What do Coca Cola, McDonald’s, and Apple all have in common?
It’s these brands, crafted carefully for decades, that help make those companies instantly recognizable in an increasingly competitive world.
You might feel you’re running your business in a completely different world than those multinational corporations. But they offer plenty of cool insights into what it takes to develop a killer brand – even if you’re just a freelancer or solopreneur working on your own.
There’s a lot of confusion on this topic, but a personal brand can serve you no matter how small your business is right now – or how big it becomes. It can grow with you, help you get customers, and build your authority as a leader in your niche.
Keep reading to find out what it takes to start building one now.
Why Your Brand Matters
Branding is key, but it’s also widely misunderstood. What is a brand anyway?
I like Thomas Smale’s definition from his article over at Entrepreneur. He defines a brand simply as “how you appear to the world.” Your brand is the sum total of your reputation, the emotions you create, the symbols you use, your name, and much more.
Bottom line: your brand is the way others perceive you in the marketplace. It separates you from everyone else.
A lot of freelancers and small business owners don’t worry about branding at all. They’re (understandably) busy just trying to market and build relationships with customers. They write off branding as something they’ll tackle later, once they’re in the “big leagues” and making lots of revenue.
Here’s the deal, though. Even if you don’t pay attention to branding, you’ll still be branded by your customers and the marketplace. Ever since you started doing business, people have been perceiving you and coming to their own conclusions.
Perception Is Reality
Putting the burden on prospects and customers, who are also crazy busy, to come to their own conclusions regarding your brand makes it harder for them to do business with you. They don’t have time to spare figuring out what your business is all about, whom it serves, and what makes it unique.
When things are left unclear, a lot of would-be customers don’t end up doing business with you. Maybe one of your competitors articulated their brand more clearly.
But “perception is reality.”
If you make the effort to present a compelling brand, you’ll project an image of competence and value. A strong brand isn’t a substitute for quality work. But it can make it a lot easier for you to get your foot in the door with new customers and opportunities.
This applies whether you’re a one-person shop or a titan like WalMart or Google.
How to Build a Brand from Scratch
Taking a bit of time now to proactively shape your brand helps make it a lot easier to maneuver going forward.
Every personal brand is unique. In fact, that’s one element that makes them unforgettable. With that said, here are a few key ingredients that appear in any strong brand – regardless of your industry.
Image source: Hans
For many new businesses, their vision goes no further than finding customers quickly and making enough revenue to keep the lights on. If there’s enough left over to grow, even better. They might find themselves taking on every customer they can find, never really honing in on a target market.
The result: a diluted (and completely forgettable) brand.
Strong branding starts with a compelling vision. That takes a bit of introspection. If you haven’t done so already, try asking yourself:
- What are your personal values?
- What are you passionate about?
- Whom do you want to serve?
A key part of branding is identifying these elements and presenting them so they’re easy for anyone to understand. When you do this yourself, you’ll start attracting customers who share those values and passions.
Consider Apple’s motto “think different.” The entire company was built on challenging convention. They’ve never wavered over the decades. And which kind of people tend to be the most diehard Apple fans? Unconventional, creative types!
Getting a bit of clarity up front will save you the trouble of taking on projects or customers you don’t really connect with. When you stop trying to appeal to “everyone,” it’s much easier to present yourself in a way that appeals to the select people you really do want to work with.
If you’re struggling with the questions above, reach out to your family and friends. Ask them how they perceive you and what do they think your biggest values are. You might be surprised. Sometimes the way we think people are perceiving us is a lot different than reality.
Image source: cowins
Remember that saying “familiarity breeds contempt”?
Well, as far as branding goes it’s 100 percent BS.
Being recognized as a brand (assuming your brand is carefully crafted) is a huge advantage. Even if someone isn’t ready to buy from you now, they might change their tune after hearing you’re the go-to social media marketing agency in Boston for the seventh time in a row.
Attention is hard to come by online. In a world with zillions of distractions, you have to earn it.
By providing value. Useful, entertaining content gives people an incentive to engage with you. When it becomes a pattern, you build a legitimate relationship and your authority in your niche grows.
