Build your brand and eat like a king forever. Ignore your brand and starve like a mendicant waiting for scraps. This post is about how to build a stronger brand for your business, your blog, or your career.
A brand cannot be developed over night. It must be carefully nurtured. Along the way, your brand may suffer or change with the environment. You must always keep working on it.
This post will talk about how to build a stronger brand. Once you've developed a stronger brand, you will receive more opportunities in your career. You will build more trust. Finally, a strong brand creates pricing power.
Why Build A Strong Brand?
A strong brand makes everything easier. Here are some specific benefits:
- Your clients will respond to your e-mails and return your phone calls.
- Your managers will promote and pay you better.
- You will gain more respect from friends, family, colleagues and clients.
- You'll receive many more phone calls from headhunters and competitors.
- Your conversion rate will improve.
- You can leverage your brand to sell multiple different products.
- Your clients will sing your praises, developing a strong referral network.
- You'll be able to raise your prices and improve your margins.
- You'll have a much more defensive product during a downturn.
- You'll be invited to more parties, events, and conferences.
- You'll be comped free meals, lodging and travel expenses.
- Other brands will give you their products to try for free.
- You'll be contacted with more paid promotional activities.
- You'll develop a stronger recurring revenue stream.
- You'll be more proud of the work you do every day.
I've still got a long way to go with Financial Samurai, but I'll share with you my thoughts on branding after spending time working with creative agencies, consulting for a couple marketing departments, and slowly building my own brand over the past seven years.
How To Build A Stronger Brand
Step 1: Earn Your Reputation
When you first start out, you have zero credibility. Nobody will care what you have to say. As a result, you must earn your reputation by doing the following:
- Work harder than your peers
- Never whine or complain
- Give, give, give
If you do these three things for at least a year you will earn a solid reputation for being dependable. If you start expecting to be the best without giving the best effort, however, your reputation will break down. Once entitlement enters the equation it's game over.
To build my reputation online, I read and commented on hundreds of other sites in the personal finance space for a good two years. I participated in discussions, provided feedback and wrote guest posts every month on a new site. Eventually, other bloggers and readers began to take notice. When you're at the bottom, you must give freely.
Related: Blogging For A Living: How Much Can You Really Make?
Step 2: Stay Committed
Brands have history. The longer the history, the stronger a brand tends to become if it remains committed to its client base.
Financial Samurai was born in 2009, during the depths of the financial crisis. The goal of the site was to help make sense of the chaos by connecting other like-minded investors.
Now Financial Samurai's main objective is for everyone to achieve financial independence to maximize happiness. Readers have stuck around because they know I am committed to a consistent publishing schedule. Nobody would bother sticking around if I was an erratic publisher.
See: The Secret To Your Success: 10 Years Of Unwavering Commitment
At work, no manager will invest extra time and effort into you if they feel you will leave for a better opportunity a year later. The more committed you are, the more other people will be committed to you. Over time, your brand will naturally build until the point where other people have to take you seriously.
Before a client can commit to you, they must know you are committed to them.
Step 3: Create A Value Proposition
What makes you unique? Why do people want to follow you? Why must someone buy your product instead of someone else's product? Why must someone pay more to hire you? If you did not exist, who would take your place? How do you want people to remember you? Your value proposition should answer all these questions.
Here's the Financial Samurai value proposition:
- An author with a finance background. Working in the finance industry for 13 years, getting an MBA from Berkeley, and writing 1,200 articles over the past seven years helps give comfort to readers there's a high level of credibility.
- Financially independent before starting FS. When you are already financially independent, there is less of a desire to sell your soul to the highest bidder. This means not writing incessantly about bad credit card offers just because the referral payout is so high. The products highlighted on FS must be free or must save someone a significant amount of money over time.
- First-hand experience. Money is too important a subject matter to be left up to pontification. If I don't have experience about a particular subject, I will tell you so, or I will invite someone who does have experience to share their wisdom.
- Writing quality. Every article takes 5 – 10 hours to write on average. After they are published, I will often spend another 1 – 3 hours making improvements based off feedback from the community. Each article is built from the ground up with a thesis. This way, you are assured that you are reading something original, not regurgitated.
- Entertainment. I have a rule that I only want to write articles I want to read. In other words, articles need to inform, teach, or be entertaining. When money is not the main driving force behind my writing, I can afford to publish articles that provide little monetary value e.g. How To Get Your Parents To Pay For Everything As An Adult.
- The financially savviest readership online. The best articles have the best comments. I firmly believe you, the Financial Samurai community, have the most financial insights to share on the internet. Your own financial statistics are top notch. No wonder why there's so much value in the comments section.
Take the time to create your own value proposition.
Step 4: Decide On Your Best Image
Image is important. Not everybody can be beautiful, but everybody can take steps to put forth their best image.
- Get in better shape. A 2007 NYU study found that women who were obese earned, on average, 18% less than those who weren’t. Those who were overweight also had 25% less family income. In a June 2012 issue of the Journal of Labor Research, researchers have found that employees who regularly exercise earn 9% more than those who don't. If you don't want to get in better shape for your brand, then at least get in better shape for your health and family who depend on you.
- Dress appropriately. There is a time and a place for everything. Dress the part and own your presence. Invest some of your money in select pieces of clothing that fit your body and make you feel like a million bucks. The better in shape you are, the better you will feel. The better you feel, the more confidence you will have.
- Improve your vocabulary. You can either incorporate new words into your speech, or you can thoroughly grasp new concepts that will inevitably make you sound smarter. Practice writing and speaking every day. You will improve.
- Develop a signature look. Choose something you are comfortable rocking, and consistently rock that something. For example, you might want to be known for having bright red glasses like Sally Jesse Raphael. Or perhaps you'll adopt a custom blue blazer with a pink handkerchief to all your meetings. Be memorable.
