Personal Branding Strategies for Authors
By Jeniffer Thompson, Monkey C Media
Personal branding is not a revolutionary concept, but it’s relatively new to authors. When done successfully, author branding will establish your authority, improve your online visibility, and solidify your reputation as a known quantity.
Here’s a little secret, most entrepreneurs and authors promote their books and services, but they fail to promote themselves. Create a strong author brand, and one-time customers become loyal followers and, dare I say, fans. By branding you, you build a lasting fan base.
Consider your favorite brands for a moment, brands like Nike, Coca-Cola, and Starbucks. The brand is not only the product—it’s the experience. More importantly, it’s the promise. We trust these brands because we know what to expect.
Starbucks, for example, sells coffee. Pretty expensive coffee, for that matter, and yet their success allows them to open stores across the street from other Starbucks. Their brand offers a promise. You’ve come to expect a Starbucks on every corner, free Wi-Fi, and a comfortable place to sit and work. It’s not really about the coffee. Starbucks makes good on its promise, and we appreciate that promise. Why? Because we know what to expect, and we trust it.
What’s your personal promise? How do you want people to describe you? What do you want to be known for? What experience or feeling do you want your readers to have when they read your books? What do you want them to do? Answering these questions before you begin your brand development will help you ensure that the language of your brand reflects your true passion and goals while also reaching your ideal reader.
As a writer, the fact that you can deliver your message to the people who need it most, and you can do it from the comfort of your own home (or Starbucks) is not just critical, it’s revolutionary, and it’s leveling the playing field. What I’m talking about is how the internet has changed the way we communicate. Getting the word out is no longer about how much money you have to spend on radio adverts and billboard signs; it’s about how well you know your audience and consistently offer them valuable content. If your message is packaged professionally, even better, your audience is more likely to recognize your brand and trust it. Then, not only do they remember you, but they tell others about you—they become invested in you.
Authors often ask me how to sell more. The answer?
- Know your audience;
- connect with them in a meaningful and memorable way; then
- stay connected.
In today’s marketplace, all of that is within your control. Defining your own personal style to resonate with your audience and developing your online presence so that others sit up and take notice are now highly doable.
Push You Out of Your Comfort Zone
When I think of all the writers who have accomplished great things and have had the most impact on our world, I think of the attribute they must all have in common: Courage. I want you to consider your courage as you uncover and shape your personal brand.
It takes a lot of courage to believe in yourself, step out of your comfort zone, and disrupt the norm. It takes courage to shout your truth to the world and trust that what you have to say is not only worthy but important, critical even.
Dream Bigger than You Did Yesterday
Throw out any self-doubt or negative talk that tells you that you don’t need a brand or that you can’t do it, and then dream big! Even if you think, “Oh, I could never do that,” dream it anyway. Give yourself permission to be creative and ask for what you want—if you have the courage to dream it, you are that much closer to making it happen.
The number one thing I hear from my branding clients is: “Who am I to have a brand? What makes me special?”
Here’s the deal. You are special. You have a superpower, a gift that makes you singular and unique. The key is to identify your superpower and then have the courage to build upon it and shout your message to the world.
Do you want to be famous, make a difference, make money? You gotta be honest with yourself. It takes courage to say: “Yes, I want to be famous!” Know your truth before you begin the journey. Are you willing to put in the work? It takes time, commitment, and sacrifice to make it big. You have to be willing to fail and willing to begin again and again. Be realistic. Simply throwing money at a situation won’t make it work. It might help short-term, but the long-tail of success requires the kind of passion and drive where you never take no for an answer. Not from you, not from anyone.
It takes courage to get out of bed every day and believe that you are worthy, capable, and unique.
Are You Ready? The Ten Steps to Personal Branding
Even if you have doubts, that’s okay, and you can still take steps and begin the journey toward your goal. Trust that you will build confidence and courage along the way. It’s the doing part that counts, ignoring the fear and doing it anyway. Self-doubt is common and perhaps even necessary; it helps us stay on top of our game, try harder, always learn and improve. Just don’t let it stop you from moving forward.
Having a brand can provide you with a roadmap that keeps you going, even when you feel like your self-confidence is waning. I have noticed time and time again that your brand’s momentum will keep rolling and will begin to take on a life of its own.
A personal brand gives you the ability to continually build upon even the smallest of achievements, capitalize upon all of your successes, stay relevant, and continually strive to improve, be better—to be great.
- Imagine Your Success Line to Help Illuminate Your Goals
I’d like you to take a moment and imagine your success line, that is, the line that begins right here, right now, and runs into the place in time where you have achieved success.
