Building a strong personal brand might be the most important thing you can do for your career.
If you work for yourself, having the backing of a personal brand can help land you bigger clients, award you more choice and flexibility in your career, and allow you to demand more money for your time. Just ask Syed Balkhi, co-founder of Optin Monster.
“My personal brand has been immensely helpful in growing our business.” says Balkhi. “I have gotten tons of speaking gigs, customers, as well as high-profile connections that have led to a lot of money in revenue.”
If you’re employed, the benefits are similar – you’ll be able to ask for higher salaries and better contract terms and you’ll be able to take your pick of employers and roles.
But perhaps more significant is this:
You can’t really avoid having a brand.
If you use the internet – if you have accounts on social media sites or industry forums – you already have a brand, whether or not you intentionally do anything with it. 60% of employers use social media to dig up the dirt on candidates. I don’t doubt most of them research people and companies ahead of forming business relationships, too. So could a poor personal brand be hurting you?
Whatever the current state of your personal brand, taking control of it offers untold benefits. I daresay it could change your life. It’s certainly changed mine. Intrigued? Read on for the ultimate guide to building your personal brand, in which we will cover:
Let’s look at how a personal brand can help supercharge your career with some examples of influencers who have been there, gotten the T-shirt, and reaped the rewards of an awesome personal brand.
Let’s mix this up with someone completely unrelated to my own field: TV chef Jamie Oliver. His personal brand, rather than his skill in the kitchen, is the reason behind his incredible success – his USP being the fact that he’s a family man who wants to change the way we eat for the better.www.jamieoliver.com
Great! Let’s get started.
A brand isn’t a logo, color scheme, or a font. It isn’t your tone of voice or how you describe yourself.
A brand is how others see you. It’s the emotional response people have upon coming into contact with your company – or in this case, you.
What I’m getting at here is that you can’t control your brand, but everything you say, do, and create will influence it.
This means the first step in building your personal brand is to create your vision for how you see yourself and your brand.
Ask yourself: In an ideal world, how do I want others to see me?
They come as naturally to us as breathing, but unfortunately, the innate nature of “values” means few of us really think about what ours are.
Well, now it’s time to figure yours out. This is because values don’t just define people – they define brands, too.
Your own values will define everything else you do to create and build your personal brand. It’s absolutely critical that you understand what yours are.
Many of the most successful brands are the ones that are a little bit different. They have something unique about them that makes them stand out from the competition.
It wasn’t the first company to manufacturer MP3 Players or smartphones. Far from it.
Released in 1999, the RCA Lyra RD2201A pictured above was a small, well-built device that could store 32MB of music. In 2000, Creative Labs launched the Nomad Jukebox (pictured below). It boasted an impressive storage capacity for the time (6GB) but was huge – the size of a portable CD player – and required 4 AA batteries to run.
When the iPod came along, it entered a market saturated with competition, yet it very quickly dominated it.
This was because the product boasted a number of game-changing USPs, not least of which was its sleek, attractive, and intuitive interface.
Apple succeeded not because it brought a new product to market, but rather because it took a popular concept and redesigned it. The result was a product that stood out against the competition – in a very, very good way.
Of course, you’re not expected to design revolutionary technology in order to give your personal brand a USP. The Apple example is simply to illustrate how important USPs are to a brand.
Your USP will, most likely, be much more personal.
My USP is my love of adrenalin sports, but more importantly it’s what that represents – my adventurous nature. I live for the moment and with no regrets (I proposed to my wife Amy less than two weeks after meeting her, and 11 years later, couldn’t be happier).
This is what defines my personal brand.
Why do you want to build your personal brand?
What do you want to achieve from it?
It’s important to set clear goals for your brand. This will help determine the path you’re going to follow, the steps you take right now, and what you do in the future.
I’ve mapped out specifically where I want to be in the next year, five years, and ten years. Whether I get to exactly where I want to be is irrelevant. The important thing is that deciding what I want from my life, career, and personal brand gives me direction.
What I’ve done – and what I’d encourage you to do – is to print out your goals and stick them somewhere prominent. The more you’re reminded of what you’re striving to achieve, the greater the chances you will achieve it.
Think about a successful brand. You don’t have to be a customer of that brand or even like them – you just have to be familiar with them.
Next, try to describe that brand in three words or phrases.
For instance, I might describe McDonald's as “quick,” “reliable,” and “affordable.”
Apple could be “innovative,” “quality,” and “aspirational.”
Innocent might be “cute,” “quirky,” and “nutritious.”
Can you guess where I’m going with this?
You’re going to do the same for your personal brand.
I’d probably describe my brand as “adventurous,” “dedicated,” and “approachable.” I can’t guarantee that’s how others see me, but that’s how I aim to come across.
If you’re struggling to describe yourself, ask people close to you to describe you in three words. Just remember that while your inherent traits should influence your personal brand, this is how you want to be seen – not necessarily how people currently see you.
It’s okay to want to change yourself. Dream big.
When you’re happy with the traits you want to define your brand, print them out (again) and stick them where you can’t escape them. These traits should influence everything you do from this point forward.
There’s a lot more to building a personal brand than defining yourself and setting goals and aspirations. A lot of practical work goes into the process, too.
Let’s talk about that for a minute – specifically, building a website, claiming an email address, getting photos taken, and setting up your social profiles.
If you want to build your personal brand you need a website. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s the most important tool at your disposal.
Think of it like a digital resume. You wouldn’t expect a potential employer to take you seriously without a list of your skills, qualifications, and experience, would you? Your website serves a similar purpose – you’re just putting it in front of a much bigger audience.
The first step is to choose and secure your domain name.
