In 2007, a relatively unknown entrepreneur and member of the Princeton graduating class of 2000 published a book. That book would eventually vault him into the spotlight in more countries around the world than most of us will ever visit.
Since then, he has become the poster child for entrepreneurship, lifestyle design, productivity, learning, and more. He’s published three New York Times Bestsellers, he has countless blog subscribers, and he’s sold millions of books around the world. He’s now an investor or advisor for some of the most well known companies in the world, including Facebook, Twitter, Evernote, and more.
His life experiences include things I haven’t even heard of, let alone considered pursuing:
- National Chinese kickboxing champion
- Horseback archer (yabusame) in Nikko, Japan
- MTV breakdancer in Taiwan
- Hurling competitor in Ireland
- First American in history to hold a Guinness World Record in tango
Tim Ferriss is the pinnacle of what most people think about when they think of successful, inspiring, and intriguing individuals. The reason Tim Ferriss is at the top of everybody’s list is because of his remarkable ability to create a compelling personal brand.
Tim has gone out of his way to have some of the most ridiculously awesome life experiences he could possibly dream up. He has mastered the art of rapid skill acquisition and learning. He has done the things many of us only talk about doing.
If you’ve read any of Tim Ferriss’s work, then you knew whom I was referring to in the first sentence of this post.
The reason I use Tim Ferriss as our opening example is because the guy knows the importance of personal branding. He might not call it branding, and you might not think, “Man, that guy has a great brand,” every time you see him. But the reality is that he has such a good brand that most people don’t even realize that it’s been a long, proactive process for Tim to reach the stature he has reached.
That’s the problem with personal branding. We look at people like Tim Ferriss, and we think, “Hey, I’ll go create a blog and social media accounts and I’ll be like Tim.” Wrong.
If that’s how you’re thinking about personal branding, then you probably don’t understand the fundamentals of what goes into that brand. As Tony Hsieh puts it so well, your brand is just a lagging indicator of your internal culture, which means your internal culture has to be in place before you fire up your brand. That internal culture is the basis of the fundamentals of personal branding, and that’s what we’ll be covering in this post.
Luckily, even if you thought you could just start posting to Twitter tomorrow and have an incredible brand overnight, this post is perfect for you. On the other hand, if you know that building your brand will take a ton of work, then you’re also in the right place.
In this post, we’ll cover a five-step framework to creating a personal brand. I’ll use personal examples and case studies throughout to illustrate my points. I’ve not gone to any lengths to limit the word count on this post, so if you’re in a hurry, post this to your Evernote account, print it out, or bookmark it to come back to. This is your handbook for building your own brand, and I want you to spend the time taking action on this post rather than passively reading and moving on.
Personal Brand Defined
In case you missed it, let’s revisit:
A personal brand is the combination of an individual’s proactive portrayal of his value, expertise, and experiences, as well as the perception of that value, expertise, and experience by his followers, friends, colleagues, customers, and mentors, otherwise know as “the market.”
Your brand is an external portrayal of your internal awesomeness as a person. You’ll probably notice that means you actually have to find your internal awesomeness first, which is exactly where we start our Personal Branding Fundamentals Framework.
Step 1: Who are you?
Who are you might seem like a vague or corny question, but I can promise you that it’s not. In fact, it’s the single most important aspect of your personal brand. Without an honest assessment of who you are and who you want to be, then your brand will come across as fake and lacking any real honesty.
Figuring out who you are fits perfectly into a model called Intentional Change Theory (ICT), which comes from the field of positive psychology. To keep from boring you, I won’t get into too much of the academics here. Instead, at a high level, you should understand two main aspects of ICT.
First is the ideal self. The ideal self is all about establishing a clear picture of the person you hope to become over time, or the picture of you when reaching your full potential. ICT builds the ideal self out of several key components, which produces a model that looks like this:
To bring this down to earth, we’ve pulled out four key concepts from this model to help you establish a picture of your ideal self:
- Purpose + Sweet Spot = Mission Your purpose consists of the driving beliefs that define why you do what you do. Your sweet spot is the combination of your skills/experience, passions/interests, and how you provide value to the world. The mix of your purpose and sweet spot are what form your personal mission.
- Values Your personal values are the five to seven words or phrases that describe the ideals you aspire to live by and based on which you make decisions in life.
- Strengths Your strengths are the qualities that make you inherently good at certain tasks or perform well in certain situations. While skills are learned, your strengths are natural competencies that drive your best work.
- Vision Your vision incorporates the other three aspects of your ideal self plus the seven fulfillment factors (Career, Spiritual, Family, Physical, Financial, Mental, and Social) to paint one cohesive picture of your ideal lifestyle.
Having a picture of your ideal self is incredibly important. It gives you hopes and aspirations to shoot for and build towards. However, without a solid understanding of who you are currently, you cannot possibly build a plan to reach your ideal self. That’s where the “Real Self” aspect of ICT comes into play.
