The first step in building your personal brand

Ready to take the first step in building your personal brand? Check out the abridged version of this speech I delivered at the SOHO Conference for solopreneurs.

What is the first step in building your personal brand?

A great idea is useless if you can’t express it. I trade in ideas, but even I have a hard time explaining them.

Part of the problem comes down to words. Humans may be wired for stories, but latter day Shakespeares are thin on the ground. More often than not, our words come out garbled, half-baked or obfuscated (Note to self: use words less obfuscated than ‘obfuscated’).

But something funny happens when we tell stories with pictures instead of words. People light up like a Christmas tree.

It’s not an original idea.

One master of the simple presentation is Guy Kawasaki. He did a terrific slideshow as a preface to Garr Reynold’s book Presentation Zen. A book all about doing better presentations.

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Cool idea. Instead of writing a preface, he did what Garr was preaching – he created a simple visual presentation.

This simple idea can help your business. You can actually sell yourself visually much more effectively than you can with words.

Read more about the power of a visual brand in this post.

The template of a personal brand

So, what does one of these simple, visual pitches look like? Let me tell you how I figured out a template.

A while back, one of my clients said he wanted to refer my services to other CEOs. He asked me what he should write in the introductory email? How would I describe myself?

I told him I’m a brand consultant.

He laughed and said there were plenty of me around.

He was right. Every guy with a design program on his computer can call himself a brand consultant. And on the surface of it, nobody would see the difference. The term was completely diluted and devoid of any meaning.

So I told him to wait a bit.

I went home and put together a slideshow on what I do. But I did it from the client’s perspective. Here’s what it looked like.

I gave this slideshow to my client. He loved it. He sent it to the other CEOs. They loved it. I showed a few friends. They loved it too. Before you knew it, people were asking me to help me with theirs. They were even paying me money to do it. It turned into a nice little business.

It wasn’t smooth sailing, of course. I learned many things along the way. Perhaps the biggest learning was that the actual magic wasn’t in the slide show.

Anyone can make a slide show. And you’ve seen enough terrible slide shows to know powerpoint is more a curse than a blessing.

Finding the magic

The magic was in finding out what was amazing about a person and reflecting it back on them, and the world. That was hard.

My biggest discovery at this point was that most people can’t tell you what’s amazing about themselves. They usually jump to features and benefits.

To get the good stuff, I found, I had to talk to their clients.

They weren’t complex conversations. I usually only asked only two questions:

  • What does so and so do better than anyone else in the world?
  • What keeps you coming back for more?

Inevitably, the clients jumped to very human attributes. Not features and benefits.

For example, “Bob is a real grown-up in a sea of snotty know-it-alls.” “Sally calls me back.” “Jim listens without interrupting. Really listens.”

This is the sort of stuff that great pitches are made of. This is what real people, not imaginary client archetypes, want.

Oh certainly, you do have to put something about the product in there. But even then, you don’t really need to describe what the product does – just the results it’s created for clients.

Creating something this simple and charming works like magic on people’s lizard brains. The part of the brain that shuts down all interaction if it seems scary or confusing.

Having done about a dozen of these mini-pitches, I thought it was time to give them a name.

Worried enlightened consumers will stop buying your brand promise? Read this

SWDIDA: The first step in building your personal brand

I called them SWDIDA’s or So What Do I Do Anyway pitches.

We liked SWDIDA because, quite frankly, it sounded silly. And getting the .com for it wasn’t hard.

Plus it sounds nice when you say You Need a SWDIDA.

It’s got a 1950’s jingle quality, like You Can Tell It’s Mattel, It’s Swell. Or Nothing Sucks like Electrolux.

SWDIDA’s were fun to do. But I wasn’t really happy with them. I think we can do even better.

Because just when you think you’ve done a great job summing something up in twelve slides, you meet someone who can do it in one.

Or someone who can do it in one slide with no words.

I look at masterpieces of simple expression like the Krazy Glue construction guy visual, or the American Tourister luggage gorilla, with awe.

I was fortunate enough to work with a great designer at Rethink Advertising when I was doing the design of my book Didn’t See It Coming, so I’m happy to say I own one of these great visuals, even if I didn’t come up with it myself.

It looks easy, in hindsight. But, I can tell you from brutal experience, it isn’t.

Simple design starts with a powerful insight. I can help you find those insights. Here’s how.

The reward is worth the hard work

My own SWDIDA has well over 2000 views. How many strangers have voluntarily clicked on your resume that many times?

Many of my clients have used these simple SWDIDA’s to influence their website design. They’ve turned them into posters, trade show slide shows, they’ve put them on their LinkedIn profile. Simple ideas get good mileage without wearing out.

I would wholeheartedly recommend you try crafting a SWDIDA for your personal brand.

You may not get it right the first time. But as you work at it, you’ll get an appreciation for the simple, powerful thing you do for clients.

You’ll get a better pitch. (Speaking of better pitches, here are three investment pitch tactics to help you capture your audience’s attention, and hold it)

You’ll feel more focus.

And that’s why you need a SWDIDA.

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If you’re crafting your own brand, read Stop Busting Your Brand first, to avoid the most common mistakes brand builders make! 

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This story was first published in 2017, but has been updated in 2022 just for you.

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