Many entrepreneurs know they should build a “personal brand” yet resist doing it, because they fear it entails posting pictures of the perfect life they’re not yet leading on Instagram.
Fortunately, there’s another way to do it, says Cynthia Johnson, co-founder of the branding agency Bell + Ivy in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, author of the new book Platform: The Art and Science of Personal Branding and an influencer with 1.7 million Twitter followers.
Cynthia Johnson, author of “Platform,” says four key elements go into a personal brand–personal proof such as education, social proof like social media followers or speaking engagements, who is in your professional network and recognition, such as awards. Cynthia Johnson
True personal branding is about being part of conversations where you have something to add—so you can make an impact, according to Johnson.
“People start to realize when they put their ideas out there, when they become bigger than their job and care more about having an opinion and being part of the world, then really amazing things start to happen,” says Johnson.
We spoke recently about how owners of micro businesses can build a personal brand that helps their business grow. “As a one-person brand, sometimes you need opportunity to come to you,” says Johnson.
Here’s how to set the stage.
Take control of your online presence. Major platforms such as Amazon, Facebook and Google have profiled you, whether you realize it or not. “It’s amazing what people don’t know is online about them already,” says Johnson.
The information these giant platforms gather shapes how you appear online to others, Johnson explains. To take back control of your online image, she recommends logging into these accounts and looking at what they say about your ad preferences. Change the preferences (or turn off the ad personalization) if they don’t reflect what you want the world to see. (In case you have no idea how to do this—this was new to me—her book offers step-by-step instructions). That will, in turn, shift how you appear to others on these platforms.
Consider how other people introduce you. Many self-employed people wonder if they have impressive enough credentials to build a personal brand and worry that they need one more university degree before they get started. “We overthink it,” says Johnson. “As human beings, we tend to think other people are judging us, talking about us and know more about us than they really do.”
To break out of this, pay attention to the one or two things that most people who are familiar with your work mention when they introduce you, advises Johnson. You’ll be able to quickly identify an area where you could build a personal brand around your expertise, she says.
Ultimately, your personal brand is a way to telegraph to other people that you have the right stuff to tackle the projects you want to take on. When you keep that in mind, she says, “you can get past the hurdle of feeling like you need to complete so many different things to get there.”
“Platform” looks at how to use game theory in personal branding, explaining how to build a bigger social media following by studying the accounts of people with the kind of followers you want. Bell + Ivy
Become a resource. If – like many professionals – you’re not comfortable shining the spotlight on your own ideas and opinions, become a curator of thought leadership articles and content relevant to your target audience. A good example, Johnson says, is the Moz newsletter, which sends out the best articles on search engine optimization every week. “You don’t have to spend hours writing,” she says.
Not sure what topics to focus on? “Follow the money,” advises Johnson. For instance, if you know it costs $50,000 a year to get an art degree, share a way to get an art degree that costs a lot less.
Go where your audience is. Once you get clear on your personal brand, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all of the social media that exist and feel like you should be posting on multiple sites constantly. That’ll distract you from running your business.
“Pick the platform you’re most comfortable with. Don’t try to be everywhere,” advises Johnson. “People will catch on to what you’re doing.” Once your fans start noticing what you’re sharing, you may be surprised by how many opportunities start flowing your way.
Originally published on Forbes.com, Feb. 2019.