Whether you are an entrepreneur, small business owner, or someone who is simply looking to find their way on social media today, chances are you’re hearing a lot about personal brand. I want to start with a bit of a story on how mine has evolved over the last few years.
People approach social media with the need to put their “A list” footage permanently on display. We must have all the answers. We must be invincible. Everything must paint us in the best light possible, all of the time.
The problem is that it’s fake. It’s inauthentic and your audience will sniff it out, right away. Your voice and your experience are exactly what’s missing from the conversation today. People want a story about overcoming challenges. They want to see what happened when you were at your most vulnerable point. If you start the story there and show them how you climbed out of the hole, you will appear more human and gain more trust.
My Evolving Personal Brand
Somewhere between 23 and 50 million Americans suffer from an autoimmune condition according to various online estimates. These are horrible diseases where the immune system attacks your healthy body, and it leaves people in various levels of chronic and often uncurable pain.
So, the people that are afflicted often stay silent. They’re embarrassed. They feel that most people won’t understand when you tell them that no matter how “normal” you appear, something very real could be – and often is hurting.
I chose not to stay silent. I’ve written about my experience fairly frequently on my personal Facebook page, and on my Instagram account, the Autoimmune Project. What happened is that a conversation I never imagined unfolded. I met new people. People that I’ve known for a long time have reached out via Facebook messenger.
To many people, I’m the guy who didn’t stay quiet about this. It heavily impacted my personal brand. I haven’t talked about this experience as much in a business context, so let me explain more.
My Rheumatoid Arthritis Story
It began in May 2018. For several days, I felt nearly crippling pain in my hands and feet. It hurt to walk my German Shepherd/hound mix Captain, in the mornings. It hurt to sit at a computer and type. It hurt to do many of the jobs around the house typically required of a homeowner. If I was up and moving – if I was awake at all – in some fashion, I hurt.
I didn’t know what was happening to my then 38-year-old body. Google gave me a terrifying list of possibilities that ran the gamut from Lyme Disease to various autoimmune conditions, to cancer. After a few months of waiting to see a specialist, I received an official rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis.
I felt a sweeping relief that I had my answer, and honestly that it wasn’t anything worse. But an RA diagnosis is still serious, and can set a person up for a lifetime of medications that often carry with them some powerful side effects.
With that answer, I knew I needed to find a treatment strategy and find a way to get back to life as normal. I have a wife and a young son. I have an overactive dog. I did not want to be physically limited and inactive. In my late 30s, that didn’t feel like much of an option at all.
The Importance of Experimentation
The quality of your life is directly related to the quality of the questions you ask. I firmly believe this. I still remember the moment I asked the most important question I could ask related to my new diagnosis. My wife, who is an infusion nurse, was working on the computer in her office. I interrupted her to ask if you could put an autoimmune condition in remission based on diet alone.
She gave me a stern look and told me to talk to my rheumatologist – and I did. My rheumatologist didn’t give me very refreshing answers. While she’s supportive of my current progress, she’s also Western medicine-minded and focused on the traditional medications. But I didn’t stop there.
I read a lot of books on autoimmune health, diet, and inflammation. I joined Facebook groups and networked with people who have taken this step themselves. I began looking at what I could do to control stress. I slowly began to implement what I learned.
I lost 60 pounds in a matter of 6 months. I am now off all medications for my RA and I am treating it exclusively natural. I achieved this health victory by asking a lot of questions and through a lot of experimentation.
- Can diet put RA in remission?
- What supplements will help my immune system recover?
- What exercises can I still do to eliminate toxins from my body?
- Will breath exercises, red light therapy, meditation, or yoga help?
- What about CBD and/or medicinal marijuana?
The questions poured out of me. I tested them. Some things helped more than others. But I found the answers. If a certain treatment didn’t produce results or make me feel better, I set it aside and moved to the next experiment on my list. I had to. My health depended on it.
There’s a scene in the movie Apollo 11 where the Houston engineers were forced to solve a complicated engineering problem with only the materials that were on the actual space ship. The problem seemed impossible at first, but they had their answers. Finding the right combination of natural RA remedies to make me feel better kind of felt like that.
This experience and the ensuing experiments changed the way I approach my health. It changed the way I think, and the way that I approach stress. It took a chronic medical condition to make me realize what I have, but I slowly came to it.
It’s also changed how I approach family, business, and yes, my personal brand.
Hard Problems Can Be Solved
Copywriting is filled with hard problems. Here are two of the most common:
- How do you create something that will engage your intended audience?
- How do you create something that will have visibility in the search engines?
You could just pick up a bunch of stuff and throw it at the wall and hope something sticks. You could guess. You could just do your best for each client and hope that you find something, somewhere that works. Or you could try some targeted experiments. You can test some copy and see how well it converts. At the end of a given time period, test another version, and see if that does better.
You can make constant SEO improvements to the copy, to increase visibility. A few weeks back, I found that my home page ranked in the #5 spot for the search term “professional copywriter.” I dug around and analyzed the data. I began making small changes to the content to emphasize the search term. I tweaked other back end SEO factors and began looking more in-depth at neglected ranking factors like broken links on my site. (It turned out I had more than I anticipated.)
The result? My site currently ranks number one for this search term. This is the experimenter’s mindset at work. This is looking at a difficult problem and having faith that it can be solved. It’s trying and testing a number of theories until you find one that works. I also used this approach to write my son a letter when the pandemic hit, and it became an Amazon best-seller for its category. I’m using this theory as I write about today’s issues on my author website.
