A personal brand is a term that has become so ubiquitous in marketing circles these days, it’s mostly used with air quotes. It might be cliché, but for most people in the YouEconomy, it’s the No. 1 key to success.
That’s because the YouEconomy—the movement of people leaving the workforce for entrepreneurship or solopreneurship, becoming businesses in their own right—is built on individuality, uniqueness and authenticity.
To succeed, you need a way to identify what you do, who you serve, and why people must pay attention and trust you. This matters regardless of whether your business is built on your personal expertise (great for freelancers and independent contractors) or you have a traditional small business.
I have learned a lot about personal brands by building my own over five years. My brand is unlikely but successful. My business helps single moms build incredible lives. Over a few years of creating a blog, podcast and social presence, I have attracted speaking gigs, a three-way bidding war for a six-figure book deal, and media invitations from some of the biggest outlets in the world.
This didn’t happen by accident, but by years of researching marketing strategies, by trial and lots of error, and by taking advantage of this exceptional moment in media history: our digital age, which makes wide-scale attention accessible to almost every person on the planet. This is what I’ve learned.
Go niche. Super niche.
By far, the biggest mistake made when building a brand is being too vague and broad. Feeds (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and others) are so crowded, it’s difficult to gain traction and easy to get lost. How do you stand out? The most powerful tool you have to break out and get a loyal following is to be ruthlessly niche. Let go of fear of alienating audiences. The more niche you are, the more loyal that core audience will be. It will also help attract fringe listeners.
In my business, there is a very narrow, specific theme to my brand, which actually attracts a relatively broad audience. On my blog WealthySingleMommy.com and my other platforms, I speak specifically to professional single moms. But many women who follow me are not single moms. They might be married or in a committed relationship and thinking about splitting, or single women exploring their family options. Other women are not yet in professional careers. Many men are interested in what I have to say. Everyone and anyone can be part of the discussion in terms of commenting on blog posts, social media and sending emails. But I always stay true to my niche: professional single moms. You will never find posts about how to get your GED, chase child support, or whether you should leave your marriage. That is not my brand. I am very clear about that in everything I put out, whether on the blog, my Like a Mother podcast, social media, and in interviews or speaking engagements.
One benefit of building such a niche brand is that it is very easy for others to understand and talk about, including the media. I tell people that my brand is “WealthySingleMommy: I help professional single moms thrive in their careers, sex and dating, and parenting,” and they immediately take note. Those words evoke a specific demographic, one they want to know more about. Remember: The media landscape is insanely crowded. The best way to stand out is to focus on a very narrow niche.
Another powerful byproduct of micro-niche marketing is connecting with powerful people in that space. In my case, influential women in business, media, publishing and other niches have found me when going through a divorce or choosing to have a baby without a partner. They connect with my work on a personal level, and often we forge a personal connection and friendship. What I have come to call my Single Mom Mafia promotes me in their organizations: Advocating me for media appearances, speaking gigs and other contracts. These paisanas believe in my work because it has helped them personally, and that helps us all professionally.
Listen to your audience.
The most important factor in my growth was that I learned to listen to my audience. I put serving single moms at the forefront of everything I do. For the first few years of writing, I mostly shared my own experiences and took an imperious tone in giving advice, choosing topics at whim. Then about three years ago, I made a critical pivot in my business: I started listening closely to my audience. Through their emails, and their blog and social media comments, I paid very close attention to their experiences, fears, joys and desires. Now I build my content and business around what single moms tell me they need and want.
“Let go of fear of alienating audiences. The more niche you are, the more loyal that core audience will be.”
One way I did this is by creating an auto-responder that women receive when they sign up for my email list. The note includes a warm welcome and asks them to respond by answering two questions: 1) What is your proudest accomplishment as a single mom? 2) What is your biggest struggle as a single mom?
These questions are powerful. Asking women to articulate their struggles is helpful because we all need to vent and identify our challenges. For me, hearing these helps identify pain points that I can then respond to in my content, communication, and in the products and services I offer. For example, women kept telling me they felt lonely and isolated. So I launched Millionaire Single Mom as a closed Facebook group. Every day 10,000 members blow it up with thousands of comments and posts, and they repeatedly share with me that the group’s support changed their lives.
One question in the email query—What is your proudest single-mom accomplishment?—is also powerful. Women often say they cry when I ask them that because they are so down and have such a poor self-image that they find my asking them to celebrate themselves to be life-changing. That sets the tone for my entire business and activism: Flipping the script on single motherhood and calling women to a bigger life for themselves and their families than they previously envisioned.
Create a movement.
One of my favorite business stories is the 10-Year Hoodie, a $98 sweatshirt that was the first $1 million Kickstarter campaign—thanks to its campaign to rile a textile manufacturing industry built on the need to frequently replace shoddy garments because of “planned obsolescence.” The 10-Year Hoodie’s initial marketing campaign included a battle cry: “Not everything should be disposable. Companies have systematically lowered your expectations to the point where it’s hard to know what to expect anymore. But it ends here.” By supporting their product, you became part of a social, economic, environmental and fashion revolution.
My friend and professional idol, Tiffany Aliche, built a digital media company out of her own frustration. She knew many successful black professionals who struggled to build wealth because, she felt, the financial services industry systematically ignored African-American women. Her brand, The Budgetnista, has grown into a community of 300,000 black women who are building their personal wealth. It works because of Aliche’s call to action to invest, save, pay off debt and create financial independence. Although this is not explicitly an expression of activism, it calls her audience to greatness in the face of institutional discrimination.
On WealthySingleMommy, my stances on several topics have evolved and been honed. One is my staunch stance against alimony and child support, and another is default shared parenting, in which mom and dad are presumed equal parents and by default granted equal legal rights and time with children. My positions on these issues are rooted in my passion for gender equality and moving our policies and culture away from stereotypical gender roles. These topics are polarizing, but that is great for business. Those who are aligned are the fiercest followers and the most loyal customers.
This article originally appeared in the February 2018 issue of SUCCESS magazine.