In this tome, I will talk about lessons I learned from a conversation with Ashish Kila (a friend from MDI) on personal branding. When I showed him a draft of this one, he said that this is more of Networking 101. I disagree and I think I will let you decide.
A quick intro to Ashish Kila (AK)
AK manages Perfect Group and apart from all the fabulous work around value investing and the impact he has had on his community, he has worked really hard on his personal brand to improve his network. He has ensured that the right kind of people know him for the right kind of things. I mean talk to anyone from the world of value investing and there are odds that they would have heard about him if they aren’t friends with him already!
So, as a practitioner and student of branding and marketing, I sat with him and tried to decode how he’s done this.
Before I launch into what he said, some disclaimers…
- This is based on my notes from the meeting that went like a whirlwind. AK had so much to share and I had so little speed with my scribbles and notes. So I may have missed a lot of what he said. I may have also attributed things to him that he may not have said. AK, I am sorry for this.
- I am presenting the conversation as a set of “lessons”. AK did not make this classification into lessons per se.
- These “lessons” are in a specific order – each lesson builds on the subsequent one!
What is a personal brand?
If I am going to post this 2000-word tome on how to build one, I better define it.
Your personal brand is nothing but the sum total of your reputation, the value of your word, the experiences that people have had with you, the after-taste they are left with after they meet you, the kind of work you do (quality, quantity, timeliness, etc) and more such things.
And why is personal branding important?
Well, the information economy we live in, every opportunity that comes to you comes because of your personal brand.
Gone are the days when people would look for the absolute best person to do a gig. Sounds counter-intuitive but clients these days would rather work with a reliable person. And not with someone they don’t know, even if that person is THE best ever.
So, unless you are like furniture in your workplace, you will need to work on and cultivate your brand.
And, without further ado, here are the lessons!
1️⃣ Lesson 1.
If you are an entrepreneur just starting out, you are the face of your brand! And rather than investing in a brand for your company, work on building your personal brand and you’d notice that it would rub off onto your business!
In AK’s case, post his MBA, he joined the business that his father started decades ago. When AK started working with his father, as the cliche goes, he was fresh out of the boat and he had to work hard to create his brand in the value investing world. And of course, with time, that has helped the brand Perfect Group.
This is probably the biggest lesson for me. Even though I am a marketer for hire, I have remained behind a veil all my life. If I want my business to flourish, I need to be out there a lot more. After all, I am the biggest advocate of my business! I thus need to work hard on my personal brand and that means work on content and appearances (and heck, even put my photo out there).
2️⃣ Lesson 2.
Identify themes that you wish to be identified with.
Malala – Women’s rights
Bill Gates – Software, Global health
Piyush Pandey – mustache, advertising
Ranveer Singh – irreverence
Sanjay Bakshi – value investing
Get the drift?
And EACH thing you do MUST be a part of that one theme. And the theme must be so simple that a 5-year old must be able to understand that.
An easy way to think about themes is to think about the hashtags that you would want to be identified for.
Lemme elaborate on AK. He clearly stands for three things, IMHO. Value investing, Community, and Leadership. Each thing he does – teaching, mentoring, masterclasses, tweets, blog posts, etc serves one of those themes.
If you are someone like me that chases multiple things, pick and choose three hashtags that you could stand for!
And here is a question for you. What are your themes?
For me, all my life, I have taken pride in being a Jack of all trades and thus have remained all over the place when it comes to my personal brand. I met a friend the other day and he said that no one knows for sure what I do! But now, after this session, it will change. I will stand for creative entrepreneurship, startups, and impact. Yes, these are fuzzy. I need to work hard on my brand. Will evolve with time.
3️⃣ Lesson 3.
Each thing you do MUST add value. If you can not add value, forget about trying to build a personal brand / network.
AK is known so wide and far because he is out there helping others, connecting them, gifting them books (relevant I must add), being of use. And tangible use at that. There are enough and more armchair activists. A conversation with AK adds real value. To a point that I’d be happy to pay him.
If you want a network / brand, you MUST add value. Around the themes that you want to be known for!
4️⃣ Lesson 4.
One easy way to add value is to create content. This could be a blog post, a podcast, an interview, a well thought out tweet, or a simple link that allows your followers to derive value from.
Content is like compounding. It takes consistent effort over the long-term to see the tsunami of results.
And like compounding, sooner you start larger the results.
Like compounding, start with a bang! Start big. Let the law of numbers work for you! You can’t expect to do tiny things if you want an enormous impact.
Oh, and each piece of content must have a well-planned distribution strategy. It is no longer enough to just churn out valuable pieces. You need to take them to places where your audience is!
A simple and powerful tip that AK gave me? Find a publication that has a wider reach than you. And write for them. I am on it.
