Personal branding is vital for digital creatives and marketers, whether you’re freelance or a full-time employee. Employees with a strong brand are often selected for projects that most align with their professional passions, win favour with leadership, and many times are chosen to represent the company at key events. If you’re a freelancer, you can expand your client base, source recurring work, and even pick and choose from the most exciting projects once you’ve developed a strong brand.
But before you can find opportunities that match your style, you need to communicate your values, beliefs, and purpose—succinctly and consistently.
You too need to spend some time finding and selling your target audience on you. It starts with more than just a great reputation.
Reputation includes the things others say about you. Branding is the story or narrative you create.
Let’s get started.
How to Establish a Personal Brand and Market Yourself Strategically
What is your personal brand? Not sure? It all starts with reflecting on “who you are.” Get specific. You’ll come to realise there are a list of professional strengths that have become your calling card!
Often, these are the descriptive words that colleagues write on annual reports, or how someone describes you when introducing you to a contact and writing a recommendation.
But since a personal brand shouldn’t be stuffy, they’re also the words that your friends and siblings use to summarise your best attributes. Check some old birthday cards—not the ones from your Mom—she will always think you’re the greatest.
Come up with three to five words to describe your personal professional brand. Here are some examples:
- Strategic, Collaborative, Highly Adaptive
- Results-driven, Determined, Passionate
- Creative, Committed, High-Energy
If you’re a visual artist, when you read those words you might immediately start thinking of how to translate these into colours, fonts, and styling for your website. Or even in the attire you wear on the job.
But you’re not just hired for your portfolio, you’re also hired for the experience you bring to a role.
So how can we take these qualities and amplify them through the way that you share your knowledge?
Whether it be blogging on your personal site, interacting and sharing on social media, or networking at a conference and professional events, these all present opportunities to further your personal brand story.
Check out our tips below.
1. Network Digitally - Be a Connector
Update your bio. Your story starts with your profile. Craft a thoughtful intro outlining what services you offer, who you can help, topics you’d like to learn more about, and opportunities you’re seeking. Let others see who you are outside of the office and share the passions that take up your weekends.
Find relevant hashtags or Q&A for discussion. All social media platforms offer relevant topic areas based upon your browsing and commenting history—dig into these forums. We have to admit, every-time we log into Twitter it’s sweet relief to see they’ve curated the conversations that will be most interesting to us. But always stay curious and search for niche topics because you never know what (or who) you may discover!
Keep tabs on your contacts. Respond thoughtfully to what your network shares, offer a word of encouragement or a suggestion of a person/resource that may be able to help them.
LinkedIn provides updates on work anniversaries and changes in position that offer you an easy way to stay in touch, particularly if you’ve fallen out of contact.
“Congratulations! Great to see that you’re moving on to new challenges!”
“Happy Work-iversary. How are things at COMPANY X?”
“Hey X! It’s been awhile, glad to see you’re still rockin’ it at COMPANY X. Want to grab coffee sometime soon? We should catch up!”
And while you can comment publicly on all these things, why not send a personal message instead? You’re more likely to get a response that keeps the conversation going.
2. Share Your Expertise - Comment and Provide Context
You’ve heard it before—always be providing value. In a medium where a lot of chatter can be baseless, be sure to apply this tenet to social media. Here are some hard and fast rules:
Sharing Posts: Providing context is the greatest gift you can provide on social media—and to yourself! This is a great way to assert your thought leadership. Why is this story important? If you disagree—why? Who should read this post? Help your followers understand your perspective.
Go beyond the Gram. For visual content on Instagram, give your thoughts while creating or additional information on your creative process. Your brand is an ongoing narrative, give audiences even more to snack on with a collection of pics, video story, or long-form post.
Adding Comments: Sharing similar experiences is one thing, oversharing your story is another. Don’t take focus away from the original poster, but use this as a place to tell about a time that something similar happened to you and what you learned. Meet new contacts by responding to others’ replies.
Building Communities: Facebook and Instagram provide wonderful opportunities for you to curate your professional passion into a space for like-minded individuals. Whether posting consistently to a unique hashtag on Instagram or building a group page on Facebook, you can become a facilitator for conversations and community. Knowing the foundations of your personal brand will keep your communities focused.
3. Don't Passively Attend Conferences, Make a Plan
Attending a conference is a great opportunity to learn new things and connect with others in your space. But don't just go to “soak up the knowledge.”
Professional conferences are one of the most effective ways to evolve your career—meeting new people from new companies and new geographies that you otherwise might not have access to.