- Do not be delusional. One of the biggest mistakes people make is thinking they are more attractive than they really are. As a result, they'll plaster their face all over their website or choose truly awkward pictures of themselves on LinkedIn. Get feedback from strangers and acquaintances about how you look when branding yourself.
Financial Samurai Image
Financial Samurai is an interesting case study because I don't market myself. Instead, I market a samurai mask. The mask symbolizes all of us in our quest to achieve financial independence sooner, rather than later. The mask is fierce because the road to financial independence is not easy. We will constantly battle temptation, our egos, competition, regulation, misinformation, and unfortunate circumstances that threaten to kill our way of life.
Consider hiring a professional designer to create the best image you're looking for. My mask and logo were professionally created by Colleen KS. It's worth spending up for quality design. Website owners should choose a color scheme, a descriptive tagline, and a layout that is easy to navigate.
Finally, it's extremely important to host your own domain in a *.com manner. Having *.wordpress.com or *.tumblr.com gives brand equity away to another company, just like having email@example.com gives brand equity to Google. Instead, you should have an e-mail address that says firstname.lastname@example.org.
Step 5: Do What You Say To Build A Stronger Brand
If you promise to have the best customer service, then you better respond to every e-mail and phone call in a cordial manner like USAA. If you promise to publish 3X a week for a year like Financial Samurai, don't say your family got in the way after you haven't published for a month.
Financial Samurai used to receive a lot of hate mail from readers who thought my goals were unreasonable e.g. shoot for $200,000 a year in passive income. Seven years later, despite the site being 10X larger, there is 90% less hate mail because readers have seen that I've consistently done what I've promised e.g. reached my $200K passive income goal in 2017. Now I have a new goal of reaching over $300K in passive income by 2023.
The point of doing what you say is to develop trust. If you are an honorable person who consistently shows your commitment, people will trust you.
Step 6: Be Consistent Across All Marketing Platforms
Everybody should have a succinct one-page resume that tells the reader in under 10 seconds why you rock. Beyond the resume, there's your LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and other social media profiles that will probably do you more harm than good. It's important your brand is consistently reflected across all of them. If not, make the inconsistent profiles with your party pictures private.
Of course, everybody should have their own website where they have full control over their brand. Your own website can be used for:
- Humanizing your brand by telling prospective clients or employers who you are, what you like, and what you enjoy doing.
- Legitimizing your company online. Today, you do not have a business if you do not have a website.
- Selling your own product and services.
- Selling someone else's product and services.
- Finding new consulting clients.
- Finding a new job, even though it's not explicitly said.
- Creating a community of like-minded folks.
Not every website has to be a blog like Financial Samurai. Your website can simply be your proud flag in the interwebs to allow people to understand who you are.
Be consistent with your images, colors, and message on every platform.
Step 7: Leverage Multi-Media
Be seen. Be heard. Be read. The more media platforms you can leverage, the better your reach and the potentially stronger your brand. In the beginning, focus on the media platform you are best at. Spread yourself too thin and you may burn out. Once you've built a good portfolio of content on your favorite platform, then you can practice on others.
Although each post on Financial Samurai takes hours to write and edit, writing comes easiest to me. I have a podcast where I publish a new episode every week or two on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Spotify. It's a way to connect with the audience and provide more authenticity.
I'm rarely ever seen, which is my largest branding hole. But I am regularly featured in major publications like CNBC, MarketWatch, and People.
Step 8: Create An Emotional Connection
A brand should make you feel something. Typing on a Macbook Pro makes me feel a little more creative thanks to Jony Ive's fantastic design and British accent. Showering with Molton Brown body wash makes me feel a little cleaner. Playing tennis in Nike flywire shoes makes me feel a little faster. Driving a Honda Fit makes me feel like a sexy man given I can park in 25% more spaces in SF. Sleeping at a Holiday Inn Express unfortunately doesn't do anything for my brain yet.
I want every Financial Samurai reader to come away feeling smarter, more understanding, or more motivated than before they arrived. Some of the writing strategies I use include telling a story, discussing a failure, or playing both sides of the field to utterly confuse the reader into what I'm truly trying to say. Without emotion, a brand loses its luster.
1X1 Connection Is Important
The reason why I spend so much time responding to comments is because I want to make as many connections with as many readers as possible. I like to show readers there is a real person with feelings behind each post.
I promised myself long ago that if I ever got big I would never ignore the readership. With difficult times here due to the coronavirus pandemic, I'm more dedicated than ever to help people through this difficult period.
There is immense joy in learning from other people, even those who do not agree with my views. By creating an emotional connection with my readers, perhaps some may be more inclined to share my work or lend a helping hand in the future.
Build A Brand, It Is Forever
They say that it can take a lifetime to build a reputation, and a second to throw it all away. Continuously work on building your brand. The stronger your brand, the easier life gets.
I hope this post has helped give you insights on how to build a stronger brand for yourself, your career, or your business.
Now is more important than ever to build a brand so you can stand out from the crowd.
Recommendation To Build A Stronger Brand
There is no business without a website today. No consumer will take you seriously if you don't have an online presence. If you're looking to build your personal brand for career growth or new consulting opportunities, then you must also have your own website. You'll stand out far above your competition if you do versus just having a LinkedIn or social media profile.
Own your presence online! Learn how to start your own website with my step by step tutorial. Not a day goes by where I'm not thankful for starting Financial Samurai in 2009. Back then, I had to pay someone $1,500 to start the site. Today, you can start for less than $3 a month and be up and running in under 30 minutes.
For more nuanced personal finance content, join 100,000+ others and sign up for the free Financial Samurai newsletter. Financial Samurai is one of the largest independently-owned personal finance sites that started in 2009. Everything is written based off firsthand experience.
