Why Every Agency Owner Needs to Develop a Personal Online Brand
Digital agencies come in many forms.
There are creative agencies, marketing agencies, design agencies, and dozens of hybrid forms.
You know about agencies. Maybe you work for one. Maybe you want to start one. Maybe you own one.
And maybe you can relate to this common problem.
Every agency I know wants to attract and retain more clients for their organization. These agencies typically follow the same approach — using digital marketing and advertising methods to promote the visibility and reputation of the agency’s brand.
It’s not a bad model. I use this model. You probably use this model. And every agency probably uses conventional digital marketing tactics to accomplish marketing objectives.
While this can be effective—even highly so—there’s an even more effective way for these agencies to earn more clients.
What is this highly effective method of earning more clients?
The answer might surprise you.
It’s personal branding.
If you work for an agency — perhaps as the owner or director — I wrote this post for you.
I’m convinced that if you follow the process below, you will increase the reach and power of your marketing in dramatic ways.
No, this is not some editorial overstatement. This is truth, backed by personal experience.
Before you dive in, here’s a quick aside on my personal experience. To be completely transparent, I’m still working on my personal branding.
However, when I gave some effort to my Twitter presence, for example, I immediately was contacted for a 2-hour interview on an industry Podcast, one of my businesses experienced a 5,000% increase in mailing list size, and I was contacted for three new contracts.
That was just Twitter.
Using the methods outlined below, I was able to become a contributor to sites like Huffington Post and industry publications.
What I’m trying to say is this: This stuff works.
So, here’s how to make personal branding work for you and your agency.
What Is a Personal Brand?
Before I get too deep in the tactics of building a personal brand, let me define what a personal brand actually is.
Here’s a simple definition:
A personal brand is the image,identity, and visibility that you possess.
That’s kind of vague and meta, so let me get a bit more specific.
In today’s digital milieu, your personal brand is how you are seen, understood, and evaluated based on the image you project, the content you create, and the messages you convey.
Still a little wordy?
Let’s get a few more angles on this whole personal branding thing, this time using some concrete examples.
- You create a personal brand by blogging about digital design trends. You write great content on the subject matter, and become viewed as a leader in this field.
- You consistently tweet valuable content about how to integrate vegan protein into your diet. Your Twitter audience respects you as a source of actionable information related to vegan protein sources.
- You become a regular on Instagram stories, sharing the amazing Airbnb places you’re staying at. You build up an audience of followers who can’t wait to see where you’re staying next.
Getting the picture?
Personal brands function much like corporate brands, providing a set of identity standards that external parties can grow to recognize. The difference is that they function on an individual level. Rather than promoting “Digital Agency, LLC.,” you’ll be promoting “John Smith, CEO of Digital Agency, LLC.”
How do others define personal branding?
Here’s the definition from EAE Business School.
Jeff Bezos of Amazon has this famous quip about a personal brand:
This is the definition from CoSchedule.
Here’s the great thing about personal branding: You get to choose it, create it, curate it, and develop it into whatever you want it to be.
Your personal brand will serve as an extension of your agency, complementing your core marketing efforts while simultaneously reaching new audiences.
Why Personal Brands Matter
So why are personal brands so beneficial for agencies in the first place?
Ah, let me count the ways.
For starters, developing your owner’s personal brand will give your agency more connection opportunities. All deals start with a single connection, from one person to another, and having a personal brand doing outreach in addition to a core corporate brand will instantly double your potential reach.
Chances are, if someone follows a business owner’s personal brand on social media, they’ll end up following their business’s brand as well. The two go hand-in-hand.
I’d say that content is his jam, you think?
Simply by tethering these two separate yet related identities together, you’ll grow your total audience and open the door to more potential leads.
Using the power of a personal brand also gives your content and marketing collateral far more visibility.
By some accounts, the simple act of having employees share the branded content of their employer can increase reach by up to 561 percent.
This is partially due to the fact that every personal share connects that content with a larger audience, but partially due to audiences trusting messages that come from other people more than they trust messages coming from corporate brands (more on that in a moment).
Developing your personal brand as an agency owner gives you the chance to establish greater expertise for yourself, which will lend authoritative power to your agency.
For example, let’s say your agency focuses on link building and SEO. You can talk about how effective your agency is in the SEO space, but it’s far more impressive and believable when your agency’s owner is an influential figure in the SEO community. People can see this when they do their own research.
My friend Jayson Demers did this. His agency, AudienceBloom is pretty clutch when it comes to SEO and content marketing.
(Full disclosure: I used to work for AudienceBloom, but I don’t anymore. They didn’t ask me for this endorsement, and I don’t get anything for doing so, except perhaps some warm and fuzzy feelings.)
The real power behind AudienceBloom’s expansion, however, is Jayson’s own personal brand.
Jayson maintains a relentless output of publications on Inc., Entrepreneur, Forbes, Huffpo, Harvard Business Review, and industry publications.
Trust is another major factor for developing a personal brand.
People tend to distrust corporations while putting far more trust and value in messages from other people. For example, 90 percent of people trust product and service recommendations given to them by people they know. By contrast, only 33 percent of consumers trust messages from brands.
