. Simply go to wordpress.com or squarespace.com, buy a domain for your site – ideally yourfullname.com, although you may need to get creative if it’s already taken – and blog every single day.
Don’t stress about the topic at first. Build up the muscle of shipping and then focus on a few topics once you are used to shipping regularly.
2. Make Videos
Videos give you a chance to make your audience feel like they know you and can be a great way to build a sense of authenticity by letting your personality shine through in your facial expressions, body language, and intonation in a way that blogging doesn’t.
Just like blogging, regularly producing and posting is key. Get on a schedule and stick with it.
3. Host a Podcast
Like a YouTube channel, starting a podcast allows you to communicate with your audience more directly because they can hear your voice and feel like they’re getting to know you.
Podcasts may take less time to produce than videos, but remember that each medium appeals to different audiences.
One tried and tested way to introduce new audiences to your brand is by hosting individuals who already have an established audience. And again, consistency is key when it comes to publishing cadence (noticing a theme?).
4. Write Reviews
Get into the habit of keeping notes on the content you consume and turning those notes into reviews.
Read a book? Write a review. What did (or didn’t) you like? What similarities did you notice to other texts you’ve read? What did you learn?
Post it to your blog or record a video version and post it to YouTube. Then cross-post it to Amazon and Goodreads. Watched a movie? Review it. Took a course? Review it. Listened to a podcast? Post your notes.
5. Create Tutorials & Guides
When you learn something new, write a tutorial or guide to what you just learned to help others learn the same thing – and drive traffic to your site. You’ll soon find that your most helpful content tends to perform the best, especially if there aren’t many resources available on the topic. Then cross-post on Reddit (on a subreddit like r/todayilearned) or Quora.
If you don’t blog, make a video tutorial series and put it on YouTube or TikTok, or create a detailed Twitter thread.
We call this process of sharing what you learn with others “learning out loud” (more on this below).
6. Present at Meetups and Webinars
Do you go to Meetups? If you don’t, they are a great way to meet people with similar interests and learn new things. Meetup.com is the best resource for finding meetups near you.
Once you’ve gone a few times, pitch the organizers on presenting. Learn their criteria for presenting and put together a talk on something you know well enough to teach. Set up a video camera or a mic and screen recorder to record your talk and post this on your website.
You can even create your own Meetup group if there isn’t already one for your industry or niche in your area, which would position you to facilitate events and build your brand as synonymous with your niche in your city.
7. Participate in Online Communities
What are you interested in? Where do people who are interested in that hang out online? Go there and participate. Be sure to be helpful and don’t spam the community with links.
Comment, give useful feedback and help others more than you promote your own stuff.
Check out Quora and Reddit, Slack communities, LinkedIn, Medium, Facebook groups, Twitter hashtags, and other social media.
Remember, anytime you comment, you boost your visibility within the community and people become more familiar with your name and your brand. This is doubly true if your comments are genuinely insightful and interesting.
8. Use Social Media
Are you regularly posting your work on social media? If not, you should. Social media is a great place to show the behind-the-scenes aspects of your work.
Screenshots, photos, and short video clips of work-in-process links to and photos of inspiration, explanations of crossroads decisions, and solutions to specific problems you’ve faced all make for great social posts.
The goal is to be the first person your social followers think of when the type of work you do comes to mind.
9. Share Tools and Techniques
Found a new tool or technique that helps you get your work done more efficiently? Made your own software tool to solve a specific problem? Built a jig or a stencil to help you create your art? Share it!
Post it for free in your online communities. Being generous is a proven way to build your brand.
10. Help Others
A great way to bolster your reputation and help the community you are involved in is to help others who are just starting out. You can help them with recommendations, tutorials, problem-solving, brainstorming, resources, etc.
Don’t be pushy, but be sure to lend a helping hand and make it know that you’re happy to offer guidance.