99 thoughts on “How To Build A Stronger Brand For Your Business, Blog, Or Career”
I often fall into Financial Samurai rabbit holes, where I follow interesting link after interesting link. Something that I’ve been *delighted* by is how all your posts generally feel pretty current then I see datestamps on comments and realize the post was birthed years back– i.e., your posts seem timeless!
Anyway, you really do a great job at making me feel more informed and more motivated. I am a fan.
Glad you enjoy the posts. I do my best to update as many posts as possible to be up to date with the here and now. This post is no different. If there’s something new to add, I’ll add it!
I don’t think this post is taking comments anymore since there is nowhere for me to click to comment but I just HAD to say something about this post. I know how valuable your words are here because I have done this myself in my own entrepreneurial endeavors (with tremendous success)–so I know from personal experience what you are sharing with everyone in this post is SO true!
Since I am starting something completely new now (finance blog) I am spending hours reading all that I can to learn and for encouragement as well (when I am not spending countless hours working on my blog).
This post gave me both! THANK YOU!!
I have never had to build a brand before (my work ethic and my creations WERE my brand in my other pursuits of education, real estate, and investing– which sold itself).
But this blogging is new territory, especially to someone like me who has no social media–none. So this advice is invaluable. I just can’t thank you enough so I have to say it again.
I know you wrote this post years ago but how wonderful is it that it can reach into the future and continue to help people (like me!). That is a very powerful tool and I love how it can be used to better society and help people you’d never otherwise get to opportunity to.
If you never see this comment, I totally understand but I will ask a quick question anyway–how do you keep the date from changing every time you fix/update your posts?
I have only written about a dozen posts so far (had my blog about a week now) and I am already going back constantly editing them as I learn new things (formatting, pictures, spacing..etc.) and it constantly changes the published date. Or does this don’t matter to the audience?
Hi AJ, blogging is fun isn’t it? How did you stumble across this old post which I’ve now updated? Every time I go in it, it updates the latest date. That’s good for readers coming to new posts. Freshness counts.
Great article! It helped me put things that I want to do into perspective. Now I have an idea of what I need to do. Thanks for sharing.
You’ve developed quite a resourceful website. I’ll be back for more.
Great post, Sam. Relevant to our knowledge economy, for sure. This is a bit far afield, but a while ago I traveled in New Zealand for nine weeks. I stayed at a lot of “backpackers” as they call youth hostels down there.
You know what I loved? No branding at all from those farmers. They were just completely themselves. Perhaps they thought a bit about what their neighbors thought of them, but their personalities were so eccentric and truly original.
I’ve written about how they are an inspiration for me elsewhere. All that said, in the modern corporate world, there is no doubt that we need to manage how we are perceived–so long as we don’t take it to the extreme of “fronting” a bunch of BS and ending up miserable……..
You are a true inspiration and your content is on point. Amazed at how much you crank out. You helped inspire me to setup my own brand and any time my commitment waivers your posts help get things back on track. Already attracted a troll so must be doing something right.
Looking forward to seeing where this goes. This is how we take matters into our own hands and create opportunities for ourselves.
Thanks for this one, Sam. Real food for thought. For some reason thinking of oneself as a “brand” is almost taboo. But in the modern world, especially if you are making a living online, branding is crucial – since face to face trust isn’t being built naturally. I will have to reread this one and see what I’m not already implementing. Cheers, Tom
Hi Sam –
I hope you did not already answer this somewhere above in the hundreds of great comments – I am assuming you created a business entity for Financial Samurai? If so, did you use an LLC or S-corp? I know that there are many different reasons for using either, but any insights on what works specifically for managing revenue generated from blogging? Thanks in advance…
Thanks Sam. You’ve inspired me to create my own blog. I should have created one years ago being a tech professional but I suppose I hadn’t thought that it was so important until now. Here it is askadatascientist.com. It’s a blog about how to become a data scientist since so many are entering the field. I’m planning on doing a post on data analysis relating to real estate investments soon. If you have a minute to skim I would be happy to receive ruthless critique :)
Great advice. Absolutely agree with staying committed. You are right, building a brand doesn’t happen overnight. I have started a blog and quickly realized that staying committed is the most challenging aspect.
So I went through with your “How to start a blog post”, and now have my very own site. However, –
I already had a blog that I wanted to transfer to my site, but can’t figure out how! Do I have to copy paste my posts or is there a way I can link up my old wordpress account?
UPDATE: Figured it out, thought I would let you know! thank you for the inspiration of creating my own site though and if you want I can let you know once it is up and running!
Sam, I have been reading your posts for a while now and you have inspired me to start a site of my own. I commend you on putting out consistent content. This shows a lot of discipline and focus on your part. I even used your “how to start a blog” page to start my own blog which I am calling http://www.cashchronicles.com. Posts like this are helpful for people like me starting out.
I took a similar path in that I received my master’s in finance and have been working in banking in NYC for the past 9 years. I dream of one day leaving such as you did and it is refreshing to see someone else who was frugal and focused on their long term goals when there is a lot of flash and social climbing that can distract you from them here.
Apart from making a side income, just in the few weeks I have been writing, I also find that it has been a rewarding outlet and improved my knowledge in many areas I thought I knew well. I look forward to more posts from you and will use your tips here going forward.
thanks for the advice. I am just at my starting point with blog and I know I have work hard and improve my writting to get the community I want to have. But I am still optimistic :).
What do you recommend in a situation where you got started on a website was moderately successful for a few years but then stopped. I stopped because the time commitment was just too much as I was raising children and also managing a full-time job. I’m ready to get it rolling again but really struggled with the SEO part and felt that monetizing the blog was for more challenging than I ever expected. at one point my brand landed me on national news and now I feel like I’m back to starting from scratch. I really did need the break so I don’t regret my decision it was what I needed to do at the time .
