Why personal branding will become more important than a degree

Dec 07, 2011

Table of contents:

  1. Why personal branding will be so important in the future
  2. Why personal branding will be more important than your degree
  3. How you can start personal branding today
  4. Examples of people who are killing it in personal branding
  5. Resources

The rise of the Internet has meant that we now have many exciting new opportunities for the very first time. Once such opportunity is “personal branding”. It is now incredibly easy to build a following, gain reputation in an industry and become an authority in our respective fields. Personal branding can open up new opportunities in your career, create influential connections with industry leaders or allow you to create a business where people are desperate to work with you as an individual.

Here are the reasons why personal branding will soon be more important than your degree, what you can do to start your personal branding mission and some examples of some of the most successful people who are already taking full advantage of their own personal brand.

If you want to become successful in the future, you have to start personal branding now!

Why personal branding will be so important in the future

Personal branding is the task of positioning yourself as a thought leader or authority in a particular field. By building a following, and creating value incrementally, you will start to get opportunities that would of been unobtainable if you were just another person in your industry. By becoming a recognisable figure and a household name, people will seek you out and offer you opportunities because you will be seen a valuable person to work with.

Personal branding will have an increasing influence on your success at applying for new jobs or starting your own business.

The number of applicants for every new job opportunity is increasing year over year. As a candidate, you must ensure you have an edge over the competition if you want a chance of getting that next step up the career ladder. Personal branding will be the biggest edge you could hope for as you will already have industry connections and authority, something that takes years to achieve.

If you are thinking about starting a business, personal branding can be the difference between life or death. Imagine starting a business where you have no connections, no potential customers, and nobody to spread word of mouth recommendations that you are someone to work with. Now imagine starting the same business with tens of thousands of people who already know your name and recognise the value of your work.

Why personal branding will be more important than your degree

A couple of years ago I went to University and got a degree in Business Information Technology. At first, that was my edge for getting my foot on the ladder. Arguably I’ve reached the stage now where my degree really means very little to my future success. A degree is extremely valuable for your first couple of years in your industry. It shows that you have the skills, knowledge and the right attitude to work hard and achieve something important. But once you have had more than a couple of jobs, what you have achieved since your degree is far more important. A degree costs a lot of money and takes up 3 to 4 years of your life. After just a couple of years, your degree becomes a “nice to have” rather than a “got to have”.

Compare this to creating yourself as a brand. Personal branding costs nothing and can be done around working full time. The value of personal branding builds incrementally over a number of years. The more effort you put in, the more value you get out of it. After 3 to 4 years of working hard at creating yourself as a personal brand, you should have created a huge number of opportunities for yourself. A personal brand will continue to get more valuable as you put more time and effort into it.

If you want to read more about this, I suggest reading this fantastic post by Michael Ellsberg “8 Steps to Getting What You Want… Without Formal Credentials”.

Now I’m not saying a degree will become worthless. A degree is still an incredibly important part of a well rounded CV. A degree plus personal branding is the best route to go down, but if you are unsure about going to University, don’t think that you won’t be successful without a degree. And of course it goes with out saying that a degree is imperative for certain industries like law or medicine.

How you can start personal branding today

Here are 10 starting tips for personal branding. I’ve ordered them from easy to hard based upon how difficult they are to ingrain into your routine or how much time they consume. Once you can do all 10 frequently, you will be on the right track to start building your brand.

1. Subscribe to as many RSS feeds that you can consume on a daily basis

RSS is one of the best, yet most underused technology of the Internet. For those of you that don’t know, RSS allows you to subscribe to websites that are frequently updated. This allows you to create a “customised newspaper” of content that you are interested in. RSS allows you to consume a huge amount of content in very little time. It will ensure that you are up to date with your industry’s latest developments, and you will soon start to become a thought leader by synthesising the opinions of the established thought leaders in your field.

