In the midst of the pandemic, a plucky entrepreneur founded a company designed to help business owners, CEOs and MDs craft profitable personal brands. When all face-to-face contact was all but forbidden, companies left, right and centre were forced to run their businesses exclusively online, and with this came a new challenge.
For Sam Winsbury, founder of Brandly Personal Branding, the pandemic was a turning point for many business leaders. No longer able to interact at trade fairs and conferences, CEOs suddenly had a laser-sharp focus on their personal brand – and how that was represented online. Winsbury works with business owners to build their personal brands, with the aim of creating a more accurate representation of these leaders online, ultimately geared towards bringing in new business.
Since it was formed just 6 months ago, Brandly Personal Branding has already helped over 20 business leaders build their personal brand. We were itching to sit down with Sam Winsbury and find out more about his success, ambitions and tips for personal branding, in the Covid era and beyond.
Hi Sam, thanks for chatting with Colour Me Social! Tell us about your background prior to Brandly?
I was actually a student. I’m not too long out of uni, although I’ve been writing blogs since I was 17, and I started posting on LinkedIn to get freelance marketing work when I was a student. So that’s how I got into the personal branding space. I didn’t intentionally move into personal branding but it happened as I was doing freelance marketing work; I started to have clients reach out to me.
What was the moment when you were inspired to start Brandly?
I was a 19 year old with business owners reaching out to me to help with their own LinkedIn profiles and their personal brands, and as soon as people started reaching out I knew I had to create an agency that would build and manage personal brands for execs and directors. Rather than just teaching people how to do it, I intended to take on the work and deliver it with my team. So, when I graduated from Uni it was the perfect time to set it up.
I always had a desire to work with some of the best business minds in the country, and this is my way of doing it.
What was it like to form a company straight out of university? Did you ever experience imposter syndrome?
Yes, even now sometimes. I think ‘you have ten times the business experience than I do, yet you are asking me to help’… it’s crazy, but if you have a service they need and can produce results for them, everyone’s happy. I had to do a lot of work on overcoming imposter syndrome, I wouldn’t say I’m completely there yet. The more people you work with the more verification you get that you can actually do it.
How do you help business owners, CEOs and MDs?
The overall aim is to build a more accurate representation of their experience and improve their reputation online, ultimately to create new business. We want to take as much of the work off their hands as we can. It might take the form of writing and distributing content over LinkedIn, trying to get their thoughts on things that are going on in the industry and advice they can give, and then packaging it up in the best way possible so it reaches the most people. It could also be blogs, getting featured in publications like Business2Community and Entrepreneur, finding podcast appearances or running PR pieces.
It’s ultimately about getting their knowledge and their advice in front of as many of the right people as possible.
Why, in your opinion, is personal branding so important these days?
In general, I think people are getting tired of business branding , particular in the corporate b2b space. Business brands aren’t necessarily very human, and I think consumers have lost their trust with them. For me, personal branding stands out as it’s built on a human to human level, but still at mass scale, so you can still reach lots of people, but it doesn’t have that impersonal feel that you often get with business brands.
It shows that directors genuinely care, and that they know what they’re talking about and live their business. Ultimately it’s a marketing strategy for business- I don’t think it’s the only one that should or can be used but it’s a really really good way of connecting to your customers for a lot of people.
What does personal branding mean in the Covid-era?
We’ve seen a massive spike in people who are interested in building their personal brand as their offline reputation isn’t as strong anymore. People come to us saying they used to go to trade shows and pick up clients there, which you can’t do any more. Even when you can do it again, I think personal branding will be important as you can do it online – you’re not limited by the number of people at that trade show.
Whilst we’re on the topic – what was it like for you to start a business during a pandemic?
It was strange, but it did help me out as everything was going digital. I had already been consulting for a year before that so I wasn’t completely new to it. I had the summer to establish the company, and was in the trenches setting everything up, and then from September it really took off as a result of people realising they needed to be online. Thankfully, setting up the business was quite smooth, but I’m not sure it would have been if I didn’t have a couple of years preparation beforehand!
How do you see personal branding evolving in the future?
The content you produce is the engine behind your personal brand, so the focus will have to be on really high quality content, as lots more people start to take up personal branding and start to shift online. There is already a saturation of content, and 99% of it is probably ineffective. I think people will become more and more dissatisfied with the majority of content they are seeing. If it’s just done as a box ticking exercise so it ends up being low quality. The people who can demonstrate insight and knowledge beyond that surface level content that everyone else is producing will stand out a lot more.
You can talk about platforms and algorithms of course – LinkedIn is really effective now but it might not be forever, there are new platforms like Clubhouse shaking things up, but ultimately if you can produce really high quality, actionable, engaging content you will always be in the conversation regardless of platform, algorithm and the medium.
How do you help people to leverage LinkedIn?
When we start with a new client we do lots of background work on their profile, and make sure it’s optimised to convert viewers into new business. LinkedIn is almost like an advert, a website and a sales page in one – so it’s really important to have that clear target audience as that’s going to determine a lot of what we do with the content.
The content does a lot of the heavy lifting, so we’re producing and publishing content on linkedin that people actually want to consume. Typically there’s three goals we’re working towards – firstly to reach a new audience, secondly to improve trust and relationships with their existing audience and thirdly in some cases, but not all, convert that audience into new business. All of the content we produce and everything we do is tailored around doing those three things.
What are the main challenges you see your clients facing when it comes to personal branding?
There are a couple of familiar challenges. Firstly – time. We hear this a lot. Executives just don’t have the time to produce content and spend time on LinkedIn. The other is not knowing what to say, which is an interesting one, as they live and breathe their business, often 12+ hours a day, yet converting their knowledge into something they can share online is often very difficult for them. The third challenge is that the space is saturated, and if you don’t know what to say and don’t have time to dedicate to LinkedIn, then the things you’ll be producing on the site will probably be low quality.
What’s the most powerful piece of personal branding you have seen?
Although it’s tempting to go with a big name like Steven Bartlett or Ben Francis, I’m a massive fan of the personal brands that have less celebrity status. There’s a lot I like but if I had to choose my favourite it would be Dan Knowlton, and his brother Lloyd Knowlton. They run a digital marketing company in Kent and produce hands-down the most entertaining content around – it really stands out on Linkedin. Typically when you think of LinkedIn you probably wouldn’t imagine going on there and laughing at a piece of video content whilst learning things as well – the way they combine humour and education is like nothing I’ve seen before.
I think a really good measure of good content and a memorable personal brand is if you see their name in the feed and stop scrolling before you’ve even seen the content or what it’s about. If I see Dan Knowlton or his profile picture I know I’m going to watch that video because they’ve built up that great reputation. I’m not part of their target audience but if I was I think I would be handing over my credit card details!
Since we’ve been talking about successful LinkedIn profiles, have you got any examples of common bad practice on LinkedIn?
A really common one is poor headlines, where the first line or two doesn’t grab your attention and doesn’t come across as remarkable. Typically, these will be everyday comments that at times come across as needy – it’s not coming from a place of expertise and knowledge.
Secondly is any content that is surface level. If I can go to Google and find a page of articles telling me exactly what you’ve told me, then it’s probably not that remarkable.
Finally, what’s the main piece of advice you would say to anyone that wants to build their personal brand on LinkedIn?
Share high-quality, unique insights or conversation-worthy content and do it as consistently as you can over a long period of time. If that’s only once a week, that’s fine, just keep it consistent and focus on producing as much high-quality content as you can.