This will be the first blog in a series called #BuildingMyBrand made to teach entrepreneurs and those alike how to successfully build a personal brand and open the doors to many new opportunities. This series is from my upcoming book, Fake It Make It. Learn more about it here.
When I was 15 years old, I was one of the coolest guys in high school; at least I felt like I was. It had been 5 years since I moved to the US from Haiti, I was starting to finally understand this strange language that you all call English, and I just graduated from the most dangerous place in the world… junior high school (those darn bullies).
But, high school was great! I was starting to learn more about who I was, I started writing music and poetry, and even had a girlfriend. Still, none of those were the reasons why I was one of the coolest guys in high school— I was so cool because of a hairbrush.
If you were a 15 year old kid, living in Brooklyn NY in the early 2000s, you had one mission in life… ‘getting 360 waves’. Waves was a popular hairstyle that most black guys, including me, use to wear. The process consisted of getting a short haircut (known as a dark caesar) and consistently brushing your hair until wavy lines started forming… thus, creating waves. Those who continued the process months after months would eventually get the waves that formed in their hair to connect; hence, 360 waves— And I was one of those people on that journey.
Like everyone else, I brushed my hair every chance I got; whether I was in school, at home, or in church. I even started looking for a smaller hairbrush that could fit in my pocket to make it easier to take my brush everywhere. I went to the beauty supply story and that’s when I saw a beautiful miniature hairbrush attached to a keychain. The next day I went to school with my new brush in my pocket but since my pants were really skinny (yeah I was a part of that fad too) the brush irritated my legs… and it just looked really weird. So I put my keys in my front-right pocket, and let the brush hang out of my pocket.
After wearing my brush consistently for months, it became a part of who I was. I made sure that every morning, before I left my house, I had my hairbrush hanging from my pocket. My schoolmates started identifying me as ‘the guy with the brush hanging from his pocket’ …and that’s when I became one of the coolest guys in high school. 😉
This went on for months and months and by that time, I had achieved my 360 waves. Everything was great, until one day, the brush broke! One morning while getting ready for school, I accidentally stepped on the brush and it broke in half. I was devastated and considered not going to school that day (yeah right, my parents weren’t having that). I went to school, like normal person, and hoped that no one noticed my brush was missing.
Numerous people came up to me asking me variations of questions that can be summed up to ‘where’s your brush?’ It’s as if they were disappointed in me.
But I don’t blame them!
That was the most consistent thing they had seen from me for the past few months. That was the one object that people mentioned when referring to me. And just like that, it was gone. It felt like I let the entire school down.
As you can imagine, it was a depressing day for a 15/16 year old.
When school let out, I went back to that beauty supply store to learn that they were sold out of those brushes. I went to a few other beauty supply stores throughout the week but I couldn’t find a replacement brush. And just like that, I was no longer one of the coolest guys in high school. Note: I’m sure in today’s time, I could’ve easily found this brush on Amazon.
What does this story have to do with personal branding, you ask? — Everything!
Hi, I’m Jacques, a 25yr old writer, designer, and college professor. After spending 5 years growing my social media agency, boogie, and many other startups (authenpicapp.com, trybreadcrumbs.com, etc), I decided to start this blog as a platform to help entrepreneurs learn from my mistakes and experiences.
I launched this blog exactly one year ago, and since then, I’ve helped a lot of entrepreneurs find their passion, raise money for their startup, design their company identity, hire their first employee, and more. By the end of this series, I hope to help many more entrepreneurs take the next step towards their professional career and build their personal brand.
Why Build a Personal Brand?
Whether you know it or not, you already have a personal brand. It’s who you are, the things you do, and the way you represent yourself. Your personal brand is the reason why your friends say things like “this looks like something you would wear” or “you’re late… that’s not like you”. It’s the type of haircut you choose to wear (ie. 360 waves), the places you choose to shop, the products you choose to endorse, and many more. Your personal brand is what makes you unique.
But what if I told you that it is traits like these that other entrepreneurs have used to earn millions of dollars doing the very things that they are most passionate about; whether it’s sports, fashion, design, music, movies, etc.
Today, we’re going to talk about using your experiences, skills, traits, and story to open the doors to more opportunities. Whether you’re looking to land your dream job at a startup, get more customers for your online business, attract attention from the press, and more, I will share with you the secrets and tactics that I used to grow my social media agency, get my dream wedding paid for (yes, free), get featured in articles on forbes.com / inc.com and get tons of speaking gigs… which in turn helped me get more clients, introduced me to more partnership opportunities, and more.
Let’s dive in.
Goals and Passion.
