The term “personal brand” used to make me recoil. I associated it with people who proclaim themselves “thought leaders”, “gurus”, “ninjas”, and similar terms with very little evidence that they’ve earned these titles. Personal branding seemed to me to be the underbelly of the world we live in, where one person can gain a following and stake out his or her own little corner of Internet fame.

Then I sort of became one of those people, largely by accident.

I never started writing with the intent of developing a following or staking out any corner of the Internet. I just liked writing and knowing that there were people reading it.

I don’t think I’ve become a thought leader, but I do think I’ve accidentally developed a personal brand. And here’s the most important thing I’ve learned about developing a personal brand from my experience writing on this platform and others.

The return on investing in others far exceeds the return on investing in yourself.


That’s it. That, at least in my experience, is the secret. It’s not the education you received, the title you’ve earned, or the prestige you’ve gained. The fastest way to build a personal brand is to invest in the success of others.

Important in Other People’s Lives

A couple of years ago I heard Bruce Springsteen say, “I never wanted to be rich, and I never wanted to be famous. I wanted to be important in your life.”

Bruce (if you’ve spent the money I have on concerts and downloads, you can refer to him by first name) has incredible brand loyalty. Personally, I’ve listened to his music at the darkest, most hopeless moments in my life—and it has always helped me see a way up and out of that moment.

He achieved his goal with me, and his work has been an incredibly important part of my life.

You don’t need to be Bruce Springsteen to build that kind of brand loyalty within your network. You do, however, need to use his approach of becoming important in the lives of others.

Being Authentically Viral

Last year, after I started publishing online, a few people began asking for advice and feedback on their own writing. So I shared what I was learning, and noticed how strong some of those relationships became. As a result, I decided to proactively look and see if new connections were also publishing.

If my connections are publishing I try and give them some advice, or at the very least, like their articles when I see them in my feed.

The result of this active investment in the success of others has been incredible. Doors are opening for me that I never thought were possible.

So try this: the next time you get a new connection, look at their profile, and see if there is something they are doing or involved in that you could help them with. Share advice or send a quick message of encouragement.

Let them know you’re there for them.


When you do those things, when you invest in others you become authentically viral—meaning your influence grows because people are sharing your work and talking about you, not because you typed in the right set of keywords.

The reality is that very few people care about what you’ve accomplished, but they might care about who you are, and people caring about who you are is at the core of any strong personal brand.

But first you have to show them you care about who they are.

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