10 Personal Branding Lessons from Legends


What better way of enhancing your personal brand than learning from legends. I hope the legendary exploits of the 10 individuals in today’s blog post will inspire you to move your brand a notch higher. Apply one or more of the lessons in this post and you will have a more powerful personal brand.

1 – J.K. Rowling – Passion / Rags to Riches

J.K Rowling is a classic rag to riches story. She was on welfare while writing the first Harry Potter book. What many people do not know is that she was really passionate about writing from an early age. She pursued her passion by first starting to write short stories as a young girl.

In a 2001 BBC interview, Rowling denied the rumor that she wrote in local cafés to escape from her unheated flat, remarking, “I am not stupid enough to rent an unheated flat in Edinburgh in midwinter. It had heating.” Instead, as she stated on the American TV program A&E Biography, one of the reasons she wrote in cafés was because taking her baby out for a walk was the best way to make her fall asleep.

Within 5 years, she moved from welfare to multi-million dollar status by following her passion. Her book was first rejected by 13 publishers, before being taken in by Bloomsbury who advised her “to get a day job, since she had little chance of making money in children’s books.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released on 21 July 2007 and broke its predecessor’s record as the fastest-selling book of all time. It sold 11 million copies in the first day of release in the United Kingdom and United States. Harry Potter is now a global brand worth an estimated $15 billion and the last four Harry Potter books have consecutively set records as the fastest-selling books in history.

No matter what your talent is, if you follow your passion, you will build an incredible brand. Be passionate about what you do, do what you are passionate about. The results will speak for themselves.

2 – Richard Branson – Leverage

Richard Branson’s first successful business venture was in 1968 at the age 16, when he published a magazine called Student. After the magazine became popular, Branson looked at the demographics of readers and decided to leverage that and start another business.

He started advertising on his magazine for his Mail Order business selling Music. They were toying for ideas on what to call the new company when one of the girls there suggested the name “Virgin”. They were complete virgins in business although another of the girls in the room was quick to remind all that there was no longer a virgin in the room.

In 1970 he opened the first Virgin record shop in Oxford Street. In 1972 he opened a recording studio. In 1973 Virgin Record Label was launched, signing Mike Oldfield whose album Tubular Bells became the best selling album for a decade.

In 1980 he started expanding Virgin to Overseas markets. In 1983 he launched Virgin Vision to distribute films and videos. He has since extended his brand to include Virgin Atlantic Airways, Virgin Group comprising of Music, Retail, Property and Communications divisions.

You may start with a humble venture; a small brand, but look for ways of extending your brand. Look for ways of leveraging your success to provide more value, to reach more people, to solve more problems. And the money will follow.

3 – Winston Churchill – Courage and Leadership

He was a British politician known chiefly for his leadership of the United Kingdom during World War II. He served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1955.

Churchill’s speeches were a great inspiration to the embattled British. His first speech as Prime Minister was the famous “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat”.

On another famous speech he said “… we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.

He once said “One ought never to turn ones back on a threatened danger and try to run away from it. If you do that, you will double the danger. But if you meet it promptly and without flinching, you will reduce the danger by half.”

To be able to develop your personal brand, do not shy away from positions of leadership. Do not let fear paralyze you. Take the bull by its horns. Live courageously. Taking action when others are afraid will set you apart and let your personal brand shine.

4 – Sean Connery – Career Choice

Sir Thomas Sean Connery (born August 25, 1930), best known as Sean Connery, is an Academy Award, Golden Globe, and BAFTA Award winning Scottish actor and producer who is best known as the first actor to portray James Bond in cinema, starring in seven Bond films.

Sean Connery started as a keen footballer. According to reports, he was even offered a football contract worth £25 a week. He admits that he was tempted to accept the offer, but he recalls “I realized that a top-class footballer could be over the hill by the age of 30, and I was already 23. I decided to become an actor and it turned out to be one of my more intelligent moves.”

 Think through your career choice. You may be tempted to take a career because your parents said so, because your friends say so or because you are good in something. Take time to think of where YOU want to be in say 20 years. Plan your career well. This has a big impact on your personal brand. Do you want to be a footballer or James Bond?

