It’s time for a confession: I was really cocky in high school. I thought that—because I played football and basketball, plus did debate for good measure—I was one of the coolest kids around.
My mom, bless her heart, didn’t do me any favors. She bought me a shirt that proclaimed “Not arrogant. Just good.” on the front. As I strutted down the halls of my school wearing one of the most obnoxious shirts ever created, it seemed to me like I really was unbelievably awesome.
Then reality set in. First, my aunt decided to bring me down to earth by challenging me to play her 1-on-1 in basketball. A former college athlete, my aunt is 6’ 5” and wears a men’s size 15 shoe—and she absolutely throttled me in our basketball game. As her final shot passed through the net and I walked dejectedly toward the sideline, she threw down a celebratory dunk (yes, my aunt can easily slam a basketball).
Shortly afterward, I enrolled in my first college classes and quickly began to realize that my intellect wasn’t quite as amazing as I’d thought earlier. I was reasonably intelligent, but just as my athletic abilities were subpar when compared to my aunt’s, I certainly wasn’t dominant in comparison to my college peers.
Why do I share all this? Because my process of reassessing my strengths and weaknesses was really productive and affirming. I discovered that I was a mediocre athlete but an excellent communicator. I wasn’t particularly booksmart, but I have the scrappiness needed to thrive in tough situations.
I’ve spent the ensuing years figuring out who I am and what sets me apart from others. I have my strengths. I have my weaknesses. By leveraging the talents that truly make me unique, I’ve been able to develop a personal brand.
As a small business owner, you need to do the same thing. You’re undoubtedly more mature than I was as a teenager, so you’re not strutting around with a false sense of awesomeness. But you probably still need to conduct an appraisal to highlight your distinct strengths.
“Building your personal brand helps you nurture trust in your target audience, showcase yourself as an authority in your field, get featured in online and print media, and build a community,” explains small business guru Kyle Drewnowsky. “However, personal branding and business branding aren’t the same things. A business brand is built around how you want your business to be identified and differentiated from other businesses. A personal brand, on the other hand, is built around how you want others to identify you—your lifestyle, values, personality, and interests.”
Indeed, you should focus on your own branding as much as your business branding. This process is how you’ll establish your unique identity, and it’ll likely outlast your current business. Even if your business thrives for decades to come, you can bring your unique brand to other business ventures. This versatility allows you to capitalize on all the things that make you amazing, regardless of how you’re applying them.
Let’s look at 4 tips that can help you to build and utilize your personal brand:
Notice that I didn’t say to “create” your brand. Your uniquely amazing brand elements already exist in you—what’s needed is for you to identify and define them.
After you’ve got your brand elements defined, you can put them together into a brand that can be described in 3–4 words or fewer. Perhaps you excel at coming up with big ideas, so you want to be known as a creator. Or your skills might be more specific to running a business, so you could be considered an operations guru.
It’s one thing to proclaim that your personal brand is creating a business, or running tasks with efficiency, or leading people—but it takes concerted effort to actually establish a solid track record in that area.
You’ll need to focus on your reputation and be cognizant of what you’re doing to not only communicate your personal brand but validate it as well. A candid analysis of your actions might reveal that you need to bolster your efforts in certain areas in order to be worthy of the brand you’re claiming.
It’s illuminating to hear how other people perceive you. Talk to colleagues, employees, friends, and acquaintances to learn how they would define you. By taking this opportunity to view yourself from the outside, you’ll learn more about your brand and be able to develop strategies for communicating it accurately.
Your personal brand will always find a home on social media. Even if you aren’t intentionally communicating your brand on Facebook, for example, there’s a persona that’s likely being conveyed. Your posts, photos, and “likes” all combine to shape how others perceive you.
In addition to minding your social channels, you should also create your own website. This gives you the autonomy to design the space however you like, which you don’t get with websites such as LinkedIn and Facebook. Your personal website provides a blank canvas from which you can articulate your personal branding however you like.
These tips aren’t meant to be taken as the only way to build a personal brand—they’re just to get your creativity flowing. After all, we’re talking about your brand here, so nobody knows better how to define and communicate than you.
By leveraging the strategies and channels that help you amplify your message and remove distractions, you’ll help others see you the way you see yourself. And as perception becomes the reality, your brand will be strong enough to reach potential clients, attract new employees, and bring momentum to all your business pursuits.