In a study to understand why certain individuals (called “Visible Experts”) suddenly rose to become top voices in their fields, Hinge Marketing found that most of them were no more skilled or talented than others in their profession. What did make them different was how they communicated their work.
At its core, that’s what personal branding is – the cumulative efforts to communicate an individual’s work. In this article, we’ll walk you through a step-by-step framework for building your personal brand.
What is a personal brand?
The term personal brand means different things to different people – this is especially clear in the series of interviews for our series on the topic, Social Proof. To Steph Smith, it means intentionally pursuing projects that shape how people perceive her. And to Katelyn Bourgoin, it means sharing the lessons from her daily work in relatable ways for her audience.
The common thread is that all these people put a concerted effort towards letting people know what they were working on, usually in an effort to build expertise and visibility in their respective industries.
Beyond wanting people to know, personal branding also allows individuals to participate in opportunities that might otherwise be closed to them. For a personal take on this, I’ve been invited to speak on a few podcasts and featured in blogs because I was vocal about my work on LinkedIn. I can’t say whether or not I would have gotten these opportunities without the effort to be visible, but it definitely didn’t hurt.
Personal branding also means an individual’s work and reputation truly speak for them, even when they can’t influence decision-making. This especially applies to job-seekers, who might be allowed to skip an application process because their work is trusted.
A 5-Step Framework for Personal Branding
So, yes, building a personal brand can be a great way to establish yourself as an expert in your field, grow your network, and attract new opportunities. But where do you start?
I wanted to tell my story of what I’ve done with my personal brand and what I’ve noticed in others but in a repeatable framework. So I found five words (in a fun, easy-to-remember cadence) that fit each step: Pinpoint, Build, Project, Boost, Judge (or P-B-P-B and J).
Anyway, here’s a five-step framework for building a personal brand.
Pinpoint, or identify what makes you, you
What do you want to be known for? What are you currently known for? How can you start to bridge that gap? These are some of the questions to ask yourself when you decide to take your personal brand seriously.
Start your personal branding journey by pinpointing your unique strengths and passions. The theme of this phase is self-discovery – a crucial element of building an authentic personal brand that resonates with your audience. But, unlike content creators or business brands, there’s no clear thread drawing your audience to you. You’ll have to dig deep and reflect on your experiences, personal interests, skills, and values.
Take advantage of personal (peers and mentors) and impersonal (personality tests like the Enneagram Test) to gain insights into your strengths. The repeated strengths can form the foundation of your personal brand and give you a competitive edge in your field.
Once you identify some of the things that you want to build your brand on, consider adapting Shaan Puri’s Pillar Branding exercise for better visualization.
Ultimately, your personal brand should be fueled by the things you care about, especially topics and values. Your chosen pillars should excite you to share content and engage with your audience consistently so you keep growing.
Remember: you’re not tied to one thing – people change, as do their goals and interests. Elements of your pillars might change (like if you switch industries) or not feel right (you’re focusing less on social media and more on a community). You can pivot at any time, so feel free to play around with different topics and content formats and speak to multiple audiences till you find what works for you.
Build, or define the system that powers your personal brand
There’s a lot of initial excitement when you want to start something new, but it’s normal and even expected for your energy to flag at some point. However, the last thing you want to do is lose your momentum and all the effort you’ve put into building your personal brand.
Personal branding is a marathon, not a sprint, so you need to keep a healthy pace, and the best way to do that is by building a system. Words like systems and processes may sound tedious, but they’re the backbone of anything that works consistently – and that’s what they can do for your personal brand.
In this phase, you're determining your unique brand image and voice that stands out in the digital space. Some people like Adam Ellis create a distinct visual identity to represent their brand. Others have adopted styles of speaking or writing that make them easily identifiable (GaryVee)
The common thread is a consistent communication style across all platforms. A great way to keep this consistency is by adapting one idea for multiple platforms, aka content repurposing.
Authenticity is key to building trust and credibility with your audience. So, ensure your digital persona aligns with your authentic self. Your online persona should be a true reflection of who you are offline. Jayde Powell is a great example of keeping her online persona consistent with who she is offline.
Project, or put yourself out there
Now comes the part that’s either going to be the easiest or hardest, depending on how you look at it. Simply put, building your online presence = creating valuable content + actively engaging on various digital platforms.