Prior to the event, plan for the following:
Which sessions you will attend: Plan well in advance and be sure to go introduce yourself to the speakers after. Posing a thoughtful question or asking for advice is an easy way to register in their memory. This will expand your network of influencers and potential business referrers.
Make sure to interact online with the speaker as well (it’s a great time to use that oft neglected Twitter account).
Who you will meet: Schedule downtime—and no, not to work! Reach out to contacts who might be attending a few weeks in advance. Throughout our careers there will be important contacts with whom we’ll want to stay front-of-mind, it’s important to reconnect with these friends and champions. Reconnect with those you need to stay front-of-mind.
Where you’ll marry offline and online: Interacting on a conference app is great, but these tools are often used only once a year and so whatever effort you put in won’t further your personal brand long-term. Plan to cross-post to your favourite social media channel. Prepare to use the app for relationship building but use public forums to show you’re someone who cares about learning and advancing your acumen.
The way in which you interact at all these points should still be uniquely you. Tweet out jokes or funny observations, if humour is your thing. Quote a speaker and build on the concept if you’re known for being an idea-generator. Social butterfly? Organise an invite-only happy hour.
Make the most of your investment and attend the conference with an on-site plan as well as a follow-up strategy.
4. Find Local Contacts Who Need Your Advice
Ongoing connections and contacts are vital for your next project referral or job transition and the most impactful way to stay top-of-mind is actually face-to-face. Repetition does wonders. Here’s how to get quality face-time.
Find local business events in your area by scouring Meetup and Eventbrite. Another way to source quality events? When networking with fellow attendees, ask them about their favourite events to attend in your area. You might discover niche groups for women in technology or minority business owners. This is a great way to start building your community.
Introduce yourself to the event organisers. At local events, organisers are much more accessible. Mention how much you enjoyed the event, mention ways you might be able to help, and if you see any room for improvement (keep it constructive). Perhaps you can make an introduction to a helpful resource or volunteer your time to lead a workshop. Become someone the organiser can count on to keep improving their events.
Make friends: Networking doesn’t stop after the initial intro. Be sure to follow up with connections and invite them to events of interest or shoot a quick email asking if they’ll be at the next monthly meetup. Whether purely for social enjoyment or business prospecting, be someone who keeps others connected.
Keep telling your story to each of these groups.
5. Collaborate with Influencers and Authorities
Research influencers and businesses that are authorities in your domain. Assess their brand—do you have similar messages? Or do your brand attributes complement each other well? These are the types of individuals with whom you’ll want to build a relationship.
By collaborating with authorities, you build your knowledge, you extend your reach, and add exciting projects to your body of work. In other words, you enhance and expand your personal brand
Schedule an exploratory chat with an authority you admire. Whether it be the creative director at an agency you respect or the marketing powerhouse hosting all your favourite events. If you covet their career, ask them if you can have a chat and mention that you’re looking for some advice. This gives you the opportunity not only to learn some valuable nuggets, but gives you the chance to mention your story and the type of work you’d like to collaborate on in the future. Putting yourself “out there” might feel scary, but if you come to the conversation with a few ideas, brainstorming ways to work together will feel natural. Just be sure to only commit to those projects that strongly align with your personal brand goals.
Promote yourself while supporting and encouraging others. When you secure a partnership with a well-known influencer or brand, make sure you promote it! Take to social media and share your work, mentioning your collaborator. Continue to promote their content and events, marrying your PR efforts in the future. They’ll recognise your efforts and will be more likely to engage with you in upcoming promotions, events, and campaigns. Collaborations grow and evolve over time but professional goodwill isn’t overlooked.
Reach out to recruiter who places talent at well-respected brands. Finding an “in” at highly valuable companies can be hard. If you aspire to work with the Adidas or Googles of the world, it can be hard to know where to start. Keep in mind however, that HR professionals and recruiters are always on the lookout for stellar creative talent. Schedule an informational interview, mention that you admire the company and you’d love to know more about potential partnerships and collaborations. If you have ideas, pitch them.
Personal branding is important whether you're at a full-time job you love, a freelancer, or looking for a new position. Once you’ve decided on your personal brand story and how it will convey your professional values, it’s important to engage in activities that heighten this message. Speaking at conferences, sharing on social media, networking at events, or combining all these activities for high-profile collaborations—these investments will give back to your career long-term. No matter where you go, or who you work with, make sure it’s not a reputation that precedes you, but a carefully crafted personal brand.