In 2010, 24-year-old violinist Lindsey Stirling appeared on America’s Got Talent. She was eliminated in the quarter finals. According to Wikipedia, judge Piers Morgan told her: “You’re not untalented, but you’re not good enough to get away with flying through the air and trying to play the violin at the same time.”
Stirling later wrote on her blog: “I was devastated at the results … It was painful, and a bit humiliating; however, I had to relearn where it was that I drew my strength.”
Never heard of Lindsey Stirling? Perhaps choreographed violin performances aren’t your thing, but she’s crafted a big and profitable niche in the ensuing years since America’s Got Talent judge Sharon Osbourne told her: “What you're doing is not enough to fill a theater in Vegas.”
Eight years later, Stirling is a successful touring artist and has sold millions of singles worldwide. In 2015, she was named in Forbes magazine “30 Under 30 in Music.”
How did she break through despite being told she didn’t have the talent to make it? She went direct to consumer. She started posting her music on YouTube and built up a big fan base.
She didn’t wait to be chosen by the publishing gatekeepers—she chose herself, and fans followed. Today, her YouTube channel has nearly 11 million subscribers and more than 2 billion views.
What can lawyers learn from Lindsey Sterling, and thousands of other musicians, comedians, writers, and actors like her?
In today’s world, in which worldwide distribution of content across the Internet is largely free, the biggest personal brands are being built by going directly to the people.
In yesterday’s world, publishers held the power. If you wanted to write a book, publish an article, get on the radio, have your face appear on video, or get a record deal, you needed to scrap, grind, and pray that you got discovered. Otherwise, you’d be a starving artist toiling in obscurity. Today, you can share your talent with the world with no one there to stop you, edit you, or tell you that it’s not good enough.
And therein lies the rub: When there are no more barriers to entry, the market gets flooded with content (some good, most bad). While it’s easier than ever to publish one’s work, it’s harder than ever to capture people’s attention because of the availability of content alternatives.
Accordingly, the democratization of content distribution poses challenges and opportunities to lawyers hoping to make an impact online. If you want to write a book, start a podcast, create a YouTube channel, or publish an article, all you need to do is put in the sweat equity to produce the content. At the click of a button you can make your work available for the world to consume. But getting people to take notice? That’s a much more difficult proposition.
Why it’s Important to Build a Powerful
Personal Brand Online
I’m going to share a few ideas about how lawyers can break through online in a moment, but first let’s take a quick step back and consider why it’s important in the first place.
There’s no great dictionary definition of what a personal brand is. One of the most often cited colloquial definitions of “brand” is attributed to Jeff Bezos, who said: “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”
As a busy lawyer, branding is important because you can’t be everywhere, all at once. You can’t be taking a deposition and also taking a prospective client to lunch.
Indeed, before you ever have the opportunity to take a prospect to lunch, the client will have done a deep-dive online, peering into every nook and cranny of the Internet to learn more about you as both a person and as a professional. In this sense, your personal brand is what sells you when you’re not there to sell yourself.
Accordingly, to position yourself for success in today’s digital world, it’s imperative that you make a great first impression where first impressions are made: The Internet.
You must meet prospective clients where they are, which is online, in control, with access to more information than ever, and searching for a story that resonates. A qualified alternative to your services is only a click away. Are you going to leave business development to chance, or are you going to seize the initiative and build a powerful personal brand online?
Here are five rules that lawyers who are hoping
to build personal brands should follow.
1. Focus on a Niche
Your ideas and your services are not for everyone—at least they shouldn’t be. Whether you’re trying to build a practice or build a following online (in today’s world, these are one in the same), a narrow focus helps you gain a laser-targeted audience that delivers more loyalty, interaction, and business.
Having a niche allows you to position yourself as an expert on a narrow topic rather than as a generalist on a broad number of topics. In an environment in which consumers have access to more information than ever, they are searching for particular solutions to particular problems. To position yourself for success online, you must develop a deep body of work in a specific domain so that prospective clients (not to mention Google) perceive you as a trusted authority in your area of focus.
2. Build a Platform
If you’re active online, the purpose should be to direct people who are interested in what you have to say to your digital “home.” Your home is your platform—be it a blog, podcast, YouTube channel, or simply your LinkedIn page. A platform is a place where people can consume more of your content and, ideally, subscribe and/or connect with you so that you can communicate with them in the future.
The purpose of building a personal brand is to gain a following of loyal followers who ultimately can become clients or refer clients to you. By having a platform you can stay in touch with your followers, and be top of mind because you’re appearing at the top of their inboxes or social media feeds. It’s not enough to merely have an attorney bio page on your firm’s website.
Even if you have no plans to ever leave your current position (and if you do, you really need to build a platform ASAP), you need a way to nurture and communicate with your prospects. Having a platform that allows you to communicate your thought leadership and unique value proposition with a niche audience is the best way to compete in the marketplace of ideas. And in a world in which information has become commoditized, ideas are all that matter.
3. Create Compelling Content
Remember the days when lawyers and law firms used to ask questions such as, “Do we need a website?” and “Should we be on social media?”
Okay, some still ask these questions, but by and large we’ve turned the page on whether it’s important to have a strong digital presence. Today, it’s conventional wisdom, and a much better question is being asked, namely: “Now that we have these digital tools and platforms, what the heck should we be doing with them?”
Since there’s no barrier to distribution, generating attention and compelling action online all comes down to creative execution. If you can create insightful, inspiring, educational and entertaining content, you’ll be in the game. If not, you’ll be sidelined.
Content is the differentiator online, plain and simple. If Netflix just streamed other people’s content, it likely would have gone the way of Blockbuster by now. Instead, because it produces some of the best content available in all of media, it has millions of paying subscribers and a $170 billion valuation.
As a lawyer trying to build a personal brand online, it’s not enough to “be on” social networks. You need to take advantage of the distribution channels that are made available to you to build a network full of members of your target market, and produce and distribute content that’s so good they can’t ignore it.
4. Connect with Influencers
One of the biggest challenges you’ll face as a lawyer trying to build a personal brand online is getting people to take notice of your content. People are busy, they’re bombarded by information, and they jealously guard their attention. They pay attention to those they trust, and ignore the rest. Accordingly, if you’re not already part of someone’s trusted inner circle of content producers, they will hold you, and your content, at arm’s length.
The solution to this dilemma is to make an end-run around their attention-defense measures by associating yourself with those who already hold sway with your target market.
These “influencers” consist of people who are considered authoritative in your industry, and publications/platforms that are read and respected by members of your niche market (JD Supra is a good example of an influencer platform if you’re hoping to reach decision makers).
Seek opportunities to publish your content on platforms that your audiences already trusts. This will help you to penetrate your target market with your insights.
Putting it All Together
Successful legal marketing and personal branding are all about consistency of effort and high-quality creative execution directed to a targeted audience. The primary way that powerful personal brands are built is through content marketing.
Producing and sharing great content is effective because it permits a respectful conversation to take place with your clients and prospects online. Over time, as you continue to provide valuable content to the marketplace, you can build a passionate audience, dynamic platform, and compelling personal brand that provides work and referrals for years to come.
This post was originally featured on JD Supra.