Market Well: How Building Your Personal Brand Can Boost Your Business

Our must-read column, Market Well, explores the key marketing strategies that are essential for the growth of a wellness business.

Every month, Vicky Ellison, who is also the Director of Marketing for Equinox in the UK, examines how brands can create and maintain a marketing campaign that connects with both their intended audience and potential investors.

Providing valuable insight into the methods, services, and tools needed for both new and established businesses to drive exposure and boost brand value, this month Vicky is focusing on why building your personal brand is crucial to the growth of your business……

If you Google ‘personal brand’, you’ll be served a stream of articles on why building a personal brand is essential to your career.

In an interview with Glamour magazine, Karen Elizaga author of ‘Find your Sweet Spot’ states: “If you are looking to progress in your field, you need a personal brand”; a viewpoint widely shared since the term was coined by Tom Peters in his 1997 article ‘A Brand Called You’.

You will also see a number of articles criticising the expression for encouraging people to build an unrealistic and unsustainable impression of themselves. A feeling supported by Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg who says people are too complex to be a brand. Her advice is not to brand yourself, but rather to speak honestly and factually from your own experience.

The term ‘personal brand’ may be controversial, but it is a topic that comes up more and more frequently in various forms. Whether that’s a friend deciding if they need a personal Instagram page to promote their business, or a colleague weighing up the benefit of networking on LinkedIn, as transparency and openness become more and more expected, we are all developing a brand of sorts.

Should you actively cultivate a brand for yourself? If you decide you want to, what is the best way to approach it? I spoke with some inspiring names from the world of wellness to help answer these questions.

Start With Great Work

As I talked through the topic of personal brands with people who are leaders in their field, the unanimous sentiment was that their personal profile was born out of their work — dedicating time to their skills, talent and business came first.

Adam Husler, named by the Evening Standard as one of the UK’s top yoga instructors, says that for him “brand building starts with what goes on in the yoga studio; my style of teaching, quality of teaching and how I interact with students.”

CEO of Flywheel Sports and author of ‘Extreme You’ Sarah Robb O’Hagan agrees: “This may sound surprising – but I have never once thought about myself building a personal brand – and I actually think the term itself is misleading.  I have always just wanted to do really great work, and to be open and transparent with friends and colleagues about the ups and downs, the wins and the losses that are part of trying to do that,” she explains.

This approach has served her well, with a CV that includes executive roles at Virgin, Gatorade, Nike and Equinox. In fact, O’Hagan was named as one of Forbes’ Most Powerful Women in Sports and one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business.

Follow Your Passion

Another theme that came through loud and clear is the importance of focussing on what you’re passionate about.

Yoga instructor and founder of Just Breathe, Boys of Yoga and Sunday School, Michael Wong says “I never really think of myself as a brand, for me, it’s more about being passionate about what I do, what I believe in and building from there. I never intended to create something around ‘me’, but rather I wanted to create something that could inspire different communities from the experiences that I’ve had and wanted to share.”

How To Build Your Personal Brand And Boost Your Business
Image: Michael James Wong Facebook

Shifting Landscapes And Business Owners As Spokespeople

The relatively recent shift towards business leaders becoming faces of their brands, and therefore establishing a public persona through choice or otherwise, is something that all my subjects acknowledged.

Anjhe Mules, Founder and Creative Director of luxury activewear brand Lucas Hugh recognises the changing prospect of personal brands: “Since launching Lucas Hugh in 2010, my sole focus has been to develop premium technical product for women that is both innovative and fashion-forward. With the rise of social media and the influencer as celebrity, I have observed a clear shift in focus from our customer towards a more holistic understanding of the brand,” she comments.

“As Founder and Creative Director, I have had to learn the value of acting as a spokesperson to support the business that I have worked so hard to create.”

Having a personal brand isn’t important to Mules.  “My true goal is to continue to create quality products that support women in achieving their goals and feeling confident. As a designer, I feel most comfortable expressing my ideas through the garments I have the opportunity to create for women. As a business owner, I understand the opportunity to act as an ambassador for the brand, and enjoy the opportunity to share my learnings as an entrepreneur in the activewear market,” she reveals.

It’s a balance that many are now trying to navigate, and O’Hagan agrees.

“I’d say that in this day in age if you want to be in a senior position in any company, you need to be comfortable being a “well-known face” for your business. When I studied business at university, I can’t say I ever realised that one day I’d have to be such a public face of the businesses I represented. In those days, company leaders were pretty much tucked away, only visible to their employees and shareholders. The world is different now because the consumer demands openness and transparency, and they want to know what leaders stand for.”

Wong also stresses the importance of having leaders with a purpose behind a brand.

“We live in a society where we want meaningful connections,” he explains.

“It’s important for people to know who is behind the brand. A good friend once told me that, ‘behind every brand are people with purpose’ and I truly believe that. So it’s important for people to know that I’m at the heartbeat of each project.” 

The Benefits Of Having A Personal Brand

As consumers demand connection to brand founders and spokespeople, the interviews showed that there are clear benefits to having a personal profile.

After an initial focus purely on establishing her business, Lauren Armes, Founder of Welltodo, now consciously seeks out speaking opportunities to build her personal brand in support of her business; “Having a personal brand, especially in the wellness industry, opens up new doors for broader business opportunities,” she tells me.

“With opportunities to speak in front of new audiences, comes an opportunity to share our business mission with new audiences that we may have otherwise had to pay to reach, or that would’ve taken time to target specifically.”

Amy Hopkinson, Digital Editor of Women’s Health and lululemon ambassador sees the benefits that her personal profile brings; “As digital brand guardian to one of the world’s most famous health brands, a large proportion of my day is spent thinking in brand terms,” she explains.