People, on the other hand, are assumed to be less agenda driven by ulterior motives, and are more approachable and familiar than a faceless corporate logo.
For example, would you rather deal with general “Amazon customer service,” or a person you actually know who works for the company and can help you out?
There are also some benefits to brand building that complement your agency, but aren’t integrally tied to it.
For example, personal brands are often used as a kind of resume. Showcasing your expertise here can help lead to opportunities, outreach, and connection.
My professional colleague, Dan Rundle, uses his LinkedIn presence to bolster his reputation in the industry, and connect with potential business prospects. He aligns his role at Worthwhile, a custom software agency, with his personal identity as a CEO and industry leader.
Your personal brand can also help promote an increase in sales due to your expanded exposure.
If you ever choose launch a sister company, or develop a new business entirely, you’ll be able to carry over the groundwork of your personal brand to help support it.
This is how Elon Musk carries his reputation across many different prominent startups.
He is colonizing Mars, redefining the energy industry, creating the world’s most amazing cars, and already revolutionized the financial industry.
By virtue of his personal brand (among other things), he was able to bring more power to his other ventures.
(He’s the exception to the rule of going niche, because, well, he’s Elon Musk. He’s allowed to do that.)
How to Build a Personal Brand from Scratch
Now that we’ve covered why personal brands are important, let’s turn our focus to actually building one.
What does it take to develop a personal brand? Well, first you need a foundation.
Let’s build that foundation, and work up.
Identify Your Niche Area of Expertise
First, you need to identify exactly what you’re an expert in, and something general like “marketing” doesn’t count. Sure, you can list “marketing” as one of your skills or interests. But if you’re going to build the popularity of your brand, you’ll need to narrow your expertise down to one (or a handful of) niche areas.
Here’s a Venn-diagramish process you can follow.
Start by conducting some market research, leveraging tools like the Census Bureau as well as surveys and interviews to help you better understand your target audience.
Then, identify your key competitors using social listening like BuzzSumo. Between these two broad sources of information, you’ll be able to find an area of expertise that’s important to your audience but still differentiated from your competitors.
Using Buzzsumo and other tools, you can follow and connect with other personalities and brands in a select niche. A search for “vegan protein” influencers, for example, returns a variety of leaders who have a reputation in that space.
Identifying your niche is a foundational but crucial step.
Other writers call this defining your personal brand. They point out several questions that you can ask yourself as you settle in on an area of specialty.
Keep in mind that “jack of all trades” does not a personal brand make.
Personal branding needs to be focused in order to be successful.
For example, it’s very difficult to create a notable personal brand presence around design trends and vegan protein and trending cat hairstyles. Those areas don’t mesh very well, and you might have difficulty building a fan base that shares an interest in all three of those.
Focus is key when settling in on your niche. Become known for one thing, because you can’t be known for everything.
Identify Your Core Values and Personality
Along similar lines, you’ll also need to spend time developing the core values and personality of your personal brand—after all, the main appeal for audiences here is that you’re a real, approachable, personable human being.
Don’t overthink this. For the most part you can rely on your own innate personality. But you still need to be aware of the persona you’re going to project.
My wife, Keren, co-founder of Entrepromom, combines her core value as a mom with her career as an entrepreneur.
The two values come together in her business of “empowering women, promoting unity, connecting life and opportunity.” The personal brand she has created conveys these core values and personality.
Claim and complete your social media profiles
Social media is where most of the magic of your personal brand is going to happen. It’s where you’ll display your expertise, make new connections, and syndicate your content for your audience to read and grow familiar with.
But before you do any of that, you’ll need to claim and complete your social media profiles. Head to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube, and any other social channels you can think of.
Use a handle that fits your name, such as “johnsmith” or “john_smith,” with as few additions as possible. Keep this handle consistent across all social channels if possible.
If your Twitter handle is @johnsmith, then don’t use funny_guy_john as your Instagram username.
Then, fill in all the details of your profile, emphasizing your core values and area of expertise.
Consider Starting an Independent Blog
Your social media campaign will be responsible for the bulk of your growth, but you’ll still need some core content to support your efforts. If you’re interested in earning leads for one-on-one consultations, or developing your personal brand for other applications, I highly recommend developing your own, independent blog, such as “John Smith’s Marketing Blog.”
Though your website needs to look professional, you can still use free sites like WordPress.
If you don’t go with an independent blog for your personal brand, you can simply use a dedicated author account on your agency’s site the way Rand Fishkin of Moz does—just make sure your name’s getting out there.
Get a Professional Headshot
If you’re going to promote yourself, you need to have a professional headshot—not just a photo you took with your iPhone.
Your headshot will likely be the first impression people have of you, whether they see you on social media, on an external publisher, or elsewhere online. Make sure it demonstrates your professionalism and attracts people to your personality.
A professional headshot costs from $200-$500. Trust me, it’s money well spent. Your personal brand depends heavily on the professionalism of your photo, whether you like it or not.
Here are some quick dos and dont’s for your photo:
- Do get it professionally taken.
