If you haven’t, or if you’d like to hear what I think is a fresh view on personal branding, then stick around. I’m going to start by laying down some foundational ideas and concepts (some of which may already be familiar to you) and then we’ll dive into identity, which is the core of sustainable, healthy personal branding.
What is a personal brand?
From the outside looking in, your personal brand is how people perceive and describe you. It’s an image. Maybe you talk a lot about creativity and consistently show paintings you make, and so people see you as a creative person and artist. Maybe you’re a very positive person, and after having enough positive interactions with you, people have an image of a positive, encouraging person when they think of you. You become known for what you do and say – and that is your brand.
Your personal brand is how people perceive and describe you.
To take that a little deeper, a personal brand is really people’s experience of you. It’s how they see and feel about you after interacting with you a few times or seeing your content online. It’s intangible, but it’s describable. Based on their experience, they decide who you are, whether or not they like you, and whether or not they can do business with you.
What is personal branding?
If a personal brand is the perception and experience people have of you, then personal branding is the process by which you create that image and experience.
Personal branding is when you intentionally speak, behave, style yourself, and create content to convey a particular image and create a particular experience. When personal branding is done well, people walk away from an encounter with you being able to identify who you are and what you stand for, to the extent that they could convey that to someone else.
Now, if that sounds manipulative, then I’m glad it crossed your mind – because it can be. In fact, a lot of people talk about personal branding solely in terms of being who your target audience wants you to be.
But there’s another way, and we’ll look at that shortly. You might be wondering though…
Why should I develop a personal brand?
If you are going to sell your work or services under your own name, then you need to develop a personal brand. People will be looking directly to you rather than a corporate collective for solutions to their problems.
YOU are your greatest asset.
Believing that doesn’t make you self-centered or narcissistic. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t dependent on others or that you don’t have limitations.
It means that you are the foundation of your business, and no matter how commoditized your work is, no one else is you. You are unique. You’ll do things a little differently.
With that in mind, the real value and purpose of personal branding all comes down to one thing: trust.
People trust you when they know you – and your personal brand helps with that. It creates a consistency of experience that helps people know what you’re about. You become identifiable, known, and trusted.
This is why you need a personal brand.
Personal branding often deals with the describable, public aspects of you and your work.
It’s hard to talk about someone you don’t know anything about, but a personal brand provides an identifiable image and experience that facilitates communication about you.
A lot of people will say that your brand – how you are seen and experienced by others, your reputation – is a product. They would even say that you yourself are a product.
But in that definition, personal branding becomes all about styling – about making your brand palatable and marketable to those who come in contact with you. It becomes purely about self-promotion, and when it’s taken too far, it can create a public identity that is uncomfortably different from your private one.
I think that misses the point entirely. People don’t just want someone who appeals to their senses. They want someone they can know and trust.
So, if the foundational of personal branding shouldn’t simply be making your image into whatever your audience wants, then what should it be based on?
My answer to that is: personal identity.
Personal Identity: The Foundation of Healthy Personal Branding
Personal branding often deals with the describable, public aspects of you and your work.
Maybe you are seen as an eclectic genius who creates absolutely incredible, edge-of-our-age tech solutions and makes statements that are only understood by the smartest 2% of people in the world.
Maybe you’re a YouTube or streaming personality who tends to be a bit crass. You’re known for your sense of humor and your use of profanity, but people take you as a person who has fun more than a person who is offensive.
These are describable, communicable aspects of personal brands – and those are important.
But they don’t exist without the people behind them.
You have a personal identity, and if you want to develop a personal brand in a healthy, sustainable way, your identity has to be the foundation.
If you try to start building a personal brand from definable personality aspects (I need to be seen as kind, as funny, as sexy) or styles (I’m always seen in high-fashion outfits with a hint of yellow, or I’m always lounging in sweatpants) without starting from YOU, you’re going to start creating something that is in conflict with your internal self.
Ever told a lie?
How long did you maintain that lie? How long before it started eating away at you?
How long before you didn’t want it anymore?
It’s easier to lie on the internet, but your personal brand doesn’t stay there. If you really want to develop a personal brand, you’re going to have to carry it with you when you walk outside tomorrow.
If you try to build a personal brand without starting from YOU, you’re going to start creating something that is in conflict with your internal self.
When we do things that are in conflict with the truth, they always break us down at some point – so, if you want a personal brand you can live with, start with who you are.
Who Am I?
If personal identity is the foundation of personal branding, then this is the first question you need to ask yourself – but simply asking “who am I?” doesn’t easily get to the root of ourselves. We need more specific questions to get us on the right path.
I’ve put together a short collection of questions to help get you started in this area, and these will connect well to what we talk about in the next blog post as well. If you want to go deeper later, do a quick google search for “Self Discovery Questions”. It certainly won’t hurt you.
Take your time with these. Get very detailed. Don’t answer based on what you’d like to be, who wish you were, or who you used to be – answer based on who you are right now. The deeper you go, the better things will be for you in the next process.
Introductory Self Discovery Questions
Start with these. Some of these questions might not seem incredibly relevant to your brand or business, but dealing with those “irrelevant” questions will still open you up more, which will be helpful when you start having to observe and make decisions about specific aspects of your personal brand and how you’ll go about building it.