6 – Barack Obama – Networking

The Barack Obama Presidential Campaign in the 2008 elections was innovative in the way it allowed grassroots groups to train, organize and mobilize. Each group had unique responsibilities and allowed tapping of unique talents.

They used a website my.barackobama.com to recruit, train and communicate with volunteers. If you want to grow your personal brand, think of using social media such as online forums, blogs, twitter, Facebook, Myspace etc to grow your brand.

7 – Bill Gates – Foresight

William Henry “Bill” Gates III (born October 28, 1955) is an American business magnate, philanthropist, author, and chairman of Microsoft, the software company he founded with Paul Allen. He is ranked consistently one of the world’s wealthiest people.

Bill Gates’ foresight and vision for having a personal computer in every home and every office has been central to the success of Microsoft and the software industry.

Microsoft became the owner of 86-DOS and adapted it for the PC renaming it as PC-DOS. Microsoft exchanged it for a lowly one-time fee of $50,000 to IBM (read foresight).

Gates did not offer to transfer the copyright on the operating system, because he believed that other hardware vendors would clone IBM’s system. They did, and the sales of MS-DOS made Microsoft a major player in the industry.

Take a moment to think through your future. You cannot drift to success. Find an angle and pursue it ruthlessly. Microsoft took only $50,000 for their operating system when they could have asked for more. But they had a game plan. Eventually their game plan paid off. Do not think of just today and tomorrow. Play your cards well with the future of your personal brand in mind.

8 – Sylvester Stallone – Persistence

One of the most inspiring stories I have ever heard on the topic of persistence is Sylvester Stallone of the Rocky Movies.

Sylvester Stallone is an Academy Award-nominated American actor, director, producer and screenwriter. One of the biggest box office draws in the world from the 1970s to the 1990s, Sylvester Stallone is an icon of machismo and Hollywood action heroism. He has played two characters that have become a part of the American cultural lexicon: Rocky Balboa, the boxer who overcame all odds to fight for love and glory, and John Rambo, a courageous soldier who specialized in very violent rescue and revenge missions.

It was not an easy climb to the top for Sylvester Stallone. In his early days as an aspiring actor, he was so broke but would not take an average job as it would interfere with his hunger to be an actor. His wife pressurized him to get a job but Stallone would not hear of it. He kept trying to audition for parts but kept being rejected.

Then one day (March 24, 1975), Stallone saw the Muhammad Ali-Chuck Wepner fight which inspired the foundation idea of Rocky. Chuck Wepner was clearly the underdog but he kept on going. He was quite persistent and that impressed Stallone who got busy that night and started writing the script for Rocky. He wrote the script for over 20 hours continuously. After that he tried to sell the script without much initial success.

He kept trying to sell but kept getting rejected. By that time he was so poor that he decided to sell his dog. He was devastated for having to do this but he felt he had no choice. After desperately looking for strangers to buy his dog, he finally found a buyer outside a liquor store and sold it for $25.

After persistently trying to sell his script, someone got interested in buying but only if Stallone did not star in it! Even though he was broke, he knew what he wanted and did not sell out. They had offered to buy the script for $100,000 but they kept upping the offer until they got to $400,000 but Stallone would hear none of it.

Eventually they agreed to have him play the lead role, but only for $25,000. He accepted and as soon as he got his money, he went to buy back his dog. The new owner refused to sell it to him! Again Stallone persisted until the guy sold it back to him for $15,000 and the right to appear in the movie! That guy is in the Rocky movie apparently. But guess what? Stallone and the dog, his best friend, were also in the film.

The film, made for only $1.1 million and shot relatively fast in 28 days, was a sleeper hit; it made over US$117.2 million, and won three Oscars, including Best Picture. The film received many positive reviews and turned Stallone into a major star. It spawned five sequels: Rocky II, III, IV, V, and Rocky Balboa.

Do not give up even when the going gets tough. “Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race”. Calvin Coolidge

9 – Don Lafontaine – Anonymity

Donald LaFontaine (August 26, 1940 – September 1, 2008) was an American voiceover artist famous for recording more than 5,000 film trailers and hundreds of thousands of television advertisements, network promotions, and video game trailers. His nicknames included “Thunder Throat” and “The Voice of God”. He became identified with the phrase “In a world…” which has been used in movie trailers so frequently that it has become a cliché.