Do you know the #1 reason why people fail at exercising? — Here’s a hint, it’s NOT because they don’t have the time. Most people fail at exercising because they forget to do one very important little thing; set goals. Last summer, I lost 20 lbs in two months— and it felt great! When I think about the only thing I did different this time that I never did the previous 10 times… it was setting fitness goals for myself. I decided to set my target weight goals in the beginning of the process, and I worked everyday for the next two months to achieve those goals.
It’s basic psychology, and that’s why before you start anything in life, it’s important to determine why you’re doing it and what your end goal is. Keep in mind, they should be really clear, specific, and achievable goals, and not general goals like “I just want to see what I can get out of it”.
Let’s take a look at some examples of some really specific goals:
- I want to establish myself as an expert in my industry
- I want to attract new partnerships and/or new clients
- I want to grow my consulting / freelancing business to a team of 10 people
- I want to get a new job
- I just want to be the coolest guy/girl (like Jacques was in high school)
What ever it is, write it down somewhere that you will see it every single day, or at least set yourself a reminder to check back on it once a week. The more you see your goals, the easier it will be to stay focused on them.
Once you’ve decided why you’re building your personal brand, it’s now time to start thinking about what your brand will be about. To do this, create a list full of the things that you’re most passionate about.
Is it your passion to:
- Help animals?
- Give back to your community?
- Empower young people to start companies?
- Teach older folks technology?
- Exploring different cultures around the globe?
- Feed the hungry?
- Ui/Ux Design?
Make a list of 10 things or less that you’re passionate about. These will be very important once you start thinking about what to focus on, the types of content to create, the types of organizations to familiarize yourself with, etc.
Now that you have your list, consider what they may all have in common? Can some of them be categorized as serving the community? Can others be categorized as teaching young people? The goal is to get the list down to about 2-3 really strong focus points that you’re REALLY passionate about.
To ensure you’re really passionate about the items on your list, ask yourself these three questions for each item on your list:
- Can I talk about this passion for hours, non-stop?
- Would I stay up all night, doing something related to this passion?
- Would I do work related to my passion for FREE?
If you answered YES to all three questions, then you’re ready to move on to the next phase. If you answered NO to any of the questions for one of your passions, I recommend going back to your list and choose something else that will ensure that you answer YES to all of the questions.
What’s your story?
We live in a world full of entrepreneurs, social media specialists, web developers, writers, fashion designers, and artists. (And If I hear of another [industry] ‘guru’ one more time…). In order to standout, you have to ask yourself, what makes me so different from other people who share my passions? This is where your story comes in.
When I moved to the US from Haiti in 2000, my family didn’t have much money. This led to us moving from apartments to apartments, until we ended up living the only place we could afford, New York City Housing Authority buildings. We lived on the third floor of a small building in Red Hook, Brooklyn. I owned one pair of sneakers and shuffled most of my outfits throughout the week. I was actually one of those kids who appreciated the fact that schools had mandatory uniforms. That way, it was normal to wear the same thing over and over.
I can go on and on about my early time in the US but I made a conscious decision a long time ago that that wouldn’t be part of my story. I don’t want to be known as the entrepreneur that started out owning one pair of sneakers. I don’t want to be known as the guy who ‘got out of the ’hood’ although the odds were against him’. All of those are the reasons that I am the person I am today; but again, they’re not what I want to be known for. Which is why my story starts out in high school, when I was old enough to take control of my life and DO something about it. When I started producing music and selling instrumentals to ‘aspiring rappers’ in my school in order to have the ability to pay for prom. Or when I started fixing computers in my neighborhood in order to pay my cell phone bill. Those are the things that I want to be known for because they all have one thing in common… hustle!
But you’re not me, and that’s the beautiful thing. If the details about your days of homelessness is important, include it in your story. If you think it’s important to share about your previous addiction (or your current one) include it. You want to give your audience as much information about you that lets them know that they can trust you, as well as relate to you. If I was a body builder / personal trainer, then I’d talk about getting bullied in junior high school by a girl (to my defense, she was WAY bigger than I was). An easy way to ensure you’re staying within context with your audience is spending some time identifying who your audience actually is. How old they are, what things they’re interested in, how they dress, etc.
Make a list of things that you’ll include in your story, the audience that you’re going to be talking to, and use those lists to write a short bio (we’ll talk about what you’ll use this for later).
Take a look at my bio below and we’ll break it down a bit. I should note that I have shorter versions of this bio to be used for different occasions (ie. blogging, speaking, social media, etc.) and based on the audience.
