How can you grow your marketing career with just a few years of experience? Through the power of personal branding. You better get started now — just ask an accomplished and successful 24-year-old entrepreneur from down under.
Today’s guest is Lachlan Kirkwood, a digital marketing and conversions specialist who established ClickThrough — a startup that connects marketing talent with some of the biggest brands in the world.
Ben: Welcome to the show, Lachlan.
Lachlan: Hi, thanks for having me, it’s great to be here.
Ben: Absolutely. Would you mind taking a moment just to introduce yourself to our audience and explain what you do?
Lachlan: My name’s Lachlan and I’m a Digital Marketing Conversion Specialist and I have a background working in the industry across numerous tech startups and digital agencies. When I entered the industry just over four years ago, I took it to myself to build a bit of a personal blog where I could document my journey as a digital marketer. I started out with the intention of just wanting to share my story once a month with a bit of an update on something I was learning as a digital marketer, purely for my own self-benefit so I could have a place where I could practice writing content, something that I could look back on and reflect at in the years to come.
Over time, this just naturally scaled into a bit of a personal brand for myself which was really interesting. That one blog post a month turned into two, which turned into three, and then it turns into a podcast, a video series, and it kind of just compounded over time as people really started to see value in the content that I was putting out. They started following my journey as a digital marketer, so it was really good to be able to document that process.
About a year ago, I had built a big-enough personal brand for myself that I was able to make the switch to starting my own consulting which has been really good and to be honest, I owe a lot of that to my personal brand just because it was at the point where it was strong enough to bring in enough inbound leads to make it sustainable. At that time as well, I also shifted and started my own business called ClickThrough, which is a platform that helps digital marketers connect with jobs that they love. Again, my personal brand’s been such a valuable asset while I’ve been building that business and helping me get introductions to people in the industry, very useful.
Ben: Awesome stuff. You’ve touched on this a little bit, but let’s say that I’m skeptical of the value of personal branding, what would you say to me to persuade me as to why personal branding matters for marketers?
Lachlan: Something that I always like to say is that the most important thing for a marketer to be able to do is to know how to market themselves and personal branding is a great opportunity to do that.
As I’ve mentioned, when I started my own personal brand, I had no intention of building an audience or a business office side of it. My sole intention was to build a blog that I could have as a website and I could practice digital marketing skills on things like content writing, SEO, scheduling content across social platforms, and for a starting point as I entered the industry. This was just a really great way, like a test to really practice these skills.
Then over time, just really try to understand what my audience found engaging and then iterating my content around that. Again, that’s exactly what I do in my day-to-day role as a digital marketer. Being able to have (as I said) tested, to be able to build something there. Having my personal brand as a portfolio, which, as a digital marketer is always advantageous because when I was applying for job roles and things like that, I didn’t need to send in a resume or anything because I had all my content on my blog so that was essentially my resume. That really opened up some wonderful opportunities because people knew the skills that I had, they saw them in practice, they didn’t have to question if I could do a test or anything like that just because they knew what I was capable of doing.
Then the last point I kind of make is it just creates an audience that you can leverage. I think in a time where people are becoming brands [...], it’s really important to have your own audience regardless of what industry you’re in. Once you have an audience, you can monetize that in so many different ways if that is something that you do want to do, but it’s always just good to have that there in case you do get the business idea that you want to pursue.
Ben: Cool. I think for all the reasons you’ve just outlined, personal branding is obviously very important. Say I’m an in house marketer, I’m an agency marketer. Let’s say I don’t necessarily have aspirations of one day starting my own business or becoming a solopreneur, a consultant or something of that nature. I have a job, I’m working for a company, I’m not actively looking for a job right now. How would you build the case for personal branding to someone in that situation?
Lachlan: It’s honestly such a great question. I can completely say that it wouldn’t be something that’s a priority for a lot of people in that situation but again, there’s definitely a lot of different benefits that I found.
