The Power of Personal Branding: Building an Authentic Online Presence

The Power of Personal Branding: Building an Authentic Online Presence

Can you imagine Disney without Walt Disney’s dreamy vision of a childhood wonderland? Or Air Jordans without Michael Jordan? Just another cartoon and a pair of red high tops. Flat, boring, generic.

What transforms a cartoon mouse and a pair of red high tops into a special (and very profitable) business is the person behind the product.

As a small business owner, you may shrink from the concept of personal branding. After all, your business doesn’t (yet) top the Fortune 500. And you’re not a social media influencer obsessed with followers and likes.

But that’s precisely why you should lean into your personal brand. Your competitors disdain it or don’t understand it. That means building a personal brand gives you a free path to the clear blue ocean, while your rivals fight for scraps in shallow, shark-infested waters.

It’s a powerful tool for small businesses to establish a distinctive online identity and stand out in a sea of bloodless competitors.

In this blog, we’ll demystify the concept and show you how local service business owners can leverage their personal brand to outclass the competition.

What is Personal Branding?

The concept of personal branding goes beyond traditional self-promotion. It’s about authentically representing yourself, your backstory, and your values. And it’s about building a reputation that resonates with others. Just like companies invest in branding to create a strong image, small business owners can harness the power of personal branding to expand their network, and attract new customers, employees, and partners.

Think of personal branding as the art of marketing yourself—your unique skills, story, and personality—as a brand. It’s a mosaic of your values, beliefs, and aspirations that paints a vivid picture of who you are and what you stand for. But what’s most important is that it’s not really about you. It’s about how you represent your business and connect with your community. You are the hood ornament, but your business is still the vehicle.

The Importance of Personal Branding for Local Service Businesses

Your personal brand can act like a lighthouse, guiding customers through the sea of competitors right to your door. It creates an emotional resonance that transcends the transactional nature of business. The affinity that customers feel for your personal brand can convert them into lifelong supporters of your service business.

Benefits of Personal Branding | Personal Branding and Online Presence | RS Gonzales - SME Business and Marketing Solutions DMV

Case Study: Ben’s Chili Bowl, a Washington, DC Legacy

Take Ben’s Chili Bowl, a culinary landmark in Washington, DC, as an instructive case in point. This isn’t just a place to grab a half-smoke; it’s an institution deeply interwoven with the city’s cultural fabric. Founded in 1958, Ben’s Chili Bowl has become synonymous with resilience, civil rights, and community engagement.

The owners, Ben and Virginia Ali, didn’t just serve chili; they served as pillars in the community. Aligned with the Civil Rights Movement, the establishment became a gathering place for activists, artists, and leaders from John Lewis to Bono. Their involvement didn’t stop there; the Ali family played a significant role in the revitalization of the U Street corridor, serving as a steady presence in tough years when other small businesses floundered.

Family values radiate from the brand. Customers don’t just feel like patrons; they feel like part of the Ali family. Whether it’s the familiar faces behind the counter or the numerous family and community events hosted there, Ben’s Chili Bowl emanates warmth and inclusivity.

The result? Loyalty that spans generations. Customers keep coming back, not just for the iconic chili but for the rich history and community spirit that Ben and Virginia Ali have carefully stewed into their brand.

Ben's Chilli Bowl branding visuals, an exploration of personal branding and online presence by RS Gonzales

Three generations of the Ali family. Credit: Ben’s Chili Bowl

This example serves as a testament to the enduring power of personal branding. The Ali family didn’t just run a restaurant; they built a legacy by intertwining their personal values with their business ethos, turning customers into advocates who have a deep-rooted emotional connection with both the food and the cause.

Now, let’s delve into how to kick-start your personal branding journey.

How to Kickstart Your Personal Branding Journey

Wondering where to start? Begin with a deep dive into your own skills, values, and expertise. Identify what sets you apart and how those attributes can create value for your customers. Create a Unique Selling Proposition (USP) that captures this essence and be consistent with it across all channels.

5 Questions to define your personal brand

Don’t just jump into posting on social media. Take the time to flesh out the look and feel of your personal brand by asking these questions:

  1. What Makes You Stand Out?

    • As a small business owner, what unique qualities, skills, or stories do you bring to the table? Are you a community leader, an expert in your field, or do you have a unique journey that led you to start your business?

  2. Who Are You Speaking To?

    • Personal branding is all about connecting with people. Who is the target audience you want to reach on a personal level? Is it local families, industry peers, or perhaps young professionals? How do your target customers like to speak to their friends and family? Remember, this is a personal brand, not a business brand, so ask yourself how you’d start a conversation with your customers.

  3. What’s Your Personal Mission?

    • Beyond the business, what drives you? Is it a passion for social change, a commitment to excellent customer service, or perhaps being a catalyst for community growth? Many business owners opt to use their visible platform to promote a cause outside their business — whether it’s educational equity, climate change or mental health awareness. Find something you genuinely care about and start conversations that aren’t self-interested.

  4. How Do You Want People to Describe You?

    • If someone were to describe you in three words, what would those words be? Charitable, innovative, trustworthy? This perception will be the cornerstone of your personal brand. You’ll want to think of those words again and again when you take headshots and candid photos, asking yourself if your images enhance or detract from your personal brand.

  5. Which Platforms Will Showcase Your Personal Brand?

    • Will you be sharing your insights through LinkedIn articles, getting engaged with your local community via Instagram stories, or speaking at industry events? The medium should align with your message, and correspond with where your customers are already talking.

