A Special Guest Post on building your Personal Brand from Chase Neely, the Co-Founder and President of Leverage Creative Group

It was a classic scene:

10:34 PM on a weeknight and I was staring at a blinking cursor on the bare page of a Word document.

I had a term paper due at midnight and couldn’t come up with anything.

“I have no idea what to say.”

“What if I can’t do this?”

The uncertainty and anxiety were familiar feelings, and if you’ve tried to build a personal brand, you’ve probably felt the same way.

But instead of a grade on the line, it’s your livelihood. Your success depends on your ability to build a personal brand (or even rebrand an existing one).

I feel your anxiety. I’ve been there. And here’s the truth:

Everyone starts in that same place.

But what separates successful personal brands from those that can’t break through?

We’ve been asked this question so often we’ve identified five first steps to get your personal brand off the ground.

Oh — and I finished that paper if you were wondering.

1. Identify your niche

The first step is to know what sandbox you’re playing in.

Be as specific as possible. Being a “fitness blogger” isn’t enough. Instead, you want to be a “fitness blogger who specializes in kettlebell training for military veterans.”

But what if you don’t know what your niche is? What if you want to talk to everyone? What if you have a message that will change the world?

I’ve run across so many personal brands that believe that their message will resonate with 5-year olds and 50-year olds, with men and women, with mothers and fathers, the geese and the ganders.

That’s great — but you have to start somewhere. Think long and hard about the core group of people you will reach out to first.

From there, you can expand, but pick only one small niche first and focus heavily on what the people in it need from you. By doing this, you can dominate the niche, and expand from a place of leverage. Your voice will be louder and people will know why they should pay attention to you. Don’t believe me? Take a look at these examples:

Steve Jobs built a career as an executive at Apple (fully-integrated hardware and software solutions) before heading to Pixar (animation) and instilling (and nurturing) their executive team with his relentless commitment to detail and storytelling.

Remember Haim Saban? He built a platform as a well-respect theme song composer for children’s television shows, before becoming the executive producer of one of the most influential kids shows from the nineties — Power Rangers.

How about Noah Bushnell? The Atari founder took his know-how for coding machines and coded robots for children’s entertainment, forming the Chuck E. Cheese restaurant chain.

Even Walt Disney started as a lowly animator.

You have to start small and then expand beyond the niche later. Your action step now? Define the niche.

2. Define your target customer

Your niche is made up of many different target customers (also known as customer avatars) who have different pains and passions. That means you’ll need to speak to them differently.

Define your target customers as distinctly as possible. Here’s what you should include (at minimum):

Demographic information

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Profession
  • Socioeconomic status

Emotional information

  • Desires
  • Pains
  • Fears
  • Needs

Sensory information

  • What they hear
  • What they see
  • What they think
  • What they do

This might feel like overkill, but trust me.

The more you can understand your target customers, the better you can talk to them. The better you can talk to them, the more likely they are to continue to follow you and buy from you.

To understand these components of the target customer, we do what’s called an empathy map. It’s not original to us, but it’s a common practice to make sure that you’re heading down the right track. The empathy map gives you keen insight into the words that your target customer is not only speaking and thinking but also the words that your target customer is hearing. It gives you insights about how that target customer interacts with the world around him/her.

Imagine the power of speaking to your target customer in their own words, using pain points that they experience every day!

A lot of people skip this step, but if you take the time to do it, you’ll reap the rewards.

3. Figure out where your audience hangs out online

It’s not enough to have an idea of your target customer.

You need to get inside their head (in a not really creepy way). 🙂

You need to figure out:

  • What sites they visit
  • What email lists they subscribe to
  • What products they’re interested in
  • What forums they’re members of
  • And this is just the start

You need to know your target customer better than they know themselves!

This helps you:

  1. Create a marketing game plan so you can get in front of these people
  2. Deeply understand your audience

For a practical next step, join the forums and Facebook groups they’re in, do guest posts and interviews on the sites they follow (more on this in a bit), and interact with them every chance you get.

