Personal branding secrets: 5 steps to building an outstanding personal brand

personal brands are everywhere—and the way an individual chooses to shape their personal brand depends on what image they want to create and what they want to achieve. Think Oprah. Richard Branson. Beyoncé. Gordon Ramsay. Personal branding can be extremely diverse.

Look at virtually any successful Youtuber, blogger or business person with an online fan base and you’ll see that their personal brand plays a major role in their success. It’s their personality that makes them approachable, trustworthy and memorable. Their businesses are built around them as a person, which makes their business and person literally inseparable. Personal branding is their biggest asset.

So, how do you actually go about building a personal brand? Here are the 5 steps you need to think about:

1. Understand why you’re building a personal brand

Okay, so it’s clear that you need a personal brand if you want to be successful. But how exactly is it going to help you? What are your specific reasons for wanting to create a strong brand? Getting clear about what you’re trying to achieve with your brand will help you map out the steps to get there.

Personal branding for freelancers

Daniel Margulies built a personal brand as a freelance copywriter making six figures on Upwork so successfully that he now doesn’t even do freelancing anymore and coaches other freelancers on how to make more money!

As a freelancer working on a project-to-project basis, a personal brand is absolutely critical. Your personal brand will help raise awareness that you exist and will build credibility and trust so that more clients seek out your services. Ultimately, a strong personal brand means that clients will come to you instead of you having to hustle to find them—saving you time and money.

Personal branding for entrepreneurs & business owners

As a business owner, you should already be building your business brand. Your brand strategy will include your overall purpose and your values, the benefits that your brand stands for and how you’re different from your competition, as well as tangible elements like your logo and the colors and typography found throughout all of your materials. But behind your business brand there’s also a personal brand.

Look at Richard Branson. He has 11.3 million followers on Twitter—compare that to the Twitter accounts of his properties Virgin Atlantic (556K), Virgin Galactic (171K) and Virgin Media (225K). As he declares on his profile, he is a “tie-loathing adventurer, philanthropist & troublemaker, who believes in turning ideas into reality.” Branson uses his personal brand to support his different ventures and to get people to buy into his companies.

Richard Branson is notorious for his fun-loving attitude, his passion for what he does and his belief in work-life balance for himself and his employees.

People are naturally interested in other people and their stories. They want to know why you set up your business in the first place, what you stand for and what talents and quirks you bring to the table. Cultivating a strong personal brand will humanize your business and allow you to develop stronger relationships which will lead to broader exposure.

As an entrepreneur, you’re also likely to start more than one business over the years. Your current business venture may fail (hopefully not!) and you may sell your shares and move on to your next project—but your personal brand lives on.

2. Take control of your P.I.E.

A delicious P.I.E.: Performance, Image and Exposure. 

Unfortunately working hard or having great ideas is rarely enough these days. No matter what you do or what your goal is, the secret is to be in control of your P.I.E.: PerformanceImage and Exposure. All three pieces of your professional P.I.E. need to work in your favor if you want your personal brand to succeed.

Performance is fundamental, of course. You need to deliver quality results in your work. Image is about what other people think of you—it’s your personal brand! And the final piece, Exposure, is about making sure that people know who you are and what you stand for (I’ll show you how, below).

Try to figure out where you can improve: do you deliver top results, but your image isn’t great? Is your image fine, but you’re lacking exposure? You need to pay attention to all three for the best results.

3. Find your brand story and create your brand framework

A strong story is built on core foundational pillars that together support the overall objective behind your personal branding efforts.

Before you start telling your story, you need to work out what that story will be. What do you want to be known for? What will make you stand out against your competition? It’s important that you develop a deep understanding of your brand personality and personal brand identity.

A personal brand framework, or story, consists of a number of key elements:

Brand purpose

What is your overall purpose, your ‘why’? Why do you get up in the morning and go to work? What is it that you’re ultimately trying to achieve? This could be professional success or helping or supporting others with your product or service.

Core values

Brands are more and more value driven today and your personal brand must be even more so. What do you want to stand for? What do you value most of all in your personal and professional life? Creativity and innovation? Integrity and respect? Discipline and dependability? Try to come up with five core values.

Brand benefits and reasons to believe

A brand needs to be clear about the functional and emotional benefits it delivers to its customers. When it comes to your personal brand what are the hard and soft skills that you bring to the table? What are your unique strengths? Hard skills are applicable things like (in my case) writing, coaching and mentoring, public speaking, workshop facilitation, business strategy, branding and marketing. Soft skills are attributes like self-motivation, strength, independence, quick thinking and open mindedness.

