Personal branding is gaining ground globally and is the art of differentiating yourself while adding value to the world around you. In this Series, I explore the topic through the eyes of those who are acclaimed in their fields and are striving to progress their personal brands. Muqbil Ahmar is one such person – a technology journalist, writer and a Linkedin Top Voice 2017 with over 30k followers on Linkedin, I discovered him while searching online for those listed as experts by the global networking platform. Despite his accomplishments, he comes across as an unassuming person who was going about striving for excellence each day. I asked him a few questions on his understanding of personal branding and loved the responses – simple, direct and clear. Read the interview here.
- Thank you for participating in this interview. What according to you is personal branding?
It is not about the outcomes, it is the process. It is how you develop your voice. In this world everyone has a unique perspective and we need to surface that. The thought process must be genuine. It can’t be faked. Don’t project the wrong impression or person. The more respect you have the better your personal brand becomes. In a highly industrialized society where everything is done at scale, there is little individuality. Therefore, the need to discover yourself becomes paramount.
2. Do you consider yourself a personal brand?
Yes, I would think so. Although I don’t sell anything apart from my thoughts, that in turn has led to my personal brand getting built. I am recognized for my uniqueness of thoughts and attitudes. Whatever I have written on Linkedin is free for anyone to read and without monetary gains.
3. How do you know it?
When you find your unique voice is when I know I am building my personal brand. Brand is just a name.
4. What does one do to go about building a personal brand?
It is not just only about time and effort. It is about courage I live in Mumbai and have interacted with personalities from TV, entertainment and journalism. One of the aspects I have observed is that there is great variance in what people often project themselves and who they truly are. They have delusional lives and what they project are illusions. Knowing your basic personality is important. Not everyone can be a great seller. For example, I know I am not good at selling but I am influencing people and their thoughts through my writing. There must be a conscious effort to know who you are.
5. What are the attributes of a personal brand?
I would think it is a) having a personal voice b) being consistent and c) connecting as a human being
You must have heard of the saying that doing something 10,000 times you become an expert at it. Many people who are great achievers have put in this effort. To me, those who have achieved a lot have also been able to connect on a one-to-one basis as humans. You not just have to work hard enough but also well.
6. Based on your observations and learning who according to you is a personal brand?
Over the years I have interacted with people from all walks of life – IAS officers, creative people and others. The people who have impressed me at the ones who have been good human beings. You would have, if you recollect any person who comes to your mind as a personal brand; it would be the person who has touched you in a personal manner. One of them was Shahid Anwar, the renowned playwright under whom I had the opportunity to learn and grow. Having spent years practicing theatre, I was most taken in by his extreme humanness, even though he was a hard taskmaster.
7. What characteristics do you admire about the person whom you describe as a personal brand?
Like I mentioned, his ability to draw people to himself. He also was human in his engagement.
8. What steps did you take to build your brand?
Here are a few ways:
- Being true to yourself: there is no point in deceiving others or yourself. People can see through gimmicks.
- Know your audience: understand their aspirations and characteristics
- Communicating your messages: formulate and convey your uniqueness and that completes the process
Remember that you must always think of how you help others with what they want to achieve. When you bring these aspects together is when you build your personal brand.
9. How do you know your personal brand is working?
The only way you will know is through feedback. Let me share my journey and example.
I have over 400 articles on Linkedin which have been featured and showcased on the site. They are freely available to read. One of my articles on renewable energy received over 2000 comments and even today, they continue to get readership. I haven’t been able to do justice to the comments that I have received – maybe responded to about 300 or so. What struck me most was that each of those comments were so thought through. They were meaningful and with insights that were research led. If I put all the comments together, it might exceed 1 lakh words and worthy of a book. Now that is what feedback is. I feel excited and energized to know that there are readers who take the time to give feedback and that encourages me to strive harder.
10. What challenges did you face while building a personal brand?
I believe absolute failure is the best challenge for building a personal brand. I would always go back and look at my first article on Linkedin. I must have got no comments, no likes or shares. It went on for a long time and only after you have written quite a few do you get noticed. I recollect the story of the spider and the King and how after numerous attempts did the spider get successful. It is the same with building a personal brand. You need to be fine with rejections and failures. I used to write freelance and have been turned away by numerous publications. I kept writing and after many years got some moments of glory. People remember me for the last article, not for the first one which was a whitewash.
11. What techniques did you use to build your personal brand?
Be persistent and ready for utter failure. It is a steep climb and there is no easy way out.
12. How can someone starting from scratch build a personal brand? What is the first step he or she must take?
I would recommend – take the first step; write the first word. That is the most crucial and significant. There will be phases of disillusionment and rejections. It is only a matter of time if you are keen to stay the course. I made it a habit to write 2 articles every week on Linkedin. After the 17th or 18th article, I started to see people finding my views useful. Once I was about to go to bed after writing one of my articles and I noticed a few comments trickle in. I was intrigued and kept refreshing the page. Over the next few hours, the numbers skyrocketed. I realized that my articles touched my readers’ hearts. There is no greater joy than that feeling.
13. If you had the opportunity to change something about the way you built your personal brand, what would that be?
We can’t be obsessed with success. The way I like to explain it – in my life, there are millions of things to achieve. it is only in hindsight…(because I have the benefit of hindsight)…and I quote the famous poet take Mirza Ghalib – translated literally, “there are millions of desires, however only a handful are materialized”.
Most of the decisions we take in life – very often, we don’t have the luxury of knowing what would have happened otherwise. I see huge wetlands of failures while I also see the pockets of success.
14.What is your recipe for personal branding success?
If I were to summarize, a) find your unique voice b) know yourself c) be consistent d) don’t take failures at face value e) persevere f) know your audience and seek feedback.
15. Who according to you are personal brands whom others can follow and learn from?
I have been impressed by Bill Gates (accomplished and yet so engaged despite such high achievements), Jeff Bezos and Jack Ma. I often wonder what motivates them to continue even though they can sit on their laurels. Whenever I feel a lack of motivation I look at their lives.
Closer home, I would call out people like Swara Bhaskar, Anurag Kashyap and Shahrukh Khan who are personal brands. Have deep respect for people who have started with almost nothing and yet have gone on to achieve success.
Liked this interview? Please do share your feedback and comments.
Here are some resources:
- Take a FREE assessment on personal branding.
- Refer to the 3C model on Personal Branding
- Sign up for a 60 minute personalized chat on personal branding
- Personal branding for corporate communicators
Keen to join this Series and share your thoughts on Personal Branding? Write to me at [email protected]