The first point I’d like to mention is that when I was working for digital agencies—I did about two years of doing that while I was building my personal brand and (again) at that point I had no aspirations of issuing a business of my own through that—the biggest benefit to having a personal brand while I was working at an agency was that it was a really good source of attracting new clients because people wanted to work with me, so even if they haven’t heard the agency, they just knew and trusted the work that I’ve done.
As I mentioned before, I had this portfolio of work that I was capable of doing in a way, so they’re just willing to work with me regardless of where I was. At that time, as I said, I had no aspirations of starting my own business or anything.
All that work was being funneled into my agency at the time. For me, it wasn’t like a lot that the agency was relying on, but it was something good to have. As a digital marketer, I almost paid my wage because I was bringing in new work and they could justify the value that I was adding to this business. I think that that was also just a really good feeling knowing that I was contributing to that business at the time.
Another good point I’d like to mention is that personal branding is actually a really good distribution channel as well, too, for some of these smaller businesses. If you are an in-house marketer or working at a digital agency for a kind of a small to medium business, a lot of these brands or businesses don’t have a lot of money to put into the marketing of their own, which is quite ironic especially for digital agencies.
If they’ve got a piece of content that they want to promote, instead of putting a couple of hundred or thousand dollars or so behind paid social ads to promote that, you can instead leverage your employees’ organic networks and you’ll find that on platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook (more so on LinkedIn), content that comes through a personal profile versus content that comes through a brand of profile sees much more organic engagement.
It’s definitely just a great way to utilize your employees as distribution channels. People tend to trust doing content that comes from other people more than it does for businesses.
Finally, I just think that personal branding is a really good way to encourage team members to remain active and on the edge of what’s happening in the industry. When someone is actively involved in the industry, practicing your things or reading your articles and things like that, it’s just a great way to save on the cost of new trends that change every single day as you probably know. It’s just a good way to save if that makes sense.
Ben: Sure, great advice on all of the above there. I feel like personal branding is something that gets discussed quite a bit in the industry, amongst chatter on social media. But I don’t always see a ton of actual practical advice on how to get started with personal branding, specifically, as it pertains to being a marketer. If I’m a listener to this show and I’m sold on the idea of I need to start investing in my personal brand for all of the reasons you’ve outlined, what’s the first thing that you would recommend that I do right now to start building that brand for myself?
Lachlan: It’s a really good point that you mentioned around not seeing enough content and how to get started because I certainly won within my network of my own. I tend to see a lot of people who have a personal brand and they always talk about the benefits of it but they never initially cement that first step of how to get started, which is so important for anything.
To be honest, my best advice as I mentioned before when I started my own initial blog is to just start small with low expectations in a way. I don’t mean that in a bad way as in not wanting to achieve anything from it but I just mean that like anything in life, if you have this big, gigantic goal at the end, if you don’t break it down, it’s going to seem impossible for you to get that.
A really good example of this I find is let’s say you’re a digital marketer in the industry and you want to start building your personal brand. Start by just jumping on a platform like LinkedIn, which is an existing platform so you’re not creating anything new, you’re not reinventing a wheel, and then just start engaging with other peers in your industry. Maybe one week you might start by just liking some content that you see that’s relevant to you by people you know within your network.
The next week, once you’re comfortable with that, why don’t you leave a comment on a couple of those posts? The week after that, why don’t you take it to yourself and actually create a post? Is there an article you’ve read or is there something that kind of provokes some thoughts that you have? Then eventually, like overtime, why don’t you consider starting a blog once you’re comfortable putting content out?
I understand that one of the biggest barriers, not just for digital marketers but a lot of people building a personal brand is the fear that they think that their opinions aren’t valuable enough. I think that starting small and taking those little steps along the way is just a great incremental way of overcoming that hurdle and it certainly was for me as well, too.
The other thing is to not be a perfectionist throughout that process. That’s where I came in with the whole idea of lowering of expectations in a way. You need to understand that at the beginning, no one really is going to care realistically about what you post because they might not know who you are or they might not have seen you enough to really keep their eye on what you’re publishing.