2. Create a Twitter account and start using it

Twitter is by far the best way to create a following on the social web. Twitter’s model of allowing a user to follow another user without permission enables you to create a following. Start by following influential people in your industry and observe how they are using Twitter to create connections and spread value. Also start following rising industry stars as they will be more approachable than the current crop of industry rock stars. Reply and start creating conversations around the topics you are interested in and when you can add value to what they have said. Now that you are consuming a lot of content from your industry, start tweeting out links to interesting articles and what impact they had on you. Slowly build up how many people you follow. It is far better to have smaller numbers where engagement is high, rather than following a huge amount of people you can’t keep up with.

3. Create and connect other social media profiles

There are now many different websites for sharing your activity and your life. If you want to become a recognisable figure, you will have to be approachable and allow people a view into your life. Part of the appeal of celebrities is that we can observe their lives. The same will be true if you want to build a following that cares about what you do. Start using sites like Instagram, Foursquare or other services that will indirectly build value. By humanising yourself, and showing an insight into your life, you will build a stronger, more engaged following.

4. Start using Tumblr or Posterous

Creating content is the most important aspect of building your personal brand. Over the past couple of years, blogging has been fragmented into 3 key areas.

First there was blogging, where you would typically write in depth pieces that spanned multiple paragraphs. Creating a good blog post is time consuming and therefore requires the most effort and dedication.

Next services like Twitter introduced “micro blogging”. Twitter is limited to 140 characters and is a way to systematically send out micro updates. Twitter takes the least effort as it is “on the fly” content creation.

And lastly, there are services like Tumblr or Posterous which sit in the middle of Twitter and a full blown blog. These services are more about sharing shorter posts, or even just pictures or videos. They require a little bit more of an effort than Twitter, but it is the next logical step for creating a following and it will get you into the good habit of creating regular good quality content.

5. Start commenting and interacting

Now that you have built up an RSS reader full of good content and you’ve started following some industry leaders and rising stars, it’s time to start interacting. Narrow down your RSS reader to a handful of sites that you enjoy reading the most. After you’ve read an interesting article, post it to Twitter and leave a comment on the site. Only do this if you actually have something of value to say. It’s pretty much pointless to leave a comment saying “Great post!” but if you leave a comment that offers an insightful opinion or you can add something to the post, then this will be a great way of increasing your following without actually creating content from scratch.

6. Create a WordPress site

WordPress is an opensource piece of blogging software that is used to create over 10% of all new websites. The WordPress community is now so large that every possibly thing you would want to build into your site will have already been made by someone else, and all of this is free for you to use. There are also many examples of businesses that are making money from WordPress by selling premium plugins or themes. In order to progress your personal brand, you will have to start creating content in some form and posting it to the Internet. WordPress is one of the best (not the only way) of doing this, and it is extremely easy to use. You can set up a WordPress site in minutes and be up and running with your first blog post within an hour. WordPress is also extremely powerful and can power even the most highly trafficked commercial sites.

If you want to get started using WordPress, sites like WooThemes or Theme Forest have a huge range of themes that you can buy and quickly install so that you have a professional looking site in minutes.

Creating content is really the backbone of being successful in the pursuit of personal branding. There are many different ways to create content on the Internet. But if you can get into the habit of creating a good blog post every couple of weeks, you will slowly start building a following.

7. Start posting to YouTube or Vimeo

Everyone is different and everyone has different ways of expressing themselves. If you are not much of a writer, but you are a good talker then YouTube or Vimeo might be perfect for you. Whenever you have an idea for something interesting to say, record it on your phone and upload it to YouTube. It doesn’t have to be perfect, don’t worry about lighting or sound, just get it recorded and uploaded.

Video has two important advantages over written content. Firstly, some people don’t want to read a lot of content, but are quite happy to watch a video instead. Your videos will appeal to that kind of person. Secondly, YouTube is the second biggest search engine! By uploading your content to YouTube you automatically already have a good chance of people seeing it.

There are many good examples of people have used YouTube to build up a following for their personal brand, examples include;

8. Start personal projects

Creating content is an excellent way of building up reputation, but it can get a little bit monotonous. One way of breaking it up is to pursue interesting side projects. If you can build a successful side project, you will be well on the way to gaining a following. Side projects can also be very viral as they are usually more fun than a blog, and it will give you an opportunity to show your range of skills.

