These days, I feel the same way I felt as a teenager, shouting from the rooftops of how important the Internet was going to be, only to be told that it was just a "trend."

This is a true story:

In 2008, I attended one of the top journalism schools in the country, the University of Missouri. I was 18 years old--a freshman.

I took my seat in a 500-person auditorium my first week of classes, and my professor told the class that blogging would never replace journalism. 

"It's a trend," he said, continuing on with the importance of newspapers and how things had always been done. 

I raised my hand.

"I think you're wrong," I said. "I think the Internet is going to change everything, and I think people will read more online than anywhere else."

At 18 years old, I was one of the most popular gaming bloggers on the Internet. To me, the future was having your own audience, building your own credibility.

The entire class looked back at me. And my teacher laughed while he said, "In order for someone to even be remotely credible online, they would need about 10,000 people reading their column per day."

In 2008, that was practically unheard of.

"I have that," I said. And transferred schools the next year to study creative writing in Chicago instead.

This is exactly how I feel in 2017.

I look around and see so many people in business who somehow find the money to pay for a PR intern to mass-blast columnists at publications (that immediately get deleted), the money to buy traditional ads, print ads, radio ads (seriously?), banner ads, Facebook ads, podcast sponsorships, and more--and yet, refuse to invest a single dollar in building their own personal brand.

To me, this is the worst investment strategy someone in business could possibly make.

Look around.

Every single person in business that's "crushing it" (compliments to Gary Vaynerchuk) has a personal brand. People that speak at conferences have a personal brand. People that get invited to speak on podcasts, personal brand. People who get asked to contribute content to industry blogs and publications, personal brand. 

People who get asked, all have a personal brand.

I'm 27 years old. And every single day, I have someone ask me, "How did you...?"

"How did you get that opportunity?"

"How did you get to work with that person?"

"How did you..., how did you..., how did you...?"

By building a personal brand for myself.

For the past 5 years, I have written something on the Internet, every single day.

I've shared stories. I've explained things I've learned.

I've spent more time giving than I have anything else--and now, I wake up to more inbound opportunities than I know what to do with. 

I made an investment in myself, and it paid off drastically.

By 2020, if you don't have a personal brand online, people aren't going to work with you.

Do you know how every single conversation I have with people in business goes?

Like this.

"Hey Cole, yeah so I was looking you up online. Really impressive stuff. Actually, I was reading one of your articles, which got me thinking...".

Every single time. Without fail.

We are in a transition period in business. When you meet with someone, what do you do beforehand? You look them up online.

What do you do after that coffee meeting? You look them up online.

What do you do when you're trying to figure out how you can work together? You look them up online.

What do you do when you're choosing between working with one person versus another person?

You look them up online.

Over the next few years, this is only going to become more ingrained into the way we do business. We can't help it--we make decisions based off what we see, and if all we see is an outdated presence online, we're going to assume that person is outdated. 

Personal branding is not that difficult. And yet, if you make the investment, and remain consistent over a long period of time, you will reap tremendous benefits.

Take what you know, and share it.

Take all those stories you have (that you willingly tell over coffee or drinks), and tell them.

Take the things that get you fired up about your industry (this post is a perfect example) and instead of keeping them to yourself, say them out loud.

Do that on a regular basis--more than one piece of content every 7 months would be a good place to start.

Watch what happens.

Like I said, I know how I felt as a teenager, back when everybody told me "you'll never be able to build a career on the Internet."

I feel the exact same way today. And if you want to stand out, if you want people to come to you, if you want to be taken seriously, then you need to start investing in yourself and building your personal brand.

Published on: Oct 31, 2017