That’s actually a blessing in disguise because the content that you put out probably isn’t going to be perfect at the beginning and you need to be okay with that, but the beauty of that is because not a whole lot of people are looking at it, it doesn’t need to be okay. Over time, you’ll be able to adapt to the engagement that you get from your audience. You might find that certain people like certain different types of contents, it could be video, it could be you created a podcast and a lot of people like that as opposed to blog posts, you’ll know to double down on the podcast series then.
I think that the last point I really want to make about personal branding is that it should be based around storytelling which is a bit of a no brainer when you are trying to build a story of your own as a digital marketer. I think that you need to be honest and authentic throughout the whole process so share both the highs and lows because, with personal branding, the beauty of that, as opposed to another business, is that people want to see your flaws, they want to know that you’re human just like them, they want to be able to relate to you. I think it’s a really powerful tool to put yourself out there and share both the good and the bad about your journey.
Ben: Like anything in marketing, when you’re getting started with personal branding, it’s important to keep expectations low and understand that you’re playing the long game here. That doesn’t mean you need to sell yourself short or undervalue your own worth but it does mean you need to be patient and worry more about the value that you’re providing rather than the initial returns that you’re seeing coming back to you as a result of the work that you are putting in.
It’s like that old saying about how to watch the pot that never boils. If you start putting out some blog posts, some videos, emails, or whatever it may be, if you spend too much time worrying too much about what the data looks like or what your metrics and your analytics look like, it’s going to become very easy to just get discouraged and throw in the towel. Focus on your value, the value that you are providing and good things will come in time. Now, back to Lachlan.
This is also something you touched on there a little bit just as it pertains to people not feeling like their opinions or their views have enough value in order for them to put themselves out there in that way. The other side of that, too, is maybe even just having the confidence or the willingness to show some vulnerability and be like, “Hey, here’s something that I did that didn’t go so great,” or allowing their flaws to be exposed that way.
Do you have any advice for people who do feel like that is a barrier for them? Beyond just getting started and maybe saying expectations like fairly low to begin with, which I think is great advice, beyond that, is there anything that maybe worked for you personally to push past that fear or anxiety of putting that much of yourself out there?
Lachlan: To be honest, there was a really manual thing that I did at the beginning. It was just every day on my computer, I set a reminder of my lunch break that would trigger off every single day to post something and it would just help me hold myself accountable in a way. Come lunchtime, I would normally sit down and read some articles or something while I’m just taking some time off work and this reminder would trigger and it would just incentivize me in a way to share one of those I’ve had put out there.
The other big thing, as well, that I found was useful was to not look at the metrics around like how everything was performing. For the first couple of months, I didn’t really care about analytics in my blog or how many profiles views my LinkedIn profile had and things like that. Again, I just didn’t really have any expectations around that and I purposely didn’t look at that because like everything, sometimes it can be easy for some people to start but the real hard thing to do is remain consistent at it, and if you’re not seeing results immediately, some people might jump ship their [...]. It’s one of those things where consistency really is key.
Again, just knowing that it was going to take time and between setting that reminder every single day to make sure I was being persistent with it, that was really useful. One thing I use now which is a bit more down that track is let’s say if you do have a bit of a personal brand kind of built up. You’re just trying to understand what it is you want to measure from that. If you truly are just trying to build a bit of an image for yourself in the industry, it could just be you want to measure how many people are viewing your LinkedIn profile every week because that could eventually lead to new opportunities.
From myself at the moment, one thing I found really useful is utilizing things like UTM tags so I can create customer reports in Google Analytics so I can see where traffic is coming from a particular post that I put out. Then creating a custom conversion goal so that way I can then see does this post lead to any new leads on my website or anything like that. Really try to understand the value that comes out of it from there.