See and hear him on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QPMvj_xejg

Though his voice was famous, very few people really cared to find out who the voice belonged to. You may be very good in your job, but have few people ever recognizing you for your work. Say for example you have a cleaning company responsible for cleaning a hospital or a shopping centre. Many people might not notice you or spare a thought about your work. That is ok too.

Don Lafontaine did well for himself. Many people did not spare a thought about him but he was a legend to the people that mattered. The lesson here is to target your personal brand to the people who matter. You may be obscure to everyone else, but make sure you shine to the people who matter. Don Lafontaine shone in the eyes of movie directors, producers and promoters.

10 – Steve Jobs – Bouncing Back

Steven Paul Jobs (born February 24, 1955) is an American businessman and co-founder, and CEO of Apple Inc. Jobs is the former CEO of Pixar Animation Studios.

He co-founded Apple in his parents’ garage when he was 20. He worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just him and his partner in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees.

They had just released their finest creation – the Macintosh – a year earlier, and he had just turned 30. And then he got fired. How does one get fired from a company he started? Well, as Apple grew they hired someone to run the company, but their visions of the future began to diverge and eventually they had a falling out. The Board of Directors sided with the other guy. So at 30 Steve Jobs was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of his entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.

It turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to him. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed him to enter one of the most creative periods of his life.

During the next five years, He started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, He returned to Apple, and the technology they developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple’s current renaissance.

None of this would have happened if he hadn’t been fired from Apple. It was an awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith.

If you ever fall from grace, or find yourself in a tough position, remember Steve Jobs. Do not lose faith. Live to fight another day. Let your personal brand bounce back.


I hope you gained an insight on the people who inspire me. I hope you have been inspired and will apply some of those lessons to build your personal brand.

Who inspires you? What lessons have you learned from others in regards to building a thriving personal brand? I would love to hear your comments.

Source: Wikipedia Bio Data


P/s – If you have a friend who might be inspired by this article, please it with them.


  1. Joy says

    everytime i read this post i see it from a different angle, my mind connects with a different legend evrytime, all great lessons though. very well put together.

  2. m.mwangi says

    i love how well researched your posts are, the flow, the wording, the background information to back it up, brilliant, just brilliant. Since i love writing, it’s actually why i keep coming back to this blog coz you have a standard and are very consistent.

  3. Joy says

    Great article, i especially like the Rowlings and Stallones’ stories. Each of this guys have a great lesson to teach us. Thank you Dan for breaking it up for us.

  4. justyna daniel-akpan says

    truly inspiring!!! i am re-charged,motivated and inspired. thanx dan and please keep the flag flying..

  5. Carol says

    the stories of this guys truely are inspiring make me feel that life isn’t really what most of the time we think is.

  6. paula says

    Thank You Dan.. i have the 11th person in mind: Daniel Ngari…what story will u tell to be reckoned? I love the legend- Churchill…. Thanks for reminding me that life is important..

  7. says

    ha..nothing inspires like inspiration…these are 10 of societies great men and their life stories are enriching to our cause..i want to be remembered great as well..i like the company..thats why am here..cheers Dan

  8. Philip D.W.N says

    Thanks Dan for your perseverance to inspire us all.
    Apart from their immense achievements, another common thing among the ten legends is that initially life was not easy for them. At some point they endured hardship without discouragement and then they conquered.

  9. Dobah says

    One day, my story too shall be told. You will probably be the second (well, after me, lol) to tell it because you inspire me in such a great way in so many different levels.
    Thanks Man.

  10. Nwaodu Anthony Ikechukwu says

    Dan, you did mention this word before,”PERSISTENCE”,and i did too,it is the only key that can unlock success, if one is focus.

    I am truely thrilled and inspired by the stories of these legends though i have read about them before,except Sylvester Stallone, his persistence is too awesome!

  11. Jamez says

    True to the last word… all this guys are my hero and thanks for putting them on one page where i can come read everyday for inspiration.


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