Building a  personal brand can play a crucial role in shaping an entrepreneur's impact, both on his or her business and on their wider audience as a whole. A strong personal brand connects a face to the company, which is critical when it comes to helping people relate to (and remember) the brand itself. 

A powerful personal brand can be a million-dollar business driver, and an exceptional personal brand can even segue away from a business and into a million-dollar thought leader path lined with books, speaking engagements, and the like (think Gary Vaynerchuk).

There are some risks to consider when deciding if you should focus on building your personal brand over a business brand, particularly when it comes to selling a business, which this piece summarizes well.

If the personal brand path is right for you, here are five critical elements to set you up for success.

1.    Authenticity
The importance of staying true to your own style and beliefs can't be stressed enough. I have met aspiring authors who have flatly stated something like, "I want to write a book to convey the importance of focusing on business culture as a profit driver."


Great! I encourage them to send me an outline and some sample chapters whenever they're ready for a quick review. "Oh," they'll respond, "I'll probably need a ghostwriter. I'm not really sure what to say."

Hold it right there. This is a red flag that this person may not be writing authentically.  That will certainly come through in the final book because it will lack passion.

Even with a ghostwriter involved to pound out the words, the fundamental ideas need to come from the author. I would encourage this person to start blogging to gauge whether there's enough content and thought leadership to support a book before making a decision to write a book that isn't coming from the heart.

That's an example from my world, but you get the idea. If it's not true to who you are, it won't be very effective.

2.    Differentiation
Information clutter is rampant. Think about your own behavior when you're taking in a website, a blog, or even search results. You're in speed mode, as you need to be in order to slog through all of the noise.


Ultimately, you want your brand to be powerful enough that people share it with others - but first, you've got to get them to stop and take notice. This ties into authenticity because chances are good that the differentiation you're struggling to define is right under your nose.

Whether it's your experience, your business niche, your customer base, or your style and delivery, it can be hard to see what makes you different on your own. Look for the help of a branding expert to make sure you are clear on this right out of the gate.

3.    Consistency
Once the hard work of defining what sets you apart is done, refer back to it often and stay the course across all platforms. The messaging and visuals (headshots, website, etcetera) shouldn't vary between your website and social media networks, for example.


More important, your "voice" should carry across all of your content. Take every opportunity your audience gives you to share value as an opportunity to simultaneously reinforce your brand.

4.    Community
It's nice to be known, but a truly successful brand takes that a step further and has an army of passionate advocates behind it. While the word "community" has come to represent social media, it really extends well beyond that to capture your customers, your peers, and other like-minded people with an interest in your message. 


A thriving community has quantity to provide reach, but it also has quality to drive engagement. Going back to social media as an example, a social media footprint in the millions is not worth much if nobody reacts when you contribute.

There will be people who don't like you or what you have to say. Chin up: focus on serving the advocates and move on.

5.    Commitment
Building a powerful brand with all of the above elements takes dedication. Well-known brands are developed over years, even decades. There may be a few shortcuts but for the most part, it requires a serious commitment of thought, time, and resources (as do most million-dollar things).


Taking the initial leap is the fun part. Continuing to chip away at building a brand (especially in times when it feels like nothing is paying off) is where the truly powerful brands pull away from their less committed competitors. Go into it knowing it's hard work and plan accordingly.

As the proverb goes: The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the second best time is now.

Published on: Apr 6, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.