Personal Branding 101: How to Brand Yourself for Success

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As Rob Asghar wrote in Forbes, “Embrace your story. And make sure you’re the primary force in telling that story to the rest of the world.”

Personal branding helps you tell your story in the most effective manner, so that you can attract all the right people (partners, employees, customers, investors) and opportunities (a new job, a new project, a speaking gig) and most of all the opportunity to win the trust of those whom you want to work with in any capacity by being seen as an authority, expert, influencer, and a thought-leader.

What is Personal Branding?

Personal branding is simply showing potential clients, employers and the world at large who you are and the values they should identify you with. It’s a marketing strategy focused on showcasing to the world what you stand for; it is self-packaging in a manner that the qualities you have and the values you offer are easily recognizable and believable.

Developing a successful brand involves figuring out your skills, values, personality, passion, your audience, and your unique niche, and then communicating them to your target audience in a manner that they are correctly understood.

Most often, well-known and well-defined company brands are closely tied to the people behind them and their personal brands.

Examples of Successful Personal Brands

For example, when we talk of Microsoft we think of Bill Gates, and we are reminded of Richard Branson whenever the Virgin Group is mentioned.

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Bill Gates' Facebook Profile

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Richard Branson's Facebook Profile

The same goes for Apple, which is associated with Steve Jobs. His personal brand was the driving force behind getting people super-excited about whatever new product Apple was launching. Steve Jobs did such a great job that there were queues of people in front of Apple’s stores whenever a new iPad, iPhone, or MacBook was being released.

Similarly, Tesla, as Referral Candy mentions, is notable for having a “$0 marketing budget”, and it is seen as an extension of Elon Musk’s personal brand as a visionary, a genius and, a great entrepreneur. He does a lot of interviews; he is the driving force behind creating a huge fan base which is crazy about the ‘car of the future.’ This type of marketing, as Referral Candy mentions, is earned rather than bought, and Elon’s personal brand is of significant importance in earning all this attention. Another thing that works for him is that he has done well by differentiating himself from all other entrepreneurs.

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Elon Musk's Facebook Profile

In today’s era, where people and businesses have so many more options, it is vital to have a personal brand so that you can stand out from the crowd and boost your business or career.

Personal branding requires you to build a unique signature image, voice, and standard that your fan base and customers can identify you with.

Top 10 Personal Branding Facts & Statistics

1. The need for personal branding has become even more pronounced than ever because as per research, audiences trust people more than corporations.

2. You should also encourage your employees to have a personal brand because leads generated via employee social marketing initiatives convert at least seven times more frequently than other leads.

3. Brand messages are shared 24 times more frequently when distributed by employees than the firm’s brand. - MSLGROUP

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4. Personal branding drives sales results with makers starting their buying process with a referral.

5. 36% of buyers don’t contact sales representatives until they have put together a shortlist of preferred vendors. It would be safe to deduce that the vendors who were shortlisted had a better personal brand which helped the buyers know what they stand for and what they bring to the table.

6. Brand messages see 561% more reach when shared by employees on social media, compared to when shared by the brand's social media channels. - MSLGROUP

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7. 53% of decision makers have removed a vendor from consideration based on what they did or did not find about an employee online. - Kredible

8. With the advent of social selling, sales professionals can, rather than cold calling their prospects incessantly, use social media to educate them and get them ready for making the desired purchase.

78.6% of sales professionals who used social media as part of their sales techniques outperformed those sales professionals who were not using social media. - A Sales Guy Consulting

9. An employee advocacy program of 1,000 active participants can, on average, generate $1,900,000 in advertising value. - Kredible

10. Only 33% of buyers trust the brand while 90% of customers trust product or service recommendations from people they know. - Nielsen

​Personal branding allows you to express your individuality, identity and reputation while maintaining a personal level of trust and communication with your clients.

​How to Build a Personal Brand

You can build a personal brand by following the steps outlined below:

1. Find Your SNN (Specific Narrow Niche)

Since there is stiff competition in almost every domain, only specializing in general areas such as “Marketing” and “Business” won’t be enough.

You should instead focus on developing expertise in a very specific and narrow niche, and also one that is not so common.

For example:

  • If you are a fitness coach, you may specialize in helping busy parents get fit despite their hectic schedules.
  • If you are a digital marketer, you may choose to specialize in helping non-profit organizations get the exposure, funding and volunteers that they need.
  • If you are a business coach, you may specialize in either helping executives of Fortune 500 companies, or you may want to work with such social startups which have raised series B funding.
  • In our case, our company Digital Marketing ROI specializes in generating 6-7 figure revenue for startups only through SEO and content marketing. We are very focused on this, and despite being offered projects in other domains, these are the only two areas that we are focused on.