The better you know your audience, the more likely they are to follow you voraciously.

4. Scope out the Competition

Now that you’ve identified your niche and your target customer, you need to understand who your target audience is already paying attention to.

Who are the current experts in the field?

*Quick Note: If you’re the first to enter a niche, it may be because the idea hasn’t been profitable for others. While that’s not a guarantee your niche won’t sustain a business built around a personal brand, it is a yellow flag.

The reason you’re identifying the expert may seem counterintuitive, but it makes perfect sense in the world of digital personal brands. Here’s why:

Personal brands are likely to develop a circle of friends who promote in the same space they do.

By identifying the experts in your space and developing relationships with them, you all can help each other out and increase everyone’s chances of success.

An easy way to do this is to simply Google “best [insert your niche] sites” or “top [insert your niche] blogs”.

Then, add every site you find to a master spreadsheet.

This spreadsheet helps you not only keep tabs on your competitors but also helps you with step 5.

5. Leverage other people’s platforms

Possibly the most effective way to build your brand is to piggyback off of someone else’s brand.

There are people out there (specifically the sites/blogs you found in step 3) that already have an audience. They already have the attention of the people you want to reach.

If you develop a relationship with these influencers and get an opportunity to expose your brand to their audience, your personal brand can quickly take off.

There are a variety of ways to leverage other people’s platforms in a genuine and value-adding way. Here are a few:

  • Guest Blog Posts
  • Interview Appearances on Podcasts
  • Book Reviews
  • Product Reviews
  • Mastermind Guest Talks

Be careful when you try to do this, though.

Remember when I urged you to add value and be genuine? That’s because you only get one shot at a first impression.

So, be sure to provide these influencers with value (by offering them something of yours for free, offering to promote their content or anything else that could help them) before you make an ask.

You want to develop a legitimate relationship with them.

A Note about Outreach

When you’re starting outreach, be sure to test several different emails (different content, different subject lines, etc.). Make sure that the email that you send is technically perfect and also relevant to the blogger you’re reaching out to.

It’s incredibly difficult to cut through the noisy inbox of a popular blog, so make sure that you do your research on the types of posts that they are looking for and the proper person to reach out to. And for heaven’s sake, don’t copy and paste a stale template and expect results.

Here’s a great post that shows you the main elements of a highly effective outreach email.

6. Leverage your existing platform

Your existing platform may not be readily apparent to you, and to be clear, I’m not talking about your friends and family. We don’t need voices telling you how wonderful you are. Instead, we need to know the answer to this question:

Who are the people already seeking you out for your expertise?

Is there a small business owners group that comes to you for advice? Are you the go-to person in your friend group for wisdom on a particular matter?

Ask those people what else they’d like to hear from you. Ask them what types of services in that area that they would pay for — what kind of courses they would buy.

Use them as your market research group that you can call on at a moment’s notice. Send them your homepage. Ask them what resonates with them, and how they would change it.

Then, ask them to share with their friends who are going through similar struggles in that area.

This leads me to the last point.

7. Don’t be afraid to ask for help

You’re not on this journey alone. You’re also not the first to experience the issues that you’re experiencing.

So, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Let me give you an example: there have been so many times that I’ve been trying to integrate a new technology or software into our business and hit a brick wall. I’ve spent hours trying to decide the best way to work through or around that issue.

Finally, when I’ve come to my sense, I’ve gone to Google and found a step by step process that takes minutes to implement. Life is short. Don’t make the same mistakes someone else has already made. Use the community knowledge of your space!

Ask people who are further along the journey of building their personal brand. And ask people who are at your same level what they’ve seen work. You can always buy coaching and great books as well.

Just make sure that whatever you’re doing, you’re seeking the wisdom of those who have gone before.

Chase Neely is the Co-Founder and President of Leverage Creative Group―a digital marketing agency that works with brands and authors to develop products, build sales funnels, and spread their message to the masses.