These improvements to my business and my personal brand were all made possible by the lessons I learned in treating the hardest problem I’ve ever dealt with: putting my rheumatoid arthritis into remission by using natural means.
Talking About It
My road to recovery didn’t occur in a straight line. I am pretty sure that may just be the nature of the disease. But when I started dieting I immediately found a considerable amount of relief in my hands. As I got this part of my disease under control I spoke out on Facebook.
And when I did I heard from all sorts of people that I’d known for a long time. They told me about their situations. They told me about their kids. They told me about pain. What they’re going through is horrible and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
They trust me and I feel privileged for that trust.
I began talking about it more on a new Instagram account. And there, I met a new group of people who were going through similar issues as well. Even at my most vulnerable, the right thing to do was to have a conversation.
I now have a success story. I know that autoimmune can be kept at bay naturally. I’m doing it. But I’m also humble enough to know that the disease can come back at any juncture and to not take what I have today for granted.
My personal brand is growing through the conversations that I’m having. My personal and professional networks are growing due to the relationships that I’ve built through my health journey.
To be honest, I’ve been a little nervous to tell this story in a more professional setting, because an autoimmune condition makes someone vulnerable. But then I realized that the way we often think of a personal brand is misconstrued.
The Typical and Often Twisted View of Personal Brand
We’re all connected more than ever before, thanks to social media and technology. In the midst of this hyper-connectivity, buzzwords like personal brand become overused.
The definition becomes wildly misconstrued. It’s often thought about in the context of attracting likes, followers, and shares. What will make me popular? What will make my business popular? How can I be a power influencer? How can I get more readers? How can I get more page views?
Writing and posting content with these questions in mind triggers a nifty little dopamine rush – similar to drugs. It also becomes addicting and a recipe for disaster.
It’s the people posting with their cars and talking about their “easy money” on Instagram. It’s the sponsored posts on Facebook about how someone got rich quick and only works a handful of hours in a week.
The people who are truly masterful when it comes to their personal brand come across far more human than this. They tell a complete story that feels more like something we can relate to, than a fantasy over something we want.
Finding Your Distinct Voice
“Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you.”
When your competitor posts a blog about a certain subject, do you feel a rush to do the same? Maybe that blog post deals with their specific process for making a product. Maybe it gives some specific industry opinion.
You need a post on the exact same thing, right?
Or maybe they have over 1K fans on their Facebook page.
Their Instagram photos are getting hundreds of likes.
They just got retweeted by a celebrity.
That’s all great. But we’re not keeping up with the Jones’s here. We’re building a brand. Your trajectory will look different than theirs. You have a different background. Different employees (if you are an entrepreneur or business owner). A different approach.
Building a personal brand is about authenticity. It’s about building trust. It’s not about retelling their story, it’s about telling yours. It’s about showcasing yourself as not only an expert on a given subject, but also a well-rounded human being with a side that’s visible outside of work.
Yes, it’s a good idea to review your competitor’s websites. It’s a good idea to take a look at the social media accounts of those who are doing something similar to what you are doing. Take the ideas that you can use and make them your own. But you don’t have to write something or post something simply because someone else is. Do it because it makes sense for you to do it.
If you’re an entrepreneur or a business looking to develop your brand further, you can often accomplish this through the brand discovery process. It’s essentially a way to drill down on who you are, and how you can act on that to improve your company.
Maybe in today’s world, it means speaking out more about your company’s values in relation to race, or the pandemic. It may mean highlighting the changes that you’ve made over the recent months to stay relevant. It may mean telling the story of how you got started. But you know what? Every blog that you write, every tweet, Instagram post, – everything – It’s all part of that personal brand.
What Aspects of Your Life Are Critical to Your Story?
As a professional copywriter, I help a lot of small and medium-sized companies with their about pages. As part of the process, I ask them if there are any passions, hobbies, or other elements of their story that fall outside of the parameters of their business.
I am often met with “What does that have to do with anything?” or “I don’t want to share anything else.”
Many business owners don’t necessarily connect the dots here. But when you are in the market for a product or service, you want to spend your money with someone that you know, like, and trust. Telling your personal story is a way to accomplish just that.
When I think of a personal brand, I think of people like business writer James Altucher. In a genre that’s filled with stiff and rigid writing, Altucher has found a distinct voice. He’s frequently quoted as saying that he doesn’t hit publish on a blog post unless he’s at least a little afraid about what he had to say.
Altucher’s writing underscores his personal vulnerability. He’s talked about crippling depression, becoming rich and going broke, and a myriad of other highly personal topics. He tells human stories that are always highly relevant to the topic at hand.
And you know what? He has a loyal following filled with people genuinely interested in how he overcame some of these significant life problems, and became the businessman that he is today. He has a unique writing style, some of the best business books out there, and a one-of-a-kind podcast. All because he built an incredible personal brand.
Find Your Story
I take a more expansive view of the world thanks to my RA experience. While it’s not something I’d wish on anyone, it’s taught me a lot and I firmly believe I’m a better person for it. Talking about it online has led to people reaching out to me with similar stories.
It’s also helped tremendously in my professional world. I’ve written copy for holistic chiropractors, healthcare companies, and other clients that I’m not sure I’d have otherwise secured. I’ve built a network of wonderful people around this issue, and it’s driven me to become better as a person.
When you find a success story, one that starts when you’re vulnerable, it can help you to appear more human and more likeable. It can build trust with your audience. And it’s a formidable way to build a powerful personal brand.
Matthew Brennan is a Chicago Copywriter and copy editor. He is also the author of Write Right-Sell Now and The Virus and Us.