Ben: That’s a great answer to that. Once you’ve got maybe more established both in your journey as a marketer and through your journey in personal branding, specifically, are there any more advanced tactics that you found work best in your own experience? If so, what might those tactics be and how would you advise listeners to start applying those tactics themselves?
Lachlan: There’s a couple of things that come to mind. Again, it really goes down to what your goal is that you want to achieve through personal branding. One thing I found is that when I started my first business was just consulting but when I started my actual business, ClickThrough, the one I mentioned before, it required me to partner with a lot of companies in the States.
I recently just started building, trying to build a personal brand internationally outside of Australia (where I’m based) and one thing that I found really useful was using my personal brand again as a portfolio when I was trying to reach out to particular people working in companies. It was a really valuable tool to go to someone and then offer a cold introduction, be able to actually show them something tangible, to show them that I was competent in what I was doing. I wasn’t just someone else just trying to reach out with them without experience or without any know-how within their field. It really just helped me build that sense of trust around them that was being really useful.
The other big thing as I’d mentioned before, is just try to really iterate around what content you are finding gets the most engagement. I, for one, had a podcast, there is at one time, and then eventually, I couldn’t justify pursuing it because compared to some of the other forms [...] that I was publishing, it didn’t see the same engagement or it didn’t help me towards the goals that I was wanting to achieve. Being able to look at the data from that and say, “All right, this isn’t something I’m going to pursue.” Then turning that off and moving my focus to different mediums was something that every digital marketer should be able to do in an old job. It comes full circle back around to what I’d said at the beginning, like these are all practical skills that digital marketers can use within their field of work so it really helps through that process.
To be honest, one of the best tips I have was what I mentioned before just around that analytics piece. Really understand what it is you want to achieve from it and implement a way that you can track that so you know exactly what you’re getting.
Ben: For sure. Throughout this whole path that you’ve been on with personal branding, are there any mistakes that either you’ve made yourself or just common mistakes that you see other people making that you would advise marketers to avoid?
Lachlan: Certainly. I think that I kind of covered this before but like all businesses, I’m trying to treat my personal brand as a product or a business of its own, I think it’s so important to not get caught up in just wanting to pursue things like vanity metrics, how many people are viewing your profile, how many likes are you getting on your posts. If your objective is to purely do that, that’s great, that’s something that you should proactively pursue. But if you want to put all this time into building your personal brand and get something tangible out of it in a way, I think it’s really important to focus on a lot of the objectives. As I’ve mentioned before, measuring your goals based on the content you’re creating from your personal brand.
I tend to see a lot of people who just put out a whole lot of mediocre content in a way just for the sake of it. It’s good to see that they’re being consistent with it by all means, but it just doesn’t really add a lot of value to the industry. I think one of the most important things to do through a personal brand is remember that everything that you publish or everything that you do should be adding value to your audience and I think that that is easier to do through a personal perspective because value could mean a variety of different things to different people.
I think it’s easier to do from a personal standpoint. I tend to see a lot of people who, as I said, tend to spend a lot of content out there and it doesn’t really share any value that is kind of doing it for the sake of it to drive those vanity metrics up. If you can really double down on what it is that you want to achieve, understand how to measure it, and then provide value through it. I think that’s probably one of the best ways to avoid common mistakes with personal branding.
Ben Sailer has over 14 years of experience in the field of marketing. He is considered an expert in inbound marketing through his incredible skills with copywriting, SEO, content strategy, and project management.
Ben is currently an Inbound Marketing Director at Automattic, working to grow WordPress.com as the top managed hosting solution for WordPress websites. WordPress is one of the most powerful website creation tools in the industry.
In this role, he looks to attract customers with content designed to attract qualified leads. Ben plays a critical role in driving the growth and success of a company by attracting and engaging customers through relevant and helpful content and interactions.
Ben works closely with senior management to align the inbound marketing efforts with the overall business objectives. He continuously measures the effectiveness of marketing campaigns to improve them. He is also involved in managing budgets and mentoring the inbound marketing team.