How to build your personal brand

  1. Review why you are actually in business. Why do you put the hours in? Too many small business owners say it’s not about the money, but about personal fulfilment. And too many say they’re only interested in making money. I think both extremes are flawed. Of course, you have to make money – and if your business isn’t making money you should stop and get a job. There’s no shame in that. But businesses which have only a profit motive are soulless, and will ultimately disappoint you. 
  2. Develop a personal brand strategy. By strategy, I mean the big picture. Where do you want to end up in one year, five years, ten years? Don’t worry about the “how” at this point. Focus on the destination. Too many entrepreneurs mix up strategy with planning, and therefore get stuck on the day to day chores. But the breakthrough entrepreneurs are those who have a long-term strategy and who know exactly where they want to end up, even though they may not know how they are going to get there. 
  3. Think about your personal strengths and skills. Are they reflected in what you actually spend your days doing? If you’re a big picture person and you are all wrapped up in detail every day, for example, then you are not living and working in line with your real character, so your personal brand (and quite possibly that of your business) won’t be working to maximum effect. Marcus Buckingham is right: we have a tendency to focus on working on our weaknesses, when we would actually be much better off using our strengths. Get someone else to handle your weak areas and focus on your strengths.
  4. Think about whether you are the right person to be the public champion of your brand. If you’re a Richard Branson or a Steve Jobs, and a natural in the limelight, then that’s a powerful talent. But if you hate to be personally visible, don’t try to force it. Again, give that responsibility to someone else in your business who is really skilled at it.
  5. Remember that your failures can make as powerful a part of your brand story as your successes. Steve Jobs was fired by Apple. Branson regularly fails to get ambitious projects off the ground yet continues to succeed overall. Too many business leaders are hung up over always looking like perfect successes: but human frailty is, ironically, a great source of brand strength.
  6. Your brand, ultimately, is not what you say about yourself, but what others say about you. Your brand is the sum of everything that all your audiences know, think, believe, feel, hope and suspect about you. You can influence that reputation, but not by spin – only by behaviour. So you have to remember that, as the leader of even a small business, your personal behaviour matters hugely, to your staff, suppliers, customers and all your other audiences.
  7. When you make mistakes which damage your personal brand, they can damage your business brand too. Think of the devastating impact on the careers of John Galliano and Mel Gibson of their racist ranting. Think of Tiger Woods and how revelations about his personal life affected his career. If you mess up, there’s only one viable response: a sincere apology and then a slow rebuild.
  8. All humans love stories. We are hard-wired to want to know “what happened next”, and, as an entrepreneur or business leader, you have a great power to tell inspiring and attractive stories. That doesn’t mean making things up: it means telling the truth with passion and colour. Think of the way Steve Jobs’ product launches have become so iconic. Think of the oft-repeated story about the launch of Innocent at a music festival (asking customers to decide whether the founders should carry on with their business or go and get a job by dropping an empty bottle into either of two dustbins ). Or the story of the Sony Walkman being tested by its creators on the Tokyo underground in order to attract popular support.
  9. Remember that a powerful brand is not just a famous one, but a liked (even loved) one. There are two aspects to brand success: winning respect and winning affection. Respect is about the rational: providing excellent products, services, solving their problems and so on. Affection is about the heart: about the way you do things, the attitude that you show (from Apple’s design aesthetic to the impeccable staff training in John Lewis and Pret A Manger).
  10. As a business leader, you may or may not be highly visible to your external customers. But you will (well, you should) be highly visible to your staff. And to your staff, your personal brand matters hugely. You have the power to inspire and motivate them or to alienate them and sap them of energy. Genuine inspiration is a truly powerful phenomenon. Too many small business owners are afraid of even trying. They are embarrassed or shy by the idea. Or they mistake inspiration for bombastic, often macho, order-giving. But arguably the core role of any business leader (even of a very small business) is to inspire. And if you want inspiration as to how to do it, just watch Michelle Obama’s June speech to schoolchildren in Soweto.

Simon Middleton is the author of Build A Brand In 30 Days and What You Need To Know About Marketing. His evening masterclass, Reinventing A Brand New You, is in Wallacespace St Pancras London on Wednesday October 26, from 6pm. Details at http://www.simonmiddleton.com

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