If you own a small business and follow any social media anywhere, you’ve probably lost count of the number of times you’ve been told that your business needs a personal brand. But if a business isn’t a person, how can it have a personal anything?
In the 20th century, brands were used for products and for companies. Coca-Cola told you their soda was the real thing. McDonalds told you to come in because you deserved a break that day. Maxwell House coffee was good to the last drop. Companies used brands to invite you to become a loyal purchaser of their products.
But none of us ever knew the name of anyone who made the soda at Coca-Cola, or ground coffee beans at Maxwell House. Sure, we knew that Ray Kroc founded McDonald’s but we also knew that Ray was long gone and we weren’t doing business with him. So how did personal brands become mission critical?
In order to really understand why your small business needs a personal brand, you have to embrace the fact that our economy has fundamentally changed. In the past, as individuals we succeeded by blending in. We wore business suits so that people would consider us professional and reliable. We were interchangeable parts, completely fungible. We were defined by the companies we owned or worked for.
The dominant role social media has come to play in the business world has turned that old dynamic on its head. Today, our companies don’t define us; our companies are defined by us. Now that every aspect of our lives are open to public review, people are not looking to do business with companies; people are looking to do business with people they trust.
Once you understand this, then a personal brand for a small business makes sense. The true point of personal branding is to invite people to form business relationships built on trust, relationships that create value. That’s why your business needs a personal brand – so it can create personal relationships.
Most discussions about personal brands go off the rails because they leave out this critical detail. There is a lot of “how-to” information out there. The advice is that business owners need to constantly tend to their social media presences, tweeting and updating and blogging. Embrace your inner Kardashian and people will be grateful to do business with you, invite you to speak at their events and think of you every time your specific area of business is discussed. There’s also a lot of vague and generalized general advice out there about highlighting what is unique about you, what sets you apart. Define your niche. Don’t be like everybody else.
When we take the time to circle back and remember that the point of a personal brand for a small business owner is to benefit the business, the dust starts to settle a bit. You want to let people know who you are so they will enter into a relationship with your business. And a relationship takes at least two people. So, your personal branding can’t just focus on telling people who you are, it also has to focus on finding the people who could bring value to a business relationship.
In short, since personal branding is all about creating valuable relationships, relationship rules apply. Like these rules, which are the most valuable relationship advice I ever got:
- Carefully consider your life goals.
It’s not enough to say that you want financial success; you have to consider the whole life package that will make you happy. Be honest about the work-life balance you’re going to need. Do you want to be at home with children? Do you want to take time for vacations (something untold numbers of small business owners never do)?
There’s little point in creating a mass market personal brand that requires you to be constantly available to your business contacts if you’re not going to be happy tending to your social media presence multiple times a day. Sure, you can delegate some, but remember that people want a relationship with YOU when they are buying from you.
On the other hand, if you’re a workaholic who spends a couple of hours a day in the business center of the all-inclusive resort or the cruise ship where you have taken your family on vacation, then don’t choose a strategy that requires e-books and long blog posts. Keep your efforts shorter and simpler – but keep them coming.
- Be honest about what you need – with yourself, too.
If your goal is to have a long line of customers waiting outside your door, that will dictate the type of personal branding activities you use. Focus on mass market social media outlets like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter; keep the messages short and feature your products as well as yourself.
If your goal is to sell services, though, your social media choices may be different. You are inviting people to form a relationship with you so they will hire your business. Before people will buy services from you, they really need to know you and understand you. And trust you. So you may start with the mass social media outlets, but only to drive traffic to webinars and e-books that can really establish you as a thought leader.
Maybe you fall somewhere in between. Say you’re looking for diners who will pay a premium for restaurant food cooked with organic, locally grown produce and other locally sourced food and drink. You’ll want to feature the products AND drive traffic to some content. Video might also be a great choice for you, if you can keep it short enough to grab the attention without belaboring the point.
The point is, if you’re writing e-books and blogging to sell products to the masses, there may be a more efficient way to go. And if you’re trying to build a consulting or other services business on the basis of Facebook ads with pictures of people drinking champagne on yachts and on 140 character tweets, you may be wasting your time. Because you’re not going to find potential relationship partners who value what you have to offer that way.
- Be a good listener.
I don’t think I’ve ever read any advice about personal branding that doesn’t include the “call to action.” Click here for your free report, or to join our mailing list for special deals, etc. Almost everyone has figured out that the call to action is just a means to get your contact information.
If you’re looking for a large client pool for products, this may be all you need. However, if you’re looking to form relationships with a smaller pool of people, the call to action isn’t going to get the job done. You need to invite people into a conversation.
The easiest way to do this is to invite comments and questions. A blog posts can easily have a comment section at the end. An e-book can list an email address where people can send questions. The goal is to create communication between you and the people who can benefit your business.
Of course, once you establish communication you have to follow through. It is becoming increasingly acceptable in business for people to take 2 or 3 days to respond to inquiries; this trend will not last, and even if it does if you want to form valuable, lasting relationships you need to buck that trend. No one likes to be kept waiting.
Once you have figured out the type of business relationships you’re looking for and have begun to narrow your personal branding choices, it becomes easier to get help. If your personal branding goal is to reach as broad an audience as possible for a high volume business, then you’re going to be using the mass market social media tools. Social media apps like HootSuite and Profilze can help you organize, harmonize and synchronize your personal branding activity across multiple platforms.
If your goal is a more select clientele or to use your status as a thought leader to attract clients (as opposed to using products as your magnet), you might decide to work with a content marketing agency. For example, Influence & Co. describes itself as a thought leadership consulting company that can help you intelligently use your content to build your reputation. Column Five is an agency that does similar work focusing on visual content.
So the next time you read that you have to build a personal brand for your business and that content is king, remember that valuable business relationships are the goals and that taking the time to carefully plan your personal branding efforts can bring you better results with less effort.