The most powerful thing we can do is learn to be ourselves. I know that sounds a bit crazy… who else are we supposed to be? The truth is, it’s a lot harder than it seems. For most of us, we have spent years trying to be who people tell us we should be, often times even trying to be who we think we should be, instead of being who we want to be.
When I started out, I knew this in my bones to be true. I was just *me* – I didn’t know anything else – and I probably did my best work during this time. I became the only licensed female boxing manager working with the then Super Middleweight World Champion boxer Chris Eubank. I worked alongside Sir James Dyson building the eponymous Dyson brand from scratch and I loved every, single, waking second of it.
Then something happened. I started to think that if I was to be taken ‘seriously’ I had to do things differently. I needed to be a CEO. I needed a Board of Directors. I needed investors. I needed to be ‘serious’.
Now there’s nothing wrong with any of these things – if that’s what you really want. If however, you think, like I did, that you need these things in order to be taken seriously, please think again.
Last year I resigned my position as CEO, stepped down from the company I’d founded but no longer enjoyed running – and had my most successful ever year financially. I made more profit with no full time staff than I had previously done with 30.
So what did I do differently?
I took a giant leap of faith. I decided to just be ME.
I started to build a brand around me, the same way I had done for other people at the start of my career. I was just going to be authentically me.
I realised the people I really wanted to serve didn’t need me to be a CEO: they just needed me to be me.
So what is a personal brand and why is it so important?
It’s what separates one person or company from another. It’s how other people talk about us. It’s how we make people feel. It’s what we stand for.
1. People buy from people.
Sure it can be our name, design, logo, look and feel, but it is so much more than that. We are in the age of YouTube and Instagram celebrities and whilst it is easy to dismiss this as a post-reality TV phenomenon, the truth is we are simply creating new platforms to reach our audiences and engage our tribes.
In today’s crowded marketplace there just isn’t enough room for being ‘another’ face in the crowd. You have to stand out. That doesn’t mean you need to be bold or brash, you just need to be YOU.
2. If you try to appeal to everyone, you’ll appeal to no one.
With so much competition, you have to be more appealing to your target audience than ever before and the best way to do that is by creating a recognisable personal brand.
The success to personal branding is authenticity. You can be an extrovert or an introvert; it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is your ability to tap into your genuine human qualities, embracing your individual talents, skills, foibles, quirkiness and all the things that make you… YOU.
When you do that, you may put off some people (remember, we can’t please everyone all of the time), but you’ll attract your tribe who share your passion and genuinely want to work with you. And that’s a beautiful thing.
So, if you’re building an online brand from scratch – where should you start first?
1. WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE KNOWN FOR?
Get really, really clear on this. Start by asking yourself a few questions:
- What do you stand for… what are your values?
- What are the things that really annoy or frustrate you? Note: You will often find these are in direct conflict with your most important values
- What are your passions? Talk about them, share them
- How can you truly serve your customers?
- What exact line of work do you want to be known for? Think ‘the best gluten-free baker’ rather than ‘baker’ or ‘the new mum’s fitness coach’ rather than ‘fitness coach’
Remember, it’s never just business. Tell your story; share your specialist knowledge and insight. Go deep and reach the people who value that.
2. CREATE A PROFESSIONAL AND AUTHENTIC VISUAL IDENTITY
Pictures speak a thousand words; as do graphics, logos and the colours you use to form your visual identity. Your brand is about so much more than just how you look – but looks are still hugely important.
The only rules are: be true, be aware and be consistent.
If you’re a rock chick, don’t be afraid look like a rock chick – just be aware of the image you’re reflecting and check it works for your audience. If you’re a male fitness trainer, don’t fake being all serious and corporate by sitting behind a desk – people have stronger BS detectors than you think and will know it’s not authentic to you.
Showcase who you really are so people can see you’re the real deal and authentically you.
It’s important for all your images to look great, but remember its NOT about perfection. Avoid stock images but don’t sweat about highly stylised images – just make them real.
And don’t forget to make beautiful business cards, too! Contrary to popular belief, they’re not dead and a professional, on-brand business card shows you’re aware of who you are and what you stand for.
Don’t forget consistency: apply your brand identity across all platforms, social media and marketing collateral.
3. MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A PROFESSIONAL WEBSITE
Your website is your mirror to the world so you’ve got to LOVE it!
Far too many people have ‘website shame’. They’ve invested time and money into building a website they don’t even like, let alone love. I know, I’ve been there. In fact, in 2013 I had THREE completely different iterations of my website because I just couldn’t get it how I wanted it and no matter how much I tried to convince myself ‘good enough was good enough’, I just didn’t love it. Now I’m proud to say I have the best designer in the world and couldn’t love our branding or imagery more. It is totally, authentically, me.
If you’re starting out and have limited budgets, invest it in your website. People will tell you all kinds of things from ‘you can build a website for less than $100′ to ‘you won’t get anything meaningful for less than $10,000′. The truth is relative.