    When you focus on a niche and provide your readers with valid information about it, you will have more opportunities flowing in, and you will also be regarded as an authority figure in that field. So, the more specialized you are in a particular area, the more volume of trade you will attract.

    2. Leverage Content to Build Authority

    Once you have figured out your area of expertise, start building a reputation around it.

    Through content creation and marketing, you can build a solid brand and reputation online so as to drive targeted quality organic traffic to your website.

    By providing valid and relevant information to your readers, you will be referred to as an expert in your field by people.

    The best way through which you can become an authority figure is by creating a blog and publishing valuable information on it daily.

    In this regard, you may want to use tools like BuzzSumo and Ahrefs content explorer to find topics that are already popular so that you can write on the same from a different perspective.

    You can also choose to create different content type on the same topic. For instance, if these tools show you an article on ‘Top 10 things mentally strong entrepreneurs do differently ’, why not create a video on the same topic or an infographic or both? In this regard, you can also do proper keyword research so that the words you choose to represent your personal brand are not only relevant but also have:

    • Lots of people searching for them.
    • Have low-to-medium level SEO competition.

    In this regard, check our article on doing keyword research with Long Tail Pro.

    You should surely be writing for your own blog, but you should also consider guest blogging to further increase your brand value. For example, check out this case study and the associated webinar published by SEMrush on how we increased the ROI of a company by 23.58% to $200K within only six months via guest blogging alone.

    Here is an idea for your blog: You too should work on creating case studies that show how you achieved excellent results for a client. You can work with your present and past clients to come up with a convincing and solid narrative to present before an audience. The reason why case studies are more appealing to people is because they are true and have a recipe for success.

    You can sharpen you writing skills by reviewing and applying these 100 plus writing tips.

    3. Spruce Up Your Social Media Profiles

    Apart from using content to push brand awareness, you should also be sprucing up your social media presence so as to leverage social selling and more.Make sure that your Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn profiles are in line with your personal brand standards. Preferably use similar pictures. Also use professional cover photos which show the logos of any large organizations you have worked for so that your personal brand can leverage the brand value that these large organizations have.

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    My Facebook Profile

    As an example check out one of my Facebook page cover photos above.

    Also, ensure that you post daily content on your social media profiles (at least once per day for Facebook and LinkedIn platforms and several times for Twitter).

    No one likes the person who is posting only to promote their own self and their own brand. Make sure that the stuff you are posting consists of:

    • 80% informational posts
    • 10% semi-promotional posts
    • 10% full promotional posts

    The interesting thing about this approach is that you are doing more to promote your personal brand by not promoting it too much, as sharing informational posts make a person see you as someone who is an authority and someone who can be trusted.

    Additionally, you can also re-purpose your existing blog content and share it with your social media followers. For instance, how about finding 5-10 quotes, statements, quotations, etc. in one of your articles and converting them into social media banners. This can be ever-green content for the most part, and as the statistics of this HubSpot article shows, visual content (maps, infographics, video, pictures, and illustrations) results in much more attention, conversions and reach.

    4. Speak at Relevant Industry Events

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    Furthermore, you should look for speaking events whenever possible because it will propel you into the limelight and thus enable you to demonstrate your expertise more effectively.

    For example, I was recently a guest speaker at a growth hacking workshop hosted by my friend Irfan Khairi at AstroLabs, Dubai. I spoke there to a group of entrepreneurs and this event ended up creating a host of new opportunities for my brand and myself.

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    Astrolabs, Dubai

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    Astrolabs, Dubai

    I got two offers from startups who requested me to do marketing for them in return for equity; I got invited by Google Business Group, Peshawar, to do a growth hacking session for their audience; I also noticed some increase in my website traffic, and I was also asked to be interviewed by an organization which specializes in public speaking, not to mention the lots of new connections I made and even a few leads I generated while being there.

    All these benefits were the result of only a single speaking event, so imagine the leads you can procure by speaking at several events at a time.

    If you haven't spoken before, the easiest way to get your first gig is to contact your university or college and pitch them a topic. Show them how you made it big and that you want to teach their current students how they can do it too.

    You can also reach out to local chambers of commerce, clubs organized by industry leaders like Microsoft and Google (e.g. Google Business Group) etc. to speak there.

    Another interesting place to speak at, especially if you are starting out, is to meet and pitch a topic to the management of local and foreign co-working spaces, business incubators and business accelerators. You can also build relations (more on this in next section) with key influencers who work at large corporate organizations and pitch to conduct trainings or seminars for their employees on a topic that you have mastered.