If the old website was moderately successful, I’d just focus on bringing that site back. You’ve got many of your posts and pages indexed. I’m sure if you reach out to others in your niche they will remember you. Once you publish a new post on the site, even if the last one is 12 months old, you’re back in business!
Beyond the helpful hints and suggestions here, I found this post to be one of the more inspring out there. Brand new blogger who just launched 2 weeks ago. Gonna keep plugging away and try to find my voice. Glad I came across your site.
You mentioned how you spend a lot of time editing your blog posts. What exactly does this consist of? Grammar / punctuation or editing to find a particular voice / style? Both?
Yes, all those things. Formatting, choosing a picture, writing the meta description, finding pertinent charts, adding more info to improve the post, updating old posts with the latest information etc.
I want every single article on FS to be read as if it was written this year and highly up to date. When you have ~1,200 articles, that’s a lot of updating to do!
All of these are fantastic points, but I REALLY love “Do what you say”. So many businesses (and individuals) spend so much time brushing up on image that they completely forget that needs to translate to where the rubber hits the road….in action. It’s that disconnect and lack of alignment that makes businesses look like phonies.
Hi Sam, thanks for this article. Love your writing and I have been a lurker for some time.
I have been on-again, off-again with building my own brand over the last year. It can get overwhelming to think about all the different angles which makes it easy to just not do anything.
One thing I struggle with is approaching established people/brands even just to ask for advice or plant the seeds for a future relationship, or to ask for something such as permission to write a guest post for them. I find it hard to get their attention or make myself memorable given how often they are likely approached by people like me. Any advice on this front?
I’m still amazed at your level of dedication to your site, spending 5-10 hours to write a post. At 3 posts a week, that’s easily 15-30 hours just spending time on writing. Very high work ethic and dedication, Sam!
I agree when you start out, that no one takes you seriously. All that I can hope for is to write the best posts / content I can, interact with the PF community, and hope that I can gain credibility. My goal is to get just one person to better their financial life, bonus if there’s a plurality effect!
Words cannot overstate the importance of your brand. I can only hope that the Angry Retail Banker brand combines the image of financial expertise (without coming across as stuffy and boring) with an informal humor and a passionate rage (without coming across as whiny and entitled). It’s truly a delicate balancing act and I definitely want people to think a certain way when they think of my blog.
You’ve done great things with the Financial Samurai brand, Sam. Keep it up!
ARB–Angry Retail Banker
Fantastic post Sam!
It was truly a great read. I studied business marketing during college back in 2008 and really think this is more practical advice than a lot of what I learned there.
And thanks for breaking down your value proposition. I continually find myself asking what the purpose is to each blog post I publish now. This will definitely help me better answer that question.
One of the things I wonder about, when it comes to branding, is how important being authentic is. For example, how harmful to a brand/blog is it to include the occasional curse word in a post? Is that just me being my brand, or me lacking professionalism? I don’t tend to curse a lot, but sometimes think it can make for a solid adjective.
Also, you do a great job at accomplishing your goals for the site if you want the “reader to come away feeling smarter, more understanding, or more motivated than before they arrived.” Every time I read a post from you it leads me into an in depth analysis of my own blog to make sure I’m doing things right haha.
Thanks for all the great advice, though! I really found every point to be helpful.
Authenticity is very important. Authenticity is why you must tell it like it is, share your losses, share your feelings, and take a strong stance against or for something you believe in.
Authenticity is more about doing than saying you are authentic. After a while of doing, authenticity just naturally becomes you. As for swearing, it’s up to you. If you want to have other brands associate with you, then you probably want to keep it down or use symbols instead.
Thanks for the insights on building a successful blog. It’s so nice of you to share the information so freely.
Nice article, amazing suggestions!
I like the section about writing your Value Proposition. I think that’s next step for me :)
Thank you so much Sam for this article!
Thank you for all the great information Sam. A lot of great stuff in here and a lot of stuff to work on going forward. What caught my attention was how much time you are putting into each article and I will definitely be slowing down when writing going forward. Sometimes you can be tempted to pump out an article as fast as you can, but it is the thought and those few extra attentions to detail that goes a long way into establishing a connection with your readers.
Building a brand is a slow process, especially for a blog or a website. You don’t enter the online world and instantly have views. The recap of what you did to get Financial Samurai off the ground is something all of us can relate to and also serve as a road map for what more we can be doing to expand our outreach. The fun part is commenting on different blogs. There is so much great stuff out there for you to learn from others that can help improve your financial life and savings account!
Well, back to the grind now. Have some work to do now after reading this article haha
There’s just so much content out there that thin content without too much depth isn’t going to survive very well. And if you are able to produce some extremely thorough, you standard to capture a lot of the spoils. Search engines want to showcase the best stuff that’s most helpful or else consumers will stop using them.
If you Google “examples of good resumes” or “good resume examples” or “good resumes” this post shows up first or second:
The funny thing is, I wrote this post over four years ago! But it is a top 3 traffic getter on FS every month since. It’s worth spending extra time on articles you really want to have a chance of standing out, be it b/c you want it to associate with your site/brand the most, or because it might have the most valuable keywords etc.
After a while of having fun with your website or using it to help you get whatever it is you want (like a job or consulting gig/new clients), you can actually create a very strong business out of it if you really focus.
Great post Sam!
It’s no joke how much work building a brand takes. Right now, I’m in the middle of expanding my own as I take part in a new professional venture — being the eclectic one in a swarm of traditionalism. Because of the image I’ve created over the years within my own sphere of influence, it’s a much easier transition.
It’s been a painstaking process – and one that I’m trying to build as I’m still young – but in the end, it will be all worth it. All in all, this was a great layout for the young entrepreneur or a college student about to enter the work force who have all those years ahead of them.
Good luck with your transition! Don’t forget to go to Gravatar.com and put up your log that pops up every time you leave a comment around the web. It’ll make you more memorable!