It depends on what you need it for. A fully customised, e-commerce enabled, all singing, all-dancing website could easily cost you over $10,000 and for a site you love and makes you money, it would be completely worth every penny.
However, most of us at the beginning simply want a beautiful website that showcases who we are and what we do. We probably need some help with copy, social media banners, profile images, a bit of decent SEO tagging and some landing pages so we can focus on building our email list from day one. Start with this.
4. WRITE A BOOK
OK, OK, with two #1 bestsellers to my name, it’s not surprising that I would recommend this, right?
Even if you put my personal bias to one side for a moment, books are a fantastic way to grow your personal brand, position yourself as an expert, reach a bigger audience, spread your message further and charge a premium for your services.
I’ve personally seen the difference it’s made to my profile and the media work and PR opportunities it’s opened for me.
Self Published vs Published?
There are pros and cons for both, so its important to understand the key differences
If you need to get a book out quickly and its primarily as a marketing tool for your own customers, events and to send to prospective clients, self publishing is a quick, surefire route to make this happen.
This is the route that I have chosen for a number of reasons: I love writing; I want to reach an international audience; I want to be distributed into physical bookstores (not just Amazon); and, if I’m being really honest, I want the credibility of being published by the world’s largest publisher, Penguin.
However, this is a longer process and it does of course require you finding a publisher who wants to publish your books. If this is your preferred route, make sure you understand the basics of approaching a publisher, how to write a book proposal and how to get the best out of your publisher.
5. PRESS COVERAGE
This year alone I’ve been named among the Top 20 Most Influential Entrepreneurs in the UK by The Sunday Times; had my One Retreat listed in the Top 5 Business Events in the UK by The Guardian; landed a regular spot reading the papers on Sunrise on Sky News and a regular column in Psychologies Magazine.
I don’t have a PR agency. I have zero PR budget.
All my coverage has come from focusing on building my personal brand, putting my story out there, hustling for opportunities, building relationships over a long period of time with the press and treating people correctly.
6. STANDING ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS
Don’t be afraid to grow your brand off someone else’s customer base. Who has a brand that you could partner with that would resonate with your audience and potential audience? Association is a very powerful tool, so use it wisely. Being associated with the wrong people or brands can damage all your good work, but the reverse is most definitely true. If you get the opportunity to work alongside people that you admire, grab it with both hands. It is a fantastic way to amplify your own brand.
Never be afraid to ask, BUT… ask in the right way and focus on giving first.
7. YOUR STORY
You have a story and it’s your job to tell it.
This is the most compelling reason of all for people to follow you. As Simon Sinek would say, “What’s Your Why?”
Share the reason you do what you do. What’s made you choose *this* over everything else you could have done.
Why have you committed to doing this every day for the rest of your life?
Whilst every story is different and should always be told in your own unique voice (just like your brand) there’s a structure to most stories in this context, so think about it like this …
What’s the common issue you share?
Hated your day job; always passionate about food; had a family history of depression so studied the brain; wanted a career and a family; grew up with nothing, so always wanted to control your own destiny … whatever it is, find the common issue and talk about it.
Share your personal story of struggle.
How did that common issue affect you personally. Prove your credentials by proving your humanity.
Share your successes.
What transformation have you made? How is your life better now?
Share some of those lessons.
What lessons did you learn that you could share to help others in a similar situation.
Create a call to action for people to learn more about your work. What are you going to do to share this? How can people find out more?
8. SPEAK ON STAGES
I know this is some people’s worst nightmare, but nothing helps you engage with your audience more than being live. It is also a fantastic way to build a personal brand. We always buy into people more when we’ve had a chance to see them live, in action. This is why video is so effective. It might not be as ‘live’ as being there in person, but it is still super powerful.
Join local groups like Toastmasters, networking groups and common interest groups. Put yourself out there, volunteer to speak and hone your craft.
The more you practise, the better you become.
One thing I know for sure: the more authentic you are on stage, the more engaged your audience will be. We are all tired of formulaic ‘me too’ speakers. Don’t try to be an imitation of someone else, just be you. You don’t need to copy someone else’s style, you need to create your own and that will develop over time – and practise.
9. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
Really understanding your true audience, you know the ones who just ‘get’ you. I promise you, they are out there and the more you have the courage to step into your authentic personal brand, the more you will attract them.
Think deeply about how you can you serve them meaningfully. Truly care about them and create content, services and products just for them.
Don’t worry if some people don’t get it, they’re not your target audience and you don’t need them on your list.
Speak to your tribe; serve them and they will become loyal, raving fans.
10. BUILD YOUR LIST
Build your email list through engaging, compelling content: content that showcases you in all your glory. Don’t worry about needing to be a prolific writer; if you can have a conversation with your best friend, you can create compelling content. Write like you speak. That’s who you really are.
Use your content to bring people to your website, but be sure to capture their details using lead magnets and landing or squeeze pages. Nurture those leads by giving more value so you create trust and an environment where people want to buy, so that you don’t need to sell.