It’s become a cliche to say that people don’t do business with companies, they do business with people. But the dirty little secret of cliches is that a lot of the time, they’ve got a lot of truth wrapped up inside them.
The people who are part of a company do play a huge role in attracting others to that company. And it doesn’t even have to involve personal interaction…
When you think of some of the major brands in the world, what do you think about? You might conjure up an image of a logo, but I’d wager that more than likely you end up thinking of a person behind the brand.
Fashion enthusiast or a lover of Chanel? It’s impossible not to think about Coco Chanel first.
If you’re a sneakerhead, Nike is as much about Phil Knight as the shoes.
If you’re a tech geek and you think of Apple or Microsoft, the titans of each company—Steve Jobs and Bill Gates—jump out immediately.
If you’re an electric car aficionado, it’s difficult to separate Tesla the company from Elon Musk the man.
You might argue that these people are merely brand ambassadors, but they’re more than that. They represent the brand itself.
Even if you never met any of these people, it’s likely that your perception of the companies they built is filtered through their personal image.
Now, let’s apply this line of thinking to wealth management and some of the more well-known RIA firms in the country.
If you think of Carson Group, it’s impossible to separate the company from Ron Carson. Same goes for Edelman Financial Engines and Ric Edelman.
Those might feel a little like cheating, though, because their names are part of the company. How could you not?
But there are other examples as well. Your perception of Creative Planning is likely colored by what you know of Peter Mallouk, and United Capital (R.I.P.) was all about Joe Duran.
This little thought exercise is all leading up to one thing. Your company’s brand is built on the backs of the personal brands of your most recognizable team members.
Companies take on the personality, character, and values of their founder or CEO. If you’re a founder, that’s what you want, of course. But it also means that your personal brand has a major impact on the perception of your company, and how people view your business.
But beyond that, if you have multiple advisors on your firm and you want to build a stronger team, you want to help them build their personal brands too. It’s no different than Steve Jobs ceding stage time to Tim Cook (his eventual replacement) and other Apple executives as he began to step away from the company. A strong business has more than one lone central personality; it has many.
So as you think about the personal brands that form the nucleus of your company’s overall image, you also need to have a plan for developing those brands.
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You might be asking yourself, though, how important is it for financial advisors to build a personal brand?
I would argue that in a service-based business, understanding and owning your personal brand is even more important than in a product-based business.
Financial advisors offer services like financial planning, investment management, tax planning—the list goes on. But the most intricate and valuable thing you give to clients is personal financial advice. That’s not something that can be automated and it’s intricately linked to you as a person.
You’re the only one who can deliver the advice that you do, in the way that you do it. It’s as unique as each individual.
For that reason alone, establishing a personal brand around yourself is a critical part of building a sustainable, successful advisory business.
I’m going to take you through seven parts of creating a personal brand. Some are actionable exercises, and others are recommendations for how to approach life as a whole.
Act with Intention
You have a personal brand whether you know it or not, so it’s best to put the time into developing it. Your personal brand is simply what others know you for—and if you don’t try to control it, everyone else will shape it for you.
At its simplest, controlling your personal brand means living and acting with intention in all you do. It’s not just floating along in life. You have to slow down, assess yourself, and work to improve.
A good part of creating a personal brand happens in quiet moments. Socrates and Plato would probably be all about this process, because it’s focused on careful self-reflection.
If you feel like you’re not particularly good at self-criticism, you can always involve your friends. Text or call ten of the people closest to you or who you trust the most and ask them how they would describe you in three words.
If you like what you hear back, you have a good path to understand what you mean to others. Any negative feedback gives you a chance to spot weaknesses and improve yourself.
Identify what makes you different
It’s become a marketer’s favorite slogan: Be different, not better. It’s true for brands, but it’s especially true for people. This isn’t a trick question, either. Every person has certain aspects of their personality and their life that makes them a unique person.
You want to understand what those qualities are so you can amplify them when communicating with others. Leave a mark. Be memorable.
Look at your experiences
Personal brand has to intertwine with what you do best. Part of Derek Jeter’s brand is that he’s an incredible athlete, but it’s also more specific than that. He’s a Hall of Fame baseball player. It wouldn’t make sense for him to present himself as an expert sprinter just because he was fast on the base path.
You’re not Derek Jeter. Sorry. But you do have experience and expertise in other areas. Maybe it’s tax planning. Maybe you freaking love tax minutiae. That’s wonderful…and a little weird, tbh. But still, wonderful. Different strokes for different folks, right?
Build your brand around what you do best.
Focus on your passions
What you have professional experience in and what you’re most passionate about can be different things. My professional experience is wrapped up in marketing and communications and I am passionate about helping advisors communicate with intention, but what really lights a fire in my life and drives creativity in other areas is creating music.
Your passions can be more altruistic too. By now, I’m assuming a majority of people in wealth management know about financial consultant Tyrone Ross, who hosts a podcast for tech platform/digital custodian Altruist. But Tyrone is also super passionate about helping children across the country and raising up underprivileged and excluded people. He can use his professional experience to give a spotlight to those causes.
And that’s the sweet spot you want to hit—where you become known for what’s in your heart as much as, if not more than, what’s in your head.
Set your goals
In other words, what do you want to accomplish? What vision do you have for your life over the next five years? It’s not a business goal, it’s a personal goal. Maybe you want to start a charity in your hometown. What specific steps do you need to take for that to happen?
Once you understand your vision, that becomes a consistent theme in your life. Don’t hide it. Let people know about it. Talk about it on social media, put in your bio, ask others to join in, as appropriate.
Be who you want to be
There’s no “fake it until you make it” advice here. Creating a personal brand doesn’t mean putting on a mask in public or becoming someone you aren’t. Very much on the contrary, it’s about being yourself and being authentic.
You don’t have to become a public speaker if you don’t like public speaking. Communicate through a blog if you prefer. Or record videos instead of doing live ones.
Owen Wilson, a very successful actor and comedian, has never hosted Saturday Night Live. You might think that’s a little strange given that hosting SNL seems to almost be a right of passage for funny actors.
But the reason isn’t because Lorne Micahels doesn’t want him. It’s because Owen Wilson understands himself, and it’s pretty simple. Public speaking makes him nervous, so he doesn’t put himself in a position he knows is a weakness.
Building a personal brand shouldn’t be all about figuring out ways to bring more praise on your business or generate more revenues for your business. If your focus is going to be fully self-serving, do everyone a favor and don’t bother spending time creating a personal brand.
Like everything else, the reason behind creating a personal brand needs to be about helping others. By amplifying yourself, you put out a signal that helps people find you. But the real reason you want people to find you is because you believe in your ability to help them.
Don’t lose sight that an advisory firm is a service-based business. The core idea of service is to serve. Put in another phrase, it’s about valuing people over profits.
And you understand what makes you unique, and you use your unique gifts to serve others, your business reputation and growth will follow.
So be intentional about how you interact and communicate with others. That’s your personal brand. It’s who you are. Own it.