How Developing My Personal Brand Let Me Leave My Corporate Job
Ten years ago, I was doing the one thing I’d spent my whole life working toward: I was a practicing attorney. I’d been unable to find a job in sports as an attorney, but I was working at a mid-size firm that had been my top choice. Unable to remove sports from my life completely, I blogged about legal and business issues around sports in my free time — but little did I know that would change my life a few years later.
I started on my own free WordPress blog, which I swear my own parents didn’t even read. A chance encounter at work one day led me to a book deal with an academic press and the next thing I knew, I was on Twitter at the behest of my editor.
Many guest blogs, tweets, speaking engagements, radio interviews and TV appearances later, I found myself being hired away full-time by ESPN to be its sports business reporter. I had created a personal brand — albeit unintentionally — and it had changed both my life and my career forever.
If you’re someone who wants to actively create that change in your life, the good news is that you can intentionally develop a personal brand that supports your professional goals. In fact, you might already be well on your way and not even realize it.
Establishing a personal brand
One thing I found as I spoke to people with established personal brands, like author Gabby Bernstein and Steve Carbone, a.k.a. Reality Steve, is that none of them started with the end goal of establishing a personal brand. They simply began creating content that came naturally to them.”My goal has been to keep it real and trust that my authenticity will resonate. My commitment to being vulnerable and truthful is what supports my readers and audiences most,” says Bernstein, who is the No. 1 New York Times bestselling author of The Universe Has Your Back and has been featured on Oprah’s SuperSoul Sunday.
“Having a personal brand never even crossed my mind,” says Carbone, who is now considered the ultimate source for spoilers and inside information related to The Bachelor television series. “I wrote recaps for about six years just for fun. I hoped the right person would see my work and ask me to freelance.”
Someone once told me that your personal brand is the third thing people say about you when introducing you, after they say your name and what you do for a living. For example, when I was a practicing attorney I would get introduced at events as “Kristi Dosh, a young associate in our firm who’s writing a book on baseball.”
You don’t actually have to do anything to have a personal brand. It happens when others start to associate you with certain topics or characteristics — and that happens when you create consistent content or conversation.
Putting yourself out there and being consistent
Anyone can start a blog, a podcast or a YouTube channel. However, few people in my experience can stick with it and be consistent with their content over the long haul. It’s those few that can, however, who find their niche and establish a personal brand.
Russell Brunson does a great job distilling this down in his book Expert Secrets:
“Years ago, as I was trying to understand what my mission was and where I fit into my ecosystems, I set out on a journey to discover my voice. I started doing a podcast almost every day. I was publishing videos on Facebook live and Periscope every day — even when NO ONE was listening. It’s important to understand that when you first start, you are not posting these for your audience — you are posting them for you. Eventually people will start to follow, but initially it’s so you can discover your own voice.”
I blogged consistently for three years, including writing 178 posts in the 16 months before joining ESPN — an average of over 11 posts per month, nearly three per week. In addition, I was averaging nearly 20 tweets a day and speaking at universities across the country.
Carbone says he didn’t make money for six years.
“You have to stick with it, because you never know who is reading. The reason I got my first spoiler is because someone who read my blog came to me with information.
“I didn’t look for it — it just came to me. But, it came to be because I’d put in six years.”
That one spoiler got the attention of entertainment outlets and tabloids and brought Carbone his first advertising revenue opportunity. Within 18 months, RealitySteve.com became his full-time job.
Finding your niche
As Brunson notes, consistent content creation will lead you to your niche.
In the beginning, my niche was the business of baseball. Then, I broadened to the business of sports in general. And finally, I found my niche writing about the business of college sports.
The formula for finding a successful niche for yourself is discovering the intersection between your experience or interests and audience demand. In each of those niches, I focused on what I brought to the table as an attorney that was different from other writers in my space. Then, I tracked my analytics and wrote about topics that attracted a meaningful audience.
Carbone started out emailing his take on the television show Joe Millionaire to a few friends, who began forwarding it around until his email list became so hard to keep up with that he decided to start a blog. That show only lasted one season, so he moved on to The Bachelor franchise.
Although he’s tried having writers cover other shows, it’s never taken off.
“I’m not the guy who covers all of reality television,” said Carbone, recognizing it’s his focus on The Bachelor franchise that distinguishes him and has allowed him to grow his brand.
Bernstein, who’s known for her spiritual approach, says her niche found her.
“When I was 25 years old I got sober. In my sober recovery, I returned to my spiritual roots and felt called to teach what I was learning. I didn’t choose a niche, I followed a calling.”
The common thread in all these stories? Start by simply creating content or conversation around topics that interest you. Be authentic and take the time to develop your own voice. And with consistency, your audience will find you.
When their perception aligns with your intentions, then you’ll have a personal brand you can use to change your career and your life.