What does your success look like? Where do you live? How are you making an impact? What do you look like? More importantly, how does the world view this successful you? Are you famous? What do you get up in the morning and dedicate your life to accomplish? How do you feel?
Once you have a clear picture of what success looks and feels like, I want you to work backward along your success line and visualize the milestones you will need to meet to achieve that success. What items might be on your roadmap? Things like: publishing your book, speaking at industry conferences, contributing articles to well-known magazines in your field, giving a TED Talk, appearing on well-known podcasts, building a mailing list of fans … your roadmap items will be unique to you. These are your tangible goals, and even if they seem lofty, I encourage you to let them take shape. This is the making of your roadmap, your success plan, and it’s all part of creating your personal brand.
- Discover What You Are Willing to Invest and Create a Budget
Your budget is not just about money, it’s about your time, and most importantly, it’s about your emotional bandwidth.
When it comes to Money:
How much money can you comfortably invest? Get acquainted with both the low budget and the higher budget investments. Once you have a dollar amount in mind, you can budget for the things that will help build your brand in stages. You don’t have to do it all right now, but you need a plan to get it all done at a comfortable pace.
When it comes to Time and Emotional Bandwidth:
How much time do you have to invest? How much bandwidth? Ask yourself how you want to spend your time. How comfortable are you with performing or learning about the various tools available to you: blogging, social networking, podcasting, writing, video, speaking? In other words, uncover what gets you excited and brings you joy.
Contrary to popular opinion, you do not need to do it all. In fact, if you choose to employ methods that exhaust you, then those methods, and the time you spend doing them, will ensure that you never reach your end goal because you’ll end up broke, fatigued, and burned out.=
Know all aspects of your budget, and stick to what is comfortable—remember, this is a long-term plan. It won’t happen overnight.
- Claim Your Unique Voice
Please don’t worry about whether or not there are other people out there doing what you do. Demand for your type of ability is a good thing. It tells you that there’s an audience for your message. And no matter how many of “them” there are out there, there is only one you.
Here’s the key: what about your message is unique? Maybe you’re funny, or lyrical, or well-researched.
If this is hard for you:
- I encourage you to sit down with friends or colleagues. Ask them to describe who you are at work. Ask them what they consider your superpower to be. Ask them what you are good at, and conversely, what you’re not so good at. This exercise may require some serious self-analysis. It requires you to be open and honest with yourself and capable of hearing constructive feedback.
- I encourage you to develop a list of core values. Core values are the fundamental beliefs that drive your actions and decisions. These are the basis for making you unique and help you remain consistent and true to your brand. For larger companies, core values are handed down among the ranks as a barometer for acting and treating others, used as a guide to ensure that the company is on track. For you, it’s a reminder of why you do what you do and how you do it.
- What do you disagree with? Study your competitors and look for things that you disagree with. This may be the thing that sets you apart and ensures that you stand out.
- Know Your Audience
Your brand is ultimately your promise to your target audience.
Where is your audience? What social platforms do they hang out on? What magazines do they read? Where do they get their news? Knowing your target audience means understanding their needs and desires. Identify what your audience needs and how you can serve them. If you know what they need right now, you can provide value for the long term.
The most common answer to the question, “Who is your audience?” is all too often, and unfortunately, “Everyone.” Believe me when I tell you that your audience cannot be everyone.
“Everyone” is a tough target to hit. And if you try to reach everyone, you’ll reach no one. This isn’t as much about demographics as it is about targeting the one person who you’ll enjoy working with the most. I recommend that you identify a persona, or avatar, to serve as your ideal reader/client. Give this person a name and a history, and then think about how you can serve this one person. Write a letter to your ideal reader to help connect with this person. By thinking about how you can help this person, you will be more likely to connect emotionally.
- Know Who Influences Your Audience
I’m talking about your competition and the people who influence your buyers—these are the people who currently live and work in the space where your audience exists. They are fellow writers, authors, speakers, and thought leaders. These are the people you will learn the most from, the people you need to get close to. Ultimately, you only need to identify one influencer to find them all.
The Internet is a glorious place for research. If you’re not comfortable using search engines like Google, then you need to change that. And the only way to better navigate Google is to start navigating Google. Start by searching the name of one influencer. Google will then give you recommendations on the right side of your search results screen; it’s called: “People also search for…” followed by a list of possible influencers you can research.
