We all know personal branding is critical for entrepreneurs. If someone is going to buy from you, they need to understand who you are, what you stand for and the value you bring. But too many entrepreneurs fall short, either ignoring their personal brand (“my work speaks for itself”) or muffing the execution.
I’ve spent several years studying best practices in personal branding, interviewing dozens of professionals for my book Reinventing You. Here are the top three ways I’ve seen entrepreneurs fail at personal branding -- and how you can avoid those mistakes.
1. Assuming they already understand their personal brand.
It’s easy to think we understand our personal brand. It’s basically how we think of ourselves, right? Of course, the moment we take a deeper look, it’s easy to see the fallacy. Your personal brand isn’t what you say it is; it’s what other people say about you when you leave the room.
To get a clear handle on where you’re starting -- and if it’s how you’d actually like to be perceived -- it’s necessary to take the sometimes nerve-wracking step of asking other people. You can invite friends over for a “focus group” to better understand where you excel, or conduct a simpler “personal 360” by asking others to name the first three words that come to mind when they think of you.
2. Failing to create a clear narrative.
Too many entrepreneurs assume that other people will intuitively “get it” when it comes to their brand: "Isn’t it obvious what I’m doing and why I’m doing it?" Not really. Unless you take the time to explain yourself and fill them in, they probably won’t take the time to figure it out, and will either come up with an erroneous interpretation (“I guess she got bored being a lawyer, so that’s why she started the business”) or won’t think about you at all. Tell your own story -- don’t leave it to others to do it on your behalf.
3. Not living out their brand.
Creating a personal brand isn’t as simple as just coming up with an elevator pitch. Your personal brand is about a lot more than just what you say about yourself. It’s the totality of what people perceive about you, based on what they find when they Google you, how you interact with them and others, what kind of people you associate with, what leadership roles you’ve taken on, the type of content you’ve created, the ideas you promulgate and more. A lot of unsuccessful entrepreneurs figure that as long as they’ve articulated how they’d like to be seen by others, it will take care of itself. But it actually takes work, and that means living out your brand consistently, each and every day. If people sense even the slightest discordant bit or hint of inauthenticity, it renders everything else moot. You need to make sure that every action you take is aligned with how you’d like to be seen in the world, and a lot of people simply aren’t willing to make that kind of effort.
But if you want to stand out and get noticed as, for instance, an innovative and connected fashion entrepreneur, you need to start writing blog posts about trends you see in the industry, convene groups of people and perhaps form your own networking group, and start speaking at events to share your vision. When people see you living out your brand, that’s when it will really stick.
Having a strong personal brand will help your business, but it’s not always easy to do. Avoiding these three mistakes will help ensure others know what you can contribute, and allow you to pull ahead of the competition.