This is in line with the idea of creating value for others with anything you create under your personal brand. The more you help others, the more you’ll be signaling your traits as a reliable, knowledgeable, and valuable asset to a team or project.
Tips for Building an Effective a Personal Brand
If you’re a bit intimidated by the prospect of building up your personal brand, don’t worry. There are plenty of excellent resources available online to help you through every stage of the process.
Below, we’ve rounded up ten tips to get you started.
1. Choose Your Niche or, Decide What You Want to Be Known For
It’s easier to build your brand when you target a niche by identifying a particular focus area you want your personal brand to be associated with. What is the one thing you want to be known for?
Whether it’s your razor-sharp commentary on the latest developments in your industry, your life-changing workout videos, your cutting-edge design aesthetic, your track record as a pragmatic problem-solver, or your ability to inspire as a public speaker – zooming in on the skill you’re looking to market is one place to start.
The important thing is to focus on one niche as you build your brand. Once you have an established audience and people find you interesting, you can mix it up by introducing your other interests and hobbies into the mix, but in the beginning, don’t try to be a finance and cooking blogger. At first, most people will consume your content because it’s relevant and useful to them, so bombarding them with content that isn’t “what they came here for” won’t do you any favors.
2. Define Your Audience
Who are you trying to impress? Is it potential employers or customers in your field? A specific individual you’d like to work with? Or maybe you want to be an influencer to newcomers to your industry?
Having your ideal audience in mind will help guide your content creation efforts as well as decisions like which channels to use to promote your content. When you know who you’re talking to, it becomes easier to tell your story and focus on the right details.
3. Write an Elevator Pitch or Short Bio
If you’re not familiar with the term, an elevator pitch is a brief summary of what you do, and more importantly, why it matters.
The elevator pitch is an essential tool for introducing yourself and making an impact, whether you’re networking and someone asks “what do you do?”, or being interviewed on a podcast, or introducing yourself in a YouTube video.
An elevator pitch is best delivered in a punchy, memorable structure. With 30-60 seconds being a good range to fall into – just long enough to fit into an elevator ride. That time is best spent conveying a sense of who you are and what value you can offer the person you’re talking to.
It’s a good idea to have a core story whose details you can tailor on the fly depending on who you’re talking to, to make it more relevant and interesting to them.
4. Grow Your Online Presence
Establishing a solid digital footprint is a huge part of building a brand, and most of the 10 ways to build your brand we outlined in the section above speak to this tip. Aside from being a great way to grow your audience, engaging online creates a digital “paper trail” that anyone considering hiring you or working with you can check out to see what you’re made of.
Your online presence will inevitably spread across a number of different platforms and you’ll post different content on different channels, but they must tell a cohesive story about who you are.
Keep in mind that different channels come with different audience demographics, consider this when choosing which media to use to build your brand. If you want to appeal to younger audiences, TikTok is more likely to be a good use of your time than, say, Twitter or Facebook.
Identify online communities that are relevant to your niche and audience and invest time in creating content for these platforms. Don’t forget that you can also curate content by sharing posts by other influencers in your niche, which is also useful for building connections with them that could lead to collaborations and link building opportunities.
5. Create Value For Your Audience
Creating value for your audience is one of the best ways to build your audience. Instead of constantly selling yourself, create and share content that solves your audience’s problems.
Whether it’s through resources that help them reach their goals, content that entertains them and takes their mind off their problems, or interesting content that can boost their status
by making them seem informed – make sure the content you post offers something of value.
6. Learn Out Loud
Taking an online course? Read an interesting article that made you think? Disagree with something an influencer in your industry said? Have a question you just can’t find the answer for? Need feedback on a new proposal or pitch deck?
Create content about it and involve your community. Start a thread on an appropriate subreddit, ask a question or post an answer on Quora, write a blog about it, or feature it in a YouTube video or podcast. Write about your learnings on LinkedIn, or start a Twitter thread and tag prominent people in your niche.
