I’ll say it:
I really hate the phrase “personal brand”.
And the reasons for my disdain will become obvious as we go on.
However, I can’t deny that this thing called “personal branding” exists. Furthermore, I can’t pretend that I’m not a good example of what is possible with effective personal branding.
I’d be a foolish communicator if I tried to make everyone use a less irritating phrase just because I don’t like it. So while I’ll be using the phrase “personal brand” and its various conjugations throughout this article, just know that it really pains me to do so.
I also must give you one other warning about this article: This isn’t a well-researched article. I haven’t spent hours and hours reading about the subject in order to be able to write this post.
You won’t find a long list of footnotes at the bottom with further reading:
Most, if not all, of the points I raise here are based on my own experiences growing to 59,000+ followers on Twitter, tens of thousands of monthly pageviews on my website, and an email list approaching ten thousand subscribers. With that said, I’ll probably miss something—or even beyond that, say something that you flat-out disagree with. That’s cool too.
As Bruce Lee once said: “Research your own experience. Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, add what is essentially your own.”
What is personal branding?
Your personal brand is simply what you put out for the rest of the world to see and how that is perceived by people. Simple enough to understand. The hard part is successfully applying this understanding in order to build a successful personal brand.
Successful personal branding requires tact and foresight. When attempting to build a personal brand, remember that you live and die by other’s perception of you.
It’s better to exert some control over it than have it be left to chance. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should make yourself appear “perfect” or project a false version of yourself.
How to build a personal brand
Building a personal brand is a simple, three-part process:
Live your life transparently,
Share what you learn and experience along the way.
Let’s start from the top:
Living your life transparently
The number one goal—above all others in personal branding—is to be authentic. People don’t want fake and inauthentic; they want someone they can relate to and connect with.
What you say, what you do, and who you are must align. Live and breathe everything you talk about.
With that said, it’s not necessary to be an authority on whatever you’re talking about. You don’t need to be accomplished or have expert status.
Those things help, but lacking either one is not an automatic death sentence.
What *is* a death sentence for your brand however, is presenting yourself as an expert when you aren’t one.
Projecting a false image of yourself will—sooner or later—come back to bite you in the ass.
Trust and “fan” loyalty are critical to the long-term success of your personal brand, and once you lose someone’s trust it’s damn near impossible to win it back.
Like I said, you don’t have to be the best at what you’re doing.
But you must be *doing* something.
The more unique and challenging, the better.
It doesn’t matter if you’re just getting started, as long as you are taking action.
Embarking on a journey and letting others come along is a great way to build a personal brand. By sharing your own insights, successes, and struggles, you can become a source of inspiration for others—and you enable people to learn along with you.
Beyond that, it makes you human.
People can connect easier with someone who seems to be kind of like them, rather than some super-human robot. This is critical to building a tribe and finding your “10,000 true fans”—which can enable you to pursue your passions full-time.
“My heroes have the heart to live the life I wanna live” —Gnarles Barkley, *Crazy*
Share your experiences
It doesn’t matter what you do if you don’t put yourself out there. To build a personal brand, you must find a way to share your experiences and learnings with a wider audience.
There are a ton of ways to do that and in many ways, it doesn’t really matter what option you choose—as long as it’s the right one *for you*.
If you don’t write well, there’s Instagram and YouTube.
If you’re not photogenic, there are podcasts and blogs.
If you struggle with producing long-form content, there’s Twitter.
There’s a mode of self-expression for everyone. You can dabble in all of them, but to maximize your chance of success, it’s best to focus on one or two of these.
And remember that writing, vlogging, podcasting, Instagramming, etc., are all skills that can be learned—and in some cases, completely outsourced. Don’t let your inexperience with these forms of expression be what holds you back.
How do you find your niche?
I get asked this question every now and then by people just starting out building a personal brand.
My answer is that you shouldn’t *try* to find a niche:
Authenticity is at the heart of personal branding because it allows people to connect with you on a personal level. That’s why this whole phenomenon exists in the first place.
Rather than attempt to grab attention by touting the benefits and features of a product, you build a network of like-minded individuals who look up to you and care about what you have to say.
Because you’re building relationships and making *yourself* the focus—rather than a service or product—it doesn’t make sense for you to “niche down”.
Why? Because personalities don’t fit neatly into specific niches. So the more narrow and “niched” your personal brand is, the less authentic to you as a person it will be.
And the less authentic you are, the weaker your personal brand will be.
So don’t worry about focusing on a specific niche; let the full range of your personality and passions shine through.
No niche, no competition
The reason why people race to find a “niche” they can flourish in, is because it is believed to limit your competition and stand out easier.