ICT defines the real self as the combination of an honest self-assessment of who you are + an honest assessment of who you are from others. The combination of the two form a model of the real self that looks like this:
Your real self consists of the same components as your ideal self. Instead of being an ideal version of who you want to be, your real self takes into account your current actions, experiences, relationships and more to create a picture of who you already are. To get a good picture of who you are, you can ask yourself and five other people who know you well these questions:
Based on my current actions, experiences, and relationships:
- What would you say are my driving beliefs?
- What do I seem to be most passionate about?
- What values do I seem to use as my criteria for making decisions? Or, in other words, what questions do I seem to ask before making important decisions?
- What are my greatest strengths?
- What are my greatest weaknesses?
- On a scale of 1-10 (10 being extremely important), how important are each of the seven fulfillment factors in my life?
- Career – 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
- Faith – 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
- Family – 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
- Physical – 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
- Financial – 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
- Mental- 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
- Social – 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
The answers to these questions will give you an honest assessment of how you currently stack up against your ideal self. The gap between your real self and ideal self represents the opportunity to create intentional change in your life to reach your highest potential. You can picture that change like this:
So, what does all of that have to do with your brand? Well, your brand should consist equally of your ideal self and the process of intentional change to close the gap between who you are now and who you are working to become.
Let’s take an example from my own past. I’ve been very open on this blog and in professional settings about my struggles in my late high school and early college years. I had major issues with binge drinking and letting it affect my entire life. Luckily, after a particularly bad night that landed me in jail, I woke up to how ridiculous I was acting and I began this exact process of intentional change.
Now, I did not start blogging about how much of a bozo I was right in that moment. Instead, I underwent a process of deep self-reflection and established an ideal self that I wanted to create in the future. That’s the path I’ve been on ever since my freshman year of college. I’ve based my brand on the process of positive change and the picture of my ideal self that I’ve created since that time.
Base your personal brand on who you want to become and an honest reflection on the intentional change process along the way. Without the honest reflection on the challenges you face along the way, your brand will lack trust and people will lose respect for you. Without a picture of your ideal self, people will question whether you are someone they can count on to do great work and push to reach your potential.
Step 2: What do you want to be known for?
Alright, so now that you have a picture of your ideal self and real self, how do you translate that to what you want to be known for?
At the most basic level, your goal in the process of intentional change is to align your ideal self with the way you perceive your real self and the way others perceive your real self. If those three perceptions align, then you will have successfully created your ideal lifestyle. Much like perfection, neither you nor I will ever reach exact alignment of all three, but we can certainly do our best.
Your personal brand + your decisions, experiences, and relationships will impact the way others perceive your real self, which is exactly what we want. The key then is not to manipulate the way others see you but to establish goals for how you want others to perceive you
This part is not all that hard since you already know your ideal self. With that in mind, you can establish some goals:
- I want to be known for believing in Insert your driving belief(s) here.
- I want to be known for my personal sweet spot, which is Insert the aspects of your personal sweet spot here. Really focus in on this one, as it is likely to become the major contributor to your brand.
- I want to be known for my personal values, which include Insert your 5-7 personal values here
- I want to be known for my strengths, which include Insert your top five strengths here
- I want people to envision my lifestyle as I envision my ideal lifestyle, which includes each of my seven fulfillment factors:
- Career Insert a description of the ideal role your career plays in your life
- Faith Insert a description of the ideal role faith plays in your life
- Family Insert a description of the ideal role your family relationships and activities play in your life
- Physical Insert a description of the ideal role your physical wellbeing plays in your life
- Financial Insert a description of the ideal role your financial wellbeing plays in your life
- Mental Insert a description of the ideal role your mental wellbeing plays in your life
- Social Insert a description of the ideal role your social relationships and activities play in your life
Your ideas of your ideal lifestyle are also how you want others to perceive your real self. Starting with that understanding will form the basis for the actions you take, experiences you seek out, and relationships you build in the future. These three things will add up to form the foundation of how others perceive your personal brand.
Which brings us to the next step of our framework.
Step 3: What experiences do you want or need to have to build that brand?
Your experiences, relationships, and actions will be the meat behind your personal branding efforts. To use the old cliché, “actions speak louder than words.” Nowhere does this hold true more than with your personal brand.
For each of your goals for what you want to be known for, you’ll need to establish a list of milestones that you’ll want to complete in order to build towards your ideal self and have others perceive your real self based on the person you want to become.
Let’s go back to the Tim Ferriss example for a moment. In The 4-Hour Work Week, Tim talks about the moment when he realized his life sucked. He was running an incredibly successful nutritional supplement company, but it had taken over his entire life, which he despised. When he took a step back to think through his ideal lifestyle, he realized his real self was almost the exact opposite of his ideal self.
So, what did Tim do? Well, he created a picture of his ideal lifestyle, which is where the term “lifestyle design” comes from. Ironically, even though he popularized the term, the concept had long been in existence as a part of the intentional change theory. But I digress.
Once Tim established his ideal lifestyle or ideal self, he sought out the experiences that would establish that lifestyle. He outsourced as much of his work as possible. He began travelling the world. He became a world record holder in Tango, and on and on. As he gained experiences, he began to get attention from media, awards, and more.
