I’ve been a consistent critic of both the term and concept of “personal branding.” Provide value to people by creating something bigger than yourself, and your personal brand will work itself out just fine.
A recent article in Fast Company, however, seems to go too far. The argument is that entrepreneurs shouldn’t waste their time with activities like blogging or content marketing at all, as if personal branding were the only goal of those activities.
Just “build it and they’ll come” seems to be the gist of it. And that’s all an all too common mistake, which makes the advice in the article partly on the mark, and partly terrible.
Tune in to hear how effective “personal branding” actually works. And discover why value-creation goes well beyond the product or service that you’d like to sell.
The Show Notes
- Why Entrepreneurs Shouldn’t Waste Time On Personal Branding
- Ask us a question for the show
- Rate and review on iTunes
Is Personal Branding Dead?
Caroline Early: You’ve said many times that you don’t like the term “personal branding,” and now there’s an article in Fast Company that says entrepreneurs shouldn’t waste their time with it.
Brian Clark: Yep.
Caroline Early: So is personal branding dead?
Brian Clark: Not really.
Caroline Early: That doesn’t make any sense.
Brian Clark: Welcome to my world.
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Brian Clark: Welcome back, Everyone, to another episode of Unemployable. I am your host Brian Clark and joining me today for her debut, Caroline Early. How are you, Caroline?
Caroline Early: Good, I’m doing well. Happy to be here.
Brian Clark: Yeah, I’m glad you’re here too. We’ve got our new sophisticated studio set up here in the office, which is a first. We were just saying this is the first time I’ve recorded anything other than a live interview at a conference or something with another person in the room. So it’s kind of weird.
Caroline Early: Yeah, we look like real official podcasters here.
Brian Clark: I know. I can actually talk to a person that I can see in the flesh.
Before we get rolling, we do have to pay some bills with our sponsor message. I was going to do the promo, but wouldn’t you rather listen to the sultry tones of Robert Bruce right about now?
Caroline Early: Yeah, that would be much better.
Brian Clark: Yeah, you think so? And plus we do less work. All right, Robert, take it away.
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Brian Clark: Very well done, Mr. Bruce. Thank you very much. But seriously, head over to digitalcommerce.com. I can tell you that there is a spectacular bundle deal with Academy and the Digital Commerce Summit coming up in October that you don’t want to miss. That price will be going up in February. Head on over there and check it out.
Caroline Early: Yeah, let’s just go ahead and talk about this article.
Brian Clark: You want to talk about this article it seems?
Focus on What You Create
Caroline Early: Yeah, let’s do that. It’s written by a person named Beatrice Halina Ramos, and she says that entrepreneurs should really be focusing on what they create rather than their personal brand.
Brian Clark: Yeah, and I agree with that. I’ve gone on the record many times saying that you really shouldn’t even think about your personal brand, that your personal brand works itself out by the value that you deliver to people.
So, in that regard, I think we’re on the same page. It’s, “Concentrate on building something bigger than yourself.” But it’s not just your product or your service or, in her case, your art that is the value that you can share with the world. I mean, there’s more to it than that.
Caroline Early: Right, but she seems to think things like blogging or writing a book are simply a personal branding exercise that’s a waste of time. You really should just be building a product or whatever.
Brian Clark: Yeah, this is a very old and standard mentality of the “build it and they will come” thing. How many people are out there who have built something great or created great art or great music or whatever the case may be? And, no, the world did not beat the door down. They did not beat a path to discover this great thing. That’s a common misconception.
She’s, on one hand, giving advice that’s congruent with what I say as far as, “What you create is what matters.” But you can’t just create the thing you want to sell and expect people to show up, yet that goes on day in and day out.
And that’s why I think, ultimately, her advice is dangerous. Because blogging, for example, or content marketing, as we call it, that is creating something of value and it does attract people to you. As long as it’s related to what it is that you do ultimately want to sell, it works even better. So, in that regard, I think her advice is kind of dangerous.
The Value of Content Creation
Caroline Early: Sure. I think though that she thinks that content creation isn’t really valuable. She says, “And chances are that amid this backbreaking branding effort, you aren’t really creating anything.”
Brian Clark: Right, and there are a lot of people who do this stuff badly. I’ll certainly agree with that. But she seems to dismiss the concept that blogging or creating content has no value whatsoever. And that’s clearly incorrect. I mean, not only did we build this entire company with a content-first strategy, we educated people first for free. You didn’t have to do business with us — there’s value in that alone.
Ultimately, I think you’re seeing, especially in the startup world, more and more content-first companies, audience-first companies. I’ve seen some amazing examples in the design space of people who build audience. They’re not shy about selling stuff, and yet, that content creation, it’s just an essential part of the whole situation.
So she says that people should be rewarded not by how many followers they have, but by the contributions they make.
Okay, how do you think I got 180,000 Twitter followers? Was I pulling a Kardashian there or am I famous for being Internet famous? No, that was 10 years of delivering content first and foremost.
Again, it’s like she’s setting up a straw man and knocking it down. I mean, we’ve got all sorts of case studies. Joe Pulizzi’s book, Content Inc. is filled with them, including our story of the multitude of companies that provide value, create something real, and then they sell something.