    In order to book speaking gigs, these resources would help:

    How to Become a Professional Public Speaker

    21 Ways to Find Speaking Opportunities

    10 Ways to Become a Paid Speaker

    ​5. Network As Much As You Can

    The power of networking can’t be over emphasized. Networking matters both online via social media and email, and in the real world.

    If you want to grow your personal brand, you have to engage with key influencers, like-minded people, other experts of your niche, and the target audience whose problems you are trying to understand and solve.

    Networking with such people will help you land bigger opportunities in terms of winning projects, speaking/training gigs, book deals and more.

    I am not a huge fan of attending startup events as I don’t think they provide a lot of value. Instead I attend industry events. If you have a food app, go and attend an event of the food industry. If you have a logistics app, why not attend an FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) event?

    Meet authority figures while at these events and also engage in community discussions.

    The more people you meet, the more opportunities you’ll get and the better impact it will have on your personal brand. But don’t try to meet only for the purpose of a handshake and exchanging business cards. It is better to meet a bit fewer people and make a lasting impression than to have a lot of business cards but no real spark.

    I met my business partner Azzam Sheikh online about 1.5 years ago, and one year ago in May 2015, we decided to merge our digital marketing agencies and create Digital Marketing ROI. In Dubai, while speaking at AstroLabs, I shared (while being a bit surprised myself) that I have yet to meet Azzam in person.

    But still the power of our brands brought us together, and our brands also created the kind of trust that is necessary for strengthening a mutually beneficial relationship. This would not have been possible if I had not worked on building a strong brand.

    6. ​Associate With Stronger Brands

    Your personal brand will be boosted and your influence will grow bigger only if you associate with other bigger brands.

    You can start small by associating with your company, colleagues and college mates and join any relevant groups which you think will boost your brand in one way or another.

    You may even consider utilizing your company’s digital assets for example by contributing a guest post to your company’s blog.

    7. ​Share Only Purposeful Stuff

    You should be aware that every piece of information that you share on social media has an impact on your personal brand.

    Moreover, you should be consistent in updating your social media accounts since it's a combination of small actions taken on a daily basis which cumulates to give your personal brand power.

    ​8. Appear on Podcasts, TV Shows and Radio Shows

    Podcasts, TV shows, and radio shows are some of the best personal branding tools and platforms available. Whether it’s your own podcast, TV or radio show, or that of someone else on which you appear as a guest, it’ll give a huge boost to your personal brand.

    Entrepreneurs can take advantage of these mediums to establish themselves as experts and thought leaders in a particular field.

    For example, I added Chuck Wang of the MVP marketing podcast on Facebook. As soon as I add someone, I also send a highly personalized, relevant and warm introduction in which I:

    • Mention something particular about them (like I may ask a specific question about one of their recent episode or something, or share how their recent article resonated with me).
    • Mention myself briefly (while ensuring that I mention the big names for sure such as: "I am an award-winning serial entrepreneur, a Huff Post columnist, a HubSpot certified inbound marketer).
    • I try to end with a question as I think that makes the other person more inclined towards replying to me. I may end with, 'I would love to know more about you. Especially, what motivates you to record a podcast episode very single day/week? Or 'How do you figure out the topics of your articles considering that almost all your articles get 1000+ shares?'

    So long story short, I sent such a message to Chuck and forgot about it. He surely is a busy man and I guess I should have tried to follow up but in any case, he responded back after a good few weeks and asked if I would like to be on his show. I gladly accepted the invite.

    Here is the YouTube episode in which I share how I got published in Huff Post and how we generated digital sales.

    Now recently when I was finally asked by a TEDx curator to speak at their TEDx event, Chuck asked me to come on the show again and share how I got the TEDx gig. He has an audience and by having built a relation with him, which was partly possible due to my personal brand, we are able to help each other out. He gets to share with his audience useful content and I get some new audience members.

    So as you can see whatever activity we do for strengthening our personal brand has a snowball effect.

    ​Some More Notable Personal Brands

    ​We all know that the famous people Guy Kawasaki, Seth Godin and Gary Vaynerchuk are a few individuals with terrific personal brands, but we are not mentioning them because they are obvious.

    However, we have listed a few other notable personalities who have made a name for themselves via personal branding.

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    Lewis Howes is a prime example of an individual with successful personal branding and is an inspiration to many.

    Lewis began by hosting LinkedIn events in several cities around the United States and very soon became a LinkedIn expert.

    However, his brand evolved over several years, and now he is better known as a lifestyle entrepreneur "living the dream.”

    Lewis's personal brand has also been significantly boosted by his podcast, The School of Greatness as well as his new Academy. He is mainly passionate about helping people start their own businesses and achieve greatness.