5️⃣ Lesson 5.
What you do on SM is important!
On Social Media, most people (apart from your friends and family) follow you because they get to learn from you. And what you post adds value.
So, each piece that you put on SM, it has to add value. And it has to be a part of the theme that you wish to be known for.
Oh, please stay authentic. And while you are being authentic, please ensure that your content is relevant for your audience.
6️⃣ Lesson 6.
When in Rome…
What he means is that you need to tweak your content and appearance and message and conversations for the Social Media channel you are on. A tweet is different from a FB post and is different from a LinkedIn conversation. And so on and so forth. Most of us are guilty of trying to fit the same thing at all places. I commit an even greater sin – I am inactive on most channels apart from Twitter.
So, identify the channels you want to be on.
Create things that would do well on those channels.
In a format that will get the most relevant eyeballs (most relevant; not just most).
7️⃣ Lesson 7.
Engage engage engage!
Identify key people in your domain.
Look at various channels that you think your target audience is on.
And engage with them.
And ensure that EACH engagement adds value.
Also, the channel could also mean things beyond the Internet. For his community work, AK has to take out hours to be present at community meetups, industry forums, and whatnot. Yes, there is life beyond the Internet.
So, engage. At the place where your audience is!
I do this but I am yet to see the results. I am largely on twitter and I’ve made lists of marketers that I like and respect and I try to engage with them. May be I don’t add enough value? May be I need to tweak my filters?
8️⃣ Lesson 8.
Jo dikhta hai wo bikta hai.
Anyone from India would know of this adage. Translated in English, means whatever is visible, will sell.
So, get out there and seek out opportunities around your personal brand. And ensure that the word is out there.
Yes, it is time-consuming.
Yes, it’s a lot of effort.
Yes, there are hardly any tangible outcomes.
Who said it was going to be easy?
A Network / Personal Brand takes a lot of work to cultivate. AK has invested a lot of time and effort into it. What we see right now is an outcome of hard and consistent work that he has put in over the last so many years!
9️⃣ Lesson 9.
Use technology to your advantage.
AK mentioned that he uses Whatsapp broadcast lists to share relevant things with relevant people. He also mentioned that he takes copious notes on each person, each meeting. He knows where to slot who. He knows what will move who. He knows who to reach out to when he needs help with a certain thing.
It is such a simple and yet powerful idea. While I am pretty adept with tech, I think I need to learn this.
To be honest, when I was meeting AK, I did not expect to learn so much about networking & personal branding from a “financial brain” but guess that’s how life is – hits you from unexpected places when you are off-guard.
Also, AK has kindly agreed to help the readers of this letter! Please do reach out to him. He is on every platform you imagine 🙂
Also, apart from these 9 things, some other notes that I took that I can’t seem to slot into a lesson are…
- Think long-term. The long term is 10 years. Not 10 days.
- Iterate. Tweak. Experiment. There is no formula for what works. What works for AK may not work for you. And vice versa. Some people are plain lucky. But you will have to put in serious time and effort to be able to do this.
- Students are your best bet when you want to get feedback on things fast. They are smarter than you (like all newer generations than you) and they have zero context. Thus they are fearless and can question the very tenets that you stand for. The lesson I am taking away is that I will approach all colleges around me and try to be their marketing SPOC and challenge my understanding of the discipline.
- Testimonials. Videos. AK is a big advocate of this. Even though report after report pointing that video is what people consume more than anything else, I have my reservations. I will let you decide.
- A great rule of thumb is that assume EVERYthing you put out on SM will end up on your CV for your prospective clients / employees / partners / colleagues to see and dissect.
That’s about it.
What are some of your “tips” for building networks / personal brands?
And like I asked you in the beginning, I think this is a piece on personal brands. AK thinks this is more apt for networking. What do you think?
Met AK and wrote this in Sep 2019
PS: One more thing.
AK did not really give out this advice but it occurred to me while I was talking to him.
Planting seeds is to seed opportunities that have the potential to grow.
Lemme give an example to further illustrate this.
Even when you know that a certain conversation will not lead to your personal brand, please engage. Plant that seed. Let the world know. And then let that grow. Create opportunities. Wait till you get lucky. Law of numbers. Create chances so that serendipity strikes you. Say hello to that poor fellow who’s got the middle seat and is jealous of your window / aisle seat.
This post, for example, has nothing to do with the themes that I wish to be known for. And yet I am putting in time (took me about 2 hours – yes I am slow) to write this. I am planting this seed. This will hopefully make me known a tad more. This will probably get a larger audience than my SM presence can ever get.
Originally posted to the subscribers of my weekly newsletter, Shoulders of Giants. Subscribe to it here.
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