Since this is your personal brand, it makes sense for your domain name to be your name (although it doesn’t have to be).
You can check the availability of your name using sites like GoDaddy or Instant Domain Search. If your name has already been registered by somebody else, you’ll be shown a list of alternatives (this is the time when those people who have been blessed with more “unusual” names can say thanks to Mom and Dad).
Once you find a domain you’re happy with, grab it quick (you never know who else might have their eye on it). If your preferred domain is already linked to somebody else, you might want to make them an offer – they may say no, or they might ask for more than you can afford, but it can’t hurt to ask.
Next, it’s time to create a slick-looking website that showcases your skills and presents you as an authority in your industry (even if that’s not quite true – yet).
Here’s some good news: building a website is easy. You don’t even need to know how to code.
Sure, if we’re talking about a large-scale Ecommerce site, you should probably enlist the help of some pros. But this is a site for your personal brand. It’s going to be two or three pages when you launch. All you need are the right tools to get it off the ground.
WordPress is the obvious choice here. It’s the most popular CMS in the world and is – pretty much – infinitely customizable.
Begin by purchasing a hosting plan. You will need this to be able to install and use WordPress.
Look for something affordable, reputable, and easy to use. You don’t need an all-singing, all-dancing super-high bandwidth plan. My top recommendation is A Small Orange. Their “startup” plans are $20 a month. They also offer shared hosting plans which are ideal for small websites and are just $5 a month.
Once your signup is complete, you can install WordPress directly from your hosting account’s control panel.
Picking a theme
While WordPress users can choose from tons of free themes, paid themes tend be more unique, secure, and offer far better support for their users.
Either hire a designer to create you a custom theme or buy a semi-customizable theme from a site like themeforest.
Claiming an email address
If you want to look professional (and you do), avoid using email addresses that end in @gmail.com and other third-party domains. There’s a level of trust and credibility that comes with having a professional, branded email, so it’s important to take the time to set one up.
All domain registration services should give you this option during checkout. But, before you do this, find out who the email provider is. This might affect the cost, security, and service you can expect.
Getting professional photos taken
Photos let us put a face to a name. They help bring your brand to life; to humanize it. Without them, how can you expect people to relate to you, to trust who you are, and what you say? The short answer is: you can’t.
Without photos you could be anyone. So don’t be camera-shy.
At the same time, don’t use any old photos.
The photos you post online are going to affect how people see you. If you look tired and disheveled in them, you’re probably going to be perceived as lazy. If you look miserable, people will assume you’re always miserable.
Think back to the three traits you want to define your brand. The photos you share online – whether on your website or on social media – should reflect these traits.
In general, it’s a good idea to get a few professional shots taken, like these:
A good photographer should ask you what sort of image you want to portray and work with you to communicate that in your photos. Best of all, professional headshots should only cost around $100-200 dollars. Ask local connections for references or check Yelp to find a good photographer for a good price.
If you can’t afford to hire a pro photographer, here are a few tips to help you take great professional-esque headshots.
Social media is going to play a huge part in your brand-building efforts. We’ll talk more about that later, but for now we’re just going to cover some best practices for setting up your social profiles.
Your name and username
If your name is available, grab it. I was lucky – since I joined Twitter pretty early (2009), I was able to get @sujanpatel, which also becomes the URL for my profile.
You might have noticed that the URL of my company Facebook feels a little out of place: facebook.com/sujan.uplift.
That’s because when I first started out I planned to build my consulting business under the name “Uplift”, but it turned out there were too many companies using that name so I had to go in another direction. Unfortunately by then I was stuck with the URL.
Lesson learned: be sure about the names you want associated with your brand before you go around creating digital footprints that you can’t change.
You should also, as much as possible, aim for consistency. If you can’t claim your actual name on a social site, choose a unique alternative. Use that alternative anytime your real name has been snapped up by someone else.
Your profile pic
Similar rules apply here to what we’ve already discussed about getting professional shots taken.
The photo you use in your social profiles should be professional, high-quality, and reflect how you want your brand to be seen.
Ideally, choose a head or head and shoulders shot – your face should be crystal clear. This is not the place to use holiday photos or full body shots.
And again, aim for consistency. You should be instantly recognizable across all your social profiles, so it’s important that all profiles feature the same shot, or at least shots from the same shoot (which is the approach I’ve taken).
This is where it’s okay – advisable, in fact – to mix up the content that appears on your social profiles.
In some cases, it’s unavoidable.
Take Twitter, for example. You need to describe yourself in just 160 characters. That’s not easy (especially for a guy like me who generally has a lot to say!)
The best advice I can give for writing a Twitter bio is to pick out your most important attributes and not worry about the rest.
Alternatively, you could create a little mystery by saying almost nothing about yourself, aka Barry Schwartz “Search Geek.”
On Facebook, you’ll need to write a short description (155 characters) and a long bio (I can’t find the character limit for this – if anyone knows, let me know and I’ll update).
LinkedIn asks for a “headline” (120 characters) and a “summary” (2,000 characters).
You’ve got more room to maneuver here, but that doesn’t mean you should keep talking just because you can.
Think of your bios as elevator pitches. You want to tell people enough about yourself to spark intrigue and get them wanting more. You should also include a few keywords if possible, since they can help your bios be found both in on-site searches and search engines.
Not all sites will allow you to add custom backgrounds – such as LinkedIn, for instance – but when the option’s available, use it.
This is your chance to be a little more creative with how you present your brand. Your profile pic should show a clear image of your face. You background (aka cover photo) doesn’t have to.