Sam, great post. As a new blogger, I can’t go out to hire exclusive designers and backend web team. So far, I have been relying on WP plugins and uncle Google to find the necessary info so I can run my website without hiring anyone. When do you think I should consider outside professional help? Would you recommend any milestones for this, say like number of subscribers, monthly page views or affiliate income? Thanks for all the great work you do.
I’m the same and just started in March of this year. I started from the ground up reading hundreds of pages on SEO and plug-ins just to make the most ‘free’ optimal site.
For me, my first step is getting a new logo and avatar. I’ve got a friend designing me one, but as free goes, you can’t complain really about timeliness. Once I get the logo, I’m going to wait until I’m cash neutral and have recouped my start-up costs before I upgrade my layout.
I remember I asked FS the same question months ago, and I believe he said he didn’t upgrade his layout for almost two years. I’m still mostly marketing to friends and their friends, so my quality of work is far more important than my appearance. Every niche is probably different though.
I think I didn’t change my website design for 3.5 or 4 years actually. And after I redesigned, I waited for another 2.5 years or so until I finally changed the layout of the site earlier this year. If we are talking about branding a blog, pick a design you are comfortable with that is pleasant on the eyes and focus most of your time on writing and the rest of your time marketing your work and networking.
Perhaps after a good year of trying. After one year, you will have a better idea of what you want to do and where you want to go. You’ll also know after a year whether you’re willing to commit for the long term or not.
Try to humanize your brand.
It is amazing to me how much useful information you share so freely with the world. There are so many sites who would give this lecture as a e-book for 4.99 after signing up for an exclusive offer that they’ve spammed your email with for the past 3 weeks. I appreciate that you are able to educate me and make money (off of advertising) without charging me. I’m still tempted to go back and read the first seven years to “catch up.”
The great irony is that the more you put out there for free online, the more you will probably make down the road if you stay consistent. It’s sometimes feels like people / companies just want to throw money at you. It’s kind of weird, but exhilarating at the same time.
I may write a follow up post called, “How To Make Money When Everything Is Expected To Be Free”. Could be good!
Sam, I think you just wrote the “How to Build a Blog” post that all bloggers have been waiting to read. I appreciate the words of wisdom and the consistency of your macro message for anyone looking to grow their own website – “keep writing consistently and good things will happen.”
Thanks buddy. And thanks for highlighting this post in your roundup!
Perfect timing! I’m on my 33rd blog post. On the first I thought I knew where I was headed, but until I began writing regularly I realized that wasn’t the case. I’ve been feeling a bit discouraged because I keep making changes along the way. Today I wrote down, “Helping men and women to provide and protect with grace and compassion. President of Good Men Brotherhood, DC.” That’s what I’m trying to do. Moving forward my main focus needs to be serving that purpose. Very simple to articulate. I didn’t really grasp it until now. My voice is clear. Time to start giving. Thanks Sam!
One suggestion I have for you is to narrow your focus to no more than three main topics and then go deep on those three main topics. If you can’t go deep on 3, then go deep on 2. And if you can’t go deep on 2, then go deep on 1. You’ll eventually discover what you like to write/talk about most.
I went all over the place, and am still quite all over the place. But I think it’s partially b/c my mind is always curious about a wide gamut of things. I will take notes and just write out my thoughts. There’s almost nothing I experience first hand that doesn’t have some PF angle or interesting point.
Sam, this is one of the best posts you’ve written. If you don’t have a brand, you don’t exist. Take an extreme example, the Kardashians. Love them or hate them, the name is a brand. A brand that has a significant amount of value.
Branding = Everything
Thanks Vincent. I spent a while on this post and plan to keep improving it over time to make it a “pillar post.” Put together enough pillar posts and you can build a fantastic structure!
“Work harder than your peers
Never whine or complain
Give, give, give
If you do these three things for at least a year you will earn a solid reputation for being dependable.”
This is so true. My first job, I worked my ASS off, and whenever my boss gave me more work, my response was always “bring it on!”. This got me promoted faster than anyone else.
9 years later, that stress really wore me down, but in the beginning you GOTTA hustle. Pay your dues before you can expect any kind of return.
This article rocks my world! Thanks for writing it! I’ll be referring back to it, as often as possible, while I build my brand.
“Bring it on” is a great attitude! We have another saying in America, “Thank you sir may I have another!” as a pledge was getting paddled at his fraternity from Animal House. Classic. I’ve always remembered that line when getting beaten down or asked to continue working at 10pm in the office!
Hi, fantastic article, very comprehensive and informative.
Let me ask you something, is there any book you would recommend about branding personal or not?
I think this is a field most of us should be aware of.
Thanks a lot :)
I’m unaware of a specific book. I’m sure a quick Google search will have plenty out there. Perhaps Seth Godin’s books? I just took courses from b-school and practiced branding in real time to write this article.
I think just following the steps in this article is good enough! Although I could write specifically about branding for blogging and personal branding as well as sub-sets.
Hi there, I’ve only read The Purple Cow from Seth and it was nice, but it didn’t contain much about branding.
The article is superb idd, but I’d like to go deeper in so many levels.
Thanks again for your quality work mate :)
Excellent post, Sam! Just what I needed to read as I get ready to consider the future of my blog. I know at Fincon there will be tons of great information, but if I have a clear idea of my brand upfront, I’ll know where to direct my efforts.
The Yakezie challenge was probably the most helpful resource to me when I first began and I still adhere to the consistency that this challenge taught me. I know there is much work to be done, but it feels good that people are consistently visiting my site vs. hearing the Internet crickets the first few months!
Thanks for leading the way and challenging us to better ourselves along the journey.
If I may ask, where do you believe you developed your strong work ethic from? Do you ever find yourself in conflict given you have so much freedom?