Pay attention to how you search and which searches are most effective. Note the places where your influencer appears online, where she writes, the comments on her articles, what social platforms she’s active on (and which ones get the most engagement), who follows her and engages with her content, where she speaks (and the other speakers and influencers who speak there), how her bio reads, who she follows (because you will follow them too)—note it all, this is a great way to fill in those milestones for your roadmap.
Follow your influencers on social and subscribe to their newsletters. Comment on, and share their posts. Also, pay attention to ways in which you can help this person. What is missing from their narrative that you can add to? Do you see possible partnerships or collaboration opportunities? And, lastly, what are they doing that you can do better?
Set a plan in place to get close to your influencers and become known to them.
- Research and Collect Data
As you research, be sure to track it all—do not do this later. Create a tracking system that works for you (spreadsheets, Google Drive, a physical notebook that you carry in your purse, an App on your phone, etc.).
Every time a conversation inspires you, a podcast, an article, or you just randomly have a good idea—write it down. And, here’s the key, check in on your ideas once a week and create a system for putting these good ideas to work. Every ah-ha moment is another building block in the foundation of your brand’s success. That foundation must be content-driven, and this habit of collecting ideas will pay off in spades.
- Create Your Personal Roadmap
Remember your success line? Now it’s time to build the roadmap that will guide you to the end of the line. Create a plan to meet those milestones and schedule them for the next year—things like content creation, networking, article submissions, speaking, and social media. Remember your budget. Don’t over-commit, or your plan will not be sustainable.
Even just a rough idea of where you are going helps you get there eventually, but a solid plan (a roadmap) ensures that you not only get there but that you get there on time and budget. Plus, a solid roadmap ensures that nothing slips through the cracks.
Go back to your success line and visualize each goal in your mind’s eye; ask, What do I need to do to get there? Let’s say, for example, you want to appear on a TED stage. You’ll need a talk, a speaker sheet, a speaker page on your website, and a plan to get to the decision-makers who will invite you to give that TED Talk.
Reverse engineer your success plan to build notoriety and credibility. Begin with a list of speaker goals: how much money will you be paid to speak, where will you speak, how frequently will you speak, and what will you speak on? Research the people who are already speaking at that level. What do their brands look like? Where do they contribute content? Who endorses them? Who follows them? And so on, and so on.
- Make Sure Rich Content Is Part of Your Plan
Your roadmap will be unique to you, your industry, your audience, and your personal goals, but the one thing that every successful roadmap has in common is rich content—all of your content matters. Content is king whether it’s on your website, in an article you wrote, or in your marketing materials. Content is the only way to communicate your message, engage your audience, and get Google to rank you, and your website, as relevant.
Your website will be your home base for everything you do. The content on your website allows you to control your brand’s narrative and the actions of your readers. People will find you in various ways, but they will, hopefully, all end up in the same place—your website.
Develop a content plan. It’s okay to have a loose idea of what you will write about, and it’s totally okay to introduce new concepts, but you must do this strategically and mindfully. Begin by developing a list of concepts that you will write about. Play with new concepts and pay attention to what resonates with you (your joy) and your audience.
Plan on how you will release content and create a schedule to keep yourself on track. Recycled versions of your content will appear in myriad places on the internet as you contribute to blogs, periodicals, and books, as well as in social posts, comments, videos, podcasts, media interviews, and more. Every little thing you do counts; it bolsters your credibility and leads people back to your website. Speaking of, always ask for a link back to your website when you contribute content. Also, link to your mentions online and thank the influencers who helped you publish your works elsewhere. Link to those influencers to share their content, and they will do the same for you. This, my friends, is just the beginning of your visibility; it’s the basis for your plan.
- Make it Pretty
We have reached the part of the branding process that everyone expects to talk about—the visuals. Usually, the first thing people think about is the logo, but I’d like you to think beyond the logo. A successful brand is more than a logo—it’s a signature color, a typeface, a style, an attitude; your brand needs a consistent look and feel that will appear on your website, business card, email signature, customized social media accounts, one-sheets, and more.
What’s your look? How will people recognize you in every aspect of your brand? Are you edgy, soft, mysterious, professional, flippant, controversial, progressive, outrageous, cautious, or funny?
Keep in mind that the look you create needs to embody the feeling and tone of your voice—they support one another. From your logo and headshot to the way you dress, your products, giveaways, and even your social media posts, everything you create needs to follow a set of style guides that you establish from the beginning.
A cohesive look will tie it all together. A polished and professional brand instills trust in your audience. If you take yourself seriously enough to create a polished brand, your audience will take you seriously too, they’ll pay attention, and they will remember you and tell others about you. Bingo.