On Twitter I’ve chosen to use one of my favorite shots of me – this one where I’m mid-skydive and half terrified, half utterly elated:
I chose it because it shows that I don’t just talk about being adventurous – it helps illustrate that my whole life really is an adventure. It also helps humanize me and demonstrates that I have interests outside the internet.
Best of all, it gets me a few compliments and is a great conversation starter.
Utilize this space to show another side of you and your personal brand.
Your privacy settings
Last but not least, always check the privacy settings of any site you sign up on. It’s important that you make sure you’re only sharing the information you want to, with the people you want to see it.
Everybody has a story. To build your personal brand, you just need to be able to tell yours. This is primarily because the modern consumer values authenticity. We’re choosing to shun the corporate giant in favor of independents we can relate to.
We want to buy from brands that share our ethics and have a sense of social responsibility, but that also have real stories to tell – not tall tales dreamt up in boardrooms.
A personal brand is no different. You need a mechanism that allows your audience to relate to you. That’s your story.
So where do you start?
Begin by brainstorming facts about yourself and your life – facts about both your personal life and your career.
Think about things like:
When you’ve noted everything you can think of, it’s time to weave the best bits into a story.
How easy you will find this depends on your natural abilities as a writer. Some people find it easier than others.
But don’t let difficulties in this area hold you back.
If you’re struggling, ask for help. There’s no shame in getting someone to craft your story for you (you don’t think celebrities write their own autobiographies, do you?). Alternatively, you might just want to hire a proofreader to check it over and iron out any rough edges.
The important thing is that your story is engaging and that it lets your personality shine through. Not only do those things make a story far more entertaining to read, but they make it feel more authentic.
Take the walmart.com story.
The opening quote isn’t so bad, but the rest…
That might all be true, but it’s generic and it’s boring. It doesn’t make me warm to Walmart and it certainly doesn’t make me want to know more.
Of course, writing a story for one of the world’s largest brands is going to be pretty different than writing a personal brand story, but the same rules apply – and it’s not like massive brands haven’t pulled off the art of telling an amazing story.
Take The Lego Movie, which is arguably the best example of brand storytelling of all time.
Okay, so you might argue that storytelling comes easier to a toy manufacturer than a supermarket, and I’d say… you’re right.
But what about “Something Wall-Mart This Way Comes”?
The fact is, there’s a story in all of us. We just have to find it, extract it, and tell it in a manner that engages the reader.
You also need to bear in mind who this story’s for, and who it’s about. Because it’s not about you.
Sure, it’s your story. But you’re not telling it to yourself, or for yourself.
Your story is for your readers. For your connections. For your customers and potential customers.
To get an idea of what a great personal brand story entails, take a look at how your industry’s biggest influencers are telling theirs.
To get you started, here are a few great stories from some big names in digital…
The most natural place for your story to be is – in most cases – on your “About” page.
You can accompany it with testimonials or examples of your work, or these can sit on a separate page – that’s up to you. The important bit is that the story is positioned somewhere it can be found easily.
Beyond that, you can – and should – use your story elsewhere in your online activities. Don’t republish it word-for-word – you don’t want to create duplicate content issues for yourself.
Instead, use elements of your story (reworded, of course) to help you write social media profiles or bios for guest posts. Use it in videos or reference it in interviews. Think about it when you post social media updates. Leverage it when networking.
Your story helps paint the picture your audience will have of you. It should play a part in pretty much everything you do.
Your story didn’t end when you hit publish. It really only just began.
Think of your story as an open-ended book that you keep adding to. From time to time, you’re going to need to update the story that sits on your “About” page. Outside of that, you’re going to be developing your story all the time.
“The great thing about a story is that it lives on. Real stories keep on telling, keep on going, and keep on connecting with people. Keep your story alive by continuing to impress your customers and give them the best experience possible.” – Neil Patel, for Kissmetrics
Each time you tell a part of your story, that story might change a little bit. That’s fine. That’s good. Let your story grow with your brand.
A blog plays an integral part in building a personal brand. It’s where you get to showcase your expertise and it provides material that can drive traffic to your site and be used to push yourself on social media.
If you want to be respected within your industry – to be known as an authority or an influencer – then you need a platform that can showcase why you deserve to be known as those things.
There’s no better platform for this than a blog.
You may know that I do a lot of it (blogging, that is), both on my own blog and in guest posts. I have no doubt it’s played a huge part in getting me to where I am today.
And it’s not just me.
Groove spends around $1,657.25 on each of its blog posts. That might sound like a lot, but it nets the company blog subscribers and trial users and has been integral to the growth of its brand on social media.
CEO Alex Turnbull said, “The blog has helped us take advantage of numerous – and big – business opportunities, none of which would have been available to us otherwise.”
If you’d rather talk cold, hard cash, The Sales Lion stated that its blog is responsible for 2 million dollars in sales.
Yann Girard has landed speaking spots and events, connected with tons of awesome people, and has been inundated with job offers – all on account of his blog.
This is the easy part. Chances are you overcame this hurdle when you were setting up your site. If not, and you’re using Wordpress, all you need to do to set up your blog is post something.
To do that, just select “Posts” from your dashboard instead of “Pages.” As soon as you hit “Publish,” your blog will be launched.
Naturally, the primary subject matter of your blog is going to be your area of expertise. More importantly, it should be about what interests your audience. Remember that while this brand is your personal brand, it’s not really about you. It’s about your audience.
Focus on what they want to learn and read about.
We’ll talk about how to find that out very shortly.
Of course, since it’s a personal blog, you might want to interject every so often with a post that’s a little more about you than what you do.
Take Rand’s blog. It’s as much about his thoughts, opinions, and personal escapades as it is about his professional life. It’s a fine balance, which works – for him.
