How Personal Branding Helps Drive Small Business Success

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“Sell yourself!” they said. “It’ll be fun!” they said.

Self promotion has always been difficult for me. Growing up, you’d almost be shamed if you are promoting or saying anything remotely positive about yourself or your family. In Chinese culture, this is “fake humility” (openly downplaying yourself while praising others) is a must in normal social decorum.

Casual conversations will always be like this…

Aunty (we call every older woman aunty): Wow, Brian’s so smart compared to Joey.

My mom: No no, he’s such a naughty kid, never behaving well in school.
I wish he was more like Joey or Ronald.

So, you can probably imagine how foreign it was for me to establish a “personal brand” and self promote.

But whether you’re good at it or not, personal branding is almost as important as your business branding. Some would argue they go hand in glove. In fact, if you have a company that functions in the digital space, chances are you’re already doing some rudimentary personal brand building without even realizing it.

But what is a “personal brand?” How does one cultivate one? And how is it beneficial for entrepreneurs to take time out of our busy days to focus on ourselves? Let’s break this down. 

Personal Branding 101

Personal branding as a marketing concept has been around since the ’90s. Author and columnist Tom Peters, writing for Fast Company in 1997, coined the term “The Brand Called You!” As he put it, “Regardless of age, regardless of position, regardless of the business we happen to be in, all of us need to understand the importance of branding. We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You.”

Reading the piece now (no, really, click the link and read it!) you’ll find it both quaint in its dated digital vernacular and scarily prescient! Because if 1997 was all about Brand Inc., 2021 is about Brand Inc., on steroids. 

Today, however, the idea of a “digital brand” just feels normal. Think about it – being online now is just what everyone does – I’m sure your grandparents have Facebook accounts. 

Social media marketing is also commonplace. Most people consult social media before they make a purchase, putting great weight on word-of-mouth referrals and peer group experiences. 

Now, take a little bit of “everyone’s on social media these days,” and mix in an ounce of “social media marketing,” and voila – you have the small business entrepreneur’s personal branding. 

Now here’s why it’s so important.

The Shift to E-Commerce

The shift to e-commerce increased exponentially when Covid-19 was declared a global pandemic. Obviously, consumers wanted safe, contactless shopping, and small businesses saw their bricks and mortar shops shuttered and needed a new way to do business. 

In fact, a PayPal Canada study in November 2020 found that, “Of all small businesses selling online, one third (34%) turned to digital payments only after Covid-19 was declared a global pandemic in March…and 69 per cent of online small business owners said selling online has made them more successful.” 

Those statistics clearly illustrate two important reasons why you should invest in personal branding: there are many, MANY, more potential customers in the digital space, but there are also many more potential competitors. 

And while it’s true, if you have an unlimited budget and a large marketing team focused on the bottom of the funnel, you might end up with higher returns. But I would argue that most small business entrepreneurs don’t have those kinds of deep investment pockets. Certainly not when you’re just getting started. 

There’s also that all important cog in the wheel – the buyer. Today’s consumers are digitally savvier than they have ever been, and for them, brand trust is their number one benchmark.

How Does Personal Branding Help Build Online Trust?

Today’s consumers are digitally savvier than they have ever been, and for them, the trust barometer plays a huge role when deciding where to spend their hard-earned cash. 

The numbers don’t lie. Research shows that 55 percent of those aged 55 and up, 66 percent of 35-54-year-olds, and a whopping 76 percent of 18 to 34-year-olds take note when CEOs of companies they buy from speak out on issues they care about. Gen Z and Millenials are most likely to make a purchase influenced by social media, and ecommerce brands that have active and engaged social media accounts snag 32 percent more purchases than those that don’t.