It’s one of the biggest buzzwords of the past year: personal brand.
Everyone from Neil Patel to Gary Vaynerchuk is talking about this elusive, yet “essential” thing entrepreneurs are supposed to have. But do you really need a personal brand? And what exactly is it in the first place?
We’ll answer these questions and share some insights to help you make up your mind in the post ahead.
What Is a Personal Brand, Anyway?
Traditionally, brands are built around a product or service. Burger King = burgers. Clorox = cleaning products. You get the idea.
The term “personal brand,” on the other hand, is the process of marketing yourself and/or your work as the brand itself.
In the days before social media, the examples of people with a successful personal brand were few and far between. Colonel Sanders of KFC and Conrad Hilton of the Hilton hotel chain are a couple that come to mind.
Then, the internet came along and changed everything.
Suddenly, anyone and everyone could show their lives to the world, building personal brands on nothing more than everyday life.
I hate to go here, but the Kardashians are the perfect example. Their empire (the original one, anyway) was built not on a product or a service, but simply on the family members being themselves in front of a camera. The personal brand came first, then they used it to branch out into selling products later.
Not every example of personal brand has to be Kardashian-level extreme. Nowadays, people often use the term to refer to using their personal social media channels to grow a following that they’ll later leverage to sell a product.
Many business owners use their personal brand as an added channel for promoting and showcasing whatever it is they already do for a living, like the home fixer-upper shows you see on HGTV hosted by colorful personalities.
There are some personal brand devotees who say it’s absolutely essential that you make a household name for yourself. But… do you really need to?
Lifestyle vs. Legacy
For the sake of this debate, we’ll be focusing on two types of businesses: lifestyle businesses and legacy businesses.
A lifestyle business is exactly what it sounds like; it’s built around your image and your lifestyle. Some examples of lifestyle businesses are:
- Bloggers who build a business around their personal blog
- Digital nomads who travel the world while working remotely
- Crafters who sell a handmade product on Etsy
- Realtors or attorneys who make themselves the “face” of the business
A lifestyle business is a beautiful thing. It allows you the creative freedom to be yourself and call the shots for your brand, because, after all, it’s built around you. Your personality is a defining characteristic of your business.
There’s one major downside of lifestyle businesses: if you decide to step away from the business, the business essentially ends. You can’t sell it to someone else to run, because *you* are such a huge part of what makes the brand profitable. You can’t pass it on to your kids.
A legacy business, on the other hand, is a business built not on a personality, but on systems. From the start, it’s designed so that anyone could take over and run the business, with a little bit of training.
Some examples of legacy businesses are:
- A restaurant franchise
- A chain of car washes
- An advertising agency
- A solar panel manufacturing plant
A legacy business is built to stand the test of time, not limited by any single leader.
Though the examples we’ve given may lead you to believe a lifestyle business is more creative while a legacy business is more, well, business, that’s not necessarily the case (though in our experience, creative entrepreneurs do tend to naturally lean more toward lifestyle businesses).
It’s less about your industry and more about the structure of your business. One is built around you as an individual, while the other is built around the systems you’ve created.
Which one is your business? The answer will determine whether you actually need a personal brand.
What’s Right for Your Business
If your business falls squarely into the ‘lifestyle’ camp, we’re going to have to side with Patel and Vaynerchuk on this one: you need a personal brand.
For starters, it’s a major way to differentiate yourself from everyone else out there who’s doing what you’re doing.
You’re a realtor? Okay, there are a zillion other realtors out there. But maybe you’ll decide to build a personal brand as the “South Florida luxury expert.”
You might write blog posts about what it means to buy a luxury property, or create videos showing off some of your properties’ most over-the-top features. You’ll write social media posts about living the luxe lifestyle and act the part, always dressed sharply.
You’ll quickly stand out from all the other realtors out there. And another major benefit: people will remember you.
You don’t have to be a realtor or sell luxury condos to use this strategy; you can take it and mold it to whatever field you’re in.
Now, on the other hand, what about if you’ve decided your business fits into the legacy category?
If that’s the case, we’re going to go in the complete opposite direction and argue a personal brand is absolutely not essential for your success. Instead, it’ll be determined by how well you equip your team to run the business—whether you’re around or not.
Sure, there are some legacy businesses that have a super high-profile leader—Facebook, Virgin Records and the like—but think about all the Fortune 500 companies whose founders are basically unknown.
Take, for example, Amancio Ortega. Ever heard of him? Probably not, but he sits smack dab between Bill Gates and Warren Buffet in the slots for top three richest people on the planet (and by some accounts, has surpassed Gates!).
His company, apparel retailer Zara, is highly successful, but Ortega having a personal brand has had nothing to do with it. He rarely gives interviews, and until 1999 had never even been publicly photographed. Instead, he built his success by ensuring his company runs like a well-oiled machine.
So what’s your verdict? It’s up to you to decide whether your business is the type that can profit by building your own personal brand. Share your thoughts on the topic by leaving a comment down below.
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