We’re all familiar with the power that a business leader’s personality has to influence the reputation of their company. How can you separate the figure of Richard Branson from Virgin, Steve Jobs from Apple, or Elon Musk from Tesla, for instance?
However, it’s my view that this personal branding isn’t just for business leaders. Take a look at this startling statistic: “90% of people trust product or service recommendations from people they know, while only 33% trust messages from a [corporate] brand.” (Nielsen via Kredible)
Now, what if all your team members, at each level of the hierarchy, developed their own personal brand – their own reputation for expertise and trustworthiness? Suddenly, your company would be represented by people that your audience felt they knew and respected. Each employee, in a sense, would represent a personal recommendation.
This is a powerful opportunity to build the credibility, reliability, and authority of your business – three key considerations for B2B buyers in particular.
In this article, I’ll outline my approach for building a strong personal brand, which can be followed by all team members regardless of seniority. Moreover, I will show you how to leverage that personal brand for lead generation.
5 key elements of a strong personal brand
There’s a reason why many of the oldest surviving historical texts are stories. They are enduring, powerful and they shape how we see the world. Building your personal brand is really nothing more complicated than telling your own story in the most compelling way possible.
To my mind, there are five key elements that are essential for building a strong personal brand.
Make sure you’re engaging in impactful and interesting work – embracing new opportunities and challenges. This way, you’ll have a variety of experiences to draw upon. And they don’t all need to be good experiences; in fact, being able to share about times when things went wrong will lend your story authenticity and make you more relatable.
In order to demonstrate the relevance of your story to your audience of potential customers, it helps if you can collaborate with your existing customers. Ask their permission to share their experiences to reinforce your narrative.
For example, you can talk about their pain points; how you worked together to solve their problems; what challenges and triumphs you faced.
While your personal experience and working relationships are crucial material for building your personal brand, you shouldn’t forget the bigger picture. It’s important to be aware of the wider context in which your brand is situated: e.g. advances in technology, industry trends, etc.
If you’re going to position yourself as an expert on a topic, you have to keep up with the pace of the changes taking place around you.
It might seem counterintuitive to talk about your weaknesses and failures as part of personal branding, but remember: “a personal brand should reflect your actual personality and should not be an idealized version of who you are.” (Medium)
You must be willing to be open, honest, and vulnerable about your mistakes and disappointments – that’s what will give your personal brand integrity and encourage your audience to trust you.
5. Content – Creation & Distribution
Your experience, collaboration, awareness, and openness will go unnoticed if you don’t create compelling content to get these qualities across. Likewise, once you’ve got the content, you need to distribute it on the right channels to be seen by your audience.
So, the first thing is to create the content of the right standard that will allow your expertise to shine through. Play to your strengths: if you’re confident with visual or audio media, consider making videos or podcasts; if writing is more your line, try composing blog posts or even your own long-form eBook.
But don’t worry – if content creation is not one of your skills (or if you don’t have time) you can outsource this task. There’s plenty of creative talent available.
When you come to distribute your content, it’s helpful to identify a timeframe for your personal branding strategy.
For more immediate results such as email signups, new social media followers, etc., you’ll be looking at:
- Paid social media
- Paid Google/Bing ads
On the other hand, for a longer, slow-burn approach that builds up your brand gradually, you can try:
- Guest blogging
- Organic social media
- Speaking gigs and conferences
We’ll look at generating leads through speaking gigs and conferences in more detail below.
How to Use Your Personal Brand to Generate Leads
Some of the world’s biggest businesses have used personal branding to grow. As Josh Steimle observes in his article on the subject: “when a CEO has a good reputation (which is another word for ‘personal brand’), they are better able to attract investors, positive media attention, and talent.”
What sets personal branding apart from more overt marketing techniques (like those used for growth hacking) is that the leads are actually the by-product, rather than the goal, of the process.
That can seem a bit unnerving when building a personal brand takes so much time and effort, but it really is the most organic way to attract new customers. The aim is to position yourself as a trustworthy expert who will be your audience’s first port of call when they have a particular problem to solve.
A personal branding strategy that generates leads effectively will:
- Connect with your audience on a meaningful level
- Address the specific pain points of your audience
- Produce content of consistent quality and depth
Ultimately, building a strong personal brand is about contributing to your particular community, taking the time to answer your audience’s questions. This way, you will prove the depth of your knowledge and expertise.
