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The Partner Channel Podcast | Season 2, Episode 28

4 Steps to Building Your Personal Brand

Show Synopsis

We have another great episode of the Partner Channel Podcast in store, finishing September out strong! For our Monday episode this week, host Tori Barlow had a chance to chat with Justin Zimmerman, Partnerships Strategist, Marketer, and thought leader in the partnership space. Together they tackle the topic of building your personal brand and establishing yourself as a source of knowledge in the space.


  • What the value is in creating a personal brand
  • When you should start to think about creating a personal brand
  • What are some examples of things people might consider when creating a personal brand

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The Script

Tori Barlow: Welcome to the Partner Channel podcast, the voice of the Channel. I’m Tori Barlow, VP of Marketing at Allbound. Excited to be here with Justin Zimmermann, founder of Partner Playbook, and in a recent article on the Crosby blog, you were listed as one of the top ten partnership influencers to follow on LinkedIn. I can personally vouch for you because I follow you and you have a wealth of knowledge of what you post and your thoughtfulness on partnerships. So if you’re not following Justin, definitely click, follow or Connect. Welcome, Justin. We’re excited to have you.

Justin Zimmerman: Thanks so much for having me and a pleasure to always speak to you and of course, the audience that listens to Allbound. I’m here to focus on what’s important for you and for them and not disappoint in any way, shape or form.

Tori Barlow: Better not disappoint. We have a lot of things to unpack today, and today is a really special topic that you have completely owned. It’s how to build a personal brand for the longevity of your career, specifically in the partnerships industry. And I want to say you have personally gone from unknown to well known. That’s in your own words. And in less than six months you’ve become one of the top ten partnership influencers on LinkedIn. Just let’s dive in. How did your personal brand come to life? Let’s start there.

Justin Zimmerman: Yeah. So I do want people to listen to this and think that they can do it too, because a lot of people, personal brand is kind of this like nebulous kind of big thing. What does it mean? What’s its value? Where do I start? What’s it good for? And so before kind of getting into your question, I really kind of want to unpack like the why, as Simon Sinek says, start with why. And we’re all creating a brand in one shape, one form or another. And a lot of us, we use resumes to get our next job. And a lot of us then use hard, difficult tactics to open doors to ideas, open ideas to resources, open ideas to partnerships. And there’s an easier, better way that I’ve discovered and I’ve actually seen this work for others, and I’ve actually just modeled a lot of what I’ve done off of the past success of others. And so coming from the real estate space, real estate agents, there’s hundreds of thousands of them in every city and state across the world. And there are things that I saw that worked for them, worked for the best, highest, most producing real estate agents in the world. And all of them found a way to create a personal brand that had them differentiate themselves. And so they went from having to work in prospect and cold outbound to generate leads and deals to then becoming a branded entity in their space.

Justin Zimmerman: And so whether it is a city, a state or a neighborhood, or in our case as a partnership, people, you know, an industry, a program type, you know, an ecosystem that that allows them to attract business, to attract deals, to have doors open for them. And so seeing this work for other people in other spaces, I took what I learned and said, well, how can I? And I went through the difficult process in the beginning of my partnership career of writing cold emails, doing cold outbound LinkedIn, creating like eye catching personal videos, person by person, company by company, just to get meetings booked. And what I’ve seen transform in the same way I saw it transform for people in the real estate space is as soon as I flipped the funnel and I started focusing on content and started focusing on issues of importance to the audience that I’m trying to reach instead of having to reach out to them, they started to reach out for me, to me. And so that’s been kind of the launching pad for the this part of the conversation as well as what I’m seeing work in my favor as a personal brand strategist to myself.

Tori Barlow: I love that you mentioned “flip the funnel”. I love that phrase as well. It reminds me of the terminus sangrim days. If you’re familiar with that technology where he flipped the funnel for ABM and you’re essentially applying that same methodology here. When people think of personal brands, I think there’s a lot of things that can pop into someone’s mind from the daunting speaking engagements to doing a million PR items. What is an actual thought that’s tangible about building a personal brand?

Justin Zimmerman: Yeah. So I was telling a friend of mine who’s asking me and saying, “Well, how are you doing this? What’s working? What’s not working?” And the first thing I told him is, you don’t have to do it every day. It doesn’t have to be a daily religion. You don’t have to spend hours. But what you do have to do is understand your audience, understand the people in your space, your coworkers, the people working at other companies, and try to really, in the language of the way people are speaking, write posts, write content that describes their world and their pain and their problems that get them to nod their head. And so, as an example, you know, if there’s a been a challenging issue that you see in your work, in your space, in your company, you’re probably not alone in facing and feeling those challenges. Now, you don’t have to call your company out, you have to name any people, but you can generalize it and pull back. And one of my best performing posts was really just a personal conversation I had with someone who was crying on my shoulder about how difficult partnerships were. I’ve cried on people’s shoulders, too, and I’m like, “Oh my gosh, this is such a common issue.”

