Most people suck at building personal brands.
They create a brand for the wrong reasons, use the wrong strategies, and underestimate what it takes to succeed.
This leads to audiences that don’t grow, followers who aren’t engaged, and a brand that might look cool on the surface but doesn’t make money.
If you want to build a lasting brand (the right way), avoid these branding mistakes.
Branding Mistake #1: You tell people what to do (instead of showing them)
There are lots of people with personal brands that will tell you what to do. There are far fewer who will show you what they’ve done.
Some of the biggest personal brands—people like Andy Frisella, Gary Vaynerchuk, and Leila Hormozi—built a name for themselves in business and did all the dirty work to become successful before they started creating content.
When they share insights, people listen to them because they have the experience and the receipts. People believe they know what they’re talking about because they do.
Too many content creators and people trying to build personal brands are creating content based on theory, using regurgitated advice they heard elsewhere. They put the cart before the horse by trying to be an authority on a topic they don’t have authority on.
This is a mistake because:
- They’re always scrambling to “come up with” ideas for content because they don’t have experience
- They won’t have the real-world skills to capitalize on their brand if it does get big
- They run the risk of being found out as a fraud if people realize they never really practiced what they preached
What’s the solution then if you’re new to building a personal brand and might not have the results to have authority yet?
These ideas might help:
- You’re an expert on your own life: You already have accomplishments, challenges you’ve overcome, and experience you’ve gained from your career and life. Talk about that stuff instead of giving advice based on theory.
- Run experiments: Tim Ferriss built a huge audience online by turning himself into a “human guinea pig” and posting the results of experiments he ran, like putting on 34 pounds of muscle in 30 days with just two 30-minute workouts per week.
- Document, don’t create: I learned this one from Gary Vaynerchuk. It’s similar to running experiments, but it’s the idea that the content you create should either be about what you’ve done or what you’re currently doing. Bring your audience on your journey. Create less “how-to” content and more “how I” content by reflecting back on the things you’re doing in real-time or just finished doing.
You can build a personal brand without stretching the truth, without pretending to have expertise you don’t have, and without being somebody you’re not. This might mean you have to spend more time getting experience in the real world before you build your brand online. But it will be worth it because you’ll have a brand that’s built to last.
Branding Mistake #2: You talk at your audience (instead of talking TO them)
It’s called a personal brand for a reason.
A lot of creators make the mistake of thinking they have to be “on brand” all the time, which can help them grow a following but won’t help them build a tribe of die-hard loyal fans.
You want your audience to feel like they know you, so it’s a big mistake to create this barrier between you and them by putting yourself on a pedestal or never showing any personality.
You can avoid this branding mistake by:
- Talking about the ups and downs: Don’t just give people the highlight reel. Talk about the mistakes you made, the setbacks you experienced, and the obstacles you’ve had to overcome to get where you are today.
- Telling more stories: Don’t just post how-to advice and provide tips. Storytelling is the most powerful method to build an audience and help people learn because the lessons from stories stick with people more than just providing lessons.
- Lighten up a little bit: Crack some jokes. Don’t be afraid to deviate outside of your perfectly curated image for your personal brand. Make little inside jokes only your real fans understand to make them feel like part of your tribe.
- Make “day in the life” content: Post about your daily routine. Shoot vlog-style content. Post stories on Instagram as you go about your day-to-day activities. Give your audience a window into your real life.
- Post more than just “niche” content: You can talk about more subjects than the one your personal brand focuses on to make money. If you have a real estate brand, there’s no reason you can’t post about your workout routines, mindset strategies, favorite recipes, whatever it may be. Yes, you want to have a consistent message around your main topic, but staying too on brand all the time makes you…boring.
Branding Mistake #3: You have delusions of being an overnight success
To build a personal brand online, you have to post content.
Most people who do this make two big branding mistakes:
- They don’t post often enough
- They don’t post consistently
You have to post a lot of content for a long time to build a sizable brand. There’s no such thing as an overnight success.
Mr. Beast started making YouTube videos when he was 13. Mark Manson’s blog archives go back to 2006. Brianna Wiest was writing on Thought Catalog before I joined the site in 2015
Most people who try to build a brand online go through this life cycle:
- They get pumped up about creating content and building a brand
- They post content consistently for a few days, weeks, or months
- Eventually, they procrastinate, lose progress, and either have to start from square one or end up quitting altogether
If you want to avoid this fate, take the following pieces of advice into consideration:
- Follow the rule of 100: Whatever style of content you’re creating, commit to 100 pieces of it before you worry about whether or not you’re good at it. Shoot 100 YouTube videos, write 100 blog posts, or shoot 100 podcast episodes with zero self-judgment.
- Follow the three-year rule: Give yourself three years of consistent action before you make it big. You can do it faster, but it’s better to set an expectation that will keep you from seeking instant gratification.