Branding is about resonating on every level possible and continuing to resonate as often as possible.
- Connect the Dots
All of your products and marketing collateral must support the brand. It’s time to review your assets to see if they fit or need an overhaul. Every piece in the chain must connect the dots of your brand. Each mention, product, piece of marketing collateral, talk, appearance, and even your email signature matters.
Check-in often. This will be part of the plan. It’s easy to put it off ‘till later, but if later never comes, then your roadmap will fall apart. Think about it, when you take a road trip, you need to account for heavy traffic, construction, and roadblocks. If you plan and check in, you can account for these minor inconveniences and adjust your plan. The same is true in business.
Tracking your ROI (return on investment) is the most obvious form of checking in, but there are so many little ways to check-in that will help bolster that ROI. Things like following your audience engagement (what content attracts the most comments, shares, likes, and click-throughs?) as well as tracking and understanding the impact of your website traffic are just as critical as knowing the number of book sales in a given month. What happened on the day you sold twice as many e-books as usual? Which article converted into a higher subscriber rate? What can you do to duplicate that success? How can you work that into your plan?
You’ll find that some of your efforts are ineffective. Knowing this allows you to adjust and spend your time more wisely. Time is perhaps the most precious part of your budget; you have a finite amount of time, and chasing your tail ensures chaos, not success.
I recommend that you set aside a specific day each week, month, or quarter and check in on the critical elements of your brand. You may decide to check in on some items more frequently to stay connected to your plan.
Here are some examples of items to include on your checklist:
- Website traffic: learn how to effectively track your unique visitors, most popular- and unpopular pages, bounce rate, and more, using Google analytics
- Content theme and website message (does it still ring true?)
- Social engagement: shares, likes, comments, click-throughs
- Blog categories: are they in line with your brand mission and core values, do they offer value to your audience, do they bring you joy?
- Posting calendar: create an annual calendar to guide you in your content development and posting strategy. Track which posts get the most engagement and adjust your calendar as needed.
- Website resources and tips: add value to your content regularly, schedule new resources and tips quarterly so that your content does not grow stale.
- Credibility: add endorsements, testimonials, case studies, published works, speaker topics, appearances to your bio and website often. Every little achievement must become part of the overall narrative.
- Public Profiles: every time you create an online profile, track it in a spreadsheet so that you will remember to keep it up-to-date; otherwise, you might forget about it, and it could turn into an anchor that holds you back.
- Bio versions: create several versions of your bio that you will use for different purposes, including a professional bio, a casual bio, a version for your book jacket, social media, a speaker bio, and a media bio. Track where these are posted and check in often to ensure that they don’t get stale. Also, make sure to update them with your latest successes (impressive appearances, awards, associations, and more). Your bio is your introduction to your potential audience; make sure it represents you in the best way possible.
Are you committed to yourself? It’s time to stake your claim, establish your authority, build your online identity, and develop a personal style that is not only memorable but also trustworthy. It’s time to create a personal brand that will legitimize your presence in your industry and turn one-time readers into loyal followers.
Dream it. Believe it. Commit.
Commit to the daily grind. Commit to picking yourself up and starting over again and again. Commit to the inevitable course correction that’s needed to reach your goals because no plan is ever perfect or static—just remember to keep your eye on your future success, and you will get there. I promise.
You Are Worthy of Loyal Followers
My favorite side effect of a well-developed brand is the aphrodisiac of confidence-building. A personal brand is the best confidence builder I’ve ever witnessed. As your message and brand begin to take shape and “it” begins to feel real, you will feel a sense of validation and pride that is absolutely contagious.
Trust that you are worthy of speaking your truth, and trust that your truth is valuable and needed. Like all other skill sets, it’s okay to take one step at a time. You are worthy of this time investment. Start small, but know you can grow your author power into a powerful, life-changing, earth-shaking brand.
Trust, my beautiful friend, trust.
Jeniffer Thompson is a personal branding expert, digital marketing strategist, and host of The Premise podcast. She is an author and speaker who delivers strategy-rich content and actionable tools that educate and empower authors. She and her husband, Chad, co-founded Monkey C Media in 2004 and have been creating author brands, award-winning book cover designs, and author websites ever since. She is a co-founder of the San Diego Writers Festival, serves on the San Diego Memoir Writers Association board, and is currently writing her own coming of age memoir. Visit MonkeyCMedia.com and listen to her podcast at ThePremisePod.com.