Hey! I’m Jacques and I’m 25 years old. I was born on the island of Haiti and migrated to New York when I was 10 years old. I lived in Brooklyn, NY until I enrolled in college in 2008.
Before I even understood the true meaning of being an entrepreneur, I was identifying needs and investing/building solutions. While I was in high school in Brooklyn, I created and sold musical beats to aspiring artists. When I got to college (UAlbany), I ran a barbershop out of my dorm room; I ran a photography company taking professional photos for on-campus and local events; I also started and ran a graphic design company (from my dorm) which eventually evolved to adding web development services.
Every experience I’ve had early on has led me to my current ventures. I’m the CEO and founder of boogie, a design-driven social media + creative agency. I’m the founder of PrettySimpl, an online commercial print company, reshaping the printing process. I recently became the Branding Strategist at StyleHotels.com, a high end hotel booking company specializing in providing luxury, chic, and boutique experiences. I’m one of the co-founders and the Branding Strategist of Authenpic, an iPhone app on a mission to help us cherish the moments we share with our loved ones. The app turns your phone into a disposable camera and once you take 24 photos, you can develop these photos right from the app and they’ll come to your door in a few days. As of January 2014, I started teaching Interactive Design (mobile apps) at the University at Albany. And lastly, I run this blog hustlepreneur.co in hopes of using my past mistakes and experiences to help future entrepreneurs. I write about entrepreneurship, startups, marketing, social media, lifestyle and since most of my skills & abilities were self-taught, I figured why not share the knowledge and try to help others who may be in the position that I was a few years ago. So, if you want to chat, hit me up!
I recently proposed and married my college sweetheart, Dahcia Lyons Bastien. I proposed to her February 14, 2014 and our proposal video went viral. It made its way to FOX News who sponsored and recorded the wedding in NYC. A few other people/brands got involved in the sponsorship which led to Dahcia’s 25k wedding gown by Galia Lahav. Our wedding ceremony will air on a new TV show on FOX at the end of June 2014. Learn more about our story JacquesDahcia.com
Aside from business stuff… in my leisure, I enjoy playing basketball (see me on the court!), jogging, playing the guitar and listening to the great words of my mentor.
Let’s break this down a little bit…
Because my audience is younger (under 40 years old), I state my age in the first sentence. Instantly this eliminates all thoughts like “oh please, you’re probably a privileged old white guy who’s disconnected from normal life and has no idea what it means to hustle”. Now if you look at the first two paragraphs, do you see how I strategically jumped from coming to this country straight into my time in high school? It’s as if my elementary and junior high school days never existed. The most important learning moments in my life, just didn’t make the cut. Like I said before, it’s just not worth it to share.
I also list a lot of dates, locations, and names. This helps readers connect a little more because of similarities in dates, locations, and schools.
Then right after that, I jump into a few of my credentials and the companies that I’m involved in. At this point, I’ve already connected with the reader on a personal level, now I’m letting him/her know that they can trust what I say, I’m not as ‘new’ to this as I may seem.
Of course I couldn’t end it without listing two things that are very important to me, my wife (which can represent family), and God (who is referred to as my mentor in this bio).
Ps: My wife helped me write that bio based on my list of ‘things to include in my story’ that I wrote… she’s just wonderful.
Once the bio was written, I went back and added a few captions (for example, this is one of my captions). I added a few funny captions like ‘see me on the court’ when referencing basketball. Since I’m speaking to a younger audience, it does give me the liberty to be a little playful and comical with my content. My writing style includes a lot of personal stories, human tone, and transparency, but yours don’t have to be.
Here’s a little secret; your story can also evolve. If you read any of my articles before May 22nd 2014, you’ll see a lot less references to Dahcia (my wife) than you see in my recent articles (including this one).
So write your list of things to include in your story, use that to write your bio, and get it proof-read by a friend or colleague. Be sure to read it over and over and make necessary changes until you feel like your bio tells as much of your story as it can and represents the YOU that you want to represent.
You can’t control the way you are perceived,
you can only control the way you are presented.
Alright, let’s do a little recap.
Earlier, we talked a bit about why it’s important to build a personal brand and the different opportunities that can come from positioning yourself the right way using your brand. Then, we spoke about identifying your passion and setting the right goals for yourself and your future. Finally, we just finished speaking about telling your story and controlling the way you’re perceived while keeping in mind the audience that you’re speaking with.
There’s only one more component to building the foundation of your personal brand— your appearance.
Enhance your appearance (& add some accessories).
Oh, so you thought your personal brand was only going to live on the internet? You thought you were going to build this great online persona and never have to leave your computer screen? Ha… think again! I mean, someone has to sign the contracts and pick up the checks, right?