The problem is that most people don’t think they have anything to say (you do) or anyone to say it to (you’d be surprised).
- Write online: The best way to establish authority in your field is by sharing insightful writing, usually through articles, blog posts, or newsletters. Getting your name out there in smart, thoughtful writing achieves two things: builds your credibility and creates a . You don’t have to set up a whole website or blog either – you can pitch your ideas as guest posts to news platforms or even Buffer’s blog. Many of our Social Proof interviewees incorporate writing in their personal branding, one way or another.
- Use social media to connect with your audience and share your story: Harness social media to connect with your audience and share your story. Whether it's Twitter, LinkedIn, or TikTok choose platforms where your target audience is most active. A great example of using social media to its fullest is Matt Navarra, a consultant well-known for being on the pulse of all things happening in the social media industry. Aside from sharing updates via Twitter, he also runs a newsletter and paid community, each sharing progressively deeper insights. In all of this, he consults with brands on their social media strategy.
- Use speaking engagements to showcase your expertise and reach a wider audience: Look for speaking engagements, such as webinars, podcasts, or industry events that are popular or relevant to your personal brand. These provide a platform to showcase your expertise, reach a wider audience, and strengthen your brand image. Although most of them prefer to take on people with an established presence as guests, it doesn't hurt to reach out or make note of these platforms so you have them on hand when you’re ready to pitch.
If you’re ever stumped for ideas on what to say, consider starting by:
- Commenting on what’s happening in your industry. This can be as simple as one or two sentences on recent, relevant news or observations you’ve made from general patterns. If you don’t know what these patterns are, identify thought leaders in your industry (a quick LinkedIn search for your industry/preferred topic should pull up some immediate follows), see what they’re writing about, liking and commenting on, then write your own take agreeing with or countering their arguments.
- Taking simple concepts and expanding on them. One rule of thumb I have as a writer is that I never assume I’m going too simple with my content. You’d be surprised how many people aren’t aware of things you view as common knowledge. You can create further content based on any comments and questions you get on your posts, resulting in an endless snowball of ideas for you.
Over time, ideas will come to you more naturally, and your problem might become holding onto them. Capture your ideas so you always have a pool to work from and turn them into content.
Boost, or take your sharing from passive to active
At this phase, you’re no longer just sharing what you create and hoping people see it – you’re actively letting everyone know your work exists.
Boosting your brand is about consistently offering value and nurturing relationships with your audience. This is where the word “networking” comes into play for personal branding. Effective networking can open up new opportunities, extend your reach, and lend credibility to your personal brand.
You can network in different ways – attending industry events and participating in online communities are popular options. The idea is to become known or visible, so make the following tactics part of your personal branding routine:
- share others’ work across social media
- comment on insightful content from fellow professionals on LinkedIn or Twitter
- answer questions in your niche communities on Slack or Discord
As you take your sharing from passive to active, think carefully about your values – the ones you outlined in the “Pinpoint” phase. Based on these values, determine what you will say, how you will say it, and who you’ll be associated with. If you want people to perceive you as offering straightforward advice on personal finance, clickbait titles probably shouldn’t be part of your approach. You can’t appeal to everyone, but you should be comfortable with the people you do attract.
Judge, or review and refine your personal brand
As your life and career ebb and flow, review your goals and approach to personal branding to determine if you’re happy on your path or want a change. Part of reviewing your approach involves seeking feedback which is crucial for improvement. Regularly ask your peers, mentors, and even your audience for their thoughts and incorporate their suggestions where relevant.
While reviewing, you might decide to continue pursuing growth in your career Fadeke Adegbuyi or take the entrepreneurial approach and start a business like Tori Dunlap. Sometimes, you may realize you need to adopt a new content format, like adding TikTok to your Twitter + newsletter strategy.
Continually refine and improve your brand based on feedback and changing trends. Polishing your brand involves continuous improvement and staying relevant to your audience.
Or, you know, just be yourself
Personal branding is just a term to encapsulate all efforts to put your work out there. As much as people make it seem like there is, there are no hard and fast rules for how you should do it. So whatever you want to let people know that you’re an expert in or really enjoy, share it – there’s someone out there waiting for your perspective.