Some good examples of successful side projects are, Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische, CSS Tricks by Chris Coyier and Tinyproj by Kyle Bragger.

Remember, making money shouldn’t be the number one reason for starting a side project. A side project can super charge your pursuit, but they can also be very time consuming. Pick something you are genuinely interested in doing, something that you are happy to spend your time on, even if nothing comes of it.

9. Build a high content, regular updated website

Once you are in the habit of creating good quality content on a regular basis, it’s time to push harder. Creating a regular, high quality website will become incredibly time consuming, so you must be dedicated to your goal in order to achieve it. The rewards of creating such a website are super charging your pursuit of personal branding and finally monetisation. Once you have reached the stage where your website is getting a good amount of traffic, you can start exploring the many different ways of making money. A good example of someone who has achieved this is Chris Spooner. Chris was able to reduce the amount of freelance web design he needed to take on because of the success of his two blogs Spoon Graphics and Line25. This means he can now spend more time creating content for his websites and working for himself, rather than creating websites for other people.

Some other good examples of high quality and frequently updated websites are CSS Tricks and Abduzeedo.

10. Help others and keeping pushing hard

The final tip is actually two points combined into one. These aren’t tangible things, but rather a shift in attitude that will help you a great deal in your pursuit.

  1. Help other and expect nothing in return At first people won’t care about anything you have to say or anything you do. It takes a long time and a lot of effort to become a trusted authority. One way you can help this process along is by reaching out and helping other people. By helping others without being asked to do so, you will build strong connections with people that might one day provide you with the opportunity you’ve been looking for. This isn’t about what you will get in return, more about what you can do to help others. As I mentioned, this is a shift in attitude. You should help others to build connections, don’t even think about getting something back in return.

  2. If you are not getting rejected, you’re not trying hard enough Chris Dixon wrote a fantastic blog post about getting rejected. Basically, if you are not getting rejected on a day to day basis, you are not trying hard enough. Keep pushing to make connections and build value. For a long time your websites will get zero traffic and whenever you reach out to someone they will ignore you. Keep pushing to make those connections and don’t get disheartened if your websites don’t immediately start getting floods of traffic. One day all your hard work will pay off.

Examples of people who are killing it in personal branding

To finish of this post I want to give you some examples of people who are really killing it at personal branding and some further reading and resources so you can continue learning. These people have built up and incredibly loyal audience of followers by creating value on the Internet. Each of these people are now major names in their industries. Look at what they have done, and how you can emulate their techniques to build a personal brand yourself.

Gary Vaynerchuk

A while ago I read Gary’s first book Crush It. Gary is a great example of someone who has used the Internet to build themselves into a personal brand. Gary has a regular blog that makes good use of video and has launched three very successfully companies in Wine Library, Daily Grape and VaynerMedia. Crush It is a fantastic resource of building a personal brand, I highly recommend that you read it.

Chris Spooner

I’ve already mentioned Chris a couple of times in this post so I don’t really need to tell you again what he has achieved. Chris is a good example of building a personal brand to create a new lifestyle for yourself.

Glen Allsopp

Glen is the founder of ViperChill, one of the best resources for viral marketing on the Internet. Glen has created an incredible personal brand that allows him to live anywhere in the world. ViperChill is Glen’s platform for sharing his knowledge and building an audience of trusted followers. Glen, much like Chris, now makes his living from his personal brand.

Jessica Hische

Jessica Hische is a letterer and illustrator. She is well known for her side projects Daily Drop Cap, Should I work for free? and Don’t fear the Internet. Jessica is a great example of someone who has used her side projects to create a platform to showcase her incredible talent.

Ryan Connolly

Ryan Connolly is a director who produces the two Revision3 shows Film Riot and Film State. Ryan is a great example of someone who is producing Internet content in order to enhance his career offline. By building an audience from Film Riot and Film State, Ryan has positioned himself for his future career success. He now has an audience to launch new projects and has built a strong sense of trust through is genuine recommendations, help and film making advice.


Finally, here are some books and blogs that should satisfy your thirst for further reading.



Philip Brown


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