Justin Zimmerman: And then I realized right after that conversation I had to write something. I didn’t realize that that was going to be the launching pad for a lot of the thought leadership, influence or status that, you know, I don’t like those terms, but, you know, it’s easy to describe where I am now with them that activated all that. And so as soon as I said, oh, my gosh, you know, isn’t this a big problem or what are we facing? What are we battling? You know, if you read any sort of like story brand or like marketing copywriting books around defining a common enemy and getting your customers, getting your audiences, getting the people who you’re trying to work with to also nod their head as well, saying, I have that problem, too. People will inbound, people will comment, people will reach out to you on LinkedIn and they’ll they’ll look at you as someone who can articulate and connect with them in a way that builds trust and saying we can work together because we understand the same problems. And so when you understand the same problem as the people you’re talking to, you can come to common solutions and common ground.

Tori Barlow: And so identifying a challenge within your organization or industry is a great place to start. And your words, like we’ve mentioned before, you know, you’ve become one of the top ten partnership thought leaders, influencers, whatever you want to call it on LinkedIn, you know, what else did you do to get there? Was it building relationships with people you hadn’t had? How how do you go about doing that?

Justin Zimmerman: Yeah, there’s a couple of things. One, I’ve got a really simple exercise that can be the launching pad for anybody who wants to try this approach. And so one thing that I did is I sat down and I created like, what are the top ten problem statements in our industry? Look in your own business, go listen to the conversations and you can write out a little paragraph or a blurb for each. Each one of those then becomes well, in and of itself that’s a post. But then each one of those becomes sub posts. And when you really focus on the problem statements that your industry, your niche, your vertical, your horizontal, your ecosystem are facing, that really then becomes like a great exercise to help test these ideas and help build your brand and authority. One of the things that I have also done is just relentlessly network and connect with every person who, when I’ve got a system in approach, I wish it was more automated. But LinkedIn does not like automation. And so I don’t want to make the gods of algorithms angry at me and punish me in any way for that. But you know, there are just things that you can do when someone messages you or they comment on your site, on your posts, you can very easily just see who’s already a connection and what’s not a connection.

Justin Zimmerman: And I’ll ask them and say, hey, thanks so much for commenting. You know, how did you hear about me? And you’ll start hearing where people are hearing about you and if there’s anything else. And this is the big thing is is there anything else you’d like to chat or talk about? Like one or two little sentences, both as common replies as well as when people DM me and you’re just trying to get the conversation started. You’re just trying to get the conversation going. In fact, you and I might have actually kick things off that way as well. And I can’t tell you how many times by just activating somebodies sense of empathy that you might listen back to them. They’ll tell you like, “Oh, I’ve been struggling,” or, “Hey, I was thinking about this deal” or you know, “I’m looking for advice in this area.” And then that becomes kind of your community connection system that will fill your calendar full of meet and greets with people in the industry. They’ll get you on podcasts like you and I are here right now because of and then as well as you’ll have these conversations that then you’ll start to recognize the patterns in which you can identify those next blog posts or those next LinkedIn posts, because you’ll talk to someone and you’ll start to realize there’s this overlap and you get those same questions over and over again, like, well, let me write about that.

Justin Zimmerman: And now you’re getting essentially market research from people who are reading your posts, connecting with you, responding to that one little message. Anything else you want? Anything else you want to talk about? You meet with them. I keep a half an hour to an hour block of office hours a day just to keep my connection to the community going and growing. And from that, that’s really been the basic system of like. What are the pain points? Write about them. Engage with the people who are engaging with you. Ask them if they have any things that they would like to talk more about. And then they’ll say yes. They’ll say no. They’ll respond. They won’t, and some people will. I use Calendly to create just little time blocks, you’re not always trying to think, when’s my next open time? Just keep 1 to 134 me open and then fill those spots up. You’ll have great conversations, you’ll make great connections, you’ll have ideas for posts and content, and then book another appointment with yourself right afterwards. Go write those posts and you’ll just keep rolling that kind of attention engine, as I call it, over and over again.

Tori Barlow: Yeah, that is how we met. I think someone tagged us in a LinkedIn post together and that’s how I learned about you. And I think we started the conversation from that thought leader post and I think you mentioned in the beginning, you don’t have to post every day, which we all have a million things going on, whether that’s outside of work or at work. So this is another personal building initiative that you have to put time and effort into. So not doing it every day, I think is a great place to start. But what is a good cadence for making this kind of come to life?