What matters most to you in life? This probably won’t have a one-word answer, and that’s fine. Dig in and start fleshing it out.
Is spending time with your family what you most want out of life? Does everything you do boil down to guaranteeing more time with them? Are your interests centered around helping people with your skillset? Or is it your deepest desire to make as much money as you possibly can before you die?
Answer honestly. If you find you don’t like the answer, you can develop yourself and start making changes – but in the meantime, who you are and what matters to you currently will impact your brand.
What are your dreams and goals? Life can get to the point where we just do our best to make it and we don’t worry about dreams and goals anymore – but take some time to think about this.
What do you want to do? What do you want to be? What do you want to accomplish in the next week, the next year, in your lifetime? Even if you have dreams and goals that are difficult, near-impossible, or vastly imaginative, they are still a part of who you are.
What are you willing to be vulnerable about? Vulnerability is key to building trust, but it also opens us up to criticism and rejection. If you aren’t willing to be vulnerable about anything, then building trust and meaningful relationships will be very difficulty.
Find the areas where you put up walls and barriers and decide which ones you’re willing to let down. You don’t have to do them all, and you don’t have to do them all at once.
What makes you feel most like yourself? This answer varies for everyone, but chances are pretty high that you aren’t doing what most resonates with you. For me being creative, helping and encouraging others, bringing people joy and giving them valuable truth – these things make me feel like myself.
These are the things that I can keep doing, day in and day out, without feeling like I’ve wasted my time.
That doesn’t mean nothing else is valuable or that we should always get to do these things – but your answers to this question can form a baseline for future goals and endeavors.
What makes you feel motivated? What inspires you? It’s easy to think of positive things here, but consider the negatives too. Does fear of what people think motivate you to do things? Are you afraid of missing out, so you do everything you can?
What motivates you, the positives and the negatives, will affect how you try to motivate and inspire others.
What is your story (so far)? You have a story. You may not think it’s special or interesting, but you have a story – and even if it is similar to others, it is yours and yours alone.
Write it down. How did you get where you are? Where did you start from? What did you have to overcome along the way? How did YOU do it? It’s not all going to be pretty – but it’s real. Get into the details.
We all connect to stories, and yours will connect people to you.
What pain points do you solve? A pain point is the place someone is hurting or has a need. Knowing what pain points you solve shows you where what you have to offer is valuable. These are the areas you can help people, and that will influence what you talk about and how you talk about it.
As a digital marketer, for example, I give business owners more peace of mind by taking an often difficult and time consuming area of their business off their hands and by helping them generate more revenue (meaning they have to worry about money less often). As a composer, I get to create music that resonates with people in a very deep way, helping them to enjoy a story or just feel a little better in a life that tends to be very difficult.
What are your business goals? Even if you’re an artist, if you want to make a living, you’ll need to make business goals. Do you want to create and sell a hundred pieces of art by the end of the year? Finish and publish a book in a week (hah!)? Generate a few thousand subscribers for your time-saving software solution?
Get some business goals down. They’ll help you make decisions and move forward.
How will your career and business goals help fulfill your personal hopes and dreams?
This is where we’re going.
How do you with your hopes, dreams, and desires, connect to your business goals.
Are you currently disconnected from your business? Do you do the work without desire, or without finding a deeper purpose in it?
If your business’s foundation is you, then what you do doesn’t need to boil down to a to-do list. What you do needs to be founded on what you most need and want.
For me, at my deepest level, I want to glorify God. There are a lot of ways to do that, but in my case, being creative and building relationships where I can help people and share truth are two of the main ways I can do that.
When I factor in my skill sets, I know that digital marketing and music are two of the best ways I can help people. Everyone has to make a living: I can help them do that with marketing. Everyone should have things to enjoy and to move them: I can create music.
These desires don’t just connect to what I do. They affect my business goals directly as well. I want to grow my digital marketing business and get X more clients or have $X more income within the next quarter. I want to have an album finished within six months, or I want to gain X more composing clients within the next two weeks.
When my business grows, I get to better provide for my family, helping both me and my wife. My attempts to grow my business are founded on the hope that I’ll have more money that can be used to help other people through giving and investment. If I get more composing jobs, more people will get to enjoy my music and any of the stories my music accompanies.
Start connecting the dots. If they aren’t connecting, find the disconnect – in who you are, in what you do, in the goals you’re setting – and start to make resolutions and changes that make it all fit together.
How can you do and create things that are useful and helpful to people, based both on who you are and what you do? How you answer this question determines the content you’ll create and share with people. This content will have a huge impact on your personal brand. It will both draw people to you and show what you’re about.
You can write guides, you can create helpful infographics. You can provide tips, knowledge from research and experience. You can help other people in your industry improve their work or live their lives better by creating tutorials and having meaningful, purpose-filled conversations.
Be creative. Come up with ways you can help people based on who you are and what you can do.
Then, do it.
If you are new to personal branding, I hope this is a helpful start for you. Knowing yourself is the foundation of healthy personal branding, and it will help you move forward on the next section of the guide (which will deal with brand principles).
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Regardless of what you’re looking for, send me a message. I’d love to hear from you.
Let’s start something new.