I wish the Yakezie challenge forums worked. It used to be so robust. I gotta find someone to redesign it and spend maybe $1,000 – $2,000 to untangle everything. It was a custom site not built on Genesis or the big themes 6.5 years ago.
I think my work ethic came from screwing up in high school. I got in trouble multiple times with coaches, authority, peers etc to the point where if I continued, I’d probably end up a degenerate, angry at the world or locked up.
Because I was able to get a good job after college, I felt like I had won the lottery. The College of William & Mary, although an awesome school, was not a target school for Goldman Sachs. I felt super fortunate to have gotten in after 55 interviews and 7 rounds. It was then I decided not to squander my good fortune and never take anything for granted again. I constantly felt I needed to earn my way in after getting in b/c my peers all came from those prestigious private schools I couldn’t get into. But maybe I could have, but I never applied b/c I didn’t feel good enough or rich enough as a teenager. I didn’t have a strong abundance mindset yet as a kid.
There is no conflict with having max freedom. If everybody who doesn’t want to save, invest and hustle knew how joyful max freedom is, I’m confident EVERYBODY would be saving, investing, and working as hard as they could right now! I just don’t want to write how awesome it is b/c it gets annoying and can come across as arrogant. Instead, I’d rather just write about my journey and share stories from other people who have max freedom.
So if there is a guest post you’d like to write, let me know! All Yakezie Challengers who passed the challenge were invited to write their GP on Yakezie.com. They still can. But I’ve opened up FS for bloggers to share their story too as I write more about blogging as a business, an outlet, and a wonderful way to connect w/ people.
“55 interviews and 7 rounds” <<– WOW. RESPECT!!
Thanks for sharing more about where your drive came from. It would be so easy for some to look from the outside quickly and see your current success and say, "Well easy for him to say!"
Yet, it couldn't be further from the truth. The truth is you didn't let your college situation dictate your future. Quite the opposite. You didn't stop until you got into GS and I'm sure there weren't many who appreciated that opportunity more than you.
I would definitely love to contribute a guest post to FS soon! I'll do some brainstorming this holiday weekend and shoot you an email early next week. :)
Thanks for the continued inspiration, Sam!
Sounds good! I wrote somewhere about how I got my first job, and another thing that happened was I was the ONLY student to get on the bus at 6am from W&M to go to the career fair in Washington DC 2 hours away. We waited for 30 minutes, and when nobody else showed up, the bus driver took me to his company car HQ and we switched into a Lincoln Towncar to take me up to DC privately! It was pretty hilarious since I was just a poor college kid.
The career fair is where I met the GS recruiter and my financial journey really began from there! I remember recruiters from Merrill Lynch Investment Banking look down on me for wear a tie with a bear and a balloon that my girlfriend bought for me. They actually told me my tie was inappropriate! I knew it was kinda silly, but I wanted to show her that I cared by wearing it anyway so I didn’t give a damn.
It was during this time where I thought, “Man… maybe there really is a strong correlation with effort and reward! If I decided to sleep in, I never would have been given this opportunity.”
Whenever I feel lazy, I always tell myself, “GET ON THE BUS!” Maybe this is why I always wake up at 6am almost 20 years later. Hmmmmm.
Sam-as a longtime reader and infrequent commenter-i will share with you that your honesty and willingness to consider the downside of things is why you are so popular! Thanks for sharing your experiences as a landlord and as an uber driver and letting us know from the inside how those things work… also the practice of “stealth wealth” is a topic few people know about!
Thanks for your comment. Glad you’ve enjoyed some of my articles! Just trying to keep it real and fun up in here :) Once I stop having fun, I think it will be game over or simply much less writing. Things are so much easier to do when you’re having fun. Writing is so much easier to produce based off real experiences.
At a school district meeting the other day they talked about working on the branding for the district. It will be interesting to see how that plays out. I appreciate the time it takes for you to create and manage a post. Mine take easily 5-10 hours too. I didn’t want to rush into a logo and all of that until the blog “grew up” a bit. I guess 6-9 months in might be a good time to re-evaluate. And starting from FI and having a lot of life experience to share certainly helps to add more ideas for content. I love how creative the younger bunch is too!
Sure, take your time. I’m on the second iteration of my Samurai mask logo. I’m happy to use both as they have some unique aspects. I would find something you like and make iterations.
I didn’t change my website design for the first three years. Good enough is good enough. Focus on the content!
I’m curious about the hate mail you received early on. What were people getting so upset about? Did they think your $200k passive income goal was impossible?
Also, you mentioned that you’re not really branding yourself (there are no pictures of you on your website). However, if I remember correctly, I was on a business trip to the Bay Area a year or two ago and I heard a radio ad featuring you talking about a product. Ironically, I remember you but not the product you were selling. Do you consider using your own voice as a way to build your brand outside of your website?
The hate mail/comments focused on trying to do things that were not average/normal. And when things are abnormal, then things seem more farfetched and impossible to do.
* Retiring early at 34
* Building a $200K passive income stream in 3 years (failed, but finally got there after 5 years)
* Writing more controversial posts such as: Disadvantages Of A Roth IRA: Not All Is What It Seems
* Some people were upset I had such a huge headstart b/c I worked in finance and had supportive parents who allowed me to go to public university. Stuff like that.
But after you stick around long enough, people realize you’re not a fly-by-nighter. And when you record your progress, what is there left to say really?
This post helps encapsulate what you are talking about: Sweet Dreams Of Becoming A Millionaire Again
Interesting feedback about my voice, and it being memorable enough to remember the product I was speaking about. I actually have a HILARIOUS outtake copy of the script in a pending post I want to publish.
If you have a nice voice, then absolutely use it to your advantage. The key is to really have a nice voice. A lot of us feel like we look and sound better than we really do!
Well, the good news is that I have the perfect face for radio and the perfect voice for online blogging, so I’ll plan accordingly.