Justin Zimmerman: Yeah, I don’t like Mondays. So, you know, Mondays, you coming off the weekend, you know, you’re trying to get back and get your your alignment with yourself and your team back. And so like Mondays and Fridays, I try to kind of keep like off the table. And so like I would say MVP on this is try to keep a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Tuesday, Thursday schedule where in my case what I would do is that lunch that you would take for yourself for an hour don’t waste that time kind of just doing other things if you know you don’t need to eat Yeah. And so just take that one hour block, create a cowardly link for yourself to where people can book. You know, if they can’t book this week, they can book next week. Next week they can book the week after. It’s fine, you know, and keep that like half an hour conversation block open and then take the next half an hour after that meeting to sit down and write out a post. And you’ll sit down and you’ll hear things and you’ll create that time and that space for those conversations and that content.

Tori Barlow: Yeah. I think when I think of LinkedIn, I think it’s transformed a lot over the last couple of years and especially in the partnerships industry, with the partnerships industry growing immensely over the last couple of years.

Justin Zimmerman: Last couple of weeks?

Tori Barlow: Yeah, last couple of weeks especially. You know, we’re recording this in September. Catalyst happened a couple of weeks ago and held by partnership leaders. I think there’s so many growing communities that invigorate folks like you, like me, that want to just connect with everyone. And I think that’s what LinkedIn is transformed to, is this connection platform and having a conversation. So what’s some advice for folks that might be a little bit more introverted to get out there, get going? How do you kind of qualm that fear?

Justin Zimmerman: Yeah. Yeah. So I spent a lot of time in my life writing and there was a time where I was afraid to hit the send button. Listen, I send things now and I see spelling errors, and I’m the worst grammatical person you’ll ever meet. You know, I’m terrible at that, but I know it and I don’t let it stop me because a couple of things. One, most people don’t read everything you write anyways. They get a glance, they get they get a feeling for it. They want to see your name and you really your goal is to make the impression. And your impression really starts with like the headline and the first like two or three sentences above the fold where you see the, you know, see more button on LinkedIn. And so if you can kind of nail just like that opening catchy beginning part and you can kind of make your point of what you’re against or what you’re for or what they’re going to get. A lot of times that will be really where you need to put the majority of your energy. And so don’t worry about being perfect. Don’t worry about spelling things, right? You don’t have to make it super long. You know, 300 characters or 300 words. is fine.

Justin Zimmerman: You don’t always need a picture. I don’t always put pictures in mine if I’ve got something great. It’s just like most things in life just start and put it out there. And here’s the thing is, if nobody’s watching and no one listens, then who cares, right? You tested it out. It didn’t work. I have a lot of things that fail. I have a lot of things that do well. And if I never tried, I would never know. And just kind of a lot of the stuff that fits into that trope of thought is just, you know, you have to test your writing skills. You have to test like the time of day, and you just have to keep putting things out there and you’ll start to recognize the pattern. This is all about like internal pattern recognition and like and then matching it to like what the external world is looking for. And that’s really just the whole game of marketing is what’s the conversation in the macro and then what’s your micro slice? And then like anything in life, it requires discipline and practice and repetition for you to kind of hone your skill and figure out what’s working. And you’re just not going to nail it all the time. You’re definitely not going to nail it in the beginning. But you can’t win if you don’t start.

Tori Barlow: Yeah, I think that’s a really important piece. It’s just kind of start throw something out there. You can spend so much time perfecting something in a plan and getting the grammatical errors cleaned up. But until you actually launch it and test it, you’re never going to learn what you could do better. And I agree, if you fail, fail fast, learn and do it again in a different way and see if that works.

Justin Zimmerman: Yeah. With that schedule that I talked about before, we’ll just call it a Tuesday, Thursday schedule book. I’ll have a call open with somebody on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the industry in this space and and then that half an hour afterwards, like just know you’re working against the clock and you’re going to hit publish when that time expires.

Tori Barlow: Justin, you’re such a wealth of knowledge in the space and such a true testament of what we’re talking about today, going from not a ton of followers to followers and just great mentorship within the industry. If you’re not following Justin on LinkedIn, definitely do. So we’ll add his LinkedIn URL on the podcast page here for you to follow. And thank you to our guest, Justin, Partnerships strategist and marketer. And thank you to you, the listeners for joining us here at the Partner Channel podcast. If you like what you heard, subscribe to our podcast episodes wherever you like to listen to the podcast.