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How To Build Your Personal Brand As An Entrepreneur


I am not your average writer.

My degree is in creative writing, but my background (and most formative mentorship) took place in advertising. 

Between the ages of 22 and 26, I spent all day, every day, immersed in that world. Long gone were the afternoons spent studying Dostoevsky and Nabokov–those became reserved for late night reading sessions in my studio apartment. Instead, I replaced their spines with business books: Think and Grow Rich, for example. 

I knew I would forever be a student to the craft of writing. What I wanted to learn (as quickly as possible) was the business side of things. 

I wanted to know how to get people to read the things I had worked so hard to write.

This is what turned me into an entrepreneur.

Today, I am one of the most-read writers on the Internet with over 50 million views on all my work. I have had work published in just about every major publication. I speak and give workshops about writing and the importance of personal branding. I advise a number of companies on their messaging. And I am the founder of Digital Press, a writing agency that works exclusively with CEOs, consultants, keynote speakers, and entrepreneurs to extract their best insights and help turn them into thought provoking written pieces to be shared online.

I’m on a different podcast every week–and almost every single podcast I speak on starts with the statement, “Cole, clearly you’ve established yourself as a successful marketer.”

I correct them. 

I’m not a marketer. I’m a writer, who spent years studying and refining how to write things people will want to read. 

To me, that’s very different than marketing.

That’s art.

See, marketing carries a certain tone. It’s encouraging you to do something–usually to buysomething. 

Except marketing isn’t what gets shared.

Marketing isn’t what goes viral. Because marketing isn’t interested in delivering real value to a reader or a viewer. It’s there to poke and prod you along until you perform the desired result.

My belief system is different than most marketers–and remember, I worked in advertising for four years. My mentor was an award-winning creative director. 

I didn’t become a “successful entrepreneur” by being a clever marketer.

I became a “successful entrepreneur” by doing the opposite of marketing.

What makes a good book?

A good book comes with all sorts of things: plot lines, characters, moments of tension, conflict, resolution, emotion. 

These are the things that keep the pages turning–and these are the things that cause someone to put the book down and immediately want to tell someone else about it.

When I speak on podcasts, or at events, or I find myself in a room full of marketers, I feel like I’m in the wrong room.

People want to know what my “strategy” is.

People want to know how I got so good at “targeting my audience.”

People want to know how much I spend on ads, how I drive traffic, how I “growth hack my following.”

Can I be fully transparent with you?

I don’t think about any of those things.

What I think about is what holds the qualities of a good book.

I didn’t become one of Quora’s most popular writers by “growth hacking” the platform.

I attracted readers because I told stories that revealed who I am as a human being–things that I feel, moments I didn’t know what was going to happen next, opportunities I chased, goals I fell on my face for. 

I didn’t become one of Medium’s most popular writers by being a “talented marketer.”

All I did was share what my journey as a writer and entrepreneur has been like. What I felt the moment I convinced one of my closest friends to quit his job and go all-in with me. What was going through my head as I paid our overhead so we could work on building our first project. What it was like for that project to fail, and for us to sit on his couch for 2 days, depressed, wondering if we should start applying for new jobs. How we came up with the idea for Digital Press. How we got our first client–what a funny story that was. 

And I didn’t get my work republished by every major publication on the Internet because I was “good at networking” or because I had paid to be part of some “mastermind group.”

My work has been republished because I’ve invested the time in not only learning what it is people want to read, but practicing the skill of opening up and extracting value from my own personal experiences–and then being able to express those lessons learned through written content.

And I’m telling you, it works.

At 27 years old, I am living my dream–a dream every single person in my life told me was impossible.

“Nobody makes a living as a writer these days.”

As an entrepreneur, this is the ONLY type of content you should be investing in–and if you’re not creating this way, you’re going to lose.

Marketing is dying.

Take that however you will, but I believe that to the core. The Internet has changed us. Our expectations have heightened. We don’t tolerate ads and monotonous messages like we did back in 2001 (or even 2011). Too much is free. Too much is readily available. Attention spans are shortening by the day. If we’re not getting what we’re looking for right now, we’ll gladly move along and try to find it somewhere else.

If you think throwing money at advertising is going to build your business, you’ve already lost. Close up shop. You’re done. And if you’re not done soon, you’ll be done within the next 3-5 years.

It’s not advertising people want. It’s not marketing. It’s not “growth hacks” and mastermind groups and all these things people claim will get you the Ferrari result for the price of a Honda.

I’ll tell you exactly what people want–because I did it myself, by myself, without spending a single dollar on advertising.

People want you.

They want to experience your content the same way they would experience grabbing a cup of coffee with you at a local coffee shop.

They want you to loosen up that tie for a second and just talk to them. They don’t just want to know what you do, but how you do it. How did you first get into doing what you’re doing now? How did you learn some of those early lessons? Did you have a mentor? What was he or she like? Did you always have this plan, or did it take a while for you to figure out what you wanted to do? Did you have any moments of failure? What were those like? How did you handle it? 

The entrepreneurs that understand how to communicate as people are the ones who build audiences and ultimately win.

If you’re an entrepreneur, of any kind, you need to realize the single greatest investment you will ever make in yourself is in telling your personal story through the content you share.

People want to work with people they trust.

People buy from people they can relate to.

People seek out people they share things in common with.

Those things are never genuinely communicated through “clever marketing.” 

But they’re communicated perfectly the moment an entrepreneur starts speaking from the heart.

This article originally appeared in Inc Magazine.

Nicolas Cole is the founder of Digital Press, a content marketing agency that turns founders, executives, and entrepreneurs into world-renowned thought leaders. As an author, Cole is a 4x Top Writer on Quora and Top 30 Columnist for Inc Magazine with over 50 million views on his work. His writing has appeared in TIME, Forbes, Fortune, Business Insider, CNBC, The Chicago Tribune, and more.

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