By Peter Kozodoy
Last year, I turned 30. For some reason, I didn't take it well. I just hadn't achieved what I thought I would by this age. After a few years of triple-digit growth, my agency was stumbling as it churned out older clients and sought new, larger ones. I was also exhausted, deep into renovating my small house in a suburb of Connecticut. When I stepped back to look at my life, it just wasn't the image I had in mind 10 years ago. And yet, here I was. Honestly, I felt stuck.
I organized and wrote down my thoughts. As part of the personal branding process, I sat down to write a book. The book started as a methodology for marketing; a primer for all those business executives out there struggling to reach, attract and retain millennials, both as employees and as customers. It felt good to sit down, organize my thoughts and write down my beliefs in one place. But, what was even better was that the entire process forced me to reflect on my journey. Through the process of writing and self-reflection, I learned that I didn't just want to write: I also wanted to speak, mentor, inspire and more. I suddenly had an exciting new, re-energizing direction. If you enjoy writing, start with the topic you know best and don't be afraid to wander as you go. After a few iterations, you'll be shocked at how much value you have locked inside you.
Without a clear road map of how to turn things around in my business, I did the only logical thing any entrepreneur would do in this situation: I turned away from the problem entirely, and I launched my personal brand. It turned out to be one of the best, albeit accidental strategies I could have pursued. Here's how personal branding helped me gain clarity about my business challenges, and what strategies worked best:
I collected accolades from around the web. To launch my personal brand, I had to collect all of the achievements I had accomplished in my career all in one place. Just the process of collecting these accolades helped me feel better about the journey. If I've learned anything about being an entrepreneurial leader, it's that my own personal thoughts and feelings can have a direct effect on the outcomes of my companies. To find your own confidence-boosters, look to industry awards, collegiate honors and community or news features about you or your brand. Once you have a collection going, don't forget to put them on LinkedIn, your website, and anywhere people can reach you.
I decoupled myself from my business. Unencumbered by my company and my team (as amazing as they are), developing my personal brand meant that I could be free to talk to whomever I wanted, whenever I wanted, about whatever I wanted, and it was all on me. I was able to be myself and truly sell myself. In developing my personal brand, I asked myself what success meant to me personally, instead of what it meant as a function of my business. We entrepreneurs like to internalize business ups and downs. The personal branding process helped me overcome that psychological barrier. To start this process, ask yourself: Who would you like to meet? Who shares your passions? Who can inspire you? With your personal brand, you have both a story to tell and an excuse to get in touch. You'll be amazed at how many insights you can pick up from people you've always admired if you just take the time to reach out.
I asked myself what was hindering my success. When I submitted my book proposal, two agents responded favorably right away. Another two liked the premise but felt it was on the wrong subject. They saw a higher purpose for it; a book about truth in business and broader communication frameworks that exist outside the millennial bubble. Their ability to look at the project this way prompted me to ask a very important question of myself: "How can I get better at assessing my own highest purpose?" It dawned on me that, historically, I've always tried to achieve within the boundaries I'm given. I thought, "I know marketing, and therefore I should write about marketing." The only person who put this constraint on me was myself. Although I'm still a work in progress, I'm getting better at stepping back from situations and asking, "What is the best outcome I could possibly achieve, regardless of constraints?" Ultimately, I realized that only I could define the upper boundary of my own success, and you too can use these questions to eliminate your own mental boundaries.
My agency is doing just fine now. In fact, we're having another banner year. But more importantly, I'm having a great year with my new, personal brand. Now is the time to launch your own personal brand. The process of decoupling yourself from your business can be extraordinary, just as it was for me. Here's to just being yourself.
Peter Kozodoy is an author, speaker, serial entrepreneur and the Chief Strategy Officer of GEM Advertising. Follow him @PeterKozodoy.