The First Step In Building Your Brand
This article originally appeared in partnership with Josh Steimle. If you are looking to build your brand, change careers, or want to learn how to use your brand to build a business–begin here.
I’ve generated millions in revenue for my businesses off the power of my personal brand, but I got off to a rough start.
The first problem was that when I began building my personal brand, I didn’t even know what a personal brand was. I had never even heard the term, and it was only later as I learned about personal branding that I realized I was already doing it, and that I was making a lot of mistakes. Hindsight is 20/20, right?
Now that I coach CEOs on how to build their personal brands I see many of them making the same mistakes I made, so at least I can take comfort in knowing I’m not alone. One of the key mistakes I see those embarking on the process of personal brand building make is that they do not know what they want.
Can I repeat that?
Many executives (and others) are investing time and money into building their personal brands, and they can’t even clearly articulate what their goals and objectives are.
People are working harder than ever, but because they lack clarity and vision, they aren’t getting very far. They, in essence, are pushing a rope with all of their might. – Stephen R. Covey
Covey wrote a book you may have heard of called The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People. If you haven’t read it, stop reading this blog and go read the book right now, it will change your life. Done? Good, back to business. In 7 Habits you read that Habit 2 is to begin with the end in mind. What plane ever reached its destination without the pilot knowing where he wanted to go? Yet executives do this all the time with their personal brands with the idea that if they build it, the benefits will come, whatever they are. Maybe some speaking gigs and a book deal, that’d be nice, right? But one does not become a highly sought after public speaker simply by wanting it, nor are book deals available for the asking. Plus, these aren’t the right goals to have. Getting paid to speak, landing a book deal, growing a huge following on LinkedIn, being featured in Forbes–these are means to an end, not the end itself. Therefore the first step to building a personal brand is to have a clearly defined, long term objective.
How I Found My First Long Term Objective
Yes, my first long term objective, because I have more than one, and the one that’s on top has changed over time.
I started my journey of personal brand building in earnest in 2012. That’s when I met with my friend and go-to PR expert Cheryl Snapp Conner and asked her for help saving my marketing agency that was floundering at the time after a serious hiring misstep. During the course of our conversations Cheryl turned me on to the contributor program at Forbes and eventually introduced me to her editor there, who offered me the opportunity to write a column.
Over the next several months I wrote a lot of articles, but they were all over the place in terms of subject matter. I wrote articles about what it was like to be an entrepreneur, how to run a small business, what Jay-Z’s in-app album launch had gotten wrong–I had no real focus. Part of the reason was intentional. I knew that writing for Forbes could benefit my marketing agency, but I didn’t want to self-promote, and I wasn’t sure how to write about what my agency did without coming across as self-promotional or furthering my own business interests. But mostly the reason I lacked focus was because I didn’t know what I was doing, and didn’t have much of a clue that I was missing out.
However, I began to notice what other marketing agency owners were writing about on Forbes, and how they were focused heavily on marketing and yet were not promoting their own companies, at least not directly. They were selling without selling, and their primary tactic was to write how-to articles, that is, they told people exactly how to do what they were doing. I soon recognized the wisdom in this, that when you tell people exactly how to do something, you might give them the formula, but you’re still not giving them the time or expertise to execute well. I began writing how-to articles as well, giving away my secrets, and soon my agency was flooded with leads from people who read my articles, trusted me because I was giving away the formula, and then wanted to hire my firm to do the actual work.
My long term objective wasn’t to get into Forbes, it was to grow my agency.
Once I knew what I was going for, every article I wrote was measured against this objective, and my writing became very focused. It became a win-win-win situation where Forbes won because I wrote better articles that people liked a lot better than my scattered ones, readers got to read better, more helpful articles, and I built my personal brand and got clients as a result.
I then expanded my writing to 20+ other publications, published Chief Marketing Officers at Work, began speaking at conferences and other events where my target audience was in attendance, and published relevant content on social media. People took notice, and I received accolades like:
- 50 Inspirational Entrepreneurs to Watch in 2017 – Entrepreneur Magazine
- 8 Content Marketers to Follow in 2017 – Inc. Magazine
- 25 Marketing Influencers To Watch In 2017 – Forbes
- #11, People Most Mentioned and Retweeted by CMOs – Leadtail
I was invited to be on TV, radio, and podcasts, and my agency prospered as my personal brand grew.
Defining Your Long Term Objective
I got lucky. But you don’t want to compete on luck, and that means being proactive about building a personal brand, starting with defining your long term objective. So what is it? Maybe you want to:
- Grow your business
- Get recruited to a better business
- Start a new business
- Build a legacy
- Help the next generation
Or perhaps there’s some other impact you want to make in the world.
To figure it out, follow the LEG method:
- Brainstorm. Keep it simple and make a list of everything you want to accomplish in life. Yes, list it all, personal, professional, and otherwise. Don’t get hung up on whether it’s an end or a means to an end, just write it all down. Make a BIG list of BIG goals.
- Short vs. Long. Divide the items on your list into short term vs. long term objectives. You can define short vs. long as you please, but I would recommend that you think about long term as years or decades vs. weeks or months. Put an “S” by your short term goals, and an “L” by your long term goals.
- Means vs. Ends. Now we separate your “long” items into “ends” and “means to ends.” Put a little “E” next to ends, and an “M” next to means. If you’re not sure, put an “M” next to it. Note: This can get tricky depending on your philosophy about life and perhaps what comes after, so let me make this easier for you–if the goal is a big enough deal then call it an end.
- Expert vs. Genius. We should already have a much shorter list than what you started with.
Take what’s left and put an “Ex” next to those goals that are within your expert zone, and a “G” next to those within your genius zone. Your expert zone includes things you’re really good at, but which plenty of other people can do as well as you can. Your genius zone includes what you can do better than pretty much anyone else in the world, or things which, if you don’t do them, nobody else will.
Let’s test this out against how I defined my long term objective relative to my marketing agency, MWI:
- Long – I’ve been working on MWI for almost 20 years, and I want my agency to outlive me. I’d say that qualifies as long term.
- End – Is MWI’s success an end, or a means? Per my definition above of what an “end” is, it’s a big enough deal we can call it an end.
- Genius – Nobody else was in a position to do for MWI what I did, so yes, growing MWI was most definitely within my genius zone.
And that’s how I got a LEG up on the competition…ha! Ok, I’ll never say that again, I promise.
How about you? By following these steps were you able to come up with a clear long term objective? Tell me about it in the comments below, especially if you’re still facing challenges figuring it out.
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