What are you going to be famous for? A complete guide to personal branding

In the last six months I have met some of the biggest names in both entrepreneurship through FEBE (website launching shortly!) and professional services through the BDLN, and I have become obsessed with learning what sets these superstars apart. This blog post is my conclusion.

Do any of the following sound familiar:

  • You struggle to find time for personal development
  • You’re failing to get promoted
  • You’re not bringing in new business for your company
  • You want to blog but have no idea what to write about
  • Your social media activity feels like a complete waste of time
  • You’re terrified of networking

These may seem like a broad range of unconnected problems, but chances are they’re caused by the same issue; you still haven’t worked out what you want to be famous for.

Why everyone should want to be famous for something

I believe everyone who’s serious about business or their career should want to be famous for something. I don’t mean famous in a mainstream sense. I mean famous among your target audience. If you’re Barack Obama and that happens to encompass the entire world, fine, but if you’re a cobbler in Market Harborough and want to be famous for being the best cobbler in Market Harborough, then that’s good too.

Understanding the answer to this question is at the absolute heart of developing your personal brand.

Why does this personal brand stuff matter?

I deal a lot with accountants and solicitors; people who hate anything lightweight or vague. Naturally they do not respond well when we first mention personal brands.

Their initial response is “What on earth is that?” followed by “and why does it matter to me?”. There are hundreds of definitions of personal brand but my response is always the same; “Your personal brand is the collective external perception of the quality and integrity of your work.” They stare at me blankly, so I add “In other words, are you any good?!”

Perception is reality. That’s not just a cliché. It’s reality. So you can either compete on brand or compete on price. Your call.

More specifically, your personal brand will determine your:

  • Personal development – when you’re clear on what you want to be famous for, you know that if most of your day isn’t aligned to it then you are doing the wrong things. If it is then your personal development ceases to be something you look at once a year in your annual review meeting and becomes an ongoing daily journey. That may sound fluffy but it isn’t. You cannot become an authority without focusing your time.
  • Career progression – if you are famous internally for be the best in your field, that is only going to mean one thing for promotion opportunities. Whilst at Ernst and Young, our friend and business partner John Maffioli was absolutely crystal clear that he wanted to be their youngest ever business development director, and with that mission in mind he received four back to back promotions and by 28 years of age, his directorship.
  • Sales– if you are famous externally for being the best in your field then why would clients go anywhere else? They don’t choose you, you choose them.

Finally, going to give you something specific to talk about, whether that’s on your blog, via twitter or whilst out networking. No matter what the forum, you will always have something to say that’s actually worth hearing.

Why being famous for one (and only one) thing is essential for your personal brand.

Great brands are not built by doing lots of things well. They are built by doing one thing remarkably. And as a general rule, the more niche your ‘one thing’ is, the faster you will gain traction.

Sometimes your ‘one thing’ may sit at the intersection of two things

This may sound like a bit of a contradiction but it’s not. Sometimes your one thing is the ability to bring together two distinct worlds. This is particularly common with professionals where the intersection exists between:

      • Their technical speciality (whether that’s legal, marketing, accountancy, finance, architecture, management consultancy, recruitment, HR or whatever it may be).
      • Their client’s world (perhaps that’s the technology sector, construction, health and fitness, entrepreneurship, etc).

Counter-intuitively (and this is where most people go wrong) your personal brand is going to be primarily led by the latter as your client cares about their world, not yours. So if you’re an immigration solicitor your brand will be led by your views/insight on immigration issues, if you’re an accountant specialising in the energy sector your brand will be led by your views/insight on energy and the environment, and if you’re a management consultant that specialises in technology then your brand will be led by your views/insight on technology.

Create unique content/insight

Now that you’ve decided on what it is you want to be famous for and to whom, you must now create something of value. This could be in the form of:

      • Opinion news pieces – you must not sit on the fence. Have an opinion and be absolutely uncompromising in how you deliver it.
      • Instructional blogs – share your wisdom but do it as if you’re chatting in a pub. For other tips on great blog writing, check out this completely awesome post from Sophie Hobson, the Editor of London Loves Business.
      • Interview articles and videos – interview people from within your target audience. It’s not only leads to great content but allows you to access their connections as they distribute it on your behalf. This is something we do a lot on the bdln.co.uk.
      • Short insight papers – perhaps your strength is in the detail. That’s great, but before you even think about publishing 300 pages of technical jargon that’s never going to be read by anyone, highlight the key findings and turn it into a one page insights paper.
      • Sector reports – companies want to know what the competition is up to. Do it for them; create a detailed but highly visual/digestible report explaining which of their competitors are killing it and how.

Distribute distribute distribute!

Once you have this content, it’s time to get it in front of your audience. Those last two words are everything. This is about getting it in front of the right people in the right places.

Here is a list of possible channels through which to distribute, from the broadest to the most focused:

      • Social media – most people suck on social media because they don’t know what to say. Now you do.
      • Networking – attend only those events where your audience is present. So if you’re an accountant specialising in agriculture, you go to agricultural events, not accountancy events!
      • Public speaking – the same rules apply as for networking, but this is infinitely more powerful as your audience is now captive. Becoming comfortable at public speaking is an absolute must for anyone serious about their brand.
      • Email – this is one of the reasons why you need a blog. Your email subscriber list may not be huge, but assuming you’ve built the list organically then these are among your greatest advocates and the ones most likely to read, absorb and share.
      • Target calling/emailing – I use the word “target” as it’s what John Maffioli always says; “As long as you have your insight paper or sector report, it’s not a cold call, it’s a target call”. You’ve got something of value and you’ve selected a lucky someone that you wish to give it to. Whether or not they see it that way depends on your 5 second elevator pitch (yep, 5 seconds – that’s all you’ve got).

Know your competition:

Once you are clear on your ‘one thing’, identify the 10 current superstars that are already nailing it. You are going to track these people religiously. Great marketing is not about creating ideas out of fresh air. It’s about standing on the shoulders of giants and scanning the horizon for proven techniques. As Steve Jobs said “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something.” Every tweet they send, every article they publish, you should be there ready to steal their best ideas and execute them better yourself.

Set specific targets

Brand is a largely subjective thing with often no precise means of measurement. However, that is not to say you shouldn’t have clear KPI’s and targets. For example, if your audience is on Twitter your target may be to acquire more Twitter followers than any of your competitors. Does this accurately reflect your brand power? Of course not. But it’s specific and measurable and a hell of a motivator.

And finally…

Realise that this is a journey without a final destination. Building a brand is not a process with a clearly defined beginning and an end. If in three months from now you don’t have 1000 twitter followers or 100 new email subscribers or a weekly speaking gig, that’s okay. This is an incremental process that, if done properly and with substance, is going to take you years and years. Maybe even most of your career.

The only thing that matters is that you start today, and that means deciding what it is that you will one day be famous for. Once you’ve made that step then I promise your personal brand and career as a whole will take a very different trajectory.



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