The Q&A Guide to Personal Branding
Job seekers, freelancers, and entrepreneurs hear a lot about the importance of building a personal brand. But what, exactly, does “personal brand” really mean, how much does it matter, and how do you go about creating yours?
The answers to these questions and more are in this FAQ Guide to Personal Branding.
Personal Branding Basics
1. Isn’t my personal brand the same thing as my portfolio, reputation, or professional image?
Kind of. Your personal brand includes all those elements plus a few more, like your ability to build rapport with other people and to communicate the value only you can bring to a job or a project.
2. Do I really need a personal brand?
Everyone has a personal brand, whether they manage it or not. That’s because other people, including people who might hire or recommend you, form impressions of the quality of your work, your work ethic, your interpersonal skills and more when they see you or your work online. Your personal brand is out there. The real question is whether you’re making it work for you.
3. If my personal brand already exists, what is it?
To answer this question, you’ll need to audit your brand, which is not as taxing as it sounds. Start by looking at the professional and personal information that recruiters, potential clients, and hiring managers can find about you online. What are your top Google search results? What images are associated with your name? How many of your social media and forum posts can the general public see? Is there media coverage of your work and accomplishments?
Next, look at what other people say about you and your work. How do your references describe your skills? Are there online reviews for your business? If past employers or clients have given you LinkedIn recommendations, is there a theme running through them about reliability, creativity, or some other positive trait? What do your mentors or academic advisors say about your skills?
Finally, look at your existing work. Can employers and clients find your portfolio online? Is it easy to view and does it truly represent your best work?
Taken together, all of these views—the information anyone can find about you, what peers and mentors say about you, and what your work says about you—make up your personal brand.
For example, let’s say Jane is a costume designer who turns up in a lot of Google searches and social media posts alongside stage actors wearing her Elizabethan-style creations in Shakespeare productions. Her LinkedIn is filled with recommendations that praise the authenticity, wearability, and durability of her historical costumes. And her website includes a video portfolio of her costumes onstage, a link to a local museum exhibit of some of her work, and photos from a sewing class she teaches at a local community center.
From all this, we gather that Jane is creative, detail-oriented, highly skilled, and community-minded. As brands go, Jane’s is a good one—depending on what she wants her brand to achieve.
Personal Brand Uses
1. What if my personal brand doesn’t match what I want to do professionally?
If our hypothetical Jane wants to develop her career in historical stage costuming, she’s on the right track. However, if she’s hoping to move into high-tech costuming with LED lights and robotic components, she’s going to have to adjust her branding to show prospective clients and theater companies that she’s right for that type of work.
Once Jane knows what she wants to do, she can set goals for her brand. Let’s say she wants to get hired to combine her love of robotics and costumes for the stage. So she starts sharing photos from a robotics class she’s taking on her Instagram account, which she links to her website. Maybe she chats on Twitter with makers who build the types of gadgets she wants to work with and collaborates with them on some experimental designs.
By adding those experiences to her personal brand, she’s in a better position to show prospective clients that she knows how to do that work, which will make landing those new clients easier. Those gigs, in turn, will become part of her portfolio to help move her brand in the direction she wants it to go.
2. How can I use my personal brand to drive business traffic without selling all the time?
Be your (best) self. Your personal brand can and should relate to your business, but it should be also be where your share the causes, hobbies, and interests that make your life uniquely yours.
For example, personal finance isn’t an exciting topic to most people, and there are plenty of experts selling systems, advice, and planning tools. What sets someone like author and consultant Ramit Sethi apart from the personal finance crowd is his social media presence. Sethi’s posts are an eclectic mix of life advice, how-to guides, posts on his interest in fitness, and odd emails and success stories from his readers. This blend of personal and business posts helps build rapport. It’s also more interesting to his audience than constant reminders to fund your 401k.
3. Does a personal brand matter if I’m launching a startup?
Yes, indeed. Make your experience and previous successes the main elements in your personal branding to show potential investors, employees and vendors that you know what you’re doing. Richard Branson, for example, has such a long history of business wins and such a positive social media presence that any venture he invests in gets a boost in buzz along with his cash.
Like Sir Richard, you can use social media to talk about what you’ve learned from your successes, mistakes, and mentors. You can also give credit to the people who’ve worked for you and who’ve inspired you—a good way to signal to prospective employees that you’ll give them their due.
4. Does my personal brand have to be business-focused to be effective?
Not necessarily. Consider Oprah Winfrey. There’s no question she’s among the most successful businesswomen ever, but business skill is not the main theme of her personal brand. Oprah’s life and career are a master class in a different approach to personal branding—one based on emotional resilience, generosity and empathy. Her rise from poverty and abuse to billionaire is an inspirational story, and her experiences have given her the ability to make her audience feel that she understands them and wants them to succeed.
If you’ve faced obstacles on your path to success, consider talking about them. Share what you’ve learned to encourage other people in your field or target audience who face similar challenges.
Building Your Personal Brand Website
1. What domain name should I use for my personal website?
Ideally, your personal website URL will be your full name with a .com top-level domain, because it makes you easy to find and because .com is still the most trusted top-level domain. If your name .com isn’t available, choose a variation that includes your name, if possible.
2. What information should my personal website include?
There are five basic elements your site needs to be effective as a marketing or job-search tool:
- Contact information. Make getting in touch easy. Put your preferred phone number and/or email address above the fold on each page of your site.
- Your portfolio or resume, or both. Present your best work in the way that makes the most sense for what you do. If you’re a videographer, embedded videos are an obvious choice. If you’re a still photographer or graphic designer, make your images easy to browse. If you’re a writer, include links to live articles online or PDFs of your print work.
- An “about me” section. Include a short professional bio, some background on your hobbies, interests, and charitable causes, and maybe even a list of people or places that inspire you. The keys here are to keep the section brief and fun to read and to relate your “about me” information to your personal brand. Jane, our would-be robotic costume designer, will likely include information here about robotics challenges she’s participated in, classes she’s taken, and collaborations she’s done with other costumers and robotics pros.
- A blog. Regular posts on topics related to your interests and work can help you build a rapport with your audience – especially if you reply to reader comments and reach out to other bloggers with interests similar to yours. Not much of a writer? Consider adding a video blog, a podcast, or a photo of the day instead of text-heavy posts.
- At least one photo or video of you. A professionally done headshot is a worthwhile investment. If you’re an outgoing person, the new trend of short video headshots may be perfect for you
Other elements you may want to include are links to some or all of your social media accounts, as long as they support your personal branding goals, links to projects you’ve worked on, and links to community groups you’ve worked with.
3. How often should I update my personal website?
You’ll do better in search results if you update your site often, which is important if you have a common name. A blog on your site makes it easy to add fresh content. You can also update your portfolio whenever you finish a great project, and add new charitable work or interests to your “about me” page.
At least once a year, look at your site on a live preview tool like Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test to make sure it meets current responsive display standards. If your site looks bad in the preview or is rated “not mobile friendly,” choose a newer, better optimized template for your site.
4. Isn’t this a lot of work for a site that doesn’t even sell anything?
Maybe, but your personal brand and your personal site can lay the groundwork for you to get hired, find clients, or raise investment capital. That’s because before people do business with you, they want to know something about you, understand your skills and interests, and see your talent or expertise for themselves. When you manage them well, a strong personal brand and a good website can go a long way toward building your career.
Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelancer who enjoys writing about business development and marketing, e-commerce payments and fraud prevention, and travel.