That’s why content marketing can be so effective. It isn’t the short-term payoff savvy marketers are interested in. It’s the long-term platform building – the brand recognition. Becoming seen as someone who knows their stuff. Someone you can rely on and trust.
If you don’t know where to start, think about how you can help build up others’ brands. By sharing quality content from businesses and people you admire, you can become a trusted information source and build your own brand in the process.
There are plenty of other options besides content marketing. Whether you’re going to networking events, buying ads, or something else, try to do it consistently to enhance your visibility as a brand.
Image source: Unsplash
Presenting an attractive brand is nice, but unless you’re Apple or Coca-Cola, it’s natural for people to wonder: can you really deliver?
Strong brands are credible. Think less telling and more showing. Instead of talking about your graphic design expertise, for instance, how are you showing it so people can see it firsthand?
Consistent content marketing can help. It’s easy for people to sift through and see you know what you’re talking about. Portfolios, case studies, and testimonials remove any doubt.
Doing business online, a professional website is paramount. It doesn’t need to cost you an arm and a leg either. Plenty of reasonably-priced (or even free) WordPress themes make it easier to project an image of competence than ever before.
Finally, don’t underestimate the impact of credibility by association. Whom you hang out with online can shape others’ perception of you. Marketer Ryan Deiss calls this the “Oprah Effect.” By associating with other respected authorities in your niche (interviewing them or featuring their guest posts are great ways to do this), you can increase your own credibility.
Image source: stevepb
A huge success driver for brands like Apple and Coca-Cola is consistency.
These companies have worked forever so people know exactly what to expect from their products. Customers trust them with repeat purchases because they’ve proven they’ll deliver time and time again.
Being consistent makes people see you as reliable – a huge part of any successful personal brand.
This goes for the work you deliver, first and foremost. If a customer buys something and it reflects the quality you’re trying to achieve, they’ll expect that same quality from future products or services. Consistency isn’t the most exciting thing in the world… but it brings in customers and keeps them coming back for more.
Your image is also extremely important. It sounds shallow, but it’s true. Pay attention to how you’re presenting yourself on your website, social media platforms, in your emails, and even in person.
Every interaction shapes your brand. What is the impression you’re trying to convey? Are those crazy party pictures on Instagram helping your image as “true professional” or hurting it?
Consistency is also huge for marketing and outreach. Occasional marketing blitzes definitely have their place. But doing a sprint and then dropping off the face of the earth for months gives people time to forget about you. When you pick up marketing again, it feels like starting over.
Steady, consistent marketing will grow your brand sustainably. When you combine those consistent baby steps with consistent quality work, you have a recipe for a memorable brand!
Image source: geralt
If the idea of “building a personal brand” makes you feel a bit icky inside, you’re not alone. That was actually one of my biggest hangups about the process – until I learned I could just be myself.
The internet is full of pretenders. Service providers and businesses projecting some kind of persona they think makes them look cool or attractive to customers.
We don’t need any more of those people, though. When you use their same lingo and obsess about conveying a polished corporate brand image, you just end up blending into the pack. Getting someone’s attention is next to impossible.
Worst of all, even if you can pull of the whole persona thing for a while, you have to work constantly to maintain that image. The second a crack shows between your real self and the one you present online, customers start second guessing whether it’s right to trust you.
Being authentic takes a lot less work. It also makes you more interesting because there’s no one quite like you. You might see yourself as kind of a boring person, but there have to be some unique quirks, experiences, and insights you can bring to the table. Don’t be afraid to share them!
People are drawn to people who are real. Don’t be sloppy, but don’t take yourself so seriously that you come across as an empty suit.
It’s Time to Start Standing Out
Your personal brand can be one of your most valuable assets. It can attract opportunities and customers, and it can evolve with your business.
It’s a shame that so many entrepreneurs overlook this. By not getting proactive about branding, they leave it up to their customers to define their brands for them. That just makes it harder to stand out in today’s hyper-competitive marketplace.
You can stand out. With a little attention to the five key ingredients above, you’ll be cooking up an unforgettable brand in no time.
Who are a few people you think have strong personal brands online? What do they do well that makes them stand out in your mind? Leave a comment below and let us know!