For most of us working full-time in creative fields, it can already feel a little bit like we have the system beat.
If you’re lucky enough to pursue your artistic goals and utilize your skills for a living, it can be a pretty dreamy job description.
But no matter how talented or creative you are, there are still always bills to pay. Even Picasso paid rent.
One of the drawbacks of working as a creative professional in this The Year of Our Lord Instagram is the constant pressure to be not only the best artist you can be, but the best marketer possible as well. When you are your own business, you are also your own product and it is up to you to sell it.
The term “personal brand” is one oft joked about in millennial circles, but it is still a reality we all have to live with. “Brands” have existed for ages, and “brand loyalty” is a well-known concept within every consumer market.
What’s Personal Branding All About?
Think about your last trip to the grocery store. Imagine how many brand names you saw, without thinking twice. We don’t need to read the words on the blue box in the macaroni aisle, because we know who that is. We don’t need to try and figure out what this red can that says Coca Cola is, because everyone knows what’s inside.
Your goal when marketing yourself is to make your brand not only recognizable, but desirable. You want people to know who you are, but you also want them to hire you.
Here’s an important note to remember from Jayson Demers at Inc, “People want to do business with other people, not with companies. Putting a strong personal brand on the frontline of your sales process can dramatically improve conversion rates.”
Building your personal brand can signal to employers and clients that you’re a unique individual, rather than just another worker bee. A personal brand is what helps you stand out in a crowd.
Building a recognizable and desirable personal brand can be difficult, and it can often feel… well, sort of cheesy. You want your clients to know who you are, so it’s important not to build a brand that’s phony. Most people can see through that. You can remain professional while staying true to yourself, and that’s what a personal brand is. Imagine your personal brand as the most marketable version of yourself.
The task of creating your brand can seem daunting, but most people have already begun building a potentially profitable brand for themselves before they even know it. Here are my best tips for building, and selling, your own personal brand without feeling like you’re totally selling out.
1. Focus on Your Most Marketable Trait.
For many of us, describing what we “do” for a living can take a while. I’m often rattling off a list of hustles and side gigs for a while before I realize the person who asked me about my job isn’t listening anymore.
When marketing yourself to potential clients and employers, focus on your skill that’s the most marketable and relevant.
If you’re meeting with a magazine editor who knows you from the blog you write, it’s okay to mention that you do some photography on the side as well, but focus on talking up your writing and editing skills.
Use this idea when building your web presence as well. Your website should have a clear focus so visitors can get the gist of it within a few seconds of landing. This class by Neil Patel provides some valuable insight on how to drive traffic to your site, so you can attract clients and customers.
2. Construct Your Presence.
It’s important to establish at least a small presence on each of the major social networks. If for no other reason, try and secure your name (or the name of your business) across as many platforms as you can.
For a simple but incredibly thorough rundown of all the various social media platforms out there, I can’t highly enough recommend this Social Media Bootcamp. Four social media and entrepreneurial experts will provide you with bountiful tips, advice, and lessons on using every social media platform—from Facebook to LinkedIn to Yelp—to your advantage.
When you’re a creative professional, you have to treat yourself like a small business. You’re the CEO but you’re also the marketing department. (You’re the finance department too, don’t forget!) It’s important to find a balance for time you spend on your brand and time you spend on other aspects of your business as well. This class by Tiffany Han on how to manage your time so you don’t spend all of it on social media is a valuable resource for all of us.
You don’t need to post content on every social media platform at all times. You have other work to do! Instead, figure out which platform serves you best and focus on that. For writers, this is often Twitter where you can easily link to published pieces. For photographers or designers, Instagram is often the best choice. Figure out where your audience is, and construct a presence there. Post regularly, so that your feed stays interesting and relevant.
Consider this class from Sue B. Zimmerman, in which she details the best ways you can connect your various social media channels to create the most cohesive social media presence possible.
On social media, it’s important to use your actual voice. Avoid poor language and use your good judgment, but by all means, be funny and personable online. Fill your Twitter with gifs that make you laugh. Post an Instagram of the flaming hot Cheetos you eat while working. You’re the person behind all these accounts, not some social media manager, and you want people to get an idea of who you are. Follow the same advice your mom gave you on the first day elementary school: be yourself!
3. Ask Around.
Though, “How do I build my brand?” is a huge question and often hard for anyone to answer in one go, this is a great opportunity to reach out. If you know other creative types whose online presence and brand you respect a lot, why not let them know how much you respect their work and take a chance to pick their brain.
Consider this simple request: “Hey, I’d love to hear more about you got started building a website and reaching new clients online. I’d love to buy you coffee and pick your brain about it sometime, as I’m looking to venture out on my own as well and would love any advice I can get.”
The people around you are a wealth of knowledge, but you don’t have to take them to coffee to figure that out sometimes. Poke around other people’s websites and social media feeds. See what they’re doing. With social media, it’s pretty easy to see how much feedback a user is getting. Take note of what works for others and what doesn’t, and take it all into consideration when establishing yourself.
4. Write Your Narrative.
Your work should be good enough to speak for itself. You can market yourself as a product all you want, but if the product’s no good, it won’t matter.
But a product needs a story. Everything needs a reason to exist. You don’t want clients and employers to just know you exist. You want them to hire you, and this is why you need to create the narrative of why you’re the most hire-able person in town.
Your narrative is your story and it’s your personality. In other words, it’s the factor differentiating you from everyone else. This is where branding becomes so important.
Creating a personal brand and a web presence is very much akin to old fashioned networking: attending meet-up’s and mixers to rub shoulders with fellow professionals and peers in your field. Everyone at an event has a story to tell. Consider this sage advice from Maria Elena Duron at Entrepreneur, on having a story to tell when networking:
“Where do you want to be in six months? Where do you want to be in six years? All of the answers to these questions make up your story, cementing the tale you tell on your foray through the networking world, providing you with a compass that points you toward beneficial network additions.”
Like I said before, across every platform you exist in, your personality needs to show. Whether its your tweets or your website, all of it needs to feel cohesive, but more importantly, it needs to feel like you. Let your personal interests be a part of your online presence. After all, it’s your personal brand. If that means you put Drake lyrics into half your Instagram captions, then so be it.
Here’s an example: I love Kanye. I love him, and I’m not shy about it across my multiple social media platforms, especially Twitter. At one point a few years ago, I was being considered for a job and one of the company’s managers checked out my social media to get a feel for me. One of my most recent tweets she saw was about Kanye and she thought it was funny. I’m not going to say it’s why I got the job, but maybe it helped. (Kanye helps me a lot!)
Then I was sent to training for this job across the country, in a group of a couple dozen other people who would be doing the same job as me in different locations. The same manager who had peeped my Twitter was one of the higher up’s conducting our training. Because she knew of my Kanye love, we were able to talk about that right away upon meeting up in real life.
From there on out, she would let me know when she saw something Kanye-themed that reminded me of her. I had associated myself with Kanye in her mind (how flattering!). This is the true power of personal branding.
It’s fun and easy to joke about personal brands, but branding is an incredible tool. It’s a way to establish yourself, your talent, and your narrative so that you can secure a place in other people’s minds. It’s like purchasing mental real estate from people with whom you’d like to work. It’s a way make yourself not only noticeable, but desirable.
Don’t think of personal branding as “selling out.” Rather think of it as buying into yourself. It’s an investment, and one I think you’ll find incredibly worth it.