This comes without saying, the way we look plays a big role in the way that we are perceived; therefore this plays a big role in the different opportunities that we’re presented with. Don’t confuse this with famous sayings like ‘dress for the job you want’, although this is great advice. I only want you to make conscious decisions about the way you’re presenting your brand, offline.
I made a conscious decision, a few years ago, to enhance my appearance based on the way that I wanted to be perceived. I chose the haircut that I was going to wear (and no, it’s not 360 waves), I chose to wear colorful pants and blazers, I chose to consistently keep my hair shaped up, I even chose the type of cologne that I was going to wear. Majority of the time you see me, you get a consistent experience, and that’s what I go for. This makes it easier for me to stay on the top of anyone’s mind because they can categorize me as ‘the guy with the mohawk and the glasses’ or ‘the guy with the colorful pants’. I’ve also been called fashionable… little do they know, I just found a style that works for me and just replicate it by buying the same clothes, accessories, etc.
Here’s a video I found of me wearing one of my favorite outfits. Enjoy!
The process of consciously choosing different elements to add to your physical appearance can not only help you stand out but it can also be a fun exercise. The biggest and most rewarding aspect of enhancing your appearance is that it helps boost your confidence and confidence is just an attractive trait.
Some examples of things you can do to enhance your appearance and stand out:
- Get new glasses (take a look at WarbyParker.com)
- Invest in a gym membership
- Choose a different haircut/hairstyle
Determine your style and get new clothes (google image search:
style inspiration for men/women or hop on Pinterest to find the style that works best for you)
- Commit to consistent visits to the nail salon (if you plan on being the flip flops and jeans type of guy/gal)
- and many more…
Want to be perceived as young and cool? Then how about a cool new hairstyle. Want to be perceived as a fashion expert? How about a few accessories (scarves, hats, jewelry, etc.). Or are you going for creative? It may be a good idea to commit to carrying a notebook with you all the time. It may sound ridiculous but it works, and I’ll give you an example…
I’m a very shy person… although you probably don’t believe me. So when it comes to meeting new people, I’m forced to be more strategic than bold. This was the case when I found a special young lady that I was interested in. I could never get the courage to go up to someone and say things like ‘hey there, I saw you from across the room and I knew it was love at first sight’ or whatever corny lines guys say these days. When I graduated college and got into the business world, my shyness stayed with me.
There were times that I attended paid networking events but spent the whole time by myself (not speaking with anyone) since I was too shy to approach strangers… (by the way, when it comes to business, shy people are considered the late bird).
So I developed a new plan to overcome my shyness when it came to networking events. I bought a bunch cool accessories (conversation starters), and each time I went to a networking event, I made sure I had one of them with me. There were events where I brought along my fruit infused water bottle which was invented by a 15 year old, and other times I brought my coffee mug that resembles a camera lens. Either way, I noticed these objects helped me make much more connections because people saw them and instantly struck up a conversation with me. So, as ridiculous as these accessories may seem, or the fact that I wear pink pants at times, all of this stuff actually DO work.
And just like that, we’re done with the first part of this series: building the foundation of a personal brand.
As you continue to build your brand the next few weeks, here are 5 rules to abide by:
- Be Yourself
- Be Honest
- Be Consistent
- Never Stop Learning
- Give Back — as in share the wealth of information you acquire
- Identify your passion (write a list of 10 things then work that list down to 2-3)
- Set the right goals (decide on an ideal outcome for the rest of your career: become a famous blogger, get a new job at CNN, etc.)
- Tell your story (write a bulleted list of ALL the things that you think are important to include in your story, use those bullets to write yourself a bio. Be sure to get friends or family to proofread it OR email me your bio if you’d like my opinion)
- Define your audience (identify their age, job titles, location, etc.)
- Enhance your appearance (choose different elements to add to your physical appearance— a cool new mug, a notebook, a new hairstyle, new wardrobe, etc.)
Once you finish everything on this list, you’ve successfully built the foundation of your personal brand and are now ready to start developing it and attracting new opportunities.
Next, you will be learning about how to setup your social pages, how to claim your domain name (FnameLname.com) and how to create a website around it, as well as the importance of a URL shortener.
Now I need YOUR help. If you found this useful, I know _________ will also find this useful. In this case, _________ is a close friend of yours who would also like to learn about building his/her personal brand. So while I’d love for you to share this with your entire social network, I’d much rather you share it with __________ as they’d appreciate you more for sharing it with them. But you should also SHARE it on your social network as well. I look forward to hearing from you and __________.