It’s worth remembering that Rand has the kind of celebrity profile that means people want to know about him on a personal level. If you do too much of that, too soon, you risk coming across as more “self-indulgent narcissist” than “industry-expert.”
In short: tread carefully.
You also need to watch what you say. Keep controversial opinions to yourself and avoid ranting and raving.
When you’re beginning to build your personal brand, it’s critical that people respect you for what you know. In most cases, your knowledge should be at the forefront of what you write about.
That said, posts that showcase your knowledge – that are designed to share information and educate – work better when backed up by personal experience.
I do this a lot. You’ll probably have noticed it in this piece once or twice already. I make a point of writing educational posts that are driven by my own experiences, too – posts like “The Disneyland Effect” and “How I Generated 513 Leads to My Startup By Commenting On Blogs”.
Want to know something really interesting?
Posts that are based upon my personal experiences – such as the examples above – tend to drive the most interaction from my readers.
But bear the subject of these posts in mind. My life and experiences form the basis of them, sure, but they’re not really about me – they’re about my readers, and how they can achieve success by taking similar steps.
If you’re struggling to come up with topic ideas, don’t panic – there are plenty of things you can do (trust me, I’ve been there).
These tools will also help you identify what your audience is talking about and what they want to find out and learn.
For example, let’s say I want to find out what people are asking about how to build a brand. I might go to Answer the Public and search for “building a brand.”
The results bring up tons of potential topics – just be sure to check out both the “Questions”:
I might also then broaden my search by simply searching for “brand.”
Buzzsumo lets you search for a topic and will show you the best-performing content around it. You can narrow your search to look at specific types of content, or certain time-frames.
Buzzsumo is also an excellent tool for gauging how popular a topic is likely to be. For accurate results, search Google for your topic of choice and run the URLs of the top relevant results through Buzzsumo.
Content that’s getting shared is a good indicator of that subject’s potential – however, bear the source of the article in mind. Big sites naturally get more shares – even when the subject matter or quality of the content could be better.
There’s also plenty to be said for simply following blogs in your industry that you like and you know regularly publish good content – not to mention ensuring that you always have the means to jot down ideas as and when they come to you.
To make following other blogs easier, I recommend getting yourself an RSS reader like Feedly. For making notes I use Evernote, but there are countless other apps and tools you can use (as well as a good-old-fashioned notepad).
We’ve already spoken about the benefits of interjecting some of your own experiences into your blog posts. I can’t emphasize enough how this can help build your personal brand.
It shows that you’re not just recycling ideas others have had or blog posts they’ve written. You’re demonstrating that you have the authority to write about these subjects because you have first-hand experience with them.
In addition, personalization will help humanize your brand and encourage people to warm to you.
But there’s so much more you can do to ensure you’re maximizing how effective your blog is in driving the development of your personal brand.
Add sharing buttons to your content
This might sound obvious, but I’ve seen plenty of blogs overlook such a simple feature.
In short: sharing buttons make it easier for people to share your content, and that means they’re more likely to share it.
You’d be silly not to use them, frankly.
Include sharing buttons for the sites your target audience uses most. Generally Facebook and Twitter are a given. If you’re operating in a B2B industry, add in LinkedIn. If you’re creating a lot of your own images, include Pinterest. If you share photos, add Instagram.
It’s also a good idea to make the buttons as prominent as possible. I recommend getting “floating buttons.” This means they move as the user scrolls, so they’re always visible on the page.
Look to the left of the screen and you’ll see what I mean.
Feature other influencers
Featuring other influencers helps to back up your arguments. It helps affirm the idea that you know what you’re talking about, because, hey, this person your audience already knows and respects is saying it, too.
It also gives you an excuse for contacting those influencers. This helps you get on their radar and can often lead to them sharing your content.
There are a number of strategies you might employ in order to weave influencers into your content.
Quoting them is the obvious one. If you’re making a point, find someone with clout who has said something similar, and quote them in your own post.
Alternatively, you can reach out to influencers while you’re writing your article, and ask them to provide a quote specifically for you.
This works well because it gets the foundations of a relationship in place before your article is even live. Plus, since they’ve contributed to it personally, it means they’re pretty damn likely to share it. It also gives more weight to your content, and your own brand, because it looks like you have a relationship with these people (which you actually kind of will).
Ask for questions and comments
Something you might have noticed if you’ve read my posts before is that I always wrap up by asking readers to leave a comment.
That’s because I want my readers to engage with me. I want to know who’s reading my content and what they think of it. I’ve built my personal brand on engaging with people. It’s at the core of everything I do.
My blog posts are no different – I want the people who read my content to interact with me.
It goes without saying that if you want comments, you should ask for them.
Promoting your content
You’re not going to see much ROI on your blog content unless you take the time to promote it. If you’re following the steps highlighted above (i.e. you’ve installed sharing buttons, you feature other influencers, and you ask for engagement), you’re part way there.
But you can still do more.
Sharing it socially is an obvious one. There’s no good reason why you shouldn’t be sharing every new blog post you write to each of your social channels.
If you’re really strapped for time, you can automate it. However, if you can, it’s always advisable to craft each post by hand.
Still, while sharing your content is a given, social platforms don’t make it easy for you to get traction off the back of it. Not anymore, anyway.
Facebook pages with more than a million likes can expect to reach approximately 2.27% of their audience organically.
The fewer likes you have, the higher percentage of your audience you will reach. That sounds good, but it’s not really – you’re still getting fewer eyes on your content overall.
Faring slightly better, the average tweet reaches 3.61% of its following.
LinkedIn is the winner here, with an average organic reach of up to 20%.
Thankfully, if you want to reach more of your audience, you can. You just have to pay to do it.
