5 big misconceptions about how to brand yourself
Many professionals are put off by the idea of personal branding because they harbor myths about its value and the process. In this guide I address the 5 biggest misconceptions and why they shouldn’t stop you from branding yourself.
My entire livelihood is built around my personal brand and it has been the single most important contributor to my success as a solopreneur. I want to dispel the myths about branding yourself so you don’t disregard a process that can catapult your career or business to new levels.
As a personal brand strategist I work with professionals, creatives, and entrepreneurs to help build their digital presence and online reputations, establish credibility and thought leadership in their field, or be the face and voice of their business.
From this experience, as well as my past career overseeing digital brand strategy for iconic brands, I’ve come to realize that there’s no consensus when it comes to what branding is, why it’s important, and how to do it right.
Some perceive branding, particularly personal branding, as a nice exercise but not really something you need to devote much time or energy to in the grand scheme of things. Others deem it as important but place it squarely in the “design” category and completely disregard the need for strategy.
There are many misunderstandings and misconceptions that prevail. When it comes to personal branding, I want to dispel these myths so you don’t downplay a process that can catapult your career or business to new levels.
You know what branding yourself involves
Odds are you don’t.
Most of my personal branding clients come to me with strong opinions about what they believe they need to do to build their brand. It only takes a 15 minute conversation before they realize they are overly fixated on a small part of a much bigger picture.
Branding yourself is not just throwing a website up, having business cards designed, or organizing a photoshoot. These are merely tactical elements that, in the absence of a thoughtful strategy, won’t help you package and present yourself in an effective way.
There are actually four core parts to branding yourself:
1. Life Vision
Many people see personal branding as solely a career exercise and so tend to skip over the personal development process that’s an important input into their brand strategy.
Branding yourself is not just about improving your work prospects. It’s about defining an aspirational self image, continuously working towards that ideal image, and presenting yourself to the world in a way that reflects that image.
Going through the process of finding yourself and having a clear vision for your life (and life’s work) is key. In fact, I bake a life coaching session into my personal brand consulting services to ensure that my clients don’t overlook this critical step.
2. Brand Strategy
I call this the 4V framework because it entails developing your Vision, Value, Voice and Visuals.
- Vision — who are you, what you stand for for, and what you want to achieve
- Value — what is unique about you and what value do you add to your core audience
- Voice — how you communicate such that it influences and establishes trust
- Visuals — the visible elements of your brand that make it recognizable and relatable
You can immediately see why you need an overarching life vision before you start branding yourself. Your life vision feeds the 4V framework and the outputs of this framework are used to build your brand book.
Your brand book is the strategic reference point for how you implement your brand. Whatever you do going forward — from building a website to designing stationery — is based on the brand book.
This is why strategy is so important. Without it you are blindly working on disjointed one-off projects. With a strategy, everything you do is cohesive and collectively communicates the essence of what you want to present to the world.
3. Personal Image
Remember that your personal brand is an aspirational image of yourself — a more polished version of you that helps shape how others perceive you but also gives you something to continually strive towards.
Personal image is really the implementation phase of personal branding. It’s considering all the different ways you must develop and present yourself so it’s consistent with the image.
Some examples of ways to align your personal image with your brand strategy are:
Cleaning up your online presence
Developing your personal style
Improving your communication skills
Again, all of the tactics you employ should be cross-checked against your brand book to ensure they are consistent and will help you achieve your goals.
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You don’t really need to brand yourself
If you care about your reputation then you do.
We live in a time where information — be it fake, real, true or false, is easily accessible to all — via the internet. That means that your reputation is built almost entirely on what is accessible online.
Unflattering information — or even worse, complete lack of information — can work against you, especially if you are trying to position yourself or establish your business in a competitive field.
You may have a personal aversion to this but it doesn’t matter because it’s the reality of the world we live in. You have to, at minimum, create a legitimate digital presence to build credibility in most fields.
My entire business is fueled by my personal brand and the most important element of my brand is my portfolio of articles. I write useful thought pieces that I push through my social channels and that’s how all my clients and customers find me. My livelihood would be nonexistent without this.
Some of my clients come to me out of frustration because they struggle to make progress against their goals but keep seeing peers obtaining high profile consultancies, or rapidly growing their businesses, or getting press mentions.
When I investigate, it almost always comes down to a stark difference in how those peers have positioned themselves online. When you have little or no digital presence then your reputation is at the mercy of the random links or images that pop up in a search on your name.
Your online presence is the first, and sometimes only, impression that people have of you. This is a very important component of your personal brand strategy and the most pressing of many reasons why you shouldn’t put off branding yourself.
You can brand yourself without assistance
You can do-it-yourself but it’ll probably be easier if you sought professional help unless you have both the relevant strategic and creative skills.
It doesn’t matter if you enroll in an online course or hire a brand consultant, the whole process will be swifter and easier if you get assistance.
The first reason for seeking help is because you need a process to follow. If you have no experience in branding then you probably have no clue where to start. Without guidance you will likely make the aforementioned mistake of working on random tactics that don’t really add value.
The second reason, which you can get from working directly with a consultant, is that you need an objective perspective. Often times we look inward or turn to friends and family for advice, but this is a process that benefits from unbiased input.
As a personal brand consultant I’m hired to help my clients accomplish what they haven’t been able to achieve on their own: get promotions, build a lifestyle business, establish a devoted following, sharpen their style, and so on. As friendly as I am, it’s my responsibility to be honest about what will or won’t work in achieving those goals.
The third reason to seek help is that you can get guidance on how to maximize your investment. Not everyone has unlimited time, energy, or money to put into the branding process. Knowing where to allocate your resources, especially when it comes to implementation, is the difference between a mediocre and stellar outcome.
I work with clients to prioritize one or two tactics that will create momentum behind their specific goals instead of giving them generic or trendy advice that will do nothing but whittle away their limited resources.
You have to invest a fortune to brand yourself
Not true at all. However, I know where this myth comes from.
I've worked for or advised a range of brands — from iconic Fortune 500s to startups — that would drop hundreds of thousands of dollars on brand agencies. I’ve even approved a couple of million dollar agency budgets myself.
When I saw what that money ultimately bought I was appalled almost every single time. Usually it was not worth it. And I see why there’s a general perception, when it comes to branding yourself or a business, that it’s ridiculously expensive.
Yes, some people are out there spending fortunes on subpar work, but you don’t need to be that person. Quality doesn’t come free and a skilled brand strategist is going to charge according to the value they can add. So you’ll need to make a reasonable investment but it should not be outrageous.
Once you build your brand it’ll maintain itself
As I discussed earlier, think of your personal brand as a component of your broader personal development plan. In doing so you’ll come to appreciate the personal growth journey instead of being fixated on an end destination.
You are always evolving as a person and will likely go through many phases and changes that alter your life vision. As this vision evolves you may need to make adjustments to your personal brand strategy so it stays in sync.
As a result, your personal brand is dynamic not a one-time build that stays static. It should be firm enough that it helps you clearly communicate who you are and what you stand for. But it should also be fluid enough to adapt to inevitable changes in your beliefs, ideals, and goals.
A personal brand consultant should help you craft your strategy in a way that balances the need for clarity and consistency with the need for fine-tuning down the line.