Small-business owners are an interesting lot. They are focused, certainly. And busy? Beyond a doubt. But while they have enough vision and determination to launch companies, they often neglect themselves.
When I bring up the idea of building a personal brand, many small-business owners give me a look -- a look that seems to ask, “and when would I have time to do that?” It’s a fair question. With all the demands on their time, how can a small-business owner build a personal brand? Why would they even want to? And what would they do with a personal brand once they had it?
First, let me say I don’t think every small-business owner needs a personal brand. I know how valuable an asset it can be, but it’s not for everybody.
When a personal brand doesn’t make sense.
Personal brands are for long-term, publicly visible growth. If you’ve got a well-established business and you’re not the type to promote yourself, a personal brand probably isn’t worth it.
Take my friend Al. He’s got a nice furniture sales and repair business. It employs about 10 people. They do good work, run a tight ship and get 90 percent of their business from word of mouth referrals. Al isn’t much interested in expanding the business -- it works just fine at the size it is. Al doesn’t need a personal brand. His business might, but he’d personally like to stay out of the limelight.
And when it does.
Al is one type of small-business owner. Here’s a very different type -- one who would absolutely benefit from a personal brand.
Angela has her own ad agency. She’s a dynamo of activity, writing guest posts at every major publication she can reach. She seeks out public speaking gigs, is working on her second book and actively participates on social media.
Angela’s whole business is anchored to her personal brand. Her company name leverages her personal brand. Angela’s career and her business would barely be a tenth of what they are without her brand.
Those are two examples from the opposite sides of the spectrum.
- Al, who basically lets his work sell itself and who couldn’t care less about social media or marketing
- Angela, whose personal brand is basically the essence of her ad agency
You probably fall somewhere between the two.
What a personal brand can do for you.
Whatever your situation, it’s important for you to know how a personal brand might help you. Even if you don’t need one now, personal brands are kind of like water wells -- it’s best to dig one before you’re thirsty.
Here’s what a personal brand can get you:
- Easier access to interviews (both job and media interviews)
- A better shot at a book deal or a speaking gig
- A way to stand out from other job candidates (should you ever need a job)
- An edge in attracting investors if you want to start another company
- A social media platform to broadcast any message you want
Those are all attractive advantages, even the ones related to getting a job. If you ever sold your company, but wanted to work a few more years, a personal brand would probably land you a better position.
What a personal brand looks like.
Now that you know a bit about what a personal brand might do for you, what might it actually look like?
As you probably know, there are about a thousand definitions of what a brand is. That’s pretty much how it shakes out for personal brands. But basically, a personal brand is an image of yourself that you present to the world. It’s consistent, unique, memorable, easy to recognize and authentic to yourself.
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What do I need?
Here are a few of the common markers that people with personal brands have:
- A high-quality, professional headshot -- something good enough to make you proud when you see it in the newspaper.
- A professionally-designed website -- including a detailed work history, a personal story that explains your view of the world and possibly a blog.
- A personal unique selling proposition -- a statement of exactly what you can offer the world that no one else can.
- Engagement on social media -- have a Klout score of at least 50 or a Kred score of at least 600. Don’t worry if you’re not there yet. Work to build those followings on social media.
Other common markers of a personal brand include:
- A business card with the same design and copy as your website.
- A book, or a column on a major publication.
- A distinctive style of dress. You don’t need Prada to achieve this. Think of Steve Jobs’ black turtleneck and blue jeans. That was just one facet of his personal brand.
There are many other aspects of a personal brand. That list is just to give you some ideas. A personal brand is ultimately the way you present yourself to the world -- a way that is memorable and authentic to yourself.
Special thanks to Pam Neely and Kim Keller for their assistance with this article.