Five Personal Branding Tips for Solopreneurs

If you are a solopreneur--whether you are a service provider, information marketer or coach--you are a company of one by definition. Your personal brand and your company brand go hand in hand. Personal branding is critical because the product that people are buying is YOU.

My bike mechanic is a knowledgeable and trustworthy guy who brands himself as the Bike Doctor and has a unique market position as the bicycle mechanic who makes "house calls." I remember who he is and his unique value. Why don't more solopreneurs do the same?

To succeed in branding, you must identify the single most important thing for you to be known for--and brand around this consistently. Then, you need to "bake the cake, then ice it," my metaphor for branding. The cake is your rational or functional value--your expertise and experience. The icing is your emotional value--your personality, style, likeability, and trust factor. Just like such popular consumer brands as Apple, Coke and Starbucks, you need to marry both cake and icing for a strong brand.

Here are five important tips that can help you brand yourself:

1) Start with positioning. Define a niche you can own. Instead of being a generic freelance programmer, for instance, you might position yourself as a front-end web developer for mobile platforms. Instead of being a generic marketing consultant, you could specialize in brand strategies for professional services firms such as lawyers, doctors or accountants. You need to focus to limit the competition. Be a big fish in a small pond.

Ask yourself what problem you can solve or what opportunities you can enable for a particular customer. You can differentiate yourself from the competition by solving that problem in a unique way. Perhaps you follow a certain process in your consulting or coaching. You can brand it as a proprietary methodology. Name it and claim it!

2) Develop clear and compelling messages. Put yourself in the shoes of your customers. Ensure that you back up your positioning claims with messages that resonate with a target audience. Provide the context of what is driving the need for your products or services. Then, lay out the reasons why customers should buy from you. The best way to talk about your evidence is to demonstrate it in a story. Stories are a memorable way to get across both your cake and icing without being boastful.

3) Articulate your brand strategy. Put your rational value and emotional value together in a brand strategy platform. Brand from the inside out, starting with your core values and passions. Combine these with your strengths, personality and image to drive towards your brand promise--or what others expect to experience every time they engage with you. Aligning your brand with your values will help ensure that you have an authentic brand in thought, word, deed and image.

4) Define your ecosystem of influencers. For every market segment, there is a set of influencers who are important to your credibility and recognition as a leader. For instance, if you decide to focus on marketing consulting for accountants, there are professional organizations and media that cater to accountants, and LinkedIn groups that bring together finance and accounting professionals. Determine who the influencers are (from your service partners, key customers to industry gurus) and make sure you educate them on your positioning and brand so they can be in a position to help you with an introduction or endorsement. It's what others say about you that determine your reputation.

5) Create your action plan. You should have a brand improvement plan and a brand communication plan. If your goal is leadership in a certain space and you lack the presence and persuasive communication to own that position, it's advisable to take steps to improve your skills.

Your brand communication plan should include how you represent and message your brand. Consistency across all communication--both words and visuals--is key to branding well.

As a solopreneur, you probably rely on word-of-mouth references for business development. This can be face-to-face or via the Internet. Help your customers and others to find you online by consolidating your online footprint under your name.

Manage your brand reputation by signing up for Google alerts when articles or other posts mention you by name. Encourage your happy customers to write a review on Yelp or a recommendation on LinkedIn. Get your community to like you on Facebook and follow you on other social channels. When you have engaged followers, your message gets amplified in their networks as well as your own.

Personal branding for solopreneurs requires positioning, brand message and ecosystem discipline, but the rewards are great. When you have the reputation and image to set you apart from the competition, new opportunities will flow your way. Branding does pay!