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The Fallacies of Personal Branding

personal branding
Image Credit: JumpStory, modified

Oceans of digital ink have been spilled on LinkedIn and other social media platforms about the value of developing your personal brand.


Personal branding is indeed vital. For my perch, as I advise solo and small firm service providers on their positioning, business development, and pricing, it’s crucial to understand and act upon the idea that the quality of a brand influences buyers’ willingness to pay and a business owner’s ability to attract best-fit clients and to price their engagements.


In turn, then, it’s crucial for a service provider to understand the ultimate determinants of their personal brand.


For a service provider whose skills are technical and who leans introvert, the idea of personal branding is disconcerting, if not downright terrifying. Mentally, you feel like you're making yourself a product on the shelf, similar to the photo in this post.


Take a breath of relief. It's not like that at all.


Personal Branding Isn’t About You, Per Se


If you Google the term “personal branding” and review the various definitions you find, you will get something like this: Personal branding is how you want people to see you and what you do to shape their perceptions. That definition applies to you if you’re a corporate employee, a solopreneur, or the business owner of any size company.


As a solopreneur or the head of your own small firm, you are the creator and deliverer of the service. You are the brand. You cannot hide behind an inanimate product that exists apart from you. Because you are solely responsible for the service and its quality, you are the product. That is why personal branding is so vital to the success of your business, and you neglect it at your peril.


The term “personal branding” can lead you to the conclusion that personal branding is all about you. Just as with education, certifications, and experience, a successful personal branding strategy does not start with you per se. This is why you need to be quite careful before you hire someone to help you develop your personal brand. As the ranks of professional services solopreneurs have continued to expand in recent years, an entire subsector of personal branding solopreneurs has sprung up and grown as well.


Some of them legitimately have valuable advice to offer. Some, however, are as bogus as carnival barkers. How can you tell the difference? Be careful when someone comes at you wanting to help you find your “authentic self” or some other navel-gazing phrase like that.

Look at their own positioning and see whether they are speaking from the perspective of your problems and concerns as a professional services provider and the outcomes they deliver. Test to see whether they have some understanding of your discipline and the unique dynamics of your business. (Remember, you are the potential client here.)


Here is another vital aspect of personal branding you must remember: What other people think or say about you when you're not around to hear it ultimately sums up your personal brand. In other words, personal branding incorporates your reputation. While you can influence the perception of others in the short run, you do not ultimately control your personal brand.


The Number One Determinant of a Great Personal Brand


Short of hiring someone to help you, what can you do to build an effective personal brand? The first and most essential aspect of a successful personal brand is to do transformative work for clients. I cannot emphasize this point strongly enough. You can have the loveliest headshot ever taken, the most compelling LinkedIn profile ever posted, the most beautiful website ever conceived, social media feeds that jump off the screen, or any other images of yourself and your practice that you have cultivated and probably paid very good money for. None of that will compensate for poorly done work.


If, however, your clients love you and the transformative work you do for them, nothing is more effective in fertilizing growth in your business. Your clients will be proud of the work you do; they'll let everyone know what a great professional you are; they'll be happy to write glowing testimonials for you if you ask; and they'll generally try to help you out.


“When Generosity and Trustworthiness Surround Your Behavior”


Even if you are just starting out, you have pivoted in some way, or for some other reason you don’t have a positive personal brand that comes from a reputation for excellent work, there are other ways to build your personal brand. I offer some specific ideas in my book, The Generosity Mindset. Those suggestions encompass one idea: with everyone you meet, strive to serve. Seek to help others in their journey to get a little closer to their goals. Celebrate them and their work. Operate from what I call The Generosity Mindset™. Become known as a professional of value.


In the Dale Carnegie book How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age, the author writes: “The two highest levels of influence are achieved when (1) people follow you because of what you’ve done for them, and (2) people follow you because of who you are. In other words, the highest levels of influence are reached when generosity and trustworthiness surround your behavior." [emphasis mine]


Here’s what’s great about The Generosity Mindset and positioning: If you develop and consistently practice generosity, your trustworthiness will skyrocket. Building a personal brand of generosity, if you are sincerely seeking to serve others, isn’t either difficult or expensive. When you are known for generosity and trustworthiness, the value of your personal brand will naturally soar.


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Are you frustrated by your pricing? Need help articulating your value? Do you need a better way to identify and close your best-fit clients? Do you want to restore the joy you used to have for your business? I may be able to help you.


I’m John Ray, a business consultant and coach, author, and podcaster. I advise solopreneurs and small professional services firms on their two most frustrating problems: pricing and business development. I’m passionate about how changes in mindset, positioning, and pricing change the trajectory of a business and the lifestyle choices of a business owner. My clients are professionals who are selling their expertise, such as consultants, coaches, attorneys, CPAs, accountants and bookkeepers, marketing professionals, and other professional services practitioners. Click here to learn more or contact me directly.


The Generosity Mindset

This post is adapted from my national bestselling book, The Generosity Mindset: A Journey to Business Success by Raising Your Confidence, Value, and Prices. The book covers topics like value and adopting a mindset of value, pricing your services more effectively, proposals, and essential elements of growing your business. The book is available at all major physical and online book retailers.


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