So let’s look at how you can use some online and offline channels to develop your personal brand and generate leads.
Social media channels such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are great for curating a more informal personal brand image, whilst remaining professional. You should aim to:
- Share content: Social media platforms are ideal for sharing the top-quality content you’ve produced on your subjects of expertise. However, you should also share relevant content from other sources that might be helpful or interesting to your audience.
- Engage with comments: Once you’ve shared content or published a post, don’t just walk away. Go back and engage with the comments you’ve attracted. This will demonstrate that you’re genuinely engaged with followers and their concerns – as well as helping you cultivate new contacts.
- Be personal: Feel free to share information about your everyday life and interests, as this helps establish a well-rounded, human image. However, your business-related social media profile is not the place to voice your opinions on every topic – keep another more private profile if you want a freer space to express yourself.
- Use a tool for consistency: If your posts are too sporadic or inconsistently timed, this could actually adversely affect your personal brand. An online tool like Buffer or Hootsuite can help you manage your social media publications for optimum exposure and engagement.
If you want to connect with users who are already in a “work” mindset and thus more likely to become leads quickly, then LinkedIn is your go-to platform. This is especially pertinent if your business is B2B.
So what can you do to unlock the personal branding opportunities on LinkedIn?
- Blog: Even if you’ve already published content on your own website or a guest blog site, it pays to publish it on LinkedIn’s own blogging platform too. After all, LinkedIn is actively trying to promote the reach of its blogging service across the site, so you’ll get some good exposure.
- Make the first move: Keep an eye on people who have viewed your profile. It’s likely that some of your content has sparked their interest, but they may not want to come across as too pushy by contacting you. Thus, it’s up to you to get in touch if you think this is a potential lead.
- Build relationships: Making a sale isn’t the only reason to contact a fellow LinkedIn user; perhaps you can help each other. You might be able to swap services or collaborate on content, for example. And it may well be that further business opportunities will follow in time.
- Play the system: Stay aware of how LinkedIn is changing its algorithm to prioritize certain kinds of posts. The key is to keep your content really relevant for your particular audience so it’s more likely to appear at the top of their updates. Avoid including external links, as LinkedIn doesn’t want to encourage users to leave its site.
Conferences & Speaking Gigs
Despite the power of building your personal brand online, your reputation can still benefit from an in-person appearance at offline events now and again. I’ve found speaking at workshops and conferences to be a great way to network with new people in the startup/scaleup community.
Public speaking is an effective personal branding tool because it enables you to produce and distribute content in one go. As always, the primary goal is to educate and add value for your audience, but lead generation will be a natural side effect.
Here are my top tips for using public speaking to boost your personal brand:
- Know your audience: You can start building a relationship with your audience before you even appear on stage. Research attendees in the lead up to the event, if possible, and direct your talk towards their particular pain points. You can also ask for questions to answer in advance.
- Be real: As I mentioned earlier, a strong personal brand means being open about mistakes and challenges as well as successes. Talk about real-life painful situations experienced by your customers or partners, for example, and how you worked together to fix them.
- Stick around: At the end of your talk, don’t just disappear. Make sure you’re available to answer questions, use your connections to help the people you meet, and try to go and hear other speakers too. After all, you might learn something to your advantage!
- Collect contacts: Endeavour to come away with as many contact details as possible – whether that’s business cards or email addresses. Encourage signups with a free giveaway or competition.
- Follow up: Make sure you have a follow-up strategy in place, so you have the potential to generate leads from your talk contacts. Continue to build on the themes of your talk and expand on the insights you’ve already shared.
So we’ve seen that building a strong personal brand means telling your own compelling story, being open and authentic, drawing on your experiences, and staying aware of the wider context. And it means making sure your story is heard by the right audience by producing and distributing great content.
The aim of your personal branding activities should be to educate, inform, and help your audience. By demonstrating your expertise and showing that you understand your followers’ pain points, you will generate leads as a natural result. Using a combination of online and offline channels will allow you to share your content effectively and make new, valuable connections in your business community.
And remember: business leaders, executives, and junior staff members can all develop their own personal brand. Encouraging your whole team in this will not only boost lead generation but also your employer branding, as it proves that you value and empower talented employees.
Personal branding might be a long game to play, but it has rich rewards for those who are willing to put the time and effort into sharing their knowledge.