Most social sites now offer ways to pay to boost the visibility of your posts. It’s also pretty affordable – especially when compared to more traditional, offline forms of advertising:
To increase the visibility of your Facebook posts, head over to Facebook for business.
Click “Create an Ad,” and then choose an objective.
If you want to get more eyes on your actual posts, choose “Boost your posts.” Alternatively, you might want to drive people directly to your content. You can do this by choosing “Send people to your website.”
From there, you can choose from a huge range of targeting options including demographics, interests, and behaviors.
You can also use Facebook’s Audience network to extend your campaign beyond Facebook and reach audiences on a variety of apps and mobile websites. Clicks on ads run through the network can cost you as little as 5 to 20 cents, and are configured using Facebook’s usual Ads Manager.
To promote an ad to Facebook’s Audience network, create your ad as usual. Just be sure to check the “Audience Network” box is ticked in the placements section.
If you want to create an ad on Twitter, you can do that here.
You’ll be asked to choose from ad types similar to those offered by Facebook, albeit fewer of them. In this case, you’re probably going to want to choose either “Website clicks or conversions” or “Tweet engagements” (which essentially boosts the visibility of your tweets).
Targeting options are again, like Facebook, detailed and varied. As well as being able to target according to interests, behaviors, and platforms used, you can target by keyword (keywords that are being searched for or keywords used in tweets), by followers, or by users who are similar to your followers, and by viewers of specific TV shows.
You can also, on both Facebook and Twitter, exclude particular audiences.
LinkedIn offers the least flexible advertising platform of the options listed here. It’s also the most expensive. That said, as a B2B platform, it can’t be beaten, so if your interests lie here it may well be worth your time (and a bit of your money).
LinkedIn allows you to choose from two ad types:
“Sponsored Updates” are akin to a boosted post on Facebook. They will appear in your target audience’s news feed.
“Text Ads” appear above and to the right of your target audience’s news feed.
Targeting options include “Job title and function,” “Industry,” “Company size,” and “Seniority.”
Alternatively, you can use tools like Quuu.co which share your content with influencers on social media for a small fee ($25 will get you around 50 to 100 shares).
Repurposing your content
Repurposing content helps you leverage old content for new wins. It’s great, for example, in helping you reach new audiences (say, those that prefer to consume content in video or infographic form, rather than article form). It also means your old content never dies, and ensures you can maximize the ROI on the time you spent creating it.
Here are a few ways you might repurpose an old blog post…
But before you get too excited about repurposing your content, it’s worth remembering one thing…
Evergreen content lends itself better to repurposing than timely content.
Evergreen content is content that’s designed to remain relevant forever. It’s information that won’t (or at least, shouldn’t) go out of date.
Repurposing content takes time, so it makes sense that you should save your efforts for content that won’t age too quickly.
Of course, that’s not to say timely content can’t be repurposed, but you’ll have to be super quick about it, and accept that your efforts probably won’t result in the same ongoing ROI that you’d see with evergreen content.
When it comes to building your brand, it’s hard to beat guest posting. According to Aaron Orendorff of iconiContent, “guest blogging has been the most instrumental to building my personal brand, hands down. I rarely even blog on my own site these days.”
Guest blogging takes up loads of my time. That’s in part because I enjoy it, but it’s also because it reaps big rewards.
It helps me reach new audiences and is great for building my personal brand. It’s also an excellent source of traffic – so much so that it’s the main source of traffic to two of my tools: Quuu.co and Narrow.io.
Before I go any further, I just want to make it clear that you probably shouldn’t be aiming to get published on sites like Forbes and Inc. right away. These sites want to see evidence of your skills. They also prefer to work with publishers who have their own, existing audience that they can bring with them to the site.
Start small and work your way up.
I’m going to talk shortly about how building relationships can help land you guest posting spots. For now, let’s look at how to find these opportunities without harnessing pre-existing connections.
To maximize the ROI of guest posts you write, you want to ensure that you’re writing for the right websites.
If you have sites you visit and read personally, that’s a great place to start. If you give them a thumbs up, there’s a good chance other people in your industry do too.
For sites that you’re not familiar with, you should be looking for three signals:
In short, aim to go where your audience goes. Don’t discount smaller blogs if that’s where your target market is – these sorts of sites tend to drive most of my ROI.
When you’ve selected a site you’re keen to write for, the next step is tracking down the best person on that site to contact.
If you’re approaching a personal brand site, like your own site, there’s probably only going to be one person you can contact – the site’s owner.
On the other hand, big sites with different sections probably employ different editors. Pick the section that feels like the best fit for your content, and if you can find out who the editor is and their details, contact them.
Tools like ContentMarketer.io can help make finding contact details easier.
As a general rule of thumb, email is the best tool for contacting site owners, editors, or journalists.
You can read about how to write great outreach emails in detail here, but in brief, your emails should be:
It’s also a good idea to approach sites with an article idea. This should be an idea that’s specific to them. You should be able to explain why it’s right for them.
Don’t approach multiple sites with the same idea – treat each site as an individual.
If you get a ‘no,’ or worse, no reply at all, don’t be disheartened.
If you don’t get a reply, it’s fine to follow up, but no more than twice.
If you get a ‘no,’ don’t give up. The fact that you’ve gotten a reply is a great sign.
Ask your contact (politely) for feedback. Maybe the subject matter wasn’t right or the timing was off.
Find a way to turn that ‘no’ around.
Social Blogging Platforms
While I write articles for my own blog and contribute regularly to other sites, I also make a point of republishing some of my posts to a couple of social blogging platforms – specifically LinkedIn Pulse and Medium.