Learning out loud has many benefits, including that you’ll learn faster, contribute to your digital footprint, and help help you to create value by helping others. Broadcasting your reactions and insights as you learn can make for authentic content that allows your audience to see how your mind works.
7. Work With Influencers/Use Other People’s Clout to Build Your Audience
Who are the big fish in your industry? Who are the established personal brands in your niche? Who are the influencers you follow that have a slightly larger audience than you?
Collaborating with influencers can expose your brand to whole new audiences, which is crucial if you want to keep growing your audience.
If you’re a writer, mention them (and their best content) in your posts and reach out to them to let them know you mentioned them and how useful you found their content. If you’re lucky, they might share your content with their audience.
If you have a podcast or YouTube channel, approach influencers and ask if you can interview them, as small-time marketing podcaster Louis Grenier did with marketing superstar Seth Godin.
Be sure to ask questions that will provide value for your audience: what would they want to know from a top-tier influencer in your industry?
Make a list of influencers in your field and categorize them according to how large their audience is and how easy it would be to land a collaboration with them. Approach influencers near your level of influence for collaborations such as webinars or guest blogs.
For tips on making a good impression when reaching out to influencers, check out our blog Getting Your Foot in the Door.
8. Embrace Networking
If you want to be known for what you do, you need to embrace networking and actively grow your professional circle, offline as well as online. Considering some 85 percent of jobs are filled through networking, it’s a worthwhile investment.
In addition to using tip #7 to extend your reach online, make an effort to connect with thought-leaders offline through networking events like conferences, trade shows, and Meetups. Some hobbies and sports like sailing or golfing can also give rise to excellent networking opportunities.
If you’re terrified of networking and small talk, check out Leil Lowndes’ excellent book How to Talk to Anyone for tips on communication and relationship building.
9. Make the Most of Social Media
Make sure that your social media profiles contribute to telling your story the way you want it to be told. Restrict access to – or get rid of – embarrassing posts from your high school days, and frequently update your social media platforms of choice with information about your recent professional achievements.
Using the same profile photo across all your social media makes it easy for people to find and recognize you. Also, remember to add a consistent bio on all your sites and update it from time to time to highlight your most remarkable projects.
Engage with your audience – respond to comments, ask questions, run surveys – to make them feel like they’re part of something. Social media can also be an effective way to test your ideas and get opinions on projects you’re considering.
Beware of spreading yourself too thin by trying to do everything – select only the handful of channels that are most relevant to you and your audience, and use social media scheduling to help manage the load. Also, be sure to read up on the best practices for each platform you use to ensure you make the most of each channel.
10. Embody Your Brand Daily
Remember that your personal brand isn’t just online; it’s how you present yourself at all times, whether you’re in the office, in the gym, or on the bus.
This means that you should always treat people with consideration and keep in mind that someone could recognize you at any time and behave in keeping with what your audience has come to expect of you from your branding efforts.
This shouldn’t mean that you have to pretend to be someone you’re not. Your personal brand should be an extension of who you are, not an idealized fabrication – people would see through that eventually, which could do a lot of damage to your reputation.
Instead, focus on building a brand that accentuates your positive attributes while allowing you to be your authentic self.
Build Your Brand with Praxis
If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, that’s only natural – it’s a lot to take in! Luckily, there are plenty of resources available to help you establish and grow your brand.
One such resource is Praxis, a college alternative designed to help young people to set themselves up to thrive professionally. Praxis is a 12-month program consisting of an intensive 6-month remote bootcamp followed by 6 months of on-the-job mentoring at a guaranteed full-time job we help our participants land.
The best part? The first month of our program is dedicated to helping participants to polish their personal brand and master selling their ability to create value. As a Praxis participant, you’ll grow your portfolio and build the habit of shipping quality content through real projects that showcase your capabilities, adding to your brand and giving you something to wow prospective employers.
To find out more about Praxis and how we can help you develop your brand, read Why Praxis.