Should I Have A Personal Brand (And If So, Where Do I Start)

By Stewart Hillhouse

There’s a professional development trend going around that’s been widely misunderstood. Many fantasize about having it. Few follow through on building it. And even fewer do the work upfront to define what their end-goal is. 

I am talking about having a personal brand. 

There is no right or wrong decision to create a personal brand, which makes designing your outcome before deciding your tactic that much more important.

We will get into the actionable steps you can follow to start building a personal brand, but the purpose of this article is to tell you, foremost, that not everyone should strive to have a personal brand…Let’s get into it.

What Is A Personal Brand?

If you look up a generic definition of a corporate Brand Strategy, a brand is the intangible sum of all the touchpoints a company has with its customers.

In other words, it’s the difference between the promises you make and the promises you keep. 

I like this definition and think it’s appropriate to begin by comparing a personal brand with a company’s brand. A personal and company brand both require a lot of time & effort to create but come with a landslide of advantages. 

Where a corporate brand would include all the ads they run, stores they operate, and customer loyalty services they provide, a personal brand is a little smaller (at least to start). 

Simply, a personal brand is achieved through actively putting out ideas and insights into your sphere of influence. 

When starting out, your “Sphere of Influence” will only be about 20 people. These folks within reach are already engaged with what you do — think besties, coworkers, family, and old crushes. Over time, that sphere will continue to grow, sewing the seeds for cool opportunities down the road. 

Is Building A Personal Brand For You?

As I mentioned earlier, not everyone should have a personal brand. Hear me out while you ask yourself these questions before getting started:

  • Are you endlessly curious and want to get deeper insights than what reading a book on a topic can offer?
  • Are you seeking more opportunities beyond what your day-job can offer you? 
  • Are you committed to doing extra (unpaid) work outside of work hours for at least 18 months while maintaining the quality of work at your day job? 

If you answered no to any of the above questions, then you can close this article the rest of what we’re going to discuss could be very boring for you to hear. Why? Because you may not be ready to make the commitment. 

But if you said yes to all three, then let’s get to work building a personal brand

Start With The End In Mind

I’m a firm believer in just getting started. And in a few paragraphs, that will be exactly what I suggest you do.

But I’m also a firm believer in the idea of having a North Star — a rough approximation of what you’re actually striving for that can guide you when the path seems unsure.

For me, my guiding North Star is to be able to travel anywhere in the world and grab a drink or dinner with an acquaintance I’ve made through my work.

Obviously, this is a huge goal — it’s as large as the world! But the point of having a North Star is not necessary to achieve it. The point of the exercise is to have an indicator in the sky to keep you moving in the right direction.

Maybe you want to break into a new industry, get a new job, or believe deeply in a cause that you want more people to care about. Those are all great reasons to start sharing your ideas. 

Take Action: Choose a North Star that you’re ready to follow for the next 18 months. You can always adjust the course later on. It should be short and tangible.

Choose Your Platform

As I quickly passed over, to have a personal brand, you’ll need to begin sharing your ideas with the world. 

Believe me; this is a very intimidating concept. In my journey, at first, I tried to simply share articles relevant to my topic of interest in an attempt not to have to share my voice. 

Trust me, though: Sharing your ideas gets more comfortable with every post.

I recommend starting with a platform that compliments the medium you’re already the best at. If you enjoy speaking, start a podcast. If writing is more your thing, start writing on LinkedIn. If you’ve got a knack for video, get on TikTok.

Whichever you choose, it’s not permanent. You can always switch. But what I want to drill home is you need to start putting in the reps now so that you’ll be really good six months from now. All your favourite content creators sucked when they started — and so will you. Don’t overthink it and get started today. 

Take Action: Pick a platform and commit to posting there once a day for the next five days. Then commit to 30 days. Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day. But remember: the faster you put in your reps, the better you’ll be a year from now.

Act Like A Journalist, Not A Thought Leader

The most nagging negative voice I had in my head started sounding like: “You’re an absolute noob – who are you to be sharing content on marketing!? You’ve only been in the industry two months!”

It was a crushing voice and one I’ve heard others describe too. It can be scary to talk about a topic that you don’t feel like an expert in.

But you know who else isn’t an expert? Journalists.

And yet, we consume their content day after day.

Why? Because they don’t pretend to be subject matter experts. They’re simply describing the ideas, POVs, and nuances that they’re noticing.

In the early days, behave like a Journalist, not a Thought Leader.

Summarize relevant webinars you attend, books you read, or podcasts you listen to.

Interview your peers and then ask them to introduce you to someone they admire (this is also called Permission Networking).

Describe your day-to-day learnings in a new or challenging role.

My point is, when you change your lens from your content being about how amazing you are to describing the world in which you find yourself, it makes daily content creation that much simpler.

Take Action: Post a short summary of the last podcast you listened to, a book you read, or interview you watched on the platform you’re publishing to. Make a habit of taking notes of cool ideas you have throughout the day so you’ll always have a library of content ideas to pull from. 

The 70-20-10 Rule For Creators

There’s a difference between a consumer and a creator of content. If you were anything like me before I started posting, I was a 100% consumer. Every time I’d open the Instagram app, I’d just scroll and scroll.

Social media is the most effective and cheapest way to start to get your message out there. But if you’re going to stick with it, you need to shift from the consumer’s mindset to the creator’s mindset. 

That means 70% of your time on these platforms should be posting and 20% of your time should be engaging with others, and 10% should be actively looking for new ideas.

As a content creator, you need to start seeing social media as a distribution tool, not as a vice.

Take Action: Turn on “Screen Time” or equivalent monitoring app on your phone so you can see just how much time you spend scrolling. Start monitoring it and be purposeful with spending more time creating than consuming. My daily rule: Create before I consume. 

So, Is Having A Personal Brand Right For You?

Truthfully, only you can know whether building a personal brand is right for you. 

But let’s put it this way: The worst thing that can happen is nobody listens to you and you learn something new about yourself (and is that really so bad?). 

Best-case scenario, you develop an audience, build confidence in your work, and build relationships along the way that can increase the number of cool opportunities you get exposed to. 

So if you’re looking for a sign to get started, consider this is it.

If you want to learn more, I’ve spoken about my experience of starting a podcast and what I learned in my first 3 months of building an audience

Say Hi on Twitter if you’ve got any questions. 

Stewart Hillhouse writes and podcasts about how marketers and creatives can become top of mind. He’s the Head of Audience Growth at Customer Camp. Stewart has a weekly podcast and newsletter. Stewart is a 2017 Venture For Canada Alumni currently living in Fredericton, New Brunswick.