Most entrepreneurs understand the importance of branding when it comes to business. Building a well recognized and respected business brand ads tremendous value and can create a significant competitive advantage. Just ask Apple.
So why, then, do so many entrepreneurs fail to recognize the value in building an equally recognized and respected personal brand?
Personal branding, or the practice of individuals marketing themselves and their careers as brands, may seem to many an exercise in vanity. Doing things to promote yourself, such as having a personal website, a portfolio of professional headshots and an on-the-go personal pitch, is often considered the routine of self-interested people, from well-known celebrities to the annoying co-workers who boasts about themselves nonstop in the breakroom.
Done properly, however, a personal brand can be much more (or less) than just self-promotion. It can be a personal -- and private -- exercise in establishing confidence, credibility and courage as well as help you define priorities and focus on those aspects of your life you enjoy most.
One business expert who has put a great deal of effort into considering her own brand and helping other entrepreneurs refine theirs is Mali Phonpadith. In addition to being a consultant, podcaster and author, Mali is the founder and CEO of the S.O.A.R. Community Network, a consortium of business consultants that offers marketing, technology and leadership development support to entrepreneurs in a wide range of industries and professions.
Mali points out that personal branding is not necessarily about self promotion and being ubiquitous. Instead, a personal brand helps you define who you are and the type of person you want to be. As an entrepreneur, a well-defined personal brand can also assist in establishing your leadership style and establish how you want to be known both in and out of the workplace.
In fact, there are a number of reasons why understanding and building your own personal brand, regardless of your profession, can add tremendous value to your life. A well-defined personal brand allows you to:
- Identify how to showcase your best self.
- Understand your strengths and weaknesses.
- Stand out from your peers and competition.
- Build your "tribe" (others who share the same values).
- Be human and have more meaningful interactions with others.
- Establish credibility.
- Demonstrate your value through your actions.
- Elevate your social proof.
- Solidify your niche.
- Convey your message and values.
- Be more confident.
Moreover, it is important to understand that everyone has a personal brand, whether you want one or not. It is defined by everything you do, from what you wear to how you compose emails to how you conduct yourself on the phone.
If you are not taking control and managing your brand, that means others are doing it for you.
So how do you build your personal brand? To begin, it requires a deep understanding of yourself. As you explore your personal brand, keep in mind that you need to be authentic and honest, as you will ultimately need to live up to it. Being dishonest with yourself leads you down the road of living a lie, which can create an inconsistent message to others and leaves you vulnerable.
Mali suggest that you start by answering a simple progression of questions, both personally and professionally.
- What are your core values?
- What are your interests and passions?
- What motivates you?
- What makes you happy?
Once you have considered these questions, it is time to sit and pen a personal vision statement. This statement should be bold and true to you. Remember that it will most likely only ever be seen by you and will evolve over time, so don’t worry too much about what it looks or sounds like.
Next, consider these questions.
- What do you need and want out achieve in life?
- What will it mean to be successful in the near and distant future?
Write down as many answers as you would like, as these will be your goals. Keep in mind that, if you were honest, most of these goals were not connected to wealth but rather happiness.
Once you have listed your goals, it is time to take inventory of yourself to find out how to achieve them.
- What is your personal and professional training and experience?
- What are your key strengths?
- What are your key weaknesses?
- Why makes you unique? What qualifications make you stand out and different?
- Who makes you happy?
Once you come to understand your skills, capabilities and expectations, you can now prioritize the characteristics and people that will ultimately help you achieve your goals -- as well as avoid those that are holding you back.
If you find it difficult to answer some questions honestly or feel uncomfortable with some answers you have derived, consider asking close friends and family to help you. Ask them to be honest and forthcoming, as their "sugar coating" will again only lead you down a path that is unsustainable personally.
The process of defining your personal brand require time and many, many iterations to refine. In fact, since most of us are changing personally and professionally all the time, your personal brand should be organic and evolve with you.
In the end, a personal brand is a never-ending journey of self-discovery, and the sooner you take control of it, the sooner you can get on with achieving the most important goals in your life.