I do this in part because it allows me to instantly reach new audiences with my content. The platforms are also configured in a manner that makes it really easy to build an audience on them – as long as you’re publishing quality content that people want to read, that is.
It’s worth bearing in mind that there’s no link-building benefit to publishing on these platforms (all links are nofollowed) and they don’t tend to drive much traffic.
What they do offer is a great ROI. You get to extend the reach of your content and in turn, build your brand, for very little additional time or effort on top of what it took to produce the original content.
More resources to help:
So we’ve touched on social media above – at least, in terms of using it to promote content. It’s also infinitely useful in helping to build your brand itself, namely because it enables you to connect with people via a casual, informal platform. It’s very different than sending an email, for instance.
This will be dependent on your industry and the platforms your audience and peers use. In B2B, there’s a good chance you’ll find them hiding out on Twitter and LinkedIn.
Facebook is an obvious choice, regardless of industry. Over a billion people use it, after all.
YouTube is a great platform, too – both in B2B and B2C industries. If you’re happy in front of the camera, I’d really encourage you to use it. To describe it bluntly, it’s like blogging on steroids – especially when it comes to building a personal brand.
What’s more, YouTube boasts more than a billion users, too.
To help you decide where to best spend your time, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each of the aforementioned platforms.
On the downside, the number of impressions you can expect your tweets to receive is very low. While Twitter displays tweets in the order in which they were posted (for the time being, at least) your followers have to be on Twitter around the time of your tweet in order for them to see it.
What’s more, the more people your followers follow, the lower the chances are that they’ll see your posts.
As an example, Danny Sullivan estimated the impression rate of one of his tweets to be just 1.85%. That means 7,195 of his 390,000-strong following saw the tweet.
In addition, while many people love the short-and-sweet 140 character format of a Twitter update, others find it irritating and limiting.
Facebook boasts 1,590 million active users. That’s huge. It also offers an excellent, affordable advertising platform; a platform that you will pretty much have to use if you want your posts to get any real visibility (Facebook’s algorithm means that the majority of posts get seen by very few users).
Unfortunately, the conversion rate on said ads has been shown to be incredibly low: 1.1 percent on desktop ads and a pitiful 0.3% on ads displayed on mobile.
Poor conversion rates and visibility aside, Facebook is a great platform for building a personal brand on account of its “follow” feature, which allows people to “follow” your personal profile, rather than befriend you.
So long as you're careful about what appears on said profile – or at least, what information you make public – this option means that Facebook is a seriously awesome tool for showcasing yourself at your most natural and human.
YouTube rivals Facebook for user numbers. If you want to reach people with video, it’s pretty much a given.
You can also embed your videos into your site, which means you don’t need to put too much time and effort into using YouTube specifically – if you’re creating videos anyway, it’s a channel you can use to leverage them further.
You can even monetize it.
The only real downside I can see to YouTube is the very obvious fact that you need to make videos to use it. In other words, it’s a bigger timesuck than the sites mentioned above.
Still, since video’s so effective at humanizing your personal brand, I wholeheartedly encourage you to give it a try.
The obvious pro (and con, depending on how you look at it) to LinkedIn is that it’s a B2B-only platform. That makes it ideal for promoting your personal brand to users who are in a business-specific mindset.
It also means it’s completely useless to anyone targeting a consumer audience.
Still, the site’s USP means it blows both Twitter and Facebook out the water when it comes to lead generation.
That said, if you’re using LinkedIn to build your personal brand, you’re probably going to use it as a person, not a brand. That might mean the engagement your posts drive could be much higher than the numbers cited above (that’s certainly my experience, at least).
Unfortunately, LinkedIn has one glaring black mark against it – average time on site.
The average Pinterest user spends 1 hour, 38 minutes a month on the site. The average Twitter user spends 36 minutes (though apparently that figure doesn’t include app use). Facebook users spend a massive 6 hours, 33 minutes a month on the site.
Just 17 minutes.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to using social media for building a personal brand. It largely comes down to the industry you operate in and the sites your target audience uses.
More resources to help:
Relationships are integral to every part of our lives – they help make us happier, more productive, and more successful. Building a personal brand is no exception.
There’s no way I would be where I am today if I hadn’t spent the last few years focusing a good chunk of my energy on networking.
While I don’t wholeheartedly agree with “It’s who you know, not what you know,” I do agree that “Who you know” is damn important.
The fact is you need both. You need knowledge and skills, and you need relationships that are going to help carry you forward.
While I’d encourage you to take every opportunity that comes your way to forge connections, you’ll get the most out of your time if you strategize.
To do this, build a target list of people you want to get to know. Okay, so it’s not the most traditional or romantic way to make friends, but it will help you optimize your time.
Begin with just five to ten people. You can increase this number later, but you might find that once you’ve formed a couple of solid connections, others start to happen naturally.
You’re going to want to think carefully about who you put on this list.
Aim too high, and you will struggle to get noticed. Big influencers have a lot of people competing for their time.
Aim too low, and any resulting relationships might not benefit you in the way you hoped.
What you want is a safe middle ground – people who have enough influence that their friendship will benefit you, but not so much influence that any efforts to reach them will get lost in the noise.
Keep an eye out for these red flags:
You’ll also want look at how active a potential connection is online. Don’t assume that regular posts to Twitter signal life online. They could be a religious post-scheduler, yet never have an actual conversation with anyone. They might not even be scheduling the posts themselves.
Look for people who are having real conversations online.
Locality’s worth considering, too. Pick people you might be able to meet in real life (more on this shortly).
Last but not least, choose people who appeal to you on a personal level – people you think you will genuinely get along with. Look for signs that you share the same interests (outside of your work) and sense of humor.
