I’ll start this off with the action items here since some people will want to just get right to it.
1. Secure a few .com domain names with your full name, parts of your name, and even with your social media handles. Use this affiliate link to get a $5 credit towards an $8.99 domain. Pro tip: order WHOIS privacy as well to keep your info hidden from spammers.
2. Once you’ve registered your domain name(s) redirect them to your social media page of choice, like a LinkedIn or Instagram account. If you’re a writer and don’t want a website yet, create a Medium.com account and redirect your domain there.
3. If you want to go a step further, register for Google Suite. It’s $6 per month, but worth every dollar. Google Suite is everything and more that you get with a normal gmail.com account but you use your own domain. Rather than email@example.com you would have firstname.lastname@example.org.
4. If you’re ready to get started with a website then get ready for option overload. I’ve narrowed it down for you below. In my opinion, a Personal or Premium plan at WordPress.com is the best option for someone who is completely new to all of this. Don’t go with the free plan because then you will not be able to use your domain name. A ton of brands use WordPress.com. Even the founder of Instagram, Kevin Systrom, uses a default WordPress install (though his is self-hosted). So, don’t beat yourself up on design. There are also a ton of free themes to use, but the new WordPress Twenty Twenty theme is perfect.
Alright, now to the details as to why you need to lock down your personal brand with personal branding, even if it means just registering a domain name. Now, you might be thinking “but Ben, I’m just an employee of a mega-corporation, I have no business of having a personal brand.” Obviously, I’m going to tell you that kind of thinking is wrong. Let’s say you love working where you work. Maybe in the next 5 to 7 years, you climb the ladder with your company and eventually get to an executive leadership team. Maybe your company is publicly traded and your name frequents the news. Or maybe some of your employees dislike what you’re doing. The latter could very well snag a domain name of your name and make some type of website that speaks poorly of you or leaks internal statements from you.
Or maybe since you’re now a leader you become a thought leader that people want to hear from. Like Guy Kawaski (guykawaski.com). Even if it’s a 1% that you become a thought leader, speaker, or any other type of public figure – why would you skip out on securing what is technically yours? Another great example is Mark Cuban, who owns markcuban.com that redirects to markcubancompanies.com. He also runs his own blog, occasionally, under blogmaverick.com that focuses on, you guessed it, basketball. If you don’t know, Cuban owns the Dallas Mavericks.
Domains Are Digital Real Estate
Many people don’t think about this. Maybe they’ve thought up a neat product or service and talked about it in public. Then somebody sitting around them hears this, they snag the domain and mark up the price to resell it. This is part of why you see some domain names sell at a premium. Demand. This could be because of something someone overheard, it could be a new product that is hitting or hit the market, and it could be phrases made by political figures. It could even be buzzwords or anything else that come up in shows, movies, and songs. The list goes on and on. But the point is, there is value to words and phrases. And what do people type into Google searches? Words and phrases.
The point is if you’re concerned about your name being in an email or slide at work – why would you not be concerned with your own name on the world wide web?
To bring this back to personal branding. Your name is something that people will search for, like recruiters and hiring managers. If you have your own domain with a website that has your content on it, guess what you now control…your Google rank and what people will see about your first. This is valuable at every level of your life. Even if you’re just flipping burgers. You can still snag your domain name and pump out content on making burgers. As you progress in life you have content that shows how involved you were with what you do. It shows who you are. It proves your value to someone looking to hire. And of course, who knows, maybe you go viral because of it.
The Branding Strategy
Alright, so now you understand why you need to act on this. How should you go about it? I’ll use myself as an example. I’m not perfect so I’m sure I’ve missed some opportunities, but that’s okay. If you’re on my website reading this then you’re at bnjmn.co which is a shorter version bnjmnsrmn.com which redirects here. The latter is also my username at Twitter, Instagram, Medium, Snap, and TikTok. Though I have not done much of anything with TikTok or Snap, I have the name locked down. The same goes for other social networks that come and go. You might have noticed I don’t have an actual Facebook. I’m just not concerned about that. I also own benjaminsurman.com that also redirects here. My wife has her own domain names, both married name, and maiden name. It gets even a little wilder, I also own the domain names of kids names we’ve tossed around, should we have them. Why? Who knows who they become. Maybe they’re just like everyone else, or maybe they become famous. Why wait?
