Over the years I’ve been asked a lot of questions about how I’ve built my blog and personal brand and what it takes to get your name out into the industry. People ask me what works best, what’s easiest and how to build a following to make money as a consultant or blogger. Because I get so many questions about it, I wanted to share some of what I have learned over the years and the best way to be successful if you want to build a personal brand and online media property. (Spoiler: there is no “shortcut”)
I’ve been fortunate and am eternally grateful that I’ve been involved with the streaming media industry for twenty-two years now. It’s a long time to be in any market, and because it’s tech related, it’s always changing and evolving, which keeps it fresh. Many new to the industry think I have only built up my exposure in a few years time. But in reality, building a personal brand never ends, you are never “done.” It’s taken me two decades of constantly working to inform, educate and empower others, and the success or failure you have with it all comes down to your motive and your passion. While I can think of a lot of tips, this is my list of what I feel are the most important.
- don’t build a brand or blog to make money, passion comes first
- have an ethos, explain what you do in five seconds
- don’t be a generalist, focus on something in detail and tell a story
- make yourself available, answer all calls and emails
- tell it like it is, don’t sugar coat anything
- always give back to the community
- be professional, respect your audience
- separate facts from opinions
- be confident, but acknowledge that you don’t know everything
- don’t strive to be the center of attention, practice humility
- be strict about your goals, but flexible about your methods
Don’t build a brand or blog to make money, passion comes first
Far too many people want to build a blog to make money, and that’s the biggest mistake they can make. Those who are good at branding themselves realize what drives them is a love for what they do, the passion for their cause. If you don’t have that, rarely will you make money from your brand or blog, no matter how hard you work. Those that are successful let their passion speak for itself, they work off of that, build their name around it, and over time, opportunities come their way. But it’s not easy, it takes a lot of time and work, and many simply don’t want to do it right. Even large media sites that cover tech have it wrong. Today, not enough media people in our industry add real value. Too much media is disposable, and those who are creating the media are as well. It’s why so few bloggers have a real brand outside of the website they work for. It’s why so many of them seem to jump from one new website to another each year. If you start a blog or website and put revenue, page views, scale, or traffic first, you’ll lose.
Have an ethos, explain what you do in five seconds
From companies to military units, all those that are passionate about what they do realize they must have an ethos. It’s their guiding beliefs or ideals that characterize their ideology. A way to explain their drive and also tell anyone what they do, in five seconds. While I don’t use my ethos as part of my brand, (maybe I should) for me, it’s always been simple. My job is to inform, educate and empower others. That’s it. Whether that is in-person, via editorial, or simply connecting people with one another, all the complexity of my job comes down to a very simple principle and ethos.
Don’t be a generalist, focus on something in detail and tell a story
The key to building a personal brand is to be known for something specific, that people can identify with. If you say you want to be known for “marketing,” it’s too generic. You have to focus, and that’s the BIGGEST mistake I see others make. If you are writing about video, smart cars, clean energy, gaming and real estate apps, what are people going to identify you with subject wise? Nothing. You’ll be seen as a generalist, who is simply covering topics that are hot at the time. But the best personal brands focus on a sub-set of the industry and pick facets they get known for. They are specialists. I don’t tell people I focus on “infrastructure” or “cloud” as that could mean anything. So I say I cover all the products and services in the “video ecosystem from creation to delivery.” The focus is key. Also when deciding what topics to cover, pick one’s that aren’t what everyone else is covering, or many times, are simply just re-hashing a press release. Add real value. Some today think as long as they get a quote from a company and add it to their post, they told a story. A quote is not a story and many times adds nothing valuable when you see that same quote all over the web. I almost never use quotes from anyone. For more on this see my post about telling a story and not writing for headlines.
Make yourself available, answer all calls and emails
This is the aspect of building a brand that scares most people away because in reality, it’s a lot of work and it takes years and years of dedication. Quite frankly, many also don’t have the personality for it and don’t like talking to someone they don’t know and taking calls and emails from strangers. But this work in the trenches is where your brand is born, and this is where loyalty is made. If you help others, they will come back to you again and again for more help and information. Now you can tell them about your blog, conferences, or other services you offer. Many times they asked to be put on your mailing list, sign up to follow you on Twitter and this is how you expand your reach. But it is time-consuming when you never screen a single call, answer your phone 24 hours a day and are willing to take questions from people all around the world. Having a good workflow in place, managing your time well, and getting to work from home helps a lot. No time is wasted in commuting or unnecessary meetings and you can focus on responding to all inquiries as they come in. My rule of thumb is everyone gets a callback or an email response usually within 24 hours, even if it’s just an acknowledgment that you saw it and will get back to them soon. Another tip, NEVER change your phone number – ever. I’ve had the same one twenty years, and people remember it.