Without all of his incredible experiences, relationships, and actions, Tim would have remained as a relatively unknown entrepreneur. Instead, Tim used his experiences and relationships to build a brand that has become one of the most powerful in the world. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
You have to realize that your brand will lag behind your internal awesomeness, or the combination of your experiences, relationships, and actions. The person you become and the memories you form are the primary reward. Your brand is a lagging indicator of your thriving lifestyle, which is exactly what Tony Hsieh means when he says that brand lags behind culture… And it’s exactly what Tim Ferriss experienced as his brand exploded in seemingly overnight fashion.
So what does this mean for you? It can take many different forms, but at the most basic level, you’ll need to establish a list of milestones and related experiences, relationships, and actions. For each of your branding goals, make a list that consists of each of the three categories:
- Experiences (Ie Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro)
- Relationships (Ie Find a high quality mentor)
- Actions (Ie Learn three programming languages)
Later, you can leverage your milestones as a part of your personal brand, much like Joel Runyon, Thomas Frank, and many others have done. Eventually, you may even be able to create an About Page just like Tim’s.
In order to make that happen, you need to take action on your milestones. Proactive action is the only thing that will get you from where you are today (your real self) to where you want to be (your ideal self). As you reach your milestones, you will improve your brand and others will begin thinking of you more in terms of your ideal self.
Step 4: Who do you want to know about your brand?
You have an ideal self. You have a real self. You know what you want to be known for. You’ve especially established your personal sweet spot, which is how many people will know you. You’ve established a list of experiences, relationships, and actions to help you build your ideal lifestyle and brand.
Now the question is: who do you want to know about your brand?
Before you start thinking Tim Ferriss style, I want you to take a step back. Very few people in the world will ever be as famous as Tim Ferriss (or Robert Downey Jr, or Kobe Bryant), and that’s ok. This is not the time to think about other people’s dreams. Think more about what you really want and what would make you most fulfilled.
Your personal branding efforts will help you in many areas of your life, but they will especially help you build a fulfilling and impactful career. Based on your career goals, who is your target audience for your brand?
Let’s look at another example to illustrate this point. Gary Vaynerchuk is another larger than life personal brand. But he didn’t start out that way. In fact, he started out as a scrappy kid working in his dad’s liquor store. He saw an opportunity to build the store’s brand online, which was way ahead of the rest of the alcohol market. He started Wine Library TV and before he knew it his brand (and the store’s) had skyrocketed. Once he had established his brand as a wine expert, he was able to transition all of his marketing skills into creating a media agency, which has also been incredibly successful.
So, who was Gary’s target audience along the way? With Wine Library TV, Gary was targeting ordinary people who liked wine but who weren’t quite connoisseurs. He was on a mission to make wine approachable for the everyday wine drinker, which he successfully accomplished. Now, with his media company, Gary’s target audience are medium to large sized firms that are looking to take their media efforts to the next level by bringing them into the Thank You Economy (affiliate).
Based on that case study, who is your target audience? You should base your answer on your career goals and move on from there.
After you’ve established your target audience from a career perspective, think through the other stakeholders in your life. Who are the other people who care about you and your ongoing success?
Finally, think through the people you want to mentor or lead. If you could describe your “tribe,” who are they? Who do you want to have an impact on?
These three groups of people: your target audience, your stakeholders, and your tribe are the ones you want to know about your brand, which impacts the fifth and final step of our framework.
Step 5: How do you reach them?
There are essentially two ways you can reach people: online and offline.
Online is easier and infinitely scalable. You can reach people through many different online media, but one of the best approaches you can take is to establish a platform (affiliate), a term popularized by Michael Hyatt. Then, you can create outposts on the various social media outlets.
Your platform should consist of a main website or landing page. That platform can range anywhere from a complete personal website like Seth Godin’s or it can be a simple landing page more like an About.me profile. Either way, successful platforms link out to the social media outposts and allow people to connect with your brand where they most prefer.
Once you have your platform in place, then you should establish the extensions, or outposts, of that platform. There are nearly endless social media outlets at this point, and many of them can help you reach your target audience, stakeholders, and tribe. Here are some examples:
- Many many more
There are also aggregator sites that allow you to find and share interesting content around the web, including:
- Hacker News
- Boing Boing
- Many many more
When you’re first establishing your personal brand, it’s not practical to be present on all of these outlets at once. In fact, even when you have a well established personal brand, you’ll have to pick and choose which networks are most important to you in order to create a truly meaningful online brand.
You can prioritize your efforts by thinking through which outlets your target audience, stakeholders, and tribe are most likely to hang out on. Wherever you find the most of your people is where you should build your brand.
Building your offline brand takes more effort and is not scalable, but it can be easier to build meaningful relationships with a smaller group. Your offline brand includes things like:
- How you dress
- How you present yourself through communication (email, written, speaking)
- Personal marketing materials (business cards, correspondence cards, etc)
- Talking to, helping, and connecting the people in your target audience, stakeholder groups, and tribe
Your offline brand will affect how you network and how people perceive you in real life. It should be parallel to your online branding efforts, and all of your external branding efforts should reflect your ideal self and the process of intentional change you’re on to reach that ideal lifestyle.