1. Secure your social network name. Get away from weird usernames that make no sense, unless you’re just trying to hide from people to creep on them. Register either FirstnameLastname, FirstinitialLastname, FirstnameLastinital, or get a little creative like me. Benjamin Surman is long, bnjmnsrmn is short and without vowels. Easy. Sure, I could go snag Benjamin Surman but, I essentially own and manage bnjmnsrmn so I have control of my name going forward.
2. Make sure that your social network name is the same across all possible networks. What if your name is taken. It’s not over. Strip out the vowels, or add in a ‘_’, use your middle initial, or use a verb before your name. Like ‘meetbenjamin’ as an example.
3. If you’re going sans-site then redirect your domain name to your most influential network. Meaning, if a great career is your goal right now then redirect your domain to LinkedIn. If it’s writing, redirect to Medium.com. If it’s photography or entertainment-related then redirect to your Instagram or Facebook page.
I also like to suggest that you think beyond your own personal brand and into a company brand name as well. For example, I’ve formed brands around my last name. Since my last name, Surman, can be confusing to spell for some people I decided to go with SRMN. Which is Surman without the vowels. Whether you think that you spell my last name as Surman, Surmen, Sirmun, Sirmon, Sirman, Surmon, Sermon, Serman, or whatever other versions you will still end up with SRMN. And that’s very easy to communicate with people. To go even further, my company SRMNx has srmnx.com. I also have srmns.com, srmnproperties.com, srmnconcepts.com, srmnholdings.com, and srmnco.com.
One last thing that I want to add on the domain front is that if you’re thinking about a political career then register domains that are offensive with your name. A lot of people don’t think about this until a site loaded with opposing content spins up and goes viral. You know that not everyone is going to love you, so help curb the hate by locking in those domains as well.
What About a Personal Website?
For those who want a personal website, there are a ton of options. I have a decently technical background so I personally prefer to go the self-hosted route. Self-hosted means that you pay for a website hosting service and then install and manage your own software, like WordPress or Ghost. This route, of course, varies in complexity from the services that you use. It is cheaper to go the self-hosted route but it always requires some time. I prefer the following for self-hosted:
1. Easy WordPress setup, NixiHost ($6/mo)
2. If you want to tinker around with “technical stuff” then go for a Digitalocean WordPress or Ghost install ($5-10/mo)
WordPress or Ghost?
Whichever. I love both, personally. Ghost is great if you want an easy way to charge for subscriptions to access your content. While you can do the same with WordPress it does require a little bit more work. Ghost is also pretty damn fast out of the box. WordPress takes a little bit of tweaking for optimal performance. However, WordPress is amazing and can scale in so many different ways. You can keep WordPress as just a blog, or you can open an online store, or you can even make it into a social network. WordPress has been around a lot longer and has a lot more support to find. Also, 36% of the Internet runs on a WordPress install. Check out the live WordPress activity here.
One more thing about WordPress and Ghost
There is a self-hosted version (which is WordPress.org) and a fully managed version (which is WordPress.com). The two are the same but different. If you don’t want to mess with a self-hosted install and learning something else on top of all of this other stuff, then go with WordPress.com. I suggest the Personal or Premium plans to get started so that you can use your own domain name and without any annoying WordPress.com ads.
The same goes for Ghost. You can run a self-hosted version through DigitalOcean or you can go with a completely managed version from Ghost.org. The latter is a bit pricey starting at $29/mo.
There are a ton of other services that you can build a website on as well. Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, just to name a few. They’re great, but I personally don’t find them useful or impactful at scale. They’re also catered to businesses more-so than a personal site or blog. Just my opinion.
That’s about it. If you have any questions then please feel free to reach out to me directly through social media or from my website. I’m always happy to help or give some direction.