Again, kind of a straw man argument, kind of dangerous, didn’t seem like anyone was buying it. I don’t know if you looked at the comments, but everyone was pushing back against her a little bit. Kind of like, “There’s lots of value in book writing and blogging and this kind of stuff,” and she didn’t respond.
The Irony of This Article
Caroline Early: Yeah, right. It definitely sounds like she made some good points. It also sounded like she shifted her views over the last decade. So is there anything else that you took from this article? Any other parting thoughts about it?
Brian Clark: Well, the ultimate irony here is why is she writing this article? Why does her byline tell us about the online art community she runs? Is this not an exercise? And if not personal branding, then content marketing? Come on, now. I mean, that’s I think really where the emperor has no clothes, if you will.
All right, well, I guess we’ve decided that personal branding is not dead, but it’s not the thing that should be top of mind. Create stuff that is great, but that doesn’t just mean products and services. That means also the content, the education, the expertise that you can share.
Caroline, what do you think?
Caroline Early: I agree. I think that there are definitely places for good content out there. I don’t think we should just be giving up on trying to sell yourself and trying to make a name for yourself out there.
Brian Clark: Yeah, it’s really an exercise, and personal branding is really: you have a reputation for what? Giving people awesome stuff that can only help.
Caroline Early: Right, and there are so many ways and methods to do that now. I don’t know why you wouldn’t try to optimize on that and take advantage.
Brian Clark: Yep, absolutely. All right, we have a listener question to answer. Who are we talking to today, Caroline?
Caroline Early: Yeah, today we have a question from Jeremy Reeves.
Brian Clark: All right, let’s take a listen to what Jeremy wants to know.
How Do You Get Teammates To Communicate Effectively?
Jeremy Reeves: Hey guys, this is Jeremy Reeves. I’m from Pennsylvania and you can find me and our team at jeremyreeves.com. What we do is we build automated marketing funnels for our clients. We have about 50 million in client results and yeah, so that’s it.
My question is how do you get teammates to communicate effectively when each of them has different communication styles? That’s basically it. Just figuring that out, because everybody has a different way of communicating and taking in new information and conceiving and utilizing that information.
So how do you have everybody communicate with each other without your involvement, without ripping each other’s throats out, essentially? Let me know. I would love to hear it. Thanks.
Brian Clark: All right, thank you, Jeremy. That is an excellent question. I had to actually sit there and think about this one for a bit, because it’s not like we have a company communications policy, especially the way we’ve grown organically. Everyone except for Caroline kind of came from the audience, but you worked for a sister company at one point and that’s how we had that connection.
Caroline Early: Yeah, kind of a similar feel.
Brian Clark: Yeah, came from the same realm of connections.
Create a Culture of Listening
Brian Clark: Here’s my best answer on this, and it comes from a personal flaw I guess of mine, mixed in with other disciplines in how I pay attention to what the audience might want as far as content, how we develop products and services — and that’s listening.
I’m very big on preaching about listening. Social media is a great way to pay attention to unscripted conversations about problems and desires. And I’ve been doing that, again, for the last 10 years to fuel our content strategy and to also figure out what people want to buy, what’s missing out there in the world of products and services.
On a personal level, I’ve tried to work very hard on listening in personal interactions I have, because I tend to talk a lot and I tend to always have an answer or an opinion or whatever. I’m still not perfect at it, but I’m self-aware enough to know that I need to pause and really focus on listening.
I think the intersection of those two things in our organization has led to for the most part – there are always exceptions. There are a couple people I could think of right now. But generally, we have a culture of listening. Listen very carefully to what the person is saying, not just the words that are coming out, but the intent behind them. And that makes for good communication.
Caroline, let me kick it over to you, because you’ve been here less than a year. We’re a virtual company. You’re here in Boulder, but no one else is except for Jacob. So you got thrown into the mix early where you have to communicate with people on a day-to-day basis. Some of these people you hadn’t met before. You’re just right in the middle of it.
Did you have any issues with communication? Was it hard and what did you do to compensate, if anything?
Caroline Early: Yeah, it was definitely a big change for me. I’d come from working in what you could call a brick and mortar office, being around people all day, 40-50 hours a week.
What I noticed off the bat here was that everyone is really available all the time. So, whether it’s by phone or by email or chat, again, it’s basically a personal preference of where you want to be. But people are really good about just being online, being ready to take your call, ready to answer your questions. Like you said, just listening.
We’ll CC a lot of different people on emails. Maybe you won’t be in the conversation, but you are still in the know of what’s going on, which is really important when you’ve got people in Portland and people in Atlanta or wherever.
I think that has been really nice to just see that not only is everyone very inclusive, but they’re also just readily available.
Brian Clark: Yeah, excellent. Jeremy, I hope that helps. I would say that fostering good communication is not about how you talk, it’s about how you listen and your availability. That really is what it comes down to. So maybe you can kind of guide your team. There are probably exercises out there that can be done. I don’t want to get too hokey about it, but that’s up to you. We can only provide our best answers.
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Caroline, why are you laughing?
Caroline Early: I just don’t know if you can promise people that.
Brian Clark: Really? I just did. Everyone take care and keep going.