That’s why companies niche down, in any case.
But when you have a strong and authentic personal brand, no one can compete with you.
That’s because no two people are alike. No two people have the exact same hobbies, lifestyle, personality, and life story.
When you allow all aspects of your being express itself via your personal brand, a niche of one is automatically carved out for you.
Some have called me a social media influencer on Twitter.
For the sake of argument, let’s say that I accept this label:
Well, I’m not in competition with other influencers because my fans follow *me* due to *who I am*, and other influencers’ fans follow *them* because of *who they are*.
If you sell hot dogs, someone could easily find out where you’re sourcing your hot dogs from, open an identical hot dog stand, and steal your customers.
But if you have a personal brand, people can try to copy you all they want. They will never be able to *become you*, which is ultimately why people follow you and not them in the first place.
How to make money from your personal brand
Let’s be honest:
The reason why most people are interested in starting a personal brand is so they can make money.
Now, if the only reason you’re in it is to make money, you’ll probably not be very successful.
Building a personal brand takes time. People who are looking to make a quick buck don’t have the patience or the passion it takes to stick with it for the several years it usually takes to build a brand before you can live off it.
If all you care about is money, you’re better off starting a business.
But if you have a desire to express yourself and share your experiences with an audience, there’s nothing wrong with making money off it.
There are many ways personal brands can make money. They generally fall into one of two categories:
Selling your own products
Promoting other people’s products
Both of these are rabbit-holes that I won’t go into in this post. I will say that it’s a good idea to diversify your revenue streams; you don’t want to become so dependent on one source of income that you can’t manage without it.
For example, I have a book about life philosophy. I help promote a CBD oil that I use, I run a Twitter consulting group, and my next book is about sobriety. I can dive into any area I wish to with no resistance because my personal brand reflects my varied personality.
But let’s ignore *what* it is that you’re selling. *How* do you go about selling it?
How to promote products successfully
Share your own story and your own experiences with that product.
My successful affiliate partnerships (“affiliate” marketing is when you promote someone else’s product in exchange for a commission fee) have all been based on sharing my personal experiences with that product.
I only promote stuff that I’ve tried myself, and when I promote them, it’s because I genuinely like the products—not because I’m trying to milk my audience for money.
I have one of the most popular reviews of Wim Hof’s breathing course in the world. It heavily focuses on *how* I used the course and what *I, personally* got out of it.
When I began promoting Sabaidee CBD, I simply talked about how I used it in my daily life and how it helped me reach my goals. I didn’t have to “sell” hard—just share it with my followers and tell them my thoughts on it.
Again, authenticity and transparency are critical. Don’t promote products you don’t believe in or use yourself, and don’t abuse your followers’ trust.
If you want to sell more, sell less
Companies exist to sell a specific product or service.
For personal brands, the product is secondary. They are in the business of building relationships, which means you don’t have to—and also shouldn’t—spend all your time constantly selling stuff.
When you’re not selling, you can focus on building trust and growing your audience. Make sure that you’re a *giver* rather than a *taker*; people are more likely to believe your recommendations when you aren’t constantly trying to get them to buy something.
People will also look forward to consuming your content because it generally comes with no-strings-attached, and on the few occasions that you do promote something for sale, they won’t mind that much.
A word about teaching “online marketing”
There’s no scarcity of people whose “personal brands” are based entirely around teaching other people how to make money online.
Not only are these committing the mistake of niching down and thus being inauthentic to themselves, they are basically engaging in a pyramid scheme type of business model: they make money teaching other people how to make money, who then almost inevitably go on to teach other people how to make money, and so forth.
It’s not a sustainable business model, and it’s not something you should want to be a part of.
A word about anonymity
Not everyone is prepared to expose themselves to the vulnerability that inevitably comes with building an authentic and transparent brand.
After all, you’re sharing what are often intimate details about your life, for the whole world to see. That can be scary.
For this reason, some people opt for anonymity. The problem with this is that when your face is not the brand of what you are building, then you are—almost by definition—not a personal brand.
If you are building a brand from a position of anonymity, you are building a corporation or company (or something like it, anyway). That’s not a bad thing, as there are pros and cons to each approach.
Your personal brand makes you an open book to the world and your fans. If you don’t want that, then don’t start a personal brand.
The one thing that’s more important than everything else
If you take nothing else from this article, just remember to strive to be your best self. If you do that, you can mess up quite a few other things and still do alright.
This is the ultimate point of having a personal brand: to make a mark on the world as you strive to become a better version of the person you were yesterday.
If you commit to continuous improvement with unmitigated transparency, there is no limit to the connections you can make and the impact you can have.