Why Thought Leaders Should Absolutely Invest in Their Personal Brands

  Time Is Money

Personal Brand Saturation

Tom Peters, of McKinsey fame, wrote an article back in the late 90s about the “Brand of You.” Back then there were a lot of gatekeepers still so to become a thought leader required a great deal of effort just to be heard. Being a thought leader is even harder today than it was back then. While just about anyone today can call themselves a thought leader, it takes an insane amount of hustle to have a true thought leadership platform. Today, individuals are much more aware of what is real and what is fake. Transparency allows the wisdom of crowds to prevail and the top thought leaders to rise to the top.

Live in the Gray

We are still in the dawn of personal branding. The beautiful thing about it is that since the gatekeepers are falling by the wayside, creative entrepreneurship is rising. As we move more to a freelance economy, the need for strong personal brands will only grow. The line between the corporate brand and personal brand will blur. This allows for people to do better work and earn more money on a horizontal career trajectory rather than a vertical one. This phenomenon should only scare one type of person…the fakers. More creative entrepreneurs with deep expertise in one very specific niche are building new leaders and new jobs to follow under their guidance.

The line between entrepreneur and creatives has never been more gray. Creatives no longer have to rely on a corporate brand to amass a following. They can use their same skills to create beautiful behind-the-scenes experiences for their fans. Creative entrepreneurs will find crowds of passionate people that they never knew existed.

One of our clients has a strong following of female gun rights activists. Because she lives in the age of personal branding, we were able to find new niches of followers for her. She has always had an interesting mix of followers in gun rights activists and civil rights activists, but we were able to find an entirely new audience for her through personal branding…female entrepreneurs. The cool thing about this client is that while she is a a fiction author she also runs her own consulting practice. Traditionally, two worlds that rarely cross paths have provided our client with a buffet of career options. She recognizes that her personal brand is built for the long-game not a one-trick pony.

Strong Personal Branding Formula

Branding + Authenticity = Influence

Influence + Trust = Strong Personal Brand

Branding and authenticity are critical to a strong personal brand because they build influence. The flaw is that they can be bought. The opportunity is that if you are as good as you say that you are then you you will rise above all the purchased influence. The only way to do that is to build trust. Trust is a funny and scary word because it often gets wrongly confused with “truth.” Truth is something that is deemed absolute by the majority. Trust is a very personal feeling unique to each individual. Consider a criminal trial in court. The “truth” is whatever the court decides once a verdict is offered. There will always be a side that believes the defendant to be guilty or not guilty. However, each person affected by the defendant has a unique level of trust for that person. Trust is where each and every personal brand has a competitive advantage. As a creative entrepreneur, you only need to find one strong niche to build a sustainable business around. You don’t need to change the world. You need to help those that trust you continue to trust you by helping them transform their lives.

Personally Investing in What Matters

I come across a lot of critics of personal branding. Usually, the criticism is that focusing on your personal brand takes away too much from your actual business. This only makes sense if you see personal branding as a cost rather than an investment. If I told you that investing $25 per day and 50% of your daily working hours in personal branding would return at least $100 per day, then you would do it. Entrepreneurs outsource their payroll because it does absolutely nothing to help grow their business. Once it’s setup properly, it can only help to maintain it. Your personal brand cannot be outsourced. Your expertise and personality cannot be faked. If you do not invest in your personal brand, then you run two major risks. The first risk is that if you’re already a leader in your space then you will be bypassed by you competition. You may think, “My work speaks for itself.” Great! Now, who’s speaking for your work? Kevin Costner needed a plethora of ghosts to save his family farm, and I don’t believe in ghosts. The second risk is for those that have yet to be found. One of the hardest things about being an entrepreneur is knowing that you’re doing great work but feeling like you’re invisible to the world. The health risks of this trump anything business related. You have to get your personal brand out there. You have to show us what you can do for us. I need you. Everyone needs you. Invest in yourself!

Personal branding, like entrepreneurship, is about the courage to take committed chances. Personal branding used to require lots of thought and strategic effort because there were so many moving parts just to distribute a message to one channel. The thought and strategy pieces are still there but today the technology to try new channels faster is abundant. It allows you to see what your audiences wants, where they want it, how they want it and then produce it for them. This ability to share your thought leadership is an amazing blend of creativity, entrepreneurship and customer feedback in one quick swing.

Adapt or Die

A few weeks after Hurricane Katrina struck the coast of New Orleans, I wrote down several things that were important to me.  one of the things I wrote was, “Never become bitter about how young people use new technology to execute on old ideas.” This might seem like a strange thing to write down after a life-altering moment, but during that time lots of new technologies had to be used to get things done quickly. Even though the positive results of technology were in the faces of some residents, I would hear comments such as, ” I don’t understand this X new technology and don’t care to do so. Let the young people handle it.” I would think to myself, “What a bitter and slow death to face. At least be open to idea that it’s cool and understand how it works.”

Fast forward to today. My first challenge where I felt “old” was with SnapChat. I’m a tech enthusiast, so I was on SnapChat in 2012 when it was viewed purely as a “sexting app.” I never gave it much thought as a personal brand builder only a personal brand destroyer. Then, about a year ago, I started to notice a few of our clients migrating towards SnapChat. They were migrating because they were picking up new audiences there. The workhorse entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk swears by it. Mark Suster, an intelligent and charismatic venture capitalist, has even built his own website around it.

New audiences are popping up all over the place. Build your platform to adapt so that when the audiences move you can move with them. Even better is that you can use the same proven and trustworthy content to build new audiences simply by repurposing it for that channel.

Invest in Your Personal Brand Platform

Investing is a funny word. Too often its associated with money and too often its mislabeled as an investment when it should be a cost. Your personal brand is only a cost if you do nothing to make it profitable. Time is the most precious asset because it puts everyone on even footing. No one can create it, copy it or steal it. Invest more time than money in your personal brand and your entrepreneurial endeavors will realize exponential returns in not only money but truly profitable long-term business relationships.