Visual representation of defining a personal brand, guided by RS Gonzales's expertise

Answering these questions will help you carve out a personal brand that’s not just an extension of your business, but a representation of yourself. This, in turn, can build stronger, more meaningful connections that benefit both you and your business.

These questions can set the foundation for your personal branding efforts, ensuring that you connect with the right audience in the most effective way.

Balancing Personal and Business Brand Identities

The struggle is real when it comes to balancing your personal brand with your business brand. Yet, it’s like mixing the perfect cocktail—each element enhances the other. Your personal brand can add a relatable face to your business, while your business’s reputation can bolster your personal brand’s credibility. Key takeaway: keep both in sync, each echoing the core values and promises of the other.

Case Study: Andy Shall and Bus Boys and Poets

Many small business owners worry that their personal brand will muddy their business brand, confuse customers or overshadow the business itself. Certainly, those are valid concerns, and you want to steer clear of any personal branding campaign that lapses into narcissism.

But there’s a way to balance both a personal and business brand.

Take the example of Andy Shallal, the owner of Busboys and Poets, a restaurant-bookstore chain in Washington, DC. Shallal is a prime example of someone who has expertly balanced both a personal and business brand.

Personal Brand:

Andy Shallal is not just a restaurateur; he’s also known for his activism, particularly on social justice issues and community development. He frequently speaks at events, writes op-eds, and participates in local politics. He’s carved out a personal brand that stands for more than just good food—it stands for community, justice, and intellectual enrichment.

Busboys and Poets' brand snapshot by RS Gonzales

Andy Shallal at his bookstore. Credit: Busboys and Poets

Business Brand:

Busboys and Poets is not just another eatery; it’s a community gathering place that hosts events, encourages conversations, and promotes local authors. It is a reflection of Shallal’s personal ethos but stands as its own brand, recognized for its unique blend of cuisine, literature, and social dialogue.

The Balancing Act:

Shallal masterfully balances these two brands by letting them enrich each other without overshadowing one another. His activism draws people to his restaurant, and his restaurant serves as a platform for community-building efforts. However, you can appreciate Busboys and Poets without knowing anything about Shallal and vice versa.

The takeaway here is that both your personal and business brand can co-exist and even complement each other. However, it’s essential to strategically plan how one feeds into the other without losing their individual identities.

Building an Authentic Online Presence

Which platforms should you invest in? Should you rule Facebook, LinkedIn, or maybe even TikTok? Your platforms should align with both your personal brand and the preferences of your local audience. For example, Instagram can be a terrific platform if your local service business has visual appeal. Each platform can serve as a pillar supporting your overarching personal brand, but as a small business owner, you’re short on time and resources, so focus and selectivity should be your watchwords.

How to choose the best platforms to build your personal brand

Platform selection guide for personal branding by RS Gonzales

Consider these five factors when choosing where you will focus your personal branding efforts:

1. Audience Reach

Know Your People: Choose platforms where your target audience hangs out. There’s no point in having a stellar brand presence on LinkedIn if your clientele is predominantly on Instagram. Your personal brand should be where your audience can easily discover you.

2. Content Format

Pick Your Strengths: Some platforms favor text-based content (like blogs on Medium), while others are more visual (Instagram) or video-centric (YouTube). Choose platforms that align with the types of content you can create and maintain consistently.

3. Time Commitment

Be Realistic: Each platform will require a different level of engagement. Twitter (X) might need multiple updates per day, while a blog post once a week could suffice for a platform like Medium. Gauge how much time you can commit to maintaining your online presence without spreading yourself too thin.

4. Authenticity Factor

Be Yourself, Sell Yourself: Some platforms naturally lend themselves to more authentic interactions. If you’re great at off-the-cuff conversation, a platform that allows live interactions like Facebook Live or Clubhouse might be a good fit. Authenticity helps you connect on a deeper level with your audience.

5. Monetization Potential

Show Me the Money: If a direct ROI is a significant goal for your personal branding efforts, consider platforms that offer monetization features. For instance, YouTube allows you to monetize videos, and specialized platforms might offer paid partnership opportunities.

Remember, the platforms you choose will serve as the foundation for your personal brand, so choose wisely!

Content Creation and Alignment

Content is king, but context is its kingdom. Not all content fits all platforms or audiences. Focus on creating value-driven content that solves problems or enriches lives. Whether you’re sharing a how-to video or penning a thoughtful LinkedIn article, make sure the content aligns with your personal brand and appeals to your target demographic.

Risks and Rewards of Personal Branding

Melding personal and business brands comes with its set of risks and rewards. The risk? If your personal brand takes a hit, it could impact your business. The reward? A well-crafted personal brand can turn you into an industry thought leader. Mitigate risks by being authentic and transparent, and you’ll find the rewards far outweigh the challenges.

Measuring Success

How do you know if your personal branding efforts are paying off? Track engagement rates, customer testimonials, and social shares. Keep an eye on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) like brand mentions and customer retention rates. These metrics not only gauge the success of your personal brand but also provide insights for improvement.

Are you ready to build an authentic personal brand?

In today’s competitive landscape, a strong personal brand can be your ace in the hole. It adds depth to your business brand, creates an emotional connection with your audience, and sets you apart in a saturated market. From choosing the right platforms to crafting aligned content, every action you take fortifies this invaluable asset.

So, what are you waiting for? Your personal brand is not just an option; it’s a necessity. And it’s one click away from becoming your most powerful asset.

Why go it alone when a marketing consulting agency can be your seasoned guide?

Book A Free Personal Branding Strategy Session | Personal Branding and Online Presence | RS Gonzales - SME Business and Marketing Solutions DMV

Ready to unleash the power of your personal brand? Reach out to us today.