- Do wear clothes that are appropriate for your industry and position. It never hurts to dress a bit up, but it might hurt to dress down.
- Do smile.
- Don’t wear sunglasses.
- Don’t substitute a child, a pet, or a digital avatar for your headshot, no matter how adorable the child, how cute the pet, or how hip the avatar.
- Don’t be holding a beverage in your photo.
Develop an Initial Foundation of Content
Next, you’ll want to create a “foundation” of content. When people start researching your personal brand, they’ll look for things you’ve written, and you need to have a store of valuable material for them to find when they get there.
For example, if you have a dedicated blog, you can fill it up with a few dozen high-quality posts, or you can write and distribute an eBook or two to get your name out there.
Once you establish a portfolio of written content, you’ll begin to gain personal brand presence, as well as gain leverage for future guest posting opportunities.
Keeping Your Personal Brand Strong
Once your foundation is in place, you’ll need to commit to a series of ongoing efforts to help nurture your personal brand to grow.
This is how you can do it.
Post snapshots of your work, career, and life, true to your brand values.
If you want people to see you as a person, you’ll need to post snapshots of your life. Post about attending a workshop or trade show, or stream a live video of a speaker at an event you’re attending. Talk about your personal life (briefly), or talk about your latest career and business development projects.
Nicole Lapin is a master of this kind of engagement. Her Instagram feed shares behind-the-scenes shots of her activity, and her Instagram Stories is a never-ending supply of visibility and advice.
More personal revelations of your life can convey authenticity, personality as well as your values and areas of expertise. These qualities, in turn, make you more respectable and interesting.
Create and Distribute New Content on Your “Home” Blog
It’s almost impossible to develop a personal brand without content to back it up. On your home blog—whether that’s an independent site for your brand or your agency’s site—post new content at least once a week.
Aim for posts of 1,000 words or more, with unique, original, and practical topics that matter to your audience.
When complete, make sure you share that content with your social audience on as many media platforms as are relevant to you and yours.
Syndicate Your Older Posts via Social Media
Once distributed, those posts don’t immediately lose their value (unless they specifically target a time-sensitive event). Keep a running list of all your older posts, and re-distribute them on a cyclical basis.
This will help make sure your social media feeds remain full, generate more interest for your older posts, and keep you active in the community. As a general rule, you’ll want to post at least once a day on platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram, and several times a day on faster-paced platforms like Twitter.
I use Buffer to schedule my posts, and post to multiple accounts simultaneously.
Get Involved in Conversations
Use search functions and follow influencers to find conversations pertaining to your field of expertise.
If people are asking questions you can answer, go out of your way to answer them. If someone posts a strong opinion, consider debating or reinforcing it.
This will be a demonstration and provision of your expertise, which will prove you know what you’re talking about while exposing you to new potential connections. It’s a perfect way to attract new followers and build your reputation at the same time. These conversations are everywhere—you just have to look for them.
Twitter happens to be where I’ve engaged in the most intriguing conversations. With a few well-chosen hashtags and a couple poignant observations, you can spark a robust discussion, chime in on a trending topic, and probably pick up a few dozens followers over the course of a few hours.
Reach Out to New Connections
As often as possible, reach out to new connections online—this might mean connecting with people you’ve met in real life.
More often, you’ll follow or engage with people you’ve encountered on social media. This is an incredibly valuable opportunity, as leads that are first engaged on social media convert seven times more frequently than leads found cold elsewhere.
Feature your Work on Offsite Publications
This is one of the most important elements of your ongoing strategy. Instead of only posting on your own blog, go out of your way to make guest posts on external authorities.
Reach out to publishers in your industry and pitch topic ideas to them. When you get featured, you’ll gain new exposure for your personal brand, and you may even be able to build backlinks pointing to your agency’s site and personal social media profiles. For example, in the marketing industry, you might try to get featured on Adweek or Marketing Land.
As you gain more experience and authority, you’ll be able to post to bigger and more popular sites, generating even more traffic and reputation.
Engage and Collaborate with Influencers
Similarly, consider reaching out to major social media influencers in your space—oftentimes, these will be in the form of other personal brands.
Collaborate to create shared content that both of you can promote, or just ask them to help support or vouch for your own efforts. Either way, they’ll be able to give you more exposure and a boost in your reputation.
Sign up for Public Speaking Events
Finally, remember that personal branding doesn’t just happen online; consider trying to find speaking engagements where you can talk about your field and answer questions from audience members.
Not only will you get the chance to show off and reinforce your expertise, you’ll also have the opportunity to meet new people in your local area.
Afterward, you can list the speaking events you’ve attended on your site, or at least post about them on social media, making you appear even more authoritative to your audience.
If you follow these steps, you’ll be able to develop the initial foundation for your personal brand in a matter of weeks.
It takes time to build a reputation, but if you’re consistent, and you continue to escalate your efforts, you’ll see your audience and authority grow immensely within a relatively short timeframe.
Monitor your effectiveness and results closely, weeding out the tactics that don’t seem to be working, and putting a greater emphasis on the ones that do.
Eventually, you’ll get the hang of it, and both your personal brand and your agency will stand to benefit.
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