Get that bit right, and the rest of your job will be easy.
Social networks are an obvious platform for connecting with people online – and even more so for influencers.
Unless someone puts their accounts into lockdown (in which case they’re probably not on your radar anyway), social media is, more or less, a free-for-all. You can join in conversations and share or “like” posts other people have created – all without appearing antisocial.
Make the most of these features, but don’t outstay your welcome.
If you appear out of nowhere and start liking, sharing, or commenting on every post someone creates, they’re going to get suspicious. They’re probably going to be a little creeped out, too – wouldn’t you be?
You don’t make friends in real life by following them around and hanging on their every word. You won’t make friends online that way, either.
Forums are another excellent, public platform for getting to know people – if you can find out where the people you want to get to know hang out.
If you’re following them on social media, other sites they use might pop up in conversation.
If that doesn’t happen, you might have to employ a few investigative skills.
Searching Google for their name, email address, and any usernames you know they use is a logical place to start.
Next, you might want to try performing a reverse image search on Google for their profile picture (or pictures). This will bring up other places on the web that their pic is being used.
You can also use sites like Spokeo to track down sites associated with an email address.
If you do get lucky in your search, the same rules apply that we’ve mentioned above. Don’t go overboard. Act natural. You want these people to like you, not run scared from you.
Email is much more formal than the platforms above – especially when you don’t know the recipient that well.
That means you’re also going to need a specific reason to email someone. Save random “I’m just emailing to say hi” messages for close friends and family.
Thankfully, it’s pretty easy to fabricate a reason for emailing someone out the blue – asking a question about something they mentioned in a blog post (and that genuinely interested you) is a good one.
In person (or on the phone)
This is by far my preferred way of getting to know people. It’s just so effective.
Think about it – when do people have the greatest impact on you? Chances are, it’s almost always when you’ve had a real, live conversation with them, when you’ve not had screens to hide behind.
So how do you get to speak to people in person?
This is where locality comes in. If you’re trying to connect with people who live locally, you’ll have made this bit much, much easier.
(If your potential connections are in far-flung quarters of the world, that’s okay. You’ll just have to pick up the phone, instead).
Conferences are a good place to meet people (note that I said good, not great).
Unfortunately, they attract so many people that getting a few minutes alone with one person in particular tends to be easier said than done.
It’s also harder to stand out and be remembered, since anyone you speak to has probably spoken to lots of other people that day, too.
To get the most out of networking at a conference, contact the person or people you want to speak to ahead of time. Arrange a specific time and place to meet them and let them know why you want to chat with them (something general like you want to “pick their brain” can work well).
The smaller the gathering, the better your odds of having a meaningful conversation with someone.
I used to host dinner parties to do just that. I’d invite a handful of smart, interesting people from the local area to eat, drink, chat, and just have a good time.
It helped that I moved around a lot. That meant I got to meet a lot of different people from different places. However, even if you don’t have the same flexibility, this is an excellent way to create lasting, meaningful relationships. I met some awesome people this way, most of whom I’m still regularly in touch with today.
Alternatively, attending a local industry meetup can be a good way of meeting people. If the people you want to meet are going to one, heading along yourself is a no-brainer.
If they’re not down as attending, ask them to go along. Again, the line “you want to pick their brain” can work well. It can help to flatter their ego a little, too.
If there aren’t any industry meetups in your area, the solution’s simple – start one yourself.
It should go without saying that the best way to forge a meaningful connection with someone is with a one-on-one meeting, ideally in person – but a phone call works well, too.
I have these types of phone conversations most days. Many of these phone calls result from inquiries on my website.
Will every one of these calls benefit me?
Of course not, but that’s okay. For every person I never hear from again, another person hires me or helps me out another way.
If you can make time for people, and get out of the mindset that certain people can’t or won’t help you, you should go far.
To reiterate what I said above – build a list of people you want to get to know specifically, but don’t discriminate. Approach every conversation with the mindset that every person is going to become your new best friend or the one who makes your career.
In total, I probably spend 6-8 hours a week talking one-on-one with my industry contacts. Most of them have become really good friends – we talk more about our lives than our businesses.
While it’s great to make friends, you’re not building these relationships just for fun. The truth is, you want something out of them.
And that’s fine.
I mean, don’t we want something out of every relationship we have?
In this case, you want to build relationships that are mutually beneficial and that help further your personal brand.
This might mean…
These face-to-face interactions are vital to building your personal brand. According to Casey Armstrong of Full Stack Marketer, “Speaking engagements and being able to connect with people face-to-face during and after events have hands down been the most beneficial and rewarding, especially as it’s so easy for us to hide behind a computer screen.”
So how do you get these opportunities?
You ask for them.
If you’ve taken the time to build real relationships with people, this bit should be easy. They should be happy you want to help, and happy to let you.
The best approach is often an open one. That means asking how you can help. You don’t say how you want to help.
It doesn’t hurt to get the ball rolling by making suggestions as to what you could do. You’ll just make yourself more useful if you leave the choice of how you might help up to the recipient. Just make sure to be crystal clear with your question. Don’t beat around the bush. Be completely open about your situation and what you hope to achieve.
If they come back with nothing, don’t be disheartened. Now might be the time to state specifically what you’re looking for, say, asking if you could write a guest post for them.
If the answer’s still ‘no,’ you could ask them to introduce you to someone they think might be looking for an extra pair of hands.
Just remember, these relationships should be mutually beneficial. If someone does you a favor, do your best to return it.
So you’ve built a pretty successful personal brand. You have lots of followers on social media, and you’re landing business deals based on people knowing who you are and liking what you do.
That’s awesome, but you’re not done yet.