“However, in order to keep making the decisions that are required from me and to keep bringing fresh ideas to the table, I needed to ensure that I kept my own identity. Building my own brand has enabled me to ensure I keep my core values and do things outside of work that inspire me in work….  I’m always thankful for everything that (my personal brand) brings. I’ve been lucky enough to experience many things thanks to it.”

 For Adam Husler, focussing on building his profile has had a strategic benefit in helping to build his business: “I act as an entirely self-employed person, even when teaching in a yoga studio, so it’s key that I get students to come to my class,” he comments.

“Ideally I’d like students to be thinking ‘tonight I’ll going to Adam Husler’s class/workshop’ rather than ‘I’ll go to a yoga class/workshop tonight’; for this to happen I need people to know who I am, what I represent and how I teach.”

How To Build Your Personal Brand And Boost Your Business
Image: Amy Hopkinson

The Challenges Of Having A Personal Brand

British author and Founder of Deliciously Ella, Ella Mills, publicly discussed the issue of social-media burnout. “It’s easy when you work in a digital world that doesn’t stop, to never stop, and therefore share every aspect of your life. You can get quite exposed, and the bigger you are, the more you’re going to attract criticism,” she told Campaign magazine.

Armes echoes this by saying, “For many of my business coaching clients, some of whom are considered very high-level influencers in this industry, I can see that there are disadvantages – including the pressure of instant feedback from your audience on what you should and shouldn’t do. You’re very accountable, often quite vulnerable to criticism, and carry the weight of expectations that others don’t.”

Hopkinson, known for her social media presence and boasting over 33k Instagram followers, agrees it can be hard to separate your personal brand and your personal life. She stresses the importance of recognising when it’s time to “power down your social life to enjoy real life,” which is often easier said than done.

Being aware of the time investment and potential downfalls of having a well-known profile is the first step in establishing ways to deal with any potential fall out.

Brand Building Should Be A Two Way Street

According to O’Hagan the focus for her has not been about building her personal profile – perhaps that is more the outcome.

“Instead I’ve focused on sharing my knowledge and insights with an audience of people that find those experiences helpful and interesting,” she explains.

“Obviously as an author, I have spent many years at this point researching and learning about the topic that I care about most – which is helping people unleash their full potential. With that in mind, I have found that the more time I have committed to constantly learning about that topic, through networking, reading and researching, and sharing it in social media, the more my audience has grown and become engaged. I see audience engagement as a two-way street – I feel lucky that I learn a lot from the comments and responses that people have to the content I post.”

Hopkinson agrees, she has built her network by putting time aside to engage with people both online and offline.

“I came onto social media with the view of being part of a community – it’s ignorant to think that because you believe your content is great everyone else will. You need to add to the community by engaging with others how you’d like them to engage with you. For me, this is 5-minutes a day responding to DMs, commenting on posts and doing some double tapping,” she says.

Digital Isn’t Necessarily Best

As the world becomes more digital, it’s understandable to assume that a personal brand is created through Instagram. However, the importance of ‘real-life’ connections is something all those interviewed, emphasised.

“Developing a network takes time, many coffees, showing up at relevant events, and also genuinely having value to add to new relationships. Committing to it always pays off, and certainly has for me. Social media has not been as key to me as in-person relationships, which I think is important for people to know,” explains Armes.

“For example, I’ve proven that you don’t need 100s or even 10s of thousands of followers in order to speak on the main stage at Be:Fit, Balance Festival or lululemon’s Sweatlife. Real life relationships and getting clear on what my area of influence is, were more important.”

Wong agrees, “Community, authenticity and having a personal purpose is everything. I don’t have a big social media following, so for me, the awareness came from being out there in the community, both here in London and globally.”

How To Build Your Personal Brand And Boost Your Business
Image: Adam Husler Facebook

So, How Should You Build Your Personal Brand?

“I’d summarise my advice with 3 C’s: Clarity, Creation & Consistency,” says Armes.

“CLARITY is king… meaning, know what the message is that you want to share, know what makes you unique, know how you want to communicate that message and then CREATE it. That means creating content, products, services, whatever is it that will bring your ideas to life. And finally… be CONSISTENT with the delivery of those things and keep going even when fear or doubt creep in.”

Hopkinson explains:  “Decide what you stand for and don’t change because the trends have changed. Always treat people with kindness and don’t feel guilty about politely declining opportunities. If you spend your life doing things you don’t really want to you have less time to do the things you do want to do.”  

For Mules authenticity is key. “I feel it is important to define where you feel comfortable, where there is opportunity to grow and support your brand, as well as defining what you feel should be kept private,” she comments. “If publicity is an intimidating space for you, I would recommend that you challenge yourself to participate in opportunities that align with your values and support the brand. If an opportunity feels inauthentic, trust yourself, and feel justified in whether your decisions.”

Wong meanwhile, argues that it’s all about creating a community, not chasing opportunities.

As for O’Hagan? “I’d say stop thinking about trying to create a personal brand. If you focus on getting to know yourself and developing yourself authentically and with humility, you’ll be far more fulfilled with the outcome than if you chase the goal of trying to be a brand.”

The Takeaways

Authenticity is key. Start with building your knowledge and skills — do your best work and let your brand start from there.

Whether in-person or online, find the people you want to connect with and understand the role you can play. Adding value is vital.

Use every opportunity to take feedback, innovate through collaboration and find the approach that’s right for you.

Building a personal brand doesn’t happen overnight, it takes time and support. But, as this group has shown, it can have huge benefits if you earn the right to establish a profile in your desired space.

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