Thanks for the links to the older articles. Reading the comments on those posts is a very eye opening experience for me. It’s surprising that people would go through all the trouble of reading advice that worked for somebody else, then immediately not only discount it but attack it. It’s also funny that people think you have a “headstart” because you worked hard, got a high paying job, then succeeded at it.
I’m looking forward to reading about the outtake of the script!
Great info here! I wholeheartedly agree that enhancing your vocabulary is important especially to instill confidence within yourself and gain credibility. I like to write about simple concepts in money because I don’t have a lot of direct financial/investment management experience and also because a lot of my friends and family complain about expenses and saving a lot. Thus it seems like I may be able to help people just manage money better overall in a more rudimentary (vocabulary game strong, lol) way.
It’s important to understand that you won’t get it right the first time, branding requires constant updates until its “right”. Im on my 10th yr with my business and it’s finally starting to click… keep at it.
Andy, how what were some of the metrics or things that happened that made you feel like things were clicking?
Thanks you so much for this post Sam. Creating a strong brand is a lot of work and is something we should all do with our business, blog, and career. There are definitely a few things that you pointed out I need to do with my blog to continue building the brand.
Tell me how “Tawcan” came about! Unique name!
Excellent advice all around. I have embraced many of the ideas you’ve set forth: Guest posting, constructive comments, consistent posting, frequently linking out (give, give, give) and a consistent message.
I also started from a position of FI, which I do believe lends me some credibility and also some flexibility when it comes to monetizing.
It’s interesting to see how Financial Samurai has evolved over time. I expect the theme of my writing to evolve as I make the transition from full time physician to early retiree / world traveler / more involved Dad, etc…
Very cool. Yes, we will evolve FOR SURE. Therefore, as a blogger, you should really focus on what is your core or macro message, and then work within this message.
There will always be new readers who will find your articles via search or wherever at different stages in your life. So if you can maintain a consistent core, it will go a long way to building a stronger brand imo.
Got it. Probably not a bad idea to have a mission statement to come back to when contemplating new material.
Mine would look something like this:
I aim to help physicians understand how they can benefit from financial independence, and how they can achieve it for themselves. I will do so by writing engaging articles on personal finance topics, while sharing personal stories that convey how financial independence and the ability to retire early have shaped my own life.
Incredible post Sam. This is a great primer for anyone at any point of their web branding journey. To go along with the vocabulary piece, proper grammar is a must. Frequent spelling mistakes and other grammatical errors can lead to disaster. It seems spelling errors are what most readers are always on the lookout for!
Thanks Syed. I hear you on grammar and spelling. I do my best to try and make my writing error free, but something or many things are always missed. But, I don’t let poor grammar and spelling paralyze me. I just publish anyway and fix what’s not right after.
Great advice Sam! I spent many years as a consumer brand manager and I cannot overstate the value of a brand. The reality is, many people will think it is silly, but everyone has a brand whether they want to acknowledge and embrace it or not! Between the two options, it is better to embrace it!
IMHO, you have done a great job with the Financial Samurai brand, many other bloggers have not. Keep up the good work!
Thanks Jon! I didn’t know you were a consumer brand manager. Any specific ideas/tips on branding for individuals, blogs, or companies you have that I did not cover?
I think you really nailed it. The execution piece is not necessarily difficult, it just takes discipline to execute consistently over time. The difficult piece is in the “Create a Value Proposition” phase which is also called “positioning.”
I would recommend that people put a lot of thought into their positioning (or their blog, etc…). If they get that wrong, the execution doesn’t matter, right? It’s better to have put in the rigor upfront to nail the positioning. You can and should evolve your positioning over time, but you can’t really change it entirely or you’ll lose everybody and have to start from scratch!
This is what I like best:
“First-hand experience. Money is too important a subject matter to be left up to pontification. If I don’t have experience about a particular subject, I will tell you so, or I will invite someone who does have experience to share their wisdom.”
There are so many other there who are faking it — writing as experts on money topics they don’t know much about personally (and it shows).
And yet, they succeed, which is part of the reason I gained so much confidence in believing I’d be able to build Financial Samurai as well.
One person who inspired me was Ramit from I Will Teach You To Be Rich. He had just graduated college, wasn’t rich, and wrote the book on how to be rich. People at it up, and now he is rich. He has even taught courses on how to get a raise and promotion without ever having worked a corporate job after college. This is great marketing.
There is no limit on the internet!
First off, thanks for writing this post! “Branding” is one of those buzzword terms bandied about outside of the government sector a lot. Coming from within the cocoon, I could only guess at what it meant to grow and develop this “brand.”
Due to my career I have to keep my “online brand” entirely separate from my “personal brand.” Recently I faced a brand descision for my online brand. Since starting the blog (thanks to you) I realized I was writing a post twice a week on a regular basis. I had always dreamed of writing a book about my time in the military, and here I was actually writing on a consistent basis! I sensed an opportunity to complete a life goal.
This brought me to my brand crisis: create a new brand for my military tales or split my focus and use the same brand for both.
As I’m planning on keeping the brand growing and developing for the next few decades, and the book should take just a year at my current pace to complete; I chose to include it all under the current brand. Also, I feel less likely to develop a split personality disorder.
On a separate note, I’m interested to see if you do take your face public as part of your brand. For the last seven years you have been able to strike from the shadows of the Internet like a … Financial Ninja … But once unmasked you have to deal with the “celebrity factor” intruding into your life (and the possible death of personal stealth wealth). I don’t think either is a “bad” move, it’s just different tactics. I’ll be cheering from the Internet shadows either way!
It’s interesting, b/c I don’t see Branding as a buzzword at all, but as an integral part of a product, person, or thing. When I researched companies to invest in, it was also the company with the strongest brand that made the most money, had the highest margins, and outperformed all its competitors. Brands are too powerful not to develop.