- Create a daily ritual: You want to create a system for creating content that you follow every single day. Then, while you’re working, only focus on the task at hand. Work in a distraction-free environment with your phone off. Work at the same time each day if possible. Get into a flow state by focusing on the present moment. Repeat this daily to achieve the milestones above.
Frequency and consistency lead to compounding results. Your audience starts to grow faster and faster over time because you put in the initial work when nobody was paying attention. All of these huge personal brands have solid foundations that took years to build. Avoid the allure of overnight success.
Branding Mistake #4: You build a value-less brand
Even though I’ve mentioned tips like creating content outside your niche, giving people a window into your life, and not being too on brand all the time, it is important to make sure you’re building an audience around a topic you can monetize. And that you build it in such a way that you’re creating an audience of people who will buy from you.
Here’s the dirty little secret of the content creation and personal branding world:
A lot of people with big audiences are broke.
Now that’s branding gone wrong.
In 2019, an Instagram influencer named Arii launched a clothing line for her 2.6 million followers. She was unable to sell 36 t-shirts, which was the minimum amount needed to fill an order from the supplier.
Her launch failed for the same reasons many big personal brands don’t make much money:
- They build an audience that isn’t related to what they sell: In Arii’s case, she mostly posted selfies, which most likely attracted men who just wanted to look at her, instead of people who wanted to buy clothing from her.
- They assume followers equal money: A lot of big brands just assume the size of their audience will take care of their money issues when it’s still important to understand marketing and sales.
- They don’t have engaged audiences: It’s not enough to post content. You must interact with your audience; talk to your fans and figure out what they want so you can give it to them
In general, most people who attempt to build a personal brand don’t understand that building an audience and monetizing an audience are two totally different skills.
If you only want to build an audience, you can get away with:
- Posting viral content that doesn’t provide value
- Posting vague inspirational platitudes
- Not having a monetization plan in place
To monetize an audience, you must:
- Post content that builds awareness around a topic people value enough to spend money on
- Post specific content that addresses your audience’s fears, frustrations, hopes, and aspirations
- Figure out what the market wants, what people are already buying, and tailor your content and products to both
You can get away with building a gigantic audience and capitalizing on it because you simply have that much star value. People like Mr.Beast, Kylie Jenner, Rihanna, Conor McGregor, and The Rock come to mind.
Still, in those examples, the products they sold are things their audience consumes:
- Mr.Beast sells burgers and snacks, which pretty much everyone eats
- Kylie Jenner and Rihanna sell makeup, which is in line with their mostly female audiences
- Conor McGregor and the Rock sell liquor. Think anyone has ever gotten drunk at a UFC fight or WWE match?
Odds are, you’re not going to become an A-list celebrity.
It’s best to create a personal brand that’s more educational and how-to, based on a skill people are willing to pay to learn.
If you want to create a brand around entertainment, it can work but know that the path to monetization might be a bit trickier.
In general, you want to think about whether or not the brand you want to build has the potential to make money. Do a bit of research into the ways other creators are monetizing their brands to get an idea of what might work.
At all costs, avoid building a huge brand you can’t monetize.
Branding Mistake #5: You build a brand for the wrong reason
In a 2019 survey of 3,000 Gen Z tweens, the top choice for career path was “YouTuber.” Just like many people had pipe dreams of becoming Hollywood celebrities in the past, this generation dreams of becoming the next big Tiktok or YouTube star.
Don’t get me wrong. If you feel a deep desire for fame, go for it. But don’t jump on the personal brand bandwagon because it seems like the cool thing to do. Do it because you want to do it.
Find compelling reasons to build a personal brand or else you’ll struggle to succeed. Reasons like:
- Building or expanding a business: Building a personal brand around your business can give you access to a ton of new customers you wouldn’t have been able to reach otherwise.
- Making an impact: If you have valuable information, use your brand to genuinely help people. Funny enough, the more you try to genuinely help and solve people’s problems, the easier it will be for you to make money.
- Exploring interests that matter to you (and others): Some of the best personal brands come from people with this little niche hobby, skill, or interest that they share with a small percentage of the population. These “micro-niche-influencers” have some of the most engaged brands around. Take Naval Ravikant’s advice when he says, “Follow your genuine intellectual curiosity instead of what you think will make money.”
I built my personal brand with topics I cared about, like self-improvement.
I used writing, a style of communication I love, to build that brand.
Along the way, I built an audience of people who wanted to hear from me and even pay to learn from me because I did the delicate balancing act of exploring my interests and creating the type of brand that makes money.
The content creation and personal branding game isn’t for the weak of heart. You must have a strong “why” before successfully building one.
Once you do have compelling reasons, you’ll start to do the work. Once you do the work, you’ll start to see results. Once you see results, those results will compound until you have true fans who will support your mission with their hearts, minds, and wallets.