Personal branding has grown in popularity over the past several years, as the widespread adoption of social media marketing and the encroaching distrust of massive corporations have created a perfect condition for entrepreneurs to brand themselves. Of course, personal branding isn’t just limited to entrepreneurs, but the process of creating an authoritative identity for yourself in an online environment can increase your reputation, get you more work, and improve the standing of your business.
Unfortunately, millions of people have jumped onto the personal branding bandwagon without fully understanding the scope of the strategy. There are a number of misconceptions about what personal branding is and how it can be used, so before you proceed with your own personal branding, it’s important to address them.
Personal branding is the process of creating and maintaining an identity for yourself, similar to a corporate brand but built upon your own unique personality. Originally, personal branding was used by job applicants as a way to build their reputation, gain more visibility to potential employers, and ultimately increase their chances of getting hired.
Today, personal branding is more often used as a leverage point for professionals attempting to make connections, forge partnerships, or find work. It can be used individually, by freelancers or independent entrepreneurs, but more often it is used as a tie-in to a larger, corporate brand. Because today’s audience is far more likely to trust an individual than they are to trust and organization, personal branding forges a more personal and therefore, more effective relationship with individual audience members.
Problems begin with misconceptions, and there are a number of popular misconceptions around the concept and execution of personal branding.
These are five of the most common myths I’ve seen:
This one is usually purported by salespeople, or other individuals working for a corporation who believe that the only people who can use personal branding effectively are those who are sole proprietors.
Certainly, freelancers and consultants have an advantage when it comes to personal branding. Because their entire enterprise is tied to their personal identity from the beginning, it’s easier to make the jump from a personal interaction to a business interaction.
However, individuals working for a business can use personal branding in the same way. They can build their reputation by working with their current client list, getting involved on social media, and really showing off the credentials that have made them successful in their position. Then, once a reputation has begun to manifest, these individuals can start making new connections—ones that could lead to a sale (if the individual is a salesperson), or ones that can lend advice and experience to advance one’s skills or career path. Those connections can be funneled to the corporate brand as you see fit, and eventually, connections will start coming to you uninitiated.
Some professionals are discouraged by the idea of creating and maintaining a personal brand because they realize the importance and the amount of effort it takes to create a corporate brand. Some companies spend hundreds of man-hours crafting the perfect logo, the perfect tagline, and the perfect branding plan.
But while personal branding does require some attention paid to your niche and your target audience, it isn’t a matter of creating an entire new identity—at least, not unless you want it to be. For most people, a personal brand is going to be an extension of the self. Your personality and your identity will be your own, with an increase in professionalism and more targeted updates and comments to zero in on your area of expertise.
If your major concern is creating a new identity for yourself, try not to think about it too much. Just be yourself, talk about what you want to become known as an expert in, and let the rest develop naturally.
This is a myth typically followed by people who have become obsessed with the term “personal branding” because it has grown in popularity. They have a misconception that personal branding is exclusively tied to social media, as if simply being on social media is enough to constitute the development of a personal brand.
In today’s world, social media is an absolute essential for creating a personal brand. The potential audience you have access to through social media is unmatched by any other channel. However, that doesn’t mean it’s the only thing you need to find success. In order to develop your reputation, you’re going to have to learn more about your industry, get involved in conversations on a regular basis, write new material, guest post on outside blogs, and even attend events in person in order to get your face and name out there. If you’re truly committed to making a great personal brand, you’ll need to do a lot more than post an occasional social update.
Whether you’re personal branding as an individual or on behalf of a larger corporation, you might believe that the strategy is inherently focused on sales. Entrepreneurs and freelancers, especially, are often fixated on getting the greatest amount of revenue and personal branding can help both types of professionals close more deals. Similarly, the entire motivation of personal branding on behalf of a company is to gain a potential customer’s trust en route to an eventual sale.
However, personal branding is useful for far more than finding and closing leads. If you’re looking for a job, it can open you up to new opportunities—and serves as insurance in case your current position falls through. If you’re trying to earn a promotion or a raise, improving your online reputation can assist you in proving your professional development. And of course, you can use personal branding as a learning opportunity, meeting similar professionals and learning more about the scope of your industry.
Personal branding isn’t a duct tape fix that can turn around your sales strategy, nor is it something to “play around with” over the course of a few weeks. It’s a long-term strategy that pays off exponentially over time. Since your existing contacts will help you make new contacts, the process of reputation building is slow to start but has virtually limitless growth. If you want to take advantage of that parabolic curve, you need to understand that personal branding is a future-focused strategy that will require months, if not years, of continuous effort.
You can use personal branding in almost any element of your career—whether that’s finding a new position, meeting new people, increasing your company’s visibility, or making new sales. It is as flexible as you need it to be, subject to the type and volume of work you put into it. Like with any marketing strategy, its results are largely dependent on the amount of time you spend on it, so be patient, work hard, and eventually that time will pay for itself.