In terms of stealth wealth, I hear you. Following tradition, I will publish a post for the community to decide about the pros and cons of being more public and visual. It’ll be a good topic that I know other people are considering as well!
Hmmm. I must have just stored the concept of “branding” alongside other words that have a industry feel to them like “optics.” Easy to understand, but it seems like a concept people spend their lives dedicated to perfecting.
Sam, great advice that I will certainly incorporate as I try and grow my website.
I wanted to thank you for all the advice I’ve been able to gather from this website since I started mine. It’s been tremendously valuable.
Keep up the great writing!
Don’t mention it. You too! Keep on writing and connecting. Sooner or later good things will happen.
I loved this post. I think too many people and businesses overlook branding. Your brand can be one of your most powerful assets… especially when it comes down to licensing agreements. It has been estimated that the Coca-Cola brand is worth more than $80 Billion… not the company itself, but the brand name & logo
Indeed. I added a chart at the bottom that ranks the most powerful brands and the most valuable brands. Good names to emulate.
I’ve told several of my friends who are trying to get serious about blogging that nobody will take them seriously as long as their website includes .wordpress.com or .blogger.com in the URL. Owning your own domain is definitely the best $10/year you can possibly spend.
So cheap, so easy. Such a no brainer. I had one reader who has a *.wordpress.com site fear spending $4/month or $10-$20 a year for their domain. That’s a self-defeating attitude right there.
So many great insights as always! I think branding is one of the important aspects of business that many entrepreneurs forget or overlook. Developing a product itself tends to take the most time and is also very exciting for entrepreneurs so spending time on branding itself can get lost in the shuffle. But as you’ve described there are so many benefits and everyone is capable of developing their own brand if they get focused and go through the steps.
I think it’s also great for people working in a corporate setting to also work on building out their individual brand and value add. It can make a big difference in getting raises, promotions and switching to new jobs.
Developing a product also helps build one’s brand. After publishing How To Engineer Your Layoff, I noticed a step up function in Financial Samurai’s traffic that permanently stayed. Perhaps it was because there was a lot of piracy or whatever, but putting more things out there helps build more traffic etc.
Slowly but surely more people have reached out to interview me regarding severance negotiations and transitioning to a freelance/consulting/entrepreneurial life. There’s plenty of opportunity to consult 1X1 as well.
Carve out your niche and be the best at it!
That’s an good point about brand history – it would be interesting to see what a frequency chart of certain key words looks like over your site’s history.
I’m a (fairly) new reader of the site as well, so looks like I’m off to see what some of your original articles say!
Welcome to my site! Feel free to take your time. Maybe start with the most commented posts on the right hand side of the home page, and then go through categories that interest you. It’s kinda crazy how much one can produce when you look back at history.
A little bit every day goes a long way after a long enough period of time.
Time to host your own domain and get rid of WP in the URL!
+1 on getting your own URL. Do it!
Very in-depth, thanks for sharing so much of your wisdom with us all :)
I agree that having an active community for blogging is so important – engaging in the comment section on other blogs (and on our own) is one of the most fun and rewarding parts of blogging.
I’m really surprised at how much time you put into writing articles – I would have thought by now you’d be whipping them right up at lightning speed with all your blogging experience, after all, the more you blog the more confidence you build in writing. I’m very impressed you still hold that level of time commitment to each of your articles.
I think I trick myself into thinking writing doesn’t take too much time, but when I actually record the time it takes to write, edit, review, comment, it takes much longer than expected.
I’ll often start around 6am, work until 9am and then do something else. But I’m not stop focused, so that’s 3 hours right there. When I come back, I might take a nap and then spend another 2-3 hours easy.
There’s not too much fear in pressing the Publish button anymore. And part of the reason why I because I can easily go back and edit posts to fix typos, grammar mistakes, old charts etc.
No fear! Just got to do.
Love your blog and the quality of posts you put out there. You are a work-horse!
And that’s why yours is one of the few blogs I read (and learn from) regularly. Striving to provide the same amount of value to my readers.
Finance and Passive Income is a fascinating, evergreen topic, and one we should all be interested in.
Thanks for that extra little insight into how you structure your day. Starting at 6am, impressive – no wonder you take a nap ;)
I think it’s probably a bloggersphere wide trait to trick ourselves into thinking it takes less time.. But maybe it feels like less time because we all enjoy it so much.
I couldn’t agree more…especially the sections on “Earn Your Reputation” and “Stay Committed”…pure gold. Easy to say, but hard to do. The ones that stay committed and believe in the dream get rewarded…so keep at it!
Hey Sam, this was really great. I stumbled across it just when I needed it. Doesn’t hurt that it was a very thorough and forcible article. Great writing!
I love what you say about building your best image. As a fitness rat myself, it really does help to stay in shape and looking/feeling your best. When I was down in the rut–scrumming for jobs–fitness, sometimes, was my only relief. It’ll boost your confidence when you need it most.
And also building an emotional connection. Couldn’t agree with you more. The great Mr. Einstein once said, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” That absolutely applies here!
Pleasure reading. Keep up the great work!
Thanks for laying this out Sam, it is a good level set for those of us in our brand building infancy.
Doing a lot of the same things you started out doing, been focusing a lot on social media while simultaneously putting out content. I do need to step up and expand the sites I visit though – I end up at the same ones consistently.
Thanks for the advice – as always
Social media can help a lot when you first start out, but I’ve found social media to be more of a time sink as your site organically grows. Most of your time should be spent producing content if we’re talking about blogging, and then outreach. SM can be a real time sink. Focus on building your platform on your own platform, rather than on FB’s, Twitter’s etc in the beginning at least.
That said, I finally got on FB 7 years later and it’s been helpful. https://www.financialsamurai.com/stop-self-sabotaging-yourself-why-financial-samurai-is-finally-on-facebook/