Photo courtesy of Online Profile Pros
In an era where social media stars and digital entrepreneurs continue shaping America’s evolving economy, developing a personal brand online is key to building meaningful connections and spreading your message to the masses. Whether the intent is to find a date, amplify an existing business or position yourself as the enterprise -- social profiles are powerful tools for expressing the unique value and perspective you have to offer.
Though some have no issue snapping perfect selfies, writing clever captions, or being outspoken about who they are, a surprisingly large amount of people struggle with building their personal brand. Some of this challenge stems from the majority of online users not understanding the differences between marketing and promoting.
Promoting is amplifying your brand to the public to generate popularity. Great promoters master the ability to capture attention and drive everyone to the intended destination. Regardless of how good or terrible their party was, if the world showed up, then the promoter was successful. Marketing is solidifying your positioning within a marketplace.
Instead of focusing on proving value and getting attention from the public, effective marketing earns praise and credibility from within your respective industry.
As today's generation has grown accustomed to navigating the online world and managing their digital lifestyles, it would seem like building a personal brand should be easy with the abundance of social platforms designed to get a message out. However, not all people feel naturally confident, or know the best approach to cohesively marketing their brand.
Founded in 2007 by Claire Bahn and Gordon Gooch, Online Profile Pros helps people improve their digital footprint by providing a suite of on-demand photography services designed to enhance the aesthetic and impact of their personal brand online.
Operating the largest network of professional photographers in the U.S. and Canada, the company specializes in delivering custom profile photos and lifestyle images tailored to accomplish a specific goal – whether attracting the attention of corporate recruiters, promoting a personal enterprise or searching for love on a dating app. In addition to improving online profiles, the Online Profile Pros also educates users on best practices and ways to effectively optimize their digital channels.
I spoke with Claire Bahn about the vision behind her company, building a strong social profile, and the importance of having a polished personal brand in the digital age.
What is the specific void or opportunity that inspired the idea behind your company
Claire Bahn: When we started out, we were focused on the online dating industry. One of our founders was a photographer in New York City and was originally contracted by Match.com to shoot their clients at a number of different events. It’s still amazing to me how many people, especially online daters, insist that their potential matches have great profile photos, but feel that a selfie is good enough for them. From this initial work with Match.com, we found that more and more people realized that professionally shot, lifestyle profile photos had an immediate impact on the quality and quantity of their dates. Hence, the company realized a global opportunity by helping people get the best possible profile photos so they could find the best match. From there we needed to build an on-demand photography solution and then start recruiting photographers across the US and Canada.
What have been some of the challenges you faced in the process of building your business?
Claire Bahn: The biggest challenges we faced were three-fold.
The first was developing an on-demand technology solution that allowed individuals to purchase photography services. While it seems commonplace now, when we started this did not exist, even zip code locators were in their infancy.
The next challenge was building a network with qualified professional photographers. As one of our founders was a former professional photographer, he understood the industry and the mindset of many photographers. Most photography studios run as ‘mom-and-pop’ operations. So, convincing high-quality, professional photographers to join a network where their services would be offered on-demand was a big leap for many of them, and certainly took a lot of convincing.
The third, and still most daunting challenge has been helping individuals realize that their online profiles represent their personal brand, and that their personal brand has consequences for the social, business, and romantic aspects of their life.
Describe your business model and how it directly helps clients achieve their goals?
Claire Bahn: Our business model is grounded in providing on-demand professional photography and ancillary services at deeply discounted rates. It’s as easy to book with a first-class photographer as it is to buy socks from Amazon.com. Professional, lifestyle photos help people make the best first impression and support their personal brand, which makes finding a job, a date, or improving their social perception that much easier.
What do you believe are the keys to building an impactful and scalable personal brand in today’s digital era?
Claire Bahn: To have the most impactful personal brand today you need to do four things.
First, you need to make sure that your written profile is clear, concise and SEO worthy. You should always run spell-check and maybe have a couple of your friends look it over too.
Next, post a good, clear headshot for your main profile photo. This photo should preferably be in a lifestyle setting without a plain white or grey background behind you, which can make it look like you went to Glamour Shots or Sears to get your photos done. Never Photoshop a background into the photos.
Then, create content about your expertise, interests or passion, whatever that is for you. It’s essential to have a digital footprint to share quality content with others across multiple platforms. Simply ‘liking’ or making brief comments on Facebook posts is not what we’re talking about. At some point in time, you’ve had an urge to contribute your expertise, art or commentary. To support your personal brand, you need to give into these urges and contribute.
Lastly, you need to maintain your personal brand by monitoring your brand. While there are services that can do this for you, they’re not particularly cheap. Even if you simply Google your name on a regular basis, you should get some idea of whether or not your personal brand has been tarnished, and if it’s something that you need to address.
What have been some of the biggest blind spots or pitfalls when it comes to building a personal brand and how does your company solve for them?
Claire Bahn: One of the biggest blind spots we continue to face is the lack of individuals aware that they actually have ‘a personal brand’and that what they put online is very important. Some individuals think that a selfie or snapshot of them in drunk in a bar is an acceptable way to represent their online image.
Personally, I would never want to present myself to a hiring manager or potential date that way. On the other hand, a number of online dating sites, LinkedIn and other social sites do not realize that their user’s poor personal branding reflects directly on them and diminishes their corporate brand.
The best solution that we found has been continually educating about how an individual’s personal brand exists in the digital world and has a direct impact on their life. We have definitely seen an increase in awareness over the last few years.
What is the mission driving online profile pros and what are the primary goals you’re looking to accomplish?
Claire Bahn: Our mission is to help as many people as possible realize and nurture their personal brand. We plan to continue our international expansion and build an even larger network of personal brand professionals -- photographers, stylists, hair and makeup artists, profile writers, branding experts, and business consultants. Our goal is to become the one-stop-shop for everyone’s online profile needs. Secondly, we will continue to educate as many people as we can on the importance of their personal brand.
What are the keys to your company being both successful and sustainable?
Claire Bahn: The sustainability question is an easy one. Online profiles are going to become increasingly more important as a person’s online interactions expand. This will flow into the realm of virtual reality where the interactions will take place entirely in the virtual world with little likelihood of meeting someone in person. Therefore, an individual’s online profile, and thus their personal brand, will continue to take on greater significance. The keys to our success rest on our ability to educate more individuals on the importance of their personal brand and provide them with the tools to create the best possible online profiles.
In addition, we will be expanding our services into other industry verticals as well as, offering new profile solutions at different price points. We firmly believe that through expansion and education we can take our goal of making Online Profile Pros the premier destination to improve anyone’s online profile and personal brand.
How do you see your company evolve over the next 3-5 years and what impact do you hope to make on the industry?
Claire Bahn: We see Online Profile Pros dominating three industry verticals: social networks, business networks and online dating. Our mission is to create a new class of personal branding services by evolving to help people create, maintain and defend their personal brand. Social profiles project their social circles, business networks, romantic life, and even their virtual reality interactions. To this end, we’re recruiting power players in each of these verticals, starting with adding Grant Langston, the CEO of eHarmony to our board. Grant is in a unique position to see how individual’s personal brands impact their relationships.
As Grant says, ‘I see firsthand the importance of creating authentic, quality profiles and the impact that can have on people’s lives, I’m excited about the possibilities as we continue to see online personal brand building take center stage in the way we build relationships, personally and professionally.'