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    Dan Brown is the author of several bestselling novels like The Da Vinci Code, which is to date one of the bestselling novels of all time. He was also named by TIME Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

    According to Wikipedia, “Brown’s novels are treasure hunts set in a 24-hour period, and feature the recurring themes of cryptography, keys, symbols, codes, and conspiracy theories.

    Brown pulls crowds whenever he speaks at events. For example, he spoke at the Web Summit in Dublin in 2015, which was attended by over 40,000 people.

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    Tim Ferriss is a startup angel investor (in Twitter, among other startups) as well as the author of the bestselling novel “The 4-Hour Workweek,” which has been translated in 35 languages and has topped the charts of the New York Times, BusinessWeek, and the Wall Street Journal bestseller lists.

    Tim believes that marketing should begin with oneself since you know your product best from inside out.

    It is interesting to note that when he saw his publishing company was not promoting The 4-Hour Workweek as well or as much as he wanted, he set it on himself to promote it by reaching out to bloggers and by establishing himself as authority in the area of Lifestyle Design, which is a combination of marketing, entrepreneurship, and creativity to make life simpler and better.

    He went on to strengthen his personal brand so much that at the time he was ready to market his book, The 4-Hour Workweek, he already had a large group of people willing to buy it.

    Imagine being on the top of the business charts for three years after the book was initially rejected by 26 out of 27 publishers. That’s Tim Ferriss for you. Now he sure hustled hard, but I think that hustle, that energy which made his first book such a success after getting rejected by so many publishers and is also a testament to the power of his personal brand which resulted in achieving such a huge success.

    Later on, he went ahead and used the power of his personal brand to market his two other books, The 4-Hour Chef and The 4-Hour Body which went on to become successful as well.

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    Chris has done a wonderful job in promoting himself and his brand on different platforms online which can be manifested from his awesome website, social media profiles, and business cards.

    One of the main reasons why Chris has a successful personal brand is due to his consistency, as everything he does is consistent with his brand message.

    If you’re unaware of all the amazing stuff that Chris Ducker does, then listen to his podcast, ‘The New Business Podcast’.

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    Marie's strong personal brand has attracted over 100,000 followers and fans worldwide.

    The award winning web show Marie TV is 100% true to her vision. Her website also nails everything related to her personal brand and vision.

    You may follow Marie on Twitter to learn more about her brand.

    ​Now my own example:

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    Even though I am pretty new on the personal branding bandwagon, I am to share what I have done for building a strong brand and how it has helped me over the years.

    By writing for Huff Post, Business.com, SEMrush and other big publications, I was able to associate my personal brand with these large brands. The same thing happened when I spoke in Dubai, and at Google Business Groups sessions and more.

    These activities also helped me leverage the power of stronger brands.

    Doing all these activities has built my brand in a manner that I have been able to attract opportunities, and when I say attract, I mean getting offers, deals and much more right in my inbox without having to spend much on paid advertising.

    Among other things, building and strengthening my personal brand has helped me win great friends, partners, colleagues etc. who are accomplished, talented, ambitious and who are supportive of each other’s dreams.

    It should be noted that whatever activity I start, I don’t think about the money much. Especially in the start, it is hardly my concern (and the fact that I have other revenue streams means I can invest in a new medium/tactic/strategy with ease).

    For instance, I spoke for about 2.5 years before I got my first invite to an all-expense paid trip to speak in Malaysia.

    Similarly, I am not paid by Huff Post, Business.com and the other publications that I write for. But writing for them helped us win several projects, and I now also get paid by Aurora (Pakistan’s largest marketing magazine).

    Additionally, for a very long time, I helped people via social media, and built strong relations. If the first time someone asked me a question had resulted me asking for a pay check, I would have few clients and no friends.

    The aim should be to help others. If you are doing that, money will find its way to you sooner or later. Whenever you are starting a new activity to support your brand, whether it is social media marketing, writing (at your own blog or large sites), speaking or more, the goal should be to strengthen your brand, and so asking how it will impact your ROI, should not be your first question.

    Instead, enjoy the experience, build your profile and brand to the extent that when someone talks about your niche, the listeners immediately think of you and your brand.

    This is how you make yourself an expert, an authority, and even a thought-leader and influencer. Of course, you also have to build actual expertise, as otherwise your brand will be seen as a farce. But if you have the expertise as well as a great personal brand, you can then expect to be highly rewarded for it in more ways than you can imagine.

    Syed Irfan Ajmal is an award-winning serial entrepreneur and a seasoned digital marketer. He is an international speaker, and he also writes about entrepreneurship and digital marketing for various large publications of the USA, UK, Canada and Pakistan including Huff Post, Business.com, Virgin, and others.
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