Tell it like it is, don’t sugar coat anything
Some might find it mean that I said earlier that some media people add no value, but the fact is it’s true. And that’s another key factor you have to take into account when building a brand or starting a blog. Not being scared to tell it like it is. If you’ve read my blog long enough, you know I don’t sugar coat anything, which is the only reason why people come back to read what I think. That’s my value. I’m not an eloquent writer. I have no journalism training. I’m simply collecting information and trying to use that to tell a story in a way that is easy to understand. Building a brand is about being real. Yes, I do want to write and speak well and am always practicing those exercises, but you don’t have to be polished in everything you do, and can still add value. Authenticity is key and trumps eloquent writing every time. Building a brand is about being willing to go against what is popular, or telling a story, even if it’s not something some people want to hear. The community will appreciate you for it, and most will respect you for covering the bad with the good, in any industry.
Always give back to the community
Each industry is different, but fundamental to any brand or blog is what you are willing to give back to your industry. And it has to be personal. That’s the key. Readers or followers have to see the value of you as a person and as a brand. It has to be personal, and professional at the same time. In essence, you are building your community literally one person at a time, and without that community, covering any industry online will fail. If you are simply trying to build a media business for scale, instead of value, in the end, you will lose. The same is true with your brand. People ask me all the time why I give out so much information for free and constantly offer to help people who have questions, at any time. The reason for that is simple. I am giving back to the industry, helping the community, which in turn will help my industry grow, which results in more opportunities for us all. It goes back to the motive. Some of the best opportunities I have gotten in business have been due to all the emails and calls I answer, each day, free of charge. If you want to build a brand or a blog, you have to put yourself in the position to first help others. It’s that simple.
Be professional, respect your audience
Some companies have threatened to sue me, have made nasty remarks in comments or tried to tarnish my name by spreading lies because they didn’t like something I wrote on my blog. And while some companies or individuals think they are hurting your brand when they do that, in reality, they are giving you an opportunity to reinforce your brand by you taking the high road. And I have to admit, many years ago when I started writing about how KIT Digital was a house of cards waiting to fall, I wasn’t prepared for the death threats I got in emails and how personal some made it. But you have to learn to have a thick skin and stick to what you know to be true. This sounds silly as advice, but be professional at all times. Your reputation is based on your character and integrity and that all you have to fall back on.
Separate facts from opinions
Many bloggers and analysts want to insert their personal comment into every story they write. While there is nothing wrong with this, you have to make clear what the factual details are versus your opinion on the news or story you are covering. Adding in your own personal take is important, but far too many make statements as if they are facts, when they are really disguised as opinions. So when talking facts, use numbers, point to data that can’t be argued. Sometimes this is hard to do when you write a story or put out details on something you got from sources you can’t name. But in that case, if you have a good brand and readers trust you, they will know your sources are good, even if you don’t name them. Personally, I try to keep my opinions out of things and only say what I think when I have sources, data to back it up, or experience from having talked to customers, vendors, or used a service myself. Also remember that readers don’t understand that many times companies will give you info, ask you to report on it, but then tell you that you have to say they declined to speak to you, so that they cover themselves. If you have trust and don’t burn sources, you’ll get info most others don’t know about.
Be confident, but acknowledge that you don’t know everything
No matter how good you are at your craft or the subject you cover, there will always be others that know more about segments of the market than you ever will. For instance, I cover the CDN market a lot, but I’m the first to admit the only reason I know about it, is thanks to people smarter than me. You don’t have to know everything about a particular industry, product or service. Make good relationships in your industry and others will help teach you and give you the data you need. A lot of brand building is working to let others know you are a collection point for information, even if you aren’t in the trenches doing it yourself. One’s self-importance is not based on what they know, but what they can share with others and that’s what building a personal brand is all about.
Don’t strive to be the center of attention, practice humility
Some bloggers and personalities on the web want to make the story about them. But the first thing to learn about creating editorial content is that the story should never be about yourself. Look how many bloggers want to argue with each other and next thing you know, someone else is writing a story about how two popular bloggers are arguing. No one cares. Be humble. Don’t call a story an “exclusive.” There are many others that know about the news you are publishing but simply can’t talk about it for multiple reasons. Tell the story, but do it without an ego. If you do an interview on CNBC or Fox Business News, don’t splash it everywhere. If it’s good content, people will find it naturally. The main attention should always be the content you are giving out, not about yourself.
Be strict about your goals, but flexible about your methods
No matter the industry, change happens. Industries pivot and you have to be flexible and nimble enough to change with it, and hopefully, you see that change coming before it happens. A subject can go to from hot to cold overnight. The information companies are looking for changes daily, and that impacts your workflow. I’ve written what I thought was the best blog post ever and no one picks it up. Then a post I think is pretty simple goes viral in a day. You never know how things will play out on social media, where visibility will come from and that’s one of the exciting things about publishing on the web. So keeps the big goals you have in place, but realize you have to be flexible on how you reach them. To avoid risk is to avoid progress.
The idea of starting a personal brand is easy, but with most things, it’s the execution that’s hard. You need focus, dedication, commitment, passion and the will to weather the ups and downs of the industry you are in. But if you work hard, have a true passion for the topic you cover and give back to the community, your brand will start to flourish. Many like to focus on all the problems around starting and building a brand but if you focus on the problems, you have more problems. When you focus on possibilities, you have more opportunities.