Next, you’ll want to consider the evidence you have to support those claims. What awards and accolades do you have? What qualifications or client testimonials? Make a list of all of your degrees, awards, credentials, testimonials, prominent media appearances and key examples of your work (i.e. a YouTube channel with your best speaking engagements or a professional blog that features your top writing examples).

Tangible branding elements

Finally, a brand will always have tangible elements like a brand name, logo, colors and fonts—your brand design. What are the tangible elements of your personal brand?

Online, this will include the colors and design elements you use on your website and social networks. Many freelancers who build a brand off of their name also get a personal logo design to use on business cards, their website, etc. Offline, personal branding encompasses your physical appearance including your grooming, the clothes you wear and how you speak, as well as any memorable personality quirks!

Creating a personal brand framework

Just like a business brand, your personal brand framework considers your overall purpose and values as well as the ways in which you bring them to life through daily practice. Via Anna Lundberg.

Create your own personal brand framework (you can follow the format of mine or create your own format), print it out and stick it up where you can see it. As you would with a business brand, you can now use this personal branding framework to guide all that you do, bringing your online and offline personal brand in line with your best self.

What sets your personal brand apart?

Now consider your brand story and framework in comparison to everyone else in your chosen field. What’s special about you? Why should someone choose to work with you instead of your competitors?

Companies often call this their “USP”, their Unique Selling Point and it’s particularly important in a crowded industry. Are you the only one in your industry with a sense of humor? Do you have a unique perspective or special skill that no one else has to offer? Your personal branding should clearly demonstrate what makes you different and put your USP front and center.

4. Assess your personal brand as it stands today

Now that you have created the story that you want to tell, let’s take a look at the story that’s currently being told today.

What does Google say?

How would you go about finding out more about someone? You’d Google them, right? It’s pretty standard. In fact, 70% of employers use Google to check you out while 70% review your social media profiles as part of the hiring process.

This is officially an excuse to Google yourself! What comes up first? Is it your personal Facebook profile or your LinkedIn page? Click on the Google images tab: which photos do you see—are they pics that you want professional contacts to see?! Do you even show up at all or are the search results dominated by someone else with your name?

If the picture that’s being presented on Google is far from the professional image you want to project, or if you’re not appearing at all, then you have some work to do!

When I first started managing my personal brand—as I was quitting my job back in 2013 and considering next steps—Googling my name would bring up the 15-year-old victim of a car crash along with a Swedish university professor. As you can see, I still have a TV presenter there on the right to contend with! Via Anna Lundberg.

What story are you telling on social media?

Now let’s review your social media profiles and see what story you’re telling there.

Facebook is often the biggest culprit. Your profile might be full of rants about some injustice against your local team or drunken photos with the guys at a sports bar. Maybe you complain about having to go to work with a huge hangover every Monday morning or you post lots of cat videos. What about those flirtatious group selfies when you’re out with the girls? Now is the time to consider the image that might form in the minds of prospective clients, partners, investors or employers when they see these pictures and updates.

Consider setting up a separate page for your business persona and limit your existing Facebook profile with strict privacy settings. That way, only your closest friends and family will see your selfies and rants. (Or, better yet, keep them to yourself!)

The other big one is LinkedIn. Is your profile up to date? What’s the message coming through in the recommendations and in any updates? What kind of content are you liking and commenting on? An out-of-date and inactive—or super negative—profile doesn’t make a great impression.

What would a prospective employer or client think of you based on what they find online? Repeat this assessment of all of your social media profiles and make a note of any changes you’d like to make.

How do you come across IRL?

When it comes to your offline presence, it’s a little harder to assess what story you’re telling.

Try asking your colleagues, friends, business associates and former clients how they’d describe you if they were to recommend you to someone—see if they mention the key points that you want to be pushing.

Pro tip: don’t try to be someone you’re not, most people have a sixth sense for inauthentic behavior. Personal branding works best when you’re being authentic and not trying to play a role you think you should be playing.

It’s also useful to take an honest look at your physical appearance. Are your clothing and accessories (this includes any tattoos or piercings) appropriate for the audience you’re trying to appeal to? You may not think looks matter, but people still make a snap judgement about you in the first moments of meeting you. What do you want their takeaway to be?

5. Share your brand story with the world

Now that you know how you look to the world today, you can begin bringing your new story to life.

But it’s not just about what you say, it’s how you say it. Be sure to create an appealing look and feel and use a consistent brand voice on any platform you’re active on. Along with your words and actions that’s what going to convey your personality and create a complete image of who you are.

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