Most of the steps outlined above are ongoing. It’s important to keep blogging, for starters, and just because you’ve made some solid connections doesn’t mean you can’t make more.
I like to think I’ve done a pretty good job of building my personal brand so far, but am I done? Hell no.
To be honest, I can’t imagine a day when I’ll sit down and say “That’s it. I’ve built my brand. Now I can relax.”
Unless I decide I want to completely change career paths (not going to happen) or I retire (will happen one day), I’m going to keep working on my personal brand.
But there’s another part of building a personal brand that I’ve not yet touched on.
The fact is, the bigger your brand gets, the more maintenance it’s going to require. It just comes with the territory. The more people who know who you are, the more people are going to be talking about you.
That’s good, right?
Well, I hope so. But unfortunately, not everything people say about you is necessarily going to be nice. The more people you have talking about you, the higher the odds are that someone will say something nasty.
Let’s look at what you can do.
Having a common name can make building and maintaining your personal brand substantially more difficult, and even more so if you share a namesake with someone in your industry.
Your problems only get bigger if you share a name with someone who’s the subject of bad press, or a criminal.
So what can you do (short of changing your name)?
If your namesake (or namesakes) work in different industries than you, have yourself a little celebration. Distinguishing yourself shouldn’t be too hard – you just need to make yourself known as “Your name, your industry/speciality.”
I’m lucky in that, while I have namesakes, none of them seem to operate in the same industry as me, nor are they very active online.
That said, I make a point of pushing myself as “Sujan Patel: Growth Marketer & Entrepreneur.”
Alternatively, you might want to distinguish yourself by using your middle name. This is a good option if you share a namesake with others in your industry.
But there is one more thing you can do...
Do this if you’re having trouble distinguishing yourself from your namesakes. Also do it if you’ve been the victim of some bad press.
In essence, it’s simply a form of brand management, except this time, it’s targeted specifically at managing the search results.
Blog regularly so your site is always populated with new content, but more importantly, blog for other sites. Each post you write for a different, high-authority site is a post that can help to push negative content about you or your namesakes further down in the search results.
Search for my name to see what I mean. I’m not covering anything up, but you should see more than 20 results that are about me, before anything about my namesake crops up. This is simply because I’ve contributed to so many different sites over the course of my career.
Don’t forget to distribute authority between guest posts and posts on your own site by linking between them, too (but only when it’s absolutely natural to do so).
Last but not least, utilize social media sites. Make sure to keep complete profiles on the sites you use and update them with content regularly.
Sign up to, and fill out your profile on some additional sites, as well. Even if you don’t plan to use them, it can’t hurt to secure your name on them. More importantly, each profile is a page that can rank and force negative press out of the way.
When someone says horrible things about you, it hurts. It’s easy to take it personally – it’s your personal brand, i.e. you, that’s being attacked, after all.
This roller coaster of emotions can mean anger is your default response.
If you ever feel this way, sit down, relax, and wait until you’re completely calm before you do anything. Humans make bad decisions in the heat of the moment, so always, always let the heat die down before reacting.
If you let your emotions get the better of you, you risk doing yourself, and your brand, even more harm, like this angry hotel owner:
So what should you do?
If the bad press is someone attacking you for no real reason – say, they’ve left a ranty comment on a blog post you’ve written – the best strategy is often to ignore it.
You’re going to encounter trolls at some point. What they want is a reaction. Don’t give them that satisfaction.
If someone has a genuine complaint, respond quickly, politely, and work with them to find a solution.
Treat the complaint as a way to get feedback and a chance to turn the person around.
If you’re the victim of patently false and potentially harmful press, first contact the person or publication behind it.
If this doesn’t work, or simply isn’t possible, you may want to issue a public response. Only do this when you feel completely calm and can see the bigger picture. Make sure to stick to the facts. And always, always get someone else to look it over before you make the response public. Ideally, this someone should be a lawyer.
Before I wrap up, I just wanted to point you in the direction of a few tools that can help make building your personal brand that much easier. As a quick refresher, I’ll include the tools I’ve mentioned in this guide, as well as a few more.
A Small Orange – premium hosting services for your site and blog.
LinkedIn Pulse - reach new audiences by republishing your content on social blogging platforms.
Feedly – read all your favorite blogs in one location.
Quuu – let someone else populate your social profiles for you.
SimilarWeb – get traffic estimates for websites and apps.
ContentMarketer – easily find contacts and streamline and manage your outreach efforts.
Meetup – organize or attend industry networking events with people in your area.
Canva – easily create imagery for your site or social profiles.
Rapportive – monitor what your email contacts are up to elsewhere on the web.
Google Apps for Business – set up a professional, youdomain.com email address.
Buzzsumo – find the most shared content according to topic.
Evernote – take notes on your phone and easily access them on other devices.
Narrow – automate building a real Twitter following.
Moz Toolbar – view a website’s domain authority and other key data.
Spokeo – find sites associated with email addresses (as well as names, phone numbers, and addresses).
Hootsuite – manage all your social profiles from one platform.
Yesware – track emails so you know who’s opening them, and who isn’t.
1. Designing a brand
2. The Practical Stuff
3. Writing a Brand Story
Although there are no hard-and-fast rules about how much you should be blogging, if you’re determined to build your personal brand, I’d encourage you to write (and publish) at least once a week. If you can manage more, great; however, aim to post weekly at a minimum.
Whether you do this on your own site or someone else’s, you should make sure to...
5. Social Media
6. Building Relationships
7. Leveraging Relationships
8. Brand Management
As always, I’m keen to hear your thoughts. What tips do you have for building your personal brand? Share your tips using the comments below.